Cumbrian Adventures, Part 2; February Half Term

Ruby the VW Campervan is nestled underneath the Old Man of Coniston, right in the heart of the spectacular Lake District National Park. Our home for the next three nights is Conniston Coppice Park, a Caravan and Motorhome Club site just outside of Coniston.

Our journey from Dufton was only meant to be a short one of just over an hour, however however we made a number of stops so it ended up taking us several hours. Our first stop was at the butchers in Appleby, Low Howgill’s, which were the butchers that supplied the meat to The Stag in Dufton. When Keefy couldn’t decide which meal to have on Saturday night because everything looked so tempting, I promised to cook a traditional Cumberland cassoulet using their sausages so he could eliminate that off the menu!

The butchers/deli was outstanding, I could have had everything in the shop! We picked up homemade sausage rolls for breakfast, along with lots of local Appleby cheese, sausages, bread, local Cumbrian coffee, and pork pies!

We enjoyed a wander around Appleby doing the town heritage trail before picking up some fresh veg for the greengrocers and then making our way towards Penrith for more supplies.

Shopping procured we soon crossed into the Lake District National Park passing through Grasmere and into Coniston.

It took us a while to set up as we couldn’t decide which pitch to choose! The layout of the site is lovely, with lots of individual little glades, and as such we had the opportunity to park side on, a rarity on club sites. We’ve got our own private stream running alongside the side door, it’s lovely.

We needed to get our chocks out to level up- the first time since we downsized to Ruby and as such they were buried right at the back!

Once set up we enjoyed a late lunch, a delicious ploughman’s filled with local treats from our farm shop haul this morning, before a little stroll around the huge site.

Only half of it is open at this time of year, but it stretches right down the bank to almost the edge of Coniston Water,with the majority of the pitches entirely private on their own glade.

Dinner was a homemade carbonara before settling down to watch a film on Netflix.


Tuesday arrived dry but overcast. We began our day with bacon and sausage sandwiches, and I prepared the long awaited Sausage Cassoulet in the slow cooker, before joining the Cumbrian Way which runs at the bottom of the site towards Coniston. It’s a pleasant 2 mile walk and we were rewarded with views of The Old Man of Coniston and also Coniston Moor.

The weather seemed a little unsettled so we decided not to attempt the Old Man today, we’re not a fan of starting strenuous walks with a low chance of the rewarding view! Instead we opted for a lower level walk over Consiton Moor, yewdale fell and across the Coppermines.

It was a lovely walk, still quite strenuous in areas, however we were rewarded with great views all the way.

We enjoyed a couple of beers at the Sun Hotel and then the Bull – we got to try the local Coniston Brewery Bluebird and Old Man Ale.

Another stop at the local butchers for some more local sausage and of course a sausage roll, (not as good as the Appleby one!) and then we set off back to Ruby. We were surprised to see we’d clocked up 11.5 miles, but we’d escaped the rain which started just as we finished our ruby duties – loo, water etc!

Dinner tonight was a homemade leek and potato soup, made in my compact soup maker, which made light work of it, and then sausage cassoulet which was delicious!


Wednesday~ Rain stopped play today. Well we are in the Lake District where rain is to be expected- but we decided to use it as an excuse to have a rest and therefore declared a duvet day!

We therefore stayed in bed reading and drinking tea till almost midday! It is half term and we need to recharge, so recharged we did. Better weather is possibly on its way tomorrow – however you never know in the Lakes!

We had an amazing Cumbrian brunch which Keefy cooked- all produce from the local butchers in Coniston. Those sausages were amazing!

We then decided to have a small leg stretch to the local pub in Torver – despite the driving rain which drenched us even with all our waterproofs!

We were thankful for the prime spot in front of the log fire to dry out. Just in time to get drenched for the walk back to Ruby! Still, we clocked up another 4 miles for our target of 1000 miles in 2019 and we felt not quite so lazy as we had three hours earlier.

Dinner was a lovely chicken Balti before we watched a film on Netflix.

It didn’t stop raining all night and morning so sadly we decided to leave The Old Man of Coniston for this time. Next stop just over the valley- Great Langdale National Trust Campsite. Promise of finer weather is there!

