April&May: Staying Local!

I have always loved going out for a wander in nature and walking for a significant distance/time, but being allowed a 'daily walk' has been an absolute lifeline to me and reinforced how lucky we are to have such a beautiful planet to live on! We are especially lucky here in the Lake District to have such stunning areas on our doorsteps, especially in the nooks and crannies which get looked over in favour of our more popular areas! I am also lucky in the fact that I regularly explore my local area so I've been able to find some of the lesser-known pathways if I don't fancy clambering into a hedge every time someone walks the other way as to adhere to social distancing!

As we have to stay local, I have obviously been exploring the old canal path and the river which is right by my house, my 'go-to' area since I moved into my flat. I've taken the time to explore the areas this path runs through, and it has been quite nice to visit it at different times of day as to avoid bumping into too many people on some of the narrower parts of the trail! On the nicer days I've extended this walk towards Sedgwick, primarily along the canal path. My 'highlight' of lockdown (if we can have a highlight?!) was finding a quiet woodland just steps off the canal path which was filled to the brim with bluebells! The pathways twisted and turned around the silver birch trees which have grown with grace over time, and their shimmering bark contrasted beautifully against the purple dappled woodland floor. Only once on my many visits have I seen other people exploring this hidden gem, despite the almost constant background sound of footsteps trudging along the canal path! It is quite steep in the woodland which makes it seem larger than it is, but once you're up the top there is an essence of peace in the breeze and bird calls and the slight whistle of the wind between the leaves dominates the soundscape. One day when I was meandering through, it had begun to rain (despite the weather forecast stating it would be dry, in true Cumbrian fashion!) but the canopy above my head was thick enough that I was able to shelter just off the path whilst waiting for the weather to clear and take the time to listen to the wildlife going about their normal day-to-day routines. This will definitely be my go-to place for bluebell season in future years, but I think I may avoid it in the height of summer and visit again in autumn as I imagine the tree canopies will be stunning!

A main walk I have found myself doing quite a lot in lockdown, particularly on those hot evenings where I need to be in shade otherwise I'd melt from the heat, is various loops around the small estates near my house before ending up at the bottom of Kendal Castle. There's so many footpaths that make their way through the greenery which frames the castle on the hill that I have been able to have a little variety in my walks along here, including wandering up to the old castle itself, and it is also handy for avoiding the few people who have also come to this area. In amongst all the craziness and changes over the last couple of months, I've found another place of calm on these walks - the cemetery which sits underneath the ruins of the old castle. I've found it fascinating wandering through the older section of the cemetery where there are graves dating back to over 200 years old, some of which are dramatic in their design and stature. As this place is generally one of quiet and inner reflection, it has felt almost untouched by the pandemic, and a wave of peaceful thought seems to take over me when I step into here. I've seen some fantastic sunsets whilst I've been here, and I think the greys of the stonework have provided a stunning contrast to the rich pinks and oranges of the setting sun.

I know I have mentioned previously that a popular walk within our town is the Helme, a hill which looks over the town from the southern side. Quite often as I've been wandering on other walks you can see the Helme in the distance, with moving specs of tiny people passing along its top, and on the busier days it is reminiscent of an ant colony trudging along in a row. When it seems quiet up there, as there were several days during lockdown that the ant colony could be seen, I like to slowly make my way up and around towards the southern end of the hill, the side which is technically called the Helme! This section is truly peaceful, and the gorse bushes I wandered through just the other month were stretching across the tiny paths which were no longer formed of slightly squishy mud. Due to the better weather I have been able to explore more of the footpaths leading into the surrounding farmland and fields. Doing so has allowed me to find a well hidden bluebell hideaway, with a picnic bench tucked between the trees which overlooks pastures with farm animals roaming. This area is a slice of peace and quiet despite being a stones throw away from such a popular walk, the sounds of the walkers above are blocked out by the tree's overhead foliage and shrubbery camouflages you from the road which runs parallel to the footpath. You can tell by the path leading to this bench that it is rarely used, and after those short but heavy spells of rain we had the initial route could hardly be seen due to the new growth, making me even more thankful to have found this place during lockdown as I can truly be 'social distancing' here!

This footpath is part of a larger route which takes you around the village of Halfpenny and then back to the descent of the Helme. We discovered this route by looking for new geocaches to find during lockdown, and this was an unexplored area wedged between some of the first geocache trails we found. Starting from the Western side of the Helme, we made our way past the pond which lies in the central point between several farmers fields and began the gradual incline towards Halfpenny and the surrounding areas. Having previously lived near Halfpenny, I had regularly wandered through the little hamlet, but I'd never walked along the entire stretch of the little beck which runs through the village, but the footpath from the Helme led us on to this footpath. You could tell that this path wasn't frequented much, even during lockdown, so the long grass brushed against your legs in tandem to your footsteps. We managed to find all but one of the geocaches on our wander - but that doesn't matter as without the geocaches we probably wouldn't have discovered some of these paths, especially one which had a cute little bridge leading over an escaping trickle from the beck! Eventually the footpath led us back to our bluebell hideaway where we finished our flasks and spotted the landmarks we had walked past in amongst the rolling hills filling the horizon.

