Keswick – Day 4 – The Derwent Pencil Museum

Our fourth day in Keswick was rainy and cool, and we’d all had fairly major efforts the previous day, so it seemed a good time to visit one of Keswick’s few indoor attractions – the Derwent Pencil Museum.

A bit of quick history – Writing instruments of all sorts have been in use for thousands of years, but a sort of proto pencil was a lead-based stylus used since the time of the Romans (which is why we still call them “lead pencils” even though lead hasn’t been used in pencils in hundreds of years).

The modern version of the pencil dates back to the 16th century with the discovery of a large deposit of graphite near Keswick in the Borrowdale Valley. The story says that it was found by accident by a group of shepherds who, on finding that it wouldn’t burn like coal, used the mineral to mark their sheep. But they soon discovered it left marks on their hands and other things that were hard to remove.

It didn’t take long to realize the mineral was too soft to use by itself, but stuffed into a wooden tube, it made an easy-to-use writing instrument.

By the early 18th century a cottage industry creating pencils had grown up in Keswick and the surrounding area. In 1916 the Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company or sometimes just called The Cumberland Pencil Company was formed to manufacture pencils. The first Derwent color pencil was produced in 1938. The Derwent brand is still recognized for producing some of the finest artist’s pencils in the world.

The world’s biggest pencil

The factory has since moved, but the museum remains in Keswick. It’s a fascinating place. In addition to displays showing the history of the pencil, there are numerous historical items, a look at the manufacturing process, the varieties of pencil and art supplies now available, and a couple of fascinating, related stories. It also features the world’s biggest pencil, as certified by the Guiness Book of World Records.

During World War II, Britain’s secret service operatives worked with the company to develop ways to incorporate various bits of miniaturized technology into the pencils. They were also used as a method for passing secret messages. None of this has ever been officially confirmed, of course!

The museum has plenty of art opportunities for children. And it also includes a café with a delicious assortment of cakes, and while we were waiting, we got to try out Derwent’s brilliant water color pencils. We did some gift shopping in the gift store before we left.

Later, the guys and kids went back to house while Steph and I did some serious shopping in the many outdoor equipment shops for her birthday and James’s.

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Keswick Interlude.

These were for sale in grocery stores and outdoor gear shops all over town. I’m told they were the forerunner of all of the varieties of sports energy foods that are available today. I wanted to try one even though my son warned it tasted like a mint-flavored sugar cube. He was right. It’s a giant mint-flavored sugar cube. Probably just what you’d need as your energy flagged two-thirds of the way to the summit.

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Keswick – Day 3

Setting off down the road.

On a beautiful, bright day we set off on different adventures. We all caught a bus in Keswick to a couple of towns a bit distant. Steph and Freya got off at one stop that was the starting point for ascending the mountain we’d seen on the boat trip the previous day, CatBells. It’s billed as a starter mountain, which made it feasible for Steph, an experienced climber, and for five-year-old Freya. It’s not even her first mountain. She scaled her first last year at age four.

However, my knees are not up to the rigors of a 1500-foot-ascent over 3.5 miles. Actually I could probably have handled the ascent, but descending is murder on bad knees. The rest of us, my husband and I, my son, and three-year-old grandson elected to tackle a more gentle walk, from the town of Grange to Rosthwaite along part of the Borrowdale Circular Walk, which follows the River Derwent.

We got off the bus in Grange, a tiny community with a café and a few dwellings, found the trail head, and set out. The path started out as a narrow, paved road, but eventually became a well-marked footpath that sometimes devolved into a less obvious trail. Still, we found our way with only one or two wrong turns that we usually figured out fairly quickly.

We walked past pastures and a campground before the path descended to the side of the River Derwent and stayed close to it for most of the distance to Rosthwaite. The total distance of the walk was around a mile and a half. We took it at a moderate pace with many stops, mainly due to three-year-old James. He was a trooper, going along with only occasional complaints, mostly toward the end of the hike.

