It’s funny how rarely anything turns out the way you expected it to. A lot happened this weekend, and I don’t think I could have predicted any of it.
My dad, my brother, my cousin and I went to Alton Towers, one of the UK’s biggest and best known theme parks, on Friday. On the way there, we noticed a strange lack of any traffic queue leading up to the park. By some miracle, the park was, for once, not remotely busy, which meant that we were able to go on all the rides we wanted to go on, some of them more than once, as opposed to spending most of the day in queue lines.
When we arrived, accompanied by a slightly overblown orchestral piece based upon Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, we discovered that Rita: Queen of Speed (one of the park’s largest and fastest rollercoasters) was closed due to technical difficulties. This was not entirely surprising (Rita is like that), so we headed over to the Flume and went on that instead. It was a bright, sunny day, so we dried off very quickly as we made for the Forbidden Valley, home of two of the park’s most famous rollercoasters, Nemesis and Air, both of which were, incidentally, even more awesome and exhilerating than I remembered them being. Nemesis is a multiple looped monstrosity, modeled around a giant fibreglass thing with exposed bones and googly eyes, standing amid a lake of what appears to be cherryade, while Air is a “flying coaster”, which means that you are on your front with your arms and legs dangling below as you soar over the park. Both are quite something.
After a morning of rides we decided it was high time we had something to eat. We made straight for our favourite restaurant in the area. When we got there, however, we found that it had been turned into a carvery. Undeterred, we ate – it was delicious – and emerged to find a sign announcing that Rita had reopened.
The queue line was unusually short, and we were on the ride in no time. However, on the ride itself, disaster struck. My brother had placed his glasses case in his pocket, with both his regular and tinted glasses inside. When we got off the ride, the case was nowhere to be found. We searched around under the ride, but no joy. The glasses were gone.
My brother tried to downplay this problem, pointing out that he wasn’t entirely blind without them, and that he’d never liked having to wear them anyway, and so we made for the Corkscrew, a rather old and bumpy coaster.
Afterwards we went on Oblivion, the vertical drop rollercoaster, where I took an insect to my left eye halfway down. It felt like a bullet at that speed, and my eye was red and watery for most of the rest of the day.
That said, the rest of the day passed without any real setback, and we had a great time. The queue lines were so short that, for the first time ever, we managed to ride all the rides we wanted to go on before the park closed, including the Flume, Nemesis, Air, Duel, Rita, the Corkscrew, Congo River Rapids, the Runaway Mine Train, Oblivion, and the Spinball Whizzer. We never did find my brother’s glasses, though. We reported them as missing at the lost and found desk, but they haven’t gotten back to us.
When we left the park, we made for the Lake District, where my aunt and uncle, my cousin’s parents, were holidaying. We had booked a room in a youth hostel in Slaidburn, which is quite some way from Farley, where Alton Towers is situated, so this meant a long night time car journey. My brother, unfortunately, was wearing wet clothes, having been soaked on the River Rapids and not having had time to dry off.
Slaidburn is situated in the beautiful but oddly-named Forest of Bowland; “oddly-named” in that it isn’t actually a forest. The trees are too far apart. In fact, much of the Forest of Bowland is actually fields. Presumably the name is historical in origin. Most place names are.
Unfortunately, when we arrived in Slaidburn, we were unable to appreciate its charms due to it being extremely dark and pouring with rain. Ah, sweet, English weather. We couldn’t actually see the youth hostel. After a few minutes spent searching, Dad stopped to ask a local for directions.
“Can you direct us to the youth hostel?” he asked.
The man nodded and pointed silently across the street. The youth hostel was right there.
Embarassed, but very much relieved and grateful, we thanked the amused stranger and parked in the nearest space. We grabbed our suitcases and made a dash for the youth hostel door.
The youth hostel was self-catering, so we ate a packed lunch before heading bedwards. It took us all a while to go to sleep.
The following morning we got up and washed before heading down to the dining room for breakfast. The hostel’s shower facilities left a lot to be desired, consisting of a small room with a shower curtain which extended around the entire room, meaning that clothes and towels left on the floor got a soaking.
The youth hostel staff didn’t require us to complete any chores before leaving, so we went straight to the Lake District and reunited my cousin with his parents. As we passed through Grassmere, dad told us how he had first come across Oasis when a radio in a pub there played “Live Forever”. Memories are a special thing.
