Return to Scotland, Part 1: The Lake District

Yes, I know the Lake District is in England, not Scotland.  But my adventure begins in Scotland.  Upon coming home from my last trip, I immediately began planning a return.  The trip felt incomplete.  I had not initially thought of the Lake District, but in reviewing the website for my favorite Scottish tour company Rabbie’s, I saw a three day tour of the area.  My mind wandered back to my college semester in Madrid, where I ended up hanging out with some very charming British boys who first told me about the Lake District, their favorite destination in the UK.  It sounded wonderful.  My primary destination in planning my return to Scotland was to visit the Isle of Skye, followed by more time in Edinburgh.  But with a two week visit, I decided to save Skye for my second week, and so signed up for a three day Lake District tour first.

I arrived in Edinburgh on a beautiful Sunday morning.  Because of a layover in Reykjavik, I had managed no more than two hours sleep on the overnight flight.  With the Lake District tour starting the next morning, I had to jump right into the local time.  So, with a large iced latte in hand, I strolled through the Prince’s Gardens in Edinburgh, which was filled with people out enjoying the perfect summer-like weather.  Later, realizing that I had not eaten an actual meal in over a day, I enjoyed a three course feast at Howie’s Restaurant – carrot & coriander soup, salmon with polenta, and sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream – and promptly returned to my room and passed out.



The next morning, the Rabbie’s tour left for the Lake District.  My previous tour had taken me north into the Highlands, so I enjoyed seeing a different route out of Edinburgh as we headed south.  After a stop for tea in Biggar, we crossed over the border in England.  I had my camera ready to get a shot of the border crossing, but it turned out there was no indication whatsoever other than our guide announcing that we were now in England.  Since my last trip, I’ve been reading a book on Scottish history, and with the struggle for Scottish sovereignty front and center on my mind, I was hoping for a more ceremonious announcement.  Or even a “Welcome to England” sign.  But, alas.

Our first stop in England was the town of Penrith.  We had to pick up three fellow travelers who had taken the train up from London.  However, their train was delayed, and so our group of eleven had an hour to roam around.  Across from the train station were the remains of a castle.  Clearly of some importance in its day, it was now a playground for a group of kids who had the day off from school because of the bank holiday.

Ah, yes, the bank holiday.  Monday was a bank holiday, and a warm, sunny bank holiday at that.  Everyone had the day off, and it seemed that everyone was in the Lake District.  After picking up our fellow tour mates from London – an Australian woman and couple from New Zealand, we made a lunch stop in the nearby town of Pooley Bridge, right on the edge of Ullswater Lake.  The place was packed, and lunch ended up taking an hour longer than planned.  As the only one in the group to order a sandwich instead of a hot meal, my food came much sooner than the other’s meals, so after finishing I had plenty of time to stroll through town and enjoy the first of what would be many ice cream cones over the following two weeks.

After leaving Edinburgh at 8:30 am, we finally came in sight of our first lake, Ullswater, close to 3 pm.  It was beautiful, but unfortunately remained distant as we were unable to find a place to park on the few off-road options.  I made a mental note to always check for bank holidays when booking future trips.


But natural beauty did not elude us for long.  We soon arrived at Aira Force waterfall, accessible via a brief hike.  After a day full of driving and crowds, it was nice to wander through the woods with only a handful of other tourists – just enough for me not to feel lost.


The day was much warmer than I expected.  Seventy degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) somehow seemed a lot warmer in Scotland than in DC, which I suspect has something to do with the latitude.  My light spring sweater had me feeling toasty, and it was around this time that the prospect of a gin & tonic in my near future began to entertain me.

We made one last stop for the day at the Castlerigg Stone Circle.  The mystery of stone circles remains fascinating, but with plenty of pictures of other stone circles from my travels, I instead directed my camera towards the stunning landscape.  With thoughts of Elizabeth Bennet walking out to meet Mr. Darcy in the movie version of Pride & Prejudice, I let my imagination roam as I looked far and wide for the possibility of Matthew Macfayden heading in my direction.


