North England’s Lake District and Durham

North England’s Lake District and Durham


Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with more of the
best of Europe. This time we’re getting to know the locals like never before…we’re in the
North of England. Thanks for joining us. Northern England is a lush land steeped in
a rich blend of history, culture, and nature. Traveling here, I’m struck by how man and
nature seem to co-exist in harmony… and how richly rewarding a visit can be. We’ll hike along an ancient Roman wall, play
a little cricket, and be dazzled in a Norman cathedral. We’ll meet the locals-and their
beloved dogs, and sheep…everywhere. Donning hard hats, we’ll tour an old slate mine. And,
of course, we’ll enjoy the countless hikes-admiring lakes, discovering waterfalls, and conquering
stoney summits. Great Britain is dominated by England. In
the north of England, we’ll visit Durham, Hadrian’s Wall and the Cumbrian Lakes District.
We’ll focus on the less touristy northern lakes-home basing in Keswick. The Cumbrian Lake District-just 30 miles by
30 miles-is England’s pristine, green, mountain playground. While not impressive in sheer
height-England’s tallest peak is only 3,200 feet-it’s long been a powerful magnet for
nature lovers. The charm of this area is, in part, the range
of experiences it provides. Stumble upon a surprise lake view. Then climb
over a rock fence to look into the eyes of a ragamuffin sheep. Find the perfect farmhouse
B&B. Then enjoy this Packhorse Bridge. And for a memorable lunch, summit your own private
peak for a picnic. This region gives even tenderfeet a chance to feel rugged and outdoorsy. Here in the Lake District, William Wordsworth’s
poems still ripple on the ponds. This is a land where nature rules, and humanity keeps
a low profile. For two centuries, this region has inspired visitors to relax, recharge,
get some exercise, and maybe even write a poem The Lake District is green for good reason.
It rains a lot. Experienced English hikers dress smart and don’t let blustery weather
keep them in. It’s rainy one moment and then suddenly gorgeous. As locals love to say,
“There’s no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.” The town of Keswick is your best home base
for exploring the northern lakes-which I prefer to the more commercial southern part of the
region. Keswick was originally a mining center. But the slate and lead industries eventually
gave way to nature-loving tourists and, in the 19th century, Keswick became a resort.
Its fine old buildings recall those Romantic era- days when big city folks first learned
about “communing with nature.” Today, the town is well-stocked with hiking-gear shops…and
pubs. The Lake District is popular with English
holiday-makers who prefer to bring their beloved dogs with them on vacation. Keswick’s town
square can look like a canine convention, and in local pubs, dogs are more than welcome. And we picked up a tip at the pub-a sheepdog
trial and hound show is on today and it’s just down the valley. Farm culture is still
alive and well in these fertile hills. From gritty shephards to gentleman farmers to curious
tourists, there’s something for everyone. While lots of fun and plenty entertaining,
competitions like these have practical roots. They go back to a time when agility and hunting
instincts made a hound truly man’s best friend. According to the program: a good Fell Foxhound
must have: good shoulders, long neck, level back, and agile hind legs to jump stone walls. The scene itself offers a fascinating glimpse
into this culture-from shepherd’s crooks to tailgate party dog talk. And the main event, as explained to us by
a local aficionado, is the shepherd and his dog bringing in the sheep as quickly as possible. Farmer: The Shepherd goes out, he’s given
a position where he stands by the post and he has to direct his dog out on the right
or the left the side is immaterial. Dogs, you can work with them half a mile away. They’ll
pick the sound up, they’ll hear you and they can work half a mile away collecting sheep,
putting them together, putting them into a flock and bringing them in as near a straight
line as possible down through the course, through the hurdles there, back to the pen,
hopefully nice pen, straight in, no breaks and the applause… Working a Border collie is like marriage,
it’s got to click, you must have confidence in one another. The dog will have confidence
in you if you’ve got confidence in him. It’s as beautiful as that and it’s lovely to work
with him. Keswick has plenty of good B&Bs. We’re staying
at Howe Keld which has the polished feel of a boutique hotel, but offers all the warmth
and friendliness of a B&B. Its contemporary rooms are tastefully furnished in native woods
and slate. Its breakfast is first class-I’m getting the traditional Cumbrian fry-complete
with local sausage. And the lounge offers a cozy and enjoyable place to relax and prepare
for your day’s activities. Good B&B hosts loan maps and offer plenty of hiking advice. Just down the street is Keswick’s petite marina
where we’re combining a short cruise with my favorite Lake District hike-up a dramatic
nearby ridge. Derwentwater is one of Cumbria’s most photographed
and popular lakes. Boats circle the lake picking up and dropping off walkers at peaceful landings
all along the way. From the dock a trail leads up along a ridge
called Catbells. The steep climb both burns off that Cumbrian fried breakfast and offers
some commanding views. Vigorous hikes like this are one of many reasons
the Lake District is such a hit with English holiday goers. This little adventure just
takes a couple hours and it rewards anyone who tackles it with a trip highlight. Get
out and make these experiences happen. For the rest of your life you’ll remember, in
this case, scaling Catbells with its thrilling “king of the mountain” climax. After our descent, we catch the boat at the
next landing, and finish our relaxing cruise around Derwentwater. The Pheasant Inn is a Keswick favorite and
David and Val who run our B&B are joining us for dinner. As anywhere in Britain, a good
pub comes with charming conviviality. Kids are welcome. And, once again, in Cumbrian
pubs, man’s best friend is perfectly welcome too. The menu offers Lake District pub classics.