Until next time

Lx

Cumbrian Adventures, part 1; February Half Term

Ruby the VW campervan whisked us away at the earliest opportunity after breaking up for half term. By lunchtime on Friday we were passing Wetherby Services after an early start, and by 2pm we’d arrived at the exceptionally pretty little village of Dufton, Cumbria and were enjoying the February sunshine with our first al fresco beer of the year.

Our location for the first part of our half term trip was Dufton Caravan Park, also known as The Grandie. The reason we were here? To attempt to walk England’s Grand Canyon – High Cup Nick. I saw this fantastic U shaped valley featured on Julia Bradbury’s 100 best walks programme a few years ago, and it’s been on my bucket list ever since. I was beyond excited that we were here and that the forecast looked fairly ok for our attempt tomorrow.

We spent the afternoon stretching our legs around the pretty village of Dufton before grabbing a couple of beers in front of the marvellous fire in the local, The Stag Inn, and settling in for an early night.


Saturday arrived rather earlier than I anticipated as I woke up at 06:15, however I was so excited I just couldn’t wait to get up and start our walk! Keith managed to grab a couple of extra hours sleep, so I had to wait patiently to leave until 10.30, by which time we’d had a lovely omelette and packed some soup and food for the day.

The route we chose starts at the campsite and through a lovely section of woodland before taking farm paths up to where the gorge is.

We approached the steep valley from the other side of the Pennine Way path and soon the path dropped down to the basin.

The steep sides of the gorge were impressive and the further in we walked the more spectacular it became.

As we got closer to the Nick – the head- we could see the route upwards was going to be tough but we’d come this far ( 5 miles) there was no way we were turning back now without the view I’d seen those years back on the tv!

The last scramble goes near enough vertical, and you’re on all fours, negotiating the loose boulders and stones under foot! I’m not going to lie, it was the toughest bot of walking I think I’ve ever done. There were a couple of areas to pause and appreciate the views looking back down the valley.

On this last pic above, you can see the people behind us on all fours!

Although the climb up is hard, it’s relatively short, so before I could talk myself out of finishing the last bit, we’d made the final hurdle over the rim. Keith’s first words to the couple looking down were “well that was an experience”. Mine I think involved a swear word! The sheer elation at reaching the top made my legs turn to jelly and it took me about 5 minutes on the floor with my back to the view before I even turned round!

When I did turn around, the view quite honestly took my breath away. I’ve never seen anything like it in the UK- it’s a perfect example of a U shaped valley and we reckon quite unique.

It was blowing an absolutely hooley, but the sun came out and we managed to sit right on the edge to enjoy our lunch before a local runner ( yes he ran up behind us!) took our photo, and then we took theirs as they were in shorts! 😱

The wind chill up there was extreme, and we were thankful we had our waterproof jackets as they took some of the wind off us. But it was just too cold to hang around there for too long so once we had all our pictures, we hit the old miners trail (now the Pennine Way) for our 4 mile return to Dufton. The route followed the upper ridge for a couple of miles and we had a great view of our walk, before bearing right away from the valley back towards to exceptional marker of the pub, the smoke billowing out of its chimney!

It was a tough walk back, we were absolutely exhausted, in fact Keith had hit the wall I think, he said he felt like he’d ran the London marathon – he’d know, he’s ran it 3 times! But luckily we had some chocolate and plenty of water, and the promise of a log fire and a pint of ale as soon as we got back to Dufton soon got us back down.

We passed a shepherd and his dog moving a herd of sheep up the track which was fun to watch.

By 4pm, we’d made it back to civilisation- and wasted no time in celebrating our successful walk with a pint of the local ale and three packets of crisps! Jazz made full use of the fire to rest his weary paws. We booked a table for dinner that evening as I didn’t fancy cooking plus the menu looked amazing.

So after a freshen up and a rest, we made our way back out again for our meal at 7.30pm. The pub is fantastic- a real walkers pub with slate flooring and thick stone walls. We ate a delicious meal of black pudding fritters and Appleby smoked cheese soufflé to start and then the stag baked suet pudding – crammed with venison and veg and absolutely huge. A perfect end to a fabulous day on the Pennines.


Sunday dawned sunny and despite our intentions of a duvet day at the van, we soon felt restless so whilst I cooked us a full English breakfast, Keith devised a small route that would take us low level around the base of the imposing Dufton pike, which is the backdrop to this tiny village.

