Jan 2018 – A month in the Lake District
This blog post was originally published on the 12th June 2018.
On New Year’s Day 2018 we set off for our first housesit, travelling over 300 miles to the tiny village of Ireby in the Lake District! We were lucky enough to find a housesit for a whole month, so we had plenty of time to explore. We spent our housesit with Bob, a lovely, obedient border collie with relentless energy! Bob loved to walk for hours on end, and spent many days showing us the way on hikes and long fell walks. Within our first couple of days we hiked up Binsey Hill, our first Wainwright Fell, which gave us the drive to walk as many interesting paths and as many of the Wainwrights as we could over our time in the Lake District! Though we did revisit Binsey Hill a few times over the month – once at sunset and another time to stargaze at night as the open space made for a perfect view! Being a border collie, Bob required a lot of exercise which we happily gave him on our daily hikes, though after a particularly adventurous day we would earmark the following day for ‘rest’. This involved walking around the fields in our little village for a few hours and throwing a ball or stick for Bob to retrieve. Through mud, wind, hail or snow – Bob would always love to go for a run!
Dodd Wood trails
One of our favourite places to visit, because it offered several different trails, was Dodd Wood near Bassenthwaite Lake. Each of the trails varied in difficulty, so on our first day with Bob and for our first hike, we opted for the 1.5km Douglas Fir Trail. Though a short hike, the first part of this circular walk had a steep incline so we took it slowly, unlike Bob who had no trouble at all! As we followed behind, we had time to take in the beautiful scenery; the towering Douglas fir trees that surrounded us, the waterfalls trickling through ferns, and the eerie silence accompanying a blanket of mist as we made our way back down the hill. We loved the peacefulness of the forest, where it was just us and Bob. The wood trails quickly became a list of goals where we aimed to walk more of them – eventually aiming to conquer the Summit Trail before our housesit came to an end. Just a week later we walked the 2.5km Sandbed Gill Trail – a gentle incline through trees and across Sandbed Gill stream, towards a gorgeous view of Bassenthwaite Lake at the highest point. Bob enjoyed leading the way through fallen pinecones and fir tree branches, picking up sticks and carrying them along.
On a clear day a week later, we set off full of excitement to reach the highest point of Dodd Wood via the 4.75km Summit Trail. We climbed the steep slope with fir trees all around us, before arriving at a much more open part of the forest where the trees parted and made way for stunning views over snow-capped mountains. The higher we climbed the more snow covered our path, until eventually we were trudging through ankle and knee height snow! We had fun crunching through the perfectly untouched blanket of snow, leaving foot and paw prints in our wake. Bob chased after sticks we threw and made walking along rocky and snowy paths look easy. Though peaceful and picturesque, nothing could have prepared us for the raw beauty of the view from the summit. A winding path lead us to the very top, where we were greeted by a cold wind, 360 degree views over lakes, mountains and forest, and a monument informing us we’d just climbed 1,612 feet. After taking many photographs and standing to enjoy the view, the wind took over and we began our descent, heading to Kat’s Kitchen in Keswick for a well-earned hot chocolate and a rest!
Chris’ birthday at Whinlatter pass
Halfway through our housesit, on January 15th, it was Chris’ birthday! As if Bob knew, he jumped into bed with us in the morning to give Chris a big birthday cuddle and many licks! We celebrated together by hiking the Seat How Summit Trail at Whinlatter Pass in Keswick, where you can hire bikes, explore the treetops at Whinlatter’s Go Ape, or walk the Gruffalo Trail (which of course Suze made Chris detour to follow!) We had fun swinging in the playpark, throwing sticks for Bob and finding the Gruffalo tucked away in the forest. As we climbed higher towards the summit we had the first snowfall of our adventure! It came gently floating down, blanketing the forest floor (and Bob’s fur!) with white flakes. By the time we reached the summit the snow had subsided and left fluffy white clouds in its wake, which made for a serene and breathtaking view at the top of Whinlatter over Keswick and Derwentwater. The scenery on our descent was just as gorgeous as we wound our way back down the hill. We continued Chris’ birthday celebrations into the evening as we enjoyed a delicious meal at The Pheasant Inn at Bassenthwaite. Due to having Bob with us, who wasn’t allowed in most parts of the inn, we were seated alone in a private lounge with comfy armchairs and a roaring fire. The perfect way to end the day!
