27 Dec 2017

10 Days in the Lake District in December

I had to take two weeks off work in December so we decided to wait until the last minute to see what the weather was like before booking to go away somewhere. Hubby was off helping a friend move a boat from London to Norfolk (sadly a failed attempt for various reasons), so for the first few days of my holiday I hung out with my parents, poring over holiday cottage rental sites, trying to find somewhere that was available, dog-friendly, reasonably-priced and suitably tasteful. I found some amazing places in Devon and Cornwall, but the weather-forecast wasn't great and they were still hugely expensive. Besides, for some reason we wanted to head north. Eventually hubby returned and I booked a week's rental in a dog-friendly cottage next to Coniston Water, in the southern part of the Lake District, which had private access in the garden to the lake, with its own jetties. The cottage also had a log burner, which was another of our prerequisites, given that snow was forecast a couple of days after we arrived (another reason for picking the Lake District).

The journey up there was uneventful and we only got stuck in traffic jams for short sections. We made it up there, door-to-door, in six hours, which wasn't bad considering we stopped a few times to go to the loo, swap drivers, eat, and let the dog out. It certainly beat the previous time we'd been there together when we we'd just met, ten years earlier, when we thought it would be a good idea to go up to the Lake District for a weekend (and not even a long one at that). We'd rented a car near Kings Cross at 5pm on a Friday night in November, got stuck in ridiculous traffic getting out of London and up the M1, and got completely lost (following signs to Bowness-on-Solway (near Carlisle) instead of Bowness-on-Windermere, due to an oversight on my part printing out google map directions at work in a hurry before I left). We'd eventually arrived just after 2.30am, greeted by the tired hotel owner, who'd had to wait up for us, with a welcome whisky. The following day we went for a walk from Blea Tarn in the cold rain, then drove back on the Sunday in sleet. Yup - not the best planned trip ever. This time at least we had a week up there, so even if the journey had been ghastly we had enough time to recover.

We arrived early, before check-in time, but the owner was there to greet us. He was a friendly local who had a number of properties (there were three to rent on the little estate - the smallest one booked out for the weekend, and the other not-dog-friendly). He explained how the heating worked and left us to unpack. The heating didn't come on, so we called him back, and he tried to get it working, telling us stories about himself and the area as he waited for the radiator to heat up. Eventually he gave up and we moved to the fortunately-empty cottage next door (the dog was allowed), as the boiler was obviously broken, and it was very cold! We headed to the local pub in Coniston for supper, trying a couple of the local ales - including the famous Bluebird Bitter (Coniston Water is the site of the ill-fated world-speed record on water set by Donald Campbell in the Bluebird in 1967, during which he set the record, then crashed and died). After dinner I headed down to the piers at the foot of the garden and tried some long exposure shots of the stars, as this was the only clear night forecast. It was jolly cold, and I was a little disappointed with the shots. Not a bad view though!

We had a relatively early night, and my alarm was set for pre-sunrise the following morning as I planned to capture a nearby much-photographed crooked pier before our Tesco's food order was delivered (which would mean we wouldn't have to go out again all week; snow was still forecast for two days later).

Unfortunately there was a barbed-wire fence between the farm next to our property (which we were allowed on, as the fence to the main road was down and the sheep removed), so I had to walk a long way round to get to the crooked pier. As I crossed the car-park another photographer arrived. It was a cool still morning, but not frosty. The sky was mostly clear, with some low cloud around the horizon, but beautiful still and serene. The pier was very cool, extending out into the lake before the last section which was bent to the left. A few of the posts were new, which made it look a little less rustic.

The other photographer gave me some space and eventually he came up to the pier and we chatted - he lived locally but was originally from down south. Soon the snow-covered Old Man of Coniston opposite me began to glow as the sun hit the top, becoming more intense as it rose higher.

I noticed a cute little boat-house on the opposite shore, which became a bit of a focal point for me over the following few days.

Some cloud grew and the light changed a little as I wandered back along the lake shore (a well-positioned fallen tree-trunk meant I could climb over the fence on the way back).

I got back just after the delivery had come, and the house was full of food and wine for the week! After thawing out and some breakfast we headed uphill from the house towards Tarn Hows, which was a nice 5-mile circular walk from the cottage. It had clouded over and the light was drab, so I only took a couple of photos. At one point we clambered over felled trees - there was a big exercise going on to clear some larch trees that had an infection. We got a bit lost, and the dog began limping a bit, possibly having trodden on some splintered wood. A quick massage of the paws and he was okay again and we continued to walk around the pretty lake.

The walk back down towards Coniston Water was pretty, but it was a shame there wasn't more snow or more interesting light.

On the last part of the journey Henry (the dog) started limping again, so hubby carried him for a bit. He hadn't had such a long walk for a long time, since the summer (since which he'd had two operations), so I guess he was a bit out of shape.

Later in the evening I let Henry out to discover that there had been a light dusting of snow - under a centimetre. The weather-forecast had changed from lots of snow to no snow the following day, which was disappointing.

