Toulouse: Cathedrals, gardens and a real taste of France

On the second day of our trip to Toulouse, we took the advice of the hostess and went to the Victor Hugo Market. Very close to our hotel, we wandered across to the market around 10am where it was a hive of activity. It reminded me of the old indoor markets in Hull with tables of fresh fish and meats. It was traditionally French, with an abundance of cheese and wine, fresh patisseries, and bread galore.

Patisseries in the Victor Hugo Market
Patisseries in the Victor Hugo Market

We wandered around the stalls, quickly bypassing the fish and seafood. Tempted by the bread, we bought a baguette (which was, unfortunately, a little hard) and just resisted the pastries. Instead, we popped across to a nearby patisserie where we bought chocolatines, otherwise known as Pain au Chocolate, and croissants. They were delicious!

Victor Hugo Market
Victor Hugo Market

Having explored the market fully, we headed on to the Japanese Garden, or Jardin Japonais that actually sits within the larger park of Jardin Compans Caffarelli. It is a quaint little Japanese garden, which felt like a little oasis from the city.

Japanese Gardens in Toulouse
Japanese Gardens in Toulouse

The garden houses a beautiful red bridge and Japanese-style house, which definitely create the Asian aesthetic. Unfortunately, the house was closed to the public so we were unable to read the information about the garden.

Japanese Gardens in Toulouse
Japanese Gardens in Toulouse

As we wandered, we came across a statue of a Taisen Deshimaru, who was a Japanese Sōtō Zen Buddhist teacher, and a garden made of gravel shaped into circles. Despite being a huge amount of grey stone, it was beautiful and intricate in its pattern.

Statue of Taisen Deshimaru
Statue of Taisen Deshimaru

Continuing through the park, we saw a sculpture of a dragon made out of scrap metal – which was pretty cool – sat in a massive lake. It was really quite pretty in the cool winter air.

Scrap metal dragon
Scrap metal dragon

It was then time to head to the Basilique Saint-Sernin. As it wasn’t far, we walked across town towards the famous cathedral.

Basilique Saint-Sernin altar
Basilique Saint-Sernin altar

The Basilique Saint-Sernin is the former abbey church of the Abbey of Saint-Sernin or St Saturnin and is its only remaining building.  Constructed in the Romanesque style – like much of Toulouse – it is located on the site of a previous basilica of the 4th century, which housed the body of Saint Sernin.

Basilique Saint-Sernin altar
Basilique Saint-Sernin altar

The basilica was constructed between 1080 and 1120 and is the largest remaining Romanesque building in Europe. However, despite being called a basilica, Saint-Sernin does not follow the plan of early Christian architecture. In the form of a crucifix, the basilica is much larger than earlier churches and is primarily made of brick.

Basilique Saint-Sernin
Basilique Saint-Sernin

It also contains a walk-way called an ambulatory, which goes around the nave allowing for the viewing of the radiating chapels. This is why it is often debated as a pilgrimage basilica and it was for a long time seen as a place of pilgrimage.

I was slightly disappointed that a lot of Saint-Sernin was closed to public access as I would have liked to explore a little further. But then, it was free to enter.

Musee St-Rayond
Musee St-Rayond

We then explored the neighbouring museum – Musee St-Raymond. It contained a vast arrangement of Romanesque statues and artefacts found in the area near Toulouse. It was fascinating to see the heads of Roman aristocracy and legend from the 1st century or earlier and explore the depictions of Gods and myths.

Bust once thought to be of Julius Caesar
Bust once thought to be of Julius Caesar

In the first room, we were presented with busts of famous Romans found in the villa Martres-Tolosane, in the locality of Chiragan. It was incredible how preserved some of the pieces were and the craftsmanship of thousands of years ago.

Hall of Roman busts
Hall of Roman busts
Hercules defeating Medusa
Hercules defeating Medusa

In the room above, we learned about how the Roman’s travelled north from Italy into the South of France and how trade was instilled in the area. From this, we were able to view other Romanesque artefacts.

Roman Mosaic
Roman Mosaic

Making our way down to the basement of the museum, we were met with an open tomb. However, there were no English translations – and often no information is given at all – to distinguish whose grave this was.