We stopped for the night in Keswick.  After checking into my hotel, I went off in search of my gin & tonic.  But I found something even more refreshing in the form of a large glass of Strongbow Cherry Blossom Cider at a pub called The Chief Justice of The Common Pleas.  I enjoyed my cider with an excellent fish & chips with mashed peas.  Full and happy, and with the sun still shining at 8pm, I went for a stroll through town to walk off my meal.  Just as I was heading back to my hotel, I ran into Adrian and Jenny, a couple from my tour.  They were on their way to Derwent Water, the nearby lake, and invited me along.  Or possibly, I invited myself along, the cider was quite delicious.

We approached Derwent Water just as the sun was starting to set.  I won’t even bother describing it, just look at the pictures.  It was simply stunning.



The next morning was considerably cooler.  With everyone back to work and school, we were at last able to stop along Ullswater to take pictures and enjoy the view.  We then drove through the English countryside on our way to Hilltop, the home of Beatrix Potter.  On the way, we passed through the windy roads of Windemere, and I immediately had a flashback to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from my recent trip to Disneyland.  The town looked just like the ride (or vice versa?)

After a passage on the Windemere Ferry, we arrived at Hilltop.  There was a charge to visit, so our group was given the choice to either tour the estate or explore the town.  Having recently seen the movie Peter Rabbit with my nephew, I was curious to see the estate.  So a small group of us made our way toward the entrance gate while the rest of the group set off to roam around.


I knew very little about Beatrix Potter, but enjoyed seeing where she lived, and how her home was an inspiration for her books.  Who could imagine that this fairly small, dark house with the lovely gardens would set in motion a series of books that would eventually be brought to the big screen in the form of James Corden voicing a well-intentioned rabbit getting into hijinks along to a pop music soundtrack?

Seriously, though, it was easy to understand how the conservationist movement in England following the Industrial Revolution found its roots in the Lake District.  The natural beauty is breath-taking.

By the time we stopped for lunch in Hawkshead, it was beginning to rain.  Our guide recommended a nearby cafe, telling us to look for the cakes in the window.  I thought this was a vague description, until I saw the cakes.  We immediately knew this was the place.  But after a very filling seafood chowder, I had no room left to try any cake.  Fortunately, one of my tour mates offered a bite of hers, and one taste was all I needed to satiate my curiosity.


As had become the habit by now, any meal was followed by a stroll through town.  I made a stop at Hawkshead School, where the poet William Wordsworth attended school as a boy in the late eighteenth century.  His initials were carved into his desk, and I was told by the docent that the young men at the time were allowed to carry pen knives, smoke cigarettes, and drink beer during the long school day.  I made a mental note never to share this information with my young nephew.

The plan for the afternoon was to walk along one of the lakes, but the rain had intensified.  So instead we went to Brantwood, home of John Ruskin.  I had never heard of John Ruskin, but I was soon to learn that he was a renowned nineteenth century cultural theorist and artist.  It was again impressed upon me that the Lake District was not simply a beautiful place to visit, but was a historically signification location in the foundation of the environmental movement in Victorian England.

Our final stop for the day was Dove Cottage, home of the adult Williams Wordsworth.  Despite having seen my fair share of PBS Masterpiece movies, I was shocked by how small and dark the home was.  I mean, even the jail cell in Little Dorrit (also starring Matthew Macfayden) seemed bigger.  And yet, Wordsworth lived here with his every-growing family and wrote some of his most well-known work.  But, once again, the gardens were amazing.  I can only imagine that everyone spent as much time as possible outside.


By the time we returned to Keswick for the evening, I had become friendly with one of my tour mates.  Summer was a fellow Maryland resident who had been studying abroad in Edinburgh for the semester.  She was returning home at the end of the week, and our tour was her last adventure.  We decided to grab dinner together, and enjoyed some yummy pies and pints at the Dog & Gun Pub, which was full of the former but fortunately not the latter.


