Cat Bells, the Newlands Valley and a short stroll along Derwent Water

The final day of my week off in March and, although we didn’t know it at the time, just over a week until the “lockdown”. The Government’s policy at the time was to develop “herd immunity” and and in an interview in the Sunday Times – behind a paywall! – the Health Secretary was talking about locking up the elderly and other vilnerable people for 3 months. Government policy seemed confused and uncler, but there didn’t seem to be any reason not to go up to the Lakes for a walk, where I’d be in contact with fewer people than I would have been back in Wigan.

I set off early and driving up the M6 traffic was noticeably quieter than normal, but it was far from deserted. Arriving in Keswick I found a place to park on the old road to Pontiscale – now a dead end for traffic but a popular free place to park. After donning my boots and rucksac I set off, crossing the footbridge over the river and walked through Portiscale village, passing the appartment where we stayed a couple of summers ago.

It was a relatively easy start to the walk but after about a mile and a half, during a short climb , I realised I’d left my walking poles in the car. They take some of the strain off my dodgy old knees when descending, but I’d gone too far to turn back to retrieve them so I soldiered on.

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About 40 minutes after setting out I reached the foot of Cat Bells. It’s a smaller fell and in easy reach of Keswick, so it’s a popular climb and I expected to see a few other walkers on the way up. The sign told us it was an hour to the top. The last time I went up here it took me about 40 minutes, but as I hadn’t done a lot of fell walking of late I wasn’t sure I’d manage to equal that this time.

As expected there were other walkers making their way to the top, probably not as many as usual, although it was still relatively early. I wan’t the slowest by any means, although I stopped several times to take in the view (not just and excuse to pause for breath – honest!).

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I arrived at the summit after 45 minutes, so not quite as quick as last time. It was a grey day so the fells didn’t look their best, but he views were still magnificent even with cloud covering some of the higher fells – it made them look atmospheric.

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After a short break to take some photos I resumed my walk, heading south, downhill towards Newlands hawse. I could have carried on along the ridge up to Maiden Moor and High Spy or down to the shores of Derwent Water, but my plan was to descend down to Newlands Valley.

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Old mine workings
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Looking back down the valley
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Newlands is something of a “secret valley” much less trod than the east side of the ridge and I passed very few people – just a handful of walkers and a mountain biker (older than me!)

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There was some rain around and I spotted a rainbow

Reaching the bottom of the path up to Cat Bells, rather than retrace my steps back to the car, as it was stoll early in the afternoon, I decided to walk round to Derwent Water and take a gentle stroll part way along the lake shore.

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Sculpture commemorating the 100th anniversary of the National Trust

I was half tempted to continue on all round the lake, but that was a bit ambitious! Time was getting on so I turned round and retraced my steps, along the shore, back towards Portinscale and then over the bridge to my car.

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Another monument to the National Trust – a bench this time
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There’s the launch – not many passengers today
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I wandered lonely as a cloud …… (wrong lake, mind)
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Arriving back at my car I decided to drive into Keswick and visit a favourite bookshop – just enough time to browse and make a purchase before closing time.

A bit of culture

Over the past few weeks we’ve been busy soaking up a bit of culture

The Thursday of my week off work we had tickets for a production at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. We’d planned to combine that with a lower level walk in the Borrowdale Valley, but plans had to change after J sprained her foot. Luckily she’d recovered enough to have a look around Keswick before a pre-theatre meal in the Fellpack restaurant

Our theatre tickets were for a performance of The Ladykillers, a play based on the 1955 Ealing Comedy a favourite film of mine that starred Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers. The play is based on the film, not the other way round and it had first been produced back in 2011 at Liverpool Playhouse, starring Peter Capaldi.

The plot followed that of the film, with a few differences. As with previous visits to the Theatre by the Lake we enjoyed the production. Is was well acted, particularly Dominic Gately as the Professor, who brought a real comic touch to the role. Devesh Kishore wasn’t as sinister as Herbert Lom as Louis – who could be – but I thought Luke Murphy made more of the part of Harry than Peter Sellers.

This week the weather mid week has been awful with heavy rain (we didn’t get it anywhere near as bad a further east and south, mind). We had tickets for two events – a play at the Royal Exchange on Wednesday and a musical performance at the Halle’s small venue in Ancoats on Thursday so we braved the rain and drove into Manchester two days on the trot.