The next morning the snow from the previous evening was still there, but the weather forecast was right - no more to come. The rest of the country (including just outside of London) seemed to have tons of snow, but the Lake District was missed. I got up early anyway and headed back to the crooked pier. A little snow clung to the trees on the opposite side of the lake.

I wandered back along the shore again and took a few pictures of snow and melting water droplets; it was chilly but there wasn't really any frost, so it was all a bit disappointing.

The heating still wasn't working properly - there was a combination of radiators and underfloor heating with different thermostats, so we rang the owner to try and find a solution. In the meantime we spent the whole of the rest of the day inside, apart from a little play in the garden with the dog and his ball - he was still limping a bit so we wanted to rest his legs. I headed back out to the lake in the late afternoon, this time photographing more of the melting ice droplets (not very successfully!) and some dried leaves. I was also on the hunt for globbies (globular springtails) but was also unsuccessful.

The next morning was a clear, crisp cold one - the forecast had said it was going down to -6 degrees C, but then corrected itself to -2. Still, this was cold enough for some nice frost, although not the hoar frost I was hoping for. I did manage to get some lovely ice and frost patterns with the macro lens, as well as a beautiful blue hour and light on the Old Man after sunrise. I was also treated to a light mist on the surface of the water as it heated up.

Later on we decided that the dog's legs/paws had recovered enough - he'd had a slightly red swelling on one pad, but that had gone down - so we headed out for another 5 mile circular walk. This time we drove to Little Langdale and did the same hike that we'd done ten years earlier in the rain to Blea Tarn. It was a beautiful hike, but freezing cold and extremely icy and glassy in parts. We'd left a little late (as usual), so had limited time to complete the walk, and a good part of it was in the shade. The dog was obsessed with chasing after his new pink ball, but eventually started limping a bit again. He had got some snow stuck between his pads, so a little fiddle around with them and it was gone and he was running excitedly again, barking annoyingly when we didn't throw the ball quickly enough. We was also rolling in the snow manically.

The last part of the walk was along the road from Blea Tarn back to Little Langdale. At a cattle grid we helped a couple of women manoeuvre their car, as they were stuck and the driver was close to bashing the front into a wall. Eventually they made it and we walked on. Sadly the Three Shires pub that we'd had a nice beer in on the previous visit was closed, so we drove back and had a beer at the Black Bull again before heading home. That night the owner came round and managed to sort out the timers and thermostats, and from then on the house was warm enough (too warm sometimes), and so I didn't have to stay in my thermals after I came inside from a photo trip. Murray cooked yummy roast pork.

The next morning I rose early again and was treated to a beautiful pink dawn and low mist hanging above the lake. I raced down to the water's edge (should've got up about half an hour earlier...) and captured the piers again.

It was frosty again, so I also spent some time squatting close to the ground taking macro shots until my toes were extremely uncomfortably cold. There were some beautiful leaves trapped under the ice along with some tiny air bubbles, as well as fantastic minute ice crystal structures.

The rest of the day was spent in the warm house; Henry was limping a bit again, so we thought he should be rested. In the afternoon I went out on my own up to the nearby Yew Tree Tarn, that the photographer I'd met on my first morning had recommended, and that we'd driven past on the way to and from Little Langdale. The surface of the lake was mainly frozen and covered in light snow from a few days earlier. I parked in the layby and walked around the lake in an anticlockwise direction, soon becoming bogged in marshy grasses when I turned off the path. Back to the path and I continued around, not really finding any decent composition. Finally I got to the far side of the lake and found a bench with a lovely outlook across the lake. As I was there it began to snow very heavily - finally! - but it only lasted just over a minute. I managed to capture a few shots of the snow pouring down.

Disappointed that it only lasted a minute I continued on round the small lake along a path that runs near its edge. There were a few sticks and plants sitting on the surface or breaking through from below.

I decided to see if I could climb up above the tarn in order to get some better views, and eventually found a way to do so, alongside a stone wall at the western end of the lake. I climbed up, sweating due to the thermals and down I was wearing, but the views were worth it. The trees in the area were stark and just stunning.

It was beginning to get dark, so I walked back to the car and drove back home. The next two days were almost a complete write-off, as it rained heavily, almost constantly. Being a fairly lazy couple we were content to stay inside, eating and drinking, taking the dog out briefly to go to the loo. On the afternoon of the first of the two wet days I noticed a brighter patch in the sky a little before sunset, so grabbed my rain gear and camera bits and headed down to the lake. There was a short-lived patch of glorious light, with a rainbow, accompanied with rain! The rain did stop and I managed to capture a few long exposures, marred by some annoying sun flares. It was still pretty lovely though.

On my way back I bumped into the owner's wife walking her dogs and asked if it would be possible for us to stay in the house a couple more days, as there didn't seem any point driving back on the Friday given that I didn't need to be back at work until Monday. The following morning the owner dropped by and said we could stay for a reduced extra price, since we'd had trouble with the heating. That was good news, as it meant our last day wasn't a miserable rainy one. The weather forecast for the last two days was for sun and no rain! That night we walked into Coniston to eat at the pub, in spite of the rain. It was nice that we could both then try a few more different beers and not have to drive home. The rain had cleared by the time we walked home.

