Driving to the Lake District and back in a day

Published 24 June 2018

Stagecoach Cumbria minibus at the foot at Catbells
At the foot of Catbells, the 77 heads on its way back to Keswick

“The Lake District. Just 90 minutes from your new home in MediaCity.”

The year is 2010. The location: White City, London.

At the time I was working for the BBC on red button services. You know, press red to get all this amazing stuff.

Some time earlier, the BBC had announced a big move of operations out of London. My team is one of those affected. There’s a choice to be made. It’s a biggy. I can keep my job. But my other half would have to quit hers. We’d have to sell our house, leave all our friends behind and start afresh in a city that – whilst not completely alien to us – is one we haven’t lived in since we were teenagers.

Alternatively I could take the redundancy cheque. Yes it requires finding a new job, but there’s money to cushion the blow. And Catherine would still have her job. The rest of my life would carry on without disruption.

Obviously as an organisation, the BBC didn’t particularly want to lose thousands of experienced staff. It didn’t want to have to start several departments completely from scratch. Much better to take as many people with you as possible. That way you have people who know what they’re doing, and who can train up the new people. So the BBC started an exercise to sell the benefits of moving.

An informal meeting area, next to a kitchen, was converted into an area selling the benefits of moving north. A table had a map of Greater Manchester attached to its surface (it was still there until last year.) Posters on the wall sold the benefits of being in MediaCity.

MediaCity's offices, photographed at night from across the quay
MediaCity, in Salford. Just 90 minutes from the Lake District…

One of them was the time it took to get to the Lake District. Look, it said. You’re so close to something wonderful. You can go there for a day.

As it happened, we opted to stay in London. The time for such a move was not right. The Lake District would remain out of reach for a day trip.

Zoom forward six years and I’m sat in the front of a van with lots of our belongings, travelling up the M6. We move north without a generous relocation package. And we do so with one child and a second on the way.

There’s two things that are an abiding memory of that period of my life. One’s some lyrics from the Badly Drawn Boy song, Have You Fed The Fish? “Sometimes you’ve got to rewind to go forward. There’s some good times around the corner.” It swirls round my head like crazy.

The second is that poster. Just 90 minutes from your new home in MediaCity.

Of course we don’t move house to MediaCity. The town we move to is just a bit further away from the Lake District than MediaCity. But the Lakes aren’t that far away. Google Maps tells me I can drive to Patterdale in 2 hours 10 minutes. To Coniston in the same time. The Old Dungeon Ghyll? 2 hours 14. I could do it in a day, I tell myself. Get in the car, drive up the motorway, spend the day on fells, come back home. It’s doable. Isn’t it?

It takes two years for me to actually try. But one May Bank Holiday Monday I get in the car at ridiculous-o-clock in the morning, and zoom up the M60, the M61 and the M66 towards Swindale. Google Maps says it will take me just two hours.

The grass outside Tebay Services
Tebay Services. An ideal place to stop for a rest if you’re driving up the M6 towards the Lake District.

Two and a half hours later (delayed by a pit-stop at Tebay services, and an errant sat-nav that sent me the wrong way) and I’m standing in the Lake District National Park.

It was a lovely drive. The sun was shining, the roads were deserted. And the fells, well I’ll tell more about them elsewhere. But it was a lovely walk. A fantastic day.

Two and a half hours is a long time to drive for a walk. But the when I lived in London, there were days when I’d sit on a train for two hours to do some walk in the South Downs, or on the Thames Path. It’s not something you want to do regularly, but as a treat every now and then, it’s great.

And of course not every part of the Lakes can be accessed so easily. It’ll be a struggle to get to the North Western fells by car in a day. But I’ve got enough fells I can do in day walks, to keep me occupied for now.

Funnily enough, a few days after doing that trip I bumped into an old colleague who had moved from London to MediaCity all those years earlier. He loves walking. I mentioned my trip.

“You know,” he said, “in all these years, I’ve yet to drive to the Lakes in a day.”

I hope that’s something he’ll be rectifying soon.


Simon Clark

20 January 2019 at 11:06 pm

I drive up to the Lake district setting off about five in the morning on a Saturday, walk the fells all day and then spend the night in a Youth Hostel. Sunday, walk the fells before driving home in the evening. It is about three hours each way for me. Two days walking with only one night stop over, food I would have eaten anyway at home so just my diesel cost and the cost of the Youth Hostel and maybe the odd car park. A very decent weekend away comes in at around £80.I have only 19 more Wainwrights to do then I guess one starts all over again :)

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