Due to lockdown, some of my relatives in the Lakes have had to isolate so we've been doing their weekly shopping and dropping it off for them. Once restrictions had been eased in May, we took the opportunity to explore the Rusland Valley when driving back from my Grandads in Coniston. He had given us several maps last year of the 'Greenwood Trails' which focuses on woodland and forest walks, and we had been eager to complete them! Having previously visited Low Dam Tarn and High Dam Tarn at Finsthwaite (featured on some of the maps) I knew the area was stunning and I couldn't wait to see what other stunning places were hidden amongst the trees! The maps were great as they gave you clear instructions on where your path would change, majority of these walks are sign posted along the way, and it gives you information of interesting and historical places within the woods as well as key viewpoints stretching across the Leven estuary, and in some places even the Hoad at Ulverston! As we have already visited High Dam, we decided that would be the last of the series we would do, and picked the walks each week based on whether we fancied primarily woodland or which points of interest caught our attention.

The woodlands of Haverthwaite and Finsthwaite heights were truly idyllic and just pleasant walks to do, if no a bit steep in places! The maps promised woodlands and these places really delivered - perfect as both of these walks occurred on days where the temperature was much, much higher than what was forecast (why is there no middle ground in Cumbria between soaking wet and scorching hot?!) and the trees provided much needed shade from the sun! The Finsthwaite walk took you around in a big loop towards Newby Bridge via Finsthwaite Tower. Despite the wide man-made paths in places, the woodland leading to the Tower felt like you were in the middle of a thick forest, and this was only accentuated by the fact that we didn't see a single soul on this walk! The woodland also helped disguise the steepness of the track which I always think is a good thing as it allows you to enjoy the scenery as you wander through it rather than just focusing on the ever-climbing path in front of you! The Finsthwaite walk didn't have as many viewpoints as the one at Haverthwaite so it was hard in places to gage how high up you had actually walked or where you were in relation to your starting point but it was lovely none of the less! It did end through a couple of fields boxed in with woodland that opened up to magnificent views of the Kentmere fells!

The various footpaths within the Satterthwaite and Oxen Park area have much more variety in amongst the woodland, the Oxen Park walk was the one out of those we completed we found to be somewhat lacking in woodland but it made up for this by leading you across the tops of Bethecar Moor which had views of the Coniston Fells and views of Blackpool Tower! Oxen Park did however feature an area which was a small but majestic forest where the footpaths led you over streams with tiny bridges made from fallen down trees in the area - I could just imagine a dramatic scene from a movie being filmed within these woods! The Satterthwaite walk took us from rustic woodland with silver birches and wild shrubbery to the left of us and thick forestry to the right as it led us towards Wood Moss Tarn before following the course of a waterfall back through another set of woodland. These Greenwood Trails walks are fantastic as the wooded areas that they take you to have all been preserved in their natural state and there is a special energy to be found in areas like this which simply cannot be recreated in man-made woodlands. Don't get me wrong, constructed woodlands are just as beautiful but no matter how hard the planters try, there is always some structure to the alignment and type of the trees planted within an area, whereas naturally formed woodlands are left to claim whatever space they wish to.

Our final walk of the trails which we managed to complete was the Grizedale West walk (we only have 2 to do in the Rusland areas to complete as well as revisiting the High Dam area) which takes you in a circular loop from towards Satterthwaite to besides Carron Crag. I knew it was going to be a good day as just before we arrived at the parking at the visitor centre, I saw a Tawny Owl sat on the wall beside the road! I thought I was imagining things at first but I managed to get a proper look at the bird before it flew off due to a car approaching in the opposite direction! There were several cars in the parking area and we could see quite a few people milling about but when once we were in the forest we didn't see a soul bar some cyclists towards the end! The tall trees provided great shade as the early afternoon sun began to warm up but allowed enough rays through that we could appreciate the good weather! The Grizedale West walk leads you along the otherside of Wood Moss Tarn which we had walked to on our Satterthwaite walk - we didn't realise how big it was on that walk - and spotted some footpaths which connected to routes we'd previously travelled so it would be intriguing to explore some of these paths to see exactly where they come out and what delights are hidden down them! We found a clearing near the path to Carron Crag which had views of the Southern Lakeland fells and we sat and enjoyed the view, trying to work out which hills were distinct against the blue skies, whilst we ate our lunch. Before heading back home, we took advantage of the shorter walks which frame the car park and features interesting sculptures hidden amongst the trees - there is definitely plenty to do here regardless of the weather and I will definitely be going back to explore more of this magnificent woodland!

Well, this post is getting almost as long as lockdown itself so I think I better sign off! I hope you've all taken advantage of staying home to find some hidden beauties on your doorstep, trust me there will be several wherever you are! Just make sure you look after yourselves and others whilst doing so!