Wandering lonely as a cloud when accompanied by 43 fellow NT members, a 52 seater coach and its highly efficient driver and a Blue Badge Guide presents something of a challenge. However, I think I can safely say that all our hearts with pleasure filled several times during the course of our 6 wonderful days in the Lake District.
Our outward journey was considerably embellished by our visit to Biddulph Grange Garden. The Spring colours in the Italian, Egyptian and Chinese gardens were a delight, with “tulips” being the first contender for theme of the week. We were amazed that those thousands of bulbs would be dug up and not re-planted there: we could only hope they found a home elsewhere.
We received a warm welcome from our hotel staff who were very friendly and helpful throughout our stay: a credit to each of the nations they represented. Rooms varied: some were bijou, some came with interesting plumbing noises, some with four-poster beds but all were satisfactory, if the contented noise in the dining room at each of our hearty meals was anything to go by.
On Friday morning we met our Blue Badge Guide Geoff, who proved to be a mine of information as we travelled along on the geology and history of the area. He also specialised in “You may just catch a glimpse of....” which we mostly didn’t, and “over there is ; but we’re not going there.” Our first visit with him was to Holker Hall. Here we found more tulips in the extensive garden which was spectacular even in the rain, and the house had a wonderful homely feel for a building of its size. The guides were all welcoming and enthusiastic, so that our second theme of the week was born: “Places where we would have liked more time”. But on we pressed, to a complete contrast: the Arts and Crafts house, Blackwell, with its allegedly stunning views of Windermere: allegedly due to the inclement weather. Many of us were delighted by the house and its contents, imagining the Holt family taking their holidays here from 1900.
Saturday morning took us to our first Wordsworth Experience: his childhood home at Cockermouth. As it was just his childhood home before he embarked on poetry writing, we did not feel obliged to dredge up apt quotations from his works last digested in our A level days. It is a fine Georgian house which went with his father’s job and which he left on his father’s death; the garden afforded fine views of yet more tulips. On we went to Keswick for lunch: the rain was heavy in bursts, but as we had been warned about Storm Hannah, and as we gathered that Worcestershire was suffering more of its effects than us, we were not dismayed. We did wonder whether the Ullswater steamer would run as the water looked somewhat choppy, but it did and most of us climbed aboard and made for shelter. There were drier moments which allowed us to go on deck and take photographs of the magnificent surrounding scenery. I would query the claim that Ullswater is England’s “most beautiful lake”, but we each have our favourite.
Saturday evening is memorable for the Episode of the Defective Timepiece. I do not wish to re-open old wounds: suffice it to say that an apology was humbly offered and graciously received by all present.
Sunday brought us to the next place needing more time: Muncaster Castle. We received a warm welcome from its owner, Peter Frost Pennington, who pointed out some of the features of the family home before we wandered in the castle and amazing garden, as well as watching the owl display. By now the weather was fine and we only scratched the surface of the delights on offer before going on to the next treat: a ride on the Ravenglass and Eskdale railway. The wonderful countryside around us was truly memorable, and technical or merely nostalgic members enjoyed examining the engine that pulled us along.
On Monday we had Wordsworth in our sights again, and could utter his immortal line: “This morning giveth promise of a lovely day”. The sun did indeed shine as we made our way to Grasmere. Dove Cottage is undergoing work on “Reimagining Wordsworth” (apologies to my English mistress), but we had an illuminating talk and film presentation in the next-door Jerwood Centre and caught a glimpse of the cottage through the scaffolding.
Next up came Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, a delight to many of our party. The Museum of Country Life and parish church adjoined the Gallery so there was much to fit into our time there.
Levens Hall, a fine Elizabethan house originally built round a 13th century Pele Tower, was another place well worth visiting. The garden includes what is said to be the world’s oldest topiary garden: truly spectacular.
Travelling back to the hotel, we realised that the packing for leaving next day had to be faced. We thanked Geoff for his guidance as he left us, and echoed Clive’s thanks to the hotel staff during dinner; they had indeed made us welcome.
Setting off next day, we still had one treat in store: the house and gardens of Arley Hall. Here we met the Victorian Jacobean style of building. The gardens have been voted in the top 10 in Britain, and we could see why. It was a delight to wander through them, and the birdsong was the icing on the cake. Reluctantly we climbed back on the coach, for what proved to be a smooth journey; have we ever before arrived back an hour ahead of schedule? Our thanks to the wonderful Dave, who had driven us along narrow, twisting up-and-down roads as well as on motorways, were heartfelt. He claimed to have enjoyed the experience, going so far as to say that he would take us again. Maybe that was because we were always back at the right time for moving on to the next place?
It goes without saying that the deus ex machina was Clive whose superb organisation 99.9% of the time had made this holiday such a wonderful experience. We are truly grateful to him, and as I’ve already said a veil has been drawn over the 0.1% defective timepiece experience previously mentioned! Now that I have paid my deposit on the next holiday, to Sussex in September 2020, I have no hesitation in recommending it to every member of our Centre.