Bearing Fruit

The whole idea of a holiday is to relax, refresh and reinvigorate the soul. And I feel that my holiday these last two weeks has done exactly that.

But, to what end? As an ordinand, a vicar in training, I feel it more keenly than I did before, in that the purpose of taking time away to enjoy nature and to find “space” is to strengthen that connection I have with my creator, God. And the reason for that is not only because He wants me to, but that I become a better person, and minister in His name, for having that connection renewed and restrengthened.

I hope and trust that He finds me worthy.


Camping Misadventures – Last Day

Sad day today as we have reached the end of our camping misadventures for this summer. We have had some extremely wet and windy (not to mention thundery and lightning-y) weather, and we have had some scorching hot sunny weather too. We have rested, we have walked. We have eaten well and we have laughed til our bellies hurt. All in all it has been a fab holiday and I’m sad it has come to an end.

We have spent most of the day today on site, either resting or getting things packed up ready for travelling tomorrow. The weather has not been fantastic (which is a euphemism for “wet, very wet, even wetter, and even more windy”) and so we didn’t want to go very far from site.

We did have a quick toddle down into Kendal for the last time today to pick up some gifts for people at home and for one final look round the town. We saw some little streets that we have so far failed to see (don’t know how we have done that seeing as though we have walked and walked all round it already).

A few final thoughts about the last fortnight. The place we have stayed is a tiny little hamlet called New Hutton, which is about five miles or so away from the M6 on the east side of Kendal. It is a collection of farm houses, barns, cottages and tiny houses and it’s a kind of “blink and you miss it” kind of place. It is absolutely gorgeous whatever the weather and I would love to come back here again.

There are lots of pathways and bridleways marked around the area, and I think it would be possible to go for a 6 mile walk each day from the same spot and not do the same route twice! Definitely want to do more walking when I get back home too. I feel stronger in my legs and have been less breathless going up the hills over this holiday. That can only mean that my health is improving, and it has given me the incentive to carry on.

Having said that, as it is holiday time and it’s the last night of the holiday, I did treat myself to a glass of wine whilst tea cooked tonight. Lovely!

You may be wondering why so many of the pictures of me this holiday are of me wearing a hat. Well, let me show you my hair today and you will see why. I washed it just before going to bed last night, and as it was bedtime, didn’t bother to straighten it. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway because first thing this morning the campsite was invisible because the clouds were so low. Low clouds mean one thing – misty drizzle – and this is the result of my hair in wet weather:

Alpaca Pamster

So you can understand why I have been wearing a hat most of the time this holiday…

And so here we are, the end of this year’s camping misadventures. True to form, the rain is hammering on the caravan roof and the awning is being blown about so much by high winds that the van is shaking like we’re in an earthquake. I can still hear the sheep in the next field though, so it could only be a passing shower still.

I am going to miss these sounds. Rain battering the roof, creaking awning poles pulling the van about, sheep baahing about 6 feet away from us over the hedge, zips of awnings and sleeping bags and the kettle on the boil for the last brew before bed. Absolute bliss!

Back to normal blogging tomorrow, but until next time, happy camping to all my fellow misadventurers.

Night all.


Camping Misadventures – Week 2, Day 6

I can’t believe the holiday is nearly over! Just the one day tomorrow and then we head home on Saturday. It has been a fabulous two weeks away and though I have missed home and a couple of people close to my heart, I have felt refreshed and re-energised by my time away and have loved pretty much every minute of it.

Today’s misadventures took us to Ulverston, just around the Lake District peninsula from Kendal and on the way over towards Barrow. It was Kevin’s choice to visit there this holiday and seeing as the weather was forecast to be fine all day, we decided to go today and make the most of wandering round the little town.

Ulverston is a fabulous little place. A small market town which is quite literally a labyrinth of streets and alleyways. Fascinating little shops and an interesting indoor market where I bought a couple of books which will help me in my post-grad research project next year.

Ulverston has two famous sons; one a famous explorer and one a famous comedian and Hollywood star.

Sir John Barrow was born in Ulverston in 1764 and went on from his humble beginnings to become the Second Secretary of the Admiralty, which meant he was in charge of the Royal Navy. He was in charge throughout all of the Napoleonic wars and was famously the last person to shake Admiral Nelson’s hand as he embarked for Trafalgar. After the wars, he was instrumental in finding a purpose for all of the now-redundant seamen and naval ships, so he founded exploration missions for them around the globe. Sir John Barrow was the founding member of the Royal Geographical Society, which he started as a result of his explorations and journeys around the world.

For a more detailed story of his life, please visit the Ulverston Town Council pages on him where they will tell you much more than I can about this outstanding gentleman.

There is a monument to this, the first of Ulverston’s famous sons, on the hill just outside the town when you approach from the west. It looks just like a lighthouse, which is rather odd until you realise who it is dedicated to!

The town recently celebrated Sir John Barrow with a festival, and there is a fabulous mural to him along one of the walls of one of the back-alleys just off Market Street. The mural details his many works, such as when he set up a Sunday School to teach the youngsters of the town when he was aged just 13, and I wish I could have photographed it in more detail to show you more. But here is what I managed to capture:

Isn’t it wonderful!

