Lake District Special

Both of my parents were keen hill walkers and, whilst my friends skipped off to sunny beaches with their buckets and spades, my siblings and I were dragged complaining up the mountains of the Lake District or the Alps for most of our family holidays. It was The Lake District, in particular, that held a special allure for my father – our family made the long journey up the M6 several times a year, to slog up its hills and experience the exhilaration of standing aloft its high peaks with the wind in our hair and with astounding views all around…when not obscured by mist and driving rain, of course.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped being a reluctant walker and fell in love with the Lake District in my own right. We still try to return there frequently and found somewhere rather wonderful to stay this time – a converted 19th century chapel, with its own land reaching down to 300m of private shoreline on Coniston Water.

Sunny Bank Chapel on Coniston Water. Built in 1875, it closed for worship in the 1940s and was more or less derelict by 2020. It has now been renovated and is reinvented as a very comfortable self-catering cottage

Next to the chapel, its baptismal pool can still be seen in the grass:

Down on the lake shore, we had our own Canadian canoe for the week:

Walking down to the lake for a paddle before breakfast

The lake looked different every morning:

The southern end of Coniston is quiet and we scarcely saw another soul on the water:

Sunny Bank jetty
The benevolent outline of the Old Man of Coniston
Grizedale Forest extends down to the eastern bank of the lake
Every morning atmospheric formations of honking geese flew along the lake:

One day we saw a group of twelve goosander, all diving down in synchrony for fish

There was often the azure flash of a kingfisher, although this was the best photo I got:

Kingfisher on the Sunny Bank landing stage
This pied wagtail was singing

The author Arthur Ransome used to holiday at the southern end of Coniston as a child in the 1890s. His mother was an artist and his father loved to fish and so the children were largely left to their own devices and had many adventures in and around the lake. This became the basis for his Swallows and Amazons books that he wrote in later life. Wild Cat Island in the books was based on Peel Island which was an easy paddle from the chapel:

Peel Island from the top of Beacon
Visiting Peel Island
Peel Island
The view up the lake from Peel Island

Returning back for breakfast after one of our outings on the lake:

After breakfast, it was time to pack our rucksacks and go off for a walk. These days we much prefer to climb lesser summits and admire the landscape and the drama of the higher peaks from there.

On the first day, we walked from the chapel across Torver Common and up to Coniston village, then catching the launch boat back to Sunny Bank jetty.

The Coniston mountains as viewed from Torver Common. Juniper might be struggling in other parts of the country, but in the Lake District it seems to be doing well
Juniper berries
Long Moss Tarn on Torver Common
Black darter dragonflies at Long Moss Tarn

A series of devastating storms earlier in the year, with unusual wind directions, meant that a lot of trees have been lost throughout the region:

The museum in Coniston was packed full of interesting stuff. It had a yacht that was very much like the one that Arthur Ransome would have been mucking around in on the lake as a child:

I can remember the six o’clock news headlines of Donald Campbell’s attempts to set the water speed record in Bluebird on Lake Coniston back in the 60s. I can also recall the nation’s shock and horror at his final attempt in January 1967 when he crashed and died.

There is a whole room in the museum dedicated to Donald Campbell and Bluebird

Donald Campbell had always asked that ‘skipper and boat stay together’ if anything went wrong, and Bluebird, with Donald Campbell still strapped in at the helm, lay on the bottom of the lake for many years. However, in 2001, she was recovered and Donald’s body is now buried in Coniston cemetery.

Part of Bluebird, recovered from the lake in 2001

We walked from the cottage on the second day as well, getting ourselves up Beacon, one of the smaller peaks flanking the lake:

The summit of Beacon, with views north to the main Coniston mountains

All over the Lakeland fells there are wet blanket bogs, or ‘mosses’:

I used the PlantNet app on my phone to identify some of the specialised plants that grow in this waterlogged habitat:

Bog asphodel, strikingly orange in the autumn
Loads of bog myrtle

We noticed that a lot of the tips of the bog myrtle plants had been spun into a structure:

Taking a little peek into one of these capsules, I found the caterpillar of Hedya atropunctana living within the protected space:

This micro moth occurs mainly in the north of England and Scotland and is a specialist of damp mosses, utilising the bog myrtle that grows there as its larval food plant

In the wettest and most anaerobic of spots, we found common butterwort growing:

This plant grows in very low-nutrient places and supplements its diet by catching and digesting insects on its sticky leaves:

Globules of stickiness on its leaves
Several insects inescapably caught on the leaves

We observed high drama in the beetle world on Beacon. A violet ground beetle had been caught in the powerful jaws of a predatory devil’s coach-horse beetle.

However, I am happy to report that things ended well for the violet ground beetle. The devil’s coach-horse was not happy with us paying it so much attention and it released its grip and scuttled off:

This beautiful beetle lived to see another day

Dor beetles are dung beetles and were abundant on the grassy slopes where sheep were grazing:

On the third day, we drove to the Duddon Valley and climbed Great Stickle and Stickle Pike. The plateau between the two peaks has eight delightful tarns:

Stickle Pike glowering menacingly in the background of one of the eight tarns. We knew we had to get ourselves up that but it didn’t look very inviting

Unfortunately the SD card in my camera malfunctioned on this, the most challenging of our walks, and so I have only a few photos from my phone:

At the top of Stickle Pike
Looking across to the Stainton Ground slate mines and quarries on Caw

We made a diversion to explore the quarries and I had another opportunity to use the PlantNet app to identify this plant that I didn’t recognise:

This is parsley fern, a plant of very rocky places in the uplands – which is satisfyingly exactly where I found it.

We were tired after our long and strenuous day in the Duddon Valley and spent the next morning visiting Brantwood, the beloved home of John Ruskin, a Victorian gentleman who was interested in so many things that it is difficult to sum him up succinctly. He is often described as an art critic but he was so much more, including being a big fan of the Lake District.

Brantwood on the shores of Coniston Water where John Ruskin lived for the last thirty years of his life

In the afternoon we walked in the Grizedale Forest where, again, a large number of venerable trees had been lost in last winter’s storms. The visitors’ centre had an exhibition by the sculptor Richard Harris who has also created many of the woodland sculptures that can be admired on the walking trails:

On our last day, we drove to Eskdale and did a really lovely walk in the surrounding hills and back along the river Esk.

The very charming Ravenglass to Eskdale railway made us smile
Beautiful views over Eskdale

We came across a field of rams that had all been dyed purple. We don’t understand why:

A fine castellated Lakeland dry stone wall

Here in the furthermost reaches of East Kent, the Lake District feels a very long way away. But, without fail, a visit there repays any effort necessary to get there – we enjoyed ourselves so much and now feel so fit that we are already planning to return next year.

5 thoughts on “Lake District Special

  1. What a wonderful time you had, your own Swallows and Amazon’s adventure. I might just have to look up that cottage. 🙂 Glad you had a lovely time in the beautiful Lake District. X

  2. Your photos make it look idyllic, so beautiful and so uncrowded! My own memories of the Lake District are tarnished by the rust of incessant downpours, but having seen your images maybe I should give it another try?

    1. I find it is so easy to get away from the crowds in the Lake District by avoiding the obvious honeypots and choosing less well-known walks. Avoiding the winds and rain, however, is another matter. Sometimes we have been lucky and other times we really haven’t. I suppose every day you are scuppered by bad weather makes the occasions when you are not all the more wonderful and precious…and having a good book on the go to happily spend half a day reading works for us too!

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