Tuesday 8th April – Barnard Castle to Troutbeck Head (48 Miles)
We awoke early to a chill in the van, the internal temperature gauge reflecting a rather cool 8 degrees(c) so on with the heating and on with the kettle and Day Sixteen of no lung starters, I don’t even bother with the electronic cigarette first thing in the morning, which I have to say is really something for me as reaching for a cigarette first thing had been one of my morning rituals !! The sun was up and shining through the large skylight Heki’s it brought some much appreciated warmth however, the sound of the bicycle cover flapping told me that there was quite a strong wind blowing. We were moving on today but we were in no hurry as we would only be travelling one hour West, along the A66 and into Cumbria to the Troutbeck Head CC site just North of Ullswater. After enjoying a leisurely coffee in bed, as is our normal routine, I then went to get my morning shower and as soon as I opened the door the chill factor hit me, the first time I have shivered with cold for some time !! Ablutions conducted, I enjoyed my second coffee and a bowl of cereal before commencing my daily chores and I needed my fleece this morning. We were not hurrying in completing our ‘getting ready to move’ tasks but still we were ready by 10:15am so although we knew that officially we could not arrive at our next site before noon we set off a little earlier than planned.
I had been a little concerned as getting back onto the A66 meant having to cross a busy dual carriageway but I needn’t have worried, ‘Snoopy’ didn’t take me out on the route that I had anticipated, instead she took me out on the A67 towards Brough, which very conveniently links to the A66 via a slip road so I needn’t have worried, those ‘Dark Forces’ at work again I thought to myself. Although the sun was shining, which made it nice and warm in the cab, it was also drizzling with the wet stuff so the wipers were set on ‘intermittent’ but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the spectacular views over the valleys and onto the Cumbrian hills. I wasn’t sure whether Shazza would be enjoying the views as much as I was for she was in front in ‘Wuxly’ and her views were probably impeded, being lower down to the road in a car, with views obstructed by hedges and dry stone walls, whereas I was sat up much higher in ‘Big Momma’. It’s funny how your perspective of things can change from watching TV programmes, normally a field full of sheep with their newly born Spring Lambs frolicking around wouldn’t register very much in my mind, however, having just watched a weeks worth of ‘Lambing Live‘ programmes and seeing the year in the life of a family of sheep farmers it made me smile watching the lambs leaping around, many just a week or so old.
As quickly as our journey had started and it was over again as we arrived at the well signposted CC campsite, these type of short journeys reminded me of our time touring along the Algarve when an hours journey from one camping location to another was a long days drive !! We had arrived twenty-five minutes early and I did consider just sitting and waiting in the van until noon, but seeing someone in the reception building I decided to chance my luck, no problems, I was booked in and then left to go and select a pitch of my own choosing. We were not so lucky this time around as we were unable to find a vacant pitch next to a service point, the nearest was a walk of twenty-five yards !! So we elected for a pitch that offered great all round views of the surrounding hills, some of which still had snow on their peaks. Being in a valley the mobile phone signal was not so good, it kept dropping out so receiving messages via the 3G was a bit hit and miss and this was also one of the few club sites that didn’t have WiFi access but at least we had a good satellite TV signal which meant that I would get to watch the live European football. Shazza had again left ‘Wuxly’ in the car park at the entrance until we found a suitable pitch and so whilst I got ‘Big Momma’ up on levelling blocks and connected to the EHU she went and retrieved the car. We are pretty well organised and it takes only minutes to convert the van from ‘On the Road’ mode to ‘Home’ mode and soon we were sat enjoying a nice hot bacon baguette for lunch. The site was probably about 80% full yet it was ghostly quiet. This is a walking area and with little sightings of any other humans and caravans without their tow cars it was apparent that people were out for the day, I hope they were well wrapped up as there was still a severe biting chill in the wind. Lunch over Shazza wanted to go out exploring, I wasn’t in the mood for a walk today so I elected to stay in the warmth and comfort of ‘Big Momma’ whilst Shazza set off solo on one of her ‘expeditions’. When she returned her ‘gizmo’ reflected that she had done three miles, oh well that should keep her cabin fever at bay for today. We did go for a stroll around the site before our evening meal and called in to the Information Room and picked up some useful leaflets about the local area. It was a good thing that I had insisted on keeping my box of Ordnance Survey Landranger maps when we were clearing the house, in my box I had three separate maps covering the Lake District and fortunately one of them was for this area and it showed several potential ‘Shazza Expeditions’. We could also get a ‘Day Tripper’ ticket for the Ullswater Lake Ferry Boat from the site reception at a discounted rate so it looks as though our four full days here could be quite active !! We were also only Eleven miles away from both ‘Penrith’ and ‘Keswick’ just in case we needed to re-aquaint ourselves with civilisation. When we lived in Swindon we had a good Chinese Take-away and although we didn’t eat a lot of convenience type food we did like a ‘Chinese’ occasionally. However, we had not had a ‘Chinese’ since we left Swindon, nearly seven months !! so we have decided that at the next opportunity we would find ourselves a decent Chinese Restaurant and have a proper meal out, although I think that may have to wait until our next stop, when we cross over the Border and enter Scotland.