Another pre-theatre meal, this time at Mowgli’s in the Corn Exchange

Light Falls a new play by Simon Stephens, with music by Jarvis Cocker, at the Royal Exchange, has had good reviews and was almost sold out, even on a wet Wednesday evening.

Connecting five relatives in five disparate English towns, from Blackpool to Durham, LIGHT FALLS is a richly layered play about life in the face of death, about how our love survives us after we’ve gone – and about how family, community and kindness help the North survive.

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As with just about everything we’ve seen at the Royal Exchange it was a good production with some excellent performances by the cast. Mind you, the first half in particular really lived up to the saying that “it’s grim up north”. It started by somebody dying before moving round the north of England to “visit” her husband and offspring who all had their own problems. Things resolved themselves a little at the end at the funeral and the ending was a little more optimistic.

Thursday evening and we were back in Manchester to see a performance by a young Polish pianist Hania Rani ( short for Raniszewska) at the Halle St Michaels venue, a converted church, in Ancoats. I’d come across her via Spotify, which has a “Discover Weekly” feature, where tracks are suggested based on your playlists. One week it had included one of her piano pieces from her recently released LP, Esja, and as I liked it I followed the link and explored the LP and some of her other music, including her LP with cellist Dobrawa Czocher.

Looking at Hania’s website I spotted that she was performing in Manchester at the start of a European tour so decided to get along. I had to buy the tickets online and was surprised to see that the start time was given as 7 p.m., which seemed rather early. Turned out that it was! We arrived in Manchester just after 6, parked up and walked across the city centre and Northern Quarter towards Ancoats, stopping off for a drink in a bar. We arrived at the venue at about quarter to 7 to discover that they were still conducting sound checks and that the doors were not due to open at 7:30. An apology would have been nice but the guy on the door seemed indignant that we’d turned up early (as had other people). So, a little dischuffed, we went back to the Northern Quarter for another drink.

I really enjoyed the concert, though. It’s a small venue, rather like the Liverpool Philharmonic’s “Music Room”, but it was pretty full. Hania played a fairly long set – about an hour and 20 minutes, without a break. I recognised many of the pieces from her LP but she also included a number of other pieces including 3 songs.

Hania is originally from Gadansk but now shares her time in Warsaw and Berlin. Her label, Gondwana Records, is Manchester based, which is why her tour was starting there. I think that her style is best described as minimalist classical – rather like the music of Michael Nyman, Philip Glass and Max Richter – with jazz and other influences.

Here’s a couple of her pieces, both from her LP

and here’s a piece performed with Dobrawa Czocher

Lunasa in Keswick

Quite a few years ago now, during one of my first trips to Ireland with work, I picked up a CD of music by, Lunasa, an Irish band I’d heard being played in a shop selling traditional Irish music. I’ve played it many many times since and they’ve become my favourite Irish band. A few weeks ago I found out that they had a short tour over in England and the first date was in Keswick at the Theatre by the Lake, so I booked a couple of tickets, planning to combine the concert with an afternoon in the Lakes.

Lunasa are named after “Lughnasadh”, an ancient Irish harvest festival. They’re very accomplished musicians who play a modern take on Irish traditional music on traditional instruments such as Uilleann pipes, fiddle and flute combined with guitar, and double bass.

There’s no singing, they are purely an instrumental band. Well, usually as on their most recent album they feature a number of guest singers. But in Keswick there was no singing just extremely well played music – plus some banter from the Brummie born (!) flautist from County Clare (I spotted his accent) Kevin Crawford .

The other current members of the band are  Trevor Hutchinson (double bass), Ed Boyd (guitar), Seán Smyth (fiddle and low whistle) and Cillian Vallely (uilleann pipes and low whistles). Although the line up has varied in the past.

Seán is a practising GP in Mayo and doesn’t appear on all their Youtube clips, presumably due to not always being able to Ed Boyd is from Bath and has worked with other musicians, including Kate Rusby. We’re sure we saw him playing in her band during one of her Christmas shows.

Their set included traditional tunes from Ireland, Scotland and Brittany, as well as some of their own compositions.

