Thursday, August 02, 2007

I Enjoyed Summer - Part 2

..................and so Lord Voldemort rose up with his Death Eaters and sent a bolt of magic energy down to earth and totally obliterated Scotland.

"No chance of a Book 8" he snarled and even the muggles cheered. Well, he had just obliterated Scotland !


Ok that was just for those who managed to read Part 1 before coming to this post. Sometimes blogs can be a continuity nightmare with the latest posts coming first, but I guess it has to be that way.

But back to Tuesday and summer. I left the grandly named Fell Foot Country Park and drove on opp north to the bustling tourist town of Windermere. Bustling wasn't the word to describe was more bursting than bustling. I drove round the main parking roads twice before striking lucky and, coming upon a car pulling out from the roadside, I took it's place and sat for a few moments with some satisfaction that I was in a prime location near the lake.

When I got out to lock the car, I glanced at the roadside and saw 2 double yellow lines and I didn't have to look far for the nearest signpost warning me that I shouldn't be parked there at ANY time. It was right beside my passenger door ! Don't you just hate it when that happens ?
The car in front already had a parking ticket on it's windscreen and this answered any thoughts I might have had that the standard rules about double yellow lines didn't apply on Tuesday's in Cumbria. I moved on.

On my 3rd revolution I found someone leaving from a legal parking spot and I reversed expertly into the vacant gap. Thankfully parallel parking is one of my strong points as I had an audience of hundreds sitting on the grass nearby who were watching and hoping to hear the sound of metal on metal. They'd have had a long wait in any case as the only metal parts on my Clio are the wheel nuts. At least I hope they're metal.

By now it was 2:30pm and as I'd not eaten since my cereal at 9am, I was starving. I was at the wrong end of Windermere for the shops and restaurants although right across the road was a place selling the usual burgers and hot dogs. When you're hungry, the smell from these places tends to overcome your natural instincts to avoid them like the plague. I looked at the menu and discovered it also sold fish and chips and ice cream. Such a variety of food choices actually put me off as it brought to mind the old premise of 'jack of all trades but master of none'. Seeing the mounds of ready cooked burgers and sausages sitting near the serving window did nothing to tempt me further and the draw of the nearby pub won me over.

And very nice it was too. It was almost empty which was both a surprise and a delight. It overlooked the lake (as one had to climb 2 flights of steps to gain entry) with wonderful all round views of the lake and the town.

From the large menu, I ordered a British standard, bangers and mash, and was happy that the time it took to bring it to me let me know it was all cooked to order.

The portion, 3 huge bulging pork sausages on an enormous bed of real mashed potatoes, coated with rich onion gravy with carrots and cabbage, would've pleased even the most obese Texan visitor. I took in the lake views between fork fulls and ate slowly but it still outfaced me. I had to leave a whole sausage, quite a large amount of potato and, naturally, all of the cabbage. Vile stuff and should only be used for decoration.

More than satisfied and quite ready for an after meal nap, I stepped out and took this photo from the top of the steps.

It shows the lower end of the lake where the steamers dock and where the visitors are almost outnumbered by the plethera of swans, gulls, ducks, pigeons, bald eagles and the odd albatross.

Well maybe not the last 2 but certainly plenty of the others. These lovely pests are so tame that they will often sit right beside a group of people on the wooden benches that surround the lake at this location. You almost have to stand on them to get them to move and even then they only waddle a few feet before dropping down again with the effort. To say they are dangerously overfed would be putting it mildly.

I watched with a mixture of amusement and mounting horror as a large swan tried to take off and it reminded me of Orville taking off in Disney's The Rescuers. Thankfully the lake was 12 miles long as it seemed to me that swan needed every inch of it to get airborne.

Most of it's feathered pals were content to chill out and doze on the shingle by the edge of the lake and were too well fed to even take free handouts from passing tourists.

You could go up and tap them on the head if you so wanted and even then they'd just give you a glare and hardly move a muscle - if indeed they had any that weren't permanently seized up.

As usual there were loads of kids who were taken with this ability to get right up close to nature. I know these weren't pink flamingos and we weren't in Ngorongoro, but these kids didn't care. And with kids, came proud parents taking photos. Hey lets get a shot of (ASBO) Timmy hitting a swan with a plastic cricket bat. Lovely.

Speaking of others taking photos, Windermere was full of Japanese tourists and every one had a camera. Long gone are the days when American and Japanese tourists would visit here with several large cameras around their necks. The world has gone digital and cameras have gone microscopic. Now tourists hold up the equivalent of a credit card and seem to have the ability to take a photo and eat a hot dog at the same time. Quite what those photos look like is a mystery to me but given modern technology and computer software, I'm sure they are just fine for the family album...........on a dvd of course.

This group was particularly active on the shore line and I met them later up on the steep narrow streets of the town. They'd snap anything with a heartbeat and if you think they're pointing their little cameras at wildlife in this photo, you'd be wrong.

The object of their lenses was a little boy who was simply throwing bread at the birds. The only reason I can think of why they were doing this was because the boy had blond hair which I assume is quite rare in Japan.

It was a bit worrying that they were so excited by this but the boy's dad was nearby so I guess it was all above board. Maybe he'd never heard of the internet and I wasn't going to give him sleepless nights by educating him ! I just hope those tourists never make it to Roundhay Park !!

I still was only a few feet from where I'd parked the car - it really was a great location. Nearby was the main boarding point for the little 'train' that toured the area and might even have gone up into the town. I'm not sure it was powerful enough to get up the steep hill though and I think the narrow streets would've been too much for it as well.

Even so, it was very popular and every time I saw it, it was packed.

One of the great things about Windermere is that it hasn't given in to the worst excesses of 'Seaside Britain' with lines of arcades and slot machines.

