Sunday, December 27, 2015

Dumfries and some Very Old Stones

Saturday only called for a couple of hours driving, up north to Dumfries. 
Pronounced Dum-freece. Short "Dum," longer and accented "Freece." My husband torments me with the incorrect phonetic pronunciation every time. I figure, why not pronounce it the same way the locals do? But no, he has to be the American tourist every time. 
Jeff wanted to see Cairn Holy, which has two Neolithic (very old) chambered cairns on some farmland overlooking Wigtown Bay, a bit south of Dumfries. They are estimated to date from around 4000 BC, which would be pretty awesome if they weren't so boring.
But before we got there, on the road from Dumfries to Cairn Holy, just outside Castle Douglas, we saw a promising restaurant called the Old School House. They advertised, among other things, a full meal for about ten pounds, no substitutions allowed. So we had the fish meal, which was very large and very hot, and not too bad once you got past your sizzled tongue. Then I had gingerbread pudding and custard, which had obviously been microwaved within an inch of its life, but was otherwise quite tasty. While we were waiting for the food to arrive, I went browsing in a little antique shop in the parking lot and scored some Irish linen tea towels. Which, I think you will agree, was quite exciting.

We continued down the road with pleasantly full bellies and arrived at the fascinating site of Cairn Holy very shortly. The countryside was picturesque, as always.

And behold the cairns.

And some cows.

And some cairns.

What did I tell you? Fascinating stuff!

The lane was rather charming.

And then we drove back to Dumfries to find our farmhouse for the night. The hosts were out of town at the last minute so we had the place to ourselves, which was quite nice because I was able to do our laundry and hang our underwear up in the utility room without fear of scandal.
Just before dark, we drove into town and took a walk along the river. There was a fair happening next to it, which was exciting.

Before retiring for the night, we visited the nearby Tesco and stocked up on tins of Cadbury chocolates to take home, which would be exciting for the recipients when we returned home.
This wasn't our most riveting day of the trip, but it's okay to have a more laid-back day every now and then. And the next day was going to be one of much driving, so there was that.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Grasmere Gingerbread and a Very Long Walk

Friday dawned frosty and foggy, so we bundled up and drove north to a little town called Grasmere where, we had been told by a friend in the USA, we would eat the best gingerbread in the world. Grasmere is in the very centre of the Lake District and it is also the residence of William Wordsworth, one of my favourite poets.
We drove through the very small village, found the Pay-to-Park, and set off with the intent of finding the gingerbread shop at some point of our explorations. The village is unbearably cute and full of shops selling overpriced merchandise bearing the trademarks of Beatrix Potter and Wordsworth. We spent an unholy amount in one such shop, stocking up on gifts for grandchildren and friends, and decided we had better find the gingerbread shop before we regretted ourselves. We asked some fellow tourists for directions and discovered that the shop was out of town a little bit, along the road that we had walked from the car park. We retraced our steps through the churchyard where dear William resides with his family. He was born in the Lake District and lived there for much of his life.

From there, it was a short walk to the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop. The recipe was developed by Sarah Nelson, a domestic servant, over 150 years ago. The smell of gingerbread wafts along the street and greets you before you can even see the shop. There was no queue, surprisingly, so we bought our obligatory packet of exorbitantly priced gingerbread, Jeff begged for a photo (which only one of the shop assistants was happy about) and off we went.

I will say that the gingerbread is surprisingly delicious. I am a fan of all things ginger, but I had never tasted anything like this and gladly abandoned any pretense at being gluten-free for the day in order to partake of its goodness. It looks like graham crackers with a crumb topping, but I think the secret is the crystallized ginger that is in the soft and chewy cookie layer. If you ever get to Grasmere, a tiny little village in the centre of the Lake District, you must try some for yourself. And then tell me "thank you."
We hot-footed it back to Rydal, which was just a few miles back along the road we had come earlier, and parked the car. Sadly, the parking metre was broken, so parking was free. We did a little victory dance, filled the backpack with camera, maps, and vittles, and headed off up the road.