As Keswick was our nearest town for shops and supermarkets, we found ourselves spending a lot of time there visiting the hiking shops and enjoying delicious food at vegan cafe Kat’s Kitchen. On the outskirts of the town lay Derwentwater Lake, with well trodden paths for visitors to explore the lakeside. One morning we woke up early to photograph the mountains surrounding Derwentwater in the breaking light. We parked at the lakeside and entered Crow Park, instantly in awe of the stillness of the lake and serenity in the air, with nobody else around but a flock of geese pecking for food in the grass. On another day we drove up to Ashness Wood, and hiked to aptly named Surprise View for an amazing outlook over Derwentwater and Cat Bells – which we earmarked to conquer later in our trip! The stunning lake provided us with ample photo opportunities, and lots of open space for Bob to run around.
One of the highlights of our stay in the Lake District was our visit to Lake Buttermere. Lake Buttermere is a bit further out on the west side of the Lake District, but it is well worth the visit. As soon as we got to the lakeside, we got our cameras out straightaway and started taking lots of photos. It was truly breathtaking – the water was so clear and still. The mountains surrounding the lake were imposing and reflected wonderfully on the lake. The walk around the lake itself was fairly easy – no major obstacles or inclines to deal with – but it took us a long time to walk around as we were taking in all the different sights and capturing the stunning scenery from every angle. Bob enjoyed the long walk as he constantly ran into the woods to fetch sticks, but we also had fun along the walk practicing our stone skimming. Because it was midweek (and in January) there weren’t too many other people around and this made the walk even more peaceful.
Longlands, Lowthwaite, Brae Fell, Little Sca Fell and Great Sca Fell
One day we decided to go for a local walk at Longlands when it had just started snowing, but by the time we got to the start of the walk the snow was getting heavier and heavier and we couldn’t see the peak of Longlands Fell. Two other hikers had just finished the hike when we arrived and they were having trouble getting their car off of the wet, muddy verge. After spending close to half an hour helping them push their car back onto the road, we decided that it wasn’t a good idea to continue the walk. A few days later, when the snow had cleared, we decided to give it another shot.
Longlands, Lowthwaite, Brae, Little Sca and Great Sca Fell are a collection of smaller hills located in the shadow of Skiddaw (the sixth highest mountain in England). These hills are some of the northern most fells in the Lake District and as such you can really feel the remoteness. There are no trail markings, no cafes and no car park. You really do feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere here – during the whole 4 hour walk we only met one other hiker!
As always Bob was very eager to get going on the walk and he was soon leading the way. We climbed up the first fell – Longlands – and as we approached the summit rain came lashing down and wind was blowing us around. We sheltered from the wind on the side of the hill, and when the rain stopped we had brilliant sunshine and rainbows. The views were incredible – we could see for miles and more dauntingly we could also see the summits of the other fells we had planned to climb on the rest of our walk!
After a short decline we were climbing back uphill to the top of Lowthwaite. The top of Lowthwaite Fell was slightly higher than Longlands and a bit closer to the snowy peaks of Skiddaw. After Lowthwaite we headed for Little Sca and Great Sca. Chris thought it would be a good idea to take a shortcut across the fields to cut the walk a bit shorter… you can guess how that turned out! [Chris: All the peaks look the same on the map, it was hard to tell which way we were heading!] We eventually made it to Little Sca but by this time the weather had changed once again, and hail was coming down hard. There was no shelter on Little Sca, so we had no choice but to carry on to Great Sca. Great Sca Fell was the highest peak of our walk at just over 2100ft. From here we could see as far as the Scottish coastline, and we could just about make out where we were staying which looked very small from the summit! From Great Sca we started the walk back to the car via our last peak on Brae fell. By this time we were tired, cold and wet (though Bob could have done it again no problem!) but we also felt fulfilled as this was one of our longest walks and we had climbed five peaks.