We also managed to combine the concert with a short walk along the east coast of Derwent Water followed by a vey delicious meal in the Fellpack restaurant in Keswick. It was a bit of a grey day, but it’s always good to be up in the Lakes

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A night at the Theatre by the Lake

After looking round the museum in Keswick, browsing in the shops and a stroll in the parks we headed over to Morrel’s Restaurant where we had a table booked for an early evening pre-theatre meal. Like some other diners we had tickets for that evening’s performance at the Theatre by the Lake.

The Theatre “does exactly what it says on the tin” – it’s a repertory theatre situated close to the northern lake shore of Derwent Water. It opened in 1999 with funding from an Arts Council Lottery Fund Grant. It has a main auditorium and a Studio theatre. From May to November every year a resident company of up to 14 actors perform a Summer Season of six plays in repertory.

We’d decided it would be good to take in a play during our stay in Keswick so I’d booked tickets the week before. The play running that week was an adaption of Jane Austen’s tale of manners, matrimony and social standing – Sense and Sensibility. Now I’m not a fan of Austen’s work and had hesitated when looking at the programme but decided to go anyway. I’m glad I did.

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The play was a light-hearted adaption of the novel featuring the entire company, some in multiple roles. It was funny and well acted with some excellent performances. I though Lydea Perkins’ did a convincing job portraying the young Margaret Dashwood. Sarah Kempton and Alice Imelda as her older sister, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood were also very good. Christine Entwisle was also excellent in the contrasting parts of the cold and cruel Fanny Dashwood and the main comic turn, Mrs Jennings.

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The male leads Oliver Mott as at Willoughby and Thomas Richardson as Colonel Brandon both did a good job in portraying characters of whom the audience’s opinion and sympathies changed during the course of the play.

So, despite my initial reservations, this was an enjoyable evening and I’m glad I decided to overcome my prejudice and go ahead an buy the tickets. Sometimes taking a chance leads to a nice surprise!

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Keswick Museums

The Tuesday morning of our holiday we went out on the lake. The offspring and Moss in a canoe, while I followed up on my Anglesey adventure by hiring a kayak – a “sit on” one this time as no “sit in” types were available. Photographs were difficult as we didn’t want to get our phones and cameras wet, but Mitch did manage to get a snap of Moss.

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After an enjoyable hour paddling on the water, we went back to the apartment to dry off, change and have a bite to eat. After that I went with J into Keswick for the afternoon. After looking around the shops for a while we headed over to the Keswick museum. It’s quite small, occupying only three rooms (not counting the reception / gift shop, but worth a visit. There’s a permanent collection – local fossils, geological samples, natural history, social and industrial history exhibits and objects reflecting life in Keswick and the Lake District. Old fashioned, but in a good way!

UntitledMy favourite exhibit was the large lithophone (a xylophone made of slate) which visitors could have a go at playing.

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There were also two temporary exhibitions – one devoted to female mountaineering in the Lake District and the other to the famous mountaineer, Chris Bonnington, who lives locally.

The other museum in Keswick is devoted to a product that used to be a mainstay of the local economy – the pencil.  We visited on the Wednesday, which had the worst weather of the holiday – it rained most of the day.

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Graphite was discovered down Borrowdale, near Seathwaite, way back in the 1500’s and a cottage industry of pencil making began in the area and this then evolved over time to with the UK’s first pencil factory being founded in Keswick in 1832. The Cumberland Pencil Factory was set up in 1916 and would have been a major employer in the town until it was relocated to more modern premises near Workington in 2008. The pencil museum is located on the site of the former factory, having moved there when the original site in the centre of the town was damaged during the devastating floods in December 2015. It reopened only last year at the new location.

It may seem a little odd having a museum dedicated to such an ordinary object, but we found it interesting and spent over an hour looking round. The entry “ticket” is an actual Cumberland pencil.

Exhibits cover the history of the industry and the manufacturing process, starting with the mining of the graphite itself. There’s also displays of the different products produced by the company over the years, as well as various objects related to the manufacture, promotion and use of pencils, including one of the largest colour pencils in the world measuring almost 8 metres

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and miniature pencil sculptures.

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During WW2 the factory were commissioned by British Intelligence to create a special pencil with a hidden compass and maps. It was given to bomber pilots and sent to prisoners of war, the idea being that they could use them if shot down or trying to escape.

