Searching for Romans

Exploring England #27

We knew there were Roman ruins at Ambleside – they were clearly marked on the map. There was just one problem. We couldn’t find them!

Driving north on the A591 we passed by the spot where we thought they should be but we didn’t see any signs. We doubled back and looked again, but there was no indication of their whereabouts from the road.

We spied a small tourist information centre, so we parked the car and went in to seek help. A friendly man said there definitely was a Roman fort and pointed vaguely towards Borrans Park. We set off on foot in the direction he’d indicated, walking through spacious parkland at the northern end of Lake Windermere.

We came to a rocky outcrop which looked a little like a wall – could this be the remains of the fort? It didn’t look quite right, but we climbed up and over and took some photographs just in case.

From the top of the rock we could see small groups of people in a field at the far end of the park, eyes down and looking very intent. Perhaps we hadn’t gone far enough. We continued on, until an information board confirmed our suspicions. This time we had found the ruins.

The foundations are all that is left of the stone fort constructed here at the start of the 2nd century AD. We wandered around each part of the fort, joining a herd of contented cows who seemed oblivious to the curious visitors in their field.

In one corner of the field was the start of a public footpath – a country walk beckoned and we couldn’t resist. We said goodbye to the the cows and headed off on a raised boardwalk over marshy land on the bank of the River Rothay.

The lush greenery of the woods was mirrored in the calm, shallow water of the river, and we stopped several times to enjoy the beautiful reflections. At the junction with the River Brathay the water was so clear we could see dozens of tiny fish swimming downstream.

Leaving the river behind, we passed through a turnstile and crossed another field before joining the footpath on busy Borrans Road.

As we walked back to our starting point in the park we checked once more for a sign to the fort. Had we missed it on our drive?

No, there weren’t any signs. Lucky we found the information centre or the Romans would still be undiscovered!

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Reflecting

Looking For Beatrix

Exploring England #26

Beatrix Potter’s beloved home, Hill Top, is one of the most visited sites in the Lake District and I’d heard about long queues and timed tickets, which often sell out early in the day. But on an cool and overcast Sunday afternoon, there were just a few visitors in the pretty village of Sawrey and I almost had the house and its beautiful garden to myself.

Hill Top was purchased by Beatrix Potter in 1905 with the proceeds of  her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. It was the first of many properties she bought in the Lake District and was the place which inspired many of her stories and paintings. As I wandered along the garden path, it was easy to see where her inspiration came from. Late summer blooms perfumed the air and the lush greenery of the vegetable garden spilled over into the fields beyond.

The house, with its thick overcoat of vines, was a vision in green and the garden even came indoors; every room was decorated with simple floral arrangements.

It was easy to see why Beatrix loved this place, with its tranquil setting and beautiful country views. From an upstairs window I gazed out upon the surrounding farmland, and imagined her standing in this same place whenever she stayed here.

I felt her presence in the garden too, and expected to find her around the next corner, paintbrush in hand. I thought this robin was posing for me, but perhaps he was looking for Beatrix.

 

Unrivalled Views

Exploring England #25

At the top of the hill where the busy A591 enters the Lake District village of Windermere, a small sign publicises a walking track – a footpath leading to views of the surrounding area. Set back from the road against an old stone wall, it’s easily missed. We were lucky to see it, and even luckier that we returned after our cruise on the lake to investigate.

A “20 minute walk with unrivalled views” seemed like the ideal end to a perfect day. The wide footpath, doubling as the road to local homes, was level and even – we looked forward to a gentle country stroll.

We hadn’t gone far when the road was replaced by a broad leaf strewn path leading into the woods. A weathered sign post pointed the way past old dry stone walls overgrown with moss.

After the bustle of the crowds at the lake, the shady woods were quiet. Even the birds seemed to enjoy the peace.

After passing through a rusted turnstile, the incline was more noticeable, and a simple wooden bench offered a few minutes’ respite. Our gentle stroll was turning into a hill climb.