Tomb underneath the museum
Tomb underneath the museum

Within the accompanying room, we saw the engraved tombs with scenes or patterns carved into their sides – really beautiful.

Engraved tomb
Engraved tomb

Having taken our fill of the area, we headed back towards the hotel stopping by The Yard for some delicious burgers. The only good main meal we ate in Toulouse.

Burger from Yard cafe
Burger from Yard cafe

We returned to the Christmas Market, which was incredibly busy with it being a Saturday. After failing to find our way into the art gallery within the Place du Capitol, we headed back to the hotel. Our last venture that day would be to eat copious amounts of ice-cream at the nearby Carte Dor café.

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A whole heap of history and a splash of Christmas lights: Toulouse, France

In the second, and possibly last, of our surprise mini breaks to Europe, we travelled to Toulouse in the South of France. I’m sure Toulouse is beautiful in the Spring/Summer or any other time than the middle of winter.

It is not the snow covered Christmas markets of northern Europe nor is it the warmer weather of the Mediterranean, in truth, we had a perfectly grey weekend. Nevertheless, we explored Toulouse top to bottom!

Starting out at the airport, we had hoped to hire a car to take us to the Pyrenees. However, upon enquiring the price we scrapped that idea! So we bought a three day travel ticket – big mistake – and took the tram to the Palais de Justice station. We didn’t even realise that the Palais de Justice was right in front of us, so we wandered down the alleyways and bought lunch in little cafes along the way.

Statue of two people kissing in Jardin les Plantes
Statue of two people kissing in Jardin les Plantes

We took a detour into Jardin des Plantes, where we looked at going around the Muséum de Toulouse. However, we were left waiting to be served for far too long so we decided it wasn’t worth the €7. Leaving the museum, we wandered around the park, which was a little stark in the winter light.

Bridge in the Jardin les Plantes
Bridge in the Jardin les Plantes

There is a lovely river running through with waterfall tumbling down a man-made mound. We enjoyed exploring the meandering paths and looking at the different types of trees. I imagine it is beautiful when all of the flowers are in full bloom.

Waterfall in the Jardin les Plantes
Waterfall in the Jardin les Plantes

Continuing along the street, we came to the Jardin du Grand Rond. In the centre of a busy roundabout, the garden has a beautiful fountain in its centre with a pavilion overlooking. Despite the slight sound of traffic, it was a little nature haven in the middle of the city.

Fountain in the centre of the the Jardin du Grand Rond
Fountain in the centre of the Jardin du Grand Rond

Exiting the park we walked along the Allées Forain-François Verdier to the Monument aux Combattants de la Haute-Garonne, remembering the soldiers who died in WWI.

Monument aux Combattants de la Haute-Garonne
Monument aux Combattants de la Haute-Garonne

We then headed west to the Cathedrale Saint-Etienne. Not quite sure whether we could enter, we cautiously entered the beautiful cathedral. Despite a rather plain exterior, the cathedral’s interior was intricate with amazing stained glass windows. Milan’s Duomo was magnificent but far too ornate and unrealistic, this was a truly old cathedral. Half was under refurbishment, yet we were able to wander freely through the stone walls.

Main altar within the Cathedrale Saint-Etienne
Main altar within the Cathedrale Saint-Etienne

The cathedral is really unique in its’ asymmetrical design and beautiful alcoves with sculptures and various confessionals from throughout the years. It was incredibly peaceful, especially with all of the candles burning.

Cathedrale Saint-Etienne
Cathedrale Saint-Etienne

Leaving the cathedral, we headed on to the Musee des Augustins that has a huge collection of sculpture and paintings from the Middle Ages to the 20th century.

Gargoyles at the Musee des Augustins
Gargoyles at the Musee des Augustins

The first room houses the medieval sculpture, which I found incredibly interesting – especially with the depiction of saints and some with the colour still remaining.

The museum also houses a huge hall in which fine art classes take place surrounded by incredible paintings and a beautiful organ at its centre. Toulouse’s famous organ dominates one of the walls and commands awe.

Incredible organ in the Musee des Augustins
Incredible organ in the Musee des Augustins

Upstairs you find an interesting light installation by Jorge Pardo. Inaugurated in May 2014 for Toulouse second International Art Festival, the display houses Toulouse’s beautiful Romanesque art separated into three categories shown by the change in light fitment.