We had taken our cuppa’s to bed and were reading our respective books when we heard a strange tapping noise but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. After listening for several minutes we were both convinced that it was coming from outside the van and it sounded like a bird walking on the roof ! But it was dark, other than nocturnal hunters all the other birds were surely asleep in their respective roosts by now. I was quite happy to ignore it but Shazza couldn’t settle, there was nothing for it, she needed to investigate so she stood on the bed and opened up the large Heki skylight and peered out. Well I just couldn’t resist, as she was furtively looking around in the blackness of the night I grabbed her leg, the squeal must surely have awoken our neighbours but she didn’t wait to find out, the Heki was closed in record time !! The tapping continued and eventually I was able to identify the source, it was the aluminium warning board fitted to the rear cycle cover that was moving in the breeze of the night and knocking against one of the bicycle pedals, another case solved !!
Wednesday 9th April – ‘Aira Force’ to ‘Glenridding’ (8.25 miles)
It rained persistently throughout the night, by the time we awoke in the morning it was just a grey and dank sort of day with some light drizzle but it didn’t feel cold, the internal temperature showing a reasonable 10 degrees(c). Looking out of the window I could see a mist hanging over the surrounding Cumbrian Hills which served as a cloak concealing their peaks. Over our morning cuppa we chatted about our options for the days activities, we decided to drive ‘Wuxly’ the short distance to the ‘National Trust‘ (NT) car park at ‘Aira Force’ so that we could do the circular walk around the ‘Waterfalls‘. We could have walked from the site to ‘Aira Force’ but after Shazza’s brief ‘expedition’ the previous day she thought it would be fairly dangerous as the road was very narrow but fairly busy and there were no footpaths, decision made !
I don’t know how many of you who are reading this are Campers, but those of you who are may understand what I mean when I say, this site has a proper campers feel about it. I don’t mean that in any derogatory way to the other sites we have stayed on just recently but there is a certain feel to this one. In the mornings you can see people moving back and forth to do their ablutions, the smell of fried bacon wafting through the air followed shortly afterwards by people carrying their breakfast pots in brightly coloured plastic bowls, buckets or crates to the Dishwashing area, the cheery greetings as they pass by others on their way to, or from, their own morning chores and then the hive of activity as people gather their walking poles, boots, backpacks, mountain bicycles etc. ready for another day of exploration around this wonderful countryside. It just has that certain buzz, a feeling of people alive and happy with their lot. Then, as I discovered yesterday, the site becomes like a ghost town during the day and the only activity seen is that of the wardens going about their daily chores. Then, late afternoon the cars, bicycles and walkers arrive back and the site once again comes alive with the chatter of people, the whistling of boiling kettles, the clinking of spoons in the tea cups, the noise of excited children as they re-unite with newly made friends and then the varying aromas of evening meals being prepared, the clinking of glassware as they get filled with ‘Vino Calapso’ and the evening air is filled with muted chatter from inside brightly lit awnings before the evening parade of the plastic bowls, buckets and crates once again make their way to and from the Dishwashing Area. Daylight doesn’t become dusk now until around 8pm when the parade of people changes direction from the Dishwashing Area to the shower blocks before all starts to go quiet and tired walkers and cyclists cozy themselves away inside their Tents, Trailer Tents, Caravans, Camper Vans and Motor Homes ready for another day of activity.