And I say "up" in a literal sort of a way.
Then, about a quarter of a mile on, I was unsure as to whether or not I had locked the car, so we turned around and went back. 
Yes, the car was locked, but we obviously needed some more gingerbread, so we grabbed some to nibble on and off we went. Again.
The morning was still looking a little foggy but it was definitely lifting. We should have seen the signs and left our coats behind. But we didn't.

It was such a beautiful morning and everything was green and the day stretched before us with the thrill of the unknown. My heart was happy.

There were a few houses along the road and I was just thinking to myself that I was surprised that some entrepreneurial type hadn't thought to set up a refreshment stand when we came upon this.

Too bad the chocolate cake was out, or I might have succumbed to gluten-full temptation.

The road went on and on and we kept consulting the little map book that we borrowed from our host. We are used to hikes that are fairly well marked on the trails, where you can aim for one destination, or a loop, with perhaps some options of side trails along the way. And even on such delineated trails, the hubcap and I manage to get lost or take the long way around more often than not. When you hike the Lake District, we discovered, the land is criss-crossed with many trails, and very few of them are marked. So what some people do, it seems, is create hikes and turn them into books that contain very complete descriptions of the routes, so that you can choose a hike that covers the kid of terrain, mileage, views, and difficulty that you prefer. 
Our hike this day would take us past some caves, right up and over Loughrigg Fell, and in a big loop back to where we started in Rydal. 

Much of the time was spent looking down on views like this. This is Rydal Water. We could have taken a downward path and walked along the water, but our chosen route called for staying at a higher elevation and we didn't want to jinx matters, so we stayed where we were.

Walls also criss-cross the land, and are often mentioned in descriptions of the route.

I was reminded many times this day of Bilbo's song in Lord of the Rings.

The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Rydal Caves, which are man-made and were once mined for blue slate.

These drystone walls are everywhere in Great Britain, and there are hundreds of miles of them in the Lake District.

As you can see, things were getting steeper. I hadn't really planned to climb a mountain on this day, and nothing in the guide had hinted of it, but it seemed we were about to do just that. You see, I always thought that a fell was a moor. Which it is. It is also a barren or stony hill. So we were lured onto the barren and stony hill under false pretenses!

And up we climbed, with Jeff very generously climbing up behind me in case I fell backwards.

Every time we thought we had reached the top we would see another peak behind it.
And the day got hotter and hotter, and pretty soon I was deeply regretting my sweatshirt and heavy leggings.

There it is.
The top.

We rested on our laurels and ate snacks for a little while. Truth be told, we were exhausted and were not even halfway through the route, so some recovery was needed.
On our way again, navigating became a little more difficult because of the many forks in the paths, but every now and then a cairn of rocks reassured us.

We saw a few bits of wildlife, including some pheasants.

And some hardy sheep.

The way was dotted with tarns, which are small mountain lakes.
Only tarn is so much more fun to say than lake.

The old man behind me was in his eighties.

We took a couple of wrong turns but then the description of the terrain wasn't matching the guide book, so it was pretty easy to backtrack until we found our mistake. And, truth be told, we could have probably continued on any path and found our way eventually to the same destination, but the promised eight miles wasn't something we particularly wanted to exceed.
This is a kissing gate.
So we did.

We were never really very far from civilization, even though it often felt like it.

Nearing the end.

Steps built into a wall.

We came out of the more wild trails onto a stony road that led along the Rydal River. Jeff was in a great deal of pain by this time, deeply regretting his refusal of my offer to buy him some nice cushy hiking socks from Costco. His toes were bloodied and blistered which caused his leg injury to flare up again. So I lent him my hiking pole and slowed my pace.

We came out at Rydal Hall, and I talked the mister into hobbling down to the grot and waterfall.
I think I need a grot.

We sat in the grot and watched the waterfall and rested for a few minutes.

One of us enjoyed it more than the other.

And then we hobbled back to the car park.

And one of us was much more happy than the other to see the car.

And then we went back to our lovely little billet in Grange-over-Sands and I cooked us an easy dinner and we hit the hay.