Camping in Eskdale – May bank holiday

Gazing at the stars over the mountain peaks

Last year a bunch of us went camping in the Lake District, at Fisherground campsite in Eskdale. We had such a good time we did it again this year on the May bank holiday weekend. And we were lucky as it was hot, hot, hot!

There’s nothing better than relaxing by a warm campfire with a glass of chilled wine at hand and having hilarious conversations with old friends. And if the weather is great it feels like a proper holiday that you’d pay hundreds for via a travel agent. I love the smell of campfire smoke, even when it permeates all your clothes and sleeping bags. It’s a comforting cosy smell that reminds me of childhood Brownie camps and Bonfire nights.

This isn’t a review of the campsites we stay at by the way, just some diary-style notes about our camping weekend, but the campsite at Fisherground is highly recommended for family trips. These two munchkins below had a blast and the weather was fab, did I already say that in a smug kind of way? 😉

Fisherground campsite is in the beautiful Esk valley just outside the small village of Eskdale Green, and has a pub at the end of the road. The owners bend over backwards to welcome happy campers, even though May bank holiday is their busiest weekend of the year, they were still smiling as hundreds of campers arrived throughout the day and evening.

Fisherground Campsite, Eskdale

The campsite also has it’s own train station for the La’al Ratty, a miniature steam train which runs from Boot at the top of the valley to Ravenglass at the coast and back again. A must trip for everyone, and very relaxing sitting either in the open air coaches, or in the olde worldey wooden compartments which are under cover.

Getting to Eskdale Green is a fun drive, just as you think the last six miles will be a breeze, the road suddenly points up and begins twisting and turning at an angle of almost 45 degrees in places. Make sure your brakes work! If you see a sign to Hardknott Pass make sure you’re going in the other direction. It’s called that for a few very good reasons.

Camping paddling ponds

The children’s rafting pond!

It’s a fabulous camping site for children too. It has a large naturally created paddling pond fed from a fresh water stream that the owners have made into a watery pirates den. There are 2 or 3 old tractor tyres transformed into rafts with ropes and big sticks to pole each other across the pond by. There were a few Swallows and Amazons style games being played and even though the water was cold it didn’t bother the kids.

Right beside the pond is a great adventure playground in the wooded copse. A zip wire, more swinging tyres, climbing ropes and a couple of rope swings, one of which flies over the water, were all more than enough to make it a kids heaven.

The adventure playground at Fisherground

Rafting in the ponds

Trying not to fall in!

Trying not to fall in! (but of course they did).

Facepaint makes the pirate games more authentic.

Facepaint makes the pirate games more authentic.

Teamwork

Rescue mission to the Rocks

Taking turns to push

Taking turns to push

Fire pits, our essential camping requirement, were provided at no extra charge. A wheel rim balanced safely on a stone slab in the centre of our circle of tents, and the wood was bought from, and delivered by, a very cheerful man with a van, with optional marshmallows if you’d forgotten your own. The smoke from the fire is also useful when the midges descended in the early evening. Only a slight irritant as there was water nearby and trees of course. We found the local pubs even sold Avon’s Sun So Soft spray which is the only, I mean the only, lotion that keeps the little blighters away.

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The first day after arriving, we headed round the valley to Wastwater to gaze at the view towards Scafell Pike and fells, we realised we had headed went in the wrong direction and left the sun behind us in the Esk valley! The view is still spectacular under cloud, and it’s so peaceful, as hardly any tourists hang out at this side of the lakes which is further west of the more popular areas. More serious walkers and outward bounders can be found here.

WastwaterWastwater views over to Scafell Pike.

The next day we took the steam train to Muncaster Castle for fun day and even found a slow worm basking in the sun at the side of the pavement. I’ve never seen one before and they are very pretty close up.

Sam the slow worm

Sam the slow worm.

The view from Muncaster Castle grounds.

The view from Muncaster Castle grounds.

A bone-rattling ride on a recommissioned army truck takes you direct from the campsite up to the Woolpack Inn for an evening meal. You’ve got to watch how much alcohol you consume at the pub, as the ride back down can be even hairier! Especially as the roads are single tracks. Stomach churning.

Marshmallows round the campfire and a few glasses of wine with friends rounds off the evenings well. As soon as the kids got their bearings it was great that they all made friends and dashed from tents, to ponds, to the playground and the ‘mountain’ by themselves. All the larger groups of camping families were set up together in a separate field, presumably to keep any late night noise to a minimum, or at least all together but we found no unpleasant noise at all which was nice, unless we were the culprits!

We can’t wait to go back, it’s beautiful camping countryside, with loads of places to visit and things to do, and a relaxing cuckoo calling every morning as we woke up.

Whinlatter Forest adventure, a few years ago

Walking in Whinlatter Forest trails and adventure playground

One of our most favourite places in the UK is Keswick, and just up the road from there is the brilliant Whinlatter Forest trails and adventure playground for kids. It has a lovely big visitor centre, a cafe, osprey webcams , forest walks, mountain biking and the adventure playground it’s worth visiting if you’re in the area. The views over Bassenthwaite are amazing rain or shine and it’s just 15 minutes drive from Keswick town centre.

