The weather was fine until we hit the Black Country. True to its unfortunate sounding, rather dreary, description (and I mean no offence to anyone who may live there) the skies darkened, the rain fell un-relentingly, and the wind began to rock the car as we sped along the motorway. By the time we reached Windermere, it was more like autumn rather than nearly at the summer solstice. However, when we reached our rendezvous point with Lisa (Dowley) at the Bluebird Café, on the shores of Coniston Water, the skies began to clear and the wind dropped, almost as suddenly as it had started.
It was, of course, on Coniston Water that Donald Malcolm Campbell’s ill-fated attempt at bettering his own water speed record of 276.33 mph took place. It was 4th January 1967, and Campbell was nearing the end of his second run in Bluebird, when she flipped high into the air and nose-dived into the water. Rescuers who raced to the spot found only Campbell's helmet, shoes, oxygen mask, and his Teddy bear mascot, Mr. Woppit, bobbing on the water. It was not until 28th May 2001 that Donald Campbell’s body was recovered from the waters and laid to rest in Coniston cemetery, in September of that year.
As I have said, we had arranged to meet Lisa at the Bluebird Café – named, of course, after Donald Campbell’s boat - and we arrived there at 12.30 pm, seven and a half hours (and a few coffee breaks and calls of Mother Nature) after leaving sunny Woolsery. There has been a café building on the site since the Furness Railway Company built it in 1860 after the rail network was brought to Coniston. Its purpose then was to act as accommodation for the crew of the original SY Gondola which travelled up and down the lake in Victorian days. Now you will find the café is full of Bluebird memorabilia, and boasts a beautiful spot on the shores of the lake.
After a much needed cup of tea, whopping great big slabs of fruit cake, and then a spot of filming, we all regrouped at Low Peel Near, where we had been based last year, to wait for the arrival of our diver Kevin, and his brother-in-law, Ken.
If any of you reading this has ever been to the Lake District, you will know about the long, narrow winding lanes that take you across the wild countryside. In places, these roads are not for the fainthearted as the bends are sharp, with sheer drops into the lakes banking them, separated only by low man-made walls of stone. In the remoter parts the lanes become single lane traffic only, and it took us three attempts to get around one particular corner, due to the need of having to reverse every time we ventured our noses around the bend, as we kept meeting oncoming traffic. There is something oddly claustrophobic about these lanes – I think it is because the stone walls seem to close them in. You may say that lanes in Devon cause the same feeling, but, to me at least, although the lanes here are sunken, they are banked by high hedges, and do not cause the same kind of insecurities.
We all spent a good few hours exploring the area. Jon, Richard, Oll and Kevin did a spot of kick-stand testing and turned over stones in the water to see if anything of interest rushed out – they caught a few minnows and interesting beetles, but, alas no sign of any eels.
Jon and I arranged to meet everyone again on Sunday before we left the others at Low Peel Near at around 6.30 pm to make our way back down the motorway and into Lytham St. Annes for the annual LAPIS conference, where Jon was speaking.
After returning, as planned, around lunchtime, we spent the rest of Sunday at the shores of Coniston Water. Towards dusk we were witness to a mass hatching of mayflies which burst forth from the, by then, calm water into the still evening air to act out their last few hours of life.
A family of ducks had kept us company for most of the afternoon – they seemed to like the remnants of various sandwiches and pork pies that we tossed in their direction and hung around eagerly awaiting further dietary supplements. Later on we also had a visit from a common merganser (Mergus merganser) mother - a large sized duck - and her four offspring. The little ones were charging through the water, their heads just under the surface, lapping up the fry that had congregated near the shoreline. I think everyone present all went “Ahhh how cute” when we saw two of the little ones jump on to mum’s back for a lift. We also saw her, on two occasions, at great speed racing after, and catching, two perch that she swallowed with relish. We were all of the same opinion: “How is it that we spend all afternoon trying to catch one perch and she manages to catch two in the space of about five minutes?” C’est la vie … sigh.
No, we did not catch any eels either. But we did see several. We also got bitten to buggery by the midges, but that is what it is all about isn’t it? Getting out there and experiencing the ups and downs rather than sitting in a chair talking about it. If nothing else, here at the CFZ we pride ourselves with doing just that - getting stuck in – cuts, bruises, bites, wet feet and all. Even Kevin entered into the spirit of things – albeit slightly by misfortune! He managed to slip on a rock and fell, fully clothed, into the lake at one point, but true to CFZ form, got up, shook himself down and carried on as if nothing had happened.
By the time we got back to our board and lodgings for the night, all the eateries had closed so Oll, Jon and I had a ‘picnic’ in our room which consisted of left over pork pies, crisps, tuna salad and chocolate – oh yes … lots of chocolate! Well, it’s good for you – or so Jon keeps trying to convince me. He even claims it is therapeutic for his diabetes! Yeah, right Jon – you may like to think that.
Monday morning and it was time to commence the journey back to Devon. We had decided that we would stop off at Blackpool on the way, to visit the Sea Life Centre there. This was a brilliantly laid out aquarium nestled amongst some of the most seedy seaside vendors I have ever seen. I am sure Jon will tell you about some of these in more detail in his own blog – he has some pictures that may, or may not, shock some of you!
However, the young man who showed us around the aquarium, Sam Young, was really nice and certainly knew his stuff. We spent a good hour and a half in there. I would thoroughly recommend the place to anyone who may be visiting the area, or in the vicinity – the displays are well thought out and the animals in their care are certainly looked after very well.
We eventually reached the comforts of home at around 10.45 pm after a very long drive, exacerbated by a hold-up due to an accident (not ours!) on the M6/M5 junction which cost us around three-quarters of an hour.
In my main capacity for the trip as driver for the CFZ headquarters here in Devon, I clocked up nigh on 950 miles over the four days we were away so come Tuesday morning I was hesitant to arise from my bed. I did so around lunchtime, but found myself spending the rest of the day staring aimlessly out of the window and trying to get my body to function – without much success. I probably even slept in the driving position!