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Monday, 15 November 2010

The Kirkby Stephen Poetry Path

The poetry path in Kirkby Stephen is an innovative and beautiful idea. A circular walk (takes about an hour and a half) with twelve carved poems along the way to commerate the year of a hill famer. 

The poems were written by Meg Peacocke and engraved by lettering artist Pip Hall into blocks of stone which were incorporated into walls and stiles or positioned as milestones at intervals along the route. 

Each one has carved decorative motifs which depict some of the activities associated with each month of the hill farmer's year. Kids can make rubbings of the illustrations so take paper and crayons with you.

A PDF map of the route is available from the the East Cumbria Countryside Project

pictures taken gratefully from and

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Cycle rides with our children - part one: featuring a fairy tale castle, billy goats gruff bridge and a deep dark wood

Now that our kids are both on two wheels we've been looking out for cycle rides we can do together as a family that avoid the trecherous Cumbrian roads while not taxing our 4 year old's little legs too much. Route number one is a winner on these fronts as well as being interesting, fun, and luckily - right on our doorstep.

Welcome to Lowther Castle. How about this for a country pile?

Sadly it's a ruinous pile. The castle built in the 17th century by the first Earl of Lonsdale (though home to the Lowther family in different forms since time immemorial), was abandoned in 1937 after the excesses of the 5th Earl, and the roof removed in 1957. It's fortunes are on the up though and a project is about to start to protect the facade and create a visitor attraction. Details of the exctiing project are available from

Our cycle ride started in Lowther Park on the road to Askham. We parked on a verge oppostite the castle, then headed down over a delightfully noisy bridge across the river Lowther, then through the autumnal woodlands to Lowther caravan park, where we had a sneaky play on the swings. Fantastic!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Spooky Saturday

Prepare to be spooked if you venture into Penrith this afternoon. The town is playing host to it's second Halloween festival. There will be live music, a ghost train, spooky carriage rides, a farmers market and a carrot cake competition. The town's famous giant will also be rising from his huge grave in the churchyard and will be leading a trail around the town. Sounds amazing, fun starts from 10am..

Bowled over by the Bowder Stone

The Bowder Stone has been a tourist attraction in Cumbria for hundreds of years. The huge boulder, the biggest in Cumbria, can be found in Borrowdale just over 7km south of Keswick. Throughout the ages people have come to marvel at the huge rock seemingly precariously balanced on one small corner. Some tourist sites say that the rock arrived in the ice-age from Scotland but there is compelling evidence in Alan Smith's 2003 book The story of the Bowder Stone that it is actually a local stone that fell from above. Whatever the truth it's a great spot, and lots of fun for kids to climb to the top.

Today it is free to visit, apart from the price of the nearby National Trust car park. Back in the 1700s it was a more costly affair. Wealthy Nottinghamshire man Joesph Pocklington - the guy who built the house on the island on Derwentwater, saw pound signs when he bought the land around the stone. He was the one who first installed the ladder up to the top of the stone, he also built the little cottage next to the stone to house a lady guide and tea room, and enlarged a hole in the base of the stone where visitors could shake hands (for a small charge) with his guide to "improve their luck"!
These days it can be fairly quiet and you might even get the place to yourselves - if you do you should try to imagine the hulabaloo over New Year in 1878 where according to the local newspaper of the time the English lakes Visitor and Keswick Guardian "The Derwentwater Fife and Drum Band were allowed to go on the top of the Bowder Stone, and when they were all comfortably seated they played "John Peel" (listen to it here) to the delight of the old lady who has charge of the stone". Now why can't we do stuff like that any more??
Information taken gratefully from Smith, A. (2003) The story of the Bowder Stone. Kewwick, Rigg Side Publications

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Fell walking for geeks

It's an age old quandry - in our house anyway - how to get that reluctant walker out onto the fells. One way we've found is to add an element of intrigue into the walks, intrigue in the form of hidden treasure, after all what small person doesn't like hunting for secret treasure?

We're talking Geocaching of course. the global treasure hunt that has taken the world by storm. It's not exactly free as you need a GPS to participate, but I figure that lots of phones come with it as an app these days, so I'm going to include it.