At Coniston we stopped by to pick up a first aid kit, which we had rather foolishly come without. The man behind the counter was all for selling us a deluxe kit complete with thermometre, gloves and goodness knows what else, but we decided to settle for a slightly more modest kit, which we suspected might be more practical anyway, given that we were unlikely to need to perform emergency invasive surgery or anything like that while walking in the fells. We did, however, stop by at Hawkshead to pick up some Migraleve and some Ibuprofen, as well as some bottled water for the walk. The area where we stopped by seemed very touristy, with no shortage of shops selling Beatrix Potter merchandise.
We were still pretty tired when we arrived in Langdale, and it was nearing midday. We decided to keep the walk short, because if we didn’t order our dinner at Borrowdale Youth Hostel by 6.00 we would have to go without. The route we chose went up the Band, a sort of hill thing topped by Three Tarns, and back down again in a circular route.
We were not a terribly organised expedition, nor a universally enthusiastic one. Doubtless Wainwright would not have approved. My brother spent the early part of the journey looking sullen and occassionally grumbling about how he was tired and how he had never wanted to come on this holiday in the first place. In fairness to him, the views, however spectacular, were largely blurry to him without his glasses.
We were still near the bottom of the hill when we sat down to eat. I was feeling very hungry (it was long past midday by this point), but my dad and brother insisted that they weren’t terribly hungry, so we didn’t stop for long. Dad described the food he had packed as a “Marie Antoinette” meal: short of bread, but with plenty of cake. In fact, we had several boxes of little cakes to choose from.
As we walked uphill, we occassionally passed fellow hill walkers, who we would generally greet with a “hello” and a nod of the head. Many of the walkers seemed to address their greetings specifically at dad, who was, after all, the oldest, and was carrying a backpack. At one point a couple came along wanting directions to Scafell Pike. Dad was in his element. He explained that they were unlikely to be able to reach Scafell – much less Scafell Pike – without a map, but suggested various alternative walks they might like to try. On another occassion, we were passed by a man sprinting up the hillside in nothing but shorts and hiking boots.
It was around this time that my brother, spurred on by annoyance that the fell runner had managed to sprint up the path he had been slowly stumbling along (and, I suspect, fuelled by the energy bar he had just eaten), perked up considerably, and our walk continued at a much more rapid pace. It was now looking unlikely that we would reach the Three Tarns in time, though.
Unfit and lazy I may be, but I enjoy hill walking. You can’t beat that sense of achievement when you reach whatever destination you were aiming to reach. For this reason, I went on ahead. This is not entirely a sensible thing to do, but it was a clear sunny day and I made sure to keep the others in sight.
As I neared the top, I began to see cairns stacked by fellow hill walkers, and occassionally paused to add a rock to one. On cold, misty days, when visibility is poor, walkers are grateful for the cairns that guide them along the safer path.
When I reached the top, I was slightly confused by the sight of only two tarns. Where was the third? I waited for my dad and brother to catch up and explained the conundrum to them. We were overheard by a group of picknickers, who pointed out the third and largest tarn, hidden behind a rock. I hurried around for a closer look. My brother, surprisingly enough, was equally eager.
The surface of the tarn looked magical as it glimmered in the sun, the surface rippled by the wind. On the other side of the tarn we could see the side of Scafell, just visible through the clouds. Scafell Pike was completely invisible. Looking down, we could see the entire Eskdale stretched out below us. It was a beautiful sight.
It was a lot more difficult descending than ascending the hill, because the ground was slippery underfoot and it was easy to lose footing. Dad went on ahead, leaving us with the backpack, the idea being that he would return with the car, shortening the trip considerably, because he would walk faster than us and if we continued at the pace we were going at, we’d never make it to the youth hostel in time. As it happened, however, my brother and I weren’t that much slower than dad, and we met up with him right by where the car had been parked.
In spite of this, we arrived at the youth hostel 20 minutes too late for dinner, which dad found extremely dissappointing, since according to him, youth hostel food is normally very good. Worse still, my brother, who has fairly pale, sensitive skin, had developed sunburn all over his arms. To make matters worse, there was a mix up at the hostel, and it took a considerable deal of arguing to get us a room at all, even though we had booked it in advance.
Once we had established that we did indeed have a room, we headed into Keswick to pick up some cream for my brother’s arms, and then went and got a pizza. Once again, neither my brother nor my dad claimed to be hungry, but it was gone 8.00, and I was starving.
On Sunday morning, we were treated to a delicious cooked breakfast. The hostel staff also packed our sandwiches for the day (which we had ordered the night before). It was all very helpful.
