The one where we had a gorgeous Easter in the Lake District – Part 1

I’m writing my seventeenth novel at the moment (eek! how did that happen?!) and all the books I’ve written so far are set in one of two places: the fictional North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitsborough Bay or Hedgehog Hollow, a fictional hedgehog rescue centre in the Yorkshire Wolds countryside.

Last year, conscious that the Hedgehog Hollow series would reach a natural end point, I spoke to my publisher about adding a third location to my repertoire. I have the coast and the countryside already and I wanted to add lakes and mountains by setting a series in the stunning Lake District National Park. I was delighted when they said yes.

I love the Lakes and have been a regular visitor since childhood. My parents have been longstanding caravaners and would often take the caravan across to the Lakes – usually the southern ones. In my teens, they bought into a timeshare on the shores of Lake Windermere for a week in early February and, when education then work allowed, I sometimes stayed there. In the August before going away to university, my best friend, older brother and some of his friends went camping there and it holds so many fond memories. We won’t talk about the disastrous camping trip with an ex-boyfriend where it rained constantly, we piled the soggy tent into the back of the car and left early, our relationship ending not long afterwards. Not such fond memories!

Anyway, having secured the Lakes as a future setting for my books, I needed to do some research and we booked a week’s holiday near Thirlmere last August which was amazing. You can read about it and see the photos here.

I also booked for us to have a working/research holiday over this Easter. We spent the first week staying in Bowness by Lake Windermere and the second week in our absolute favourite place: Keswick.

As I have lots of photos, I’m going to divide them across two blog posts and this post is therefore all about our first week in Bowness.

We wanted to be central so that, if hubby and I were working, our daughter (15 and a half) could wander into town on her own from the cottage to explore her favourite store, Neon Sheep. Sadly, Neon Sheep – a gifting store set up by the owners of Mountain Warehouse – has ceased trading so that fettled that!

I found a holiday cottage called ‘Jessica’s Cottage’ so absolutely had to book it. A sign! It felt like it was calling to me. I had hoped to get a photo of me pointing to the cottage name but it only appeared on the gate and was very worn which was disappointing.

The cottage itself had the potential to be lovely but was a bit dated and unloved inside and we had a few problems with a blocked sink, toilet cistern not working consistently and a leaking boiler which put a bit of a dampener on things (literally). The sink and toilet did get sorted fairly quickly but the boiler needed a part and we had to put up with the leak all holiday which wasn’t ideal and I’m waiting to hear back about a partial refund. But this isn’t a moaning post so let’s move onto some photos…

At the end of a row of cottages at the top of a very steep hill, Jessica’s Cottage didn’t have a lake view but we could see Windermere at the other end of the row where it joined the road and I was excited to see a hedgehog crossing area sign on the way down the hill although I didn’t see any hedgehogs while we were there.

Behind the cottages were steep fields and we were able to join a walk up to Brant Fell where there are stunning views over the lake and surrounding countryside. This is the field behind us although our holiday cottage is hidden behind the right one of the pair of trees in the middle of the pic.

Hubby and I had a weekend in the Lakes on our 10th wedding anniversary seven years ago and we discovered Brant Fell then via a slightly different route so it was lovely to go up and see those views again. Shame the weather wasn’t better. As you can see from all my photos from week one, it was very, very dull and grey so the pictures don’t show the Lakes at their absolute best. When there’s a bit of sun and blue sky, they are breathtaking.

The following day I’d arranged to meet up with my fabulous author friend Helen Phifer (do check out her amazing crime books set in the Lake District here). She lives in Cumbria so drove across to Bowness for a scone and coffee. We’d also met up when I was in the area last August and we forgot to take a photo. Guess what? We forgot to take one again this time! Too busy chatting. It was lovely to catch up with her, though, although we couldn’t have done without the torrential downpour that started while we were out and didn’t let up for the rest of the day.

I booked the family in for a visit to Hill Top on the Monday which was one of Beatrix Potter’s farms and is run by the National Trust who have kept the house very much as Potter had it. We’ve visited before but I hadn’t imagined Hedgehog Hollow back then so was keen to return and couldn’t resist wearing my latest Popsy Clothing Helena hedgehog dress and taking my daughter’s childhood Mrs Tiggywinkle with me (much to her mortification) to get some hedgehog-themed pics.

That day we also visited Tarn Hows which is one of my favourite places for a short circular walk round the water. Last time we visited, the munchkin was only little – maybe five or so – and it was a sweltering hot day. It was a slight contrast this time although at least it didn’t rain.