And so to Ulverston’s second famous son. Do you know who it is?

I always knew Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born in Ulverston… but you might know him by his stage name of Stan Laurel.

Stan Laurel (makes it easier if I call him the name everyone knows him by) was born here in 1890, to a family who were no strangers to theatre and stagecraft. His father, A.J., was what you would nowadays call an impresario – he owned a series of theatres, acted and danced in his own shows, sang, told jokes, wrote plays and so on. Stan eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, and joined Fred Karno’s “Army” where he met Charlie Chaplin amongst other people. He toured the UK and the US with Karno, and was initially Charlie Chaplin’s understudy when they arrived in the US. Chaplin went on to do his own thing, and Stan Laurel went on to do his. He was put in a partnership with Oliver Hardy by Hal Roach, the studio owner in 1927 and the rest, as they say, is history. I have given you a very potted history there, but if you want to know more about the life and work of Stan Laurel, there is plenty more to read if you click here.

There is a little museum in Ulverston on the ground floor of what was the Roxy Cinema, and of course, we had to visit. It is an interesting little place, although it could do with some time and money being spent on it to clean up the exhibits and to add some proper lighting to show off the memorabilia properly. That said, I did learn a lot from the visit and we enjoyed watching one of the 20 minute long Laurel and Hardy classics that was showing on the cinema screen.

To cap the day off today we had a little walk when we got back to camp. I don’t know if I mentioned, but I am trying to maintain a steady number of steps each day which my son’s loaned FitBit is helping with by bullying me at regular intervals through the day.

To be honest, I am not feeling bullied that much any more (strangely) and am enjoying meeting the step challenge each day. I was down by about 1500 today so thought it would be nice to make the most of the sunshine today and go for a little walk before we had our tea. Dad and Kevin came with me and we plotted a route from the campsite to take us down a couple of the lanes and over a couple of footpaths in a circular route.

I am so glad to report that there were no “No Entry” signs on our way today, and no irate farmers sending us miles out of our way. There were no rain showers and no nettle stings either – what’s going on??!

And so we arrive at the penultimate evening of our Camping Misadventures 2019 holiday in the Lake District. I have had a brilliant day today and not really had any misadventures today at all. Well, not unless you count me biting into the inside of my cheek when I thought it was a piece of meat from my steak-bake at dinner time, or when I scalded myself on the gravy as it oozed over the top and went all down my leg… Nope, no misadventures today, just oodles of sunshine, lots of laughs and plenty of fresh air and SMASHED my steps target again. Fab day all round!

Night all.


Camping Misadventures – Week 2, Day 5

We’re coming towards the end of our holiday now, with only a couple of days left in the wonderful Lake District, and even though it has been raining heavily overnight with more forecast for today, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity of doing something with our time today.

We headed to Sizergh Castle, just down the road, this afternoon but before that we had a bit of unfinished business from yesterday to attend to first.

You may remember our little run-in with a farmer who wouldn’t let us over his footbridge on the edge of his property during our walk yesterday, but if you are not familiar with the episode, briefly, we were following a marked footpath (according to the Ordnance Survey) and we were barred from crossing a particular footbridge because a farmer said it was “private”. We ended up doubling the length of our walk to try and get to where we needed to be and it has not sat easily with me overnight and into this morning.

I was annoyed about him deliberately sending us miles out of way through dangerous ground and into a field full of bulls, but it wasn’t that that I wanted to settle today. It was the issue of whether he was entitled to block the footpath in the first place, and so we headed to Kendal library to find out more.

The lady at the local history desk was a great help to us, and when we told her what it was we wanted to clarify, she rolled her eyes and dropped her shoulders saying “ah yes, there are problems round there”. It seems we are not the only people to fall foul of this farmer and the tussle over a particular plot of land.

Kendal Library – “Let There Be Light” indeed!

With her help, we looked at the official footpath and bridleways that Cumbria County Council have recorded, and there is indeed a short section of pathway that is now not open to the public. So the old man was correct in saying that it was not a public thoroughfare. But there’s more. She looked into some paperwork for us and we found out that the issue is not actually resolved yet, and the missing section – ie the bit over the footbridge – may well not belong to the old man anyway. She told us that tensions were running high and this issue had been going on for a number of years. I got the impression that the issue of privacy and public access over that bridge has been a delicate situation for a while, and it doesn’t show any signs of being resolved properly for a while yet.

So the upshot is that yes the old man was correct in saying that it was not a public footpath – for now. I still maintain that he had a choice of whether to help us or hinder us, and he chose to hinder us simply because he could, and that still grates on me.

“Wool is my bread” – the Kendal coat of arms inlaid in the floor of the entrance to Kendal Library

However, the matter of the footpath was settled and we were off to find adventures elsewhere. And so we headed to Sizergh Castle, about 5 miles down the road from Kendal.

