– London, England to Carlisle, England –

Our first day in the countryside was lovely, if a bit longer than we expected. Our map told us the drive would be about 5 hours, but we still left just after 9:30am and didn’t make it to our hotel until after 7:30, including our dinner. We seem to be skilled at stretching out our travel time with random side trips.

We did not think we had time to run this morning, since we still had to pack up our things, but it turns out we would have after all. We sat in our hotel room for nearly an hour after we’d eaten breakfast and packed, just waiting until it was time to go pick up our car. What a bummer, right?

Picking up our car was not a big deal at all. It was right across the street at St. Pancras International, and we were even there early, though we still did not make it out until a half hour after our pick-up time.

A Welcome Break, one of many along the road
A Welcome Break, one of many along the road

Mark was still a little nervous, since he’d be driving a stick-shift on the wrong side of the road, but he managed to pick it back up pretty quickly. It isn’t that he’s never done it before, just not enough to call himself ‘experienced.’ He did really well, regardless. I think he just acted so nervous about it so I would set my expectations a little lower and not worry about the minor issues, like drifting a bit too far left for my comfort when he’s going along.

The worst part, of course, was getting out of London. London has a congestion tax if you drive through the city center. Since we only intended to take the car out on Euston Road and then up to Scotland, we did not end up paying it. We didn’t need the sticker anywhere outside downtown London, and we had absolutely no plans to navigate that mess.

Starting in the city really gave Mark a crash course in driving the manual though, I have to say. He was practically a pro by the time we made it out into London’s environs. Most of our trip today was just to get a good way to the north, which we’ve accomplished.

The Iceland sandwich of Great Britain? It is egg and avocado...
The Iceland sandwich of Great Britain? It is egg and avocado…

Along the drive, we encountered stops very much like the ones you find in the northeast in the US. You’ll see a sign that says, “services,” then pull into an area with a massive gas station, several fast food places, and restrooms, as well as other odds and ends. We stopped at several of them, since they are quite convenient.

We even picked up our lunch at one. The fast food wasn’t very vegetarian-friendly, but the little grocery store had a decent selection of veggie sandwiches, so we were able to choose from those. If you followed along on our Iceland trip, you might recall the avocado and egg sandwich that we kept having to eat for lunch. So far the UK has one that is very similar. Hopefully it will not be such a frequent meal choice on this journey. I’m dreaming of a few more options, myself.

In case you’re wondering how we’ve been navigating, Mark has quite a few maps downloaded to his phone. In addition, you can simply save a map to you Google Maps App by opening it before you leave your internet connection, although that’s a bit chancier. If you accidentally click out of the map in any way, it’s gone until you can find another internet connection. You can see how that could be a problem.

From a sheep trail on Thirlmere Lake
From a sheep trail on Thirlmere Lake

Our only real plan for the day, aside from making it to Carlisle, involved seeing the Lake District National Park, and maybe visiting Shap Abbey on the park’s outskirts. We didn’t make it until around 3, though we did quite a bit of lolly-gagging on the way there.

As an aside, I really miss my dog. Every time we get out of the car, I look in the backseat to check on her. She isn’t there, and it makes me sad each time. I was telling Mark that the weather was nice enough to leave her in the vehicle while we ran inside a service station before I remembered that she wasn’t even here. My mom says she’s doing fine, but the only pictures she’s sent are of Ripley doing things she isn’t allowed to do at home. I guess even doggy grandparents spoil their grandchildren.

Lake District National Park is an interesting one. It is 912 square miles, which is pretty impressive (but not enormous by some standards). Less impressive is the fact that it is filled with people and towns. It’s still sort of pretty though, even in the rainy mist.

According to Wikipedia, “All the land in England higher than 3,000 feet (910 m) above sea level lies within the National Park, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.” It did seem sort of hilly, but not particularly mountainous.

A service station that also has an art gallery, shops, and a fancy-type grocery store
A service station that also has an art gallery, shops, and a fancy-type grocery store

Our first stop was at the park’s visitor center, or “centre” if you’re wanting the local spelling. The visitor center is in the town of Windermere, The visitor center has what it calls the Treetop Nets, and by their description it “is an exciting 1,500 [square meter] park featuring giant trampolines, walkways, slides and tunnels all entirely made of nets. We didn’t go, but the kids we saw up there looked like they were having fun playing at being monkeys.

Overall, the visitor center ended up being pretty disappointing, and since the car park charged after 15 minutes, we hustled out of there without even a map of the park to just see what we could find on our own.