If you've never Geocached before, you need to go to the website and register with the site. Then search for the area you want to look at it and it will list the co-ordinates of the treasure caches hidden in the area. Cumbria is full of them - a search for a five mile radius around Ambleside brings up no less than 111 caches. They range from teeny tiny with nothing in (we avoid those) to bigger boxes stuffed full of treasure. The idea is you fill in the log with a note of your visit then take some treasure and leave some of your own (we're thinking christmas cracker type treasure here).

Some contain more exciting finds such as geocoins and travel bugs, these are trackable items that need to be moved on, so you take your coin or bug and move him to a cache as far away as you can and then track his progress on the web. These little guys really do get around, we've found an Australian coin and a German bug and we still like to follow them around the globe and find out where they are now. Yes we're geeks but we love it - there's nothing quite like sticking your hand into that hole in the tree trunk and coming across a little tupperware box of lovlies! Give it a go guys, but beware of the muggles!

A quiet place with a noisy secret

There are not many places you can go to in the Lake District without bumping into a soul, but we have a secret, a beautiful spot just off the beaten track, with a secret all of it's own. Bowscale Tarn in the northern fells near Mugrisedale is our special spot. It's a great walk with the kids along the valley of the Caldew, rising gently on a good solid path to the majestic hidden tarn.

This was a popular spot with Victorian visitors. Wordsworth talked about two immortal fish who were supposed to inhabit the tarn it in his poem "Feast of Brougham Castle" and a visit was on the itinaries of all the fashionable folk at the time. These days it is off the beaten track and forgotten, but it is well worth a visit, for the peace and solitiude and views, and also for the extraordinary echo up there. Take two children and suddenly it sounds like a playground full! So much for peace and quiet - but lots and lots of fun. We made this video clip of us trying it out, which kind of shows it, but not nearly as good as it really is........... we love to be NOISY!!!

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

We scream for ice-cream

We love Abbots Lodge Jersey Ice Cream Farm. With sixteen flavours of creamy jersey ice cream to chose from what's not to like? Ice cream isn't free you might say - well no it's not, but it's cheap and at Abbots Lodge you get the added bonus of really good indoor and outdoor play areas where you can play for as long as you like for absolutely nothing. Bargain! Make mine a double mud pie..

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Wainright for beginners

Our little adventurers are 6 and nearly 4 now. We've done our fair share of pushchair walks and ambles around lakes, the time has now come to heighten their horizons! This afternoon they did their first ever Wainwright - a very short but steep hike up to Walla Crag above Derwentwater and Keswick.

There are 214 peaks in Alfred Wainwright's series of books about the Cumbrian Fells, we've been thinking that it would be cool to start off doing some of the smaller ones and get higher and higher as the boys get older. We've found two really great free resources on t'internet to help us with our mission - the first is which lets you register and log your peaks as you climb them, and the second is - a photo diary of one family's walks on the fells. The great thing about Stridingedge is that it has photos of all the walks and a little map of the routes used showing where to park, it also lists the walks in order of height as well as geographical location - very useful for those of us wanting to start at the bottom of the list! So here we are - Barney and George at 379 metres on the cairn at the summit of their Wainwright number1 - Walla Crag. Good work boys!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Monkey business

There's nothing our little monkeys like more than dangling ten foot in the air from a bit of cargo netting, so in honour of them and all the other cheeky monkeys out there this summer holiday, here's our list of five of the best adventure playgrounds you can visit for free in Cumbria.

5. Fitz Park Keswick
Newly refurbished and bang in the middle of town, Fitz Park is a great spot to let off some steam. Theres a zip wire and climbing frame for the older children, not to mention a scary dangle by your hands type roundabout for the daredevils. Little ones are well catered for with their own sandpit, climbring frame, roundabout, and boingy things. It's well worth a visit when you're in town..

4. Fell Foot Park
Fell Foot Park is situated on the south shores of Lake Windermere near Newby Bridge. The eighteen acre Victorian park has been restored to its former glory by the National Trust and makes for a great spot to picnic. In the summer you can hire rowing boats and the kids can paddle in the lake. For an extra cost you can take a boat trip from the park across the lake to Lakeside where you can visit the aquarium or even taken a trip on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite steam railway. The children's adventure playground has been done up in recent years and is hugely popular.
Photos from: and

3. Whinatter Forest
A fab day out for all the family can be enjoyed at Whinlatter forest park. For less than a pound the children can try out their map reading skills on the rabbit run trail which takes them for a half mile walk around the forest culminating in a great play area. Big monkeys are catered for here too with the Go Ape tree top course up above, and hungry monkeys need look no further than the gorgeous cafe Siskins in the visitor centre.