Sizergh Castle

I loved this place from the minute we got here. The grounds are so lovely and peaceful, even though we couldn’t see much through the low cloud/drizzle that has pervaded the day.

The name “Sizergh” is taken from the Old Scandinavian name which means “summer pasture or dairy farm”. This castle has been here since the early 14th Century, and has been built on and extended pretty much throughout its life. The original part of the house is the square blocky tower that you can see here with the flagpole on top, with the other bits added over time. The property has been in the Stickland family throughout its history, and though it is in the hands of the National Trust, the family still live here to this day. I won’t tell you all about the history I learned today because the wonderful people at the National Trust have done it all before and there’s no point me repeating it. If you want to find out more about it, please head over to their pages here for the official view of it.

Instead, let me tell you some of my thoughts about the place from when I went around it.

First of all, the place is in wonderful condition, and I was encouraged by the signs up around the place saying “you may sit here” rather more than “do not touch this”, which is what usually happens in places like this. The staff were all very welcoming and happy to talk to us, which makes any visit to a historical place all the more pleasurable. The lady who spoke to us as we first went through the main doors was wonderful in the way she shepherded people together to give us all a potted history of the family and the house.

You can really feel the sense of history permeating through the castle as you work your way around it. Each part of the building seems to have its own character, and for me, the best parts were the medieval bits that were still intact. My favourite room was the one where there was an upper gallery running round the wall and a huge refectory table and stools took up the centre part of it. The floorboards here were huge planks of oak that had worn and warped over the years, but were still as sturdy today as they were when they were first hewed.

Thomas Strickland Standish (1763 – 1813)

The place is stuffed full of portraits of the Stickland family throughout the ages and there is a distinct family resemblance throughout them all. My favourite looking person was Thomas Strickland Standish (1763 – 1813) because he looked like someone I might know. He didn’t have the aristocratic hauteur that the rest of the family appeared to have in their portraits and he looks like someone I might have got along well with. Funny old game isn’t it!

I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed not to have seen the kitchens in the castle. It is one of my favourite things to check out whenever we visit anywhere like this, and I love to find out about how the other half of the household lived. It’s one thing to learn about the aristocratic family who lived there, and what sort of peerages they had earned and so on, but it is quite another to learn about how their staff lived and loved alongside them.

I am interested in how the movers and shakers of our past built our country’s history and how our society rests on the choices and decisions they made in government etc, but I am more interested in learning how the “ordinary” folk lived their lives just as much. To me, the real human history of our society is told in the stories of people who didn’t write the headlines, who didn’t bring into force the parliamentary acts that codify our laws, who didn’t build armies to fight on the borders etc. It is told in the stories of the people who ran the estate, who organised the planting of the seed, who led the people to harvest it, who invented ways for the maids to fetch the hot water for washing bodies and clothes etc. All of those things are more interesting to me, and we didn’t get to see any of it at Sizergh today. Ah well, no doubt it will be a similar history in other big houses and castles, and it just goes to show that history is written by the victors in life, not by the everyday folk who struggle to get from one end to the other.

Having thoroughly examined the house and its historical contents we headed back to camp again. After the exertions of yesterday, we were all feeling a bit tired and weary so we wanted an early tea and an early night.

The damp weather had definitely settled over camp before we turned in for the night. You can barely see the tops of the trees because of the mist from the low clouds.

I think a trip to Ulverston is on the cards tomorrow. It’s the birthplace of Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame, so that is going to be an interesting trip. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Night all.


Camping Misadventures – Week 2, Day 4

Hand on heart, today has been a classic misadventure day… But we have all lived to tell the tale!

The weather was forecast to be so-so today – some showers, some sunshine. We had decided that after our trip to Keswick yesterday we would spend a day on site, or at least local to site, to enjoy some downtime. Someone – ahem, can’t think who? – had a brainwave of doing a “little walk” from site, following the local pathways and bridleways that would take about an hour to complete. Well, and hour and a half TOPS.

We have a subscription to the Ordinance Survey mapping app (a gift from my placement church) which we use from time to time to plot walking routes and to scope out the local landscape. There is a function on there for people to share walks that they have plotted, and there are a couple that people have done from the village here before us, so we chose one of theirs to follow.

We started well enough, even waiting for the worst of the rain to pass over this morning before we began.

The Three Musketeers setting out on an intrepid journey

The very first port of call on our route map was the bridleway just at the end of the campsite that leads up to the church. Only, we couldn’t actually go up it because it was flooded. It was so flooded in fact that the whole of the bridleway was a stream flowing down towards us. We quickly appraised the situation and decided to go another way round to the church instead. Perhaps in hindsight, this ought to have given us a clue that things were not going to be straightforward.

Raw Green, a tiny hamlet nestled on the East side of the church

At the top of this hill we had a little debate about the best way to go. We are still getting to grips with the OS map app thingy, and it took us a while to work out that the arrow on the map points in the way the phone is directed, so to find out which way to go, simply point the phone and see what the arrow says. Anyway, after a couple of false starts, we sussed out the route down through the hills to the stream at the bottom.