Light installation by Jorge Pardo using Romanesque statues
Light installation by Jorge Pardo using Romanesque statues

These distinguishing lamps separate the set of capitals taken from the cloisters, no longer extant, of La Daurade, Saint Sernin and Saint Etienne. Pardo designed every element of the room, from the pillars to the tiling.

One of the statues in Jorge Pardo's installation, this one shows the story of Saint John the Baptist and Salome
One of the statues in Jorge Pardo’s installation, this one shows the story of Saint John the Baptist and Salome

Continuing up the stairs, you are presented with contemporary statues by artists such as Alexandre Falguiere.

Nymph Chasseresse Statue by Alexandre Falguiere
Nymph Chasseresse Statue by Alexandre Falguiere

You then enter the gallery with famous pieces such as Edouard Debat-Ponsan’s The massage.  Only the red gallery was open, unfortunately, as I would have liked to explore more of the artwork. Nevertheless, the pieces were beautiful. In particular, I liked the artwork of Armand Point and Philippe-Auguste Hennequin with their very different styles.

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Artwork in the red gallery
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Artwork in the red gallery

Time to check in to the hotel, we got settled in for a quick nap before heading out for the evening.

View from window of the Musee des Augustins
View from window of the Musee des Augustins

It was time to explore the Toulouse Christmas market. At the end of the street where our hotel was, we came to a roundabout decorated with a huge Saint Nicholas in his ice carriage next to a festive carousel. It was like being in a fairy-tale. All the streets were decorated with lights and the market looked quaint in the shadow of the Place du Capitole.

Toulouse's Christmas decorations
Toulouse’s Christmas decorations

After looking at multiple restaurant menus as we walked, and not liking anything we saw, we eventually decided to buy something at the market. We had Toulouse sausage with chips, which definitely filled a hole. Then we wandered around the stalls.

Toulouse Christmas market
Toulouse Christmas market

Not quite the Christmas market I had expected, it was noticeably French with the scent of bread and strong cheese, meats and fried onions filling the air. The stalls had various handmade items and Christmas decorations. Despite the lights continually shorting out leaving parts of the market in darkness, we enjoyed wandering whilst drinking delicious Vin Chaud (mulled wine).

Toulouse Christmas decorations
Toulouse Christmas decorations

Feeling cold, we dipped into a bar where we had the worst wine I’ve ever tasted… Managing to drink it, we tried to find another bar but there wasn’t any room at the inn. So, we returned to the hotel’s “bar”, which consisted of a drinks cabinet and three sofas. We were greeted by a very helpful American lady who served us some very nice Chardonnay and pointed us towards the main sights of Toulouse. We would begin to explore more the following day.

Chris with our "Bag of wine"
Chris with our “Bag of wine”

Struggling up Ben Lomond

Our first full day in Drymen, we decided to go exploring. But, by the time we reached the starting point of the Ben Lomond trail, it was already after 1pm. With an estimated 4-6 hour trek ahead of us, I did warn that we would be returning in the dark.20171026_130617

Undeterred, Chris insisted we climb Ben Lomond. So we set off along the Main Path to the summit from Rowardennan.

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You almost immediately start to climb through the lower trees. It was a perfect day as the sun joined us for short bursts and we were only slightly spattered by the expected Scottish rain. Trees in full autumn colour, the views were spectacular as I stopped every 5 minutes to take photographs.

The path is well-trodden and definitely one of the easier trails I have climbed. Obviously, it is a popular walk. Today, however, we almost had the mountain to ourselves.

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This first section of the walk is fairly steep, with uneven steps climbing the high gradient sides. As with most mountain climbs, we did not immediately begin to climb Ben Lomond, but circled around onto the ridge via its neighbouring mounts.

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Upon reaching the ridge, the trail evened out and became almost easy as we meandered along. Inclining gradually, the views only got better. Every time we turned around, we gasped with the beauty presented before us.

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As the sun broke through and drizzle continued in the surrounding valleys, a weird phenomenon occurred. Not a drop of rain fell on us as we observed an incredible full rainbow that kept us company for the rest of the journey.