The final day of the tour, our guide took us to Derwent Water in the morning.  It was chilly and overcast, and Adrian, Jenny, and I agreed how lucky we were to have seen the lake in all its splendor two days before.

Our guide told us that he was next going to take us to the surprise view.  I assumed this was a secret location he had come across in his travels.  But our stop was literally at “Surprise View.” It was a great spot to get some final pictures of the lakes before heading back to Scotland.

As we made our way back, we stopped for a tea break at Honister Slate Mine, located on the Honister Mountain Pass.  The slate mine fascinated me, and I wish we would have had time to take a tour.  As a huge fan of slate, I grabbed my tea to take-away and ran over to the gift shop.  I just had to get a slate souvenir for myself.  At the entrance and exit to the mine

were these cool slate sculptures.  If only I could have fit one of those into my carry-on.

We took in another scenic view at Buttermere Lake.  The overcast skies created a foreboding image, in stark contrast to our sunny arrival in the Lake District just two days prior.  After a stop for lunch, we returned to Penrith to drop off our Australian and New Zealander tour mates at the train station.  Then it was back over the Scottish border.  Our guide pointed out that we were driving past Lockerbie, and I so wished we could have stopped there for a moment.  Having seen so much old history, I would have appreciated some time at a place of such historical relevance to my lifetime.

Our final stop was another break for tea in the town of Moffat.  So many tea breaks.  With the day being so dreary, as we drove closer to Edinburgh, I figured I would order some room service for dinner and call it a day.  But as we came into town around rush-hour, the city was alive with people everywhere.  After quick goodbyes to the group, I checked into my hotel, changed out of my boots and into sneakers, and went out to explore my dining options.  Making my way over to the university area, I came across a pizza place advertising its award winning pizza.  I walked in and found a crowd of families and university students, so I assumed it was good.  And, in fact, I had the most amazing pizza and a glass a wine, dining slowly enough to enjoy the ambiance.  I was so happy to be back in Edinburgh.


With one free day in Edinburgh before my itinerary took me onward to Glasgow, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  My hotel was in the New Town part of the city, and upon my return the following week I would be staying across the bridge in the Old Town.  Right next to my hotel was Calton Hill, a great spot to look out over the city.  After a visit there, I crossed the street to the Old Calton Burial Ground.  Normally, cemeteries creep me out.  But I had read that this cemetery had a statue of Abraham Lincoln, and I was determined to find it.  As it turned it, it wasn’t that hard, as it was prominently placed on a monument to Scottish-Americans who died in the American Civil War.


On my previous visit, I learned that the Royal Yacht Britannia was located in Edinburgh, but at the time had no interest in seeing it.  However, after watching the second season of The Crown, where it practically played a feature role, I was excited to check it out.  So I caught the bus to the Ocean Terminal at Leith, where it is docked.  To get to the yacht, you have to go through a shopping mall, which was unexpected but fun.  Thanks to The Crown, I was geeking out while touring the yacht, remembering key scenes.  And much like my visit to places like The Biltmore, it’s always more interesting to see how the lower half lives.  I mean, the laundry room blew my mind.  It was quite a production, keeping the upper half looking so elegant.


I ended up having dinner at the food court at the mall, then made my way back to my hotel room in time for what would turn out to be my new favorite show, Love in the Countryside.  While I rarely watch The Bachelor shows in the US (I’ll admit to watching Juan Pablo’s season.  And farmer Chris.), this reality dating show was so sweet.  There was no making out, just genuinely trying to help farmers (both men and women) find a mate.  I found it amusing that that the most interesting dating prospects were the first to be sent home.  These people would be ratings gold on The Bachelor, but this UK show was clearly intent on highlighting reality.  Shocking, yet riveting.

After a good night’s sleep, I packed my bag up again and was on my way to Glasgow…..

The journey continues on Return to Scotland, Part II: Glasgow & Skye….