Monday, 26 January 2015

'Snap Shot' the Lake District

Date: Monday 5th January 2015 – Thursday 8th January 2015

Weather: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday's weather was excellent ... considering it was January. We had no rain and very little wind at all. On Wednesday the heavens were open all day with roads flooded and a gale blowing (and because were British, we did venture out).

MP3 track of the day: Country House - Blur

Now before I go on, I suppose I should explain what 'snap shot' means within the title of this blog. It basically means that this blog will be a shortened version of my usual blogs, due to a variety of reasons. It is, in effect, a 'snap shot' of my trip.


In the winter of 2014, I came back to the UK for three weeks to eat 'proper' food, meet up with friends and family and to smuggle a years worth of UK chocolate back into the 'land of the rising sun'. Though this was a very busy time, I did manage to spend a few days travelling around the UK trying to even the score in regards to 'home sites I've seen Vs foreign sites I've seen'. Being a very busy time, It is only three weeks later that I have found the time to sit down, with a cup of tea and my last remaining 'Cadbury's Caramel' chocolate bar (knew I should have bought more of them), and write a proper account of the trip. One final thing to note is that, on said trip, my father, mother and my oldest brother accompanied me.

Due to the fact that the UK is the same size as a desk lamp, we didn't need to set off from our house at the crack of dawn. Yesterday, we had decided on a 9:30am departure time however, as usual, my father had left his packing until the last minute and we eventually left at around 10:15am. This holiday would be rather special. Firstly I was heading back to the Lake District; a place which I love however, for one reason or another, I haven't visited for almost ten years. Secondly my older brother – who I have rarely seen or heard from over the last five years – had been given a 'pass' by his wife to leave her, with their three children, for three nights and accompany me in some serious hiking. As I sat in the car I was looking forward to pretty much everything; spending time with my brother, the Lake District and the four hour drive as a lot of it would be spent driving through beautiful English countryside.

Eventually my father got in the car however, we had to mute our complains as he was the one who was driving (my mum's insurance company wouldn't insure me for her car as I'd been out of the country for over a year). After winding our way through our local suburb we soon hit the open road and started to make great time.

Throughout this whole holiday, I have been shocked at just how flat the UK is. We were driving for hours on end and England's rolling green hills seem to go on forever. In Japan, after twenty minutes or so, you'll find yourself either having to drive up a mountain or snaking through a very narrow valley. Both types of terrain are beautiful in their own right and I was enjoying the change. My brother and I chatted about this and that, most of which I can't remember however, at the time, I guess it was very important.

We had decided to split this 'long four hour journey' into two even parts. This meant that, after two hours of driving, we were scheduled to stop in the pretty northern English town of Skipton; a castle town. This pleased me as I wanted to get my fix of English history whilst I was in the country. We first of all stopped at a local café where my bother and I ordered a sandwich, plus drink, and my parents both ordered the 'warebit'. Once the waitress had left our table my brother and I looked at each other wondering what on earth our parents had opted for. Visions of 'cursed rabbits', being stewed, came to mind however, once the food arrived, I was disappointed to find out that it was just glorified cheese on toast.

It took a little while to find the entrance to Skipton Castle however, once found 'the bank of mum and dad' made the Skipton Castle's entrance free dramatically drop to 'free'. I confused the ticket sales lady when I asked for a Japanese version of the leaflet however, it mattered not; I would take it back to Japan and ask some of my friends how well us Brits have translated this leaflet into Japanese (some English translations in Japan are very funny).

We moved through the outer-gate and into the grounds to take a few photos of the castle itself. My 'keen-eyed' dad spotted the local souvenir shop however, with the lure of a castle in front of him, it was easy to prise him away (my dad likes shops).

Once inside the actual castle, we followed the advised route reading all information presented to us. Unlike Japanese castles, this one was made out of stone – Japanese castles are made out of wood because, I think, of earthquakes – and was quite compact. My brother and I created a vanguard with the 'oldies' bringing up the rear. I explored this beautiful building taking particular interest in it's defences and strategic positioning. What was interesting was that, during the English civil war, this castle was the royalists last northern stronghold (it did eventually fall to the parliamentarians). What was also interesting was that all large windows pointed inwards, towards the courtyard; all external windows were tiny slits used in defence. A simple thing yet, something I never really thought about before.

