Posted in Cumbria, daily walk, scenery

Two go to a castle

Did any of you do anything nice over the Easter weekend? The bank holiday traffic here in the Lake District is always terrible, but on Saturday we braved it in order to go to Wray Castle.

This huge Victorian folly perched on Windermere’s western shore is now owned by the National Trust and a great place for a walk on a sunny day. Lots of other people clearly thought the same thing and it was very crowded, but we set off walking northwards along the lake shore which seemed quieter and gave us some spectacular views towards Ambleside and the higher fells.

The journey home again was horrendous (nearly an hour to go about 15 miles) but worth it for a breath of fresh air, lovely scenery and lots of lambs and daffodils.

Posted in Books, News, scenery

Irish inspiration

There’s a lovely piece in today’s Guardian about the Connemara region of western Ireland, which brought back some happy memories for me.

We spent a week in nearby Co Galway, which is basically just around the corner and in some peoples’ opinion counts as Connemara too, even though it isn’t (quite) shown on the map of the region in this article. The weather was wild, the scenery was spectacular, and our base on an island off the coast reached only by causeway was utterly magical. We too had views of the Twelve Bens (or Pins as they were introduced to us by the locals) and as for the stark white coral sand on the beaches and the many ruined farms and churches, well, you could hardly have asked for more inspiration for a ghost story!

Basically I fell in love with the place, so much so that I used it as inspiration for my Irish ghost story novel Gleams of a Remoter World. The mystical atmosphere and almost weirdly rocky yet beautiful countryside made for a great setting for the ruined church and vicarage – and their ghosts. And one of the very places that my fictional village of Kilveenan was based on features in this article. Step forward Roundstone, a small idyllic-looking harbour town of brightly coloured houses strung along the coast like beads on a necklace.

Of course, Kilveenan isn’t an exact reproduction of Roundstone and also includes features from other villages and locations along that coast. But it was lovely to see the picture of it again, and to read about another author who was inspired enough by Connemara to set her novel there.

By sheer coincidence I’m currently working on exactly this book, trying to re-write it from a bi-m/m romance into a more straightforward m/m romance while retaining the plot and atmosphere, so look out for news as I battle the rewrite gods to knock it into shape. And if you ever get the chance to visit Connemara, or any of the rest of Ireland’s wonderful west coast, then I can thoroughly recommend it, even if you don’t go on to write a book about it.

(I nicked the photo straight from the Guardian article, as my own photos of the area pre-date digital cameras (yes, really!) and aren’t easy to translate into something I can use on blog posts.)

Posted in Cumbria, Nature, scenery

Lakeland winter

Like most of the UK we’ve been having a sudden, severe cold snap here in Cumbria. Overnight temperatures have plummeted (it was minus 10c the night before last, which is cold enough to freeze moving water!) and even during the day it’s barely got above freezing for almost a week now.

The downsides are icy pavements and a house that seems to need re-heating every five minutes – not to mention numb fingers when I come to type! The upside in an area like this, though, is that when we do get out the views are incredible.

On Tuesday we’d arranged to have lunch with some good friends of ours at the Windermere Jetty museum cafe. It’s a good standby at the best of times as it has a large car park (free if you visit the museum) and the food is lovely. That was very much the case on Tuesday (I had arrancini which were delicious) and the added bonus was spectacular views across a very wintry Windermere.

The little boating lake had frozen over but there was no sign of ice on the lake itself, just frost, pale winter skies and snow on the distant fells. It looked quite magical, and was worth risking frostbite in my fingers to get a photograph. Someone’s addition of a cute snowman was just the, er, frosting on the cake!

The cold snap is due to end over the weekend but not before another dollop of snow is forecast, right when we’re supposed to be travelling to a Christmas party. Hey ho, better luck next year…

Posted in Cumbria, History, scenery

A Sunny Sunday Stroll

After a drizzly start on Sunday morning the clouds rolled back to be replaced by glorious sunshine. We jumped in the car and dashed over to Ambleside, still reasonably early so as to avoid the crowds. First stop was coffee at Freshers Cafe (very pleasant with a flower-filled garden and some entertaining dogs) and then we set off to walk along the Under Loughrigg lane as we didn’t have our boots on and thought some of the other tracks might be too muddy.

