Sunday 24 November 2013

Windermere Town, Cumbria

Up the road from Bowness-On-Windermere is WindermereTown.  Whereas Bowness is the main tourist trap for Lake Windermere, Windermere Town is more of a proper town with train station and supermarkets.

Parking in Windermere is easy with a car park close to the town centre and plenty of free on- street parking.  As it was a Sunday we managed to park on the street.  The good thing about the car park is that there are public toilets, which is handy after a long drive.  It may be 20p for the privilege of using them, but they didn’t smell and were well maintained.
The town itself is fairly self-contained with a one-way system, which helps the traffic as the streets are not wide.

Windermere has quite a few independent shops.  However as it was a Sunday and not a tourist trap half the shops were closed, including most of the charity shops.  Neil was somewhat disappointed by this fact. Then again visiting northern towns on a Sunday is always a lottery where shop openings are concerned.

We’ve been here a couple of times in the past and I was hoping to wander around the big Style Trading shop that dominated the town.  This time I was saddened to find it had now been converted into a Morrison’s supermarket, which is annoying as there is a Booths supermarket in the town too.  I used to love browsing the store for stuff, but wandering around supermarket aisles does not cut it for me.  I suppose it was on the cards as the shop with one of the largest floor spaces in Windermere, but these big supermarkets are like sharks snaffling up all the interesting shops and turning them into bland retail spaces.  It’s disappointing to see the corporatisation of the high street as it turns towns into identikit places.

Whilst it was a slack day on the shopping front, Windermere was doing swift trade in its various cafes and pubs.  The town is topped and tailed by a French and an Italian inspired cafe.  The weather was good and people were braving alfresco eating and drinking.  We were still stuffed from breakfast so we didn’t sample its delights.
Windermere Town proved to be brief visit in the end.  So in summary what can I say about the place?  It’s great for grabbing a bite to eat away from the hustle and bustle of Bowness, but not so brill to visit on a Sunday if you like some retail therapy.


Sunday 17 November 2013

Bowness-On-Windermere, Cumbria

You have to remember there are two towns by Lake Windermere - Windermere, which isn’t on the lake side but up the hill near the train station and Bowness-On-Windermere which is by the lake.  This fact has confused me before.

If you are looking for some retail action on a Sunday in the Lake District, Bowness-On-Windermere is one of the best places to go.  Everywhere is open and it’s always jam-packed full of people.
First and foremost, parking in Bowness-On-Windermere can be a pain.  We tried to get parked in the car park near The World of Beatrix Potter and failed miserably.  Bowness is a very popular destination and you really need to get here early.  In the end we drove up the hill towards Windermere and found a very tight spot on a side road at the edge of Bowness.  On the plus side it was free parking, on the down side it took me ages to squeeze into the space.
As we wandered down the hill the shops tended to be independent shops vying for the tourist pounds with their trinkets and hand-made crafts.  I can’t remember seeing any empty shop fronts and if there were any they were being refurbished.  Bowness is such a tourist destination you would have to be nuts not to be able to make a good living here.

The place is also full of cafes, restaurants and takeaways that even with the pickiest eater would find something to eat.
We were looking for charity shops and although we found a couple, one seemed to have closed down and had been replaced by a Pasty Presto.  That shows how busy a town is when charity shops close down to make way for new business ventures.
We dodged the traffic and managed to get to the edge of Lake Windermere.  Gosh it was really busy not only with tourists but also animals.  The ducks, geese and swans were busy mugging kids for bread and treats.  There were also a bird of prey sanctuary collecting funds to continue their work and they brought some owls out.  The owls were really beautiful creatures although I do have my reservations about keeping them in captivity.  I really hate birds being  caged or tethered, they are designed to fly and I have always been tempted to release them into the wild.

The lakeside was pretty impossible to have a stroll along so we found a little side street with a junk / cheap antique shop.  Neil found some records to browse through but they were just bobbins. 
Bowness-On-Windermere is definitely a good pit stop on a tour of the Lake District.  It has a beautiful lake where you can take a boat trip, there is the Beatrix Potter Experience for the kids, and there are plenty of shops and places to eat.  However the crowds can be pretty intense especially on a sunny day.  I’m not entirely sure if I would want to spend a weekend here, but without a doubt we’ll visit Bowness-On-Windermere again.


