Monday, February 9, 2009

Lake District

Travel Month:

Feb 2009




Mountain driving, sight seeing

Total Distance Covered:

750 Miles


It all started with a quick search on Facebook to find some old friends. Suddenly a very small sized picture with a familiar face of an old friend of mine took my attention. I did not meet him in the last 18 years. Because the picture was micro, it was hard to make sure that it was infact Atif. I had to shoot an email and then to wait for over a month. Finally I received a message of concurrence that this guy is none other than Atif Maqsood. We were best friends in school days and then the flow of life took us to our fate and we moved on with our busy lives and never could got in touch for such a long time. One major reason was that we picked up different subjects in high school so life just moved on. Well once we knew each others whereabouts by exchanging emails, I finally made a plan to visit Atif and Wasim in the UK for our reunion for a couple of days. The plan executed on the 6th of Feb 2009. Wasim has been an old and tested friend and each time I visited UK in the last ten years, I have stayed with him in Milton Keynes. I mentioned only Wasim and Atif as we were from the same college and this reunion was planed like that, but there are some other very good friends that I met in the trip including very good friends Rehman & family and Afzal. Both these fellows are my friends from college days and its always a pleasure meeting them.

I boarded the plane at 10am to Heathrow, the flight was uneventful on British Air except for a four seat treat I received. It was good to have four seats to take some rest. The flight was mostly empty and there were only a few passengers aboard the flight. After landing at Heathrow I came out in the lobby just to find out that the weather has been terribly bad forcing most of the public transport to cancel and people even couldnt move their cars out of their parkings due to pile of snow behind them. I was aware of the bad weather earlier butI could not change my program due to the weather only and took a chance. England gets snow only once in a while especially the big cities like London that does not fall in the snow belt. Therefore they were never prepared for the currect series of storms they received. Had it been Canada, the amount of snow received by UK would have been just a normal amount of snow for them. Obviously, different areas are equiped with the sort of weather they face. But current weather condition in UK directly effected our plans to go to Manchester to join Atif and to continue to Lake District as per our original plan for a few days holidays.

Wasim was waiting in the lobby with a baby rucksac at his back. He was looking like a camel with a little hump on his back. It was a surprise for me to see him anyhow because he had reduced about 21 kg off his poor body shape just to get ready for our trip across Europe in the coming months. He made it to the airport on train from Milton Keynes as he could not move his car either. We had a plan to head straight out and join Atif in Manchester to continue our journey to the Lake District where we planned to stay for a couple of days. The whole plan had to be changed now. The road to Manchester was trecherous and we had to reach Milton Keynes first to get our ride anyhow, and for Milton Keynes we didnt have any transport leaving us in afix.

We sat in the waiting area, thanks to terminal 5 and kept discussing the situation. I was least bothered as long as I was with my friends. We contemplated staying in a hotel or at some other friends.

Moreover Rehman called and he said nobody goes anywhere without visiting their place in Craydon. His emotional blackmail helped us and we scrapped our program to reach Manchester that day and headed to Victoria Station on the tube to catch another to Craydon. It was cold and snow was still coming down from the skies.

UK has seen such weather after 20 years, its the same number of years that I've not seen Atif....what a conincidence! London and other parts of UK were put to stand still as England doesn't seem to be prepared for such weather.

Well it was rush hour when we left Terminal 5 and all trains were packed with people returning from work. Rehman joined us from one of the stations on his way back home as well. We finally made it to his place on taxi from the tube station in the dark, while it was still snowing. Here we met Samha (Rehman's wife) and their lovely children. Samha was cooking a lovely Nihari for us while we went ahead to pick some naan and kebabs from the market. The food was delicious and we fed the hungry stomachs to the brim. A little walk in the snow was taken to keep our digestive system function properly after all the abuse we did to it, with the extra and rich eating. All three friends sat late into the night and notes were exchanged, we caught up for the last few years, discussions on various topics ended very late when it was called a day.

Rehman backed out from joining us due to the extra day in our plan as he had work, therefore he drove us to Milton Keynes so that we could pick up Wasim's car from there to continue to Manchester. We left at 6 in the morning when it was still dark. The roads were very slippery due to the snow turned ice on the roads. The temparature was well below zero and it was even colder due to wind. There was not much traffic as it was the weekend. Weather was still bad and we were hoping to pull out Wasim's truck from the pile of snow he left it in. We got dropped off couple of streets away from Wasim's place, so that Rehman would not get stuck on the icy small streets. We walked with my luggage to Wasim's house.

We met Wasim's family before we drove ahead. Wasim has three adorable children, who woke up early on a weekend day to meet us up. We continued our journey and did not forget to put a shovel in the car as a precaution. The drive was nice but the scenery was nothing compared to UK's scenery in the summers when it is lush green. We crossed Birmingham from the bypass toll road and had a coffee stop. We spoke to Atif on the way a few times as he was anxiously waiting for us.

People who have driven in North America will consider this a short ride but it is long for people living in the UK. It was a 3 hours drive to Manchester. The old friends finally meet, the emotions could not be explained. There was a time when myself and Atif used to spend full days together. We would go to school on bicycles and after school we used to spend the day together either at his place or mine. We used ot play cricket for hours and used to enjoy the food our mothers cooked for us. If I say that we were inseparable then it wont be an exaggeration. Those were good old days and those memories we cherish today. Today I work in the technology and HR fields and Atif is working as a Doctor in the the UK while Wasim is working in the technology area too. Life goes on, professions move friends away from each other but there are times like this when you get a chance to get together after several years without having it on the cards. Its life, which is amazing.

