Motorhome travel: Fall in love with The Lakes
Gazing out of the campsite at the ominous ‘Jaws of Borrowdale’, I wonder why film director, Peter Jackson, bothered going to New Zealand to shoot The Lord of the Rings – he could have found all the dramatic scenery he needed here in the Lake District!
I’ve arrived at the tail end of a flood. I am grateful to be parked on a well-drained pitch under some big trees, though it’s not where I’d planned to be. At Hollows Farm, a basic campsite at Grange, the farmer’s wife suggested I look at the camping field before coming back to pay at the farmhouse.
It was a lovely spot, but not ideal for coming and going in these conditions, so I opted instead for the Borrowdale Caravan and Motorhome Club Site site in Manesty.
Both Hollows Farm and Manesty Wood are owned by the National Trust, as is most of Borrowdale. In fact, this is where the National Trust has its roots, having germinated from a desire to protect the Lake District’s distinctive landscapes.
The NT’s very first property, Brandelhow, which was bought by public subscription in 1902, adjoins Manesty Wood. Little do I realise it now, but I’m going to trace many of the threads of the National Trust’s history over the next week.
My first trip along the road around the hillside to Newlands alternates between glimpses of Derwentwater far below and keeping my eyes pinned to the slim strip of tarmac plunging around acute bends.
After several journeys I feel more relaxed about it, but am still astounded to see a Stagecoach bus travelling this narrow road past the campsite.
At dinner I meet Richard Fox, of Fix the Fells, and practically everywhere I walk in the next few days has benefited from path repair by this partnership organisation.
On Sunday, I join fellow MMM contributor, Viv Crow, who leads an interesting low-level walk down Newlands Beck to Portinscale and back via Derwentwater. The highlight is escaping the drizzle in the smart modern café on Lingholm Estate, where little statues of Peter Rabbit alert us to its connection to Beatrix Potter.
Beatrix Potter's love of the Lake District
Between 1885 and 1907 Beatrix spent 10 summer holidays here with her family, before concentrating her married years on breeding Herdwick sheep and preserving the Lake District landscape. On her death she bequeathed the 4,000 acres and 14 farms she had acquired to the National Trust.
The next day has the worst forecast of the week as an ex-hurricane is due to arrive. Dawn brings thick mist and a murky orange sky, so initially I head north through Manesty Wood to join the Cumbria Way beside Derwentwater.
Despite the gloom, it is an attractive scene with several sheltered bays and rocky peninsulas crowned by pine and oak.
From Hawse End I join a footpath up the north ridge of Catbells. Fix the Fells are working on repairing this popular path and bags of stone have been helicoptered in to build a new surface. As I climb, a dramatic change takes place in the weather. The clouds are ripped open by the rising wind and sheets of rain dash across the hills and dales, illuminated by rainbows.
By the time I scramble to the summit cairn, a dome of blue sky arches overhead. The view is fantastic, stretching over Derwentwater and its little wooded islands to Keswick, with Skiddaw and Blencathra silhouetted beyond. In the other direction, Newlands valley is hemmed in by awesome ridges and peaks.
The strengthening gale makes it difficult to stand up, let alone take photographs, but it’s a panorama to savour. On the descent from Hause Gate the outlook over Borrowdale’s labyrinthine landscape is enchanting and I half expect to find hobbit houses rather than motorhomes when I return to Manesty Wood.
A tempest rages through the treetops overnight, then subsides into a grey and wet day – time to explore Keswick. I park in the large Lakeside car park and wander past the Theatre by the Lake to the shore where dozens of ducks and geese are sheltering in the bay between the piers. I enquire of the launch company – but no, the boat won’t be running today because it is far too windy.
Instead, I stroll through Hope Park, where some brave souls are playing crazy golf, to the pedestrianised town centre. Colourful shopfronts offer varied eating opportunities, from Cornish pasties and fresh baking to Italian ice cream and fudge. There are also plentiful gift shops, although it is the George Fisher outdoor shop in a massive green slate building that receives most of my attention.
After four nights at the Borrowdale site I fancy a change of scene and the experience of a farm campsite. I choose Lanefoot Farm, near the A66 to the west of Keswick, which has hardstandings for motorhomes, electric hook-up and an open view to Skiddaw.
The farmhouse has the date 1568 above the door and I have to duck through the entrance to the showers and toilets. Although housed in what was probably the adjoining byre, the facilities have fresh paint and underfloor heating.
An early start at Castlerigg Stone Circle
After an early start, I am at Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick. It’s a perfectly still morning, with swathes of mist draping the hillsides as the first rays of sunshine highlight the wide ring of standing stones.
My plan is to buy an all-day parking ticket for £7.50 and travel down Borrowdale, stopping at many of the NT’s eight car parks to explore the sights. However, at the first one in Great Wood, Nick – one of the Trust’s rangers – has his stall set up in the back of a van and doesn’t have to work too hard to persuade me to take out membership.
It seems churlish to enjoy the fruits of the NT’s conservation work and not to support it. And, of course, there is the benefit of free access to the properties and parking in its car parks, both here and throughout the UK.
I stop at the Kettlewell car park and walk down to Ashness Gate landing stage, where I have a lovely view across Derwentwater to Catbells and see the Keswick launch sailing by. Today would have been ideal for a boat trip, but I’ve set my mind on walking.
My first short walk takes me to the high, broken cascades of Lodore Falls and down to the landing stage where canoes and dragon boats are tied up.
Bowder Stone car park is the start of a longer walk. I begin by strolling half a mile to the Bowder Stone, a massive rock that has been a tourist attraction since 1798.
I walk on through the lovely oaks of Frith Wood and cross the River Derwent by the bridge at Rosthwaite.
Here, a farm collie follows me towards my target, Castle Crag, a jagged ‘tooth’ sticking up in the ‘Jaws of Borrowdale’. I leave my new friend at a gate and later see him riding on the back of a quad bike.
The climb is fairly easy until the path zigzags up a disused slate quarry to the flat, but precipitous, summit. A head for heights is needed.
Although dusk is falling fast, the prospect is outstanding: north over Derwentwater and south over a patchwork of green stone-walled fields to the rough hills rearing up around Borrowdale.
On my final day I continue where I left off in Borrowdale, stopping at Grange to read about the Borrowdale Story. Borrowdale derives from Borg (fort) and Dalr (valley). Scandinavian words abound in the area, with many places called fell (mountain), beck (stream), rigg (ridge) or thwaite (clearing).
After a short halt at Seatoller, I drive up to the Honister Pass where the hillsides have been hacked into dark, looming cliffs. On a warm and sunny day I’d love to climb the Via Ferrata that tacks its way up the face of the slate mines.
A chill wind is blowing, so I drive on over the pass. My trip concludes at a final NT car park with a gentle walk between Buttermere and Crummock Water, another area I would like to explore more.
After a week in and around Borrowdale, I feel I’ve only scratched the surface.
Next time I’ll try to pick better weather so I can climb some big hills, ride the Whinlatter Forest mountain bike trails and catch the Keswick Launch to Derwentwater beauty spots.
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