James splashing around in a shallow spot in the water

In a couple of places a broad rocky sort of beach gave access to shallow parts of the river. James wore his Wellies and enjoyed stomping and splashing around rocks in the water. In other places low cliffs at the water’s edge provided perfect launching spots for throwing stones into the river. There was no shortage of ammunition easily available and almost no end to James’s enthusiasm for testing his arm.

Scenery was magnificent for the entire journey. At times the hills closed in fairly tightly while in other places, the land flattened out in the valley, providing inspiring views of higher mountains.

Although it’s generally an easy walk, there were some fairly steep, although short, climbs, and a number of places where the hike was more of a scramble over rocks and scree. Some of the hills around us were rocky and heavily wooded with small caves and niches. In other places the path crossed pastures and led across some interesting bridges.

Eventually we made it to our destination, Rosthwaite, where we stopped for lunch at the Flock Inn Tearoom. After a strenuous walk, we were all ravenous. I got a bowl of Herdwick stew, which is mostly chunks of lamb, potato, carrot, and onion in a rich lamb gravy. It was quite good and very filling, especially when accompanied by a savory cheese scone.

Afterward we got the bus back to Keswick, and I think we all napped on the trip, being tired and well-fed. Just before we reached Rosthwaite I got a text from Steph saying she and Freya had reached the summit of Catbells and were beginning their descent.

We knocked around town for a while, then in mid-afternoon headed toward the side of Derwentwater and a café there to wait for the climbers, who would be returning via the boat. We had drinks and cakes to celebrate Steph and Freya’s achievement before heading back home.

The village of Grange

The horse ignored us

Hills around us.

One of several bridges along the way

The River Derwent

James showing off his throwing arm


The water in the rivers and streams is amazingly clear

The purplish flower is heather

The path got a bit rugged in places

More beautiful scenery

A picture-perfect day in a picture-perfect place.

Another neat bridge

Herdwick stew with savory cheese scone




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Keswick, Lake District, England – Day 2

The boat that took us around the lake.

After the long hike the previous day, we voted for a quieter activity, opting for the boat ride around Derwentwater, the lake nearest Keswick. Gray clouds filled the sky and even spilled an occasional misty drizzle, but the smooth sailing in the wooden boats offered one gorgeous view after another as we gently cruised the lake.

The boat is not just for touring, but is also a sort of water-based hop-on, hop-off bus with stops at the bases of numerous mountains. Hikers and climbers use it to get to the trails. There had been a lot of rain in the area in the weeks prior to our visit, and water in the lake was high. So high in fact that the boats didn’t go out at all the day before. On the day we went out, they couldn’t make all the normal stops since some of the jetties were still under water.

Lakeside Scenery

That didn’t affect us, however, since we were just enjoying the ride and gawking at the scenery. After a leisurely jaunt around the lake, we came back on land and bought a bit of duck food so the children could feed the flocks of ducks and geese that hung out in the area.

We then did some light shopping in Keswick and had a great lunch/dinner at The Dog and Gun, a fun pub with delicious food. Their Hungarian Ghoulash was very tasty. Afterward we kicked around Keswick a bit, watched climbers scaling an outdoor rock wall, poked into a couple of stores and stopped for an ice cream break.

The kids spent some time playing along the side of the river as we made our way back to the cottage for the evening.


Heading out from the dock in Keswick

Out on the lake

The mountain closest is CatBells. More on that tomorrow.

Steph with Freya and James

Ducks and Geese gather at the shore of the Derwentwater.

Freya and James feed the flocks

Petting the neon sheep in a shop called the Neon Sheep

The Dog and Gun Pub


James getting armed to toss rocks in the river.




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The Lake District, Keswick – First Full Day

The weather for our first full day in Keswick was spectacular, sunny and clear, so we decided on what looked to be a fairly easy walk to the nearby Castlerigg Stone Circle.  Getting there via road was only a three-quarter mile hike, easily do-able for all of us. We didn’t count on the fact that it was uphill all the way and fairly steep in places. Plus the temperature climbed into the very warm range. We all made it, with a bit of grumbling from the children and a few rest stops along the way.

