Richard Wilson drives a convertible Triumph TR3A around some of the Lake District's most famous roads. He gets the lowdown on the area from author Hunter Davies.
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'For many, the 1950s were the golden age of British motoring.
'Back then, driving was leisurely, liberating and fun.
'Yes, er, things have changed a bit since then.
'But perhaps it's still possible to recapture some of that old magic.'
'I'm setting off on six of the best drives from the 1950s,
'as recommended by the guidebooks of the era,
'and I'll be driving them in some of the decade's most iconic vehicles.'
Oh, I've gone into reverse!
'I want to find out if these routes still thrill and inspire...'
This is a spectacular road.
'..and how in fifty years Britain itself has changed.'
Oh, for God's sake!
They wouldn't have thought to come here without a sat nav.
-I'm sure they wouldn't.
-People don't value each other as much as they did.
It was a different type of life, wasn't it?
# Earth angel, earth angel
# Will you be mine?
# My darling dear, love you all the time... #
'The English Lake District is in many ways an ideal area
'for a motoring holiday.
'Most of the roads are well surfaced,
'and though many of the minor ones are narrow, twisting and have many
'steep hills, there is nothing to deter the average motorist,
'whatever the age of his car.'
The Lake District is known for its absolutely brilliant scenery,
and it's also known
for the fact that it rains quite a lot,
which is probably why the producers have given me an open-topped car.
'Yes, I'm sure they'd just love to drown me
'in the name of entertainment.
'I, of course, have other ideas.'
But I've got the roof up, as you can see,
and it's going to stay there, as far as I'm concerned,
while there's any sign of rain.
# Well, the little things you say and do
# Make me want to be with you
# Rave on, it's a crazy feeling... #
'But despite the irony of the sunroof,
'my car should be just the ticket for the Lake District.
'The Triumph TR3 is a sporty little number, and its state-of-the-art
'disc brakes, light chassis and powerful two-litre engine
'meant that back in the Fifties, it had great success in Alpine rallies.'
'This 1959 model had a top speed of well in excess of 100 mph...
'..a somewhat terrifying proposition
'that I have absolutely no intention of testing out.'
I've got two very sweet little windscreen wipers, and they look
as though they are hand-crafted.
And they're very charming.
'I'm in the Lake District to drive a route that was described in the 1950s
'as one of the most beautiful and varied drives in Britain.
'Starting in Keswick, I'll be following the
'A591 south towards Windermere, passing several significant lakes.
'I'll then head back north over the famous Kirkstone Pass,
'past Ullswater and on to my finishing point, in Penrith.
'But before I begin, I want to get the lowdown on the lakes
'from author and journalist Hunter Davies,
'a man so captivated by the area back in the Fifties
'that he vowed to one day make it his home.'
Wow, what a car!
Oh, my God! We've got some good weather.
Well, it's the best we've had today, I'll tell you!
There's no such thing as bad weather in the Lake District.
-Is that what they say?
-Only bad clothing.
'I just wish I'd had a chance to get used to my car's odd
'little foibles first.'
Where we live here, we've got three lakes.
-Crummock is about... It's...
Right, is that first? Sorry.
-It's a bit like...
Oh, for God's sake! I think I don't give it enough juice.
Well, it's obviously not the driver, it's the car!
It's the car. Thank you, Hunter.
Where we live here,
we've got three lakes, and they're away from the main tourist tracks.
-Obviously, avoid the honey pot places, the tourist traps,
at any bank holiday and during the school holidays.
The main tourist places are Keswick and Windermere and Grasmere.
-And they're absolutely chocker.
It's six abreast walking the pavements.
You see more white knobbly knees there than you'll see
-in a century in London.
-Ooh, this is wonderful.
Who would have a car like this?
-I know! Now, isn't it quiet? No cars around.
That's because this particular area is not so well known.
When Wordsworth was alive, the railways came, and he adored the
Lake District and did a guidebook to it and wrote so many poems about it.
Once he heard the railway was coming, he was absolutely furious
and he led a campaign to stop the railway coming, cos he thought
there would be hordes coming from Lancashire - all unwashed people.
Cos his theory, which is so snobbish,
he felt you really need an aesthetic mentality and an education
and a spiritual awareness to really understand landscape,
-and I think that's cobblers.
-One of the things about landscape - everybody can appreciate it.
-You like different things, but it's open to all.
The thing about the Lake District is we've got everything in God's world.
Everything in nature is here, in miniature.
We've got mountains, we've got lakes,
we've got snow, we've got lush valleys, we've got twee cottages.
