Just like I did the last summer, I chose to spend a few days in Cumbria, instead of going abroad on holiday. Despite UK ‘staycations’ being appallingly expensive right now, I managed it on a surprisingly low budget. There was rain, of course, most days. Nothing serious, some drizzle in the morning or afternoon followed by lovely, sunny evenings. Still, I can understand why some visitors in Keswick had that disappointed look on their faces; no one wants rubbish weather (and associated boredom) when they pay thousands of pounds to stay in an average cottage or a slightly run down B&B which proudly boasts ‘colour televisions’ in 2021. They would rather be in Mexico instead. Since I paid so little, it didn’t bother me one bit that I had to wear my waterproofs every day and I was equally pleased that we were spared another heatwave. I actually prefer the Lakes with gloomy skies and misty mountains. Weather in Cumbria is so unpredictible that it is usually possible to get the best of both worlds. Below, Cockermouth on my first and last day.
The Lake District has a tourist-friendly public transport and visitors are encouraged to purchase daily or weekly tickets and leave their cars behind. I bought a seven day ticket with the intention to use it extensively over the next 5 days. While I certainly managed to get to the places I wanted to see: St Bees beach, Coniston Water, Buttermere and of course Keswick and Penrith, I must say it sometimes took ages. Buses typically run hourly, so with one missed connection comes a wait, and then another one. I felt particularly unhappy stuck in Workington at 6 pm waiting for X5 to take me back to Cockermouth. Or, in fact, take me anywhere, as far from Workington as possible. I took one nice pic there though, somewhere near the docks.
St Bees, named after one Irish nun St Bega, offers a wide beach which changes dramatically between low and high tide. I was lucky that day and arrived just as the sea began to come back. Afterwards I climbed the St Bees Head and on my way back I could not believe how different the beach looked. Everything I photographed a couple of hours earlier was hidden under the water.
I remembered Coniston Water as a very quiet lake, overlooked by those flocking to much more famous Windermere. It is far from quiet now. I couldn’t even buy a take away coffee, the queue was a mile long. It seemed like a great water sports centre, but it was very commercialised, crowded and noisy. It took me several hours and three buses to get there and I was pretty disapointed. I couldn’t stand the crowds, queues and screaming kids and, after a short walk along the shore, I left. Coniston village itself is charming and the Old Man mountain is a far better reason to visit than the lake. At least my lunch at The Green Housekeeper was worth the trip. Unpretentious, tasty and very reasonably priced. Oh, and the 505 bus from Coniston to Ambleside got stuck on a narrow road while passing another 505. We waited over half an hour to get out. What drama 😉
I took advantage of a free shuttle bus from Cockermouth to Buttermere – again, it was a part of a ‘leave your car at home’ initiative. Buttermere was everything that Coniston wasn’t: calm, wild but still accessible for walkers. Although I wasn’t alone on the path around the lake, it didn’t feel crowded at all. Perhaps the rainy weather stopped more people from coming that day. I loved how the mountains gradually became invisible and covered in thick clouds, as the weather deteriorated. I rewarded myself with a lunch and a pint of ale at The High Stile Kitchen – there was a farm cafe right next to the bus stop but it was impossible to get a table at 12:30…
I did not regret not staying in Keswick this time. Cockermouth has three supermarkets, a lovely French Canadian bistro and lots of restaurants and independent shops, not to mention a very affordable Airbnb where I stayed. I was however restricted by the bus timetable which was a bit annoying, especially when the skies cleared towards the evening and I wanted to wander around Derwentwater a bit longer but had to be careful not to miss the bus. For that reason, next time I will aim to stay in Keswick or Portinscale, which is only 20 min walk away. It will inevitably cost more, of course.
A stay in Cumbria wouldn’t be complete for me without a walk in the rain from Keswick to Castlerigg Stone Circle. I like to think this place was a pagan shrine of sorts..As it started raining heavier, I gathered my thoughts and made a wish. I know it will come true.
I am thinking about going back there in the autumn, however the availability is still very low and the prices are so high I could probably fly to New York and back for less. I even checked YHA in Keswick and an independent hostel in Penrith but they only offer private rooms. Covid policy, no doubt. I am glad people letting their spare bedrooms on Airbnb don’t have such fears, otherwise I would not have gone and had such a pleasant stay in #theperfectplacetobe.