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As we got further towards the summit, which loomed through the cloud before us, we met more and more people returning. Only 20 minutes left, 15 minutes, 5 minutes. Their estimations were definitely optimistic as we struggled up the last steep climb to the summit.

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One hundred metres from the top, my legs suddenly gave way – I’m not as fit as I once was! Chris had to seriously use his powers of persuasion to get me that last little bit. I could not turn back now!

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But we made it. Utterly exhausted and now a little wet as the rain drew in. The top of Ben Lomond was soaked with huge puddles everywhere. The view was worth the pain.

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With the light fading, we could not stay long at the top. It now became a race to the bottom before darkness ensued. Our knees buckling as we traversed the steep steps to the bottom, the journey seemed much longer than on our way up.

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At points, we slipped and ankles were twisted, but we continued with the backdrop of a pink and purple sunset. Truly beautiful and something we would not have seen had we not been walking down the mountain at this time.

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Nevertheless, the last couple of hundred metres were attempted in complete darkness. With the aid of our mobile phones, we were able to make out the path and get down safely.

Definitely exhausted and muscles that hadn’t been used in a long time aching, we were very satisfied to have completed Ben Lomond. Absolutely worth it.

Lake District Chronicles: 8

Fearing a torrential downpour, we decided not to do the full route pictured on the map and find our own way back to Keswick – which in hindsight was not very wise.

Skimming Stones in the rain: Keswick to Walla Crag

It was about this time last year, I had finished my final exam of third year at university – and it was all over! So, we decided to celebrate with a trip to the Lake District. I had picked up a map on directions from Keswick to Walla Crag the previous summer, and was yet to try it. Therefore, we set off on a fairly cold May day to Keswick.

Walla Crag Route Map
Walla Crag Route Map

After stopping to buy some lunch at the local Booths, we wandered through the centre of town to reach Keswick’s Town Hall and Tourist Information Centre – the start of our walk. Following the same route to the Castlerigg Stone Circle, we were soon in open countryside with Derwent Water far below us. Climbing through trees and fields, we spent a lot of time stopping to take photographs despite the overcast sky.

Woodland on our path to Walla CragHowever, we soon came to a dilemma. I had been so busy enjoying the walk, I had unwittingly led us the route of Castlerigg Stone Circle and we needed to fall back on ourselves to reach the correct path. Not exactly as planned, but the slight detour was worth it for the fantastic views across Derwent Water and towards Blencathra and Skiddaw.

Looking towards Blencathra
Looking towards Blencathra

Upon reaching the ascent of Walla Crag, we realised that we had misjudged the gradient and, for an easy walk, it was pretty steep! We followed the path around to Surprise View, which gives an amazing panoramic view across the whole of Keswick and Derwent Water. But now the rain was creeping in as the clouds darkened and spots of rain formed on my glasses.

View from Surprise View
Surprise View

Fearing a torrential downpour, we decided not to do the full route pictured on the map and find our own way back to Keswick – which in hindsight was not very wise.

We followed a less traversed path along the side of one of many stone walls that section the Lake District’s landscape, before reaching an even steeper descent. With the sound of a waterfall nearby, we attempted to navigate the ill-formed path, jarring knees on too high steps and slipping on loose gravel as the rain began to fall more heavily. Reaching the cover of some trees, we sought a quick break to recharge the batteries and nurse an injured ankle. Mosquitos had found us, however, and came in droves, driving us to keep moving as we continued our descent.

Descent from Walla Crag
Descent from Walla Crag

Making our way through the Great Wood, we found ourselves at the edge of Derwent Water. The rain was coming down thick and fast by this point – perfect weather for skimming stones of course! It became the mission to find the best stone to skim as we dodged along the banks using the trees as cover.

Looking out across Derwent Water
Looking out across Derwent Water

Eventually, we gave in to the inevitable and enjoyed the rain, seeing how far we could throw our rocks and collecting the best as we went. All too soon we were making our way back into Keswick, where we found a café for a hot drink to warm us up as the rain still fell.

Returning to Keswick
Returning to Keswick

It was the weekend of Keswick Midsummer Festival, so we sat for a while in the shelter listening to the acts and watching those stood in the rain getting drenched – but really, what did they expect in Cumbria? Some of the acts where pretty good and we would have liked to stay longer, but were restricted by the bus timetable.

