3 great sights seen
The last day dawns bright and clear but cold. Breakfast at the Cumbria Park is fine standard English fare and we’re relieved to discover the car has remained unmolested in the slightly cramped car park. Our first port of call is Hadrian’s Wall and happily Birdoswald Fort is just 15 miles distant, but we have to go there and nearly back to Carlisle again as it’s a spur off our main route. It’s a nice run though and we’re soon off the main road and looping through the countryside catching glimpses of sections of the wall in various states of disrepair, most notably at the village of Gilsand where the wall lies alongside the River Irthing. We approach the fort from the ‘wrong direction’ so are spared the visitor centre and instead sneak into an outlying car park, stealing 15 mins of English Heritage parking for free. It’s only a couple of mins stroll to a long section of the wall from there and we take a selfie with the wall stretching away into the distance behind us.
Back in the car we need a tank of diesel for the last time on this trip. At first we try and turn in a garage on the opposite side of the A-road heading back towards Carlisle, but it’s only a small 4-pump place, it’s very busy, and there’s a queue of oncoming traffic to cross to get there, so we take a punt that there’s bound to be a full-sized garage somewhere before the M6 which is just 10 miles or so away. Indeed there is, so with the car topped up with Shell’s finest we’re heading south again on the M6, destination ‘The Lake District’ and Lake Windermere. But not for long, as we ignore the SatNav trying to keep us on the motorway and funnel us into the tourist route to the Lakes, which would have given a lovely vista of motorway and dual carriageway for most of the journey, and instead turn off further north at Junction 40 and head down the much more picturesque A592. This road skirts Ullswater and climbs over the Kirkstone Pass before dropping down to Windermere. It’s a beautiful drive, punctuated by bursts of sunlight through rain-heavy clouds. Proper Lake District weather, and definitely something we can ‘tick off’. The only bad thing is that the GoPro camera plays up, running out of battery power just at the top of Kirkstone and therefore losing all the video it had recorded from the start of the Lakes. Boo.
From past experience I know that Bowness is the place to go if you want the Windermere tourist experience and true to form it does not disappoint, being both expensive and full of tourists. It is however right next to the lake, which after paying £4 (for 3 hours though) to park, we grabbed a selfie with the ducks and the steamer. We then grabbed a couple of seats in the window of the Bluebird Cafe and spent a pleasant hour or so drinking coffee and watching the world go by.
Alas we needed to be making tracks to our final great sights of the trip – Blackpool and the Tower – so it was back in the car and down the dual carriageway to the M6 for the 60-odd miles to the seaside. When we arrived, the nice weather meant that Blackpool turned out to be busy, with many queues for the vast outlying car parks. Not wanting to walk for miles, we took the car along the promenade looking for a multi-storey. We found one fairly quickly only a couple of blocks from the tower, though it was an absolute nightmare getting the car round the tight curves inside. From the outside the Citroen DS5 looks deceptively small, but from the driving seat feels surprisingly big (wide, especially) not helped by not having the tightest turning circle in the world and a bonnet that slopes away dramatically, so it was something of a squeeze to negotiate the concrete maze to the roof.
Eventually it was done, and we hared off down the road towards the tower in the late afternoon sun.
Our plan was of course to take a final selfie from the top of the tower, however two things put us off. Firstly there was a queue, which although wasn’t particularly long, had a composition that wasn’t particularly inviting. Ok, before you cry snob and I say anything else to confirm your view, you have to understand that I personally love the working-class tackiness of Blackpool, and am usually drawn to visit once a year or so to soak it all up, whilst Stu is ancestrally bound to the town and has spent many childhood days there. However, there was just something about the people in that queue that made you not want to spend time in a lift with them. Secondly the Tower were keen for us to part with £12.95 each to pop up a few hundred feet in said lift. I don’t wish to play the tight Yorkshireman here (largely because I am from London) but at 148m high this works out at about 9p per metre to the viewing deck. Contrast if you will with the CN Tower in the fair city of Toronto, which I am also cursed to have ascended and who’s lower viewing platform is over three times higher than Blackpool’s, and which costs a mere 4p per metre. Comparative bargain! Neither of these two factors alone was enough to kill the Tower plan, but somehow when taken together it caused us to exchange a look and simultaneously go ‘nah’. Or maybe the fact that we don’t like heights much might have played a part too?
So we strolled out to the prom to take a couple of pics for the record before we headed off back over the hills to Sheffield. Before setting hitting the big roads we made a short detour within Blackpool itself to pay homage to Stu’s ancestral pile (the ex-home of his grandparents). Once again this proved the old adage about how how much smaller everything from your childhood seems once you’re an adult. Anyway, with journey resumed at least the snappy start meant we’d now be home in good time for tea, right? Wrong. Despite a lovely, fast trip down the M61 followed by an entirely reasonable circuit of the M60, we were scuppered by the hellhole that is the end of the M67. For those that do not know, the M67 was supposed to be a motorway running over the Peak from Manchester to Sheffield. Unfortunately the after building a short section in the 1970s, the money and the political will ran out, leaving all the traffic hoping to travel between the second and ninth most populous urban areas in the UK to split itself across two winding, village-dotted A-roads.
Eventually after queuing at the end of the motorway for an hour, we chose the more southerly route across the Snake Pass, which at least had the virtue of being fairly quiet (not to mention completely dark by this stage). Sheffield was eventually reached, and after a shuffle to transfer all our gear to our own vehicles we handed the car back, a good 2 hours later than we would have guessed from Blackpool. It wasn’t all bad new though – I was still home in time for ‘Lewis’ on the TV.