Monday, August 9, 2010
The Lake District is best known for hiking. Trails wind up mountains, though sheep-filled pastures, and along mirrored lakes. Every village in Cumbria from bustling Keswick to tiny Grasmere has at least one outdoor goods shop that caters to the mountaineers that flood the Lake District every summer.
I knew all of this when I packed my bags for the Lake District, but I knew better than to bring any hiking clothes. I was going to Cumbria with my mother, who, in her words “doesn’t like that kind of hiking”. Her kind of hiking consists mainly of the brisk walk from boutique to boutique as she shops her way through a town.
Rather than join the massive crowds as they scrambled up hills and across streams, we spent our time in the Lake District supporting the local retail businesses. Oh, and there was some literary exploration, too.
But first we had to eat. On our first full day in Windermere we walked down to the lake and caught the ferry to Ambleside. The 30-minute ferry ride took us past tiny green islands, large lake-front homes, and neat rows of sail boats docked along the water’s edge. After we alighted in Ambleside, we walked up to the town and ducked into Lucy’s on a Plate to get some lunch. My vegetarian crostini featured some amazingly rubbery veggies, but given that it was raining outside I was thankful to have a place to warm up.
After lunch the rain died down and we hopped on a bus to Grasmere. Specifically, we were going to Dove Cottage. The small whitewashed abode was the home of English poet William Wordsworth, who wrote many of his most famous poems while living in the Lake District.
We toured his house, which was a former pub, exploring the tiny low-ceilinged rooms and learning about his life there. My favorite part of the tour was seeing his passport, which was a large sheet of paper with a physical description of him (no photos in those days) along with an array of stamps from various embassies throughout Europe.
After exploring Dove Cottage, we made the rounds at the adjacent Wordsworth museum and then explored the stone cottages nearby. We didn’t make it into Grasmere that day, but two days later we found some time to visit. The town was small, but very pretty. My mother was delighted to find a boutique dedicated to her favorite English sheep, Herdy. The Herdy shop in Grasmere was full of the local company’s adorable sheep mugs, dish towels, salt and pepper shakers, and T-shirts. She bought half the store.
Thankfully it wasn’t just my mother’s kind of shopping that Grasmere offered. I was quite taken with a different shop, this one called Sarah Nelson’s Grasmere Gingerbread. As the name implies, the shop sold thin squares of gingery goodness. They were made from a secret recipe that hasn’t changed in over a century, and they tasted delicious. The store was so tiny that only four or five people at a time could wait to be served by one of the two ladies in frilly caps behind the counter.
Warm gingerbread in hand, we visited Wordsworth’s grave in the local church cemetery. A friendly rabbit joined us for a bit, chomping irreverently on the holy grass.
In contrast to Grasmere, our visit to another Lake District town, Keswick, brought us to a large, bustling town on another lake, Derwent Water. Here we stopped at more shops before having a classic fish-and-chips lunch at the Old Keswickian. We also got to do a bit of walking by the lake, where we found a flock of friendly sheep.
Speaking of sheep, the following day we visited a working farm. It wasn’t just any farm, though. It belonged to Beatrix Potter, another of the Lake District’s literary heroes. Hill Top farm was just across Lake Windermere from Bowness. We arrived mid-morning and had to wait an hour before our entry time. After exploring the garden, we settled in for a pre-lunch snack of millionaire’s shortbread and plum pudding at the Tower Bank Arms, a local pub that appeared in the Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck.
We also explored a few buildings in the neighborhood, many of which were backdrops for Potter’s illustrations in The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan. Eventually we made our way back to Hill Top and toured the house. All of the furniture belonged to Potter. Even the original letter on which she based The Tale of Peter Rabbit was lying on the writing desk.
From Hill Top we continued our Beatrix Potter excursion, traveling on to the village of Hawkshead. We first stopped for an excellent lunch of chicken and leek pie at the Sun Cottage Cafe, then did some shopping in the local boutiques. Our final stop was at the Beatrix Potter Gallery. The museum was housed in Potter’s husband’s former law offices and had many of her original illustrations on display. From Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle to Tom Kitten, all of the characters from her tales were represented.
Like Potter’s tales, mine must eventually come to an end. As much as my mother and I enjoyed our time in the Lake District, we couldn’t stay forever. But we were thankful for how many of Cumbria’s lovely towns we were able to visit, and like Potter, I hope to write more tales of the Lake District in the future.