We returned to Lancaster looking like drowned rats but perfectly happy with our little adventure.

Nature Poetry: Skimming Stones

I’m posting this poem as I think it quite fits with my next (and last) Lake District Chronicles post, which will be live next Sunday. Another of my poems written whilst at university, this was inspired by how the simple act of skimming a stone can drastically change the appearance of the water. Let me know your interpretations!

Skimming stones

A pool lays secluded

beneath the weeping willow

whose tendrils tickle the surface.

The silent kingfisher perches,

cleaning his feathers, as minnows

begin their calm procession.

Where the water is shallow

you can see the glint of gold

in their scales. A lost time

when the world was serene.

 

Then you started skimming stones.

 

The smack as the perfect flat stone skips across the surface,

small explosions as it crosses the standing water.

Ripples spreading out, battling to reach their widest scope,

rolling over one another until the large rings merge –

fade to the tranquil mirror

 

but the stone still rests at the bottom.

A 10 mile “wander” around Teddington Lock

A gorgeous 16C caught me by surprise when I went for a walk yesterday. The sky was grey and I’d worn my thickest jacket thinking it would be cold – but it was glorious!

I’ve lived in Teddington for three months now so felt it was high time I explored the lock, which is only a mile from my house. Perfect for a short wander to clear my head. Or so I thought.

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Teddington Lock

I have a wonderful, if not slightly reckless, habit of finding myself in places where I can lose myself completely, which naturally leads to never quite wanting to leave again. This was one of those occasions.

Upon reaching the lock, which is a quick wander down from Teddington high street, I found that hundreds of other people had had much the same idea. The nearby pubs and tearooms were teaming in the bright sunshine that had luckily broken through the clouds. People were out in force on the water, on boat tours or yachts, a family came past in bright orange kayaks and there were a number of barges and rowing boats spotted along the way.

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Teddington Lock

There are two bridges across the lock and, to avoid a group of cyclists, I decided to explore the base of the first bridge. All I found was an overgrown footpath and a dead end, but the smell transported me back to Yorkshire and wandering through the countryside. I found myself encased in wildflowers, their scent filling my nostrils and taking me a million miles away. Yet, a gate prevented any further exploration and I had to return to the bridge.

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Half-way point

After crossing, I was faced with a decision: 3 miles to Richmond Park straight ahead, 3.5 miles to Ham House and Gardens to the left, or 1.75 miles to Kingston Bridge to the right. At this point, I was still convinced this was just a short wander along the river, so chose the Kingston path.

The path divides in two with one strand following closely to the banks of the Thames, the other is a sturdier path further up the bank. I chose the higher path, which took me through woodland before emerging into the open sunlight with views of the river.

Taking pictures as I went, I meandered along the path listening to the sound of the river mixed with children’s laughter and the chitter-chatter of their parents. Until I reached a line of houses where the path turned into a tarmac road. Not really wanting to wander through Kingston, I decided to head back but, this time, I took the lower path.

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Half mile tree, just before Kingston

Now my view was less obstructed, I could photograph the expanse of the River Thames with the sun now on my face. Having only traveled a mile or so, it wasn’t long before I was back at the signpost. To go home, or not to go home?

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View back towards the lock

Not to go home.

I decided to continue along the path towards Ham House and Gardens, not expecting to reach the stately home but knowing the walk would be pretty. After following the edge of the lock, I was soon immersed in woodland. I heard the sweet calls of blackbirds and robins flitting through the trees. I love being among the trees, it’s a place where I feel safe and at home. The fresh smell of new leaves and various wildflowers intermingled with the earth as I wandered.

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The path to Ham House and Gardens

The path is fairly similar the whole way along with the Thames to your left and woodland on the right, which made it easy to lose track of how far I had walked. It wasn’t until I saw the outcrop of Eel Pie Island that I realised I had almost walked as far as Ham House! So much for a short walk…

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Ham land

I sat on a bench for a little while, admiring the beauty of Eel Pie Island and growing envious of the houses there. As I looked, however, I suddenly noticed two little eyes watching me and a couple of pointy orange ears. A fox. Realising I was not a threat – I could not easily traverse the water between us – he settled down to sun himself. I admired him for a while before continuing my walk.