I know it's not a seaside location but it could easily have gone that way. In fact The Lake District in general provides a wonderful escape from such tourist tat and has managed to combine the needs of the tourist with the need to keep the natural beauty of the area as unspoilt as possible.

Of course every place has it's characters or even eccentrics and Windermere is no different. I wouldn't go so far as to call the owner of this motorbike the later but he was definitely the former. Who else would turn a motorbike into a touring taxi ? Who else would place so many lights on the front that if they were all turned on at once, would blind low flying pilots.

The low flying pilots bit isn't all that far fetched as while I was there, numerous jets screamed up the length of the lake and they weren't that far off the water.

They had to be training for low level attacks and at one point I was left hoping that Orville had made it to a comfortable cruising altitude or else he'd have made a hell of a mess either on the jet's 'windscreen' or a bigger mess if sucked into it's engine. We'll never know.

At this point in the post I may as well admit that I've been trying for an amusing and witty coming together of the words 'swan' and 'lake' but the desire to do so is affecting the flow of my creative juices (ohh err) so I'm admitting defeat and moving on...........

Back at Lakeland Station, I'd seen The Teal dock and take on more passengers for the voyage up to Windermere. The other 2 steamers were out and about on the lake as well and here is a photo of The Tern leaving the dock at Windermere.

Again you can see how packed it was and every trip on every steamer was the same. It was good to see the business thriving.

By now I was close to the start of the hill which led up to the town so I took a deep breath and headed up there........

.......took a quick look and headed right back down again. "Nothing to see here" as Officer Bar Brady would have said.

If you've never visited a quaint Lake District town before, it's probably worth a visit. If, however you've had your fill of twee stores selling everything from Beatrix Potter tea sets to locally created toffee, then Officer Brady's words will ring true.

The buildings however were worth seeing and there were colourful hanging baskets and pleasing greenery everywhere. It was all very pretty and the very narrowness of the streets meant that cars crawled along at a snail's pace and this made crossing quite easy.

This image reminds me of the famous Lombard Street in San Francisco. I realise you have to scrunch up your eyes a bit and let reality take a short vacation but if you look at the photo in this link, you might just see what I'm getting at.

Of course Lombard Street is one way. It's also tiled. It doesn't have any shops on it. It doesn't have a mini roundabout half way down it. I think I may have talked myself out of this comparison.

Back on level ground, so to speak, I found a small area that was almost free of tourists on the land and boats on the water.........moving ones that is. It was almost Venetian like with the row of unattended wooden boats bobbing up and down.

Ok no more silly comparisons from now on. I promise.

Behind me, dozens of people were still taking photos of the obese and almost flightless birds. The burgers and hot dogs were still being consumed with little regard to vascular consequences.

And it was time for me to leave Windermere.

But first I had a photographic mission to complete. Up on the hill next to my parked car, there was a small funfair. Very small. But it had some fast moving rides and I wanted to try another camera technique - capturing a fast moving subject at a slow speed. Hope that makes some sense.

I climbed the hill and found what I wanted......the dodgem ride.

Now what I really needed was a leg of the Tour De France to whiz by or a racehorse to gallop along the main street in Windermere ......two unlikely events where the moving subject goes past at a fair old speed and does so for quite some time, in photographic terms.

That way one can hold focus on the biker or the horse and easily pan along, take a snap and hopefully end up with a lovely sharp image of the subject with a blurred background giving the impression of speed.

I had to make do with the dodgems. Dodgems aren't known for blazing turns of speed in one direction but rather are known for going quite slowly for a very short distance and then coming to a complete and sudden stop. I had my work cut out and once again I gave thanks for the development of digital cameras.

I panned as best I could when this involved such short distances but quite often when someone got a 'run' going, I'd be about to take the photo when they'd hit or be hit and the 'run' would end.

Then the whole ride would end and I'd stand around waiting for enough new punters to come forward so that the dodgem operator would decide to let the carnage begin again.

These 2 photos were the best of the bunch I took (click to enlarge of course) and made me realise I've still a lot to learn - although the main lesson I learned was that dodgem cars do not make good subjects for this technique.

I wanted to try something else and next to the dodgem ride was a sort of bouncy castle tower thing where kids would climb up and hurl themselves down a vertical slide and land at the bottom (where else ??) with much merriment and residual bouncing. The thing is, the drop was SO steep that once a young and tender body left the top, no part of that body touched anything until it hit the bottom. It wasn't so much a slide as.......a fall.

Anyway it seemed as good a place to try and see if I could halt time - not in a Dr. Who way but in a photographic way. This time the background didn't lend itself to movement so I used shutter priority to try and freeze a little body in mid fall.

After watching a few kids falling this way, I actually felt my photos could be used as insurance evidence. Often kids would hit the bottom so hard and fast that the resulting bounce would propel them forwards into potential law suit territory.

The area in front of the striped bottom part was grass but that wouldn't provide much protection for growing bones and newly created teeth.

Maybe I'm just old and worry too much. I know. The kids didn't care and after a few squeals of delight, most would scramble back to the bouncy ladder to do it all over again.

I left them to it and went back to the car. It was 6:10pm when I left Windermere and headed back the way I'd arrived. I knew I'd be passing quite close to the railway station with it's 6:45pm Victorian Evening and as exciting as that sounded, well I just couldn't be bothered. What did the Victorians ever do for me ?


I drove home and due to a much lighter traffic flow, I made it to my comfy settee in 2 hours.

I enjoyed Summer 2007 very much and it gave me lots of memories. I'm already planning for Summer 2008 which I'm reliably informed by the BBC Extreme Long Range Weather Forecast team will be on July 23rd. Severe flooding to follow.

Make a note in your diary.

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