The Lakes: When the Journey was the Charm

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was a kid, and we went on holiday to the Lake District, to the farm at Broughton, travelling was an all day affair.
Some of that was because we weren’t supposed to arrive at Low Bleansley until 4.00pm on Saturday, to give the previous week’s guests time to leave and Mrs Troughton to clean the rooms and wash and change the bedding, but of course much the largest part was the roads of the 1960s.
We holidayed as a family: Mam, Dad, me, my little sister and my Uncle, Dad’s elder brother, who did the driving: at first because Dad only had a motorbike, and then because Uncle Arthur enjoyed driving and was very bad at being a passenger, whilst my Dad was an ok driver and had no problems with someone else doing the hard work.
Packing would begin on Friday night then, in the morning, we would have everything ready for Uncle Arthur to collect us or, in later years, for dad to drive us to Droylsden, to Granny and Grandad’s, where everything would be transferred to my Uncle’s car and his gear added. Even before Dad’s first car, we still went by Droylsden, to be wished on our way and for Uncle Arthur to be warned, ahead of our inevitable visit to Wastwater, not to drive too near the water.
The M6 existed in those days, though only as far as Carnforth in North Lancashire, but both my Uncle and my Dad hated Motorways and would never use them. The obvious alternative was the A6, and a stop at Chorley for refreshments. But the A6 was too busy, by Sixties standards, and one year Uncle Arthur sent off to the AA for a route from Manchester to the Lakes avoiding the A6, and was sent directions that ever after we followed. That first time we used them, I was given the important task of Guide, given hand-written directions to escape through North Manchester, which i self-importantly read out until I got bored with the task, before we had actually escaped North Manchester…
From Cheetham Hill to Bury, through Central Lancashire by Rawtenstall and Burnley, the Colne valley as far as Nelson and then the first diversion across the moors, crossing into Yorkshire and dipping into and out of Gisburn.
Originally, that was the signal for a mid-morning stop, at a tasteful cafe where I would eat, for the only time each year, a jam shortbread: two slices of shortbread with a compressed layer that did not exist anywhere we knew of at home. But as we children grew older and better at longer spells in the car, Gisburn became just an interruption to the pastoral roads.
Then back to the moors again, joining the A57 at Long Preston, fringing the Yorkshire limestone country dominated by Ingleborough, via Settle (where Dad, who had usually been up half the night, would ‘settle’ into a nap) and Buckhaw Brow and the edge of Kirby Lonsdale, and finally the turn off to Milnthorpe, which was and always remained lunch.
Each holiday, we would get to Milnthorpe, which lay on the A6, for about 12.30pm, and take a good long break from the drive. Just as Gisburn was the only place I ever got to eat those jam shortbreads, the Flying Dutchman cafe meant sausage butties, which did not come my way in Manchester.
The Flying Dutchman was as much a part of the holiday as a trip on the Ratty. It had a jukebox, and in 1966, the first time we got away for no less than three weeks on holidays, the song playing as we walked in was Frank Sinatra’s ‘Strangers in the Night’. Mam and Dad loved the song and, most exceptionally, bought it in EP form, in a picture sleeve, which now forms part of my own collection. Before that year, on one occasion the Dutchman had a prototype video jukebox, and I remember being allowed a song, selecting Acker Bilk’s ‘Strangers in the Shore’ and watching a colour film of Acker playing his clarinet in the street to a lady on a balcony, before driving away at the end on a sports car, just as she was about to rush downstairs and get her hands on him (idiot).
Milnthorpe was, in effect, the line. Once we left, about 2.00pm, though we were still not in the Lakes themselves, we had crossed into a kind of Greater Lakeland, our holiday sphere, that surrounded and merged the District itself. There was a drive north, of a mere three to four miles, until we turned left at lights, off the A6 and onto the road that led across the south of the Lakes and would take us anywhere. First directly towards the limestone cliffs of Whitbarrow, then sweeping gradually to bypass these, then the long, undulating, narrow road. Through Newby Bridge, just south of invisible Windermere. The dual carriageway at Finsthwaite that ran past the Dolly Blue works, offering a brief glimpse inside to where everyone was coloured blue.
Onwards towards Greenodd, where the road bordered the estuary, and then climbing into the low fells, far from the high fells that Wainwright had cornered. There might be queues, there usually were, lines of traffic even that many years ago, all headed for tranquility, beauty and the high mountains.
Eventually, our destination drew near. We would come off the low moors, descending the ferocious hill at Lindale. It was steep, and there was a nasty bend at the bottom, and a Shell garage from which the first letter in the sign was missing which, given the number of wrecked cars at the back of the garage, was appropriate. Then it was across the lowlands of a grassy valley and the question of whether we would take the low road or the high road into Broughton-in-Furness. The high road went over the ridge with some steep gradients, that did not suit a laden car and I clamoured for it every time but mostly we took the low road, round the end of the ridge and back up along the east side of the Duddon estuary, through Foxfield (‘all change for Broughton and Coniston!’ before Doctor Beeching closed that line).
Finally we would go through Broughton and out on the Coniston road, until coming off for Broughton Mills. By then, Low Bleansley was visible across the deep trench of the Lickle valley, and we would already have looked it over. It was a narrow road, dropping quickly to the village, no, the hamlet, in the bottom of the valley, then turning back on ourselves on a long, increasingly familiar road serving the farms on the western wall of the valley, ending up at Low Bleansley. Here the road ended, though the track, unsuitable for cars, carried on through a gate and crossed the bridge into the bottom of the Duddon Valley, the other side of the low fells behind the farm.
And there were suitcases to carry in, and put down in different rooms, Mrs Troughton to greet as the friend she was, rather than hostess, and if it wasn’t raining – and it very rarely did when the Crookalls stayed at Low Bleansley, which was one of the reasons we were so welcome, especially at Harvest – we’d sit out on the terrace in front of the farmhouse and look down to the Duddon estuary, and the ‘battleship’, which was the name we gave to Millom Ironworks.
Sometimes, in later years, if the journey had gone easily, and we’d arrived early, we might go off for a couple of hours, to Bowness Bay, or Coniston Lake, but Mrs Troughton offered bed, Breakfast and Evening Meal, and we would be sat at table at 6.00pm, not only on Saturday night but all through our week away, no matter how far we had travelled.
The journey was a part of the holiday, it’s beginning in good manner, a ritual to be followed to tell us we were free from daily life.
Twenty years later, when I began to take holidays in the Lakes on my own, I would first use that old AA route, or as much of it as I could: short lengths of motorway in Central Lancashire had replaced old roads even whilst we still holidayed as a family. But motorways held no fear for me, and as time went past, I would take to the M61 and the M6 to carry me northwards to Cumbrian with the least delay, fetching me up in Ambleside or Keswick, depending what time of the year it was, by midday, or sooner, chucking my single suitcase in my room and off to find a ‘starter’ walk, a half day job reintroduced my legs to the demands that proper fellwalking would make of them.
And after Mam died, and I bought my first 1600cc engined car, and the Lakes became close enough for me to be there and back in a day and still climb Scafell Pike, the journey became even more of a means to an end rather than a part of the holiday itself. I would leave my house and know that in an hour, no more, I would be crossing the Cumbria border. My record time was 58 minutes.
A long way from all day, and I marvelled at the contrast each time. It would never have suited my parents, my uncle. The journey was part of the holiday, and that meant that it too was a time of leisure, not to be hurried, whether that rush was achievable or not. Maybe, when my fortune changes, I should also return to those days of dispensing with haste, the distance to the Lakes was a part of their charm.

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