We made our way through the living quarters of both the owners and the staff, the rooms designed for entertainment, the rooms designed for defence and the dungeon trying to imagine what life would have been like for these royalist supporters before their impending defeat. Though little furniture was present, I could see where the entrance fee had been spent as a lot of work had been done on the restoration of the castle.

Finally we made our way out of the castle and into, what was left of, the chapel which was located in the grounds of castle between the inner and outer walls. There was very little to see here and so, after five minutes or so, we departed.

Unfortunately we had to vacate the premises the same way we had come in; that meant that my father spotted the souvenir shop again. With little patience for an argument we decided to split into two groups and meet back at the car. My father and mother would head into the souvenir shop whereas my brother and I would head back to the car stopping in M&S for dessert.

Due to the 'bank of mum and dad' paying for our entrance tickets into the castle, we decided to buy them a cake and a drink each. We also got the same for ourselves plus a couple of bags of 'percy pigs'. Before leaving, my brother recommend M&S's samosas and so, without a thought, two of those were placed into our basket. In all, we had spent two hours in the lovely northern town of Skipton however, as it was approaching 2:30pm, it was time to leave.

The second part of our journey was pretty much the same as the first part; until we crossed the M6 and entered the Lake District. Though it was getting dark, you could still see out of the window and memories came flooding back. Picturesque stone villages surrounded by rolling hills and huge lakes filled our view. We were staying at our families flat in Ambleside; on the edge of Lake Windermere. As we approached the two-storey stone building, with a slate roof, it was as if I had never left. Finally we parked as the sun was setting; my brother and I unpacked the car whereas my dad went in to turn the water and electrics on. My mother fluttered about putting away the items my brother and I brought from the car. In the end it turned out to be a very efficient process and all was well in the flat within thirty minutes.

As I looked around I could see that nothing had changed. Even after nine years everything was the same. Yes the shower is a little dodgy; yes the cooker doesn't work quite how it should do however, I wouldn't have it any other way. This flat (with it's two double-bedrooms, one bathroom, one dining room and a lounge / kitchen combined) was perfect and I could happily live here. There is also a smell associated with this flat which is hard to describe however, it isn't repulsive. It is in fact welcoming and along with the view (which we couldn't see as night had fallen however, there is a beautiful view of the lake from the main window) it makes for a very pleasant and relaxing place. I was going to enjoy my time here.

With little left of the day we sat down at the 'kitchen diner' and ate a lovely casserole. Once consumed my father and mother busied themselves whereas my brother and I watched the second 'Hobbit' film. You see, the third Hobbit film had just been released in the cinema and we had planned to go and see it tomorrow. My mother started to watch the film but lost interest pretty quickly and went to bed. Once finished my brother and I went to sleep also.

Tuesday 6th January 2015

My brother and I were up early and ready to complete an age old tradition. I will speak of this tradition in a minute but first, I must note that my parents were still asleep and had decided to meet us after this 'said tradition' within the centre of Ambleside. Due to there only being one bathroom, I had gone 'Japanese' and had my shower late last night freeing the bathroom for my brother. We therefore got ready pretty quickly and were completely kitted in our walking gear by 9:15am.

From our flat, there are two ways into the town of Ambleside. The first is an easy twenty minute walk along the footpath located adjacent to the main road. The other is an hour or so's walk (depending on how many photographs you take) over a hill we lovingly refer to as 'Old Bill'. My brother wanted to walk over this hill everyday (our old tradition) and, though not as fit as when I last came to the Lakes, I was up for the challenge. At first you climb slightly as you pass a few local cottages hugging the side of the main road. Once past these you 'zigzag' your way for about thirty minutes to the top. For periods, the sun presented itself through a blanket of cloud and the odd good view of the lake, plus the green fields below, could be seen. It's a magical place where little disturbs you and you are able to really clear your head.

My brother and I reminisced all the way to the top where we were treated to a beautiful panoramic of the village of Ambleside to our left, followed by the lake flowing into the distance with many hills creating a bowl effect. Not for the first time on my trip back to the UK did I get a lump in my throat as I looked at my country.

