When we were pondering on our Summer holiday plans a month or so ago, we decided for various reasons to keep it simple this year. We'll be going down to spend time with my folks in Dorset at the end of the holidays, and we wanted something short and sweet (and local-ish) for the beginning of the holidays. We have been fans of Youth Hostelling since the Little People were small, it's a fun and economical way for a family to take a holiday. Well perhaps not quite as cheap as a tent in a field, but certainly more affordable than a cottage, guest house or hotel. If you've been bobbing into the Attic since the early days, you might even remember our first ever YH experience five years ago at this very same hostel (golly gosh, the Little People were only 4 and 5 years old then, and Little B wasn't even a twinkle). This is the hostel at Arnside, a real gem of a place on the Cumbria coast, close to the Lancashire border. If you follow this link, there is a map which pin points the location, it's not a very well know area really, kind of overshadowed as it is by the popularity and fame of the Lake District. But oh, we love it for that!
I had been so, so looking forward to being here, as although this is not strictly speaking a seaside place (it is river estuary), it does still have a very coastal, beachy feel. And as I have found myself craving the sea just lately, I figured this was a pretty good stand-in until I get to Dorset at the end of the month.
This scenery is tidal estuary, the shores of the (rather ginormous) River Kent which eventually leads out into the wide expanse of Morecambe Bay. It is like nothing I have ever experienced anywhere else. Sort of beach and seaside and river bank and woodland all rolled into one. There are rocks and sand, tidal waters and rock pools, waterfalls and riverlets, all backed by shady green woodland. It makes for an interesting afternoon stroll, and the Little People had lots of fun finding fossils, paddling in the pools, rock climbing, drawing in the sand and making dens in the trees.
After a while we turned around and meandered back along the shore, then took a stroll along the promenade. It's very tranquil in Arnside, slow and sleepy with a very sedate and rather quaint feel to the place. I like it very much. It makes me feel dreamy, relaxed and a tad drowsy, but that's no bad thing really when all one has to do is stroll and admire the views.
In the above picture, you can see the Kent Viaduct which carries the railway line across the estuary. It was rather oddly fascinating watching the little red and blue train chug backwards and forwards at regular intervals, it was a bit like watching a page from a story book come to life.
Arnside has a small row of shops along the promenade, several of which sell a mouthwatering selection of baked goods. It has become a little ritual of ours to buy something sweet and naughty in a paper bag and take it out to the very end of the small stone pier and scoff. I had the honour of making the purchase and The Little People approved of my choice (hunks of caramel shortbread). We enjoyed a lovely time taking in the extensive views with mouths full of crumbly sweetness.
The Youth Hostel at Arnside doesn't open it's doors for new arrivals until 5.30, so we decided to move from the pier to the pub. We have been to Arnside several times before (this was our third stay), so we know this pub and know that it is rather pleasant to while away an hour or two on the elevated, sunny terrace while the Little Peeps play on the climbing frame there. It turned out that we were all rather hungry by 5pm, so we ordered up some food. It was surprisingly good, well I have this theory that all food tastes better when eaten al fresco in the late afternoon sunshine.
The Youth Hostel at Arnside is a rather special place. The building is old and beautiful, and inside it has a shabby but welcoming feel. It feels homely and cosy for such a large building, and the old corridors and staircases hum with history. The views from the windows at the back of the building are stunning (the above view is from the upstairs lounge), but this time our bedroom was downstairs. We were sleeping in The Headmistresses Study, which made us laugh, and also made us realise that the building must at one time have been a school.
If you look back at the first picture I posted here, you will see the view at the back of the hostel. It is rather lovely, with a beautiful terraced garden set out for guests to sit and enjoy the views. The Little People loved this grassy area, and much rowdy play went on here throughout the evening. I took lots of photographs of them playing, and pretty much every one of them is blurred as they were on the move the whole time.
J and I decided to splash out and order a bottle of wine to share (how fabulous that the hostel is licensed, and that the reception desk also does duty as a bar!). It was all rather jolly, relaxed and holidayish, and I have to confess that very soon a second bottle of wine was purchased and the LP were treated to a fizzy drink of their choice and some chocolate.
And so the evening slip-slided into a warm, fuzzy blur of laughter, high
jinx and happiness, as the LP ran riot in the garden and J and I sat
and chatted and performed some extremely lazy parenting. There were badminton
competitions, jumping competitions, racing competitions and cartwheel
demonstrations. I'm not sure what the above picture is about to tell the truth (it is J and Little man playing some game and it's all a bit hazy in my memory), but I do recall lots and lots of laughing. We finally left the garden and fell into bed as it was starting to get dark, sometime after 10pm.
