Lake Land I: Arrival
Early doors. No time to watch statey funes today - this hairy little hobbit is off on an adventure.
Going on holiday on your own can be a right faff. If you forget anything, ANYTHING, then it's on you, which sucks. No sibling or partner or pet can take the fall for you bringing one too few pairs of pants, or forgetting-
Every bloody time. I've already missed one train into Manchester, I can't afford to miss the next one too. I scramble outside to dispose of a black bag and the recycling, then dip back in to grab my rucksack.
I've never technically been to the Lake District before (that's only if you don't count a fifteen-minute stopover at Tebay services as 'having been'). The weather doesn't exactly look balmy, but a non-work-mandated change of scenery will be nice.
Bang on 08:30 into Platform 6 at Manchester Piccadilly. Though the station is eerily quiet, there are more cafes and shops open than I expected. I pick up a cup of tea on my way over to Platform Fourteen.
The tannoy crackles into life.
"Due to a power failure near Stockport, services are subject to cancellations. Please be advised..."
Thank goodness I didn't miss that last train.
I'm on my way fifteen or so minutes later on a direct service up to Windermere. The automated announcements rattle off the intermediate stops: Oxford Road, Wigan North Western, Preston, and so on.
"The next station is... WIGAN NORTH WESTERN."
Someone's been messing with the tannoy - the announcements for Wigan are obnoxiously loud (comically so, even).
The train is barely half-full as we rumble along the West Coast Main Line towards Preston. It seems as though most people are savouring the bank holiday lie-in. And why wouldn't you? It's what Lizzie would have wanted. Probably.
Preston comes and goes. A handful of tourists have sidled into the seats in front of me. Bagpipes blare out of a tinny phone speaker. Presumably, this has something to do with the State Funeral, or perhaps they're crossing the border on their journey today. It's slightly grating either way.
The line runs parallel to the meandering Lancaster Canal as it makes its way up through the Lancashire suburbs.
We're brought to a halt at a red signal on the outskirts of Lancaster.
Hang on. Is that...?
Someone's got a Transport for London bus stop flag in their garden. Not that you can tell from these photos - my phone camera is terrible. Capturing images is like carving The Birth of Venus into a block of lard with a Nokia 3310.
I chuckle at the bus stop sign, imagining Citymapper having an absolute aneurysm trying to convince you to go through North West England to get to the big Saino's in Wandsworth.
"I don't know WHY I'm routing you via Lancashire, but it must STILL be quicker than getting the 270 or else I WOULDN'T HAVE SAID ANYTHING."
"Yeah mate, to get to the library you just have to change at chuffin' LANCASTER."
We (intentionally) pass through Lancaster proper around five minutes late, with Oxenholme our final stop before we deviate from the mainline.
Kendal, Burneside - pronounced bur-nee-side - and Staveley are the intermediate stops between Oxenholme and Windermere. Few passengers board or alight; it's Windermere or bust for most people.
Disembark. Down the hill into the town. All bar two cafes are closed, as are all of the shops (State Funeral, 'pay our respects', et cetera). That being said, the town is delightfully quaint. Slate structures housing cafes, galleries, and pubs form the backbone of the high street. I drop my overnight bag off at my accommodation before heading out to explore.
Whilst in the Lakes, my plan is to go for a long run and a hike on the two full days I have, as it's potentially the best way to see as much of this vast, beautiful landscape as I can in the little time available.
My initial expedition is a recon mission down to Bowness. The map suggests it's a 45-minute walk over to the ferry at Bowness Nab, which will take me to Claife Heights on the west shore of Windermere for my run tomorrow. The ferry’s not running for most of today, though - no points for guessing why.
Out of the flat, back along the road towards the high street. The sound of Westminster choristers catches in the wind as I stroll past ajar living room windows. Down the hill I go.
B&Bs and hotels litter the road down to Bowness, each with their own unique selling points. Ooh, look at this one: it’s got colour TV and radio!
Locals and tourists alike pass me heading northbound, each with their own gaggle of pets or children in tow. I attempt to smile at each of them as they pass, though the sunlight in my eyes turns my smile into a grimace, like I’ve just witnessed a dog eating another dog’s poo.
Christ, the sun really is bright. Steady on - it’s September, remember? Out come the sunglasses.
My sunglasses have broken in my pocket.
Back go the sunglasses. I'll have to make do without.