We had decided to try to get home by about seven, so we chose another short walk that day: Castle Crag. The crag is one of the smallest of the fells. At its base is a river, and Wainwright’s book advised walking along beside the river for a stretch. It was very pleasant, but it did take us some way away from our intended route. We began our ascent of the hill, following what appeared to be the path through the woods, until we came to a fork in the route, one path leading up, the other downhill. Naturally, we went up. However, this path took on a decidedly less path-like appearance the further we went along it, at one point requiring us to climb along a tree branch, and forcing us to scramble over rocks at another. This took us to a route through some ferns which ended on top of a ledge, but with no apparent way to scale the rest of the crag. I now suspect that we had actually followed a sheep trail.
We decided to take the lower route instead, and soon came to the main path. Unfortunately, we were separated from said path by a stone wall with wire over the top. More scrambling was required.
Over the fence was an entirely different world. Gone were the mossy boulders and lush foliage, replaced by a barren stone path surrounded by large and majestic hills. We were also no longer so isolated; other walkers were using this route. We were definitely back on track.
Near the top of Castle Crag there is a large quarry, and the route up takes you over piles of slate. At the summit there is a kind of shrine, around a plaque commemorating John Hamer, who died in battle in 1918, and the other men of Borrowdale who died for the same cause. We paused to read it, feeling rather solemn.
Then a child poked his head out from behind the rock.
“Whee!” he cried, sliding down the smooth rock face. It didn’t look very comfortable, but he seemed happy enough, and very soon another child (his brother?) was doing the same, until their family pulled them away to take their photographs.
The best thing about being atop Castle Crag was the view, which was glorious. The Lake District has some of the most lovely scenery in England. We sat down there and ate our lunch, which consisted of a few fruits, crisps and sandwiches supplied by the youth hostel, as well as cakes, naturally.
After we were done admiring the view, we went back to the car, ready for the long drive home. It had been a fun weekend, but it would be good to be back, too.
Sadly, it didn’t quite work out how we hoped. We were on the M6, near Madeley Heath, when dad noticed that the car was overheating. He immediately pulled over, and not a moment too soon, as the temperature gauge continued to rise, and the car began to fill with smoke and steam. We hastily got out and stood by the roadside, waiting for the car to cool down. We were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and brambles and the odd empty coffee cup or Relentless can. Dad phoned the AA, but was unable to hear them over the roar of the traffic. We locked the car (although it plainly wasn’t going anywhere) and headed uphill. We had very little to drink between us; only the remains of the water from the walk and the last few drops of a carton of orange juice. At the top of the slope was a fence, which we climbed over, into a forested area. It was only by going further up the slope that we were able to get far enough from the traffic for dad to speak to the AA, who informed us they’d send someone around within the hour. All we could do was wait.
After about 20 minutes of such waiting, a couple of traffic officers pulled up in a highway patrol van, but left when we told them the AA had been contacted.
After an hour had gone by, the AA called again, saying that unfortunately they couldn’t spare anyone, and that they had contacted someone from the Mansfield Group (whatever that was) who would be there in forty-five minutes. Luckily, about fifteen minutes later, we got a call from a member of the Mansfield Group, saying he’d be there in another fifteen minutes. Ten minutes later, he arrived, and towed us to a depot which stood amid various dusty buildings some way off the road side. He explained to us that there had been a lot of traffic accidents that day, which was why the AA hadn’t been able to send anyone. It was also the reason why the Mansfield Group wouldn’t be able to take us home, but worry not, the AA would find someone. In the meantime, he led us inside the depot, where there were comfortable chairs and a widescreen TV, and invited us to make ourselves at home, while the Mansfield Group guys looked our car over to find out what the problem was.
We watched TV. There was nothing else to do. We watched some Dragon’s Den, the end of a rather tedious but special effects-heavy movie about the navy and a talking computer, a documentary about whether any of the Romanovs could have survived the family’s execution in 1918 (short answer: no), and The War of The Worlds (the Steven Spielberg version). The Mansfield Group people informed us that our car’s head gasket had been destroyed, and the engine had also been damaged. There was no chance of us getting home in time for dinner by now (indeed, no chance of getting back before midnight), so we ate what food we had. Which was cake.
Eventually, a man arrived in a Midlands Recovery vehicle and took us home. He was a nice bloke; he not only dropped our car off at the local repairs place, but also drove us to our home village; we were expecting to have walk back.
Our car, however, is not worth repairing, and we are going to have to buy a new one.
So that was my weekend. I enjoyed myself in Alton Towers and the Lake District, but, all things considered, I think I’ve had enough adventures for one week, and enough cake for one summer.
Current listening: The Kinks, “Sunny Afternoon”.