Although there was some brightness first thing, the skies clouded over and the hills soon became shrouded in mist. Our first night in Bessie for some time had been a bit restless for us both so we were in no rush to get moving. Peter finished his book and I had my first go at an acrylic landscape. So different to oils and it took some getting used to but I was reasonably pleased with the results.
The weather forecast had declared that the afternoon skies would clear and, sure enough, by about 3pm the sun came slowly through the mist, which melted away leaving the hills glowing once more.
We really had no idea of where to go but pointed Bessie in a north-westerly direction and drove along narrow winding roads towards Bassenthwaite and then up to Cockermouth. This seemed a delightful town, deep in the valley, unsurprisingly at the mouth of, yes, the River Cocker. It was this river, along with the Derwent, which flooded its banks in November 2009, thrusting Cockermouth into the news headlines, as waters up to 8 ft deep rushed down the main street, destroying shops as they went. Apparently, the shop fronts have been subsequently restored to their original Georgian splendour and have actually benefitted in the end.
We intended to drive along the road to Buttermere. It sounded delightful but we were put off by the sign which appeared to suggest that vehicles over 6ft 6in in width should not continue. It seemed strange as this was a B road which appeared, on the road map at least, to be quite a substantial road. We turned back and continued on the road past Loweswater, a beautiful lake, the water glinting in the late afternoon sun, which was by now quite powerful – although the temperature was struggling to reach 15○c.
We then rather lost our way, almost heading back into Cockermouth, but made a decision to turn back and ignore the width warning on the Buttermere road and give it a try…
All went well and we took some wonderful photos of Buttermere itself, sapphire blue and surrounded by cinnamon coloured mountains.
There are always plenty of sheep in the Lake District of course and we were amused by the hand scrawled sign which read ‘Tek care – lambs int road”. Meadow pipits flitted over the grassy banks, probably building their nests in the tussocks of long grass and one old brown sheep looked mournfully on as we took our photographs.
We had to pinch ourselves at our extreme good fortune to be visiting this amazing area in such perfect weather. Round each bend there was more astounding scenery on offer, but we were just getting a little concerned about that width warning…
Buttermere village appeared around the corner, tucked into the valley snugly and secretly. We drove on out of the village, remarking how cut off it must be in the winter months. By this time we were going deeper and deeper into the mountains and Bessie manfully climbed massive winding hills, puffing at the top and still in first gear.
Then there was a sign to Keswick that we had been looking for – well actually there were two signs pointing in opposite directions. One was marked 7 miles and the other 12. We turned towards the shorter route but soon came up against another warning so decided to give the long way round a try. This was the Honister Pass which connects Buttermere with Borrowdale and was to prove challenging and amazing in equal measure.
Steep sides and few passing places! We passed the Honister Slate Mine which still produces slate for roofing and also has the obligatory guided tour. Apparently Sir Christopher Wren used slate from this mine for the Royal Hospital, Chelsea and also Kensington Palace.
The switchback ride eventually came to an end and, encountering over only one narrow bridge which Bessie crossed with ease, we entered Borrowdale and Derwentwater, overlooked by the huge grey Victorian edifice of The Borrowdale Hotel, built in 1866 for the gentry and nestled at the foot of Shepherd’s Crag.
As we drove through the attractive town of Keswick, I noticed a sign to the pencil factory and memories of those huge tins of Cumberland coloured pencils in the window of the local stationers, when I was growing up, came flooding back. How I coveted those enticing boxes of 36 or so beautifully graded coloured pencils in neat rows. I can’t remember how much they cost but I guess they must have been way beyond my parents’ pocket. Anyway, I am determined to visit the pencil factory tomorrow, to see if they still evince the same longing. I think that I prefer painting these days but we shall see.
Back to the campsite at Troutbeck for dinner and some serious photo editing, some of the results of which can be seen in this blog.