11 June 2011

On a clear day you can see to Penrith

My trip to Manchester wasn't all relaxation and train-station-based theatre, my friends, oh no. It was also a serious business trip that had me visiting the Photon Science Institute to have a stickybeak, meet prospective collaborators, give a presentation and paint myself as generally competent and good drinking company in case they feel like handing out postdoctoral appointments soon. And so on Wednesday we set out for the uni in classic Craig fashion, i.e., unsure of where the building is, exactly, and what it's called. Fortunately I had my contact's number written down and we didn't have problems. In short, the visit was very good, and my presentation was fine, and Nija, ever the fan of science, came along too, wearing her new T-Rex necklace. Nija sat down in the third row or so, amidst the people of the Institute.

Ensued a play:

by CMJ


G: (smarmily, eyebrow cocked) Heh-looooo, are you a student at the Institute?
N: (chipperly) No, that's my sweetheart up there! The ginger!
G folds his arms and slumps into his chair.
N: So are you a student here? What do you do?
G: Nothing. It's complicated. Whatever. Mumbles.

Exeunt omnes.

A true slice of life! Oh well, can't win them all.

Anyhow, we set out after the visit to one of England's classic destinations, the Lake District (or possibly the Lakes District), famous for astounding scenery, quaint villagelets and rakish authors who died more than a century ago, like Wordsworth and Thomas de Quincey. It's about an hour north of Manchester, so in Sydney terms it's in metropolitan Manchester. We set out on our journey in classic Craig fashion, i.e., I had looked at the map (as we sat in the car before leaving) and kept telling myself the numbers of the motorways we needed to take, but didn't write it down as I thought "It's only two numbers, how can I forget?" Well, first we got stuck in traffic (or we participated in traffic, as it were) on the Ring Road for an hour just trying to get to the other side of town. Second, all the motorways leaving Manchester are sixty-something, so I just basically got mixed up between 61 and 66.

A good 30 minutes into our journey up the 66, the thing terminated and put us onto a surface street. I was trying to get to the M6. Something was amiss. Nija had to drag out the map, which she hates being responsible for, and I wound up agitated and not very friendly about getting us to the 61, so we could get to the 6. It wasn't pretty, and I was sorry, and I encourage you to write things down, reader, lest you wake your partner from a pleasant doze to give her bad news and then have her fix it.

We did get to the 61 (thanks, darling) and then to the 6, and then wound our way up past wind turbines and through lovely countryside into Cumbria and the hamlets of the Lakes. Fortunately, summer was on its way to the North and so it was light out until about 10PM---fantastic---so even though it took us twice as long to get there than expected and even though we'd left in mid-afternoon, we could still take in the epic landscapes and mirrored surfaces of the lakes, meres, tarns, sluices, estuaries, wassers, fjords, estanques, pozos, billabongs, and whatever else they call ponds up there in that part of the shop.

On a friend's recommendation, we planned to stay in Grasmere, a village about 20 minutes beyond Windermere, "the Katoomba of the Lakes". We got there and checked ourselves into a comfortable guest house, headed into the dark for a pub meal, then returned with wine.

Next morning we were surprised to find that someone had been making sacrifices to the god of good weather; despite the rainy week we'd had in Manchester we got one of the Lakes' elusive beautiful days. We packed up some of the food we'd brought from the city, had some breakfast, picked up some maps, and headed out according to one of them on a several-hour walk around Grasmere lake. Fifteen minutes later, we still hadn't gotten out of Grasmere, because we couldn't figure out where, exactly, the map was telling us to start. I suppose it was more of a set of vague instructions than a "map", per se. Eventually, thanks to the help of a kindly hotel receptionist, we were on the right track.

I don't know what to say about the walk, which was without incident. These pictures say it much more eloquently:

And so on!

Also featured were these guys:

It was indeed an excellent walk, and by the time we got back to Grasmere we were in need of some tea and cake, which fortunately were available at the tea and cake shop. Afterward we grabbed our car and toodled up toward Penrith, capital of the Eastern Lake District. We were hoping for a scenic journey, whatever the destination, and my choice of a tiny little squiggle on the map to get there paid off big-time, with some harrowing driving and frankly unbelievable views. It doesn't make for good blogging, though, since we didn't take pictures; we just sat agog at the immensity and diversity of the landscape, from green pasture-lined hills to sharp, craggy, dusty ranges, all in the span of a few miles.

We made it to Penrith in one piece. For our Australian readers, this is the original Penrith we're talking about here, and let me tell you that it's quite an honour to set foot in the place that inspired our own mountainside metropolis. One can see why some voyager might have longed for his home such that he decided to spawn a new one. There is a nice clock tower.

And note this in your travel journals: not a pub in Penrith has macaroni and cheese. We checked. But they do serve beer, and hot chips, and so we tucked in, and watched Obama give a speech without the sound on, and we headed back to Grasmere for a quiet night.

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