We drove to a restaurant close by to have a bite before we hit the road to the Lake District. Chicken Karhahi and mixed grill was served and we did justice to it. Soon we were in the hilly terrain heading Windermere Lake that was our first proper stop. On the way we left the highway and took the smaller roads. UK is full of single roads those pass through small villages and farm houses provided beautiful scenery. One could leave the highway to go through the side roads to make it to the same destination but by adding another few hours to the journey. But for me UK's countryside is always very attractive and I love to go through the side roads rather than the highways.

I remember when I was doing some projects in the UK I used to travel miles and miles without having a particular destination in mind just to enjoy the nature and scenery and I was never bored. Today was special anyhow that I was with my two old and best friends so even the land scape was not the priority. The priority was to catch up for all those years lost. We took full advantage of the time and discussed all those years we spent together. We did not forget to talk about our other friends who have done good for their lives and the ones who could not make it to good and still struggled for good life. Our prayers are with all of them.

We drove aimlessly through the bottle neck roads and continued our journey. It was very refreshing, weather was fairly cold and windy. We stopped at several place, clicked tons of pictures, changed our course many a times but still continued towards Windermere Lake. It was mid afternoon when we made it to the windy lake. The Swans, ducks and several other birds were enjoying themselves in the lake and due to the weather condition there were not too many people out there...good or us. We took a chilly stroll and then decided to go on the lake cruise. Next 1.5 hours we rode the waves and talked and talked with keeping a good eye on the stunning scenery around the lake. Myself and Atif stayed on the deck for quite some time and faced the below zero winds bravely.

This lake is surrounded by nice hills, some of them were snow covered providing a feeling as we were in the Northern Pakistan or Nepal facing the 8000ers. I have seen similar sceneries high up in the mountains but here in England where there are no 8000ers we were getting similar views. There is a road going alongside the lake on one side dotted with mobile homes, hotels and houses. The other side shows some summer retreat houses hidden in the trees. Behind on both sides there are mountains.

Windermere is the largest lake in this area and most visited offcourse. I summers it is hard to find a place to stay in this area and the whole of UK and other tourists flood the Lake District. The celebreties have their summer homes in the mountains. Lake District is very close to the Scottland so it is inherriting the natural beauty from there. I never expected that there would be so much of population at this location. But to my surprise the Lake District is full of small villages and you hardly drive for some time to reach the other settlement. But all the towns and villages are very well maintained and whereever there is any historic place it is very well preserved. Thats makes the whole of UK as a historic place because you find such place everywhere in this country.

By the time our boat docked it was evening almost. We had a coffee to warm ourselves up before we started the journey again. We crossed Ambleside and kept going towards Kiswick. We crossed a point where there are mountains on either side of the road and there are some nice hiking treks going up. We kept it pending until the next day to climb one of them. It was turning dark when we reached Kiswick. The scenery around this town is breathtaking as it is sitting in the middle of green mountains. A very well placed beautiful town. We spent some time here and then discussed where to spend the night. The good thing was we were traveling without any particular plan in mind, and as it was flexible we were not worried about where to reach at what time. We evaluated the situation and then booked online at one Travelodge some 40 miles away from where we were in the historic town of Kendal. We started towards our destination when it was dark and cold. Through the small roads, enjoying ourselves we managed to reach our hotel. Once we were unpacked all three of us in the same room, we went to the high street to find something to eat. We had a long walk in the closed markets to find something and stopped at a nice Pizza place. After dinner we had some more walk to explore the town and then drove back to the hotel. It was very late when we went to sleep.

I was up even earlier than my usual time due to the jet lag and Atif was the next to join me and we talked and talked until morning when Wasim joined the gang. After a refreshing shower we were out on the road to explore more lakes and towns of the Lake District. We wanted to do some hiking as well. At Ambleside we stopped for breakfast and to browse the outdoor stores those have always been my choice to visit. They had very nice but very expensive stuff.

Next stop was to climb the mountain but Wasim and Atif were not ready however I convinced them to come along with me. It was a snow track climbing at a steep angle and we were not prepared at all. All three of us were wearing the joggers and had no other means to help us go up. Soon we found out that it was very slippery and cold. Wasim trekked with us for some time and then gave up to go back to the truck. The remaining two continued and stopped at a small water fall coming down from a stream through the snowy mountain. We passed some other climbers who were very well equiped with sticks, ice axes, crampons and what not. One suggested us that we should not continue, but we continued for another 30-40 minutes. We only walked on the soft patches and not on the track as it was very icy and was impossible to walk on at least for us. Temperature was close to zero or below zero. We had a lot of fun, took a lot of pictures and were children like, like we were 20 years back. The time was reversed and we had come out of our aging process and felt at young as one could be. These feelings are hard to explain.

We started our descend on the slippery slopes and came back in the car to warm ourselves up. We were in the drive again, now going to the ocean. We were heading towards Whitehaven a Cumberian town and port in Northern England. That would our last stop before we head back to Manchester. The road was nice and the views were spectacular. We went through the mountains and soon were getting glimpses of the ocean far down on our right. The scenery had opened up and the mountains were just behind us. We also saw the UK's largest Windmill park generating power. Again this town was very historic and contains a lot of historic building and monuments. We clicked some pictures near the light house and the old castle.

The journey back to Manchester was bit boring as we were coming out of a nice scenery and a wonderful area. We dropped Atif where he had parked his car and started driving back to Milton Keynes. The drive was terrible because of the snow and rain falling the whole way. Visibility was reduced and the spray from the highway made it even more difficult to drive. But we kept making progress and by 8:30 pm we made it safely to Waseem's place. Dinner was ready for the hungry souls, thanks to Wasim's wife.

This leg of the trip was over with a bang and left lasting memories with us.

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