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Lake District, EnglandAuthor: Gordon T. (More Trip Reviews by Gordon T.)
Date of Trip: September 2010
An Autumn Visit to the Lake District
I have always liked England’s Lake District, particularly in Autumn –there is such an atmospheric charm to a still September day there. I have been several times but not recently so I looked forward to a week in the village of Coniston. The weather can be wet in the Lake District (here-in-after referred to as LD)– and so it proved once again – but if you’ve got some indoor distractions to distract from the rain, you could ride out the time until you can be walking, cycling or boating again.
Coniston was busy at the weekend, as the weather was good, people were drinking outside the pubs even though it was late September. Coniston is a small place, a village really, but has a surprising amount of pubs, 6 or 7 I would say. It has shops, and a petrol station, and “chippers” (fish and chip shops) , and of interest to me, an internet cafe, in Tibberthwaite Avenue, £2 for half an hour and a decent latte. For eating out, I recommend the Black Bull, in Coniston’s main street, and the Wilson’s Arms, in the nearby village of Torver. But beware, portions of food in the LD are usually very large, and you could easily put on weight. I cannot recommend, however, the service at the Sun Hotel in Coniston, where we found staff off-hand and disinterested. They do have a very nice lamb kashmiri curry there, though.
Coniston is right next to Coniston Water, a lake about seven miles long and roughly one mile across. There is a boating centre, where you can cruise on a steam yacht, or hire a motor launch, or even canoes and kayaks. Needless to say, there are paths and pleasant walks everywhere, we found one right beside the lake from the boating centre at Coniston running south, sign-posted Torver, although to go all the way to Torver would be about 4 miles and take you away from the lake.
Close to Coniston is the mountain known as the Old Man of Coniston. You can walk to the mountain from the village, or take transport up a narrow and steep road to a car park to save quite a bit of climbing. My group did not go to the top of the Old Man, I think that involves some quite strenuous uphill walking, but we went round to the west of the mountain to a tarn (that’s a small lake in the higher areas). The paths here are quite rugged, you have to watch the whole time where you are putting your feet. The views are excellent, though, we saw the steam yacht proceeding down Coniston Water, quite a sight. Here is a good website with more information about walking on the Old Man of Coniston – http://www.knowledge.me.uk/walks/old_man_of_coniston.html
An interesting excursion from Coniston can be made to a disused quarry at Hodge Close, about two miles from the village – take the A593 road towards Ambleside, and look for the sign-posted road on the left to Hodge Close. This takes you to a large car-parking area, close to the main part of the quarry which is a huge and deep pit with sheer sides and deep water in the bottom. You can see two openings, and the remnants of a rail line, in one side of the quarry, and you can fairly easily descend to these and be right next to the water, which was absolutely still and makes for some nice photos with the rock reflections. You need to be careful and sure-footed around the quarry, but it is an interesting and atmospheric place, and I recommend spending an hour or two there. I gather it is popular with rock climbers, and with divers, as it has flooded chambers, and indeed whilst we were there we saw two people in wetsuits appear in the quarry and jump into the water – apparently they came through a tunnel from the other part of the site. I have found some websites with more information, and some photos – http://www.opencountryprints.co.uk/hodge.htm http://www.english-lakes.com/hodge_close.htm http://www.ukdivers.net/sites/hodge.htm http://www.visitcumbria.com/amb/hodge-close-quarry.htm
Coniston is surrounded with disused mines and quarries, and there is a good one to see on the Old Man. Walking up from the village (take the lane past the Co-op shop), you can climb a good path beside a stream up to a copper mine. There is lots of old abandoned machinery just lying around up here. You can go further past the mine, and a water industry installation, and take a more rugged path across the valley to link up with a better route down the other side, completing a loop to the path back to Coniston. This is not a long or difficult excursion at all, and well worth it for the things to see and the pleasant mountainside environment. I found these websites with lots of photos of the copper mine areas – http://www.aditnow.co.uk/album/Bonsor-Dressing-Floors-and-Mill/ http://www.mine-explorer.co.uk/view_picture.asp?id=4621
Another good walk which you can start from Coniston itself is to Tarn Hows. I didn’t go on this walk myself but some of my group did and they said it was excellent. It is only about five miles there and back, and apparently affords one of the best views in the Lake District – quite a claim. Here is a detailed description of the walk – http://www.knowledge.me.uk/walks/tarn_hows.html I also like to cycle, and a stay in Coniston affords plenty of opportunities for rides of all distances amongst beautiful scenery. Beware, though – some of the busier roads are quite narrow, and to my mind are dangerous for cyclists – motorists driving too fast see them too late as they come round bends and over crests. You can find some lovely safe cycling on the many quieter roads in the LD. I noticed sign-posts for an off-road track from Coniston all the way to Ambleside, which would be much appreciated by cyclists as this stretch of road is particularly narrow, bendy, and undulating, especially towards the Coniston end. I did not go on any part of this path, but I imagine that it is not tarmac and best on an MTB or hybrid bike. I had a “racer” (i.e. narrow high pressure tyres) with me and was looking for an excursion around Coniston Water on the public roads. This was easily achievable, a round trip is only about 18 miles, and if you are starting from Coniston, you could continue on south to Ulverston to make it a longer trip – about 30 miles, this one.
I also like to ride a MTB on forest trails, and there is an ideal venue for this a short drive east from Coniston, at Grizedale Forest. There is a bike hire shop, with a sales and repair shop next door, and we received excellent and friendly service here. There is also a smart cafe close by. Bike hire cost £15 for up to 4 hours, no deposit required if you can provide a credit card number. The bikes we got were not top quality but they were good enough – but I believe you could get a better class of bike if you advise them that you are going on the more “technical” tracks – i.e. where more skilful and adventurous riding is required. My companion and I stuck to the main forest track, which was about a ten-mile circuit on good, wide, smooth surfaces. It was not muddy at all, despite it being a murky day, and there having been some wet weather in the proceeding days. The circuit was quite hilly, though, with some quite demanding climbs, but some long and fast downhills. We cycled the main track – marked in green on the provided map – in an anti-clockwise direction, which was for the best in my view, as the first two thirds had all the climbing, and the last third was almost all downhill. There were very few other cyclists, or walkers on the tracks, but then it was a rather grey weekday in late September. I imagine it is rather busier in the summer. I recommend a visit to Grizedale if you are a cyclist of any ability, there are fairly easy and shorter ways if you prefer, and it is very pleasant in the forest with good views at the northern end, looking down on Coniston Water and across the lake to Coniston village itself. And you are, of course, completely away from any motor traffic.
If you want to go to somewhere a bit bigger than Coniston, for shopping or whatever, then the busy town of Ambleside is about 20 minutes’ drive away. Ambleside has a veritable plethora of outdoor gear shops. You can buy anything for the outdoors here, footwear, clothes, waterproof gear, walking poles, rucksacks, camping gear, GPS sets, it’s all here and lots of choice. There are also some nice sweet shops and local produce outlets. There is a large car park at the northern end of the town, close to the shops. Ambleside has a nice atmosphere to it, and is well worth a visit. So there it is, you should certainly make plans to visit the Lake District if you have never been, if you are at all interested in outdoor pursuits. If the weather is dry, the region is a paradise, and there are lots of facilities, with the largish towns of Keswick (in the north), Ambleside and Windermere (in the centre), and Kendal (in the south). But for a quieter time, but still with lots of facilities, yet easy access to the hills, lakes, and less-frequented roads, Coniston is hard to beat, and I intend to make an annual trip there, at different seasons, for some years to come.
Gordon Tulloch 4 Nov 2010
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