England: The Lakes; Or: Hiking Boots, A Love Story

With the absence of Thanksgiving in the academic calendar and its late start into autumn, schools in the UK typically have a “reading week,” which is a week without classes halfway through the eleven-week term. Officially, it starts this Monday, but because I don’t have classes on Fridays, I started my week of vacation Thursday night – heading to the Lake District, National Park.

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The Lake District National Park is one of many national parks in England, compromising of lots of privately owned lands, villages, as well as public footpaths and public lands. Before the early 1900s, the Lakes were a place where the rich came for their summer holidays and farmers and herders raised crops and sheep. Before they were protected, developers began trying to buy up plots for their own use. Step in Beatrix Potter: the young woman became such a successful author that throughout her life she was able to purchase 4000 acres of land. At her death, Beatrix Potter Heelis left that land to the National Trust and became a tourist and natural attraction to people all over the world.

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I’ve traveled by Megabus before at night, and the first time I swore I never would again. But when I saw I could get up to the lakes by Friday morning instead of late in the evening, I thought it would be worth the poor night’s sleep. And despite only getting a half hour (between 3:50 and 4:20 in the morning), I still believe my Friday spent exploring to be better than sitting in a bus.

On Friday morning, I pulled into Kendal and stopped off at my homier-than-home hostel – Kendal Hostel – to drop off my bags. As tempted as I was to lay down on the bed and sleep forever, I swiftly got through a cup of tea, walked to the bus station, and then got to Coniston. My English professor said this was an adorable village, though much less developed than Windermere, and I found it to be very charming. At the back of Coniston is “Old Man,” which for all intents and purposes is a mountain. Most guidebooks say you can’t go to Coniston without hiking it, but I decided to just admire it from down below.

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Instead, I took a five mile loop to “Tarn Hows.” A tarn is a man-made lake in the Lake District, I think originally made for irrigation purposes. They definitely catch a lot of the rainwater that the lakes are famous for! Tarn Hows is one of the most iconic and beautiful places in the Lakes, and it was framed by trees incredibly just beginning to turn from green to fire reds, oranges, and yellows.

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I was blessed with good weather the entire day. On the walk back to Coniston, I took more notice of the sheep grazing around the bridelway. I was surprised by how few travelers were walking the path, but I seemed to be the only American around. Did I find a true English holiday area, or was it simply the time of year that I arrived? Who knows.

Saturday, I started off to the Lakes an hour early. I began the day in Hawkshead, and immediately walked down to Near Sawrey – the home base of Beatrix Potter.

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Now, most of my knowledge about Beatrix comes from Miss Potter, a movie from several years ago. I remember sitting at the bottom of the steps in our home in Missouri, listening to the movie play while my parents watched it. Not knowing I was there, my dad said I might like it the next morning. I fell in love with her story of proving her worth as an unmarried woman as much as I did the scenery the movie featured, and I believe that it was that beauty that brought me to the Lakes this weekend.

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I toured Beatrix’s house and gardens first, admiring the very area that later featured in her stories. I can definitely see why she was inspired so often!

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From Hill Top, I tried to take what seemed like a straight course to Claife Heights, a set of peaks that line the area between two large bodies of water: Windermere and Esthwaite. I (accidentally) decided to take a more roundabout route. The footpaths took me winding that general direction, but by the time I checked my phone again I had gone well passed the turning point. Oops.

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It was a cool and misty day, but at least it didn’t pour. The ground was extremely muddy though, and all I heard for four hours were my boots sinking into the mud and then out again. Amazingly, I did not slip once. And my socks never once got wet!

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I veered back towards the Claife Heights and eventually found my way there. From the top, I walked down to Lake Windermere. I thought I could catch a ferry, but they seemed to have stopped for the season. Much to my disappointment, after walking eight miles over three hours, there wasn’t a village nearer than Hawkshead…two miles away. So I walked all the way back to where I started. Needless to say, my feet were aching when I found a cafe for a pot of tea.

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My hostel is adorable. I’m spending the evening next to a roaring fire, petting a dog, and watching Miss Potter. What a lovely holiday!

 


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