Once we had stopped for photos we then descented steadily into Ambleside. Even though we hadn't visited the Lake District for nine years, the route down was still ingrained into our brains. We walked across a beautiful stone bridge and into Ambleside's park. Once through that we walked past the local church and an elementary school (which were adjacent to each other); school had started back and with a 8:1 ratio between teachers and students, the local elementary school looked as though it would be a joy to study there. As we approached the main road whom should be walking towards us but our mother and father (who needs modern technology). We met up before doing a 'must' - according to my parents - which meant visiting a particular local café they liked. We walked along the small footpaths in single-file, along a cobbled path and past a river to find the café ... closed. Though disappointed, this didn't stop my parents finding another café and we all sat down for a drink and cake. I like café’s however, I try to avoid them at all costs because, well, of the cost. In reality you end up spending £6 or so on a drink and a small slice of cake, which would cost you less than a £1 if you stayed at home. To me, café’s have the highest profit: cost ratio of any eatery. Still it mattered not; the 'bank of mum and dad' covered the bill as so I ordered the most expensive drink with a cheaper slice of cake.

Alas, the café couldn't fulfil my 'spicy Christmas orange hot chocolate' order and so I had to settle for a regular hot chocolate. We spent a good thirty minutes or so warming up in here before leaving and going shopping.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to the Lake District was to visit a shop called 'Gaters'. It's an outdoor shop – like any other – however, it seems to be filled with people passionate and knowledgeable about everything to do with outdoor activities and the equipment required. The coat I found myself wearing was over nine years old and it had been bought from this shop. It was a Berghaus 'Mana Peak' gortex light-weight coat which had served me brilliantly through my year of travel and my current trip to Japan though alas, I noticed last year that it was starting to leak along the upper-back. It was therefore time to get a new coat and so I headed straight to the Berghaus section within this shop, which was located at the back.

I had tried about three different coats on when a lovely Australian chap came over and asked if he could help. Just looking at him was enough to realise that he liked outdoor activities as he was built like he was able to take on Everest in an afternoon. He explained a bit about different jackets and tried to show me other makes however, it didn't take him long to understand that there was history between me and Berghaus. I was delighted when he showed me the latest 'Mana Peak' jacket in both blue and red. The red looked hideous on the peg however, once on, it didn't look too bad. It was, however, in no way comparable to the light-blue jack with silver reflective trips and red cords on it's zip. There had been changes to the style of the jacket over the last nine years; most noticeably was that it wasn't quite as long as my old and worn jacket however, once zipped up, it covered my neck nice and tightly plus the hood had a little more room. This allowed me to wear a beanie hat underneath the hood. Though I 'ummed and arrrred' for about ten minutes, my mind had pretty much been made up the instant I tried it on. The cut felt so good that the jacket could have been apart of me; I was already to pay the £259.00 asking price when the 'BMD' (Bank of mum and dad) said that they would buy it for me for two birthday and two Christmas presents (currently my parents send me my presents to Japan which results in postage costs and, sometimes, me having to pay tax on the items. This felt like a much better idea).

With the jacket bought we strolled around the town allowing my father to look in any shop his heart desired. My bother and mother wanted to go to the 'rock shop' (no prises guessing what that shop stocked) to look for gifts for friends and family. Afterwards, I went into town looking for an old 'game' shop which I remembered fondly but alas, it had been turned into a Greggs. With town finished my mother and father departed (with the days shopping) for the flat reassuring us that they would get lunch ready. My brother and I started a local walk which only took thirty minutes or so however, it took you up and across a waterfall.

The trip up the waterfall was very beautiful but a little muddy. The fall of water could be heard all around, which was a little disconcerting as I needed the toilet however, the only local facilities required a 20p piece placing into a machine before you could enter (I was happy to pay the fee however, I had no change and there wasn't a change machine). I kept going and took some great photos of the waterfall and my brother.

As I mentioned earlier, it was only a thirty minute hike and so we found ourselves back in Ambleside rather quickly. We walked back to the flat using the pavement in time for a lovely sausage sandwich or two. I had brought some cheese and so I found a little cheddar went well with the sausages.

The day was still young and with such little time here my brother and I decided to venture on a third small walk around the cottage. We walked away from Ambleside and towards a church which was located in the middle of nowhere. We had been told of a walk within the area of said church and so we tried to find the start with little success (in fact, the start of the walk was 5km further towards the lake). We therefore walked through a large wooded area before the light began to fade. We were back at the flat within an hour.

Whilst in Ambleside, my mother and father had found the times for the film Paddington whereas my brother and I had found the times for the Hobbit. Though they weren't shown at the same time, it worked out that Paddington finished at around 7:30pm, and the Hobbit started at 8:20pm. This meant that my father and mother would by heading into town now, to watch Paddington, and then we would meet them for dinner before we went off for our film. With that sorted my mother and father departed whereas my brother and I sat down for a couple of games of 'Machi-Koro' and to start a game of monopoly.