We had seen Cat Bells from a distance on the shoreline around Derwentwater Lake and had earmarked it as a walk we wanted to do before we left our housesit. But as a slightly more challenging walk we wanted to make sure to do it when there was decent weather. On one of our last days of the housesit, after a couple of weeks of snow and rain, finally the sun came out. This was probably our best day weather wise so it only made sense to challenge ourselves on the slopes of Cat Bells. It seemed that quite a few people in the area had a similar idea as it was fairly busy, and the steep, narrow, winding road leading up to the start of the walk was full of cars (and tractors!).
The walk began with a short but steep path on the side of the hill where there were already magnificent views across Derwentwater. We took so many photographs whilst climbing up this steep path – partly to admire view, but also to take a rest!
After we reached the top of the first peak, we could see the rest of the hill that we had to climb and it looked just as steep as the first. Bob had no problem making his way up the rocks, but we took it a bit slower and took to all fours to scramble to the top.
The views from the summit were incredible. This was the highest of the Cat Bells peaks and it gave us a panoramic view of Keswick, Derwentwater and the mountains Blencathra and Skiddaw as well as views of some of the smaller walks we’ve been on – Dodd Wood, Surprise View and Whinlatter Forest. We felt a great sense of achievement and pride as we began our descent, stopping to take even more photos on the way down to take in every bit of the magnificent view and bask in our accomplishment.
Aira Force was another on our to do list – it’s probably the most popular waterfall in the Lake District – and when we visited we could see why! After several days of rain the weather finally improved and we made the trip down to Aira Force. The drive itself was impressive, with a big drop down into Ullswater valley where the walk for Aira force begins. The walk isn’t long, but it’s set in beautiful woodland. All you can hear is the sound of birds and and the rushing water of Aira Force. As you get closer to the waterfall you can really feel how powerful it is, especially after days of rain! We spent a little while at the waterfall (Chris wanted to take long exposures of the waterfall to practice his photography) before carrying on upstream, following the river around bends and alongside rapids before looping back. The area is a haven for red squirrels and we were lucky enough to see a few before Bob scared them away!
On days where we weren’t conquering mountains or walking around our village, we spent some time walking to neighbouring villages to see more of where we were staying. We visited Boltongate, though it was a difficult walk and we eventually abandoned the public footpaths as they were so overgrown that Bob was struggling to get through the thick thorny bushes. We also visited the quiet village of Uldale, which became one of our favourite places to walk to in the local area, as we stumbled across a cosy little gem called Mae’s Tearoom! We enjoyed a few rounds of tea and homemade cake here after long walks, before strolling home across Uldale Common where field mice would scurry along under our feet.
We loved our month long housesit in the Lake District and going on new adventures that surpassed even our expectations. We walked further and climbed higher than we thought we could, and we managed to experience not only the picturesque walks but the real idyllic village life (though we found it impossible to take a bad photo of anywhere on our trip!!). We experienced all kinds of weather in January, but we were sensible and knew our limits as to what we could achieve on any given day with the conditions. Weather aside, it was the perfect time to go as it was completely off-season, meaning the trails were empty, monuments like the Castlerigg Stone Circle weren’t busy at all, and we had time to talk to people on our way who appreciated seeing others out and about! We also had time to revisit and see Windermere in its off peak season, after a snowy hike on the Carron Crag Trail at Grizedale Forest, and went back to Homeground – a cute coffee shop we visited on a holiday three years ago that makes the most delicious brownies!
All in all our first housesit was a gorgeous trip of relentless hiking and enjoying challenging ourselves to do more – on our last day in the Lake District we hiked Rannerdale Knotts and it felt almost easy to climb up the mountain side, a very different experience compared to the struggle that our first hike at Dodd Wood had been on our first day! Of course we had the help of Bob who motivated us every step of the way and rounded us up as border collies do.As we tried to pack up our car on our last day Bob sat in front of the front as if in protest at us leaving! We’ve by no means covered it all, and we’d love to go back to continue our Lake District adventure one day!