There were tables set out with the range of products manufactures by the company which visitors could use and try out. They specialise these days in high end products for artists with graphite products making up only a small proportion of their range. There was, of course, a shop where the products were on sale!

Definitely worth a visit for an hour or so on a rainy day in Keswick.

A walk round Derwent Water

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Saturday, the first full day of our holiday in the Lake District, we set out on a sunny morning to walk around Derwent Water.  A full circuit of the Lake was about 9 miles in total, but being largely flat, it was a relatively easy walk.

After a short walk along the road from our accommodation and through woodland past the jetty at Nichol End and the Lingholm Estate, we emerged in a meadow with views ahead of Cat Bells

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and, over to the west, Causey Pike

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Passing the Hawes End we started to follow the path along the waterside.

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At Brandlehow we passed the “Bear in the Window”

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surrounded by postcards and letters  sent by walkers (children and adults) who, like us, stumbled on him as they passed

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Approaching the top of the lake, there were views across to the neck of Borrowdale. Cloud was gathering in the distance

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During the walk along the west shore we kept being passed by pairs of runners participating in a Breca swim-run

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Reaching the head of the lake, there were great views over to Skiddaw

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We crossed the bridge over the River Derwent

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and stopped for a while we had a bite to eat and admire the view

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We now continued along the east shore. Initially walking along a short stretch of road by the Lodore Hotel and then a path through the woods before joining the path along the shore of the lake.

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Raven Crag looming over the lake

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One of the launches that carry passengers around the lake stopping off at a number of jetties.

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Looking over the lake to the hills and mountains to the west

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We reached Calfclose Bay where there’s a monument, the MIllenium Stones by Peter Randall-Page, marking the centenary of the National Trust which owns much of the land around the Lake

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We carried on along the lake towards Keswick

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Reaching the jetty near the “Theatre by the Lake”

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We carried on into the town, stopping off for some refreshment in the Wainwright pub before setting back to our apartment in Portiscale.

A week in the Lakes

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I’m just back from a family holiday in the Lakes. Our daughter came over from Amsterdam with her boyfriend (the first time he’s been on holiday with us so we had a compliment of 5 this year, plus Moss the Springer Spaniel who we were looking after while his owners were away on a one week cruise.

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This year we were staying in an apartment in Portinscale, a small village just outside Keswick in the north lakes. Although only a mile from the hub-bub of Keswick, it really felt like it’s own place. Our apartment was on the first floor of the building and we had a great view over Derwent Water and the crags and fells on the east side of the lake from a large picture window and balcony.

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After a couple of months of unusually hot weather and little rainfall, things had changed and the forecast for our week away didn’t look too promising. However the weather turned out better than expected so although the temperature was considerably lower than it had been, that was good for an active break, and the rain mainly fell in the evening, overnight and early morning, so it certainly didn’t spoil things for us and we were able to do almost everything we’d planned. And the fells can look particularly attractive when there’s a mix of sun and cloud

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Having said that there was enough rain to result in the lake level on Derwent Water rising several inches as can be seen in the photos I took of the Millenium Stones sculpture by Peter Radley-Page in Calfclose bay on the Saturday

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and Thursday

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We had a busy week. Family holidays inevitably involve compromise so I didn’t spend the week up on the high fells but I did have one day out on my own. Besides that we had a couple of less strenuous walks, went out on the Lake in a kayak (me) and a canoe (offspring, daughter’s boyfriend and Moss the dog), visited a couple of museums and a garden, ate out a few times, had an evening at the theatre, visited an exhibition of ceramics at a favourite location and had a wander round a pleasant small village..

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So quite a bit to write up!

A Sunday Stroll

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Well, I’m not sure it would classify as a stroll, but last Sunday, to make the most of the good weather we’ve been having (which, surely, can’t last much longer) I decided to head up to the Lake District and tackle Skiddaw, England’s 4th highest mountain.

I set off early and drove up the M6 to Penrith and then across to Keswick (takes about an hour and 45 minutes) where I parked up on the edge of town, close to the path towards Skiddaw. I initially followed the route that skirted  the smaller hill, Latrigg, which we’d climbed last March. This is the well trodden “tourist route”, which some bloggers are quite sniffy about. But I’m not that bothered about their opinions, it was the most convenient way up. There were certainly plenty of other people taking the route.

