Monday, 9 June 2014

OMG, now that's an afternoon tea!!

I didn't get much sleep last night. For some reason I just couldn't get to sleep for hours. This is something that I have noticed quite a lot since I came off my medication, and it seems that I just don't need as much sleep. So, I remember hearing on the radio that it was 1:30am, and I know that I didn't fall asleep that soon after that, but it must have been before 2am that I finally drifted off.

This morning, we were confronted with totally different weather - it was pouring down with rain. This wasn't a major problem, as the plan was to go to Keswick, it just meant that the drive there wasn't quite as pleasant as it could have been.

Never the less, the views were still pretty amazing as we took the main road from Ambleside to Keswick, passing a few more of the smaller lakes on the way, the roads being looked down upon by the large "mountains" that stand guard to the towns and villages in the Lakes.

We were able to find the Pencil Museum fairly easily, and parked in the car park by the side of it. By now, the rain was even heavier, and we were very glad that we only had a few yards to dash to get into the place.

The museum itself is basically an outbuilding of the old factory, which is still there despite not having been used for some years now (they have a new factory around 20 miles away), and the old one is simply standing derelict, which seems both odd and a shame.

The museum has a gift shop, cafe, demonstration room and the museum itself, which starts off with a dark, low and narrow entrance to try to give the impression of being part of a graphite mine. Once inside, there is a video screen which gives a short introduction to how graphite was discovered, how it's uses were found, how it became a very desirable commodity (once more valuable than gold!), and how the area became the home to the British pencil industry.

I have to confess that I found it all far more interesting than I had expected to, and did learn a lot of things. For me, probably the most interesting thing was how the Cumberland Pencil Company had been asked to help come up with an "escape pencil" for airmen during the war. It had to look and feel exactly like a real, normal pencil so that it would not arouse suspicion if the airman was captured by the enemy, but it had to conceal both a map of Germany and a magnetic compass.

The project was overseen in total secrecy by the department that made gadgets for special missions and secret agents. This department was the basis for "Q branch" in Ian Fleming's James Bond books. Only a few staff knew of the project, and the pencils were developed and constructed in secret after hours in the factory. Many decades later when they decided to revive these pencils for an anniversary pencil set, they discovered that there was no information about how these were made originally, and they had to find a way to do it all over again. Despite having computerised modern machinery, they just couldn't do it, and ended up drilling the holes by hand, and getting another company to especially roll the maps up tight enough to fit them into the pencils. They also could not find anyone who could make the compasses small enough, and so they ended up making the pencils slightly larger than the original ones had been. Fascinating.

The video room has a 20 minute show on how the pencils are made in the new factory, and despite all the new technology, it is still a fairly labour intensive process, and you can begin to understand why their pencils are the price they are. It is also sad to learn that they are the only company still making them in the UK, and also that none of the graphite used comes from the UK any more.

The museum also is home to the world's largest pencil.

When we had finished our tour and Sally had raided the gift shop (she was actually very restrained if I'm honest!), we went outside to discover that it had finally stopped raining. We decided to walk back into Keswick town centre from the museum to have a look around the shops and find something to eat.

It was here that we found Brysons bakery and old fashioned tea rooms. Having had a look at the menu, we thought, let's go for it, and ordered the afternoon tea.

Well, I don't think I have ever seen anything quite like it, and we were both surprised and pleased with ourselves that we couldn't even manage half of it! Thankfully, the staff provided us with a box to put the rest in for us to eat later on in the day!

The first photo shows what was on the tray to begin with, the second shows what was left when we had given up - talk about the TV show "Man v Food" - we turned out to be a right pair of lightweights when it came to it!!

We managed just over half of the sandwiches, the scones and some of the lemon mouse. This left the rest of the sandwiches and ALL of the cakes to bring home with us.

We then carried on walking around Keswick, trying to burn off a few of the calories, but it had started to rain again by now, so we headed back to the car, and took the A66 towards Penrith before turning off onto the road towards Ullswater. This was an extremely pretty road which leads down towards the lake itself, and then onto the Kirkstone Pass, which is one of the most infamous roads in the area. Narrow, winding and steep, the road signs warn you to avoid it in bad weather. It was now just about dry again, and the sun was doing its best to make an appearance.

I would have taken photos, but they would not have done it justice, and I was also trying my best to keep my eyes open for oncoming traffic to help Sally. It was not quite as hairy as yesterday's route, but even so was not for the feint hearted. It did delve into the realms of terror when we came off the "A" road onto the unlabelled one down to Ambleside. This is know locally as "The Struggle", and you can see why as it is stupidly steep. Thankfully, we were going down hill rather than up, but as it was single track with passing places and walled in on both sides, it was a bit "entertaining".

The photo shows one of the wider and less stressful parts of the road with lake Windermere in the distance.

We made a brief stop in Ambleside itself to have a quick run around the shops before heading back to the cottage for a much needed mug of tea. We had only been back a few minutes when the heavens opened again, and the sky became as black as night.

Sally is having a play with her new pencils, I have caught up on the news via the BBC website, and then set to writing this missive about today's activities. If the weather improves we may go for another walk beside the lake this evening.

I will finish up with some photos of Keswick town centre before signing off for the night.

1 comment:

  1. Love reading about what you've been up to. Feel like I'm right there with you both xx