Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lake District Adventure

My second morning in the Lake District, I had plans. I wanted to go to see the Castlerigg Stone Circle. I looked at a map with one of the British folks, and he said that it was about a two mile walk up from Keswick, and quite steep. I was a bit worried, being a total whuss and all, but I thought I'd try, so I found my way to the bus to Keswick, about an hour by bus I was told. (Keswick, by the way, is pronounced Kezzick.)

Here's a map so you can follow my adventures for the day. If you look for the longest lake, Windemere, then you'll see Ambleside on the north end. We stayed at Waterhead, just south of Ambleside, and actually on the lake (as you saw from my previous post). If you follow the road up, you will find Keswick, and near it, Castlerigg. Between Keswick and Ambleside is Grasmere. (Can I saw at this time that I love the name "Ambleside"! It's perfect for a place where a lot of people seem to go to go for walks.)

It was also misting fairly thoroughly, not quite to the point of drizzle, but getting close. Never fear, though, because I had on my long johns! (If I ever write a dungeon again, I'm going to put in special long johns of warmth that protect from cold.) And a sweater. And a windbreaker. And I had along a plastic poncho and an umbrella. And my new (from the day before) hiking boots with nice thick socks, and my new (from the day before) hat.

On the bus, after we passed through one village, I realized that I was going to need some help getting off at the right stop, so I asked an older (and by older I mean older than me) woman if she knew if there was a way for me to know when we got to Keswick. She asked me what I was going to visit (because there's more than one stop in Keswick), and when I told her the stone circle, she said that I shouldn't go to Keswick, but should get off the bus earlier, and it was much easier. Then she went up to the front and consulted with the driver, and they agreed.

I had my doubts, but when an older woman tells me that something in her neighborhood works best this or that way, I tend to believe her. But I do get a little anxious, too. So I was getting a bit anxious about finding myself in the middle of nowhere. The thing is, since I'm typing this, you know it came out okay (way better than okay, actually). But when I was sitting on the bus waiting, I didn't know it would come out okay. (Though I wasn't horribly anxious. It's not like I was heading into hostile territory where I didn't speak the language or anything, and where people routinely shoot middle aged white women wandering about.)

Then the bus stopped, and it was, indeed, in the middle of nowhere. There was a wood gate on one side, and a little lane on the other side, and the woman told me to cross over and take the lane. And that's what I did.

The busses are scheduled to go about every hour during the days on Saturdays, so I checked the time and figured that if I'd walked for half an hour without seeing the circle thing (she'd said it was about 15 minutes), and I was doubtful, then I'd turn back to catch the bus at the next hour.

I walked on up the lane, which, happily, was nicely paved, though a bit narrow. At first, it was hedges, and I pretty much couldn't see over them. Then it was a stone wall, which I could almost or barely see over.

Sometimes, there were cattle. Moo. This one looked at me in that way that says, "People make no sense."

Sometimes, there were sheep. They wouldn't get concerned unless I was within about 15 feet or I stopped and pointed a camera at them. Then they'd run a few steps in the other direction. I'm guessing the sheep are pretty much only handled in ways that seem unpleasant: vaccinations, shearing, and the adding of colors on their backs.

We've discussed in some detail the colors on the back among the students and such. I'm guessing none of us has much experience shepherding. One bus driver told us that they were special sheep: the ones marked with green were fed a special diet with mint, and the ones marked with red were fed a special diet with apples, so that the meat would come out flavored. Then for a while I thought that it might be a thing where they put a color thing on the front of a ram so that when he mounted a ewe it would mark her, and then the shepherd would know she'd been bred. But the marks are way too much the same within a flock and different between.

One day I asked someone local, and he said that the sheep were often grazed on common grounds, and that each shepherd marked his/her sheep in a specific way so they could tell them apart. I haven't noticed markings on the black sheep, but it seems more likely than special minty feed.

My point about the sheep was that they seem to want to evade people, but don't seem to want to put much effort into it. And they seem to know they're fast enough to outrun us if they get at least a little headstart, so they put in just enough effort to have whatever headstart seems needful to them. They aren't like dogs that want to be petted even by strangers, or horses that might be curious to see if you have a carrot.

I kept walking up the lane, and then I saw the coolest rock wall thing. It was this gap in the wall, starting maybe gut high, and fairly narrow. At first I just walked past it, but maybe 20 feet later I decided to take a better look, and walked back. And then I saw...

Yes, it's a stone circle! And I'd almost missed it. So I went up the little stone stair leading to the gap and over.

I'm told that on a clear day you get a 360 degree view of some of the tallest mountains in the area, but that day wasn't really clear. Nonetheless, the stone circle was way cool. You can walk right up to the stones and touch them, walk around, stand in the middle, whatever. But while you're doing that, you need to also be careful not to walk right into a bunch of cow or sheep dung. Just saying.

I went to Stonehenge back in August while I was staying in London, and it was good, but this was better because you got to walk around slowly and take your time. There were between 3 and 8 people there (coming and going) while I was there, and everyone was friendly but quiet. I took someone's picture standing in front of a stone with her bicycle, and someone else took a picture of me standing in front of a stone. I don't know quite how to express it, but this circle was friendly feeling in a way that Stonehenge wasn't. The rocks weren't as big, but it felt special to me in a way that Stonehenge didn't.

