The good thing about having a birthday so close to Christmas is that it’s easy to get away from it all – while everyone else is last minute shopping or decking their halls, while the Christmas and New Year breakers haven’t started packing, the hotels are virtually empty.
This year Ron and I decided to head for a remote part of the Lake District and stay in a hotel in the middle of nowhere. It’s a romantic kind of place, with a lounge complete with winged armchairs and a roaring fire, and brass beds in every room – I mean, just look at it – I couldn’t wait. The plan was to arrive on Friday night and head out on the hill the next day for a birthday walk over Crinkle Crags.
That was the plan, but December weather being what it is a fall back position is vital. We’d thought about checking out the opposition at Sellafield, but it’s closed on weekends. We could wander around the outdoor shops, pubs and tearooms of Ambleside. And if it was wet but not actually raining we could go and out and take photos of something.
The weather forecast warned of blizzards, melting snow, heavy rain and flash floods – not the best conditions for mountain hiking. So in the car on the way up there, Ron presented me with a list of waterfalls we could visit and photograph in full flow if we couldn’t get out and climb mountains. I was impressed by his foresight and put the papers in the pocket of the car door.
We made good progress for much of the way until a hold up signalled the first of the many challenges we were to encounter. A car was stuck in a flooded stretch of road but we got through it. Little did we know that it was the first of countless flooded stretches up to two feet deep in places. In the worst we met a car coming towards us and a wave broke over the top of our car, blinding us and sending us scuttling sideways. With drystone walls lining both sides of the narrow road, it was a miracle that we didn’t crash into something.
But after a nerve-racking 40 minute drive through flooded roads we got to the Old Dungeon Ghyll intact – the only damage was the loss of the list of waterfalls which flew out of the door caught by the high winds and driving rain the minute we’d parked up and got out.
We left our stuff in our attic room and headed for the residents bar where we met the members of Coniston Mountain Rescue who were having a Christmas meal and ceilidh in the dining room. They invited us to join them but we stayed in the bar and sampled the local ales. After the drive, I couldn’t take any more excitement that evening.
I woke up on my birthday to grey skies and a pile of gifts. Somehow Ron had managed to get hold some amazing presents including a leather case for Vlad, and an old school Polaroid Land Camera that came with a gorgeous flashgun (I just need to get my hands on some flashbulbs).
Th birthday walk didn’t really get off the ground – in truth it got around 1,000 feet off the ground before rain stopped play and we headed off for tea and free wifi in Ambleside. Did I mention that our hotel was so away from it all that here was no internet, no mobile phone or television reception? And on Sunday morning the landlines went down too, which meant we couldn’t actually pay our bill.
On Sunday morning there were gale force winds and the hotel staff were about to send out a search party for the only other guests before we told them we’d seen them come back the night before. But we were lucky, though the wind howled along the valley so that in our hotel room the roof creaked and shook and it sounded like an avalanche was approaching, the winds died down and we managed to chase one more waterfall and take a ferry journey across Lake Windermere before the rain came bucketing down and we headed for home.
All in all, a taxtbook birthday.