These days a visit to my dad, who lives in Kendal in the English Lake District, is a case of some gentle strolls and if I hire a car a “run out” somewhere. Top of the places to run to is Keswick. It’s a lovely drive, cutting right through the heart of the Lake District, though to be avoided on bank holidays, when there is gridlock from Ambleside to Windermere. Keswick, has, as you can imagine, changed a lot in my lifetime.
It was, in a way, one of my first “travel” destinations. It was where the 17-year-old me was headed with my boyfriend the first time I hitchhiked – now there’s a long-lost mode of travel in most countries … simply sticking out our thumbs and trying to look innocent enough that someone would take pity on us. It worked too. We got there safely, although I have no memories of how we got back, and the only vehicle I vaguely remember picking us up was an old truck with pigs in the back – honestly…..sounds like a scene from some movie set in Alabama doesn’t it! After a sinful (I was under age) night in a real country pub we slept in a farmer’s barn – gets more like that movie all the time, doesn’t it! So for a long time after that the town was associated in my mind with sin and being a rebel. Oh, and also…… cow pats ……as we gingerly made our way out of the farmer’s field the next morning!
Fast forward 30 years or so, and Derwent Water, on whose shores Keswick nestles, was the scene of duck feeding and boating with my own kids. By then the town had grown considerably, of course, and there were interesting outdoor shops and craft shops, and on busy summer days (which it always was because of school holidays) it was a bit packed. There is now a Theater by the Lake too, and they always seem to be offering something terrific, but I never have the opportunity to go :=(
And now it’s another 20 years or so on, and my dad is only up for gentle walks down to the waterfront, a sit for a while and a walk back into the town square. I like to go on a Saturday because it’s market day, and this time I was delighted to discover a cheese stall I hadn’t seen before! Cartmell Cheeses make, simply, the best cheese I’ve ever tasted in England, and the guy was so friendly and full of helpful tips about keeping cheese (which unfortunately won’t work in this climate i.e. cheese should not be kept in a fridge), and about their products and ethos. Next visit I intend to go to Cartmell, which is a fair way from Keswick, and take a closer look. My dad wasn’t up for it this time, but if you come across them – buy!!! Silly me came all over shy and didn’t ask him if I could take his photo!
Like so many places in the Lake District now Keswick is a tourist magnet, and isn’t the sleepy village I remember from my teens. However, one of the good things about that is that there are plenty of excellent cafés and eateries around. We ate in the lovely café above – spicy lentil soup, sandwiches just oozing fillings, elderflower water and long, tall, milky coffees. Now, much as I appreciate Canarian cuisine, that’s the sort of snackery I miss!
The famous place to eat is Brysons Tea Rooms, which surprises me by not having a website – despite some bad reviews on Tripadvisor evidently – although considering you always have to queue for a table maybe they aren’t bothered, the service is pretty average too, but the traditional afternoon teas may just be worth it, and the price! There are no complaints that I saw about the food, just the service and the prices. The service we received in the Wild Strawberry Coffee Shop on the other hand was much pleasanter, even though it was packed, on account of it being market day.
The place in Keswick you must not fail to visit, however, is Friar’s Chocolate
Heaven Shop. I always go and indulge, and my dad sends me regular care packages! It’s kind of like DisneyWorld for chocoholics!
Even before I’d been to Keswick or the Lake District I used to be fascinated by a picture on my aunt and uncle’s sideboard. It showed an idyllic country scene with a lake, mountains, bracken and trees on the cusp of Autumn. It was a photo taken at Friar’s Crag on the shore of Derwent Water, and I ached to go there. When I made it eventually it wasn’t quite so bucolic as the photo, in the infancy of mass tourism it had been smartened up a bit, but it’s still a nice place to pause and gaze a while. We strolled down to Derwent Water, but the clouds rolled in and it was getting a bit nippy for my dad, so I didn’t get time to snap much. These days it always seems to be winter or autumn when I go, but at least I don’t miss the summer holiday crowds!