It’s only as you approach Bowness that you first catch a glimpse of Lake Windermere. I pause to get the big-boy camera out (goodbye, potato phone) before descending through the lakeside town.
Every other shop has some sort of shrine or homage to the late Queen, with some making more sense than others.
The road through town leads straight to the promenade, upon which sit a number of kiosks and huts that on any other day would be selling tickets for ferry tours along the Lake. The shutters are locked today.
I find a bench just past the kiosks by a handful of lesser-used jetties and stop for lunch. For the largest body of water in the Lake District, it’s deceptively narrow; you can easily pick out details along the far shore with the naked eye. The water sits dormant in front of me. No waves, no flow. Just stillness.
Stillness, that is, until the local avian population spots a rogue crumb from my sandwich as it tumbles to the ground. Like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, the area is immediately mobbed by birds. I don't hang around.
Back up the moderate incline towards Windermere. Gravity and I aren't best pals, which begs the question as to why I came to one of the lumpiest parts of Britain for a holiday. One of life's unresolved mysteries.
Most of the afternoon is spent planning out the next few days. The ferry looks set to run as normal tomorrow, so my trail run should be fine. The weather on the following day is looking questionable though, which might make the hike a bit challenging. One to reassess later in the week.
I head out onto the high street when the local supermarkets open at 17:00. Now that the funeral is over, there’s a slight but noticeable hubbub around the town as people collectively emerge from their monarchical stupor.
Dinner is modest - a ready meal from the Co-op, washed down with a glass of apple juice. C'est vraiment!
Not ‘I don’t know’ like ‘I’m unsure as to what happened’, more of an ‘I don’t know what to do with myself’. This is my first time vacationing solo; usually, the evenings are spent with friends or family eating and drinking in a pub or similar establishment, or playing card games, or going for a stroll.
I’ve decided that I’ll go to the pub with a book. There’s an extremely high probability that I’ll finish my lemonade having spoken to no one other than the bar staff and return to my accommodation within the hour, but I have no issue with this. To quote an infamous pop punk band, “let’s be alone together” - better to do nothing around other people than do nothing on your own.
It’s daunting, though. I’ve been sober for three and a half years, and socialising in a post-pandemic world can feel stilted and awkward at the best of times. Not having familiar faces or voices around you can make things feel a little unsteady, and it's not like I have a welcoming face that encourages spontaneous conversation. It’s quite frowny a lot of the time, actually.
I make a slow yet deliberate beeline for The Crafty Baa after dusk. There are no more than half a dozen patrons in the cozy venue, with a few more seated out front.
The barman is having trouble getting one of his stouts to settle for another patron. I order a lemonade once he has resolved the issue, and perch on a barstool in the corner of the main room.
The decor and general atmosphere is quite welcoming, and within minutes I become engrossed in my book (ASDA Mini Word Puzzles, if you must know). It’s clear that I won’t be regaling others with tales of this evening for years to come, but I feel like I’ve overcome a small hurdle regardless.
Thirty minutes pass with ease, and a handful of people come and go. An older couple sits across from me; the wife looks largely unimpressed as the husband - who shares a very passing resemblance to Vic Reeves - sings along to a Stealers Wheel bluegrass cover under his breath.
A variety of animal noises have been interspersed into the pub's playlist: mainly sheep, but there are a few other farmyard animals too, with the occasional distressed cat mewl thrown in for good measure.
The website had originally advertised live music this evening, though it’s likely that things are more muted due to the State Funeral. I continue with my crossword for another twenty minutes or so before thanking the bar staff and heading off. I make sure to surreptitiously slip a coaster into my puzzle book as I leave because, you know, when in Rome… steal their beermats.
I eye up the other open venues as I stroll down the high street, but it appears as if everywhere is fairly empty this evening. No bother.
For a ‘town’, Windermere certainly isn’t large. I’ve now done a handful of loops around the high street, which has taken me fewer than ten minutes. The main fast food place, Popeye’s, seems to be doing well this evening. It doesn’t look like my ideal eatery, though I could definitely see myself ending up there at some point before I leave.
Adjacent to Popeye’s sits a second-hand furniture shop. In the front window, there's a stylish blue two-seater sofa that looks almost-new. The price tag makes me audibly swear. £5,000? For that? Oh, wait, no, I see now - it usually sells for £10,000, so actually that's a bargain.
Windermere’s quite boujee, it seems.