The short circuit was lovely and we enjoyed the scenery all the way around the pike. We returned to the campsite through the very scenic Dufton Gyll woods which had banks upon banks lined with beautiful snowdrops. We whizzed through the walk, and were surprised that it was 5 miles- but after yesterday it seemed like a walk in the park!

The rest of the day has been spent chilling – we’ve got a joint of ham in the slow cooker and had Steak and Stilton panini’ s for lunch.

Dufton Grandie Campsite is lovely and quiet and a perfect location. There are lots of lovely little touches, like a water tap on each pitch, free Wi-fi, and fairy liquid in the washing up area. However the showers could do with a bit of TLC, and actually a couple more for each sex. For a site that holds up to 40 units, 1 shower per sex is probably a little sparse. The chemical loo point is a little grim too. However as it’s still out of season, it’s very quiet here, and at only £20pn it’s not bothered us for the short time we’ve been here.

Tomorrow we move on into The Lake District for some more walking and scenery.

We can’t wait!

Until next time

Lx

Our Escape to Colditz

Keith is a huge history enthusiast and has expressed a desire to visit Colditz Castle for as long as I’ve known him. In fact, we almost made it there in Bluebell the Motorhome in 2016, however decided to stay in Austria and revisit another time when we were a little more prepared. The opportunity finally arose this year as I decided to book tickets for Keith’s Christmas present – the man who has every gadget under the sun – and it went down brilliantly! Due to work commitments, I decided that rather than drive, we would grab a quick weekend return flight from Stansted to Berlin, however I’ve included motorhome/campervan stopovers too on this blog.

We stayed overnight prior to flying at the Holiday Inn Express Stansted, which was convenient as it offers onsite parking and evening meals – we wouldn’t arrive until gone 8pm following work so would need dinner. Free breakfast was also offered, and was actually very pleasant despite it being 5am! A shuttle bus took us to the departures terminal in just 7 minutes at a cost of £3pp.

10.30am local time on Friday saw us touchdown at Berlin Schönefeld airport and by 11am we had picked up our wheels for the weekend – a VW Golf hired from Sixt.com. They did manage to sneak some added extras on which meant we ended up spending over €100 extra to the hire charge which was a bit of an irritating beginning.

Although we had flown to Berlin, due to the regularity of flights available to ensure we got the most time possible from our limited time away, our destination was 2 hours south – Leipzig. It is possible to fly direct to Leipzig however they only fly twice a week from Stansted and it didn’t work timing wise for us.

Leipzig is a very exciting place to visit as a musician, and I can’t help but feel that it’s massively overlooked on the tourist trail. Leipzig was home to J.S.Bach, who worked at Thomaskirche as the Kapellmeister for many years.

His family, many of whom were also musicians, also were based in Leipzig, and although their family home no longer exists because of WW2 Damage, the cathedral does and their neighbours and friends house is now The Bach Museum and Archives.

Inside the church you can see Bach’s grave along with many very rare and historical musical instruments from the Baroque Period.

We were lucky enough to hear the organist perform some Bach’s Organ Pieces which was incredibly moving and really very exciting.

 

Our visit to the Bach Museum also didn’t disappoint, we got to see some very rare, handwritten by Bach manuscript, which was ridiculously neat and just completely awesome to see. (No pics allowed)

We did some of the Music Trail although time was not on our side – you could easily enjoy 2 days + here. Other famous musicians who are linked to Leipzig are Felix Mendelssohn’s who died here- his house is now a museum which we’d have liked to have visited but we ran out of time, and Richard Wagner.

During the walking tour we enjoyed looking at some of the beautiful buildings which have survived the war including the opera house.

We also stumbled across a traditional winter fayre, which was a great chance to warm up with some Gluwein.

We had three delicious meals in Leipzig – lunch at Ratskeller, a really atmospheric beerhouse which serves local Saxon Fayre, a bratwurst at the winter fayre, and finally our evening meal at the historic and atmospheric Auerbachs Keller and tried loads of absolutely delicious local beer and even a Leipzig gin!

Our home for the night was the Mercure Hotel which as just down the road from Mendelssohn’s house and had an underground carpark for us to leave the car whilst we explored on foot.

On Saturday we were up fairly early and checked out at 9am. Keith was very excited as today was our trip to Colditz Castle. His reaction as we caught our first sight of the beautiful looking castle was priceless.

