Lake District, UK – September 2007

Day 3 – a day without the kids

Monday 3rd September

We were in full-on holiday mode today with an action packed day out and about on the road. We started earlier than we did yesterday, and resolved to be up, fed, dressed and packed ready to leave by around nine. Our itinerary today would take us North towards Carlisle and Hadrian’s Wall. Although we’d done some minimal planning previously, the cottage is also equipped with an array of leaflets, which we’ve been able to make full use of. I had originally hoped that there would be Internet access hereabouts but, alas, no such luck. There is a very faint wireless signal from a nearby wireless router somewhere that is unprotected. Unfortunately the signal is just too weak to establish a useable connection from – despite my best efforts to locate a corner of the cottage and grounds where the signal is at its strongest.

The kids were well pretty well behaved this morning (although I’m not sure why that surprises me exactly) and there was a definite sense of anticipation in the air – much of which was reminiscent of our previous travelling days. Our route this morning would track the full length of Lake Ullswater along its Western edge, before we would eventually leave the Lake District National Park altogether. The North Eastern section of the national park is strikingly different to the South, with rugged terrain giving way to rolling hills. The weather was being very kind to us. Those hillsides were bathed in gorgeous sunshine with not even a hint of the rain that plagued much of yesterday.

Our first stop was one of many points of interest dotted along the path that Hadrian’s Wall follows between Carlisle and Newcastle Upon Tyne on the West and East coast of Northern England respectfully. Birdoswald is the location of a Roman ruin about a third of the way along the length of the wall from Carlisle. There are a couple of dozen places of interest along the length of the wall but many of these involve hiking over rough terrain, which simply wasn’t an option for us with the kids and double buggy. We’d been advised that Birdoswald would be a worthy candidate for visitors with buggies. As it happens, we got there before the ticket office and shop had opened for the day and so we ended up wandering around the grounds without having to share the experience with anyone but ourselves. The ruin itself is all at grade level, save for a one-meter high fortification wall that surrounds the site. It wasn’t until the ticket office later opened and we struck up a conversation with one of the staff that we realised that this one hundred meter square wall was actually part of Hadrian’s Wall itself. Had this not have been pointed out, we would quite easily have assumed the wall to be just another one of the hundreds of modern dry-stone-walls that litter the landscape around these parts. As far as I could tell, the only real difference between the two is that Hadrian’s Wall seems to be built from larger and more evenly sized and symmetrically distributed stones, whereas the dry-stone-wall hedges are from flatter slate stones of varying sizes. I suppose that’s Roman engineering for you.

Having read the various placards dotted around the site that depict the previously proud structures and how life was lived back then, we set of and headed in an Easterly direction trying to track the path of the wall as best the modern road system would allow. Taking on board the advice of the staff at Birdoswald, we made our way to a place called Chesters, which is the location of the remains and ruins of some Roman baths. It’s quite a large site as Roman ruins go and our English Heritage membership would again afford us free access. When we previously tracked around the country visiting castles and ruins, it was all about the history and letting our imagination wander. Now, it’s just as much an exercise in trying to keep the kids entertained as anything else. Fortunately, the kids were able to enjoy themselves with Mum & Dad tracking after them with camera and camcorder in tow. The ruins themselves were sunken into the ground and fenced all the way around. They consisted of one-meter high wall remains, which were laid out within well-cultivated grassy areas. It was actually quite a safe environment for the kids to be themselves, although Joey did manage to topple backwards off one wall segment, which led to a few tears – more from shock than actually hurting himself.

We eventually left the Roman bath ruins at Chesters and started to make our way back west along the path of the wall in the direction of Carlisle. We broke this journey by means of an impromptu stop at a place called Pitts Hill. Here, we strolled along a section of the wall for a while where the scenery was particularly pleasing. Again, it was a good opportunity to let the kids roam about in the fresh air.

The afternoon was starting to tick on a bit as we finally made our way to our final destination of the day – Carlisle. The idea was to just take in Carlisle Castle itself but we ended up spending the remainder of the afternoon here. We found a multi-story car park and took in a bite to eat in the town centre. Carlisle struck us as a clean and orderly town with a pleasant atmosphere. We took the opportunity to pick up a few more provisions, such as more pyjamas for the kids (they are growing too fast!) as well as an adapter that would allow us to view our steadily accumulating camcorder footage on the TV back at the cottage.

Having amused ourselves in Carlisle city centre for an hour or so, we made our way over to the castle just a short distance away. It’s quite an impressively sized complex of buildings which surrounds a rather imposing square keep in the middle of the grounds. The whole complex appears to be used as an army barracks but there didn’t appear to be many people around at all and we virtually had the whole place to ourselves. We duly explored as many of the nooks and crannies that the castle had to offer as we could before deciding to stroll over to a nearby park and playground that we’d spotted from atop the castle outer wall. The kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves in this safe haven and we were able to just relax for an hour or so – despite all the energy expended pushing swings and running up and down slides and so on.

By now, the afternoon had lingered on and it felt like time to head back home. This we did, via a brief trip to a local Tesco superstore to pick up some more food provisions. Once we had made our way back into the national park and down through the winding Western edge of Lake Ullswater and back to Chapel Cottage, we were all of us reeling from a long but thoroughly enjoyable day on the road. The kids went to bed with surprising ease and Sandy and I enjoyed watching the footage from the camera and camcorder. Today has been a long day. We must make sure that tomorrow is a day or relaxation and recharging of batteries – lest we need a holiday when we get back from the holiday.