I realised that we hadn't really seen a great deal of the Lake District - with only two real walks and no exploratory drives - so on our penultimate day we headed to the coast so that Henry could play on a beach and the last day we did a trip around the lakes. In the morning I went down to the piers again and was greeted with an intense patch of light on the mountains before it clouded over, perfect for a dramatic long exposure shot.

We didn't set off until nearly midday, and the roads down to Broughton and beyond were windy, narrow and slow. Some of the roads we wanted to take were closed due to snow and ice, so it took over an hour to reach Ravenglass, where we stopped for lunch. The beach is in an estuary and is not particularly pretty, but okay for a little walk.

Disaster soon struck as Henry was unable to retrieve his pink ball in the water and the current began to carry it away. He tried a few times to grab at it, but couldn't, and thankfully gave up after a few attempts and swam back to shore. We could see the ball heading quickly away on the current, and I felt extremely relieved that the dog was bright enough not to continue to try to get it.

We tried to entertain him with a stick, over which he came very possessive, so in the end he just had to be happy to run around on the beach. We wandered along the estuary for a while and then turned back, deciding to try the beach on the actual coast a few miles further north.

The beach at Drigg was also a long way from the edge of the sea, as it was low tide, and the beach is extremely deep (not to mention long - it goes on for miles along the coastline). The light was golden-hour-ish by the time we arrived and so we had a quick walk towards the shore before heading back to quickly look at the dunes. There were some great ripples here too, as well as rocks dotted around. I could've spent a while there with the tripod, had I been alone... Sellafield nuclear power station to the north didn't add much to the view, mind.

As on our trip to Blea Tarn, we drove back as the light was fading - really hard work with those roads, but we made it home reasonably quickly.

The following morning I didn't make it up for sunrise, as nothing was particularly forecast. Sometimes sleep has to come first. We decided to do a little road-trip given that it was our last day and we still hadn't exactly seen much of the region. The distances aren't great, and the lakes not huge, but given the windiness, hilliness and narrowness, driving anywhere takes a while. I decided on a route taking us to Ullswater and Derwentwater, also passing Windermere, Thirlmere and Grasmere along the way. The roads were icy in parts, and some of the high passes were closed, so our potential routes were limited. This gave a good overview of the area though. We stopped at a petshop in Ambleside to get a new ball for Henry, then drove on without stopping through Windermere, before heading up and across the magnificent Kirkstone Pass. The pass was snowy and icy, and all of the stopping places were taken, so we carried on down to past Glenridding where we stopped for me to take a few photos. The light wasn't great, with mainly overcast skies, but I could see that Ullswater had potential for a return visit...

We stopped in Dockray where we shared the most enormous Ploughman's lunch (taking half of the cheese with us!). From there we drove along the A66 until we reached Keswick, where there was mist and fog lingering over the low ground - it looked beautiful. Had we travelled in a clockwise direction we probably would have missed that, as the fog had covered the town until the afternoon (I learnt from someone later on Twitter!). We drove around a bit, and decided to park in a woodland car-park just outside the town. We were rather galled that it was a minimum charge of £4 for 2 hours (we only wanted half an hour!) so drove onwards and ended up parking at the Lakeside car park (a relative bargain at £3 for 2 hours). When we'd set off in the morning I'd forgotten to put the tripod back in the car, so any shots that day had to be handheld. As we walked along the shore the scene was absolutely glorious - trees shrouded by low mist, the sky beginning to get a little pink and orange. The first part of the walk was also dotted with piers and crooked posts from old jetties. It was sublime. I bumped up the ISO and took photo after photo while hubby entertained the dog.

I took a massive panorama - with 26 vertical shots stitched together! (see the shot at the beginning).

Eventually we left, but I could have stayed for a lot longer. We still had to drive home another hour, so didn't want to hang around until it got dark. As the light was disappearing, we didn't really see Thirlmere or Grasmere - something to explore on my next trip.

The last morning was typically miserable - drizzling, poor visibility, and cold too. We packed up our stuff, cleaned up the house (never really understand why you have to do that in a rental, given that a cleaner will come shortly after your departure anyway...), and I ran down to the pier to get a last shot before we drove home. It still looked beautiful, just miserable-beautiful!

The journey back was fairly unpleasant, with drizzle and heavy rain for the first part, light rain in the middle, then darkness, more rain, and heavy traffic as we drove into London (including a section that took about 45 minutes to go less than a mile). The return took us 7 hours in total - definitely not a driving distance suitable for a weekend trip! It had been a great re-introduction for me to the Lakes, having set off not really knowing anything about the place, with just distant memories from ten years earlier and a damp holiday as a child. December is a challenging month, partly because of the weather, but also because there's just so little daylight! It makes sunrise shoots far more sociable (and therefore far more likely to happen as a result), but there just aren't enough hours in the day to really see the place properly. I can't imagine visiting in summer, though, when it's teeming with traffic and people, but perhaps my next trip will be in autumn...

FYI - this looks like quite a useful resource for dog-friendly information in the Lakes.