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Rethinking The Lakes

I've always had something of a downer regarding The Lake District. My first ever trip there as an adult on my own bike was to camp the night near The Old Dungeon Ghyll. I was young, inexperienced, scared and terribly lost on a cold and wet night. When I finally arrived I was thoroughly miserable and there was a distinct lack of pretty girls and rock music. The remainder of the night was spent shivering in a cheap wet tent with a cheap wet sleeping bag. I guess The Lakes and I didn't get off to a good start and I couldn't get home soon enough.

Further journeys were typically made with various bike clubs going to the various tourist spots like Windermere. These were usually on warm and dry weekends which meant every other sightseer was there and I came to see The Lakes as a busy and bustling place filled with day-trippers and traffic queues. I was also still too young to appreciate the surroundings and scenery as I passed through it. "Yeah...a big hill...where are the girls?" The joy of youth.

Hills and mountains across Lake Windermere
When you're 18 it's hard to fully appreciate this kind of scenery.

I stopped trying with The Lake District. If someone suggested a run up there I'd be dismissive, I'd certainly never make the effort to venture up there alone. My attitude was "If we must" or "Well, if we're in the area we might as well". 

Now as an older man I am more appreciative of such things as vast valleys and majestic mountains. I can actually stop for 5 minutes and marvel at the way geology and nature have shaped, filled and crafted the world in which we live. As such I have made great efforts to visit the Scottish Highlands and a small corner of the French Alps and I hope to see many more such places as and when time and finance permit. And yet I have been dismissive of The Lakes. First impressions last, as they say.

In 2012 I took on The Hardknott Pass (Hardknott Pass). This opened my eyes just a crack as to the challenges on offer in the area. Last year a friend took me over The Honister Pass during the week and I started to see that not all of The Lakes is jammed with visitors. Just recently I camped with friends at The Sykeside Camping Park along the Kirkstone Pass and discovered a spectacular and peaceful valley among the steep hillsides. I was just starting to think there's a little more here than I have given it credit for.

A van crawls up a steep twisty road on The Hardknott Pass
Now that is what I call a steep and twisty road. The Hardknott Pass

Then the gf took me to Dockray, just north of Ullswater for a birthday treat. We spent the morning walking down the river to Aira Force which turned out to be craggy, steep and splashingly impressive. It's not a walk for those unsteady on their feet and I could be found clinging to a tree or a handrail quite often but it was worth the effort. That afternoon we spent hours dawdling down narrow lanes between Mungrisdale and Bassenthwaite. We found pretty hamlets, empty roads and a biker's cafe on the outskirts of Keswick. When we set off to return home the next morning Ullswater looked wild in the morning mist and we were both fascinated by the shapes of the mountains.

Sharon stands beside a massive thick old tree near Aira Force
Now that is what I call a tree! Sharon on the walk down to Aira Force

So I need to update my opinion of The Lake District. 

I still maintain my biggest problem is it is a victim of its own success. Kendal, Keswick, Windermere and many other towns are bound to be busy on a nice weekend or bank holiday. I guess it would be best for me to avoid these places at those times. Even Aira Force on a Monday morning in October had a healthy number of walkers and photographers coming and going. The Lakes are close to the major cities in Lancashire and Yorkshire and this means it is the obvious destination for holiday makers, of which I am one.

Despite its popularity I have discovered there are plenty of minor roads and off beat places to enjoy that sense of exploration without the crowds. I could spend a month alone going down every back lane, single track and minor road and still not see everything. I have also come to appreciate that leaving the bike for a couple of hours and exploring on foot will give me access to even more, as long as there's somewhere to leave the helmet...jacket...boots...pants and so on. 

A narrow empty lane winds it's lonely way across a lakeland moor
With lonely lanes like this there are some remote places to be found.

I am rethinking my attitude about The Lake District. In future I plan to be less dismissive and more open to going there. I must try to let go of my first impressions. It sounds easy doesn't it, then when I hear the words "Lake District" I immediately think of the rain battering my soggy tent and a traffic jam in Windermere. That's not fair and that's not The Lakes' fault, it's me that needs to see past these memories and see it for what it is.

A large mountain in the lakes with curious angles and formations in its shape
Remarkable geological shapes made the ride out of Ullswater fascinating.

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