If you go to Tibet, you'll see mountains.
If you go to the Rockies, you'll see the Rockies,
if you go to the great lakes in America, they're bigger.
Here everything is on tap and on hand and accessible.
Compared to the Fifties,
is the Lake District getting worse or better, or what?
Obviously, there's more cars, because we didn't all have cars.
Er, there are more perhaps tourist tat shops,
but I don't think it has got ruined.
One of the things about the Lake District, wherever you are,
even if it's Windermere on an August bank holiday, in an hour
I guarantee you can be totally on your own, seeing nobody,
walking on the fells, communing with nature.
And, of course, despite Wordsworth,
I mean, the people should be able to see it. People, you know...
-It belongs to us all. Yeah, it's our national heritage.
Well, it's a wonderful spot.
'Hunter clearly loves where he lives
'and has a laudably generous attitude to sharing it.
'So to the first part of my route, the road from Keswick down towards
'Lake Windermere, a drive which my 1950s guide describes as,
'"a wonderful introduction
'"to the contrasting beauties of the lakes and fells".
'And guess what?
'Yes, it's raining.'
"Flood warning ahead."
'Nevertheless, I'm determined to be positive.'
The fact that it's, er, rather grey and overcast means that you
do have a sort of mist on the hills, which is very dramatic.
# I believe for every drop of rain that falls
# A flower gro-o-o-ows
# A flower grows... #
'The Lake District has been a national park since 1951.
'In it are around 350 fells and more than 80 lakes or tarns, including
'England's tallest mountain and deepest lake.
'And driving this superb road, you get a real sense of its magic.'
But already, so early on in this drive,
the scenery is spectacular.
'One of the best trips in Lakeland.
'It is indeed the finest road in the district.
'It might be added that this road is crowded
'during the height of the season, and the wise motorist
'will endeavour to choose a time when he can raise his eyes
'to the scenery without unduly imperilling his car.'
The great thing about the Lakeland mountains
is that they're all shrouded in green.
They're very grassy, which makes them spectacularly beautiful.
'It's undoubtedly a fabulous stretch of road and must take on a whole new
'dimension on a glorious summer's day.
'Not that we get so many of those any more.
'It skirts the waters of Thirlmere, runs through impressive valleys,
'passes Wordsworth's former home at Grasmere
'and leads down to the region's most famous lake, Windermere,
'where I'm going to take a little diversion
'recommended in one of my old books -
'one that promises a view normally reserved for the local yachties.'
Well, my guidebook tells me that there are a good service of ferry
boats, rather misleadingly described as "continuous".
The ferry crossing, incidentally,
gives the finest possible views of the lake, which is seen here
as a long narrow slash in the face of the mountains, diversified
by numerous wooded islands.
This must be...
There's an island there, and that might be an island.
So this is one of the finest views of the lake.
Well, it's very pretty.
It would be much nicer in the sunshine, of course, but then,
you go on holiday or you go driving for a day, and it often rains.
'It cost me £3.50 each way on the ferry.
'If I'd wanted to, I could've paid a visit to Beatrix Potter's home on the
'other side, but it seems the makers of this programme have other ideas.'
The producers have arranged a very nice lunch for me at
a very pretty inn.
Unfortunately, it's one of the highest inns in Britain, and in order
to get to it, you have to approach it by a road known as the Struggle.
And in this guidebook, it says it's a severe test.
In this guidebook, it says, "The steepest pass ascent
"from any town in England."
And in this one, it says, "The precipitous hill".
Ho-ho! "Coming up from Ambleside."
So I've decided that I might need some help approaching this inn,
so I've invited the owner of the inn
to come down here to Ambleside, and guide me up the Struggle.
-How far is it from here?
-Up the Struggle.
-Up the Struggle!
-Up the Struggle.
-And am I going to struggle?
-Well, you've not been up there, then?
Well, we'll see.
'Rising 1,500 feet in just three miles, the Struggle
'is a notorious Lake District road.
'It earned its moniker long before motorcars were invented, when horses
'used to find its gradient an exhausting proposition.
'Even the pampered upper-class tourists of Wordsworth's day
'were forced to get off their backsides
'and walk alongside their coaches, as the road grew
'ever steeper towards the inn at the head of the Kirkstone Pass.'
Right, here we go up to the Struggle.
'Even the odd modern car falls prey to the Struggle, so I'm nervous my
'Triumph's 50-year-old engine might not be up to it.'
See, it does this... quite a lot in first!
It's the car, Richard, it's the car.
Well, I hope so.
So, we could take this in first or second?
There are parts of it where you go up to second.
