Saturday, 25 July 2009

Day 13 - North West England Coast - Cumbria - Silecroft - Big & Beautiful

Cumbria is home to the Lake District National Park, the largest in Britain, containing 16 lakes and four peaks higher than 3000 feet (including the highest mountain in England - Scafell Peak at 978 metres), as well as the deepest lake - Wastwater, where I am going tomorrow.

Although Ravenglass, between Silecroft and Whitehaven (click to see on my Google Map), is the only coastal town in the park, the national park's beauty flows over into the rest of the coast.

I came across John Parminter's photographs in a local Cumbrian magazine, and you should check them out - they are exquisite snapshots of a much larger masterpiece.

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Day 13 - North West England Coast - Cumbria - Silecroft - Aaargh, I'm home

Silecroft (click to see on my Google Map) could be a place I've been expecting. Before I started this trip, except for one trip to Lymington on the south coast, I had never visited the coast of this island. I imagined the edge of Britain to be windswept and wild, mountains and hills falling to the sea, the area sparsely inhabited by friendly, charismatic locals who speak the local dialect, and full of cows, horses, sheep and border collies.

Panorama of Silecroft for full screen image. (That shadow is me taking the pic! Still need to Photoshop it out).

Since I started my trip, I've been exposed to some of the above. But never all of them at once. Driving into Cumbria I knew that I could be onto something. The Lake District is world-renowned, and justifiably so. As soon as I drove into the town of Windermere (on the lake of the same name) the steep hills enveloped silvery lakes, and quite country roads wound their way along dry stone walls. But Windermere is inland, as well as touristy, and I was looking for the coast, which in Cumbria is not as well-known as the interior.

Silecroft is on the southern end of Cumbria's coast. And I liked it - a lot. This is just my opinion, so you must please visit the area for yourself to make up your own mind, but I think Silecroft is a spot that Britain should be proud of - even though, at first, it seems slightly unremarkable.

There are only a few houses alongside a main road that leads down to a beach that extends for miles in either direction. There are two pubs, and only a couple of B&Bs. Behind Silecroft is a series of mountainous hills (if you know what I mean), full of sheep and cows, and Cumberland heavy horses.

There isn't much else. The wind blows (there is a windmill power farm just offshore). The tide comes in and out. The sheep and cows eat and sleep. Fishermen amble onto the beach and catch sea bass. Locals walk their dogs on the beach. Seagulls glide on the breeze. And there are no boutique stores, no supermarkets, no fancy restaurants (only one pub), and no "return-on-investment" Londoners looking for their next property deal.

This photo is called "Cumbrian Cow in Corner Composition"

Cumbrian sheep have it pretty good...

Cumbrian grass field...

Silecroft is exactly how I imagined the British coast to be. Of course I knew that it wouldn't be all like this, but if I had to pick a place that I had preconceived the coastline to be, it would be Silecroft.

Of course, place is only half of it. The people are the other half. You could travel to Papua New Guinea and be entranced by the rainforest, only to be eaten by cannibals. In Silecroft I was lucky enough to stay with a very welcoming family - the Rhinds. (And, of course, now I believe that ALL people in Silecroft are like the Rhinds). My mom would have liked them a lot, and that's a measurement in which I can place a lot of trust.

Newstead House is a B&B about 100 metres from the beach, on the tiny main road leading from the village to the coast. It stands alone in a field of long grass, which itself is surrounded by cows and sheep. You can look out your room onto the fields, see the ocean in the distance, smell it on the breeze all night, and wake up feeling like you've been injected with pure oxygen.

Paul and Alyson Rhind and their two sons (Adam and Fraser) and daughter (Eilidh) kindly invited me to eat with them for dinner, and Paul cooked me fresh sea bass, and Alyson servied me toffee pudding for desert (forget about any toffee pudding you've ever had - Alyson's is incomparable). I could have been at home, especially when Alyson said, "I hope you don't mind our crazy family". For breakfast Paul cooked me some fried eggs with cumberland sausage (98% pork meat, 2% seasoning - ie. NO FAT).

Newstead House, Silecroft...

Someone once said that landscapes determine the people, and Silecroft, with its slow-time feel, and people who smile and greet you along the way, is proof of that. It's a wholesome scene with people who are the same.

Paul and Alyson got me started on Cumberland sausages, and suggested I go to Bewley's Butcher Shop in nearby Bootle, where Willy Bewley makes and sells his locally famous kind of Cumberland sausage. It's a small shop, easily missed, so look out for the blue and white building on the main road of the village. Further north in Wabberthwaite, there is Richard Woodall's, who is the Royal Family's official Cumberland Sausage and Ham supplier. I bet the Queen sneaks into her kitchen late at night to fry up a few sausages...they are that good.