The path became a stony track muddied by yesterday’s rain, but we were spurred on by tantalising glimpses of the views beyond the farm gates.

The further the path went up the hill the more it deteriorated. Wooden steps dug into the hillside gave way to a rough track up the last steep stretch.

We clambered up the last few metres, leaving the woods for the open hill top of Orrest Head.

A few more upwards steps revealed what we’d come to see – 360° views of Lake Windermere surrounded by the Lake District Fells and the Pennines. In the late afternoon sunshine, the lake was dark and silvery. Little boats left sparkling trails in their wake and the waters of Morecambe Bay glistened far away on the horizon. In the opposite direction, farmhouses were dwarfed by the rolling hills of the Fells.

After meeting no one on the path, we were surprised to see others on the hill. Like us, they were silent – awed by the spectacular view, and perhaps also like us, glad they hadn’t missed the sign on the A591.

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Earth

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No Rain On Us!

Exploring England #24

It’s often wet and windy in the Lake District but the sky was blue, the sun was shining and a warm breeze was blowing the day we visited Lake Windermere. Of course this meant that many other people were also taking advantage of the glorious weather. Lake Windermere is England’s largest natural lake so there was plenty of room for everyone.

A leisurely cruise is a great way to enjoy the lake and there are several ticket options. We chose a route around the southern half of Lake Windermere with the addition of a vintage steam train ride from Lakeside to Haverthwaite and back. After a short wait on the quay at Bowness-on-Windermere, we boarded the steamer Tern and found a sunny spot on the deck.

Ours wasn’t the only craft on the water – canoes, sail boats and small ferries loaded with tourists all passed by.

The shores of the lake are lined with dense woodland punctuated by small stony bays. Some give respite to weary sailors or shelter to watercraft while others are filled with beautiful homes and boutique hotels.

After 45 minutes of smooth sailing we docked at Lakeside, at the southern end of the lake. Billowing clouds of steam led us to the little train, waiting for us to board for the next leg of the journey. The railway line follows the course of the River Leven through the scenic Leven Valley. Contented sheep grazing in the lush fields hardly looked up as the train clattered past on its way to Haverthwaite Station.

The heritage station dates from the mid 1800s and once serviced the nearby village of Haverthwaite. Today it services modern railway enthusiasts, who enjoy the nostalgic feel of the 19th century platform, complemented by a traditional Punch and Judy show.

Instead of relaxing with the dozens of other tourists, we ventured beyond the platform where we discovered a happy surprise behind the children’s playground.

A winding woodland path led us uphill through the trees to a small lookout, from which the view was anything but small. From our hidden vantage point, a vast expanse of green fields stretched away to the hills in the distance and a lighthouse overlooking Morecambe Bay.

The train whistle beckoned and we climbed aboard once more for the return trip to Lakeside, where the steamer Swan was waiting to sail north.

By the end of the day the breeze had lost its warmth, but the sun was still shining as we arrived back in Bowness. Lucky for us because, true to form, the next day it was raining at Lake Windermere.

 

Caring for the Past into the Future

Exploring England #23

Imagine you are newly wed and your parents’ wedding gift is a home. It’s not just any home but a magnificent timber framed building with its origins in the 14th century and 15th and 16th century additions. It’s a little worse for wear due to the excesses of previous owners, who’ve spent the family fortune on themselves with little regard for the house’s upkeep. What would you do – remove, renovate or restore?

Luckily for us, when Charles and Mary Nevill found themselves in this situation in 1883, they chose to restore their new home, Bramall Hall, to its former glory.

Bramall Hall is a Tudor manor house set in 60 acres of parkland in the Borough of Stockport in Greater Manchester. It had been the home of the Davenports for 500 years, but with family fortunes dwindling and costs increasing, the house was not well maintained. When the Nevills moved in, they began a program of restoration which continues to this day. Some rooms retain their medieval or Tudor character while others are decorated as they were in Victorian times when Charles and Mary lived there.