2. Bitts Park, Carlisle
We love Bitts Park, it's a perfect spot for a summer picnic, with everything the kids could want from a park. There's a water play area, an interactive sandpit, pirate ship for the little ones, and some more challenging climbing frames for the older ones, our monkeys love it.

1. Brockhole, Windemere
Situated on the shores of Lake Windermere between Windermere and Ambleside the visitor centre at Brockhole has been owned by the Lake District National Park Authority since 1969.
Children are well catered for at Brockhole with an amazing adventure playground, and all sorts of organised activities and walks all year round. See for more details.

So that was our top five, what's yours? Have we missed any great playgrounds? We'd love to hear from you, add your comments and suggestions to the end of this post. Monkey see, monkey do...

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A nice sit down...

If like me you're a fan of a good sit down, you might like to give an Eden Benchmark a try. The Benchmarks are series of 10 highly individual sculptures that double as benches and can be found in beautiful spots along the length of the River Eden from its source at Mallerstang to where it meets the sea at Rockcliffe.

The sculptures were commissioned to mark the new millenium and involved ten different artists who each had a different take on the landscape around them. So why not pack a flask, park your bottom, and enjoy a day out full of art, natural beauty, and not doing very much. Bliss...

Pictures and more information on the sculpture locations are available at

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Who likes castles?

Who likes free days out at castles? We couldn't resisit this one. On saturday Brough Castle will be hosting a Roman Day. There will be a Roman re-enactment, story tellers, ancient craft demonstrations, archery, a visit from Lady Anne Clifford, fancy dress competition, falconry demonstration, medieval themed market, with local food producers, and medieval crafts and activities.
This is an event for all of the family, with a hog roast on site and a free bus service from the nearby town of Kirkby Stephen on a Classic Coach – parking is also available at the castle. Maybe see you there...

Love Parks Week 24th July - 1st August

The organisers of Love Parks Week say it is the perfect excuse to get outdoors and enjoy the summer, with hundreds of events taking place in the UK’s parks and green spaces. The campaign is designed to celebrate and support our parks, so why not visit your local park during the week to show what it means to you?

In Carlisle the programme kicked off on Saturday with Homebase, the people who famously transformed Carlisle Railway Station, working their magic again, this time creating a park on English Street, complete with turf, benches, flowers and giant jenga. It made for a welcome oasis for the weary shoppers who were making the most of it with picnics and games when we went to take a look.

A full list of events can be found at but in Carlisle the highlights include:-

'Into the Woods' at Talkin Tarn
28/07/2010 - 28/07/2010
Talkin Tarn Country Park
Flicks at Bitts
01/08/2010 - 01/08/2010
Bitts Park
Jazz Picnic in the Cathedral grounds
27/07/2010 - 27/07/2010
Carlisle Cathedral grounds
Nature in Bitts Park
27/07/2010 - 27/07/2010
Bitts Park
'On Yer Bike' in Bitts Park
28/07/2010 - 28/07/2010
Bitts Park Playing Fields, Dacre Road
Poetry Picnic in the Cathedral Grounds
29/07/2010 - 29/07/2010
Carlisle Cathedral grounds
Storytime in Tullie House Garden
28/07/2010 - 28/07/2010
Tullie House Museum
Tai Chi in Portland Square
30/07/2010 - 30/07/2010
Portland Square

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The scarecrows that bring the flocks in....

photos from

If you wander down to Langwathby next weekend you might be in for a suprise. At first glance the wedding in the church looks normal, and the builders sitting in the sunshine nothing unusual. But look a little closer and things begin to look stranger, are those pirates on the village green? And why are Dennis the Menace, Scooby Doo and Wallace and Gromit here, and more importantly, not moving?! It's all part of the annual Langwathby Scarecrow Festival, scheduled to take place this year on the 10th and 11th July. The festival has been running since 2004 and brings in thousands of visitors to the village. Last year there were over 150 scarecrows on display, with the winner, voted for by the public, being Raymond Wilson, with Band on the Run. His super cool scarecrow band came complete with flashing lights and beating drumsticks! This year, as well as the famous scarecrow trail, there will also be a farmers market, bouncy castle, and children's rides. Refreshments are to be served at the village hall, where all proceeds from the festival go, and include a bbq on Sunday. Let's keep our fingers crossed for sunshine!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Meetings with remarkable trees - part one