And this is what we were faced with to get to the footbridge. Thick vegetation of the stinging and scratching kind. But fortunately for me, I have Indiana Daddy who is always prepared with his trusty penknife, and he and Kevin managed to hack their way through easily enough to free up the pathway for me. You see, I had done the “sensible” thing of wearing shorts to go hiking in, and while the idea of keeping my legs open to the air so they would dry off quicker seemed a good one before I set off, in reality, having them open to the elements of biting, stinging and scratching things didn’t occur to me until it was too late, and boy am I paying for it now.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. My boots should have been waterproofed before we set off too. Something else to add to the “don’t forget to do before next time” list…

Anyway, Dad and Kevin cleared the path and we were off again across another field. We are getting good at keeping to the edges so the sheep and cattle don’t get scared. Mostly, anyway. Some are a bit more curious than others and come to say hello to us – or to warn us off, whichever.

A pair of curious sheep

We reached the road as planned and apart from the hiccup on the footbridge, everything seemed to be going well. It rained a bit, so we put waterproofs on quickly, but it stopped before long and we had to take them off again because the sun was absolutely scorching. And then it rained again…. and then the sun came out again. I had decided at this point that I wasn’t going to keep putting my coat on and off any more and to just weather the rain as it came. But fortunately, that was the end of the rain that we saw on our journey.

A rainy selfie

We had planned to take another footpath over the hills towards Ewe Bank (yes, I couldn’t believe it neither) but it seems United Utilities have closed the path because of construction work going on in the neighbouring field.

We quickly negotiated a new route (thank to the fabulous OS map app!) and we carried on walking along the road until we found a footpath to take us back towards home again.

This was about halfway round the planned route and we were all feeling pretty chipper, despite the rain and the closed footpath. But this is where it started to get a bit more misadventurous for real.

We found a waymarker that signed a footpath in the direction we wanted to go, and we realised that it was on the original plan too, so we began to follow it. First though, we had to climb over the steepest and highest stile I have ever seen in my life.

Daddy on a high stile

And soon after this, we had to climb over two double stiles to get through the next two fields. Now, if we thought that the foliage over the footbridge was bad, it was NOTHING compared to what we had to hack through to get through these two double stiles. (And when I say “we”, I mean my Dad and Kevin).

Indiana Daddy with his trusty penknife

We all got a bit scratched and stung going through these, and it took us about 30 minutes to negotiate just a couple of hundred yards of journey.

It was worth it though to get to the hill that would take us home. Yay!!

First of all, we had to negotiate our way through a herd of sheep that were so comical they made me laugh out loud, literally. They came to meet us on the ridge, and watched us approach them like a line of soldiers in the civil war or something. Their little faces were so sweet, but their body positions were a little bit threatening.

Apache Sheep on the ridge

We had to go over that ridge, and thankfully the sheep all moved away together to our left so we could get there without scaring them. It was a lovely moment cresting the hill because we could see the campsite in the distance, and we had firm sight of the church tower which told us we were nearly home.

The downward journey was magnificent. The three of us striding away with a hot cup of tea and some corned beef sandwiches that were waiting for us back at the vans dancing before our eyes. The sun was shining, the clouds were high and lofty, not a raindrop, not an animal, not a single thing to get in our way.

And then we hit a snag.

Our route took us to a footpath that was signed to our left, but the farmer had put up some “No Entry” notices, and had put up “private” notices telling us we were trespassing. To be honest, we panicked a bit. We are law abiding people and the thought of trespassing on someone’s land was worrying to all of us. But the OS map most definitely said that there was a public footpath going that way. And we had a problem.

We followed a yellow way-marker through the farmer’s yard (which was even worse than going down the path by the side of his property in terms of feeling like we were trespassing) and eventually out onto the fields again. We were headed in the wrong direction, away from where we wanted to be, but couldn’t work out how to get where we should be going without breaking the farmer’s “no entry” instructions.

However, as we pondered – ok, dithered – an old man appeared out of a farm building and asked us what we were doing. He came over to us, making his chickens fly off in temper (by the by, I’ve never actually seen chickens fly, but today I saw about a dozen of them take flight. That was quite an awesome sight I tell you!). We told him we wanted to get down to the road, which was about 40 yards down the “private” path, to get back to the farm where we are staying. He told us “nope, it’s private that.” We said, ok, thanks for that, but is there a way round? We were really polite and trying to be friendly – after all, we were standing in a farmer’s field not knowing where we were headed, feeling a bit hungry and tired by this stage and wanting to get back home as quick as we could.

He asked us where we had come from so we pointed up to the ridge and said, “over there”. He said “well in that case, you need to go that way” and directed us to keep going through the field we were in, through the stile, through the next field – “don’t mind the bull, he can’t run fast” – and to keep going for about 2 miles until we came to Middleshaw.

So we set off with some trepidation. There was something in his manner that was a bit off, and I didn’t really trust him. But, he was the farmer and we had no choice but to follow his directions.