All too soon it was time for us the leave the flat. We left the game of monopoly, with myself in a promising position, got ready and departed the flat remembering to take a torch. It was now pitch black and the road between our flat and the town had no street lights (would have spoilt the area if there were street lights) and so a torch was a must. We arrived at our chosen restaurant for the evening – a fish and chip shop – to see my mother and father sat down having already ordered their meals. After my brother and I had ordered our meals we joined our parents and chatted away. My mother and father enjoyed Paddington and they said that the cinema was full of couples; not a single child could be seen. We ate and chatted freely though I was always conscious of the time. At 7:50pm I said to my brother that we had to go, to which my mother laughed as the cinema was only a two minute walk away. Two minutes or not, I wanted to go as you never know how big the queue is, or even if there are seats left. We said goodbye and headed to the cinema whereas my mother and father went home.

Now, as Ambleside is a beautiful village within the middle of a national park, you can't just build a great big cinema in the middle of it therefore, the local cinema was spilt over three buildings; 'the main building', 'the old church' and 'the building by the park'. The Hobbit (which I had the unfortunate tenancy to call 'The Lord of the Rings' when I was buying our tickets) was showing in the 'building by the park'. Unfortunately, in all honestly there as two buildings close to the park (the old church is close too) and, of course, we ended up in the wrong one. To compound things we were served by a woman who I believe was from somewhere in Europe. Whereas the Australian in the outdoor shop had been a joy, this woman was useless. I asked for two tickets to see 'the Lord of the Rings' (to which my brother quickly corrected me) and was given two tickets without question. As my brother was about to head into the cinema I checked the tickets to see a completely different film name on the ticket. As I was still at the front of the queue I told the lady once more that I wanted to see the 'Lord of the Rings' (quickly corrected by my brother) to which she said 'it wasn't playing here'. I therefore asked for a refund and asked where the Hobbit was indeed playing, to which she ignored me and said she would give me a refund after she had made countless drink orders. Time was ticking on and the film was due to start in ten minutes and this woman was still taking drink orders from newly arrived customers; even the paying guest behind me thought that this was ridiculous and it was she who told me where the 'cinema by the park' was.

Finally, with five minutes to go, the local manager arrived and gave us our refunds. I gave the useless woman one last long glare before my brother and I ran for it. Fortunately the cinema was only a couple of minutes away and there wasn't a queue at the ticket office. After going to the toilet we entered the cinema pleased to see that it had been kitted out to modern standards and that there was hardly anyone there. We sat down on a row of our own and shared out the 'Percy Pigs' we'd bought yesterday at M&S. With only one advert to go the lights dimmed and the film started. I have to say that I enjoyed this film a lot as it was basically one hour of the armies approaching one-another, and then two hours of continual fight scenes.

The film finished at around 11pm. As soon as the credits came onto the screen I burst out of the cinema and into the toilet. Once I'd felt better my brother and I walked out of the cinema, fired up the torch and talked about the bits we liked (and didn't like) all the way back to the flat where I retold our story of the miserable sales woman to my mum. Being 11:30pm I had a quick shower before I hit the sack.

Wednesday 7th January 2015

Once again my brother and I were up early ready to tackle 'Old Bill'. We left slightly later than yesterday due to the continual downpour. The rain was coming down in sheets and we postponed our departure several times until we realised that the weather wasn't going to improve. I left all electronic devices and my wallet in the flat and proceeded onwards with my brother, who was more eager to climb 'Old Bill' than I. Stupidly I had decided to wear my old coat as I wanted to give it a 'last huzzar', as I believed it only let in a little water.

An hour and thirty minutes later we were back at the flat completely soaked. If anything the rain had got worse and I found out that my coat leaked more than I had bargained for. My brother wasn't that better off either; both of our gloves were soaked but my brothers shoes were also full of water. My brother had also borrowed my dads coat, which caused a few laughs. I'm not sure when my mum last washed my dads coat however, some of the washing powder must have been left on the coat because, as the rain poured down, my brother started to foam.

