Posted in daily walk, Gardening

A feast of tulips

Saturday might have been the day of the Coronation but it was also warm and sunny and much too nice to spend the whole day sat in front of the television.

Instead we popped up the road to Holehird Gardens, home of the Lakeland Horticultural Society, for a mooch round in the sun. And it was lovely. There were lambs frisking about in the nearby fields and the whole garden was simply awash with spring colour, mostly in the form of swathes of tulips.

We had a lovely stroll around the various areas of the garden – walled garden, rockery, high level paths, stream and pool, woodland garden – enjoying the flowers and the spectacular views out across Windermere to the fells. And then the visitor reception opened up so we grabbed a cuppa each and drank that sitting on a bench in the walled garden in the sun, which was much nicer than being stuck indoors!

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 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, Nature

Another nice Sunday stroll

Off to Ambleside this week, for a walk through countryside that’s just tinged with the first autumn colour, even on a damp misty morning with the clouds looming over the fells.

We only had limited parking this time so couldn’t fit in one of the longer walks. Luckily Ambleside is strewn with shorter routes that are every bit as lovely, and steep enough to get the old lungs burning!

We walked up the Kirkstone Road as far as the turn off to Scandale, then chose the lower route which heads out through fields and a farmyard to the old pack-horse bridge over Scandale Beck known as Low Sweden Bridge. I believe the name has something to do with the Scandinavian miners brought in to work nearby quarries and mines, although I stand to be corrected on that.

There are frequent stunning views over the Ambleside rooftops to Loughrigg and the higher fells beyond, and the last little section of walk is through woodland where we’ve seen nuthatches hopping around before now. None this week, just an old abandoned gate to nowhere propped up against the wall. It made me think of Narnia. If I opened it and went through, I wonder where I’d end up…

Posted in Books

Read Around the Rainbow: My Top 3 Non-romance Books

I love reading and will happily devour almost anything, so this month’s topic is a doddle for me. Originally I intended to talk about fiction, and some of my favourite authors including Tolkien, Du Maurier, Gale, and Renault. But then I realised that even though they’re not necessarily “Romance” with a capital R, most of them still contain romantic elements. Heck, there’s even a wedding in Lord of the Rings! So I thought I’d go completely off-piste and list my favourite non-fiction books instead.

Top banana for me is Alfred Wainwright’s famous series of guide books to the fells (mountains) of the English Lake District. My Dad had the complete set when I was a small child and I loved poring over the maps, diagrams and beautiful sketches of the views from the tops of the fells. Nowadays I still enjoy that, but I also love reading the perfectly handwritten notes about the many paths up to the 214 separate summits Wainwright identified. He was possessed of a dry, Northern sense of humour which often shines out amongst the instructions to ‛turn right by the stile’ or ‛follow the wall for a quarter of a mile’; many of his more amusing additions are about the region’s irrepressible sheep. I love all the books, but if I had to pick a favourite it would be The Outlying Fells of Lakeland, partly because most of the summits it includes are lower and easier for a mountaineering duffer like me to reach, and partly because it has a cute cartoon of talking sheep (above, pic credit

Second on the list is another of Dad’s favourites – the Buildings of England series by Nikolaus Pevsner. The series is divided into volumes, one for each county, listing the most important, interesting, historic or picturesque buildings alphabetically by town. Churches, cathedrals, theatres, cinemas, stately homes, suburban villas: each building’s architectural and historical features are described in detail, and there are photos of some of them. It doesn’t sound very interesting but is actually fascinating, especially for areas of the country I’m familiar with, where I can pick out buildings I know well and see why they’re thought worthy of note. Current favourite in the series is Cumbria (where I live), which is still a very rural area but has some incredibly old towns, several dating back to Roman times, with wonderful old buildings to match. In Kendal, for instance, the ‛new’ castle dates from the twelfth century and the remains of an even older castle are still hidden away if you know where to look. The books are a great way to find interesting places to visit and/or walk round, or just a source of endless fascinating detail for an architectural nerd like me!

In third place it’s a tie between Land of Beauty and Splendour, a huge coffee table volume about the scenery of South Africa’s national parks, and Nancy Mitford’s highly entertaining examination of the Louis 14th of France’s court at Versailles, The Sun King. The former is gorgeous to look at, with pages of photos of mountains, waterfalls and endless brilliant oceans of wildflowers. The latter contains a wealth of sometimes surprisingly salacious tittle-tattle about court life alongside the well-researched religious, genealogical and military history – and Ms Mitford wasn’t afraid of describing some of the more flamboyant bi and gay personalities like Louis’s younger brother Philippe (“Monsieur”), brought to memorable life by Alexander Vlahos in the TV series Versailles.

Now you’ve seen my favourites, why not check out some of the other webring members?

Nell Iris :: Amy Spector :: Addison Albright :: Ofelia Grand :: Ellie Thomas :: K L Noone :: Lillian Francis

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 Books, read around the rainbow, Writing

Read Around the Rainbow: Setting Books where you Live

I chose the topic for this month’s webring blogpost, but oddly I tend not to set books in the place I currently live. I’m not sure why that is, but I think it has something to do with being too close to the location and/or loving it too much to be objective about it. In order to successfully use somewhere as a setting for a book, you need to be able to see it clearly, “warts and all”, and use both the good and the bad in your story. But when I’m plonked down in the middle of a town or city I struggle to do that. I can see all the aspects I love, but less so the ones I don’t, so if I try to use it as a location it tends not to feel very real.

