Really Seeing The Lakes: Walk to Ambleside
How many times have you driven to your nearest town or village? I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve driven to Kendal in the ten years I’ve lived in The Lakes. Or to Windermere. Or beyond. Hundreds, maybe a thousand? I do it without thinking. And I notice nothing. But when you do it differently, by riding on a double decker bus or by striking out on foot, you see a whole lot more as I discovered on Day Two of our 555 Winter Walk across The Lake District; our walk to Ambleside from Brockhole.
Things look different up here
On the top of a double decker bus, sitting at the front, I watch the world flutter by. And this world and I; we connect.
‘Barbour coated horse. Swinging broken gate. Barbed wire and bramble twist and dangle on dry stone wall. Cottage cat shrugs off the night. ‘
When I drive I see other cars. And road. And the wheel. Today I see much more.
Life on the top deck
It’s a fight to get the best seat as usual. The one at the front. The pensioners sharpen their elbows as they rush on, pushing the kids out of the way. But any window will do for me. The 555 route is a classic bus ride. It’s taken me ten years to bother catching it. But now I catch on to what the fuss is about. It’s a magnetic view. I can’t take my eyes off it.
‘Union Jack; hungover from last year, draped like bunting on Christian hall. Small faces smear smiles on steamy panes. Curious eyes watch limestone chimneys shoot coal-fired smoke into charcoal sky.’
Brockhole is alive despite the early hour
We disembark from the bus at Brockhole National Park Centre, where we finished our walk on day one. Brockhole was the first ever national park visitor centre in the UK but it has only recently come to life with wildlife areas, trails, adventure playground and treetop walk. Even this early in the morning it is alive with tourists as kids zip wire through the trees or breakfast in the cafe.
A magic show will entertain the kids later. But today the countryside will have to inspire us with its magic. Day two of our walk will take us over the lower fells of the central lakes to the well known town of Ambleside where we have promised the children fish chips and ourselves a beer. (Another advantage of taking the bus.)
Drive Less, See More
One of the mantras of a local campaign to get people out of their cars and into their boots, is ‘Drive Less See More.’ Today we see a side to Windermere that the day trippers don’t have time for. We ignore the busy shores of Bowness with the Japanese snappers and constantly snacking geese, and head instead fellside on low level paths towards the Northern reaches of the lake. While drivers may whizz straight from Windermere to Ambleside and onto Grasmere in half an hour, it will take us a leisurely two days. It’s here that the mountains begin to form the real backbone of Cumbria and here that loneliness can descend as quick as the mist. Today, across the lake, Claife Heights is wrapped in silver ribbons of rain and mist. The lake seems to stretch out forever; yet it carries only a single boat, crawling along on it’s way to wherever.
‘The Woodsman’s cottage lies deserted and cold. We solitary souls trip through the trees, sliding on stone and slipping on grass in mud spattered boots. The Mountain Goat ploughs on.’
The language of walking
Our navigator for the day is wearing headphones and listening to Maroon 5. He leads us astray; more interested in the highlights of his music collection than the contours. We step out down the wrong lanes and then retrace our steps, grabbing the 555 Stagepath leaflet we are supposed to be following. By now we are familiar with its countryside terminology, looking out for unenclosed roads and cattle grids, wall stiles and wall tracks, hand gates and kissing gates. At every kissing gate Hannah demands a snog, to the revulsion of the boys. Hugging is fine. But no kissing allowed. Especially from a sister.
‘Bent truck headlight vies with golden glow from baker’s door. Spotlighting the greedy sheep. In churchyard’s jaw; close packed rows of rotting teeth. Graves saved for future sons.’
Picnic at Jenkin Crag
The National Trust owned Jenkin Crag is a rocky headland that seems made for a family picnic, but a dog grabs Hannah’s cheese and marmite sandwich then fights her for a stick. We chase it down the hill, through open woodland and onto a path that rides high above the Low Wood Hotel and Marina.
‘Drunken jetty sinks into choppy lake, the pier frames the day like the lights on a dressing room mirror. Moss knits stones together, wool caught on fences form drapes. Weighted down with winter. ‘
“I just want that chips and beer now,” says Cameron loudly, bringing a smile to the faces of two passing walkers also tramping their way to Ambleside. We are back in ‘civilisation.’ The kids tear off into the distance without us. We lose sight of them as they shove Hannah quickly through a gate in case she tries to kiss them.
Walk to Ambleside
Ambleside is Disneyesque in the gloom of dusk. It seems lit by the fairies as car headlights trail around the one way system, past B and B’s with curtains open to encourage trade. A copper coloured ale floods warmth through my body, finally reaching my toes, while the kids bolt carbs. I wipe my lips and notice they are chapped from all those cold kisses in the curves of lover’s gates.
Daylight and day two fades, as though it was never there at all. We have met few people. Our boots have barely touched a landscape that has barely changed over thousands of years. Yet I have seen it. Without a doubt I have seen it.
Our thanks to Stagecoach Cumbria and North Lancashire for their help in bringing you this story.
Check out our Day 1: What? No Car? A Lake District Family Walking Tour
Check out our Talking Point: Are you a Muddy Boots Person?
Check out our Talking Point: Where does adventure begin? At the front door?
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