As we waved goodbye to our shieling from the ferry, we traversed the Firth of Lorne over to Oban, and bundled into the car for the trip south to the Lake District.
Our destination was a tiny hamlet called Borrowdale - 5 miles south of Keswick - where our accommodation (shock, horror to me) was the YHA! The thought filled me somewhat with dread ... shared showers, rowdy and drunken youth, the great unwashed. The last hostel I was in was 20 years ago in Italy - my friends and I named it Mama Grossa’s instead of Mama Rossa’s. However upon arrival my doubts were dismissed. The car park was filled with new and modern cars (even a shiny BMW for goodness sake!), and our room was bright and fresh. The clientele were mostly families and dedicated empty-nester trampers - not a drunken youth to be seen. Dan was impressed as I soon settled into hostel life, finding a space in the shared fridge and elbowing my way in to use the stove.
Actually the YHA was fantastic; perfect for kids with a games room and other kids to play with, whilst there was a bar and lounge for the adults where you could chat and share hiking stories. A bit like a ski lodge without the snow.
Acting on some local knowledge we decided to go to Buttermere for an easy stroll around its shores. Only one of the lakes in the Lake District is actually called a 'lake' - Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere are 'meres'. (Mere – a lake that is broad in relation to its depth).
Buttermere was beautiful, and an enjoyable stroll through farmland and a picnic lunch on the water's edge was a very pleasant way to pass the afternoon.
The Cumberland Pencil Museum
A trip to the famous Pencil Museum in Keswick was a must ... most people must remember their first pack of Derwent pencils. The museum provided us with the history of the humble pencil, and had many interesting facts and figures including a pencil that had been designed to include a map of enemy territory during World War II.
Of course one could hardly escape without a purchase, and thanks to generous Aunty CiCi the kids stocked up.
Mire House – ‘I am part of all that I have met’ - Tennyson
Unfortunately our second day in the district was rather grey and wet, so a trip to Mire House was the order of the day. This house, built in the 17th century, played host to many poets including Tennyson and Wordsworth. It is privately owned, but the gardens are open to the public, and a steeple chase and obstacle course provided entertainment for the kids.
In addition - across the road in Dodd Wood - you can watch the rare osprey nesting in the distant trees; however on this day it was rather hard to see through the binoculars despite the help of the friendly birdwatchers. Our plans for an afternoon kayak were foiled by the rain, so it was back to the hostel for a shower and hot cuppa.
Castle Crag Hike
I think our fellow hostellers thought we were rather pathetic as we returned from our day to listen to tales of tricky and treacherous hikes. Not to be outdone we decided to tackle nearby Castle Crag, and after several wrong turns and muddy feet we made it to the top and were rewarded with a stunning view of Derwent Water and the surrounding valleys.
Topping off the day with a visit to Windermere where clearly most of the 15.8 million annual visitors like to congregate! My last shared facility cooking meal followed, and I felt proud that I had survived our four night hostel stay. Perhaps I could repeat the process again some time.
Cornwall – Polruan
A full day of driving on busy and wet roads, and we arrived in Polruan frazzled and short-tempered. Negotiating our way through narrow, stone walled streets to our little cottage added much money to the swear jar, especially when Dan (possibly) damaged the mirror on one of those nasty stone walls. Dinner and beer at the local pub soon calmed the frazzled nerves although not the depleted bank account.
Our week in Polruan was to tie in beautifully with Fowey Regatta week. The view from our cottage window looked out onto a harbour filled with boats both old and new, big and small. Our first few days were spent visiting Fowey on the little ferry, enjoying crabbing off the jetty, and watching fireworks. We also had a lovely morning fishing and caught about eight fish - mostly mackerel but a lovely whiting as well. BBQ mackerel with lemon, orange rind and butter sauce ... delicious.
Crabbing, Fishing, Fireworks, Fowey, Polruan, Cottage View and our White Cottage
Other adventures included hiring two kayaks - hard work when you are paddling up river against the tide and there is not even a decent coffee at the end! Swims at the local beaches for the kids and Dan (water temperature arctic), and beers on the jetty. Plus of course several non-Heart Foundation approved 'cream teas': beautiful scones, jam, and clotted cream.
St Michael's Mount, Polperro, and the Red Arrows
On Thursday we decided to tackle driving again, this time hoping for no stone wall contact. With a long weekend looming the traffic was terrible; we did however make it to St Michael’s Mount in far west Cornwall - a lovely town and church that sits on a tidal island. The island is accessible during low tide, and the surrounding beach in front of Marazion is long, clean, and popular with tourists. Lunch was followed by a swim and walk before piling back into the car for a quick visit to neighbouring Polperro, and then back to Polruan for the Red Arrows.
The Red Arrows are an annual feature of Fowey Regatta Week. They are officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, and consist of nine aircraft. It is an extremely popular event and the surrounding hills are packed with people trying to catch a glimpse of the aircraft. We joined the crowd on a hillside in Polruan that gave us sea and harbour views. The anticipation was like New Year in Sydney ... suddenly out of nowhere the red arrows appeared. It was incredible: swooping, circling, twists, turns in group and in pairs with a colourful smoke trail. The noise was unbelievable but this added to the excitement. For me it was an absolute highlight - I think I could become a bit of an aero-head.
On our final day in Polruan we decided to wrap up the trip with a visit to the town of Mevagissey - a 45 minute boat trip. This town is bigger than Polruan and not quite as charming (of all the towns we visited Polruan had the most appeal). A tasty lunch at the atmospheric 15th century Fountain Inn, a visit to the quirky museum, and a cliff top walk gave us the feel for the town. After the boat trip back to Polruan we enjoyed the last night in our little cottage. We would certainly miss waking up to the view of yachts and the mournful call of the seagulls.
Returning to Newbury where our friend Michelle was kindly putting as up, we had a treat in store for Sunday.
Just like Toad of Toad Hall we had the chance to go in a river barge thanks to Michelle. We were fortunate that the heavy morning rain cleared, and we had a fantastic four hours heading down the River Thames from Maidenhead and finishing in Egham. What a way to pass the day ... cruising down the river, negotiating the locks, seeing many grand houses, and of course Windsor Palace. The peace of the river, and the chug chug of the motors and other boats as they passed us by made it a memorable day.
On this day we couldn’t believe our luck when the weather man told us it was going to be 26 degrees. Newbury is a fun town, and its proximity to a number of castles and palaces including Highclere (of Downton Abbey fame) and Blenheim Palace make it a great base for exploring. Having already visited Highclere before we left for Scotland, on the advice of Michelle we decided to visit Blenheim Palace.
Home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and a World Heritage Site. Blenheim Palace was a gift from Queen Anne and a grateful nation to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, following his famous victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Blenheim Palace is surrounded by over 2,000 acres of landscaped parkland including the great lake, and beautiful gardens.
The car park was teeming - long weekend - and at 35 pounds for only the gardens we decided to give the Palace itself a miss - the slump in the aussie dollar was starting to hit the hip pocket! The gardens are extensive and a mixed feel of rural and cottage. Picnic on the lake, followed by hiding in Harry Potter’s tree (Order of the Phoenix) and paddling in one of the little streams. A walk to the fantastic maze and children’s play area that once housed the kitchen garden. The magnificent palace always in the background.
Topping off the day with a BBQ at Michelle’s. Just as we were starting to doubt the British summer this day certainly proved us wrong.
Blenheim Palace Photos