Looking across to the snow capped alpine mountains seen from the back seat of a motorcycle

Home Travel StoriesA Long Weekend Around Penrith

A Piece Of The Lakes, Rethinking Maryport

Ride Date 14 October 2023

By Ren Withnell

You'd think being able to watch TV while Sharon is still asleep is a good thing. It's not. At this hour on a Saturday morning it's either depressing news or kid's TV. I settle in for a session on YouTube as her ladyship slowly but surely emerges from her pit and achieves a state of consciousness. 

What to do today? Way, way way, waaaaaay back in the bad old days I went to a place called Maryport. I know when it was, it would have been late May 2004. The gentleman who introduced me to the whole notion of "Adventure Motorcycling" had died in November 2003 and I attended a tribute rideout to Maryport with a large group of his friends. This was but 3 weeks after my then girlfriend Cath had died, it was a difficult time.

I'd viewed Maryport as a down at heel, backwards and lost-to-the-world kind of place. It's 19 years since Ron and Cath died, I've adjusted and recovered and changed a lot since. I wish to return to Maryport to see if my memories of the place match the reality. It's also worth noting that this part of the coast is known as The Forgotten Coast because everyone heads straight to Ambleside and Windermere, Ullswater and Keswick, it's the mountains and the walking folks visit The Lake District for. 

We shall see what else is out there en-route and take the day as it comes. First things first we'll take a walk around the site, see what's what and what it's all about. There's the remains of what must have been a quarry. There's a bar come restaurant, very modern, not too large and tastefully done. Nearly all the accommodation is in the same grey coloured plastic which sounds rather cheap but looks fine. There's a variety of shapes and sizes but they're all posh. There's a small clump of safari tents in a corner, again quite posh but after all the grey they look out of place. 

The remains of a quarry, the lower area filled with water, now landscaped and looking good
The remains of a quarry, now landscaped, and one slightly chilled Sharon.
The grey plastic lodges are smart and new and well presented
Plastic (UPVC or summat) and yet smart and functional.

After another brew it's time to hit the road and oddly our first stop was planned a little while back. There's half a notion Sharon and I might possibly live together one day, scary, I know. Partly seriously, partly because it's a good excuse, we're often looking at living options. This time there's a nice Park Home for sale on the outskirts of Penrith so we ride there to stick our noses in and see what's what.

The site is slap bang next to the motorway, suboptimal. I'm obsessive about noise and yet somehow traffic noise has never bothered me... so far. Would the motorway be too much? The site is gated, extra security, extra cost, extra snob factor. The homes on the site seem well attended and with a minimum age of 55 (I'm not that far off now) it's full of Nissan Micras, Citroen C1s and the odd random Mercedes Benz from the mid 2000s. 

Sharon would fit right in, tending the garden and hanging jangly things everywhere. I'd be OK save for the bikes in bits and Exxon Valdez oil slick coming out of the shed. Honestly I could live here but I'd do nothing but complain about the ongoing service charges. Bah Humbug!

The A66 leads us out of Penrith and would take us most of the way to Maryport but I have Buttermere in the sat-nav, in search of a pleasant detour. We have to stop briefly to don the waterproofs but the rain never really gets going. We're soon into the country lanes and then Buttermere itself.

A bulbous towering rocky hill, steep sides leading to a lake, mist and a narrow road
I say, the scenery is improving as we get towards Buttermere.

And here lies the problem with The Lake District. Buttermere is tiny, barely a collection of buildings let alone a hamlet and yet it is heaving and there's nowhere to park. Cars fill the car park, cars park where they ought not in the verges, walkers everywhere and the one cafe is rammed. It's mid October on a cold and damp day and I had envisioned a cup of hot tea in a cute cafe in a quaint village. No thanks, I turn around between the excited dogs and walking poles and get the hell outta there.

The rest of the area seems tolerably quiet though. The roads aren't jammed with cars or walkers outside of Buttermere, perhaps there was some kind of event going on? We follow this single-and-a-half track northbound through some rugged and angular scenery. I'm travelling slowly as the rain comes and goes, trying to soak up the views and not the water. 

Cockermouth. I'm 52, I've been a father for 30 odd years, I have a job and a house, so why am I prodding Sharon and pointing at the sign, giggling like a 13 year old buffoon? Childish? Me?

Aaah, Maryport. It's been a long time and to be frank I'm disappointed - not with Maryport, with myself. It's nothing special, just a town, but it's certainly not the lost in time, backwards, scruffy hellhole I'd kept in my mind this last 19 years. It's as regular a town as any I've seen. There's the shops, the industrial area, housing estates old and new, some smart new multistorey apartments near the harbour and it's all just fine. I need to put my previous opinions behind me.

Smart crisp apartment blocks, just 3 stories high, this part of Maryport looks fresh and clean
There's far worse places to live than Maryport.

We don't stop though, I'm not all that interested. To be fair we find Workington just down the road to be fine but nothing special either. We do park the bike and spend an age battling with a recalcitrant parking ticket machine however as we feel the need, the need for tea. Everyone else is struggling with the parking machine too, until Sharon points out the error of our ways. Something about "read the instructions"?