However, we soon came to realise that he had sent us on a fool’s errand, after about a mile or so tramping through boggy, soggy ground, and climbing over gates (not stiles) and encountering not just one single bull, but a whole herd of them. At that point we decided that we had to get away from the path he had sent us on (we came to the end of a field with no stile or gateway out of it and there was only a barbed wire fence anyway) and so we tried to find a way out.

We followed what looked like an ancient hedge line down to the river with a view to crossing it somehow, and to bring us up onto the road (good old OS map app again!) but there was no obvious way to cross the river.

Looks like an ancient hedge line separating two fields (or properties?)

By this time I was getting a bit upset. My boots were sodden from walking in the long grass for long, my Achilles tendons on both ankles were hurting from the strain of walking on uneven ground, I was pretty stung and scratched by nettles and brambles from earlier on, and I was seething at the old man for deliberately sending us out of our way and in the opposite direction to where we wanted to go. And I was getting hungry. We had planned to be out for only about an hour and a half from 11am ish, and the time was now about 2pm, and we had (foolishly) not brought any food with us. Well we wouldn’t would we? The route marked was a 3 mile “stroll” and didn’t account for hacking our way through vegetation three times to get over bridges and stiles, and it didn’t account for a farmer with a sense of humour…

To cut a long and desperate story short, we ended up doubling back on ourselves to the farm again (by now it was getting for 4pm and nettle stings had doubled, as had the amount of cattle dung liberally sprayed up our legs and rucksacks from tramping through fields that were not supposed to be walked through. We planned to make a run for it along the 40 yards or so from the “no entry” sign and the road, only when we got there, there was no sign of the farmer, and miraculously, all the farm gates had been closed and locked.

We eventually caught up with the escaped chickens. The river is just in front of these trees – completely impassable.

By this stage, I was thoroughly fed up. I am always annoyed by bullying behaviour in people, and it felt like the farmer had bullied us into walking so far in the wrong direction knowing full well that we would have to turn back when we got to the edge of his property (with no gate or stile to let us out). We ended up climbing over a gate to get back onto the public footpath to reassess our options.

We spotted on the map a little track from the farm that led in a Z shape to a B road that led to the point where we wanted to be, and decided to go along that. It literally took us 5 minutes to get to the point where we were heading for nearly 3 hours earlier. We later found out that the farmer has claimed those few yards over the footbridge to the road from his farm in the midst of a dispute with the parish council about footpaths not meeting up properly, and not quite reaching the parish boundary. I wouldn’t like to say he was wrong in putting up his barriers and his “no entry” signs, but I wouldn’t like to bet against it neither.

But the thing that really got me about the situation is this: when we asked him how to get to the road, he had a choice. In fact, he had a couple of options to choose from and he chose the one he did, simply because he could do. He could have let us through – “yes, ok, it’s just down there. It’s private really but seeing as though you’re here, you may as well go through”. He could have told us that there was a shortcut along a track just a little way further back that would take us round the disputed land – “just back there look, you can go there and you’ll be on the road in a couple of minutes”. Or he could have made the decision which he did, and sent us miles out of our way in the opposite direction, through dangerous ground and potentially into a dangerous situation with a herd of bulls.

In a world where you have a choice to be kind or cruel, why choose to be cruel? I just don’t get it.

But anyway, we eventually got through the situation with no tears shed – go me! – and we were finally back on the pathway back home again. It didn’t take us long to get there actually, and that was despite walking up (another) hill which brought us out at the farm where we are staying.

Nearly there…

And we made it. Nearly six hours after we set off, we arrived back at camp. Tired, dirty, hungry, annoyed at the meanness of some people, but ultimately happy with our achievement, we made it back in one piece.

And as everyone knows, there is only one way to celebrate surviving an experience like that…

Just to replenish lost fluids, obviously.

So today’s misadventures have been manifold. Stings, scratches, closed footpaths, cow-pats up to the knees, cantankerous old men who could have helped but didn’t, close encounters with sheep and bulls, arguments over which way up the map should be, fighting off vegetation with a pen-knife and being eaten alive by midges after each rain shower.

But they have been wonderful, and I would do (most of it) all again tomorrow. So long as my boots have dried out, that is.

Night all.


Camping Misadventures – Week 2, Day 3

It’s getting to that stage of the holiday now where we are all confused about what day it is, how long have we been here and how long it is until we are going home. Well, we have been away for just over a week and we have got only four full days left before we head back south down the M6 again. We are also at the stage of the holiday where we are making the most of every day too, regardless of the weather.

If you have been following my blog for the last 10 days or so you will know that we have not been blessed with the best weather so far. In fact, some days have seen us experience weather of Biblical proportions including three nights with no sleep because of high winds, thunder, lightning and pelting rain. But today was different. The forecast looked pretty decent, so we decided that we would venture further afield today to see some more of the Lake District properly. We had in mind that we wanted to get to Keswick at some point this holiday and we decided that today was the day.