The absolute highlight of our walk was a little incident with a Belted Galloway. There were several notices explaining that this breed of cow was grazing, like this one. Another larger sign had said they were very docile.

We hadn’t made it very far round the tarn when we came across several of the cows munching on the grass and a couple of them on the path. Ella, our sprocker spaniel, was on her lead and we gave them a wide birth and took a couple of photos.

But one of the cows which had been on the path – this one right here…

… clearly didn’t like posing for photos. As the hubby crouched down to get his camera out his backpack, the cow got closer and closer. ‘Cow!’ the daughter and I repeatedly said, perhaps a little unhelpfully. Next moment, the cow gave hubby an almighty shove on the elbow. He dropped his (expensive) camera, whacked himself in the jaw with his shoulder, and nearly toppled over. We shouldn’t laugh, but….!

The daughter moved well away with Ella and that seemed to placate the cow who left the hubby alone and joined its mates for a munch. No cows were hurt in this incident and thankfully no cameras were either although hubby’s jaw was painful for a couple of days afterwards!

We moved on to Hawkshead next where we had the most enormous ice creams. Mmm. Or rather the daughter and I did as hubby wasn’t too fussed. It was only a two-scooper but it was actually a bit too much for me. Definitely not a ‘little’ ice cream! Nice, though.

The day finished with a wander along the Lake Windermere in Bowness where I found ‘my’ boat.

Our destination for later in the week was Ambleside. We caught the ferry from Bowness and, once again, it was a cool and dull day. I had to take the photo that everyone who visits Ambleside takes of the little house on the bridge. If you’d like to know about the history of Bridge House, you can read about it here.

Our week in Bowness was rounded off with a trip to Brockhole which is just outside Windermere. We’ve visited several times and it’s a great place for families as there are stacks of activities but do book online in advance or you may be disappointed. We’d pre-booked for the daughter to go go-carting and decided to add her into archery on arrival but the only slots available were the very end of the day when we’d have been long-gone. The high ropes course is very popular but it’s huge so can take a lot of visitors at once although, again, I’d still book ahead.

If you don’t want to pay for activities (although you will need to pay to park), there’s a huge playground and the grounds are lovely for walking around.

Ooh, and they do the most amazing hot chocolates in the cafe! Nom nom nom. I will point out that they weren’t both for me!

We were ready to move onto Keswick, especially after the boiler problems, but couldn’t get into our second holiday cottage until teatime so we took a trip via Kendal on Good Friday which was fairly deserted, and then stopped at Thirlmere for a walk down to the water’s edge. The sun even made a very brief appearance, although the sky remained grey.

Did I end the week with some inspiration for my Lakes series? Sadly, no, but that – like the weather – was all about to change when we moved to Keswick. I’ll be back before the end of the week with my second post.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where I visited Nunnington Hall

Those who follow me on Instagram will already have seen a few photos but I wanted to share them here. Last Friday, I met up with author Eliza J Scott for a wander around Nunnington Hall in North Yorkshire. It’s not too far from the pretty market town of Helmsley and was a good meet-up location for both of us.

Eliza has visited before but I haven’t. It’s owned by the National Trust and you can find more details about it on their website here. The friendly guide in the entrance hall advised us that it is constructed of three different parts added over 450 years and was actually lived in as recently as the 1970s.

I’ve developed a love for visiting grand properties dressed for Christmas. There’s something extra special about seeing them dressed with wreaths and swags and trees, all gently lit by fairy lights.

Nunnington Hall didn’t disappoint with it’s first impressions. Isn’t it lovely? And that entrance is so inviting.

The grand hall had the most amazing fire blazing in it – perfect for a chilly day – but the lovely guide was standing by it so I don’t have a picture of it. I do have a picture of the lovely Christmas tree, though. Look at all those lovely gifts!

The rooms were dressed in different themes. If I’ve remembered this correctly a week on, it was Victorian, Georgian, 1950s and 1980s although I’m not 100% sure which was the Victorian v Georgian (or was it Edwardian). Don’t think I’ll secure a job there as a tour guide!

The low winter sun was streaming through the windows so it was tricky to get pictures but hopefully you’ll be able to get a feel for the feast set up. The costumes were really interesting as I’d always known that people were shorter back then but I stood next to the dress and the mannequin was much shorter than me and I’m only 5′ 2″!

In one of the bedrooms, there was the most delightful scene. The children from a local primary school had made Christmas trees from paper cones and there were fairy lights weaved between them and moving lights projected onto the ceiling. You really can’t get the feel from my photos but, believe me, it was beautiful.