But the destination was most definitely worth the journey. Castlerigg Stone Circle is one of the oldest stone circles in Brittain, and possibly the oldest, dating to around 3000 BC. The stones aren’t overwhelmingly huge like the ones at Stonehenge, but unlike more famous sites, you can actually walk into and around the circle, touching and examining the large stones up close. Several groups of people were taking pictures of themselves on and around the stones.

Since the circle sits on top of a hill, it offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. It also offered several lovely mud puddles for James, 3, to stomp around in. Wisely his mother had him wear his Wellies for this trip.

We spent quite a while checking the circle and the views from various directions before we set out to return to Keswick via a longer cross-country footpath. We left via a unique stile comprised of a series of stone ledges canterlevered out from the stone wall at different levels to form a stone staircase to a gap in the wall and then down a series of rock steps on the other side. The route led gently downhill through sheep and horse pastures, across streams and eventually via a café where we stopped for lunch.

We got back to Keswick mid- to late-afternoon, did some grocery shopping and wound our way slowly back through town to the house to fix dinner. We passed some pleasant time on the veranda, looking out over the river and enjoying playing games with the children and enjoying the view into the evening.

We all took the bench’s advice, stopping for rest, drinks, and snacks.

The stone circle

Steph, Joe, and Jim

The return trip took us cross country and through fields where bored horses, sheep, and goats mostly ignored us.

The children invented a new sort of hatrack.

A sign post points the way

Stopping on a nice shady bridge

The return trip took us cross country and through fields where bored horses, sheep, and goats mostly ignored us.

Grandpa and Freya share a moment.

Coming back into Keswick, a charming town.


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From Glasgow to The Lake District, England

Glasgow Central Train Station

In this case getting there was half the fun.

After a leisurely breakfast, we packed up, checked out, and headed across the street from our hotel to the Glasgow Central Train Station. It’s a busy confusing, station, with trains coming and going constantly on 16 different tracks. After a bit of initial wait and confusion, we found the right platform and boarded the train for Penrith, the station nearest the northern part of the Lake District in England.
The journey was easy and pleasant, taking a bit over an hour and a half, rolling through some very scenic countryside. We got off the train at Penrith and from there took a bus to Keswick.

Castle ruins at Penrith

For an American, it was a delightful surprise to emerge from the train station at Penrith to the sight of a ruined castle right across the street. There’s not much left of it other than a few crumbling walls, but the grounds have been turned into a park. On that beautiful day, a number of children (plus a few adults) scrambled up and down one of the uneven walls.

The bus ride to Keswick was equally interesting. The bus was a large two-level monster and many of the roads in the area are little more than paved horse trails. Watching the bus maneuver through streets I didn’t think it could possibly fit was an experience in itself. As was riding on the top deck and having branches from the trees at the side of the road banging against the windows. Every time the bus had to make a turn I was sure this would be the time it wouldn’t manage to get around the corner. Because not only are the roads single-car narrow, most buildings are very close to the street.

View from the balcony.

But we got to Keswick (somehow!) and our son met us at the bus station (which is actually just a side road in front of Booths, the larger of two grocery stores in town). We walked the half mile or so to the vacation cottage and arrived to the enthusiastic greetings of our daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, Freya, who is five, and James, three. They had set out early that morning from their home in Hythe, Kent, and driven to Keswick, arriving there a couple of hours before we did.

Freya, 5, and James, 3.

Glasgow Central Rail Station – Looking toward the tracks.

Penrith Train Station

One side of the balcony looked out over the River Greta

The vacation cottage was lovely, including a wall of windows that looked out on one of the many mountains in the area and a veranda that overlooked (on one side) the river that runs through the town.

We had a great time that evening eating pizza and catching up with the family before retiring.

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Glasgow – Day 2

The Gate to the Botanic Gardens

We slept for almost ten hours and woke refreshed. After breakfast in the hotel, we set out. We took the subway to the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, which proved well worth the visit.