For example, we spent many years living in one of the posher suburbs of Birmingham, and while I was there I couldn’t write about it for toffee. It seemed much too nice to feature in the dark, gritty crime and noir I was writing at the time. And now we’re lucky enough to live in the Lake District, and I’m finding exactly the same thing there. Part of me knows it would make a fantastic setting for all sorts of books, but the best I’ve managed is a handful of creepy short stories, two of which you can find here (Taking Flight) and here (The Summons – scroll down the page for the story).

So what do I do instead?

Well, the minute I move away from an area, it seems to free me to view it with new eyes. I can see the rough as well as the smooth; the dodgy areas jump out at me as settings for murders or nefarious goings-on; while even the more attractive parts reveal themselves as good settings for a yarn. So, since we moved away from Birmingham I’ve set several books and lots of short stories in and around the city I knew and loved. Raise the Blade and Gravy Train (both published under my Tess Makovesky pen name) feature various suburbs, canals, and dodgy back streets, as well as tourist hotspots like the Gas Street canal basin and Cannon Hill park, and little-known gems like the City Centre Gardens.

If that fails, I can resort to my own home city of Liverpool, where I was born, grew up, and went to university. Echoes of Blood features St Luke’s church (bombed during World War II) and the palm house in Sefton Park, and I’m still hoping to set at least one sequel in the city, revisiting those locations and adding more. And I also make use of places I’ve visited over the years, including the incredible Biddulph Grange gardens (pictured above) which inspired the garden setting in December Roses.

Of course, the downside to using locations once I’ve left them is that places can change, and if I’m not on the doorstep to spot those changes I could end up writing about things that no longer exist. However, I tend not to describe locations so precisely, preferring an overall impression to fine detail about streets, buildings, and the people that occupy them, so I’m crossing my fingers any small deviations won’t be noticeable.

So far, it seems to have worked out okay. But one of these days, I should probably pluck up courage to set something longer here in the Lakes. It would make the most amazing backdrop to a romance…


And don’t just take my word for it. Have a look at whether or not the other webring members set their books where they live:

Nell Iris :: Ellie Thomas :: K L Noone :: Holly Day :: Addison Albright :: Ofelia Grand :: Lillian Francis :: Amy Spector

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 Cumbria, Nature, scenery

Lunch with a view

A couple of weeks ago we met my good friend and fellow writer Angela King (The Blood of Kings) and her husband for coffee. We chose the Windermere Jetty museum cafe, which has one of the best views across Windermere lake in the whole area, and is also spacious and does really good food.

We had a lovely time catching up on writerly gossip and spent far longer chatting than we realised. By the time the ‘party’ had broken up it was almost lunch time, so Dave and I decided to stay on and had lunch looking out at this view (above).

Then a few days later we’d arranged to meet some different friends for lunch. It was all set for the cafe at Blackwell, an Arts & Crafts house on the outskirts of Bowness, but when we turned up it was to find that the cafe was in meltdown and only serving coffee and cake. All four of us jumped back in various cars and headed for the Jetty again, since that was one of the nearest places that might still have space.

Luckily we got one of the last two tables and had another lovely meal and another great chat in front of the same amazing view. It brings it home to us how lucky we are to live in an area like this, and have such stunning scenery within walking distance.

The photo shows the view from right outside the cafe, looking north up Windermere to one of the small islands that dot the waters, the western or Claife shore, and the fells to the north and west of Ambleside. The lower hill picked out in the sunshine is Loughrigg, a 1,000 foot high summit that rises above Windermere’s northern-most shores. There are lovely walks along its flanks (through sheets of bluebells in the spring) and more steeply to its surprisingly wild and confusing top.

Posted in Cumbria, daily walk, scenery

Two get sleeted on

Let’s go to Ambleside for our daily walk, we said. It’s quiet, the weather’s not too bad, it’ll be nice, we said.

So off we toddled. By the time we’d got a mile up the road, it had clouded over. By the time we were parking up in the main car park, it had started to spit. And by the time we got a ticket, put our coats on and were ready to set off, it was heaving it down.

Never mind, we said. It’s just a shower, we said. Let’s go through the park and along Under Loughrigg, we said. But the further we went, the heavier it got, with sheets of sleet that rattled on my umbrella and stung if they hit skin. In the distance, we could see the fells rapidly turning white, and even at valley level it was cold and thoroughly miserable.

Walking really wasn’t much fun, so we chose a path that looped back towards the town and trudged round the shops instead. I found a nice purple dream-catcher keyring in the Handicrafts Shop and we treated ourselves to tea and wonderfully sticky cake (warm, in my case) in the blissful warmth of Mr H’s Tearoom. And by the time we got out onto the pavement again, the sleet had stopped, the clouds were blowing over and the sun was peeking out. Just in time for our parking ticket to run out so we had to come home again!

Never mind, we enjoyed it really and the cake was an added bonus, as were views across a choppy Windermere on the way up. I only managed one photo while we were walking as it was just too wet. It shows the view north towards Rydal from the footpath heading east from Miller’s Bridge – and you can see how dramatic and stormy it was!