Sometimes I get so focused on checking new countries off the imaginary list in my head that I ignore the very place I call home – beautiful England! An entire planet of landscapes seems to have wrapped itself around these little British Isles and, after a recent weekend in the Lake District, I am newly inspired to see as much of this place as I can.
The UK has these magical things called Bank Holidays. I don’t exactly understand why they exist, but they roll around every few months and we all get off work for reasons unknown to me and I LOVE IT. Some friends and I made the most of the late May Bank Holiday and (along with every other licensed driver in England) followed the motorway signs pointing to “The North.”
Despite booking in the eleventh hour, we found a great converted stable Airbnb in the teeniest little village called Renwick, which was just a little cluster of houses in an enormous expanse of pasture. As we drove, I kept imagining what the Lake District must look like from above – a patchwork quilt sewn with every shade of green, intersected by stone wall stitches and dotted with scraps of an old floral-patterned dress.
Our first day was spent village hopping. We began in Grasmere, mostly because the town’s famous gingerbread had been recommended by no less than ten friends. The village was precious – shops, galleries, little homes, and a tiny church with a healthy dose of wildflowers. Grasmere Gingerbread lived up to every ounce of hype. It was so good, kind of soft and crumbly and spicy. I still think about it at least once a day. (Writing this blog reminded me of how good the gingerbread was and I just ordered some online because I am a weak person. Help!) We grabbed lunch at a teahouse called Baldry’s and I tried the British classic rarebit for the first time, despite being deeply convinced it was a rare piece of rabbit meat. To my delight, rarebit is actually a thick slice of toast swimming in a small lake of melted cheese. The things you learn on holiday!
Ambleside was our next stop on the Village Tour of Cumbria and offered a bit more hustle and bustle than Grasmere (we are speaking relatively, of course). We browsed all the cute boutiques and wandered up to the village church. We excitedly followed signs to a Craft Fair and began dreaming of all the quirky handmade items we’d buy. The signs led us to the dimly lit gymnasium of a community center. It took us precisely forty seconds to see each and every piece of merchandise available. Empty-handed, we took our exit from Ambleside and headed to Keswick.
Keswick offered a new slew of shopping opportunities and sweet treats. We wandered the street market, scored some British Tweed mill blankets, and eventually found ourselves in a beautiful public park on the banks of a stunning lake. After grabbing some takeaway, we enjoyed a few hours of soaking in the rare sunbeams and warm air. Photo evidence says I took a nap that I don’t remember. With sunset quickly approaching, we hopped in the car and headed to Lake Windermere, which came highly recommended for sunset viewing. After finding a place to park, we ran to a nearby overlook. There, with a small gaggle of wide-eyed strangers, we silently watched pink and violet and orange clouds melt into one another like watercolor.
This show plays nightly. Can you believe we live on a planet that has a sunset every single day.
A new day began with with bad directions from Alex and great driving by Jana and encouraging words by Liz. After a brake-burning, twisty-turny “shortcut” through the mountains, we arrived at the trailhead to a gorgeous waterfall. (Please listen to me: do not take roads that end in the word “Pass.” Tears will be shed by at least one person in your vehicle.) Buoyant with the relief of finishing that awful drive, we took the trail past an ancient church, over a wide brook, and through an absolutely pristine wood. Between the trees, the air was dark and cool and calm. After making it to the waterfall, we hung up hammocks and spread out blankets and allowed ourselves a few hours of simply being.
In search of food (as always), we decided to drive to the biggest town we could find on the coast – Whitehaven. The place was a bit sad, sort of deserted, but we decided to poke around the marina a bit despite the bum-me-out vibes. To our great surprise, we stumbled on a huge jetty and enjoyed some pretty gorgeous views of sailboats on the glittery English sea.
My brother-in-law Andrew once spoke the words that have made me the woman I am today: “You have a limited number of meals to eat in this life, so you better make sure each one is good.” That’s some gospel truth, y’all. I want to get it tattooed. With this in mind, we kept driving until we found ourselves back at Keswick and in the booth of a super hip restaurant we’d spotted the day before, Merienda. Avocado fries, halloumi frittatas, corn fritters. Hipster heaven.
We reluctantly awoke to our departure day and decided to make it to Hadrian’s Wall before heading back to London. The morning’s drive felt like trespassing into one oil painting after another – endless miles of misty emerald mountains dotted with sheep. We stopped for a scone at Blueberry’s Cafe (the cutest name in history) in Alston, then navigated to the Wall, ancient Roman ruins near Scotland that spans the entire width of Great Britain. We walked along it for a while and spotted some of the original sections. We also popped into nearby Lanercost Priory, a beautiful old cathedral that sits half-restored, half in ruins in the north English countryside. After coming to terms that the holiday must draw to a close, we pointed our little red car southwards and waved goodbye to the magical Lake District. Our final stop was the town of Carlisle, where we had lunch and a wander before entering the parade of homecomers that stretched all the way to Surrey.