Sunday 10 November 2013

Kendal - Part Two

On our trip we have been revisiting different places and Kendal is one of those places.

I do worry about the town, in recent years it has become much quieter.  It was the last Saturday of the month and I was hoping to see a bustling town, but sadly not.  Where do the shoppers go if they don’t go to Kendal?  I’m mystified.
We parked in our usual pay and display spot near the Abbot Hall Art Gallery.  There was a bit of a nightmare with the pay and display machine as it wasn’t issuing tickets.  On previous visits we did notice they were very sharp with the parking tickets.  After an abortive attempt at phoning through to pay on the automatic payment system we just got tickets at the art gallery car park and hoped the parking attendant wouldn’t notice.
As ever there were plenty of charity shops, but they contained nothing too exciting.  We have noticed that a number of vintage / antique shops have sprung up and I can’t help but think they are regularly trawling the charity shops for goodies and reselling them at a much higher mark up.  That said we did find a vintage shop called ‘Junk and Disorderly’ and had a look.  I spotted some old music magazines called ‘Zig Zag’ from the 70s and 80s and pointed them out to Neil for a laugh.  What I didn’t expect was that he bought all 28 of them.  At least they did give him a discount for buying in bulk.  The magazines turned out to be a blessing in disguise, not that they are worth a fortune, but because of Neil’s enforced digital detox the Zig Zag’s kept him occupied during the holiday.
Kendal is full of empty shop fronts and I don’t expect them to be filled that quickly given the lack of shoppers.  Although it was nice to see the open air market in full swing selling not only the usual stuff but also local crafts and food.  Make sure to check out the little yards off the main street, as that’s where the interesting independent shops can be found.  How they keep going is anyone’s guess.
Public information alert!  The only public toilets I could find were in Westmorland ShoppingCentre.  Also the O2 signal is somewhat patchy – mainly GPRS, with a smattering of 3G if you hang outside a high window with the wind in the right direction.
Kendal – I do fret about you!  You’re a nice northern town in need of TLC, interesting shops and,  before I forget,  more shoppers. 

Sunday 3 November 2013

Cartmel – 100th Post!

I can’t believe I’ve made it to blog post 100.  So it’s quite apt the place I’m blogging about is my favourite place in Cumbria – Cartmel.

We’ve been to Cartmel before just on day trips, however we’d always promised ourselves to stay here.  So this year I booked Holly Cottage for late September, which is always a tricky time weather wise.
Getting to Cartmel is straightforward from Manchester – M61, M6 and A590.  Once you turn off the A590 to Cartmel it’s just country roads, not even B roads.  You do have to have your wits about you as there are twists and turns and the roads narrow on occasion.  I was nervous the first few times driving on these roads, but once you get used to them they are easier to navigate.
Our cottage was on the edge of Cartmel near Cartmel Priory.  It’s a beautiful location and the cottage overlooks a field.  The only problem was that it only had on-street parking and Cartmel can be really busy especially as the Michelin starred restaurant L’Enclume was just down the road.  A couple of times we had to park on the main road because of this situation.

The cottage itself was compact, but catered for our needs except it didn’t have Wi-Fi.  We didn’t realise that getting a mobile phone signal for the O2 network was impossible.  According the shop assistant in the Cartmel Village Shop you can only get Orange and Vodafone in Cartmel.  So it meant that I had to use a payphone for the first time this century to call my Mum.  We kept seeing people traipse up the hill with mobiles in hand desperate for a signal.  Although the Royal Oak and the Kings Arms do have free Wi-Fi, so we ended up spending every night in the pub just to connect to the virtual world.  I found it quite liberating to have an enforced digital detox, whilst Neil went through digital cold turkey.
Before you ask we didn’t go to L’Enclume restaurant.  We both have a few food issues and the restaurant doesn’t have a regular set menu.  Anyway you need to book months in advance to get a table.  They do have a more accessible restaurant called Rogan’s which is highly recommended by my best friend, but food issues again meant we didn’t try it.  However we did make friends with L’Enclume’s resident ginger cat called Ben.  On the previous occasions we had seen Ben the cat, but we only knew him as the Cartmel cat.  We googled him and found out his name and history.  Ben is getting old now and seems to have lost some of his teeth as his tongue protrudes from his mouth.  He did seem a little miserable when we were petting him when he was curled up on the cottage door mat.  However he seemed to be ‘on’ when he was sat on the window ledge of the cottage and he was happy to be stroked there.  He has a chilled out personality, but I always think ginger cats have a more outgoing personality than the average cat.