One of the great perks of being a librarian is getting to look at lots of lovely books. This isn't always so thrilling when you're an agricultural librarian like me - the joys of Mechanised Vegetable Production and Field Drainage Methods can be limited. But every now and then a gem falls into my hands that completely captures my imagination. And so it was last week when I came across Ancient Interesting and Unusual Trees of Cumbria written by Amy Bradshaw. It's a very small book lisiting 15 trees of interest in the county. I've got to be honest and say to the untrained eye some are slightly less interesting than others. But some are absolutely fascinating. We went to look at Number 13 -The Giant Tree today, chosen purely for its Enid Blyton-esque pleasing name.

The Giant Tree is a Silver Fir which was planted at the Armboth estate on the far shores of Thirlmere in 1821. Amy tells us that in 1994 it was 43 metres tall (141ft), and we're betting that it's lots biggger now. The walk to the tree was lovely, perfect for small people as it's only about a mile round trip. Park at the Thirlmere Armboth car park then follow the yellow spots for the Giant Tree through a very deep dark wood, with fairie steps, tumbling waterfalls and lots of trip trap bridges. The tree itself is huge, it's impossible to get a sense of scale in the photos. We lay on the ground and imagined how long it would take a squirrel to hop to the top!

On the way back down from the tree there is a ring of seven beech trees called the Cockpit where the sport of cockfighting used to take place before it was banned in 1835. Amy suggests that this flat, shadey spot would make a nice place for a summer picnic, but we thought that picnicking on the site of former brutality might feel a wee bit creepy. And speaking of which if anyone likes to be scared witless whilst in a deep dark wood you could tell them all about the ghostly goings on at Armboth House.

The house which has laid beneath the waters of Thirlmere, since October 1894, when the reservoir was completed, was claimed to he the most haunted house in Cumberland. Legend has it that two centuries ago the daughter of the family of the house was about to get married on Halloween, but in the midst of the preparations a stranger rushed into the house to tell the family that the bride had been pushed violently into the water and drowned. No one knew who had murdered the girl, but the bridegroom was suspected for some time. Afterwards on Halloweens strange happenings occurred. Bells would ring, furniture would move across the floor without human assistance, plates would crash to the floor, lights would appear and disappear, and even a strange ghostly form of a dog was seen swimming in the water. People say that even now on Halloween wedding bells can be heard tolling under the water. Yikes, get me out of the forest!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

A series of extraordinary events

I can't talk about free days out in Cumbria without mentioning Lakes Alive. Lakes Alive was set up last year to offer a series of arts and performance events in different towns across Cumbria. We've already seen human towers in Penrith, the lighting of Hadrians wall, cardboard box building in Carlisle, and giant fish and flying angels in Whitehaven.

But don't worry you haven't missed out on all the fun, there is still a lot more weird and wonderful eye-candy to come. has full details of the fabulous programme for the rest of the year. Look forward to the sinking of the titanic in Carlisle, bombs in Maryport, puppets in Penrith and giant pigs in Grizedale. We for four can't wait!

photos from:

Monday, 28 June 2010

The seaside town they forgot to close down?

Photo credits top row l to r: Midland Hotel, Eric Morecambe, Kite Festival

I used to be convinced that Morrissey was talking about Morecambe in Every day is like Sunday. However, a friend told us that the promenade at Morecambe was an excellent spot for learning to ride bikes, so one sunny Sunday we duly drove down with a boot full of bicycles. And the boot is where they remained.

Wow Morecambe certainly has changed! We spent an exciting morning watching kites fly above the beach in the Catch the Wind Festival and then chilled out with a picnic in the gloriously named Happy Mount Park HPC is an old fashioned park with something for everyone, from Sunday afternoon brassbands, to swingboats and a train for the little ones, and a brand new adventure playground for older kids. On a hot sunny day the whole family can have fun running in and out of the fountains in the aqua park. All in all it was a grand day out for nout!