Woman's Weekly's features editor Sue Pilkington enjoys a trip with her husband
My husband first camped in the Lake District in 1948, which adds a frisson to the phrase ‘my old man’.
Together we have visited, with and without family, since we married in the 70s. This year the two of us chose Coniston, the quiet village by Coniston Water, the most south-westerly lake.
It’s famous for the ageing Victorian art critic and seer John Ruskin, who ended life in Brantwood, his house on the east bank, which is well worth a visit for his collection of paintings, furniture and artefacts.
But the popular hero of Coniston is of quite different mettle: Donald Campbell, who broke more water speed records than Coniston has had hot summers, tragically died here aged 45 in 1967 attempting one more: his boat, Bluebird, took off at 300 miles an hour and disintegrated.
Campbell’s body wasn’t recovered until 2001 and is buried in the parish churchyard of St Andrew’s.
Water activities are calmer these days. There’s an occasional service of boat trips around the lake, principally on the steam yacht Gondola, launched in 1857, retired in 1936, rescued from dereliction in 1979 and rebuilt by apprentices at the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard, otherwise devoted to building Polaris nuclear submarines.
Its floridly carved Venetian bows are gaily repainted; its steam engine, boiler and stack still the power unit. Today, it’s run by the National Trust.
What I did
My husband’s legs will never recover from the injuries and operations they have suffered, but he enjoyed our short stabs at steep rocky gradients. And it set me on my feet again, too.
After the last two winters of floods, Keswick and Derwentwater were still inaccessible by car beyond the road to Grasmere.
So we went no further afield than Ambleside, a busy village that is more or less the hub on which the district turns, and to nearby Elterwater for its spectacular Alpine views of the Langdale Pikes.
Where I stayed
In one of a row of beautifully converted miners’ cottages clinging to the face of Coniston Old Man, the peak rising directly behind the village to 2,635ft, a hunched mountain god.
Our ageing Volvo workhorse took the slate-rough track and hairpin bends like a hero. Worked-out copper mines, extant until early in the 20th century, are further up the mountain. Views morning and evening of the sun rising and setting above the lake were unparalleled.
What I ate
There are a dozen or so Michelin Red Guide-recommended establishments in the Lake District but we took the food as it came, and at the new Steam Bistro in Coniston it came very good indeed, and at a very reasonable price.
We went on the A1 from Kent, mostly avoiding motorways, culminating in a spectacular A66 crossing of the Pennines from Scotch Corner in driving mist.
Don’t let this put you off: we enjoyed a week of glorious sunshine.