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Skiddaw is an attractive mountain when viewed from Keswick. Walking up, certainly the first half, is a bit of a steep slog with the views behind you rather than ahead. But looking back over  to Keswick, Derwent Water and nearby hills gave an excuse for a bit of a break.

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Unfortunately, some weather was passing through, with cloud and rain over Helvellyn, Borrowdale and the Newlands valley, and visibility wasn’t that great. 

When the climb levels out there’s a summit ahead. But it’s not the final destination. Rather a subsidiary peak, Skiddaw Little Man, something of a “false summit”. Although there’s a path to the main summit that avoids them, in a moment of madness I decided to “bag” it.

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It was a very stiff, steep climb to the top, but didn’t take so long and there were good views from the top.

 

A steep descent then it was time to climb again, this time to the main summit plateau.

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It didn’t take too long to climb the final stretch up to the top – a flat plateau with some cairns, a windbreak shelter and a trig point.

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I stopped a while to take in the hazy views down to Bassenthwaite

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and over to Blencathra

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After a short rest I set on back down the mountain, by-passing the Little Man.  Now I was facing the views so in many ways the descent, was more pleasurable.

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Getting close to the bottom of the mountain another moment of madness overtook me, and I decided to extend the walk a little by climbing to the summit of Latrigg to take in the views as the haze was beginning to clear.

Looking over Keswick and Derwent Water

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over to the Newlands Valley, Causey Pike and Grisedale

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and back to Skiddaw

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After a short while I made my way back down to where I’d parked the car. All in all it had been a 9 1/2 mile walk with 3925 feet of ascent. But I hadn’t quite done. The sun was shining and I felt in need of some caffeine, so I dumped my rucksack and walking poles in my boot and walked down into Keswick. There’s a nice little coffee shop I know in the main street (Java)!

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Sunday morning stroll up Latrigg

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Sunday morning started out bright, despite the weather forecast, although there was plenty of cloud shrouding the high fells. We wanted to go out for a walk but din’ feel ready to tackle Skiddaw or one of the other nearby mountains, so we decided to tackle of Latrigg – although at 1,207 feet it might be modest by Lake District standards but it’s a decent climb and a good walk for a Sunday morning.

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We followed the old railway track to Kendal leisure centre and then cut across the the path that crosses the busy A66 (via a footbridge, I’m pleased to say).

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Entering the woods there was a steep ascent up the lower slopes of the hill before the path flattens out. The route took us round the back of the hill, heading towards Skiddaw before branching back up a short steep climb, levelling out with a more modest gradient towards the summit. We were greeted by a great view over the whole of Derwent Water

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Behind us, the summits of Skiddaw and Blencathra were hidden in cloud

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It was raining in Newlands Valley

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and there was Castlerigg stone circle in the distance

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The closure of sections of the old railway track from Threlkeld to Keswick due to damage caused by the floods of late 2015 precluded a circular walk back to Keswick  (unless we fancied walking along the A66) so we retraced our steps as far as the Leisure Centre and then headed down through the town centre down to the lake. We stopped to eat our packed lunch then continued along the lake shore as far as Calfclose Bay as we wanted to take a look at The Centenay Stone, a work by Peter Randall-Page, created from a large boulder of local Borrowdale volcanic rock which was split and carved by the artist to commemorate the National Trust’s centenary in 1995.

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On the way, we passed the Ruskin Memorial at Friar’s Crag

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Castlerigg, Great Wood and Derwent Water

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Leaving Castlerigg stone circle we took the narrow metalled road heading south towards Castlerigg farm. Conditions were pretty treacherous underfoot through the fields but we persevered yomping though the gloop until we came to farm where we joined the path alongside Brockle Beck in the direction towards Keswick.

Views started to open up down to Derwent Water and Cat Bells on the western shore

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We took a left turn and set off along the path which would take us through Great Wood and the lake.

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Just after the National Trust Car Park we crossed over the Borrowdale Road and followed the path along the lake shore back to Keswick. – taking care to avoid the dangerous wildlife!

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The rain held off until we reached the jetty near the Theatre by the Lake.  A little window browsing in the shops in Keswick and then we headed back up the hill to our B and B and a nice cup of tea!

A pleasant but not very demanding walk and a good start to the holiday!