After the stifling heat of London, and the long train ride to the North West of England, the sight of the green hills of the Lakes and Fells was just about the most soothing sight possible.
The second stage of our England trip had begun, and I was beyond ready for it. It was hard to believe that the hills I was looking at I had last seen with eleven-year-old eyes, when my family stayed here for five weeks so that my father could preach in the little Congregational Church in Keswick. That time was a truly life-changing one for me, and one that will shape my life as long as I live. Being back there was like walking into a familiar dream, and finding it even more vibrant and alive than you could have imagined.
We arrived in Penrith late on Monday, and Mr. and Mrs. Foot were there to pick us up. This precious couple has kept up a friendship started many years ago, and have visited us many times in the U.S. They even made it to our wedding! Seeing their faces at the station was like seeing the faces of family.
They took us to their lovely home in Keswick, and we had an excellent “tea” with them, talking about old times while enjoying lovely pasties, salads, and toast. Over the meal, Mr. Foot reminded me of a story from when we were in the lakes thirteen years ago. After a particularly good dinner by Mrs. Foot, Zan (about thirteen at the time) said that he wished we had an older brother who could marry the Foot’s daughter in order to inherit Mrs. Foot’s recipes. Ian, (five years old) piped up: “No! I must marry Katherine!”
We shared lots of stories (and tea and pudding) together during dinner, and looked forward with delight to the next few days.
The next morning, after breakfast (and wonderful Bible-reading led by Mr. Foot), we set off to explore. The weather was somewhat rainy, but we were blessed to have a mostly sunny morning.
We stopped first in the lovely Rannadale valley, which is famous for its beautiful carpet of bluebells. Unfortunately we were too late for the bluebells, but the sheep, foxgloves, creek, fells, and general scenery were more than worth the stop.
The rain clouds started moving in, so we hopped in the car and headed to Kirkstile – a little pub nestled in the fells near Loweswater, and had a lovely lunch in an establishment that was built before our country was founded.
Mrs. Foot had heard about the 1000 year old viking cross at a nearby church in Gosforth, so we headed there to check it out after lunch. The cross itself was standing beautifully tall and ancient among gravestones larger than any I had ever seen. The cross was carved with a mix of pagan and Christian symbols, still barely visible on the worn stone.
Inside the dimly lit church were two massive carved stones. I had never seen anything like them before, so I was interested to read that they were called “hogbacks” – a sculpture form that was used in the 10th-12th centuries. They were beautifully carved with mythological scenes, and intricate patterns.
We stopped for a coffee as the rain increased, and enjoyed it in a lovely little inn – the fire crackling pleasantly and the drinks absolutely delicious. While we were there, we had an interesting lesson in the Cumbrian dialect, as Mr. Foot pointed out the word “sneck” in one of the ales being sold (see the explanation in the picture below).
We returned for a late tea/early supper, and by then the sky had cleared and the air was crisp and cool. We walked down to the water, and then back up through the village, passing the church where the relationship between South Carolina and Keswick started about fifteen years ago.
The next morning, the Foots took us down to Lingholm Estate – a farm right on the water where Beatrix Potter stayed often as a young person. Unlike so many of the other Beatrix Potter sights, it has not yet been entirely swamped by tourists. Beatrix Potter was one of my favorite authors as a child, and her connection to the Lake District, as well as my interest in watercolor and illustration has increased my interest in her as I’ve grown older.
Lingholm Estate has a lovely cafe where we sat in the sunshine and sipped tea and coffee, gift shop, and a whole garden made like Mr. MacGregor’s in “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”!
After our pleasant stop at the farm, we drove among the fells, stopping occasionally to get out and walk around down some of the beautiful paths. Near a farm where the “Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle” (another Potter) takes place, we saw a shepherd marking his flock and administering medicine. We stopped and watched him for a little while: it was amazing seeing him work so quickly and efficiently.
After we returned to Keswick, the Foots stayed at their house to prepare for the arrival of their son and two granddaughters, and Aaron and I went into town for a stroll, a cornish pasty, and some amazing gelato. We ended our afternoon with a row around the lake – the sunshine and cool breeze making it a perfect afternoon for an excursion on the water.
We left the next morning for Oxford, and the third and final stage of our time in England. The kind Foots took us to the train station and saw us off. As the fells and lakes sped by, I reflected on our time there, grateful to have made new memories in a place that had left such an impression on me as a child.