We ate at the Kings Arms and Royal Oak pubs.  Both the pubs have the same owner and they offer 10% discount if you get a discount card from the bar.  I guess it’s to ensure the locals eat here regularly.  I have to say the steak and ale pie from the Kings Arms was the best I’ve ever had.  My only complaint is that in both pubs they seemed to have some over eager members of staff.  At times I just wanted to say ‘will you just back off!’  I did manage to annoy one of the staff by interrupting him mid spiel to ask about the wine.  This really threw him and he tried to put me in my place by saying I will get to that.  That’s when I turned on the nuclear winter mode as I thought there was a hint of sexism in his tone.  Still the food was fine.
The Kings Arms really trades on its food and you really can’t drink at the tables until food service has finished.  They had a general knowledge quiz one night and surprisingly as there were no music questions we came 3rd. On the Saturday night it had a covers band on and I’m surprised they could fit it in, although there was a friendly bouncer on the door who seemed to be in his 60s.  He was telling customers about the times he used to do the door in Barrow.  Bouncing in Cartmel must be a walk in the park in comparison.  It really is a cosy pub and it mixes traditional pub with modern touches.  The Royal Oak is a much more traditional pub with its open fires and low beams. However the Kings Arms edges itself into the best pub in Cartmel position.

There are two other pubs in Cartmel – the Cavendish Arms and the Pig and Whistle.  We never made it to the Cavendish Arms as it always seemed empty.  On the other hand we made it to the Pig and Whistle several times.  It’s owned by the L’Enclume and they do food.  However we never got round to eating here.  We just had drinks although they did seem to have problems with the beer pumps as all the beer we had tasted of cider.  We ended up just having bottled beer.  This pub is dog friendly and we met a few pooches on our visits.  One retriever got excited when I walk through the door and jumped up at me.  Thankfully I’m used to over-exuberance from dogs as they always seem to like me, just a little too much at times.  One night there was an open-mic night for musicians.  There was an American bloke singing early Bruce Springsteen songs sounding remarkably like him, but looking nothing like him.  This pub attracted a much younger clientele who seemed to be on some sort of mission, even the bar staff.  One of the bar staff was an actor and had just got a part in a Sky Arts drama.  A London lady who sounded like Minnie Driver was permanently perched at the end of the bar holding court with the young professionals.
The shops in Cartmel weren’t your average shops.  The only real local shop for residents was the Londis.  Cartmel Cheeses doubled as a bakery and I bought the most amazing Danish I’ve ever had.  Although Neil couldn’t bear going near the place as he hates the smell of cheese and believe me it smelt really cheesey.  There was a wine shop that also doubled as a kitchenware supplier.  The Cartmel Village shop is full of food gift items and of course home of the world famous Cartmel Sticky Toffee pudding.  I found the best brown sauce ever by Hawkshead Relish, it’s even better than HP sauce. 
There was an antiques fair at the local community centre, which we had to pay to get in.  I didn’t find anything, although I was thinking this antiques fair was a rouse by the local pensioners to sell their bric-a-brac to top up their pensions.  There were signs across Cumbria promoting it and I was surprised they said it was just for a few days.  I bet it’s on throughout the year.
There is a river running through the village and young families would feed the ducks between Rogan’s and the Kings Arms.  At times it was like a duck riot going on and you could hear them quacking in the pub.  I think the ducks should have been nervous as Rogan’s did serve duck on their menu.

Cartmel Priory was just across from where we were staying.  It’s a beautiful building and when we wandered through it was full of old ladies preparing for Harvest festival celebrations.  It’s lovely to see a community come together, especially as they were trying to raise money to repair the roof of this lovely church.  The only problem with the church was the fact the clock chimed every hour of the day.  Neil kept waking up either at 3am or 4am because of the bongs. 
All in all Cartmel is about the loveliest place in Cumbria.   Grasmere is nice too, but overrun with tourists. Cockermouth is fab, but a pain to get to.   Whereas Cartmel is just picture postcard perfect, handy to get to and set in a beautiful part of the world where you can actually see the stars at night – well worth a stay!