Yeah. Mostly in first.
Mostly in first.
-Nearer halfway along, you can get it into third, if you're...
If you're feeling confident.
'Motorists should bear in mind that byroads are often terribly rough
'and surprisingly steep, offering plenty of scope
'for damage to the car and giving little or no hold
'even for cars with efficient brakes.'
You've got, er, breakdown cover, have you?
This is the bit I'm looking at, the temperature gauge.
Yeah. Getting a bit hot.
Well, what we do up at the inn, Richard, is we keep lots of five
litre plastic bottles full of water, because the car park, in the summer,
when it's hot, it's just full of cars. It's a bit like a steam rally.
I'm serious. You're doing very well, actually.
I was expecting a lot worse.
'constant care is called for by winding roads and steep hills.
'For all that, motoring in the Lake District is well worth while.
'There's hardly a mile of road that is not worth following
'either for itself or the views it commands.'
Oh, look at this! This is quite steep!
Richard, forgive me but I'm gonna let you concentrate now.
-Cos this is getting, this is the bit...
-This is a steep bit.
Where you might like to focus your attention, please.
And I take this in first.
I think I'll stay in first. But then...
I see what you mean.
That...that is, er, well done, that's not bad.
The car has lasted well too, hasn't it?
The car's doing very well, it's just the driver.
He's a bit frayed. And here we are, the Kirkstone Pass.
The Kirkstone Pass Inn freehouse.
Oh. 'There has been a pub at the head of the pass for centuries and
'the Kirkstone Pass Inn still feels remarkably ancient and isolated.
'It often sits above the cloud line
'and has no mains electricity or water.
'Not surprisingly, it's purported to be haunted.
'Well, you wouldn't expect anything less, would you?
'But inside, it's a cosy little spot and owner, John, holds
'regular sing songs that help warm the most frigid of cockles.'
# Ear-lay in the morning. #
'John's got wind of an event I was trying desperately to keep quiet.'
-It's his birthday, you're all going to join in, aren't you?
Yes, it's his birthday.
# Happy birthday to you
# Happy birthday to you
# Happy birthday, dear Richard
# Happy birthday to you-u-u-u! #
-You have to blow them out in one, my friend.
-And a wish.
And a wish. All right, OK, and...
APPLAUSE AND CHEERING
-Well done, well done.
-That was wonderful, very unexpected.
You're not going to tell us how many, are you Richard?
-Er, yes, I am 72 today.
They thought it was 86.
Ooh, it's thick, thick chocolate.
# And it's no, nay, never No, nay, never no more
# Will I play the Wild Rover
# No, never, no more... #
'Well, what a lovely way to celebrate one's birthday.
'Very sweet of them to pay me so much attention.'
'And if the road up to the head of Kirkstone Pass was a struggle,
'the drive back down the other side, although steep, is an utter delight.'
Oh, a spectacular view of the water there.
'On the descent of the pass, it is wise to keep in low gear
'for some distance, to save the brakes and to see the views.'
Beautiful - this is supposed to be one of the best vistas in Britain.
Very, very pretty.
This is an absolutely wonderful vista.
You can see the road stretching away in the distance...
..which is really lovely.
'At the bottom of the pass,
'nestled amongst the gloriously verdant mountains, is Deep Dale farm,
'where father and son farmers,
'Chris and Jimmy Brown, tend their flock of Herdwick sheep'.
Jimmy's'll go through.
HE WHISTLES SHARPLY
What does the whistle mean? Is it different sounds?
-That one meant sit down that I did just, then.
'Herdwicks are an inseparable part of the Lake District landscape.
'Legend has it they were introduced to the region by Viking settlers
'and they are extraordinarily hardy,
'known to survive for six weeks at a time completely covered
'by snow drifts, sucking the oil from their own fleeces for nourishment.'
How many have you got altogether?
We'll have about...500 sheep.
You don't have a scooper bag, I notice.
No, just keep going. Just watch where you're walking.
'But, as timeless as this scene appears, for hill farmers, the Lake
'District is a very different place than it was 50 years ago.
'It seems these tough little sheep no longer pay their way.'
So you can't make enough money from sheep alone?
No, not really.
We've had to diversify quite a lot, haven't we,
the last sort of few years?
We've always sort of let a cottage, self catering, for people,
ever since we started here.
Tourism's always played a part in the life of the farm,
-but more and more so now.
-Would you be happier with the sheep?
Yeah, I think so.
At least the sheep don't answer back!
So, I notice when the sheep see the dogs,
does that mean they know they're going to be moved?
Well, they're wary - they know something's going to happen.