David’s having trout, and I’m going for the rump o’ lamb. Rick: My image of pub grub in the old days
was pretty bad. David: No, pubs have taken a lot more interest
in food now. They’re not just the drinking Rick: And they’re smoke free.
Val: That’s a great improvement since the smoking ban came in. It’s much more pleasant
to eat now. A short drive south from Keswick takes us
through the very countryside that inspired England’s great Romantic poets. The greatest
of those was William Wordsworth who lived here, in Dove Cottage. Wordsworth spent his
most productive years-1799 to 1808-in this humble stone house. This is where he married,
had kids, and wrote much of his best poetry. In these cramped and simple quarters, Woodsworth
practiced his philosophy of plain living and high thinking. The adjacent museum displays original writings,
sketches, and personal items that give another peek into the life and world of the poet.
His well-stamped passport and his well-worn little suitcase are proof he packed light
and traveled far and wide. Notebook in hand, he wandered across England and through Europe
on what would become the Romantic grand tour. Until then, almost nobody climbed a mountain
just because it was there-but Wordsworth did. He’d wander “lonely as a cloud” through the
countryside, finding inspiration lost in the awe-inspiring immensity of nature. If appreciating
nature became a religion in 19th century England, Wordsworth was its prophet. With the advent of the industrial age, machines
were taming nature and factory hours were taming free spirits. The Romantic movement-led
by artists and writers like Wordsworth-was a reaction against this. Romanticism celebrated
nature…making it almost a religion. People came here as if on a pilgrimage. And, like
the poets, after communing with nature… they’d be inspired and reflect on the meaning
of life. While Wordsworth would likely be appalled
at the speedy convenience of it all, drivers can enjoy car touring. From Keswick, a scenic
20 mile loop south reveals the essence of Lake District charms. Newlands Valley is a majestic place. If it
had a lake, it would be packed with tourists. But it doesn’t-and it isn’t. The valley is
dotted with old, family-run farms. With tough times for small farms, most of the wives supplement
the family income by running B&Bs. Many farms in the valley rent rooms. I’ve been recommending the Keskadale farm
in my Britain guidebook for over twenty years. Margaret Harryman’s welcome is as warm as
ever and staying in her B&B, there’s no doubt, you really are on a working farm. Their son,
Sean, will some day run the farm. One thing he’s already in charge of is shearing the
sheep. Each of their 1500 sheep need to be sheared each summer. Rick: Why do you have to shear the sheep?
Margaret: Well, for husbandry reasons and for the welfare of the sheep and they’re sheared
when it’s warm weather and it’s a great releif for the sheep to be sheared But the fleeces are no longer the money-maker
they once were. In fact, recently, prices were so low farmers here just burned the wool.
Today, with new uses for this natural fiber, wool prices are higher so Sean and his dad
collect the fleeces into bales. Rick: Does it hurt the sheep?
