Sunday, 31 July 2016

Chartwell - the home of Winston Churchill

The grounds of Chartwell

We travel to Kent today on a high speed train from Penrith (Cumbria) to London Euston and then on the slow rattler to Hurst Green in Surrey. Generally the train service has been excellent and the fact that we can cover almost the entire length of England in a couple of hours is amazing. We copy the locals and buy food on the station platforms and not in the train 'shop', which is typical rail food and has probably been languishing on their shelves for many years! Our destination is Westerham in Kent, home to General James Wolfe (a British army officer renowned for defeating the French and saving Quebec in Canada during the Seven Years War. Clearly the British expansion into Canada failed in Quebec, which is now proudly a Canadian French quarter! Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during WW2, is nearby. We discover a lovely walk (3 kms), maintained by the National Trust, from Westerham through the beech woods to the house and gardens.
Walking means we can justify eating cream teas at our destination!
The home of Sir Winston and Lady Clementine Churchill is preserved as it was in the 1930s and is filled with their memorabilia, original furniture and some highly amusing letters written by Churchill to his minions.

Maintenance work is underway to replace leaking windows and make the building watertight. 

From that to this?




This is Churchill's contemplative pond - many of his paintings and writings were dreamed up here

The kitchen gardens

One of many herbaceous borders


Friday, 29 July 2016

Buttermere and Honister Pass, Lakes District

On the road to Buttermere
Today the sun is out and the mood of the landscape changes. The mists have disappeared. Starting at Cockermouth (a quaint town in the north-west and the birth place of Wordsworth) we work our way down past Lake Buttermere. The peaks and valleys look magnificent in the clear air.

Cumbrian dialect still in use

The sheep have right of way
 Much of the common ground alongside the roads and up the steep hillsides is grazed by Herdwick sheep. We stop frequently to let them meander slowly across the road.

Lake Buttermere
The roads are so narrow, there are frequent passing alcoves. We find one empty and park our tiny car. A lovely lakeside walk through fields of bracken into oak and yew woods takes us to the weir at the head of the lake. The reflections are wonderful today.
Lake Buttermere

Honister valley - the U shape formed by glacial action
Beyond Buttermere we go above the tree line as we enter Honister Valley. Deeply carved by ancient glaciers, the crags look too steep to climb, especially through the upper reaches which are covered in slate scree.
Honister pass
A very steep, narrow, twisting road takes us to the top of the pass, where the reopened Honister mine - the only source of slate in Britain nowadays - is open for visitors. We scramble to catch the last tour of the day into the old mine workings. It is an interesting experience. Peering into this photo we can see the new swing bridge and some climbers tackling the steep face of the mine. Neither are for the faint-hearted, so we head back to the YHA and a much needed cuppa.
Climbing and other adventure activities at Honister

Inside the Honister slate mine


A train from London Euston to Penrith in Northern England takes a little over three hours. Our fellow passengers all carry lunch in their bags - the rail service isn't renowned for cheap, good food and we're glad we stocked up in London. Penrith is a convenient gateway to the north east of the Lakes District (or further north to Glasgow or Edinburgh). An hour's driving takes you through the quaint, picturesque town of Keswick and on to Borrowdale, a remote hamlet deep into the Lake District and about as central to the lakes area as you can get.

YHA Borrowdale
There are many accommodation options from hostels, B&B and small country hotels. We are staying in the Borrowdale YHA, a comfortable lodge set on the edge of the Derwent River and very central to lots of walks.

Herdwick sheep

The weather forecast is not good. Our first walk is in mist and light rain. Undaunted we hit the trail to the nearby Great Crag, passing Puddingstone Bank and Dock Tarn. The views are wonderful (even with the mist in the distance) and in four hours of walking we see no-one. Oak and yew woods give way to heathland full of trickling streams - purple heather covers the ground and sprinklings of yellow gorse. The sedges are loving the weather and brush against our legs as we squeeze past along the narrow paths. We descend through more oak forest covered in moss. It reminds us of Tolkein's Middle Earth as the moss creeps over logs and rocks, sun can't get through the dense canopy cover and the rain makes it more spooky!

Cumbria is home to the hardy Herdwick sheep, which are unique to this area and have been farmed here for over a thousand years. They dot the fields and slopes. The wool is quite coarse and is used to make thick jumpers and socks.

Luckily there is a drying room at each hostel - essential for walking in this region and our sodden boots are plonked on the shelf to regain some shape. We head to Keswick for a cable to download photos - wrong one brought from Australia of course. Keswick is buzzing with people because there's a market on. It is the centre for walkers and the shops are all selling walking gear - great if you've come a long way and your shoelace dissolves in the wet.
Tonight we eat at the Langstrath Country Inn - renowned for its excellent food and beer and a mere 500m from the YHA. The food and beer live up to this reputation and we leave sated, heading back to the YHA for bed.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Getting ready in London

Before we head off to serious walking in the Lakes District we are spending two days in the very walkable city of London. The tourists amble along the pavements in a leisurely fashion and there are lots of us. Get ready to weave at the popular sites.

First stop was the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. A major renovation two years ago has livened the exhibits with impressive multimedia displays. The WW1 gallery is a somber reminder of the 100th anniversary commemorations taking place now and for the next few years. There are also exhibits to other wars involving Britain. The museum is free admission and is definitely worth visiting

These 1915 naval guns fired 850 KG shells over 16 miles

 Next stop was the Museum of London with its special Great Fire of London exhibit. It is 350 years since the disaster.  The museum also covers the period from pre-history, the Roman invasion through to the Middle Ages and uncovers lots of fascinating archaeological discoveries.

Bucklersbury mosaic - the largest intact Roman mosaic discovered in London

Monday, 18 July 2016

Follow us

Mary and I are keen walkers. We love nothing better than a hike through the wonderful natural scenery of south western Australia - where we live - and further afield to wherever our journeys take us.

Read about our trip taken in July and August 2016 to the Lake District of northern England, Wales and the alpine splendours of Chamonix, France.

Richard Allen and Mary Elgar
Mondo Travel