Any Beatrix Potter fans out there? I was as a kid, and then I'm probably one of the few people who loved the "Miss Potter" movie, and got it in my head that I had to go see the Lake District where she spent so much time and worked so hard to preserve. Since I was going to be going from Derbyshire up to Scotland, I definitely knew I would be stopping to spend a few days among the lakes. I am SO SO glad I did, as this stop gave me one of my all-time favorite days. Also- if you thought that the pictures from the Peak District were impressive, just wait for this place! The island really does get more and more dramatic as you head north.
In following my trusted Rick Steves's advice, I actually decided to stay in the northern part of the area, in the small town of Keswick (pronounced Kes-ick, because why actually say the "w" that's in there???). The southern part is more touristy, a little flatter, and is the location of Miss Potter's actual home, Hill Top Farm. I originally had plans NOT to miss it, but the reviews on it were that it was really teeny tiny, and therefore crowded and difficult to visit (eg: timed tickets that sell out early), so I reluctantly kept on driving when I passed the sign for it in the quaint but busy little town of Windermere. This is also Wordsworth territory, for any poetry nuts out there...
I pulled into Keswick & found my B&B with no issues, and after a lovely chat with my awesome Scottish host & his local wife, I set off to start exploring. All of ten minutes later I'd walked through this cute (and fairly sleepy) little town to finally get a good look at the main lake in the north- the Derwentwater. From the little marina, there's a lovely path along the lakeside with, quite frankly, the first of MANY stunning views I had in store. (Remember to just click on the photo to see the next one):
The next morning dawned quite gray, with rain threatening, so I abandoned my original plan of hiking the full Catbells Ridge (the one on the right in most of the above photos), and instead decided to take the scenic drive over to to the village of Buttermere, through Newlands Valley on the other side of the ridge from the lake (again- all according to the fabulous Rick Steves guide!). When I turned off the main road and left a little village, I was sure I was not actually on a real road, but in studying multiple maps, it would turn out to be one of several "roads" that really barely merit the word in this region (and others still to come). Even in the mist, it was lovely, with the bright yellow flowering bushes I was coming to love. At the end of the end of the valley, there even was a cute little squiggley waterfall I walked up to. By the time I got to the village of Buttermere, any thoughts of actually circling the small Buttermere lake were dashed and it really started raining, so I ducked into the local pub to warm up & hope the weather passed.
After lunch, happily the weather started to clear, so I rushed through another dramatic pass, a few cute little villages and back to Keswick - I was determined to get out on the water and then to do a bit of hiking! There's a little boat that circles the lake at very set times, and I was sure that if I caught the next boat I'd be able to get at least to the top of the smaller summit and back down before the last afternoon boat left that far side of the lake. There was another older couple on the boat who had the same idea as me, so I was at least comforted by that, and there was a plan B... if the ridge looked too difficult, I could just hike along the water's edge to a different pier to catch a ride back to Keswick. Firstly- more lovely views from the boat!
Me & my new friends got off at the designated pier at the bottom of the Catbells ridge. We picked our way up to the trail head, and headed off. At one point early on, there was a very steep & switch-backed trail-looking-path branching off to the right which I was fairly confident was the way to go, but the couple were adamant that there was a different way. I went along with them for a bit, but as we came around the corner, it became clear to me that we were on a lovely, flat path along the bottom third of the ridge, eg: the easy way back to the previous pier. I mean- the views were already lovely from there (shown in the first two pictures below), but I was pretty set on getting to the top. Sooo - I left the couple and headed up what looked like a decent path that headed diagonally up the mountain. It sadly disintegrated into what was basically the sheep's path straight up & down an incredibly steep & rocky incline. I was not in proper hiking attire, but I managed to scramble my way up, without either sliding down the hill or getting charged by a confused sheep (they all were staring & baa-ing at me, like, "what is this crazy yank doing??"). I am SO SO SO glad I made it. Seriously exhilarating, and I felt on top of the world. You could even see a second lake from up there (besides the lovely & ever present Derwentwater). The photos don't do it justice, but it was GORGEOUS.
Worried about time, I then scrambled DOWN the very steep path we'd seen earlier (picture one below is looking back UP the rocky incline that I managed to get down without turning an ankle or anything). I thankfully made it back down to the pier with plenty of time to catch my breath and even chill out a bit before the last boat arrived. My last half hour of cruising along the lake were simply glorious- whether due to my endorphins or the gorgeous sun-drenched vistas, I can't be sure. OH- and I did end up coming across a bit of the Beatrix Potter world - the house in one of the pictures was used in the filming of the movie as her parent's house! So, there's one more movie setting I've seen. :)
Since it was still so nice out and I was so enthralled with how gorgeous the scenery was, I jumped in the car and headed for the "surprise view" mentioned in my guide book. This was yet another instance of a road hardly counting as one (again, a VILLAGE was at the other end of this "road"), but many other lovely sites including a truly FABULOUS view out over the lake and the ridge I'd just climbed. (In the last picture, you may be able to make out the "path" I took up, which just looks like a rocky wash-out digging down the middle of the ridge.)
From listening to the other folks at breakfast, there were just TONS of treks and walks that were equally, perhaps more, amazing than the one I'd taken. I could easily return for a week to the Lake District for more hikes, to actually visit the Beatrix Potter and Wordsworth sites, and more quaint towns & pubs. Alas, it was time for me finally to get to Scotland. Little did I know that this was about the last sun I'd see for days and days. Let's just say my "homeland" didn't welcome me with sunny skies - but more on that next time!