The next morning, we woke early to the sound of torrential rain pouring down, bouncing noisily off the windows and flowing in small rivers around the youth hostel. I also woke with a slightly sore head (!) and a sinking feeling that the day was going to be a dismal wet washout. We went and had breakfast in the dining room (which was stunning good value and very delicious), and tried to decide what to do with the day. Luckily, by the time we were ready to set out the rain had stopped, and although it was still very grey and overcast, it didn't look too bad. So we decided to head up to the Southern Lakes, to pootle around the shore of Lake Windermere.
Pootling around the lake very soon morphed into an idea to pootle on the lake, much to Little B's delight. I don't think he could quite believe that we were actually going to ride on a real boat, and his excitement was sweetly infectious. We booked tickets to take a short circular cruise, and there was just enough time to grab a quick take out cappuccino from a nearby cafe before climbing on board.
It was lovely. Peaceful and serene, with just enough commentary to be interesting without getting on your nerves. My, Lake Windermere is BIG! I could not get my bearings at all (and my head was still thumping), but we did a kind of a loop around some of the central islands, ooohing and aaaaahing over some very grand houses built on the shores, and marvelling at the sheer number of boats everywhere.
After the cruise, we made an attempt to drive into the nearby town of Bowness, to visit the Beatrix Potter Attraction. We have been here once before when the Little Peeps were small, and they were keen to revisit and show Little B. However, as has often been the case for us here in the Lake District, we simply could not park the car. So many people, so many vehicles, so little space. J has an extremely short fuse in situations like this, and after two laps of the car park, he simply declared it a no-go and drove out. Up and out of crowded Bowness, up high above the lake where we came across a lovely viewing point to stop and eat our picnic lunch. It was one of those happy accidents, an unplanned, unknown place which delivered just what we needed at just the right time. With the added bonus of an ice cream van in situ, so smiles all round :o)
Now, when I go away on holiday, I leave the internet firmly behind at home. I take my mobile phone (which is just a phone) and my trusty little beloved point-and-shoot camera. J, however, takes the internet with him where ever he goes. A lot of the time this honestly annoys the hell out of me, and I am frequently asking him to disengage from it and come back to the real world (you know what I mean, right?). But occasionally, I have to admit, it is veeeery handy to have information at our fingertips. Train times, for example. And maps. We were trying to find a way of driving around Lake Windermere to find a place where we could simply park the car and walk along the shore for a bit. A simple pleasure, but surprisingly hard to find around this busy lakeside. It was then that J discovered a National Trust property not far from our lunch spot, and being faithful NT members, we went off in search of this..............
....Wray Castle. Extremely impressive to look at from the outside, but a real oddity inside. This is not in fact a real castle at all, but a mock gothic retirement house built in 1840 by a wealthy couple from Liverpool. Odd, yes. Inside, the rooms are shabby and empty of furniture, save for a bit of Ikea stuff. Yes, very odd indeed. But what the rooms do contain is loads of stuff for children. Activities of every sort in every room. Giant building blocks in one room, huge board games in another. A drawing room and a dressing up room. It was pretty ok, and not bad for us as it was free, but truthfully I found the rooms claustrophobic and slightly depressing (it really is pretty run down) and I couldn't wait to get back outside.
At last, we were able to simply sit and take in the peacefulness of the lake. It was lovely. The weather was also very kind, and despite looking like rain was imminent for much of the day, by late afternoon the sun was shining and it was remarkably warm and balmy.
We returned to the youth hostel just before tea time and booked our evening meal, which was simple but delicious. It had turned into a glorious, golden evening and so after much cajoling, I managed to talk everyone into coming with me for an evening stroll.
The evening light was magical (it was about 8.30pm), with long shadows and a golden glow to everything.
The tide was low and we walked and talked and walked and talked and Little B ran and ran and climbed and jumped and ran some more. That child has soooooo much energy, he is a joy to watch in an open space.
This is such a lovely, unspoilt part of the west coast and has been declared an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). If there had been more time, we could have walked all the way past those trees and around the corner to Silverdale (would love to do this one day), but as it was so late in the day, we stopped for a while to sit on the rocks, have a cold drink and eat some chocolate before slowly heading back.
Just as we were walking back towards the village, we spotted a pair of herons wading in the shallow water. It was such a beautiful, still, calm scene, it was like stepping into a painting.
Ahhhhh, such a lovely, happy family time for us. Part 2 tomorrow, in which we partake in a fair bit more coastal meandering on wheels and on foot. See you then xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx