‘Heartbreakingly beautiful’ – Theodore Dalrymple’s description of the Lake District was never far from my mind this week as I explored England’s largest and most visited national park, which may soon be a World Heritage Site.
I think I discovered what Dalrymple meant. The area's mountains, valleys and glimmering sheets of water give you a feeling of intense yearning, but in their sheer scale they remain forever remote – out of reach yet captivating.
The best way to experience such beauty is by bike. On a bicycle, you can take in so much more of your surroundings, yet get so much closer to them. I found cycling in the Lake District so addictive I covered 120 miles in four days, in three separate rides.
For my first ride, I started out from where I was based, on the outskirts of Grange-over-Sands, a quaint seaside town with jaw-dropping views stretching for miles across Morecambe Bay. From the welcoming ‘Lothlorien’ holiday cottage which I stayed in courtesy of owner David Chadwick and his family, I rode up the east of Coniston Water then back down the other side. En route, I stopped at a lakeside cafe in the town of Coniston and learned about Donald Campbell, the daredevil who set water speed records on the lake but ultimately died there after crashing his 300mph boat, the Bluebird, in 1967.
David joined me for my next ride, a lap of Lake Windermere (the biggest of the Lakes) starting from Newby Bridge. It rained for the first hour, but we didn’t care – the Lake District looks just as beautiful, if not more so, in bad weather. Before heading back, we made it all the way up to Grasmere, where William Wordsworth lived in Dove Cottage with his sister Dorothy. After we had a cup of tea, the sky brightened and we raced back to the car via the pretty lakeside towns of Ambleside and Windermere.
David also joined me for my third ride – round the River Leven estuary to Ulverston, where Stan Laurel was born. There we stopped off for refreshments at the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre. Having written a book on mindful cycling, I was looking forward to visiting the temple and pausing for a few moments of contemplation. However, when I tried to join in with the smattering of people who were meditating, I didn’t feel as inspired as I expected.
For me, the bubble was burst somewhat by a cleaning lady emerging from a door and puncturing the silence by hoovering amongst the assembled visitors.
But there were other, more fundamental reasons why I couldn’t help feeling more contemplative outside the temple than inside it. The building's underfloor heating; the gold-painted plastic Buddha statues in display cases; the keenest worshippers performing a bowing ritual that looked like they were in a P.E. lesson – all these things seemed slightly artificial compared to the splendid, life-enhancing scenery surrounding the temple.
For inspiration, nothing beats the heartbreaking beauty of the Lake District.
To find out more about Lothlorien cottage, which has 2 bedrooms and sea-views from the living room, or about cycling in the South Lakes, visit www.kentsbankholiday.co.uk.
David and myself beside Lake Windermere...