In the end, we stumbled upon a little pullout that led out into a sheep pasture where you could walk beside one of the lakes, Thirlmere. It looked a bit like it was about to run, so we hustled along the track until we could take decent pictures of the lake before we hurried back to our car.

Sheep startled by the encroach of a herd of hens on their territory
Sheep startled by the encroachment of a herd of hens on their territory

I was joking with Mark, since the woman parked next to us was wearing a jacket and a stocking cap, that it wasn’t even as cold as Alaska had been in the summer, which was true, though I was being silly. We’ve been wearing shorts all day and were totally fine, though I did wear a cardigan for the wind. Mark didn’t even wear a sweater. I guess the people here have an interesting definition of cold. I imagine we will be putting on pants eventually as we go north. We shall see.

We drove all the way up to Kendal through the park before turning east to head out of the park. Originally we’d planned to go west and then head back across to the east once we were north of the park, to get back to Carlisle, but we remembered Shap Abbey and changed our minds.

How very English
How very English

It took almost an hour to get over to where it was, and we had to do a bit of backtracking, but we were having fun, so it didn’t matter. It was after 5, so we fretted that we wouldn’t get to see the inside of the abbey, but being “inside” the abbey actually turns out to mean standing around in the middle of ruined walls.

The village of Shap was just off of the M6, which we’d driven most of the way up here on. We couldn’t get back on it to go south, because there wasn’t an entrance from where we were, so we took a few small country roads. They were very narrow and windy, and we discovered that when Mark sees a car approaching that surprises him, he tries to evade to the right, which is directly into oncoming traffic here in the UK. Muscle memory is a hell of a thing. Once his brain more actively registered what was going on, we redirected. Luckily we were going pretty slow so it never really mattered.

The remaining walls of Shap Abbey
The remaining walls of Shap Abbey

With me talking about the roads that we took to get to Shap, you might think those were the scariest roads of the day. They were not. The road leading down to the abbey were so narrow that if we’d met another car of several stretches of the road, one or the other of us would have had to back up all the way to a wider bit of road to pass. They were uncomfortably close, even for just one vehicle. Did I mention our ride ended up being a Ford Focus? It even has 4 doors. Mark was expecting something much smaller, and was vaguely disappointed that we wouldn’t be running around in a tuna can. I think it’s just as well, personally.

We made it to Shap Abbey without meeting anyone, so we didn’t end up backing up a quarter mile, for which I am grateful. Unfortunately, when we got there, we discovered that the abbey is under construction. The entirety of it’s tower is covered in scaffolding.

Mark's chickens. Unfortunately, he seems to think they are cute and still wants some of his own one day.
Mark’s chickens. Unfortunately, he seems to think they are cute and still wants some of his own one day.

Apparently they had a flood at the abbey last year, which is right next to a small river. The river swept away some of the historic masonry, and they were restoring the stones that had washed down river, and building up the banks so that it would be less likely to occur again.

Since they were doing that anyway, they also decided to work on the tower. According to the signs, they were tearing out damaging plant life that had made it into the stones, and on the top floor, they were sealing the stonework so that water from the rain would run off of the building instead of down into the walls.

Regardless of the mess, it was an interesting building, though I expect that we will see many more of those. Our Scotland plans include a decent number of castles. The Shap Abbey was originally built in 1199, and it was updated several times until it was disestablished in the 1500s and many of its stones were stolen for various other uses, including a building in Shap, the neighboring farm, and a nearby castle.

We weren't sure we were going to make it down this road if we met another car
We weren’t sure we were going to make it down this road if we met another car

To get over to the abbey, we actually had to walk through the farm that stole the stonework. Mark made friends with some sheep, and then some chickens. The chickens and the sheep didn’t seem to get along too well, as the sheep were chasing the chickens that had escaped their pen.

I called it a herd of chickens earlier, but apparently one can call chickens a clutch, a flock, a brood, or a peep. Peep and clutch typically refer to chicks, from what the internet tells me. The more you know, right?

Indian food so mildly spiced that only the British could've made it
Indian food so mildly spiced that only the British could’ve made it

We made it to Carlisle about 40 minutes later without incident, where we checked into our hotel and then ran out in the rain to get some Indian food from a nearby restaurant. So far, everything I’ve had in England that claims to be spicy is not spicy at all. It’s almost like calling black pepper spicy. I don’t think I’ve ever had Indian food that was so very mild, even with regular seasonings. Very strange.

Tomorrow we have a few castles to visit, and we will be spending our first night in Scotland. We’ve got plans to run, too, although it seems like there’s not a great place around here to do that. At least it should stop raining before morning. Yay for pleasant weather.

– Trip Total :  5,161 miles

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