Wordpretzels, another travelogue story. This one tells the tale of how a couple suddenly find themselves able to go on holiday together without children for the first time in 12 years. In that time, we have managed to grow two teenagers, one not teenage for much longer and another about to hit full strength teenagehood. Master Johnny was off to Spain with Master George and his parents, The Sexton and Pen, so we took the opportunity to visit somewhere we’d never been before – The Lake District. For those of you that don’t know, The Lake District is in the north of England, west of Newcastle, has real mountains and … lakes.
We set off from Randall Towers, the staff being given some time off and Miss Katherine being left in charge of looking after the cats, which usually means keeping down the number of times that Stanley or Ollie shit on our duvet. That’s the names of the cats, not Miss Katherine’s friends.
The journey took just over three and a half hours to Ambleside. Lady BSM was exhausted from telling me how to drive and arguing with the sat nav, so we were glad to arrive at Compston House, the American bed and breakfast. This establishment is run by Jerry and Sue, former residents of Greenwich Village, New York. How they came to be in Cumbria, we never truly found out, but I should imagine the cultural effect would be similar to stepping off a fast moving escalator onto solid ground. They’re famous for their huge American breakfasts; in fact, they’ve appeared on TV, when a regular resident of theirs set the pancake eating record of 14 in one sitting. Even more thrilling, he would be staying at the same time as us! I think I found this more exciting than Lady BSM. She seemed even less enamoured with my suggestion she could beat his record.
All the rooms were American themed – we were staying in the Hawaii room, which had retina burning, Hawaiian wallpaper, Hawaiian plates and Hawaiian artex on the ceiling. Lady BSM forbade me from wearing the grass skirt and flower garland hanging on the wall, though secretly I felt she would have loved to see me do it.
It was my first visit to Cumbria, so I didn’t know what to expect. The views from the B&B window were spectacular – Loughrigg Fell, apparently. I had trouble with all the names, despite constant reminders. The local accent was quite amazing. It was a combination of northern flat vowels with an East European twang, whether it was Talia in Lucy’s restaurant, Dima and Kasia in Zefirelli’s Italian restaurant or Mateusz, who drove the boat across Windermere, rather worryingly offering to show me the photos he’d taken of his girlfriend Patrycja in the woods the day before. Who’d have thought that only 200 miles north of my stately pile, the English accent was so similar to that of the former communist bloc?
On our first full day as a child free couple, I had persuaded Lady BSM to let me take her up Wansfell Pike. Wansfell Pike is a big hill, 1500 feet high. You can walk up one side and down the other into Troutbeck, where the Mortal Man pub awaits. The official walk time is 3 and a half hours and 6 miles long.
“Wait for me,” Lady BSM gasped, “this hill is quite challenging. Give me some of the water from our flask.”
I was carrying a rucksack with 2 flasks of water, extra fleeces, walking sticks, gaiters, Kendal Mint cake, a bottle of gin, two small cans of tonic, lemon slices, spare trousers, Lady BSM’s informal heels, a camera, the latest copy of Homes and Gardens, 3 lipsticks, a make-up kit, a hair brush and cordless hair straighteners. I rummaged through and handed her one of the flasks.
“Keep going,” I urged, “we’re nearly out of the car park.”
Three hours later, we were nearly three quarters of the way up. It was tough. We had a lot of encouragement from a lovely lady as she passed by. I was really impressed when she told me she and her husband started fell walking at the age of 50.
“That was nearly 30 years ago now,” she chuckled, “and he could walk in those days, too!”
I reluctantly offered to push his wheelchair, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
The 4 hour trek was really worth it, though. Lady BSM and I had a tearful hug at the top, looking out over Lake Windermere. The weather was magnificent – we stood in our t-shirts admiring the fantastic scenery. The sun was warm and the wind non-existent, mainly due to the fact the effect of Sue’s American pancakes had worn off by then. The walk down to the pub didn’t take quite so long, though the journey round the fell back to Ambleside did, as more octogenarians cheered us on as they overtook us. We now refer to the distances in the walking guides as “Lakeland miles.” To be fair, I can run 6 miles fairly comfortably in under an hour, so a 5 hour expedition suggests somewhat further.