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Eel Pie Island

By now it was getting late and I had set myself a target of turning back once it had reached 5pm. It was 4.54pm. I carried on forward a short way until the woodland opened up to reveal a car park and what I can only assume is the ferry point between Twickenham and Ham House. I could see The White Swan on the opposite bank and Richmond looming in the distance. I sat for a while taking in the view.

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View towards Richmond

The journey back was harder. My feet suddenly felt the 19,884 steps (according to my Samsung Health app) I’d taken and my lack of preparation meant I was in dire need of a drink. Barely pausing, I power-marched back to the lock, reliving all the beauty of my walk there and being startled by squirrels who interrupted my path.

After walking roughly ten miles, I collapsed on my bed, tired but feeling wonderfully fulfilled.

 

Lake District Chronicles: 7

I had become interested in Wainwright and his exploration of the Lake District so settled on Orrest Head as our destination – the view from which sparked Wainwright’s decision to extensively map out all of the fells.

Bowness-on-Windermere and Orrest Head

“…quite suddenly, we emerged from the trees and were on a bare headland, and, as though a curtain had dramatically been torn aside, beheld a truly magnificent view…” – Alfred Wainwright

Image of trees along Sheriff's Walk and Mill Beck
Sheriff’s Walk and Mill Beck

In my third year of university, I made the best decision to become a fresher’s rep. I met a fantastic group of people – who were all interested in exploring the Lakes!

Image of Mill Beck from Sheriff's Walk
Mill Beck from Sheriff’s Walk

 

As an extension of their Fresher’s Week, I planned a trip to Windermere.

Windermere has often been a connecting point as I journey on to elsewhere in the Lakes, but is just as beautiful – if not quite so spectacular as further north.

I had also become interested in Wainwright and his exploration of the Lake District so settled on Orrest Head – the view from which sparked Wainwright’s decision to extensively map out all of the fells.

Image of Waterfalls on Mill Beck from Sheriff's Walk
Waterfall

However, before climbing the fell, we decided to head towards the lakeside and took a shortcut via a number of hidden waterfalls I had found on a previous trip. The footpath is called Sheriff’s Walk and branches from the main road to Bowness-on-Windermere (Lake Road) and takes you down towards Bowness and Lake Windermere.

The walk was beautiful as we wandered through trees and the autumnal colours, with the constant melody of the river.  There are a number of waterfalls as Mill Beck travels towards Windermere, with a considerably larger waterfall closer to the lake. We enjoyed skipping across “stepping stones” and throwing stones in the clear water.

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View from Bowness-on-Windermere

Finally, we reached Bowness-on-Windermere, which was busy even in October. We wandered along the lakeside and sat for a while in the park, enjoying the scene.

The weather was turning, however, so we headed back to Windermere in time to climb Orrest Head. With a few spots of rain and the wonderful smell of wood smoke, we easily ascended the small fell.

Image of View across to Windermere
View across to Windermere

There are some incredible views from various points along the meandering track, which begins across the road to Windermere station. But it is when you reach the summit that you can really see what ignited Wainwright’s interest. For such a small elevation, you can see far and wide – almost every inch of the fells surrounding the Lake District’s largest lake and beyond.

We picked out Scafell Pike and Crinkle Crags; with the distant behemoth of Great Gable just visible despite the cloud. Definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for a quick and easy walk with fantastic views.

Image of View from the top of Orrest Head
View from the top of Orrest Head
Image of View from the top of Orrest Head
View from the top of Orrest Head

View more of my Lake District travels by clicking the Lake District Chronicles above or to the right.

Welcome

Why not join me as I wander around the English countryside and take the few odd trips around the world?

Welcome to my blog!

For a while now, I’ve been sharing my adventures on Instagram: www.instagram.com/LostEnglishRose/ However, writing is my main love and I felt I’d branch out to tell you all about my travels!

I’m an English girl, currently based near London, who enjoys exploring the world around me. With a love of coastline to mountain top, I’ll be sharing some great walks and places to visit with maybe the occasional poem or two along the way!

Why not join me as I wander around the English countryside and take the few odd trips around the world?