One of the things I really love seeing when I visit stately homes are writing desks and I can never resist taking a photo of one and wondering if I’d have written books at such a desk if I’d lived in that era.

There was a lovely children’s bedroom. Look at those teddy bears. Awww!

I didn’t take photos of the 1980s living room but it was fun seeing the sorts of childhood toys I remembered like Sindys and the various games popular in that era. The Christmas tree was decked out with tinsel and baubles that reminded me of growing up too and there was a buffet table with some 1980s classic foods. Memories!

I enjoyed the 1950s bedroom and all the lovely gifts.

There were some art and craft exhibitions displayed in some rooms and I was in awe of how creative some people are.

When we’d finished our tour round the house, we retired to the tearooms and had the most delicious warm turkey & stuffing bap. It was served with rocket and homemade coleslaw and, tell you what, I’m still craving it a week later. It was absolutely delicious. And I couldn’t resist a hot chocolate and a piece of Victoria sponge too, although I completely forgot to take photos in my eagerness to eat!

We walked off our lunch in the gardens where there was a different view of the house in the late afternoon sunshine.

There were some activities for children set up and I couldn’t resist taking this photo of an adorable hedgehog illustration on one of them. I was also fascinated to spot one of the groundskeepers cutting down mistletoe from one of the trees. I’ve actually never seen mistletoe growing in the wild myself and the trees were covered in it. I took a photo but it hasn’t come out that well. You can just make out the clumps top right, bottom left and in the middle.

All too soon, it was time to leave but, on the way out, we spotted some more activities and couldn’t resist a go on the welly wanging! With a throw of a pair of wellington boots, I managed to knock over all the skittles which was pretty surprising considering I’ve never done that before. Eliza managed all but one so we both uncovered an unexpected ‘talent’. Who knew?!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

The one where it’s a beautiful day on the North Yorkshire Coast

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Our sprocker spaniel, Ella, has recently turned four and pictures of her as a puppy have been cropping up on my memories on my Facebook timeline. When we made the decision to have a dog – a first for me – I’d been working from home as a distance learning HR Tutor for over a year. I thought that having a dog to walk would provide the perfect excuse for a break from the computer, would give me a reason to leave the house each day, and would provide some much-needed exercise before my bottom expanded beyond the size of Brazil a la Bridget Jones. The reality was that my working day was too long and the dog-walking quickly became the responsibility of hubby who also works from home but has a job that is slightly less demanding on hours than mine. So the bottom did continue to expand and is now the size of South America, never mind Brazil!

IMG_8166At the start of lockdown, I resolved to get outside for a family walk with Ella each day, in-keeping with the government’s guidelines around exercising once a day and keeping a safe distance from anyone else doing the same. I managed a few walks during the first week and it was lovely but I hadn’t quite appreciated the impact lockdown would have on my workload. Students who have been furloughed or have sadly lost their jobs are at home with the opportunity to knuckle down and study, those who are still working are no longer going out on weekends or evenings so they’re studying too. And a stack of new students have enrolled. My workload has gone through the roof. I often struggled to fit writing around it and now it’s even more of a challenge. I know I’m fortunate that I still have my job – which is just as well because I am one of the self-employed who falls through the gap for financial support, being a sole trader who happens to be set up as a limited company – but I do long for an opportunity to pause and take a breath occasionally!

So I made a big decision that, this weekend, I was not going to work on the day job. I don’t mind working 12-14 hour days the rest of the week but I needed a break and I’m so glad we did this morning because the weather is stunning on the North Yorkshire Coast although a bit blowy on the clifftop as you can see from the photo above.

Hope you’re staying safe. Wishing everyone all the best and I’ll leave you with some of the photos I took earlier. The Yorkshire Coast welcomes you to visit and explore its beauty as soon as we’re through this but hope you enjoy a few photos in the meantime.

Jessica xx

The Cleveland Way passes along the clifftop just 5-7 minutes walk from our house. We didn’t take the path down to the beach today but probably will do one day soon:

The north and south ends of Cayton Bay. We could see a few walkers down there. On the south side, there are some WWII ‘pillboxes’ that fell down the cliffs and embedded in the sand many years ago:

 

Ella found an abandoned tennis ball so had great fun running after that. We live on the housing estate just over that field in the middle photo and are so lucky to have this on our doorstep:

This bench fascinated me. It would once have had such a stunning view but it’s become somewhat overgrown over the years:

One of the gardens in the houses overlooking the sea has the most amazing treehouse in it. Would have loved a treehouse when I was a kid. Actually, scrap the kid bit. Would love one now! xx