Last time we tried this route it was sleeting diagonally and so utterly horrible that we wimped out and took a short cut back to the car. This time there were no such problems; it was perfect weather for walking – warm without being hot, and clear enough for some lovely views towards the fells. And we’d left ourselves enough time to walk all the way to Pelter Bridge (above) on the outskirts of Rydal, which we’ve never quite managed before.

The bridge, built in the style of a pack-horse bridge, is a well-known landmark over the River Rothay, visible whilst tearing past in a car on the main A591 between Ambleside and Grasmere. It turns out to be Grade II listed; the listing describes it as ‘date unknown’ but given that it’s in parkland near Rydal Hall I’m betting it was built by the hall’s owners at some point. It’s very pretty, at any rate!

There were plenty of walkers about, especially at the Rydal end where there’s a car park in staggering distance of the lane, but it was never crowded and it was great to get out for a nice country stroll on such a lovely day.

Posted in archaeology, Cumbria, History, romance, scenery

Taking the High Road

Oh, how fascinating: there’s going to be an archaeological excavation along High Street – the mountain and the presumed Roman road that runs up and over it – this August.

I mentioned this road in my vampire novella Echoes of Blood, where main character Daniel is lecturing on Roman history at Liverpool University. Researching the subject on the excellent site, I found that thanks to new Lidar surveys there’s considerable doubt over whether the road is really Roman. I’ll be keeping an eye on any results this excavation unearths to see whether that’s the case or not.

I’d quite like to take part myself but the thought of climbing to over 2,700 feet above sea level before I’ve even wielded a trowel is slightly off-putting. And the dig organisers can hardly lay on buses to take everyone to the top! But there is a call for volunteers for the project if anyone is interested. The scenery is spectacular, and there’s that puzzle over Roman or not Roman to help solve…

If you can get past all the annoying ads and pop-ups, there’s a piece with more details in the Westmorland Gazette. At least, I’m assuming there are more details. I’m on the naughty step there for having read too many articles so I can’t actually tell!

Posted in daily walk, Nature, scenery

Two hear a bittern

For a complete change we headed to our nearest RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) nature reserve on Saturday. Leighton Moss is around 20 miles south of us, just over the border into Lancashire, in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near the Morecambe Bay coast.

I went once with my parents a very long time ago when there was nothing but a handful of paths and some ‘hides’ to watch the birds. Since then the RSPB have gently developed the site, opening up new walks, building a viewing tower, and creating a visitor centre with shop and cafe in some adjacent farm buildings.

On a sunny morning it was a lovely place for a stroll. There’s a wildlife garden and some ponds near the visitor centre, but the surroundings get wilder the further away from that you walk. The site boasts the largest reed bed in N W England which is home to all kinds of rare wildlife including small birds like bearded tits and reed buntings, plus larger (and even rarer) species like bittern and osprey.

My one criticism is that the reeds are so tall that there aren’t many places where people can get close enough to the water’s edge to actually see anything. I’m guessing this is deliberate to cut down on the disturbance to the birds, but it was slightly disappointing to hear cheeps and splashes and not be able to see what was causing them. However, at the end of the longest trail is a large hide overlooking one of the lagoons and here we could get some great views of the surrounding wildlife.

Our highlights were one goose, one grey heron (above) and a coot, but people who’d been in the hide before us had photos of both a marsh harrier and an osprey so it just shows what you can see if you hang around. And the biggest highlight of all was hearing a bittern ‘booming’ in the distance. These birds are incredibly rare and incredibly secretive, pottering about amongst the dense reed stalks, so the only sign they’re even there is often their enigmatic call. I’d heard it on telly, but never in real life before. It sounds very much like a didgeridoo, and was a real bonus on an enjoyable walk.

Posted in Cumbria, daily walk, Nature, scenery

Two have an Easter walk

I’m still re-discovering my legs after Covid but this morning’s weather was too nice to just hang about indoors. So we set off into the countryside at the back of Windermere (town) which is surprisingly secret and surprisingly scenic, with lumpy bumpy fields, woods and occasional views of Windermere (lake). Ravens nest there – you can here them ‘coughing’ at certain times of the year – and there are often lambs and always an abundance of flowers, as well as a sprinkling of historic farms.

Today’s lambs were in shorter supply than usual but there were spring flowers everywhere and a wonderful sweet scent on the air. As well as a few daffodils still hanging on in there, we saw blackthorn, violets, wood anemones and even a solitary early bluebell.