Margaret: No, no, no it’s very therapeutic, it just glides by the skin so it doesn’t hurt
them at all. Therapeutic? When car touring, make a point to stop and
get out. From the Newlands Pass summit, take a rewarding little walk to a frisky waterfall. From here, the road descends, winding scenically
past a farm hamlet and to delightful Buttermere-with its popular lakeside trail. Our loop then
climbs rugged Honnister Pass-with its wild and weather-beaten charm. At the summit stands the Honister Slate Mine.
England’s last still-functioning slate mine offers tours. You’ll put on a hard hat …. load
onto a bus for a short climb…. then learn about the region’s slate industry from an
enthusiastic guide. Guide: What we describe that rock as is green
gold. It’s called green gold, because it represents today, the finest roofing slate in the world.
It is the number one, the Rolls Royce of slate. On that rock on the far side as we looked
when we were down below there are little stone huts that the miners used to live because
what we have to remember here is pre-first world war through the history of mining; if
you worked here, you lived here. Right this way folks…. Narrow shafts lead deep into the evocative
Victorian mine. You’ll be thankful for your helmet … standing inside the mountain, surrounded
by slate scrap and the beams of a dozen headlamps, you’ll learn the back-story of the stone that
roofs so much of England. Guide: Imagine you’re eight or ten years old
working underground for ten to fourteen hours a day and your job was to assist your father
and your elder brothers in drilling the rock. I think you’re going to get the hang of this
very quickly folks because you can imagine there’s somebody at the end of this one with
a large sledgehammer and each time you I don’t know about you, but a tour like that
makes me glad I work, and live above ground in the 21st century. Rick: “Freedom…….” Completing our loop, we pass humble hamlets
and the lush Borrowdale Valley-always open for serendipity. Coming upon an inviting gathering, we pull
over and find ourselves at a cricket match-complete with Cumbrian sausage on the grill and a keg
of the local brew. The gang gathered here bragged their field was named England’s most
beautiful cricket pitch-and I can see why. And this gave me yet another chance to understand
this bewildering national pastime. Rick: So the pitcher is called a bowler.
Cricket Watcher: Yes he is. Rick: Are you a bowler, our pitcher’s a bowler.
And what do you call your batter? Cricket Watcher: The batter.
Rick: Alright. So now is that a point? Cricket Watcher: That’s a fall. Fall runs.
If he hits it over the boundary which is the white line in front of us here, he gets fall.
Rick: You know, I’m still confused. I’m still confused. But I’m less confused than I was
a few minutes ago. Cricket Watcher: Good. Right. Well if anybody
can confuse anybody I can. Rick: Well, you’re doing a good job. These valleys have sustained communities here
for longer than you might imagine. Just outside of Keswick stands the Castlerigg Stone Circle.
Like a mini-Stonehenge drenched in Lake District beauty, it was built over 4000 years ago to
function as a celestial calendar. Imagine ancient people filling this clearing
in spring to celebrate fertility, in late summer for the harvest, and in winter for
the solstice. Festival dates were dictated by how the sun rose and set in relation to
these stones which were aligned with the surrounding peaks. For maximum goose pimples, as they say in
England, be here after everyone’s left and the mystical place is all yours. Leaving the Lake District, we drive east for
more highlights of North England. The road parrallels my favorite ancient Roman sight
in Britain. Hadrian’s Wall was built by the Romans during the reign of Emperor Hadrian
nearly 2000 years ago. This is one of England’s most thought-provoking sights and much loved
by hikers. This great stone wall stretched 73 miles from coast to coast across the narrowest
part of northern England. This was more than just a wall. It was a cleverly
designed military rampart manned by 20,000 troops. At every mile along the wall, a small
fort guarded a gate. Its actual purpose is still debated. The wall,
which often takes advantage of natural contours in the land, likely defined the northern edge
of the empire and helped defend Roman Britain to the south from pesky, hard-to-conquer barbarians
to the north. Today’s modern border between Scotland and England still runs pretty close
to this ancient wall. A particularly well-preserved segment of the
wall leads to Housesteads Roman Fort. Roman forts had a standard design: a rectangular
shape containing a commander’s headquarters and barracks. There’s little more than stone
foundations remaining-these stones raised a floor to give stored grain ventilation and
this was once a set of spartan barracks. Pondering these desolate ruins, I can imagine the bleakness
of being a young Roman soldier stationed here 18 centuries ago. Driving further east we reach the city of
Durham. With its famous cathedral, built by the Normans, it adds another layer to this
