with Steve McCarthy
It was not planned this way. Not at all. Still, lemons into lemonade, as they say. And what a marvelous find. Carlisle isn't on anyone's top ten of places to visit. It should be. A warm, friendly city, a fantastic and underrated cathedral, a fine castle, good food, what more could you want?
Constant reader will know of our argument with the Volvo. I may have said Saab before, who cares, it was Swedish and we lost. sigh. At the tow yard, we dialed up hotels.com for a place that wouldn't break the back and found the County Hotel. Not the choice any of the locals we talked to later would have made for guests. We'd tried the nearby Premier Inn (think a step or three above Motel 6) and no rooms. So, we signed up for Carlisle's oldest hotel.
Built about the time of the railway station, back when Victoria was queen, the place is some 130 years old. Frankly, it looks and feels it. The floors sagged in places, creaked a lot, there was no air conditioning (but don't hold that against it, few places in the Isles have it, but man, having brought our SoCal sun along with it, this place needed it), and so-so breakfast, this place was well frayed about the edges, and efforts to keep it going were just keeping it's head above water. We LOVED IT! It's the kind of rough gem we look for. The staff was wonderful, the laundry service (and man did we need it!) was good and inexpensive, and it's central location meant everything worth seeing was within easy walking distance.
Across the street was a pub called The Griffin that served a wonderful apple/cherry crumble and pulled pints of several local ales and ciders, there was a Brazilian chicken place (think up scale El Pollo Loco), good breakfast at the Woodrow Wilson (seems his mother was born in Carlisle, as was Stan Laurel!) and some good luncheon places as well.
The cathedral is the city's (it can't be a city without a cathedral, who knew?) gem. The castle is more famous, having been begun by the Romans, but see the cathedral. Magnificent! The ceiling alone is astonishing. Not the usual gothic arches, but painted a beautiful blue with gold stars. VERY different. The pipe organ is a monster as well. Wish we could have heard it!
The Castle is a good solid fortress, and it seems that Carlisle is the most fought over place in all of Britain! It's been traded back and forth between the Scots and the English more often than Mike Sillinger or Octavio Dotel. Look 'em up. It's an impressive site.
Carlisle also makes for a good base for a day trip to the Lake District, one of England's rural gems. Once we arranged a rental car, we decided that we needed a break from the TR Stress, and drove off to see what Wordsworth and all those other Romantics were on about. Amazing area! Scenery to die for, little towns and pubs (some crawling with tourists or course) and even a neolithic stone circle. The views are breathtaking.
Keswick is the main town, the stone circle is just outside of town. Too many tourists in Keswick, we stopped for lunch in Cockermouth, birthplace of Wordsworth, for a good lunch at a classic small pub, The Castle Bar. Good stuff! To get there, take the Winlatter Pass. If you dare. Mostly single track and a 20% incline in places, the views are spectacular.
This whole are is what one thinks of when one thinks of Merrie Olde England. It's rural, small villages and hamlets, market towns that still function as such, and the City of Carlisle. Even under the worst of circumstances, it was a wonderful port in the storm of our lives, and allowed us enough distraction to decompress and continue on our Grand Adventure.
And again, a huge thanks to John Morrison of the Umbria TR Registry! The Blue Meanie got to the shipper in Dublin and awaits a container to take her home!