Aah, Derwentwater, Queen of the English Lakes. Except I think that may instead be the description more accurately associated with Windermere. Or maybe even Ullswater? No matter.
The point is, Derwentwater will always hold a special place in my heart and memory, as the focal point of many childhood family holidays. Staying on a delightfully hospitable B&B sheep farm in the Newlands Valley, our regular holidays were made even more special by our early discovery of Nichol End Marine, nestled in a fold of topography on the western shore of the lake. Here, in those days, there was nothing more than a peeling green-painted tin shed, seemingly growing out of the mossy bank on which it was perched, and within which could always be found a delightfully chaotic clutter of chandlery – permanently permeated with the head-spinning top notes of fibreglass resin.
Under the overhanging greenery alongside the timber jetty, we would moor our little inflatable boat with its little outboard motor – and spend many happy hours goading the lowly tourists as they rowed innocently into our domain from the Keswick public landing stages.
As complete beginners, we also fished here with simple float and worm – from the boat and the jetty itself, where several obliging and gallant perch, wearing their comical green-black striped pyjamas and pricking up their spiky dorsal fins with indignation at being hauled from their natural habitat, imbued the author with a lifetime’s fascination with piscatorial creatures of all shapes, sizes and habitats.
Returning to this childhood haunt has always been an exciting experience and so it was that we journeyed up a typically clogged M6 to return to Keswick in the trusty Knumptywagen. This we manoeuvred into a pre-booked slot at the frighteningly well-run camping site set at the head of ‘our’ lake. Many benefits accrue from ‘camping’ here, especially when the slightly-inconvenient three-night-minimum-stay comes complete with clear blue skies and solid sunshine, affording such magnificent views down the lake and of the surrounding mountains, that it’s no effort at all to imagine yourself in a variety of more exotic locations such as Switzerland or the Italian Alps.
Other benefits of the site include the immediate adjacencies not only of the lapping shallows of Derwentwater itself, but also Booths supermarket – the sole aim of which is surely to make Waitrose appear downmarket.
But childhood-revisited wasn’t our sole reason for taking up our sunny pitch, plugging-in the electrics, rolling out the awning and putting out the reclining chairs. (Can you now see why the word ‘camping’ appeared above in inverted commas?) We were here to fulfil a long-standing appointment with a doyen of the angling community in the Lakes, the legendary Eric Hope, whose acquaintance we’d been lucky enough to make several years previously when he guided us onto the water for our first thrilling introduction to Esox Lucius, aka the northern pike.
Now, it’s never been the purpose of this blog to overtly promote anyone or anything commercial, but boy, does this guy know his stuff! Characterful, humorous, relaxed, hugely knowledgeable of both the lake and its various inhabitants, Eric is the go-to fishing guide, which is why we keep – well – go-toing him!
The weather remained glorious for our day-on-the-water as we cruised the bays, islands and drop-offs of the lake. Under our Guide’s expert tutelage we boated five very fine and very fit pike, in various sizes, one of which graces the photo, caught (of course) by Her Ladyship, The Chief Navigator and Rt Honourable Pikess of Cumbria, no less.
Unbelievably, the following day provided yet more clear blue sky and sufficient sunshine to encourage us back onto the lake, now ourselves nothing more than lowly tourists as we disembarked onto Nichol End’s landing stage from Keswick’s delightful public launch service. From here we could walk to the recently re-opened Lingholm Gardens, where a striking new café and octagonal walled garden had been installed, adding a very stylish and attractive wow-factor to Derwentwater’s western shore.
A walk then along the lakeshore amidst bursting greenery splashed with vibrantly coloured azaleas and rhododendrons, then stepping out briskly along the elevated walkways which traverse the marshy southern end of the lake. Our perspicacity allowed a perfectly-timed ferry rendezvous at the Lodore jetty, where we had sufficient sailors’ insight to sit on the leeward side as – amidst much shock and embarrassed hilarity – breeze-induced waves created a rather incongruous wet-T-shirt competition amidst the open-air windward seating, providing free entertainment for those of us in the dry seats.
Returning to Keswick, we stepped ashore like the intrepid explorers we were and traversed aptly-named Crow Park towards the campsite. Booths beckoned us in for supper supplies which, with the weather still set fair, became a disposable barbecue, subsequently and unfortunately drifting disproportionately huge and embarrassing clouds of smoke across the campsite.
This accidental kippering thankfully didn’t seem to upset anyone, as most of our fellow campers had already disappeared inside when dusk fell, leaving a collection of variously-sized wheeled white nodules scattered around the site like clusters of white corpuscles. From within each of these shiny cells, tiny flickering neon-coloured nuclei could be seen pulsing, as unseen inhabitants tuned their aerials and dishes to receive their daily dose of passive entertainment.
Being responsible outdoor types, we communed with the midges; fed our faces with charcoaled steak sliced over salad; drank some wine; admired Skiddaw; doused our barbecue and followed the example of our fellow Knumptyers by retiring into our corpuscle and powering up our own little nucleus. Night night.