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We visited in spring time to take advantage of the café, and have an reasonable walk through the woods. The forest walks range from easy to strenuous but the one we did this time was just was 3-4 miles of trails, sometimes deep in the trees, and sometimes out in the open, past streams and  a couple of waterfalls. Plenty to do and see on the way round too, collect pine cones and leaves, watch siskins  and spot sun-seeking lizards.

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We passed lots of mountain bikers zooming past on the trickier trails, but the real highlight for our daughter was the amazing adventure playground. It had only been completed in the last year or so and is a long trail of fun through the forest just above the activity centre. Starting with slides and wobbly wooden bridges, past wooden sculptures and tyre swings.

Scary tree carvings

There’s a rope climbing frame, a climbing wall, and one of those dragon style swings too. As well as some little wooden chalets built like Wendy houses in the trees for children to enjoy.

Children's adventure playground at Whinlatter Forest

The massive sand/gravel pits were a great favourite too. These were complete with pulleys and buckets for scooping up sand and working out how to move the gravel elsewhere to then drop it down tunnels and tubes. At the end of the adventure trail there are tree stumps with mysterious fairy-style doors that could be opened to reveal carvings behind. It’s a lovely forest, full of wildlife and places to discover. Older children and adults can sign up for a GoApe adventure. Can’t wait to go again.

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Update: Last October 2015 we stayed one night at Lanefoot Farm campsite which is located in Thornthwaite just below Whinlatter. They allow campfires and is a lovely place to camp and they have wooden pods too if you prefer.

An aborted attempt at fell walking

I haven’t posted for a while as we’ve enjoyed a whole week’s holiday in the Lake District at half term and the rest of February has simply runaway from me. But our holiday has spawned some fantastic outdoor activities and memories for me to share here now.

The weather was the best we’d had all winter with brilliant blue skies, cold and frosty nights but sunny days. Perfect.

We stayed about 10 miles outside Keswick in a holiday village called Whitbarrow which is remote and quiet but wonderfully so. The village is surrounded only by fields and views of Blencathra, one of the high peaks of the Northern Lakes and at half term it was still sparkling with snow at the top. We packed all our waterproof outdoor clothes, as well as plenty of thermal socks, boots, wellies and hats as we were determined to get to the top of another fell this year.

Our first attempt was an intention to climb a relatively easy fell called Castle Crag at the southern end of Derwentwater in Borrowdale. However, our little trek didn’t go quite as planned on the day.

Fell walking up Castle Cragg - walking poles are essential

Castle Crag is mentioned in Wainwright’s books as maybe too low to qualify as a fell but worth the walk for the beautiful views. We had Alfred Wainwright’s book with us, but even so we managed to get lost following his instructions. Taking a wrong right turn we managed to head up an extremely steep fell (called Nitting Haws, we discovered afterwards).

Our suspicions were aroused when we realised there weren’t any other walkers going our way! And as Castle Crag is a well-worn route for families we decided we’d missed our turning. By this time it was lunchtime anyway so we sat on some flat rocks next to a lovely waterfall before heading a bit further up the fell to catch the view of the lake from the corner. The climb was pretty steep in places and we had to scramble sideways over loose shale and retreat our steps carefully to descend again.

Fell walking offers glimpses of beautiful countryside details

It was worth getting lost on the fells though as the views were stunning. Not so sure I’d recommend it with a child though we were well prepared with maps, charged mobile phones, proper walking weather-proof clothes and food. There had already been reports of walkers being airlifted off some of the higher fells so when we returned to Keswick I bought a book on walking in the Low Fells for later in our week. More on that later….

Castlerigg Stone circle

As we were in Keswick for the day, we decided to head towards Castlerigg stone circle, a very short drive out of town. It’s one of those smaller Neolithic wonders which, because of the amazing scenery surrounding it, makes you feel connected to the past and the landscape you’re standing on, in a magical way.

It was also freezing cold, but beautiful and sunny and we all fancied some fresh winter air and some mountain views, without having to trek too far. It’s a magical place anyway – full of mystery and history and one of the most picturesque locations for any stone circle in the country. The panoramic view of the fells in the distant is uninterrupted all around.

Castlerigg Stone Circle near Keswick

We encountered our first mystery as we drew up in the car to park in the little lay-by at the foot of the field. There in front of us was an ice cream van (it was mid February and about minus three degrees). Odd, we thought, but the ideal location for anything odd.

When we got to the standing stones, we had the place to ourselves. The stones are quite large and have been standing there since the Neolithic period apparently, that’s over 5000 years ago. There are 38 stones in Castlerigg stone circle and inside the ring is a rectangle of another 10 standing stones. No idea what they were used for all those years ago.

The view towards Helvellyn was amazing and the air was so still – the only sounds were bleating Herdwick sheep and the odd raven. A quick game of hide and seek around the stones warmed us up slightly but it was really too bitter to hang around for long.

Castleriff stone circle

On a walk up Dodd Fell earlier in the week, our daughter had collected some small, but beautifully snow white quartz crystal shards. She had put them in her coat, and had forgotten about them, but as she plunged her freezing fingers into her fleecy pockets, she found them. Brilliant! We lined them up along some of Castlerigg’s stones in order to infuse them with magical powers. After a few minutes we decided they must be fully charged (and anyway, we were even more freezing by now) so we collected them up to take home to scatter round the end of our garden (which has always been where the fairies live, she says).