And boy, were we glad we went! What a glorious drive from Kendal to Windermere, then up the A591 to Keswick. The scenery is stunning up here anyway, but we were blessed with superb sunshine in between the towering white clouds over the fells and it made for some spectacular sights. I was driving so didn’t take any photographs so can’t share any with you here, but to be honest, I wouldn’t have been able to do justice to the sights of the fells and the waters of Thirlmere, Rydal, Grasmere and Derwent along the way. You’ll have to take it from me that it was stunning!

River Derwent

We arrived in Keswick and headed to the Pencil Museum. Yes, I know, it seems an odd choice of place to visit doesn’t it? Well, we had long since known about the museum and as a writer and (somewhat poor) artist, I wanted to see where the home of the Derwent pencil was and what they could tell us about the history of the pencil.

It was really interesting inside, and we learned about when the first use of graphite happened (in 1550 by accident by some shepherds in the hills at Seathwaite), and how during WWII the Derwent factory was used to create a special pencil for airmen to carry. It contained a tiny rolled up map inside instead of the lead for use when/if they came down behind enemy lines and was requested by the Government’s very own “Q”, a procurator of all things gadgetry in the style of James Bond but for deadly serious reality. We also saw a special commemorative pencil that was made by the factory for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubliee in 2012, and there is a series of beautifully carved pencil tips by a Bosnian man who carves the graphite into all sorts of little figures and letters.

The museum also houses the longest pencil in the world at nearly 26 feet long, which was made in May 2001.

After the pencil museum we had a little wander round the town. It’s amazing what you can see in the middle of a Monday afternoon in the Lakes. Here’s mum with a tiny little South American owl who looks like he is wearing an Aran jumper.

He looks like he’s giving her the evil eye here!

When we come on holiday, we like to find out about the history of the area as well as see the landscape, and we are fond of visiting any historical monument or site that has significance. There is a stone circle just outside Keswick, called Castlerigg, and we visited that on the way back home.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria

The stones stand in an open field which is fairly level, on top of a hill. From the site you can see the fells in all four directions and you can easily see why our Neolithic ancestors chose this site to build the circle. There is speculation as to what the circle was used for, but the likeliest reason is that it formed a meeting place for the local tribes as it was a convenient open space in amongst the peaks and fells, and it would have been a wonderful place to track the movements of the sun with unimpeded views of the sky all year round.

I have mixed feelings about sites like these. Part of me was really annoyed that people were wandering so freely amongst the stones and allowing children to climb on them – don’t they know that this is a sacred/important/religious/historical site??! But part of me was happy to see it still being used – the stones have stood here for 4500 years already and whatever religious or festive reason it was used for has long since been forgotten about and they are just stones in a field now.

I tried to take a panoramic photo from inside the circle – it doesn’t look right, but it does give you an idea of the sights of the fells surrounding it.

And of course there is the obligatory team selfie to be shared!

And so back to camp again for some R&R after tramping round Keswick and Castlerigg. Glad the weather forecast was bob on again today and we only had rain once it had gone dark and we were tucked up back in the van.

A day of Pencil Museum inspired artistry ahead of us tomorrow I think. I won’t promise, but if there’s anything worth sharing I’ll post it tomorrow.

Night all.


Camping Misadventures – Week 2, Day 2

We have had a day of rest today, which probably sounds a bit strange seeing as though we’re on holiday…

But the thing with camping – whether you are in a tent or a caravan or whatever – is that it can be pretty exhausting simply getting from one end of the day to another. There’s water to fetch and dispose of for cooking, cleaning and tea-drinking; there’s always stuff to tidy away so there’s room to sit down; the beds need setting up each night and clearing away each morning; the toilet block is at the top of a hill (which my FitBit funnily enough counts as 2 flights of stairs each time); and when the weather is bad as it has been for the past 4 days, it is a massive effort to keep the essentials dry – shoes, coats, heads, towels, pyjamas etc.

And so, yes, while camping is fun in the sun, it can be pretty exhausting when the weather turns. You may have seen the weather for the UK in the last few days, and if you have you may have seen that the hardest hit in terms of rainfall and high winds has been the Lake District, which is where we are. We have had no sleep for three nights because the noise of the weather. First it was the sound of rain bouncing off the roof, then it was thunder plus the rain bouncing off the roof, and then last night it was the sound of the rain bouncing off the roof and the noise of the wind pulling the awning and rocking the van to the extent it felt like we were going to be blown over. I managed to get a few hours sleep after about 4am last night when the worst of the wind had died down, but Kevin was still awake fretting about the awning, the leaky roof, the car…

The weather has been mostly wet again today (mainly because of low cloud and not because of actual rain) and we have stayed on site all day. We have read a bit, slept a little, drank plenty of tea and have done the odd dozen crosswords or so. We have also sorted out the wet clothes from the damp ones, hand-washed some that were needed for the next few days and we have had the hot air blower on in the van all day with various bits of clothing and footwear in different stages of drying out. We have managed to fix the bits of the awning that were damaged in the wind last night – isn’t it great what some cable ties and a bit of gaffer tape can do?! – and we are all ready for an early night with NO sounds of weather to keep us awake tonight.

