Well, even though I am keeping my Scrabble brain in working order by playing online at least once each day (or so I thought), when it comes to playing face to face I well and truly lost it last night. Tony (owner of the New Kent Hotel in Blackpool), his mate Steve and I played a round. At the end, the scores stood at Tony – 210, Maria – 184 and Steve – 168. Now, given that Steve claimed to be a bad speller and Tony assisted him does NOT mean that he was setting himself up for great point opportunities before passing nothing on to me – does it Tony!! Only joking – good game, well played guys.
Steve was down for the weekend from Liverpool, not Manchester as I first put! (with his wife Marie and daughter and son) to visit Tony who he used to work with. His accent is so broad that at times (like many of them) I wondered if he was really speaking English at all! He was drinking ale and the more he drank – well, you get my drift! I bought in a bottle of the Cantinot 2006 red to drink with them and it went down a treat. Yann and Florence – he has your card! Tony was suitably enough impressed that he opened his last bottle of Chateau de Pape 2005 – which incidently I could have bought at the cellar door at the Castle de Papes in Avingnon in France (but didn’t). So it was nice to try it – and it is wonderful. Might yet try to get a few bottles home.
That typical English weather of the thick mist with the sun struggling to push through makes a heavy appearance today. As we leave Blackpool, you can hardly see the North Pier from the Gynn Square roundabout with the Jetson’s capsules around it. And yet it is only a distance of less than a mile between the two and they are normally easily visible from the other.
Traffic is heavy as we join the M6 towards the Lake District. And the mist has penetrated well inland too. It looked and felt like we were viewing everything through a gauze. There was not a single view that was clear and the hills blended in to the sky with just the barest of an outline that could be seen.
We arrived in Penrith a little before 1 pm, headed for the Visitor Information Centre and then to a coffee shop so we could have a bit of a look at all the information we had got. Parking is horrendous and operates on a very trusting honesty system. You collect a parking disk from just about anywhere in town and you keep it to use all over town. Then when you park (that is once you have found a spot!), you turn the dial to the time you leave the car, put it on your dashboard, take a note of the maximum time allowed on the street sign and then be back before it expires. The tourist officer tells us that the fines are steep and that the spots are regularly checked.
Before we leave, we check out the Penrith Castle ruins that we passed on the way into town. Quite a few people climbing over them, including lots of teenagers who seem to throw caution to the wind by climbing up crumbling walls to window openings. I felt like challenging them to climb to the top one after they only went to the lowest level. From here there is also a good view up the hill on one side where much of the town is located. Then it was off to Morrisons to do food shopping for the next four days as we are self catering. Morrisons is the supermarket that always seems to have the tinned chocolates on special and as it is Mother's Day in the UK this weekend, we are in luck with the 1.2 kg tin of Quality Street chocs going for a measely £5!
Once out of Penrith we head out to see Long Meg and her daughters. Don't worry - I am not name calling. This is a set of 60 standing stones with their pointer stone (Long Meg) set amidst what is now rural grazing lands. I can hardly believe my eyes when we get there - a farmer has put a road to his farm (that has subsequently been paved) right through the middle of the stones! Interestingly when we were at Ribchester yesterday, the museum had a brass casting of spiral symbols on Long Meg and when you get there, they are still clearly visible!
Otherwise this is an awesome sight and the sunlight beaming down through breaks in the clouds just heightens the surreal mood. Can just imagine what it must have been like to be a follower of the early druids, being escorted to such a remote place, finding the stones and the tricks with the weather. Cool!
From here we call in to have a look at the Water Wheels that were used to drive the flour mill at Little Salkeld. They are no longer operating and the water has been diverted forming a very nice little water cascade.
By now it is getting on in the afternoon and we decided to find The Smithy Cottage where we will be staying for the next four nights. We travel through back lanes and in and out of hamlets and villages with the quaintest names. Just up from Gamblesby, the next settlement was called Robbery - wonder if someone had had their fingers burned!!
After a few checks of the map, detours and switchbacks (who is navigating?), I eventually stop to phone our host Laura and check we are on the right road. We are, and her verbal directions get us here pretty soon. The Smithy is a charming little cottage - kitchen with pantry, dining room and a bathroom downstairs and three bedrooms and another bathroom upstairs. Laura walks down from Skirwith Hall Farm where they live to say hello. She has arranged for the local milkman to deliver 2 litres of milk - in 500 ml GLASS bottles with foil caps if you please, fresh farm eggs and orange juice.
She tells us that Skirwith Hall is not all that old (mid 1700's) but that the smithy is older! We have to explain that her home was standing before Captain Cook discovered the East Coast of Australia! Seems that the 1700s doesn't hold much water - her last home dated back to the 1500s with a section that dated back to the 1100s! Too dark to get photos tonight, so we will upload some tomorrow.
Michael is all excited because he has just discovered that there are remains of a Roman temple nearby - but that is to be expected, they marched all through this area and we are bound to see plenty of evidence in the coming days.
We are on limited internet connection here, so you might not see us on Skype for a couple of days - but you just never know!