Apologies for the long absence! Art has ofcourse been active in my absence, and I hope readers were well entertained 🙂
The main reason for the absence ofcourse was the holiday in Europe. I returned in the first week of June, dirty, tired, broke, but totally exhilerated. It was a fantastic trip in every way, and I hope to share some of that here, starting with this one long post. (I warned you!)
One of the things this trip made me realise was how much of a role chance or luck has to play in travelling. In many of the places we stayed in, the bookings were all made on the internet, just by looking at websites. Many of them were such small B&Bs that they did not have any referrals or even mention on the big sites that rate hotels. In the event, we did amazingly well, and the kindness shown to us by some of our hosts amazed me. It went much beyond a simple commercial transaction, and made us feel truly at home, reinforcing my belief in homestays.
So where do I start? Well, if I begin with the beginning, I have to start with the Lake District, where we started our journey, after a train ride from London. Now, the Lake District is ofcourse one of the most frequented tourist areas in England, fair enough, considering how picture-postcard-pretty it really is. But even in the Lake District, I realized, that the bulk of the tourist traffic goes to the 2-3 key villages such as Grasmere, Windermere, Bowness or Ambleside. Here again, call it chance or whatever – because I had booked really late, I could not find a suitable place to stay in any of these places. Instead, we ended up based in a much quieter town, called Kendal, infact, at a farm 4 miles outside of Kendal, at a village called New Hutton. This turned out to be one of the best things we ever did! The house that we stayed in, was an old one built in the 1660s with modern plumbing and other amenities added, but otherwise pretty much structurally the same, with its low ceilings, cozy little rooms and wooden panelling. Our host Mrs.Knowles ,whose husband’s family has owned the place for some generations, was the warmest person, making us feel truly comfortable, enquiring after our comfort, helping us with local routes and telling us more about local news and issues.
The countryside really is the true beauty of the Lake District, with its rolling greens that seem to go on for ever, the stone walls and hedge rows that are such an intrinsic part of the scenery, the sheep and cattle on the country side, and walking along narrow winding roads for miles without seeing a soul. Until. Someone passes by in a car, or riding a cycle, or even a buggy along the sheep farms. And for no reason at all, gives you a broad smile and wishes you a good morning. Windermere has the largest lake, but in no way can it compete with this!
(Green stretches endlessly, on the way to Kendal)
(Occasionally bounded in by shrubs and trees)
(A large house on route, at a junction where 3 roads to the 3 towns in the neighbourhood, Sedbergh, Oxenholme and Kendal meet)
The fact that we were based in a village, without any transport of our own, meant that we had to necessarily walk up and down to Kendal everyday. (Taxis are notriously expensive). These walks were some of the moments we really savored, pausing to watch a particularly beautiful slope, or arrangement of walls, or the rise and fall of hills in the distance. Green is the dominant color, grass carpeting every inch of land, a treat for the eyes and for the sheep alike!
Kendal itself is a neat little town, with its old market square still intact. When the entire region was a major hub for the wool-trade and other industries like mining, it was a much busier place. Today it feels quiet, yet active at the same time. While chain stores like McDonalds are there, the town also seems to take much pride in its many independent stores, and has an open market day every wednesday, when the market square fills up with small traders and home made produce, laying out the stuff in temporary stalls. There is an excellent Museum of Lakeland Life, which explains the history of the region with many audio and visual guides.
Besides this, can any old English town not have its own castle to boast of? Sure enough, Kendal has one too, dating back to the 12th century, although in ruins. Built for one of the early baronets in the region, the castle ruins stand on a small hill with a path around that has some good views. The walk to the castle itself is lovely, going past the riverside and over some bridges that make one feel as though the medieval era is still not over. The Kent river, which flows through the town was apparently until recently, quite prone to flooding and causing damage to the nearby areas. While the castle itself is not grand or fantastic or even tremendously important in any way, its setting has a quietness to it that adds to the feeling of ‘time has stopped here’. (The castle’s one claim to fame is that Catherine Parr, the last wife of the much married Henry VIII came from the famly of the Parrs who were one of the early owners. The road that leads towards the castle is Parr Street.)
(Bridge over the river Kent)
(Ruins of Kendal Castle)
(The Castle cellars, dark and cool, to store meat and drink for long periods)
While few features of the castle remain intact, one of the towers maintained for the use of the barons to stay “in relative comfort” stands in quite good condition. This relative comfort included an indoor toilet, with the convenient system of squatting over a hole, such that the contents fell down into the moat below, to be washed away. Makes one appreciate the comforts of modern life, however interesting history may be!
Kendal also has a delightful place called The Chocolate House, whose claim to fame is that it dates back to 1657, and although not a chocolate shop for all of its history, has taken on many avatars including that of a bakery, a fashion store and antiques house, before resuming business as a chocolate store. Today its cafe serves up the a range of chocolate based desserts apart from a good selection of chocolate drinks that are a comfort to the weary traveller. I had something called The Dungeon, a dark concoction of bitter chocolate spiced up mysteriously.
Kendal is interesting not so much because of the things it has to do and see. Rather, it is interesting precisely because of its ordinariness. It is a lovely place to just walk around, sit at the square and see things going by. The daily life of the Lake District is on view here, apart from its tourist attractions. Ofcourse, having gone to the Lake District, we didn’t entirely miss out those, and set out on a day’s expedition to Grasmere and Windermere.
Grasmere is noted for the Dove Cottage, where the poet Wordsworth spent some of his best creative years. The tour at Dove Cottage was conducted by some students interning there to get a foothold into the musuem industry, which is apparently a very competitive one. It is really a worthwhile tour, giving a sense of the people who lived there, their daily lives and trials, the overcrowding, the noise. Since Wordsworth was already very famous in his lifetime, and a Poet Laureate, it meant that a lot of things used by him and given away to people, were returned to the museum, which is therefore, quite rich in exhibits from the poet’s life. The lake can be seen from Dove Cottage, though many other cottages have sprung up in front, whereas in Wordsworth’s time, he would have had a completely unhindered view.
(View from Dove Cottage)
Grasmere village itself is pretty, as is Windermere, though overflowing with hotels, B&Bs and consequently, people. Windermere infact reminded me of a prettier, much better maintained Ooty! The lake is so full of boats that the cruise, while it offers some beautiful views, doesn’t really compare with the beauty of the quieter parts of the Lake District. I guess that is one of the unresolvable dilemmas created by the tourism industry. Lovely places become popular, and then, so popular, that their loveliness ceases to become obvious any more. Still, the Lake District does a very good job of maintaining its natural beauty in the face of such onslaught.
(A lone roughfell sheep outside Grasmere Village)
(Ducks at Grasmere)
(A restaurent by a stream)
(View from Lake Windermere)
Appropriately enough, close friend Desigirl, with whom I stayed later in London, gifted me a copy of Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island, where he says about the Lake District, “And yet, even at its worst, the Lake District remains more charming and less rapaciously commercialized than many famed beauty spots in more spacious countries. And away from the crowds – away from Bowness, Hawkshead and Keswick.. it retains pockets of sheer perfection”. I couldn’t say it better!