The town centre at Workington looks like any other town centre
Workington is just a town like any other town. Mind you it's got an M&S Foodhall so it must be posh.

With 2 intelligent people, 2 modern mobile phones running Google maps and a comparatively small town centre you'd think finding a cafe would be easy. Fear not, we can make hard work of that too. We meander up and down the main shopping street eventually to find we'd passed the cafe we were looking for... twice. 

Ahh, but it's a proper cafe. It's a cafe like I remember (god I'm old). I imagine the ladies behind the counter are called "Angi" and "San" and pop out back for a ciggie. There's salt and vinegar with brown sauce and tomato sauce in appropriately coloured squidgy plastic bottles. The tea is strong, the chips are deep fried and taste exquisite. The tables and chairs are hygienically clean yet well worn and used. There's not a hipster trope in sight or trendy nonsense offering on the menu. Wonderful.

Chips, beans, sausage and eggs, proper food
Real food, proper food, no quinoa (keen-waa) here.

Our return leg sees us heading north through the towns of Aspatria and Wigton then south east back to Penrith for fuel. Back at the lodge Sharon thinks we ought to make use of the hot tub, seeing as it's here. We are taking decadence to another level as we enter the warm waters, cup of hot tea in hand. Living the dream I tell ya, living the dream.

It would be wrong to say I'd had a great day, I'd say it's been a good day and worthwhile too. I wonder if Maryport has improved this last 19 years or was it the context and timing of my last visit that clouded my judgement? There's something else afoot in my brain too - I seem to have a block in connecting with The Lake District. Anyway, not to worry as I'm going to have a shower in my own shower, as soon as I can work out these controls.

Ren lounges in the hot tub giving a wry smile
Admit it, you were hoping for a picture of Sharon weren't you.

Share your tale - click here.

The Horror Of Luxury Remember folks, Ren does these things so you don't have to. Poor lad, Sharon's given him nothing to moan about.
A Piece Of The Lakes, Rethinking Maryport Ren is long overdue a reassessment of the town of Maryport so while he's doing they The Dynamic Duo have a look around the area too. There's hot tea, good food and decadent living.
The Hadrian's Wall Experience Ren takes Sharon for a (very limited) Hadrian's Wall experience. There's a lot of tea to be consumed too. It's another day of leisurely exploration.
Home From Penrith There's time enough to enjoy a little detour on the way home from Penrith. Ren is also pondering his atypical indifference towards a place he feels he ought to adore.

Reader's Comments

Upt'North ¹ said :-
I certainly wasn't hoping or wishing for that image!
I just shivered all over. Yuk.
But.....Maryport you say, I think we've been there once in a previous life. Can't say I remember owt about it.
Did it get the oil from under your nails?
Upt and permanently visually scarred.
04/01/2024 15:12:49 UTC
Bogger said :-
A sheep dip might be more appropriate than a Jacuzzi.

04/01/2024 23:03:42 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
The best way for me to get clean is to take a dip in the local swimming baths. I have however now been banned - apparently it's quite an achievement to leave a scum ring around an Olympic sized swimming pool?

I thank both Upt' and Bogger for their kind and supportive words. Pffffft.
05/01/2024 07:56:31 UTC
KiwiJeff said :-
Bogger, we gave up on sheep dips in NZ about 1993 and given that they were full of arsenic I'm not sure Ren would have survived the experience. However, I think Ren could be just behind the third sheep in the queue, which just proves he is superman after all! A mate delivered photos like Ren's indecent exposure to my 60th birthday bash at a nice restaurant and posted them on the wall.He is only still a mate (just) cos he rides a motorcycle with me and always buys lunch!
Posted Image
05/01/2024 09:14:59 UTC
KiwiJeff said :-
Being a bit obtuse there, the photos were of me in a similar Jacuzzi and I looked like a boiled lobster! Needless to say all copies of said photos were burnt and negatives confiscated! Ren unfortunately has been recorded for all time as the interweb thingy never forgets anything!
05/01/2024 10:34:15 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Can we all agree never to mention this picture again please? Ooooo, I just tasted a bit of sick at the back of my throat.
Is this a bit like all thumbs are fingers but not all fingers are thumbs?
Are all Jacuzzis hot tubs but not all hot tubs are Jacuzzis?
Oooooo, it makes you shiver. No more I tell you. Never, never, never, I just came over all Ian Paisley.
05/01/2024 10:53:19 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
If I were ever to bathe my bathwater would look as murky as that sheep dip.
05/01/2024 12:57:56 UTC
nab301 said :-
Ren , as always an interesting trip and background story with some nice photos ( early on ..). You'll have to rename your blog , Bikes& travels and retirement homes.
As for Quinoa , what did it ever do to you, with advancing years, think of all that lovely fibre , minerals and vitamins!
06/01/2024 13:33:48 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Fibre, vitamins and minerals?! Good heavens we'll not be having such terrible language on here.

As for retirement homes retirement still feels a long way away, and when it does arrive it'll be too late.
06/01/2024 17:10:17 UTC

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