Here’s a view of the hill behind the van, showing that the moon is rising and not at all cloudy (fuzziness is down to my phone camera in low lighting conditions). It bodes well for a restful night tonight following our restful day today.

Night all.


Camping Misadventures – Week 2, Day 1

The weather has not been our friend today again. High winds, constant rain, low cloud over the hills and a uniform grey sky that is exactly the same shade as our awning. And it’s pretty chilly too!

So we headed out to Lancaster at lunchtime to visit the castle/prison and the Priory. We parked just outside the town centre and caught the Park and Ride bus, which was a fantastic way to get in and not worry about the daft one way system.

First stop was the castle. I have been here before many years ago and I thought I knew what to expect when I got here today. But I was wrong. How often does our memory do that to us? That we think we have remembered something as clear as a bell but when we are faced with it some years later it is nothing as we remembered it at all? I am willing to bet there are a number of things we all think we know from the past but will be totally wrong about.

Anyway, the castle was not as I remembered it and so it made it more exciting. I love touring our country’s historical sites and learning more about the ways of the past and there is a lot of history and a lot of learning packed into Lancaster Castle let me tell you.

The castle has stood here for over 1000 years in one form or another, and over the years it has been expanded and developed to the site it is now, housing some museum rooms, a prison wing (recently vacated) and two separate courts which are still in operation today.

Entry to the castle (and courtrooms etc) is relatively inexpensive – £20 for the four of us (2 adults and 2 concessions), and we were guided round by a wonderfully entertaining lady. We weren’t allowed to wander off on our own, probably because of the renovation work going on currently and because it is still a fully operational court of law, but we covered lots of the site with our guide who told us quite a bit about the castle’s history.

Photographs are not allowed to be taken in the building so I can’t share any of the interior with you here, but if you click here, you will find all you need to know about the castle from the folks who are in charge of it.

Lancaster Castle’s most famous case was that of the Pendle Witch trial in 1612, where 10 people were tried, found guilty of and hanged for witchcraft. If you want to learn more about that, there is a fantastic website here that will give you more information.

The last place on the tour in the castle is the “hanging room”, which was the room in which a condemned prisoner would be prepared before taking the short walk out to the gallows. I sensed a creepiness to the room even before our guide told us what it was for, and I was glad to be out of there as soon as the talk finished.

The weather was pretty horrendous when we exited the castle so we went over to the Priory to see the inside of the church, and it was delightful. There had been a wedding earlier on and we heard the wedding bells ringing for the bride and groom when we were inside the castle – I just hope the bride didn’t get too cold on this horrible blustery autumnal day!

The church has been stood on this site for as long as the castle, again in many different forms and with different “owners”. It feels very much like a cathedral inside, albeit a small one. There are several little chapels off the Nave, and the stained glass windows are absolutely stunning throughout the building. I found a small chapel to the south of the high altar which has been reserved for quiet contemplation and prayer. I sat here for a little while by myself, just pondering on a few things and offering some personal prayers.

We headed out for food then, and then came back to site where the weather has most definitely closed in again. It hasn’t really stopped raining all day, but every now and again it gets heavier and windier, blowing the awning about and making me worried for its structural integrity. Kevin and my Dad both assure me that it is all fine and even though it looks like a North Sea trawler in a hurricane, the canvas will hold no problem.

So today has been a bit of a history lesson, and a bit of a day for contemplation for me. I have been thinking about the ways we have in this country of responding to our criminals and how over the years, the purpose of upholding the law and meting out punishment has changed. I have also been thinking about all the people who have been executed in the name of the law over the centuries and I can’t help but wonder how might our society be different if we hadn’t done that. I don’t believe there are many – if any – truly evil people in our world, and I don’t believe that there has ever been to be honest. So what purpose did capital punishment serve when a child of 10 could be hanged for setting fire to a door, or “wanton destruction of property” according to his record. Where was the deterrent for those who were driven by desperate circumstances to commit desperate crimes simply to survive?

Lancaster Almshouses, built to house the elderly and the sick (currently under renovation)

The thing that struck me hardest today was learning about a particular man who was put in prison in the castle and was kept on remand until the half-yearly assizes sat (in March and August of each year) in the 18th century. He was found not guilty of the crime he had been accused of, but because he could not pay the gaoler for his food and lodging during the time he was kept on remand, he was had run up a huge debt which he couldn’t pay and so was put in the debtor’s prison until he could. When John Howard visited the prison he found that the man had been there for sixteen years – SIXTEEN YEARS – simply because he could not pay his way out of the situation. I’m glad to see that our society has moved on from those kind of structures, but the concept of debt and the inability to repay it has not changed one little bit in the intervening years. The only difference now is that you don’t get put behind bars for being in debt. Nowadays, being in debt is its own prison and not one that is ever easily escaped from.

A rather contemplative misadventure today, but visiting the past sometimes does that doesn’t it? Especially when history’s echoes are heard so clearly today.


Camping Misadventures – Day 7

Today’s misadventures at camp can be summed up in one word – “weather”.