I’d booked us the extended tour (€18 pp payable in cash on arrival) and we were surprised to learn that we were the only one booked on the tour – so it was to be a private tour – an unexpected perk of being out of season. Our guide Steffi, began leading us around the vast corridors, cellars, and grounds, giving us brilliant commentary throughout.

Colditz Castle is a striking Renaissance Castle, sat perched on a large rocky outcrop, high above the River Mulde and became best known during WW2 – it was used as a High Security Prisoner of War camp for allied officers who had repeatedly tried to escape from other POW camps. Despite being considered as a high security camp, it had the highest number of successful escape attempts and only one assassination, and that was, according to Steffi, an accident. Prisoners here were treated with respect and a little more dignity than elsewhere and had huge libraries to peruse, a fully functional theatre in which they used to put on full scale productions and also the dorms were less crammed in and some officers even had their own rooms which were bigger than you may expect.

During the tour we got to see the famous gap in which Pat Reid managed to escape from – he later went on to develop the famous boardgame “Escape from Colditz”;

The French tunnel which ran 44m in length right underneath the chapel

The end of the British tunnel

the attic room where the famous glider was built in secret and found when the Americans liberated the castle

and much more. We saw the theatre, complete with secret trap door under the stage,

the officers rooms, the British Dorms, and heard story after story of escape efforts – some successful and some not. Despite the nature of the history here it was hard not to feel inspired here, the sheer determination of those who were held here almost lives on in the walls, its just truly fascinating – even for someone who isn’t such a history buff as her husband!

Our tour was supposed to last 2 hours, but Steffi, encouraged by our enthusiasm and interest I think, showed us some extra places and we actually ended up being there for over 3 hours!

There is a Campsite within walking distance if you go in your campervan/motorhome and also a Stellplatz (overnight parking area) in the next town – although Colditz is very small and I’m not sure I’d fancy driving our old motorhome up to the castle.

Our final stop of the trip was 1.5 hours down the road on the border of Czech Republic, at Bastei. This addition to our itinerary was last minute after reading about it in the Lonely Planet Germany Book and my goodness are we pleased we discovered it.

Bastei is a large area of rock formations which tower 194m high above the River Elbe. There is a fabulous bridge nestled amongst the rocks and lots of viewing platforms dotted around – some of which aren’t for the faint hearted, especially when they are covered in ice and snow as they were for our visit!

I managed to put my big girl pants on and conquered them all, despite a few deep controlling breathes and jelly legs as you can just about see from this pic!

We managed an hour of exploring the paths before we lost the sunlight

and enjoyed a bratwurst sausage and beer (alcohol free for me being Des, but it was fab!!) at the kiosk just as they shut, before returning to our car and discovering a car parking ticket -whoops!

Our journey back to Berlin Schönefeld Airport took just under 2 hours, where we stayed in an airport hotel (which was grim but served its purpose) ready for our extremely early 06.30 flight back home. We had a lovely traditional meal of Schnitzel at the local Gasthaus – which we needed to drive to as there was nowhere within walking distance of the hotel and no restaurant at the hotel. Check out the size of those Schnitzel’s!

We had a brilliant time – and can’t believe we were actually only in Germany for a day and a half. We covered 582km/361m and found German roads brilliant. A note to myself, next time the car hire kiosk asks me if I would prefer automatic or manual – get automatic! I kept going for an invisible gear stick!

Until Next Time (which won’t be long as this time next week we will be in the Lake District for half term in Ruby- woo)

Lx

 

Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival, Jan 2019

Sometimes the best laid plans are those that are conceived after a few too many sherbets in the village local. That’s certainly how this little weekend’s escape came about; an unplanned pub session on Halloween saw us chatting to a local about all things Pagan. Keith was explaining to anyone who would listen about the end of harvest festival Samhain, and a local farmer went on to tell us that if we liked that sort of thing then we should check out Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival. A few days later and after a Google and Instagram reccy, we were booking a campsite and blocking the January weekend out of our new diary.

Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival has been happening longer than records exist. It begins on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the 1st Monday after Twelfth Night), when it became customary to dress one of the confraternity of the plough in straw and call him a Straw Bear. The Bear then is led around the town to entertain in a clumsy and frantic manner whilst the townsfolk provide great spreads of beer, beef and tobacco. The straw for the bear was carefully selected and the whole point of the exercise was to hope for good fertility and a good harvest in the year ahead.

