The storm was well and truly up before we set off, skies dim and cloudy. Bleak. By the time we hit the Midlands, we could hardly see the road in front, rain pelting down relentless. Accidents left, right and centre, traffic reports grim and the outlook rough for arrival, let alone the (hiking) weekend ahead.
We arrived at the cosy Stockghyll Cottage just outside Bowness-on-Windermere to unexpectedly alleviated skies, the owner remarking that the day had been clear, the area sitting in its own climate system. The village is crammed – chocolate-box cute – with places to eat and drink and we grabbed dinner at the Angel Inn before stag and hen do’s descended there for the weekend. The Peruvian waitress apologised for her faltering English and any delays – it was her first night supervising alone and her colleague was new – an odd reminder of the cosmopolitanism at the epicentre of English tourism.
Bizarre to have visited the Argentinian lake district before ever managing the four or five hours north (normally rushed up the east coast to Northumberland or Edinburgh) to England’s premier spa region.
It’s gorgeous, of course, and comes as a reprimand for so often focusing the glance on further climes.
The cloudless sky, we were advised by the owner next morning, would be overcast and rainy by mid-afternoon but we’d be safe until around 3pm.
With heavy grey clouds visibly biding their time, it seemed daft to try anything ambitious and we kept the rambles mild. We took the boat over to Ambleside and walked up to the village proper to wander around the grounds of Rydal Hall before doing the loop over Rydal Water and Grasmere and heading up Loughrigg Fell.
The walk felt gloomy, beyond its 6.5km and – somehow, despite the mild ascent – the descent hard on the knees, while the sky blackened again as we rode slowly back across the lake, like consumptive Romantic poets on a spa break.
Dinner that night, exhausted in the lovely, candle-lit Jackson’s Bistro in Bowness.
The next day brightened and we drove north to Hawse End in the morning to take the meandering walk up Catbells at Derwent Water with towering 360 views. After lunch in Ambleside and with an eye on the overcast sky, we opted for an afternoon loop first to the waterfall at Stock Ghyll Force then up over Wansfell Pike; fat rain drops kicking in just as we headed up the steep ascent and calming into a rainbow as we stopped for a late afternoon beer in the idyllic spot of Troutbeck.
Later that night we ate a thoroughly impressive Thai dinner at Jintana Thai, with fantastic veggie options and, always my main priority, an addictively fiery Tom yum hed.
And as we pulled back out towards the M6, it seemed the worst had passed. A walk along the bright, calm beach at Arnside by the RSPB reserve and excellent chips on the seafront, looking out towards Morecambe bay; before the road home, disarmingly mild.