But where's your whistle?
Just a...whistle, like. You actually put it into your mouth and...
..And the dogs take no notice.
I can't use the whistle so I just use voice commands.
-I'm just useless with the thing.
What's this lamb doing? Hello!
-There you go, you see?
-I think he's actually recognised you!
-Come here, then.
-I know who it is.
Oh, he's not coming to me at all.
You made that up!
'Responsible for protecting this ancient landscape is
'chief executive of the Lake District national park, Richard Leafe.'
Talking to Chris and Jimmy, they're saying that sheep farming
is no longer viable, that they can't make a living from sheep alone
and so they've diversified into tourism.
Is that common in the Lake District?
Yes, that's very common, that the farmers and land managers have
a range of activities they get involved with.
Looking after the visitors is a great contribution
to the national park.
I think also farmers are increasingly paid for the work
that they can do, with their grazing animals and their land management,
to look after the environment, increasingly addressing
the issues of climate change in a place like this.
It's something that land managers can start to work on.
-Good boy. Sit.
-So what would you say was the single
biggest difference in climate change over the last 10 or 15 years?
I think over the last few years,
the biggest change we've seen is the amount of snow you get here.
Whereas years ago in the winter,
you'd have a constant blanket of snow
on the high fells for three or four months during the winter and now we
just don't have that blanket of snow - in fact,
we're lucky to get a coverage of snow at all.
In the fifties, there would be very few cars presumably,
but now...a lot of cars.
Yes, in the fifties, it would be a lovely place to drive around,
the lake District, and now on a bank holiday and during the busy periods
in the summer, it's far from that.
We get about 8.3 million people
visiting the Lake District every year.
In fact, about 93% of people arrive by car.
You wouldn't have anything against my little Triumph, would you?
-It's a beautiful little car, isn't it?
You should try driving it.
There's so many beautiful hills in your lake district, that...
she doesn't always want to take them at my beckoning.
I can quite imagine.
We're keen to encourage people to come to the park,
-but ideally without a car.
If they can leave their car at home, come on public transport, enjoy the
park by walking out into some of the remoter areas, so much the better.
So, we should really rename the programme Britain's Best Walks?
-That would be perfect.
-That would make you happier, would it?
-A lot happier, yes.
-OK, I'll speak to the producers.
Well, no wait, that would mean I'd have to walk a lot.
Perhaps you could do Britains six best park and rides.
Yes, there's something there I think!
'I can't help feeling a little guilty, but this is,
'after all, a special treat.
'It's hardly something I'd do every day, as I'm sure has been
'blindingly obvious to you all.'
Oh, oh, a whole line of old cars.
We're all waving to each other frantically.
They clearly think that I'm an owner like them.
The final part of my journey will take me from Patterdale along the
A592 towards the market town of Penrith, hugging the shoreline
of one last lake and it's one of the region's most picturesque.
This is beautiful.
Ulswater, I think is one of the prettiest of the lakes.
Without a doubt. Oh, yes, wonderful.
'But, as I approach my final destination, I am confronted
'by a feature conspicuous by its absence from my 1950s maps.'
Oh, lots of traffic ahead.
'The M6 motorway blazed its way up the eastern side of the Lake District
'back in 1968, diverting traffic from the gridlocked town of Penrith.
'After the unspoilt nature of the rest of my drive,
'this roaring streak of modernity is quite a shock to the system.'
Now there is the motorway below us.
Good heavens, what a difference.
Seeing cars zooming in a straight line after driving around the lakes,
It is amazing to think, really, how the car has become
so much part of our lives.
How so many households have got a car now.
And they're getting more and more of them,
with carbon emissions building all the time.
You understand, watching
traffic of this magnitude, what the carbon emissions must be like.
I mean, just standing on this bridge,
well, you can feel the fumes coming up.
So, I suppose, in a way...
..one yearns to get back to the lakes.
'Yes, the lakes really are a special place.
'Granted, you can't rely on the weather, and, yes,
'it's rare you'll have the highways to yourself,
'but perhaps nowhere else in Britain
'are the roads so entwined with the spectacular landscape around them.
'50 years since my guidebooks were first written,
'it surely still is one of Britain's best drives.'
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Actor Richard Wilson takes a journey into the past, following routes raved about in motoring guides of 50 years ago.
Richard drives a sporty, convertible Triumph TR3A around some of the Lake District's most famous roads. He gets the lowdown on the area from author and resident Hunter Davies, takes on a notorious road, celebrates his birthday at one of Britain's highest pubs, and learns how climate change is affecting this delicate landscape.