So now I want to go to more rock circles and see how they feel.

Once I got in there and saw other people coming and going, I realized that if I'd walked up the lane another 50 meters and around a little bend, I would have seen a regular little gate and some cars parked there. But I liked my stile.

I liked my stile so much that I went back and took a couple pictures so you can see exactly how it works. Here's a self portrait of me in my new hiking boots looking down on the steps. Each of the steps is a really long piece of stone that goes through the wall and out the other side to be a step there as well.

Here's another shot of the stairs taken against the wall. In this picture, you can also see the rock mentioned in the wikipedia article, the one that was scarred by being hit by plows over the years, and that the farmer put up.

Except, well, I wonder how much these fields are actually plowed? I mean, the land here is REALLY rocky. It looks like it would be miserable to try to grow crops on. And it was pretty rare for me to see even a small patch of vegetables planted. So I'm not sure that anyone much would have plowed there? Maybe historically they did? I wonder who would know? I should ask our librarian! (I love librarians!)

I tend to figure that people make houses out of rock and walls out of rock when it's really plentiful; when rock isn't plentiful, they find cheaper and easier things to build with--bricks, adobe, timber, whatever. So from the abundance of rock buildings and walls, I think people have been pulling rocks out of the local fields for a LONG time, and they still seem to have plenty of rocks.

After I wandered around the rocks and took pictures and such, I went back over my stile and walked back down the little lane, and waited a few minutes for the next bus into Keswick, where I wandered around the town for a bit before catching the next bus back towards Waterhead on Windemere, which is the place on the water we were staying, and which is near Ambleside. (I gather that "mere" means "lake" so it seems weird to want to type Lake Windemere.)

Where I really wanted to go, though, was Grasmere, so I made sure to ask the bus driver about stopping at Grasmere, and specifically, stopping at Dove Cottage, which is one of the places Wordsworth lived in the area. I'm not a big Wordsworth fan, but being close enough to Dove Cottage, it seemed worth going for a visit. And, Grasmere is supposedly famous for some gingerbread that's made there. If you know me at all, you know I'm pretty much always up for a special trip to get something sweet.

Unfortunately, though the driver said he'd stop and tell me to get off at the Dove Cottage stop, he forgot, and only stopped at the next stop, which was a ways later. Oops. I got off anyway, and actually had the most scary part of my whole trip, walking on the fairly busy road, on an increasingly damp and misty day. I made it safely as you know, or you wouldn't be reading this.

And so I visited a Wordsworth site. And here's the thing. There are a lot of Wordsworth sites around the Lake District, supposedly. There's this one, and the birth site, and the site where he lived after Dove Cottage in Rydal, and blah blah. And each of them has stuff associated with Wordsworth, locks of hair, manuscripts, diaries from Dorothy Wordsworth, a razor, a comb, etc etc.

And looking at them, and thinking about how we pretty much have nothing closely associated with Shakespeare, I was secretly glad because I don't have to deal with the reliquary stuff that Wordsworth people might have to deal with. The Shakespeare industry is plenty more to deal with, but at least we don't have people going on about a lock of hair or something.

The cool thing about the cottage is that it's actually a cottage. A lot of times, you'll see that a building is named "Something Cottage" and then you'll see a picture and it's pretty much a mansion. Dove Cottage is very much a cottage. It's small, with a main downstairs room, a couple more bedrooms or sitting rooms, each fairly small, a kitchen area, and that's it. It's modest, really. And when you think that William Wordsworth and his wife, Dorothy Wordsworth, three kids, and the ever-present Coleridge (evidently he visited a LOT) were all living there, you can imagine that it was pretty darned bustling, and on a rainy day, when everyone was inside keeping warm, probably loud and crowded, too. That made me almost like Wordsworth. (I get irritated at the romantics in general, so if you love them, forgive me.)

It also made me interested to read Dorothy Wordsworth's diaries, though it sounded like there's a lot of this or that person feeling sick, and a lot of long, wet walks.

After the guided tour and visiting the museum, I walked back to the village of Grasmere and found the gingerbread place. Supposedly, there's this one shop, and that's it. And yes, I bought some gingerbread. It was more gingery than most gingerbread is, and fairly good, but it wasn't out of this world amazingly wonderful. So if you're going to go by and are thinking that you might have to stop, you probably don't have to.

And finally, I got the bus the rest of the way back to Waterhead, safe, sound, a little damp, and quite pleased with my day.


  1. Anonymous9:36 AM

    Yes, the colors on the sheep are the equivalent of branding. Castlerigg is probably my favorite stone circle, but Avebury is well worth checking out if you get down to Wiltshire.

  2. Your posts always make me miss the UK so much!

  3. See, you really need to go to Avebury. You can walk right up amongst the stones, and you can follow the circle all around the village, except where some of them have disappeared.

  4. I'll third the recommendation for Avebury. Much less touristy than Stonehenge, though still touristed; still, the main circle is so big that you can get away from the hordes. Jennifer and I did the walking tour with her parents, which was worthwhile. It's near the end of the Ridgeway so you can combine it with a bit of walking if you like.