region’s history. As their empire fell in the 5th century, the
Romans abandoned Britain to the barbarians. After centuries of relative chaos, a central
government was re-established by the Normans who invaded from France in 1066. Along with
stability and a capable rule, Normans brought with them the prevailing European style of
architecture, Romanesque. Here in England, the style was named for the people who brought
it-Norman. Before visiting the church and learning about
Norman architecture, we’ll get the lay of the land. A sharp bend in its river protected
medieval Durham-providing a moat on three sides. Today the river seems to protect the
city only from the modern world. From this riverside path-much enjoyed by residents for
a peaceful little get-away-we can ponder the cathedral as approaching medieval pilgrims
once did. The tangle of streets leading to the cathedral,
while retaining its medieval atmosphere, is lively. The city hosts the country’s third
oldest university. Along with the student vibe, Durham also feels blue collar because
of its historic connection with the mining industry. For nearly a thousand years, pilgrims have
set their sights on this…the Durham Cathedral, standing like a mighty fortress. Built around
the year 1100 to house the much venerated bones of the great missionary monk, St. Cuthbert,
it offers perhaps England’s best and purest look at Norman architecture. The architecture is unusually harmonious because
the church was completed in just 40 years and survives essentially unaltered. Round
arches and zig-zag decorations are text book Norman style. Stroll down the nave to the
center. Gaze up at one of the highest bell towers in Europe. When the Normans conquered the Saxons here
in England back in the 11th century, they brought with them more than just their architecture.
They brought a whole new order. And this mighty church, way up here in the North, was more
than a place of worship and home for Cuthbert’s bones. It was an unambiguous political statement
to both the conquered Saxons and to the Scots further north. The Normans were here to stay. Grand medieval churches and the art that fills
them are a reminder that monks like Cuthbert were the intellectual candles who helped keep
scholarship flickering through the Dark Ages. Later, that knowledge strengthened the Church
and made wonders like the Durham Cathedral possible. While this fresco of the saint dates from
the 12th century, Cuthbert died way before that-in the year 687. The cathedral displays
the saint’s coffin and treasures that were buried with him. This fine Saxon sash was
embroidered with gold thread and silk. And this is the exquisit cross that this leader
of the early Christian church in northern England wore. For a better understanding of the cathedral
and its saint, we’re joined by cannon Stephen Cherry. Rick: But the cahtedral is called the Shrine
to Cuithbert. What does that mean to you? Stephen: It’s really remarkable that we have
the body of the saint from so long ago in our custody here as it were. So what we do
is I think we kind of bond with Cuthert’s spirit. We bond with that deep sense of history
and tradition that Cuthbert represented. He was a man of profound spirituality but also
very serious human struggle. Being close to St. Cuthbert means for me getting closer to
Jesus Christ because of understanding the way in which Jesus worked through the life
of this man albeit he lived sovery many centuries ago…
Rick: For 1000 years pastors and priests and ministers like you have been serving the needs
of this community. That must be kind of an inspiration in itself.
Stephen: It’s a very inspiring thing. You think of all those years, 500 years before
the Reformation, when the mass was being celebrated. Then a little hiatus and then the post-Reformation
church, that too was saying the mass, it was celebrating holy communion, the daily offers
here everyday and we’re still part of that. Rick: When you walk through the cathedral
there’s a feeling that it’s vibrant and alive/ Stephen: It absolutely is vibrant and alive.
We’re completely committee to welcoming all who come. We’re entirely committed to engaging
with the arts and celebrating the good things of life. That freshmess of mission is integral
to the life of the cathedral. As if to stress that point, the medieval Durham
cathedral is enlivened with art from our generation and from its community. This window gives
us a striking overhead view of the Last Supper. And this one celebrates the church’s 1000th
birthday with a sweep through local history and industry from mining to farming. I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip through Northern
England-from the pristine Lake District, along Hadrian’s awe-inspiring wall, to Durham’s
magnificent cathedral. We’ve been inspired by England’s fascinating past while enjoying
its charming present. As we’ve seen here in the North of England,
you don’t need big cities for richly rewarding travel experiences. Thanks for joining us.
I’m Rick Steves. Until next time…keep on travelin’.