We originally booked to stay at nearby Northey Lodge campsite due to its close proximity to Whittlesey- an easy walk apparently. However, on arrival on Friday we had one of the most bizarre arrival and check in procedures that we’ve ever encountered, leaving us both rather creeped out to be perfectly honest, and so as the site itself was an absolute dump and the electrics were hanging off with loose wires on show, the shower covered in plastic and the next door caravan sporting a large “no valuables left inside” we made a sharp exit and went elsewhere.

Thankfully The Camping and Motorhome Club have a Club Site, Ferry Meadows Peterborough fairly close by and they could accommodate us for the weekend. Phew.

Friday night was spent downing a few beers and a homemade turkey balti whilst mulling over our day; it had started with us playing a gig and accompanying the State Secretary for Health in a dance with a resident at a celebration lunch and finished with this bizarre encounter at Northey Lodge.

Saturday arrived and it was time to figure out how we would get to Whittlesey. There was a bus stop nearby to the Campsite which we could have used along with a connecting bus in Peterborough, and also a train service from Peterborough but to get to the station was around a 4 mile walk. We needed up grabbing a local cab for just £14 each way for ease, speed and laziness. Once in Whittlesey we soon found the heart of the festival, on Market Street, and it wasn’t long until the Straw Bear had been located for a selfie! 🤳

There were loads of different Morris dancing teams, all with their own individual style and costume. Some had black face paint, others had multicoloured.

We found a souvenir programme and found the history of the Morris dancers really interesting. We also learnt that this is the biggest Morris dancing event in the UK and teams come from across the country to participate.

We followed the Straw Bear and his team of minders and musicians along the high street towards the Ivy Leaf where he was to have his lunch.

We made use of the hour and half gap to enjoy Morris Dancing displays outside the Wetherspoons, and of course sampling a few beers whilst we did. We particularly enjoyed the Straw Bear Ale. it was amazing to see some of the teams using really traditional instruments- we saw two hurdy-gurdy’s which was amazing!

After his lunch, the Straw Bear came back along the high street and weaved round the small streets and alleys, stopping at each pub for a dance with whichever Morris dancing team was already dancing in the car park or beer garden.

I don’t know if it were a coincidence or not, but as time ticked on and more pubs were visited, the Bear’s dancing became more and more lively. 😜

He’s being fed something in a tankard 😜

By 3pm, we’d found ourselves right in the heart of the Parade, humming along the tune of the March thoroughly captivated into the spirit of the event. It seemed like the entire town, young and older were out enjoying themselves- it’s obviously a real tradition here.

By 3.30 the finale had taken place, the Straw Bear had been joined by another and also a smaller bear and a mass dance along with the Morris dancers took place to mark the end of the day.

It had been a really unique experience for us “outsiders’ but we were made to feel welcome and we really enjoyed ourselves. What really surprised us was how many younger people were part of the Morris Dancers- it’s obviously still a very popular pastime.

Back at the campsite we settled in for the night and enjoyed a homemade carbonara and a bottle of wine. Ferry Meadows campsite is lovely and we will definitely return with our bikes next time as there are loads of off road paths.

Sunday dawned a beautiful winters morning, however it was chilly! It dropped to -4 last night as whilst we were snug as a bug in bed, the doors and windows had frozen up so we had to spend a few extra minutes in bed whilst we defrosted with the heater and kettle on. What a shame!

We decided to make the most of the beautiful day and do a walk so after a hearty breakfast, we waved goodbye to the site and drove 5 miles to nearby Elton.

Our 7.5 mile walk took in some really beautiful scenery along the Nene Way. The weather couldn’t have been any better – I just love this crisp winter sunshine on a frosty ground.

Half way into the walk we stumbled across the birthplace of Richard III and also the place where Mary Queen of Scots got beheaded in the small quaint village of Fotheringhay. The motte and bailey is really well preserved and although the castle remains are no longer there the views from the motte are spectacular. The church at Fotheringhay is also really interesting as it has a octagonal tower.

Fotheringhay Bridge was the earliest bridge over the Nene. This stone one dates from 1722 and replaced an original timber bridge.

We stopped for lunch at the Falcon Inn and made a note of the Certified Location Campsite right next to the Motte and Bailey- right on the river banks it looked a definite for us to return to someday.

What a varied but lovely weekend. Have a great week,

Until next time

Lx