Further proof of the genuinely friendly locals, I went for a horseride with Murthwaite Green Trekking Centre, just down the road from Newstead House. Cath Wrigley runs her horse riding centre along with local girls who you can see wouldn't swap their jobs for anything in the world. Not hard to see why. They get to guide visitors onto the beautiful beach every day, riding horses that are as friendly as the locals. I dunno, maybe I was in an especially good mood (thanks to Paul's cumberland sausages), but everyone I met in Silecroft was someone I'd like to get to know better.

Go horseriding on endless Silecroft Beach with Murthwaite Trekking Centre in Silecroft. You can be a beginner horse rider, and not worry, because the guides are friendly and fun, yet always looking after your safety, and the long beach makes the horses happy.

...and ride some more...

Some other things to do in the area:

- Check out Swinside Stones, a mini Stonehenge type circle of 55 stones.
- Visit the RAF Museum in Millom.
- If you want to ride (or even just look at) the huge and heavy Clydesdale and Shire horses - the ones that are famous for doing the really heavy labour - go to Cumbrian Heavy Horses, just up the road from Silecroft. They are spectacular animals.
And for more, go to the official Cumbrian Tourism website.

Cumbrian Heavy Horses offer horse rides on these magnificently strong animals...

Day 12 - North West England Coast - Blackpool - Get ready to ride..

Blackpool is a city that is regenerating itself after a long period of degeneration -millions of pounds are being spent to improve it, especially the seafront area. But the much-needed investment won't be able to improve the scenery; it is not a naturally pretty place. There are more beautiful places nearby to visit, and I don't think even the mayor of Blackpool would argue with that.

If you want a naturally beautiful experience, the splendour of the Lake District is an hour to the north, and glorious Wales (which is perhaps my favourite region so far) is two hours to the south. If Wales is the buxom farmgirl who feeds you up and keeps you warm at night, then Blackpool is the shortskirted minx making eyes at you across the dance floor.

So although Blackpool is definitely not a place to go for a restorative beach holiday, it doesn't pretend to be a genteel, scenic spot, and it's entirely comfortable in its own loud and brash skin. There are certainly lots of fun things to do, especially for young kids and parents who want to be kids again.

In the centre of Blackpool's tourism is the Blackpool Tower, which is a must. It looks quite like the Eiffel Tower (although all comparisons end there), it stands 150metres high, and a lift takes you to the top for great views in all directions.

Within the Tower's building complex, there is a pretty average aquarium, and an old-style circus with daily shows. Kids will love it...there's a live swingband playing, and it's colourful and vibrant.
Further south, the biggest drawcard is the huge Pleasure Beach, a massive playpark of 150 odd different rides. It attracts millions of visitors ever year, and is the main reason why Blackpool - most folk may be surprised to hear this - is considered one of England's most visited cities.

The park hosts what must be the most thrilling rollercoaster in the UK, getting up to speeds of 120km/h, and dropping you 75m in a near-vertical descent. Nearby is the waterpark, an indoor complex withan array of rides, including one the kids will spend a whole day on: the brilliantly named Master Blaster, the world's biggest water slide.

And there are three long piers - north, central and south - which are worth a walk along. There are the usual curio stalls to have a look at. For more things to do in Blackpool, check out the city's tourism website.

The accommodation options in Blackpool consist of a lot of mediocre-looking 3-star B&Bs, a few chain hotels and not much else. But in amongst all the frogs is a prince. Langtry's B&B is a symbol of the way forward for Blackpool. If the town council did for Blackpool what David Webb and Julie Sayers did for Langtry's, then Blackpool will shed it's tawdry look, and become a very slick seaside city.

David and Julia moved to Blackpool a few years ago, bought a shabby-looking 3-star B&B in a road with lots of other similar B&Bs. They ran it as a 3-star for a few years, but soon realised how much Blackpool needed a world-class offering that would appeal to sophisticated business travellers as well as weekenders.

They've spent plenty of money and time converting to 5-star, and it is obvious. It is practically perfect. Decor is modern and minimalistic, and there are great touches like inspirational books by Edward Monkton next to your bed. Best of all though is the flatscreen TV above the bath in Room 3.

If you find yourself in Blackpool, check Langtry's out. It's setting the standard.

A restaurant that would sit well next to Langtry's is Kwizeen, a gourmet restaurant in a part of town that is certainly not suited to gourmet restaurants. But that's Blackpool..there are some diamonds in the rough for sure.

The night I was at Kwizeen, there were only two other tables, and I felt kinda sorry for the owners. Because the food was so good that the restaurant should have been jam-packed. It was an awkward experience sitting in Kwizeen, eating a starter of salmon, bearnaise sauce with a poached egg on top, and a mains of superbly cooked lamb, and wondering why no one else in the whole of Blackpool wasn't doing the same.

View south from top of Blackpool Tower

View north from top of Blackpool Tower

Blackpool Tower...

The girls in Blackpool...

A theme park in of many that kids will love!

Best thing in Blackpool...Pleasure Beach rollercoaster...dont eat noodles for lunch!!!