Day 5: Kayaking and Cèilidhs

Breakfast was again served at the hostel, my tray loaded with a confusing mixture of English breakfast and cereal with toast. Nonetheless, straight away afterwards we congregated at the front of the hostel for our next group activities. Whereas the previous day, both activities had taken place outside Ambleside requiring a short bus journey, my activity for the day took place right on the shore of the lake opposite the front door. We would be kayaking.

There was a group of around 17 of us who met around the kayaks. We were met by two guides, who stepped us through the basics of collecting wet weather gear, boats, paddles and cockpit covers. We were paired into two-person kayaks, with one of the guides in a boat with the odd-one-out, and the other guide in a boat of their own. I was paired with Kevin, a Singaporean film studies student. I took the back of the boat, where new to me, I had to deal with having a rudder. Wherever I had kayaked before, turning was done by paddling more on one side than the other, but now I had to think about using my feet to steer. This was a little foreign, and caused some difficulties in some more hairy situations, but in general I found it to be acceptable.

Our boats now floated in the water, we paddled across the lake. We passed through a number of sailboats sitting peacefully in the harbour. There was little current or wind so the passage was rather straightforward. At the rear of the bay, we turned right and headed up the River Rothay. It got very shallow here, and we had to be careful to avoid any large underwater obstacles, especially considering we now had a deep rudder as well. We arrived at a small and quaint cottage with its own lock, and turned up the River Brathay. A few hundred meters up the river, was a small grassy rock which was emerging from the water. We regrouped here, and one by one powered up a section of fast-flowing river between a narrow gap in the trees. It was here that my ruddering was not instinctive enough, so despite making it through the gap, we careered into a tree beyond. Others followed with greater or lesser success.

We turned around and sailed quickly back down the river. We now had the flow with us so were able to get some speed up. Our next move was to paddle across open water straight across the Pullwood Bay. All up, this was just shy of a mile of paddling into a rough wind, the water being quite choppy. It was hard going, and quite a strain, but with some coordination and effort we made it to the other side. We landed on the beach, and took a short stroll up the hill on the far bank to a 19th century castle/manor house designed to be much like the stereotypical fairy-tale castle. We explored around a while before committing ourselves to the mile of paddling back to the hostel. This time, the wind was with us, and we found ourselves surfing on the small, choppy waves.

We landed and undressed from our wet clothes, eager for lunch. Like all of the lunches on this trip, we were greeted by baguette sandwiches, chips and fruit. After lunch, it was time for the second activity.

Once again, I was back on the bus. We were headed south-east, for the town of Kendal. But first, we dropped a number of passengers at the Hawkshead Brewery in Stavely. After this, there were only half-a-dozen or so left on the bus, so this left us with only a small group of people to explore the town of Kendal. By the time we disembarked, it was raining, but it was our strong desire to visit the ruins of Kendal Castle. Unfortunately, this meant trekking up as steep and muddy slope in shoes not everyone had prepared for. At the top of a grassy hill, stood the ruins of a 12th century castle. Much of the castle had decayed over time, but the circular walls and three distinct structures were still visible. Some were disappointed, expecting a full-on medieval castle, but nevertheless I found it impressive.

We made our way back down the hill, and sick of the rain, went to an old chocolate and sweet shop at the end of the high street. It was exactly as one would expect, cramped and narrow yet with a quaint English charm. We went to the cafe area upstairs and squeezed ourselves around a small table. There were so many different types of hot chocolate available that we had great difficulty coming to a decision. To top it off, I grabbed some scones as well.

Our bus met us on the high street, and we headed back to the brewery to pick up the some-what intoxicated revellers, before returning to the hostel. But almost immediately after we returned, we were ushered to the pier to go on our final activity, or so we thought, a boat cruise across the lake. I sat with Nathan and Joanna, watched the sun set over the mountains (hills) and cruised across the lake. Sometime along, we grouped together on the bow for a squishy group photo, and then were met with a barbecue of food: Cumberland sausages, marinated chicken breast and beef patties. Delicious!

As we returned to the dock, we off-loaded from the boat but were immediately ushered back towards the buses. There was a surprise final activity that had been hinted at but not openly discussed. None of the new scholars knew were we were going. The bus drove through the dark and arrived at a tiny side-street. We were told to head along an unlit path, some people laden with drinks and supplies, before we arrived at an old stone barn. Inside, a band was setting up, but this wasn’t any ordinary band. The head was an elderly lady, at least in her sixties, and other instruments included violins, keyboards and pipes, with the two elderly men wearing kilts. This was a traditional Gaelic céilidh (roughly pronounced kay-leigh).

Throughout the night, the lead instructed us to form circles, lines, sets or pairs, and stepped us through each of the dances.The music had a repetitive motif, 8 beats long paired in two to form a 16 beat section which allows us to perform a different motion. Before each dance, we would be instructed through a rehearsal to get the motions right, sometimes forming a four person star, walking in a circle, promenading, dosey-doeing, swings and tunnels and arches. Partners would swap quickly, but the music was long enough so each pair would get through the entire song at least twice in a given cycle. After the first two dances, a number of less interested people began to sit out, but a very dedicated three-quarters or so kept at it through most of the rest of the night.

Our final bus ride back to the hotel featured many worn out and exhausted souls, and almost immediately after getting back, I hit the pillow and went straight to sleep.

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