The weather has had its fun today and although it didn’t actually scupper any plans we might have had (we didn’t have any as it happens) it certainly made for an entertaining, if not misadventurous day, today.

There was pretty heavy rain on and off all morning but I was planning on having a more or less lazy day anyway today, but this evening – oh my!!

Mum and Dad went off on their own today to visit Sedbergh down the road, and whilst Kevin was asleep in the van I made good use of the time to myself and cracked on with storyboarding my dissertation (due on 3rd October).

Storyboarding and character mapping for my dissertation

I should have paid more attention to the weather forecast, but it did actually warn that there would be heavy rain and thundery showers at various points through the day today (thank you Met Office for that). But what it didn’t do was tell us that the “thundery showers” would actually feel like armageddon and the noise the rain made beating down on the roof of the awning and caravan was so loud we had to shout to make ourselves heard at teatime.

It began with a few rumbles of thunder that may or may not have been farm machinery in the nearby fields. It wasn’t. It was most definitely thunder.

I don’t think I have ever heard thunder like it before in my life. It was pretty much constant for about 20 minutes, not like the crash-bang-wallop we usually get at home, the lightning was purple and orange in sheets right across the sky. And the rain…oh boy the rain.

After that, things did calm down a bit but the aftermath was something else!

And so, after a peaceful (ish) evening, the thunder is rolling again. I just hope and pray we don’t get the same through the night as we have had through the day or else we will be in for another sleepless night again.


Camping Misadventures – Day 6

It has been a brilliant day today!! Absolutely fantastic from start to end – and not a misadventure in sight (yet…)

This was the view from the campsite at 8am this morning.

Just look at the sunshine on the fells in the distance! Absolutely gorgeous.

We were up early because we had planned a day out round Windermere today, and we needed to be up and at it to get dinner ready before we went.

The leaning tower of Spam butties…!

We had planned on getting a tour bus from Bowness on Windermere, which was one of those hop on and hop off types. We had seen it advertised in Kendal on the first day there and we had waited for a break in the weather to do it and today was the day. We got to the Park and Explore car park just outside Bowness and paid our fee. It was £18 to park and for four of us to use the open top tour bus all day if we wanted to. Great value and well worth it.

The outward trip was pretty uneventful with plenty of stops as people got on and off between Bowness and Ambleside, where we got off to have a stroll about and to have our lunch.

A view of Windermere taken from the top of the bus

Back on the bus again through Rydal, past William Wordsworth’s house (one of many) and into Grasmere., where we got off the bus and went for a riverside walk to the village centre.

I have never been to Grasmere before, and I didn’t realise that it was so closely associated with Wordsworth. It is a delightful little town/village, with everything you would expect a Lakeland town to have; dainty little shops, artists in residence, a church, lots of pubs and inns, outdoor clothing shops,stunning views and a gingerbread shop. A what? Yes that’s right, a gingerbread shop!

The smell from this shop was absolutely amazing – buttery, gingery, sweet, treacly….did I say buttery and gingery? Oh my, you could dine out on the smells alone. The shop is nestled close to the lychgate to St Oswald’s church, where William Wordsworth and his family are all buried.

I got a little confused as to which was the “actual” grave of Wordsworth because it seems there are three or four of these stones with his name and dates on. Whichever it is, his remains are here under this ground in the shadow of a huge yew tree – one of nine which he himself planted in the early 19th Century.

On the way to the church we heard the Carillon strike at 3 minutes past 2. It played “To God be the glory” and as it finished I couldn’t help myself and threw my arms in the air and said “praise the Lord!”. A passing gentleman raised his hands too and shouted “Amen!” which was a wonderful shared moment together.

The church is a fascinating place to visit, and its interior is not like I have seen before. For a start, it has a double aisle, and the main altar is off to the side. The high altar does not have any stained glass behind it, and there are lots of memorial plaques and funery boards on the walls all around the church.

The best bit for me – and something that stirred the Protestant deep in my soul – was an original 1662 Book of Common Prayer that was on display. It was quite difficult to take a photograph of because it was in a glass case, but this is what is on display:

An original 1662 Book of Common Prayer

We captured some beautiful photos of butterflies on the buddleia in the gardens. Kevin took the best one:

Taken by Kevin

And this is mine:

After a quick ice-cream we headed back to the bus for the return journey to pick up the car. By this time we were getting pretty hungry again so we decided to head to Grange over Sands to find a fish and chip shop.

With a name like that, there’s not many trades open to you really!

We eventually found one, after a massive walk along the “prom” and through the town, and it was the best fish and chips I’ve had for ages. Washed down with lots of good tea, we couldn’t have asked for more.

And so back to camp.

The sky was delightful when we arrived back, and it gave way to a glorious sunset. But with the sunset has come high winds and the threat of a storm. We have had to put the extra strong “storm straps” onto the awning tonight to make sure we don’t get blown away during the night. I did say that we have had no misadventures today… Let’s just hope that it stays that way!

Nightfall in Camp

Edited to add: and the gingerbread was as delicious as the shop aroma promised it would be!