But first a word on the Glasgow subway – it’s wonderful! The simplest, easiest subway ever is a neat loop beneath the city. The only options are inner and outer. On the Inner loop the trains run in a counter clockwise direction while on the outer loop, the trains move clockwise. So even if you miss your stop either way, you’re not going to end up lost in some distant suburb. We each bought a ticket for unlimited use for the day, which cost 4.2 pounds per person.

Onto the gardens.  The Botanic Gardens are one of Glasgow’s proudest achievements, though the history is complex. But they’re spectacular. We didn’t walk all over the grounds because we had other things we wanted to do that day, but we did manage to go through both enormous glass houses and stop for coffee and a sweet at one of several tearooms on the grounds.

Entering the Kibble Palace

The Kibble Palace houses a large collection of plants from around the world, including many tropical varieties. Placards on some offer interesting information about some of the plants—odd growing patterns, places in local cultures, and uses of various parts.  The place also displays a number of sculptures from local artists as well as housing temporary exhibits and plant contests.

The second, enormous glasshouse, apparently referred to as the “MainRange Glasshouse” displays everything from cactus to ferns to a gorgeous array of flowers. I could have spent hours in there, just soaking in the amazing and amazingly beautiful variety of flora, but other things were calling.

Back to the subway for one stop to get to

Kelvingrove Museum

the Kelvingrove Art Museum. This beautiful (and enormous) museum has 22 galleries (far more than we could manage to do in one day) that range from showing various aspects of local Scottish arts to collections of French and Dutch paintings from the last few centuries. The paintings include art from Monet, Pisarro, Renoir, Seurat, Millet, Van Gogh, Cassatt, Picasso, Breugel, and Rembrandt (but mostly some of their lesser works). Without doubt, the star of the collection is the original painting of Christ of Saint John of the Cross, by Salvador Dali, which was purchased from the artist himself by a former curator.

Christ of St. John of the Cross, by Salvador Dali

After soaking in most of the paintings galleries, we managed to gape our way through several other exhibits, including one that featured the design works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and a few of his peers and collaborators working in the Art Deco style of the period.

We broke for a quick lunch, eaten in the main hall of the museum, under the elaborate pipe organ. After a visit to the shops, we headed back to the hotel, stopping at an OxFam bookstore to pick up a few things.

Dinner in a local restaurant near our hotel was pleasant. I indulged in one of my favorite new cocktails, an Aperol Spritz, and then went whole hog on the indulgence with a desert called Lemon Meringue Pie in a Cup. Scrumptious. We stopped in a shop or two as we walked back to the hotel and finally called it a night.

Statuary and Plants in the Kibble Palace

Plants displayed in the Kibble Palace

Coffee and raspberry cheesecake in one of the Garden’s tea rooms.

The MainRange GlassHouse

One of the glorious floral displays in the MainRange Glasshouse

Another Floral Display

Interior Main Lobby with grand organ in the Kelvingrove Museum

Van Gogh

Part of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh display at Kelvingrove

The other side of the Kelvingrove Museum.

Lemon Meringue Pie in a Cup!

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A Trip to Glasgow – Getting There and Day 1

In August my husband and I ventured across the sea again. The ultimate goal was a week in the Lake District of England with our son and his family, but to get there we flew into Glasgow where we would get the train to Penrith and then to Keswick. But we’d never been in Glasgow, so we planned to spend a couple of days there before going on again.

Once again, though, getting there was not half the fun.

The first leg of our trip from Greensboro to Atlanta was routine. Yay! The next leg was definitely not. We took off twenty minutes late for New York’s JFK, which the pilot expected to make up in the air. And he did. What none of us counted on was that something had glitched at JFK and planes were lined up waiting for gates. We had to wait an hour an a half for a gate, sitting on the taxiway. We’d allowed plenty of time for our connection but a lot of people on the plane missed theirs.  I was starting to worry about making it when the connection time was down to an hour.

I needn’t have been concerned. As we were making our way from one terminal to another at JFK, the pilot of our flight was right behind us on an escalator, complaining to another pilot about the delay. He was especially perturbed because he was supposed to be flying to Glasgow in an hour.

