Lake District, UK – September 2007

Day 5 – further exploration of Cumbria

Wednesday 5th September

Sandy ‘insisted’ on kicking me out of bed to tend to the children this morning so that she could enjoy a few more minutes in bed. I didn’t complain (much), as she quite deserves a break. It is her holiday too, after all. I’ve enjoyed spending time with the kids this week and have felt like I’m getting to know them all over again – particularly Jennifer. Just seeing the kids at the weekend and for barely long enough at the end of every week day to put them to bed is one of the drawbacks of contracting in the nation’s capital. Even with this brief but extra bonus spurt of quality time with the kids, I still felt a bit like a fish out of water with the responsibility suddenly thrust upon me to tend to their morning routine. Do I feed them or do I them or change them first? Should I put the TV on for them or try to keep them entertained myself between making up the bag for the day ahead, sorting out the laundry and emptying and re-filling the dishwasher. I never seem to quite get the balance just right like Sandy does. I ended up having to run frequently between trying to keep the children happy and content whilst simultaneously doing everything else. It’s quite exhausting you know. By the time Sandy came down the stairs, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of relief, even thought I felt I did quite well. It didn’t have to be perfect; I just had to keep things together for long enough to allow Sandy a bit of extra time to sleep in and to spend a bit more time on herself than she usually can.

Once again, we were practically in the car this morning by the time we figured out where we were going. Our route today would take us towards the South West of Cumbria to the Furness peninsula. Now, I’m not a big fan of zoos and although the Southlake Wildlife Animal Park is not strictly a zoo but more of a cross between a safari park and a zoo, I still felt a bit reluctant when Sandy suggested this would be a nice place to spend the morning with the kids. I felt myself trying to grapple with my morals on this one. On the one hand, I don’t like to see animals other than in their natural habitat. But on the other hand, I don’t think it would be entirely appropriate either to prevent the children from being exposed to animals just to satisfy my own personal moral compass. In the end, I decided that there was enough merit in Southlake being a conservation project to temporarily put aside my own misgivings and we set off towards the peninsula. The weather this morning was reasonable. It had rained a bit overnight but there were very few clouds and the day looked promising.

Even though there were plenty of cars in the car park, the wildlife park appeared closed at first inspection. It turned out that they had relocated their entrance booth, which was now just a few meters around the corner. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised after wandering around for a while. The enclosures for the most part were not cages per se but large tracts of land devoted to several different species of wildlife together. In one tract of enclosed land, for example, there were giraffes, White Rhinos and Baboons all wandering around together. The kids seemed to love the place and were quite enthusiastic about the whole visit – despite the fact that some of the fences on either side of the paths were made from horizontal rows of wood that were just the right height to obstruct the view of a child in a buggy. Shortly after we had arrived it was feeding time for the giraffes. We wandered over and up along an elevated walkway where a couple of giraffes were poking their heads and necks over towards people that had been given leaves by a member of staff. Both Joey and Jennifer were able to feed the giraffes, whose extremely long tongues would stretch out to grab their leaves right out of their hands. The giraffe’s head was extended right into the buggy between the two of them, which spurred a short burst of nervous tears from Jennifer at one point.

We’d picked up a bag of seed for the ducks and emus as we entered the park and had varying degrees of success in getting the emus and other freely roaming animals to eat from our hands throughout the morning. There were kangaroos, lemurs and a whole host of ducks, geese, swans and other animals roaming freely around the park in addition to those that were more securely enclosed, such as tigers, lions, vultures, etc.

The plan was to spend the morning visiting the park but we managed to stay long enough to eat lunch there too. The highlight of our lunch meal was a group of Lemurs that had made their way into the food hall and were causing havoc as the staff attempted to herd them back outside again. We surmised that this was a regular occurrence judging by the huge water pistol that one of the staff was using the scare the little beggars away. One of them used the centre of our rather messy table to spring to freedom through the nearby open double door – one of the Lemurs that is, not one of the staff.

Even though the weather was never looking like being particularly great, it was still dry and we decided to make Furness Abbey our next stop after eating our fill and whilst at the same time trying to dodge mischievous and opportunistic Lemurs. It was just a short drive further down the peninsula anyway so it seemed like we had little to loose. Furness Abbey is the remnants of what looks like the largest abbey I’ve ever seen. It covers a huge area and must have looked truly impressive back in its day, built as it was with brilliantly red sandstone. A rather odd feature I thought was a stream that passed right under the abbey ruins just a meter or so beneath the surface. At several points along the stream’s path, it was completely exposed and it appeared that it was running through manmade tunnels built with the same red sandstone that the abbey itself is constructed from. Whether or not the stream was there first and was built on top of or whether it was diverted deliberately to satisfy the needs of the abbey I don’t know. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything else quite like it before.

To one side of the abbey, a group of a couple of dozen performing children looked like they were rehearsing a theatrical play. It wasn’t clear to me if this was Shakespearian work or some other local production but judging by how they were making use of the whole space in and around the ruin, it looked like the intention was to perform it right here in the abbey itself. Jennifer was being a bit cranky and I felt just a little conscious of what effect her intermittent crying might have been having on the children’s concentration. Sandy, in the meantime, was concentrating hard on trying not to look too terrified that Joey was wandering around what to her must have seemed like much to close to the stream bank for comfort. It took just a couple of short, sharp verbal hollers, however, to drive home to him the nature of the danger and he diligently avoided going anywhere near the stream all the while we were there. The water was only a few centimetres deep but the one meter drop wouldn’t necessarily have done him any good – not to mention the fact that it takes very little depth to present a potential drowning hazard.

The abbey was well worth the visit but the day was by now moving on and we decided to head for the Stott Park Bobbin Mill about half way between Furness and our cottage. We stopped off in town along the way whilst Sandy shopped around for some provisions. I took this opportunity to read up on this point of interest and learned that it would close today before we arrived. With nothing else planned, we decided to call it a day and made our way home. We quickly settled in to the now routine ritual of feeding the kids, putting them to bed, feeding ourselves and then parking ourselves in front of the laptop and TV to review the day’s electronic captures. After reviewing the maps and our English Heritage book of attractions, it has become clear that we’ve nearly cleaned out what Cumbria itself has to offer and we may have to venture into Northumberland tomorrow if we’re to keep up this pace.