Since it is Thinking Out Loud Thursday and I’m still riding the holiday high here in England, I wanted to share some more of my time in the English Lake District. Both the hiking and eating were spectacular, but the most important thing to know about those five days is that they were jam packed with what my dear friend Elli calls “second degree fun.”
Basically, second degree fun is the kind of fun you have when you’re challenging yourself, enjoying a new experience, stepping out of your comfort zone, etc. It may not be pretty or comfortable in the making, but you feel fulfilled and happy that you made it by the end. As Elli says, first degree fun is safe and controlled, the kind where you know exactly what to expect, like Disney World, or your family’s vacation spot on the shore. Second degree fun in my life thus far is something like running a half marathon – or, now, hiking in the Lake District. The best way to explain it is to go day by day, so get ready!
Grasmere to Ambleside
Friday morning was spent at William Wordsworth’s house, but as I mentioned yesterday, that afternoon marked our first hike in the Lakes. We walked from Grasmere to Ambleside over Loughrigg Tarn. Note the word “walk” – this is where the fun started to become second degree. In Britain, “walk” can mean anything from a stroll around the block to climbing a mountain. They don’t use “hiking” as a verb in the same sense we do. When I researched “walking” in the Lakes, I took this into account and tried to pick gentler hikes, but I really had no clue what “footpath” or “National Trust trail” meant. I found out fast.
This is Elli and I on the ledge about three-quarters of the way up Loughrigg Fell that ran parallel to the ground. It was about two feet wide and on one side was the steep grassy mountain face. On the other was a sharp drop-off down to Grasmere lake. We marched ourselves safely along despite the rain and took in the views, and at the end as I breathed a sigh of relief and decided I felt very accomplished, Elli explained that we had just had our first round of second degree fun. The part where I was climbing downhill on a rocky ledge using all four limbs? All in good fun!
Also, the sheep in the field just next to the path? Apparently totally normal around there and elsewhere in Britain. I did not grow up on a farm, and even though I am no stranger to dairy farms and orchards, I am not used to seeing sheep and cows right next to, crossing, or chilling out in the middle of a marked footpath. My small town in Connecticut is pretty normal, no sheep!
Keswick and Derwentwater
The first part of our walk, around the left side of Derwentwater near Keswick, was much more in line with what I expected of a lakeshore walking path.
We stayed on the footpath and refrained from climbing Catbells, one of the mountains surrounding the water, because it was pretty much a 90 degree angle path cut on rocks to the top.
This is just the part we climbed. We stopped at the ridge you can see where it went straight up.
And the lake was beautiful in and of itself, a lovely first five miles for the day (well, five miles anyway; we had run 3 miles that morning and walked another 3 to get to Derwentwater!) we found ourselves faced with challenge enough when we veered onto a different footpath to go down to the village of Rothswaite, which was another five miles south of the water. We were definitely hiking that half, scrambling over a few rocky and hilly patches and hopping a gate or two. I still think this was the best all around day of walking.
Sunday was the biggest challenge, so much that I think we were on the verge of third degree fun, if there is such a thing. As I mentioned yesterday, the walk down one side of the lake was fine. It was relatively overcast and we got some lovely views of the “Old Man of Coniston” as the biggest mountain is called. However, we had read an account online on an English long distance walkers website that said the trip around was about eight miles. It was actually fourteen, and after the first seven, when we rounded the bottom, we realized there was no more proper footpath. There was a major roadway, which we walked for awhile until we almost got squashed like bugs, and then somewhat of a path through a field that turned into a bog, took us past some more cows and cow pats, and ended at a jetty, where we ended up paying to catch a ferry back to the town of Coniston.
Standing on the beach in Coniston afterwards, I was very relieved. Elli is used to paths through bogs and farm animals, while they make me apprehensive, but even she was scared by the walk down the highway. Luckily, all’s well that ends well.
And there was a moment of serendipity earlier that day – a patch of English wild raspberries for the picking. The cousins of my favorite wild raspberries, perhaps?
Monday was our roller coaster of a day in Ullswater. We took the bus from Windermere to Pooley Bridge, which went around so many hairpin turns and had to screech to a halt on narrow winding roads to let cars pass by. There are lots of one way roads in northern rural England where cars have to actually back up all the way to designated passing places if they meet each other. I loved it even though my ears actually popped from the altitude – like an actual coaster. We then took a ferry called the Lady of the Lake to Howtown, halfway down the water, to our starting point.
At Howtown we alighted and began the ascent up into the hills, then down again to the village of Martindale, skirting the back of Hallin Fell.
I should not have been surprised by this point that the “lakeshore path” described in the guides was actually a rocky, mountainous path through first fields of sheep and then across the edge of a forested cliff. You got lake views when you reached the summits, and they were breathtaking – thin my breath had already been taken away by the fact that we were on a cliff a couple hundred feet above water level!
In the end, I was proud of myself for making it through that day of truly second degree fun. I love the outdoors and being active, I just never really challenged myself to be more adventurous in nature the way I was that day. As Elli and I talked about, when I’m lucky enough to have a family of my own, I want my kids to have experiences like this and not to feel the nervousness and fear that I do, but rather to simply be able to enjoy nature’s glory without apprehension.
Before we headed to catch our train back to London on Tuesday afternoon, we fit in one last hike, this time along a true lakeside path in Bowness-on-Windermere that lasted four lovely miles. We ended up doubling that and then some with a back end walk up into Ambleside, before catching a quick bus back to grab our stuff.
On the train back into the city, we were both exhausted, but entirely fulfilled by the five days of our trip. We walked more than we had imagined we could for so many days in a row, but more than that, we got to spend quality friend time together after three years of Skype sessions and Facebook messages as our only source of communication. And I got to really experience some amazing second degree fun with my dear friend, who predicts that this was just my first round of such adventures.
Do you prefer first or second degree fun?
Are you an adventurer on vacation or do you like to take it easy?
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