But of course, it didn’t end there. Airport gridlock was still being untangled and we sat at the gate for 30 minutes waiting to push back and then spent the next hour and a half mostly sitting on the taxiway.  Because the flight attendants can’t serve meals until the flight is actually in the air, we didn’t eat dinner until something like one in the morning.

As usual I didn’t sleep on the plane and as usual it didn’t actually bother me very much.

We got into Glasgow around noon the next day, surprisingly just less than an hour late, breezed through passport control and got a taxi to the hotel, which is right in the heart of the tourist area of Glasgow. After having a quick rest and freshening up a bit, we set out to explore on foot.

The cab driver who took us from the airport to the hotel suggested a couple of places we should explore while we were there and we discovered a couple of them were only a short walk from our hotel.

Buchanan Street in Glasgow

Part of Buchanan Street has been turned into a pedestrian shopping mall with a variety of shops, mostly of the upscale variety but interspersed with other, smaller shops. We had fun poking into various places, got lunch from a sandwich shop on Buchanan St., eaten sitting on the side of a subway station, then headed for the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. I love art, but my tastes tend more to the traditional, however we were so close and it was free, so we figured, “Why not?”

I can’t say I feel terribly enlightened by the displays, although I did find some quite interesting! An odd piece by Eduardo Paolozzi called “Hamlet in a Japanese Manner” was appealing but made no actual sense to me. The museum’s piece de resistance was one of Andy Warhol’s Soup Can paintings, which I find amusing and even admit to some understanding of how his approach carries artistic meaning.

We spent more time wandering around, just admiring the distinctive architecture, looking in at various places and doing some shopping.

One of the lovely features of the old part of Glasgow at least, is how much they’ve retained of the old architecture, even when a building’s interior has been completely redone and repurposed. A lot of it is Victorian and much of it reflects the influence of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

We stopped in at The Willow Tea Rooms for an early dinner since we planned on an early night after the short, mostly sleepless night before on the plane. The place features interior design and furniture created by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, most notably the very distinctive high-backed chairs. I ordered the traditional afternoon tea, and Jim had haddock patties with salad and a big cup of white mocha.  We were both well satisfied.

We headed back to the hotel in a drizzly rain.


The Museum of Modern Art in Glasgow

Dinner in the Willow Tea Room. Note the chair design!


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Goodbye to the Local Baseball Team For This Year

I’m a sports fan. That’s a statement of fact, not to be mistaken for a confession or an admission. It is what it is.

I’m particularly fond of baseball and especially our local minor league team, the Greensboro Grasshoppers, affectionately known as the Hoppers. Yes, it’s a ridiculous name, but the team is actually named for a small cannon used during the Revolutionary war, not necessarily the bug, even if the team mascot does happen to be a giant, stylized insect.

The Class A South Atlantic league wraps up its regular season at the end of August.  The Hoppers still have one more home stand before then, but we won’t be able to go to those, so we took in our last game the night before last.

It was a terrific time. The weather was perfect. After a fierce storm early in the day, the skies cleared again, but the temperature sank from 90 in the morning to 73 at game time. In addition to the show on the field, the skies presented a glorious display as the sun went down behind us.

And then there was the game itself, a perfect and perfectly odd jewel of a game. The Hoppers won 7 to nothing. Our pitchers combined for a shutout, including the starting pitcher who gave up only one hit through five innings. But the scoring… Three times in the game–three times!–the opposing pitchers walked a batter with the bases loaded. A fourth run was added when the pitcher hit a batter with the bases loaded.

But hey, a win is a win, and we’ll take it. Although our team is reasonably good, we’ve seen them win only once before this season. Every other game we’ve gone to (maybe 6 or 7) has been a loss. This was a good way to close out the season.

And there were fireworks after the game. They put on an amazing show.


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No Time for Surprises is now available in paperback!

The paperback cover for No Time for Surprises!  Get it for $9.99 at Amazon.

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