With the aid of our parents we lit the fire and placed all of our wet things to dry. I got completely changed whereas my brother filled his boots with toilet roll to soak up as much of the water as possible before placing them next to the fire. The rain was still bolting it down and so we were trapped inside watching it; which was pleasant in itself. My brother and I finished our game of Monopoly (and that is all I'll say about that) before sitting down in the living room twiddling our thumbs. It was 2pm already and the rain was endless; I wanted to go out however, my brother shoes were still too wet (I think I annoyed my mum when I said that 'I was fine' as it had been a very long time since I've had to think about others). Eventually, with little to do, we all decided to brave the weather and head for a 'localish' town which I hadn't been to (Keswick).

The road to Keswick was almost flooded making it a frightening drive. I would have turned back however, the weather didn't seem to faze my father. When we arrived in Keswick we thought that the rain had eased and so, with a beautiful walk only 2kms south of Keswick, we drove to the start hoping the weather would be fine.

It wasn't. As soon as we had arrived at the start of the walk we turned back towards the town of Keswick, as the rain was just too strong. We parked up and ran into the nearest covered way. It was at this point that my mother couldn't zip her coat up; in her panic she made the mistake of asking my brother, who has a similar record of 'successful fixes' as Frank Spencer. In true form he got annoyed with the zip and, how I don't know, broke it so badly that he ended up with the zip in his hand. This, of course, caused enormous amounts of laughter.

Not only was it raining heavily but it was now extremely windy. We braved the weather as we had a look around the towns shops. I had opted for my new jacket and so I felt as 'snug as a bug in a rug'. I found little of interest in Keswick apart from a sweet shop, Boots and a fairly large toy shop stocking quite a few boardgames. After about an hour we had all had enough of being blown about and so we headed to another café for a drink and a cake. Once consumed my mother and father went back to the sweet shop whereas I took my brother to the toy shop in search of presents for his children. We all met back at the car soon after and took the perilous journey back.

Weirdly, we hadn't spent long in the flat before my father, brother and I were driving into Ambleside. Tonight we had decided that we would get a Chinese takeaway. Though Japan has a lot of Chinese food, it's not quite the same as in the UK therefore, an English Chinese takeaway was on my 'food to eat list'. We decided to order ¼ duck with pancakes, fried rice, crispy chicken in a spicy sauce, chicken in a lemon sauce and a vegetarian noodle dish. It was a feast and didn't cost much more than the drinks and cakes we had been continually eating in the many cafés we had visited. I especially enjoyed the duck in the pancakes; I love that stuff.

Once consumed we sat down to watch another film which my brother had brought with him; Captain Phillips. This was a gripping film about a captain of a cargo ship which had been boarded by Somali pirates. Apparently the actual captain helped direct the film and Tom Hanks was just brilliant. The film kept me gripped all the way through; so much so that I didn't even notice time slipping away.

With the film over it pretty much signalled the end to our trip. Just like the rest of my holiday it had gone by so quickly however, just like the rest of my holiday, I had enjoyed it immensely.

Thursday 8th January 2015

For one final time my brother and I climbed 'Old Bill'. The rain had passed and we were left with some stunning views. We both could have spent all day on top of that hill however, we knew that our parents were, even now, packing up and so we hurried along to help them. Once back we helped load the car. We found ourselves ready to leave around 11am. My father made one final check to see if we had left anything and then we were off.

We drove for about twenty minutes and then stopped in the pretty village of Windermere (which the lake is named after). It is also the place where Peter Rabbit was created (which is very popular in Japan) and so we had stopped so I could get a few Peter Rabbit souvenirs and that my brother could go to the Lakeland warehouse. Apart from the actual Peter Rabbit museum being closed, my brother bought some things he wanted from Lakeland and I found a Peter Rabbit shop. As a gamble, I purchased a deck of Peter Rabbit playing cards hoping that a Peter Rabbit character would be drawn on each playing card but alas, it was only the back of the card which had a Peter Rabbit logo on; the cards themselves were just normal playing cards.

Once our wallets were empty we began the long drive home. Though my parents hate the M6, they decided to use it as it is a lot quicker than going back the way we had come (though it is a lot more boring than the way we had come). Luckily traffic was light and the only real problem we had was in Stoke-on-trent where we missed the turning to Derby. Once rectified, we found ourselves in Derby within no time. We unpacked the car and I said goodbye to my brother. I helped my mum and dad unpack the car for a little while however, I had a dinner date in the city of Derby with some x-work colleges I hadn't seen for three years. As I boarded our local 'city bus' I sat down, reliving the moments of my brief trip to the Lake District. Some people refer to the Lake District as 'God's garden', and they aren't wrong. I just hoped it wouldn't be another ten years before I returned again.

Toodle Pip!

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