The terrain is hilly without being challenging so it made a great circuit to test out the lungs and legs. I didn’t go quite as far – or as fast – as I usually would, and my legs were jelly on the way back, but it was smashing to get out into the fresh air.

And as an added bonus, on the way up I found a charm that had dropped off my handbag several weeks ago!

The main photo above shows the view from near Helm Farm, looking across to Brant Fell in the distance. Below are a couple of shots of some of the lovely flowers: blackthorn, the first violets, and a wood anemone.

Posted in Cumbria, daily walk, scenery

Two go to Friar’s Crag

Saturday brought another sunny but bitterly cold morning. For the first time in ages we drove to Keswick for a walk down to Derwent Water and along the shore path as far as the well-known viewpoint of Friar’s Crag.

The ‘Crag’ is a small rocky promontory overlooking the lake which was acquired by the National Trust in the 1920s and has been a popular destination as a viewpoint ever since. It’s not far from the town – about a fifteen to twenty minute stroll past the Theatre by the Lake and the boat landing strips, and makes a pleasant stroll whatever the weather.

Everything looked absolutely stunning with beautiful views across the lake to mountains still dusted with snow, and spring flowers bursting out everywhere. I’m still a bit short of useable legs so I couldn’t manage my usual mooch round the market and shops, which was annoying as Keswick has particularly good shops! But we’ll save that for when the post-Covid exhaustion has finally disappeared. And in the meantime, there was still plenty to enjoy.

The photo above shows Causey Pike (the one with the knobbly bit on top) across Derwent Water, with higher and snowier fells in the distance.

Posted in Art, Cumbria, daily walk, scenery

Two find some bonkers birds

We had a walk along the promenade at Morecambe for a change on Monday. Chosen because it’s level with benches (again, still struggling with post-Covid tiredness) and because the weather wasn’t good enough for anywhere more scenic.

That’s not to say Morecambe isn’t scenic – the views out across Morecambe Bay are stunning, and the town’s powers-that-be have littered the promenade and surrounding streets with sea or coast-related sculptures and artwork. Much of it is really lovely – like my favourite life-like cormorants near the old lifeboat station – but some pieces are utterly bonkers. There are some fat seagulls near the Eric Morecambe statue which always make me smile, and this time we also discovered these cartoon puffins sat on top of some of the bollards in the Festival Market car park. There were similar (but even weirder) seagulls and cormorants in the nearby Morrisons car park. Quite a sight if you’ve just staggered out with a crate of booze!

This time we finally got inside the Old Pier Bookshop which we’ve been meaning to visit for years. I picked up a YA vampire book which looks intriguing, and we explored some of the vast, twisty network of passages inside, all of them lined floor to ceiling with books, some interconnecting, some not. One friend has described it as a TARDIS, and it certainly keeps going… and going… and going… until you lose all sense of direction and wonder if you’ll ever get back out again.

Luckily we emerged, to find the sun was shining – just as we were about to set off for home. Typical. But we enjoyed the stroll, and a mistily scenic drive back up the A6 afterwards.

Posted in Cumbria, daily walk, Nature, Photography, scenery

Two have a convalescent walk

A rare sunny (and mild) day combined with us both starting to get over the worst side-effects of Covid meant we decided to head for the promenade at Grange-over-Sands for a walk.

It’s in the open air, so no chance of infecting anyone. It’s level, with benches to collapse onto at regular intervals in case we hadn’t quite got our legs back yet. And there are two cafes for a cuppa along the way.

We only managed about half of our shortest usual distance (and yes, I had to make use of a couple of those benches) but it was wonderful to get out into the fresh air again. The sun was surprisingly warm and there were flowers bursting out everywhere, as well as an egret pacing around on the salt marsh and a curlew crying in the distance.

It would have been nice to go further, but we didn’t want to push it. After a cuppa and a cake each at the old Promenade Cafe (dating from Edwardian times when it served passengers alighting from boats at the nearby pier), we turned tail and headed for the car again. But we thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and the views across Morecambe Bay, and the light on the reedbeds. We’re lucky to have places like this on the doorstep.

The photo shows Arnside Knott (the flat-topped hill) across the estuary of the River Kent, with the aforementioned reeds in the foreground. There’s a nice walk up the Knott; when we’ve got legs and lungs back we might try it and I’ll take some photos looking back the other way at Grange.