Bramall Hall is now owned by the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, who recently completed a £1.6 million maintenance and restoration program. With continued care, future generations will be able to appreciate the beauty of this historic home as much as Charles and Mary did.

Hidden From View

Exploring England #22

The Peak District is renowned for its natural beauty. More than 10 million people visit every year to enjoy the excellent walks and beautiful scenery.

While there’s plenty to do above ground, there are also fascinating wonders hidden below the surface; several show caves are located close to Castleton. We visited three and were surprised to discover both their similarities and differences. They are all enormous, natural caverns created long ago by the movement of water and they all show evidence of human intervention. What’s different is the way people have used each cave in the past.

Peak Cavern is the closest to Castleton. A path from the centre of the village passes old miners’ cottages before leading into a forested limestone ravine. The cave entrance, the largest in England, is almost hidden by plants growing in the shadow of the cliffs.

A sign bearing the alternate, original name of the cave greeted us – it’s an indicator of rumbling sounds made by air currents inside. The cave’s name was changed to protect Queen Victoria’s sensibilities before she visited in 1880, but most people prefer the original.

Because of the vast, protected space in the overhang of the cave entrance, it was inhabited by rope makers for more than 400 years and our cave visit began with a demonstration of this craft. Mr ET volunteered his services as apprentice rope maker, turning the handle first one way and then the reverse, to twist the strands of fibre into one strong length of rope.

Once the rope was made we followed a self-guided track into the depths of the cave. The damp and slippery path led to a series of walkways and platforms high in the airy spaces above the cavern floor. Here the constant sound of running water echoed off the yellow limestone walls.

Water also features at Speedwell Cavern, a short drive from Castleton at the base of Winnats Pass.

The cavern itself is 200 metres underground and can only be reached by boat! Narrow water-filled tunnels created by lead miners in the 1770s go deep inside the mountain, and, with just a few centimetres between our heads and the roof, safety helmets were necessary for the 800 metre ride to the cavern.

After the closeness of the boat ride, the natural space of the cave seemed immense. The roof is so high it cannot be seen from the cave’s floor while to one side the Bottomless Pit, a naturally formed shaft, falls away another 150 metres into the depths of the cave. The 18th century miners tossed their mine spoil into the pit, but it barely made an impact.

At the top of Winnats Pass is the entrance to Blue John Cavern, where mining has made an impact on the cave.

Semi-precious Blue John stone is found only in the Castleton area and has been mined since the mid 1760s. Some areas of this cave are still worked – our tour guide mines in the cave in the winter months. The first miners were lowered into the natural cave through a small pothole on the surface but we went 70 metres below ground via steps and a man-made tunnel.

Once inside the cave, our path followed the bed of an ancient underground river which flowed more than 8000 years ago. Fossils are embedded in the cave walls and stalagmites and stalactites decorate each of the six chambers.

Veins of Blue John run across the walls of some of the chambers and, even in the dull electric lighting, the crystals sparkle. Old mining tools have been left near a shaft where the largest known pieces of Blue John were discovered.

We spent a lot of time in the Peak District looking out over the beautiful countryside and green rolling hills. In these three caverns, we discovered a new perspective on the area, our eyes turned upwards to the vast underground spaces that lie hidden beneath.

Up To The Top

Exploring England #21

Walking – it’s what people do when they visit the Peak District National Park. Some enjoy a gentle stroll through a pretty village while others take on the challenge of hiking the 431 km Pennine Way National Trail.

Somewhere in between the two extremes are 3,005 km of walking tracks with right of way through farming land.

Let’s go – through the gate

up the hill

over the stile

to a vantage point at the top of the ridge.

Walkers are rewarded with expansive views of the village of Castleton and the limestone hills bordering the Hope Valley.

Imagine the views when they go even higher!

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Atop