After the morning ablutions and devouring of a light breakfast, just a slice of toast today, we were ready for the off. Picnic packed, flask of coffee packed, map packed, hiking poles readied and by 10:30am we were heading out of the campsite. Judging by the number of vehicles already in the car park we were late starters ! The NT was a pay & display car park and it didn’t come cheap, Shazza was all for driving off and trying to find somewhere else to abandon ‘Wuxly’, however, I managed to persuade her that it would be safe here as there was a ‘manned’ NT Information Centre at the site and there were a number of walks available not just the ‘Aira Force’ one, so we could spend a good few hours here. She agreed and as I didn’t have enough change in my wallet to cover the £6.50 ‘All Day’ charge I strolled across to the Information Centre. They were more than happy to provide me with some change as it also gave them an opportunity to sell me a £3 waterproof map of other walks in the immediate area, walkable from the car park, but I declined the invitation to renew our NT annual membership for £95, ours having very recently expired and which would have provided free parking. The walk to the main ‘Aira Force’ waterfall was relatively easy, on a dry day this could easily be undertaken in training shoes or similar but as it was a little wet underfoot today we were glad that we decided to wear proper walking boots. There were a number of routes to take and lots of other cascading falls of water other than the main focal point. You could also go beyond the ‘Aira Force’ waterfall and climb up onto one of the many ‘fells’ in the area but we elected to climb just to the top bridge above the main fall and then down on the other side. As is usual, once I have a camera in my hand then I cannot keep my finger off the shutter button and as a consequence I took rather a lot (understatement) !! I have selected a few that will hopefully give the feel for the walk, the varying number of cascades we encountered and the wonderful scenery that surrounded us on all sides, the one thing that is missing is the wonderful sound of the force of the water but you will just have to use your imaginations.
After completing our first walk, back at the picnic benches near the car park, we stopped for a coffee and to eat half of our picnic lunch. We had decided that we would walk along the South Side of the ‘Ullswater’ lake, the first part being along a newly made NT footpath, which would lead us to the small village of ‘Glenridding‘ and to the ‘Ullswater Steamer Ferry Terminal’, although we would be leaving the ferry trip for another day. This was another easy walk with no major inclines to battle and a good part of it was along the banks of the lake, off the busy and narrow main road.
‘Glenridding’ was quite a small village, I had expected it to be a little larger and more bustling but it was fairly quiet, although I guess it is still a bit early in the season. However, for a small village it had more than its fair share of Hotels, with signs advertising that there Bars and Restaurants were open to the Public, also an abundance of the more customary Bed & Breakfast establishments and plenty of Public Houses to quench the thirsts of the numerous walkers that the many trails would lead here. There was a well stocked ‘General Convenience Store’ and a handful of ‘tourist’ retail outlets so this small village catered well enough for the passing holiday trade. The Ferry Terminal Jetty also had its own Cafe and we read somewhere in one of the numerous information leaflets that it also provided Internet access, although we didn’t confirm this. We didn’t hang around, we had got to our selected destination and now we needed to head back to collect ‘Wuxly’. We simply re-traced our route back and had a short rest by the lakeside to finish off our picnic lunch. It was a good spot as we were able to sit and watch a group of young Kayakers just offshore. Apart from sheep and cattle in the fields we had not seen very much wildlife. However, as soon as I started to eat my sandwich a solitary duck appeared at the water’s edge from out of nowhere. They must have either good eyesight or a good sense of smell, perhaps both, because this duck didn’t just float nearby it actually got out of the water and waddled towards me, well my sandwich ! I threw small bits to see how daring it would be, this duck was either very hungry or too trusting as I threw a piece very close to my feet and it waddled up and took the bread, had I have been quicker we could have had it for tea, not as a guest you understand, but Shazza said we were having ‘Coq au Van’ but I suggested a menu change of ‘Duck in a Van’, she just gave me one of those looks !! Like a joke, just not funny sort of looks.
We arrived back at the car park, there was still quite a lot of vehicles there and lots of people taking off boots and changing into other footwear, throwing back packs and walking poles into boots of vehicles. Shazza checked her ‘Gizmo’ and it reflected that we had walked a total of 8.25 miles ! Like the outward journey, the return trip was pretty short and soon we had arrived back at ‘Big Momma’. Whilst Shazza set about preparing our ‘Chicken in a Van’ I went and got a wonderful hot shower to try to ward off my already tightening calf muscles. Once Shazza had prepared the evening meal we sat and enjoyed a cup of coffee, Shazza already contemplating ‘our’ next Expedition !!