Next day, we took the boat from Ambleside to Wray Castle across Lake Windermere and walked the 4 Lakeland miles (10 human miles) to The Ferry House. There was only one other passenger on the boat with us, another old aged pensioner, who disappeared into the distance. We caught up with her when she was having something to eat in a wooded copse.
“Oo I’m having my elevenses!” she exclaimed. See you later!”
Half an hour later, a mile from the Ferry House, she yomped past. How she ever managed with the one leg, I’ll never know.
Back at Compston House, we prepared for a cinema/meal deal with the vegetarian Italian restaurant Zefirelli’s, which is well worth it. The little church hall converted into a cinema was great, even if my chair smelled of vomit. Lady BSM insisted it didn’t.
The meal afterwards was really lovely. Vegetarian food can be fantastic and you don’t have to wear a wispy beard and a smug look to enjoy it.
The following day, we said our farewells to Jerry and Sue, packed all the complimentary shampoos, soaps, dressing gowns and towels into our cases and set off for Watermillock, on the edge of Ullswater, to stay at a swanky hotel called The Rampsbeck. We accidently found Aira Fors, a wonderful waterfall, after taking the wrong turning. Again, a very scenic climb in the woods, interrupted now and then by senior citizens rushing by. At the top, we watched the clear, cool water rush past. I suggested that Lady BSM undress so that I could get some tasteful pictures of her bathing in the stream. Even though I promised her they’d be soft focus and suggestive rather than explicit, she seemed less impressed by this idea than the pancake challenge.
The Rampsbeck Hotel turned out to be a very grand place, all oak panels and oil paintings. It would make a great venue for a big game of Cluedo. What’s more, we appeared to be the youngest guests, which was rather flattering. Everyone was rather friendly, including the retired army captain celebrating his 90th birthday.
“I say, young man,” he said genially, “didn’t I pass you earlier today on the way to Aira Fors?”
That evening, we had our dinner in the hotel restaurant, a sort of dining club for Saga members with a matured endowment payment burning a hole in their pocket. Suffice to say, the meal was very tasty; I had the sea bass, Lady BSM some venison.
We drank a whole bottle of wine and retired to our room to cope with the flatulence and indigestion. No wonder Michael Winner has a face like that if he has to eat all that rich food all the time. Lady BSM jokingly suggested we tried the Michelin restaurant up the road the following day, but I thought it unnecessary, since we didn’t need any new tyres on the car.
Our last evening was spent eating fish and chips in the local pub, the Brackenrigg Inn. I’d passed it the day before on a gruelling 6 mile run, where I discovered how hilly The Lake District can be. I think the popping noise on the way back was one of my lungs.
Anyway, back to the pub. Lady BSM and I had stopped there at lunchtime for some soothing ale. It was secluded and quiet, hence our decision to return that evening, to find the lounge bar had turned into a primary school playground. The noise emanating from the five children at a large dining table was excruciating. The stereotypical middle class mum and dad sat at the table smiling beatifically whilst their spawn caused havoc. We found solace in the quiet, very dark restaurant area, only occasionally being disturbed by mummy taking Jocasta or Henry the toilet, whilst shouting “William!” at the top of her voice. Meanwhile, we could watch out of the pub window as Oscar jumped off the wall into the main road whilst their dog (yes, they had a dog) Spanky tried its best to hump Sophie’s leg off. However, by nine o’clock, they were off to their beds. From the response of the locals and other tourists drinking there, mummy Jocasta was lucky not to get a fork between the eyes. Another family with two young daughters revelled in the praise heaped on their offspring’s behaviour. It also made me realise that we had been separated from young children for nearly a week. Mind you, it did show why tigers sometimes eat their young.
We left the next morning, taking the Kirkstone Pass, the highest road in The Lake District at
1,489 feet. Lady BSM never screamed once.
I was worried about the cold. About the language barrier. About Lady BSM killing me, tying a big rock around my ankle and dumping me in Lake Windermere.
But I needn’t have. The Lake District was wonderful, the people are great and I want to go back again.
Most importantly, I now know I still have a wife that likes to have fun with me and me with her. She’s still my best audience when I’m showing off or trying out gags. After years of holidays worrying over the lovely people we’d produced together. What’s more, she seems keen on trying it again. My kind of woman; attractive, intelligent, with a great sense of humour and easily pleased.
Mind you, on the way back, Lady BSM received a text from Master Johnny from Spain, saying, “OMG I’ve got a small stone stuck in my…”