June 22, 2007

Our flight was scheduled to land at Gatwick at 7:40 am, but because of that strong tail wind we landed shortly after 7 am. Despite not having had much sleep, we had to get off and go through customs.

That was straightforward and the line was not very long; we collected our bags and wheeled them along to the Alamo car rental counter. Everything was as we requested, so we got our grey Peugeot 307 and headed for the Lake District. It had plenty of room for us and our gear, in fact our gear fit comfortably into the trunk. We crawled out of the airport and into a maze of roundabouts. In a couple of minutes we were out of them and onto the main road. Unfortunately for some reason we were on the A23 instead of on the M23. It went in the same direction, but it was much slower as it went through all the little towns.

Eventually we passed over the M25, with no access to it, and merged into the M23, now going in the wrong direction. With some difficulty we managed to get turned around, and soon we were on the M25 going in the correct direction. Our plan was to go clockwise around London on the M25, then take M4 and M42 north to Birmingham and M6 north to the Lake District.

We had a mixed bag weather-wise, alternating between torrential downpours and low clouds. The motorway was very busy and everyone drove very quickly. We were travelling at 70 miles per hour—they still use miles in Britain—but the traffic in the fast lane to the right of us was whipping by at 75 or 80. This in the heavy rain. But at least this year Paul didn’t get the turn signal mixed up with the windshield wiper.

Just south of Birmingham the traffic started getting horribly congested, so we decided to take a side trip to Shrewsbury for a breather. The motorway to Telford was clear sailing and so was the A-road into Shrewsbury. We drove into the centre of the town and found a parking spot.

Shrewsbury is a lovely town surrounded on three sides by the Severn River. It is also a walled town, so part of our walking route went along the wall. We visited Shrewsbury Abbey and the castle, as well as wandering the narrow streets. For lunch we had a sausage roll and a pastry, then did a bit more sightseeing before heading on our way. It was hard to get a feeling for what medieval Shrewsbury must have been like, when all we could see was the modern town with Indian restaurants in the high street.

So we retraced our steps along the motorway. As we passed Telford it was pouring rain, so we decided not to visit the Ironbridge Gorge, where the Industrial Revolution got its start. The motorway north of Birmingham was still jam-packed and stop-and-go. It was very frustrating, and we were both very tired so we had to keep stopping to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. After Manchester the traffic thinned out and we could drive at a normal speed, but Paul was still falling asleep. Finally, about 8 pm, we stopped for dinner at a motorway service area near Lancaster. The restaurant was out of most of the items on its menu, so no pizza and no chicken curry. Rosemary had fish and chips with mushy peas (which she didn’t like) and Paul had chicken pie with mushy peas (which he liked).

Feeling much better, we carried on northwards. By the time we were finally in Grasmere it was well after 9 pm. Although it was starting to get dark, our first impression of the Lake District was wonderful! Beautiful meadows, lakes, and mountains. It was a little difficult to find the Butharlyp Howe youth hostel, because the road sign was only visible from one direction, but eventually we found it. We checked in and found that we were the first to arrive. We had room 15 in the building out behind the main house, consisting of two sets of bunk beds plus a little sink. Before long Neil arrived, having driven up from London after work, and finally Christine arrived, having been seriously delayed by flooding on the way down from Glasgow.

The hostel was very full, but we managed to back the car into some bushes at the edge of the car park. Then we went down to the pub in the village for a drink, but by now it was nearly midnight so we quickly returned to the hostel and went to bed.

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