Lake District Britain's Best Drives


Lake District

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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Transcript


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'For many, the 1950s were the golden age of British motoring.

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'Back then, driving was leisurely, liberating and fun.

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'Yes, er, things have changed a bit since then.

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'But perhaps it's still possible to recapture some of that old magic.'

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Oh, yes!

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'I'm setting off on six of the best drives from the 1950s,

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'as recommended by the guidebooks of the era,

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'and I'll be driving them in some of the decade's most iconic vehicles.'

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Oh, I've gone into reverse!

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'I want to find out if these routes still thrill and inspire...'

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This is a spectacular road.

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'..and how in fifty years Britain itself has changed.'

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Oh, for God's sake!

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They wouldn't have thought to come here without a sat nav.

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-I'm sure they wouldn't.

-People don't value each other as much as they did.

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It was a different type of life, wasn't it?

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# Earth angel, earth angel

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# Will you be mine?

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# My darling dear, love you all the time... #

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'The English Lake District is in many ways an ideal area

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'for a motoring holiday.

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'Most of the roads are well surfaced,

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'and though many of the minor ones are narrow, twisting and have many

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'steep hills, there is nothing to deter the average motorist,

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'whatever the age of his car.'

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The Lake District is known for its absolutely brilliant scenery,

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and it's also known

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for the fact that it rains quite a lot,

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which is probably why the producers have given me an open-topped car.

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'Yes, I'm sure they'd just love to drown me

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'in the name of entertainment.

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'I, of course, have other ideas.'

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But I've got the roof up, as you can see,

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and it's going to stay there, as far as I'm concerned,

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while there's any sign of rain.

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# Well, the little things you say and do

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# Make me want to be with you

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# Rave on, it's a crazy feeling... #

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'But despite the irony of the sunroof,

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'my car should be just the ticket for the Lake District.

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'The Triumph TR3 is a sporty little number, and its state-of-the-art

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'disc brakes, light chassis and powerful two-litre engine

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'meant that back in the Fifties, it had great success in Alpine rallies.'

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'This 1959 model had a top speed of well in excess of 100 mph...

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'..a somewhat terrifying proposition

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'that I have absolutely no intention of testing out.'

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I've got two very sweet little windscreen wipers, and they look

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as though they are hand-crafted.

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And they're very charming.

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'I'm in the Lake District to drive a route that was described in the 1950s

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'as one of the most beautiful and varied drives in Britain.

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'Starting in Keswick, I'll be following the

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'A591 south towards Windermere, passing several significant lakes.

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'I'll then head back north over the famous Kirkstone Pass,

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'past Ullswater and on to my finishing point, in Penrith.

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'But before I begin, I want to get the lowdown on the lakes

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'from author and journalist Hunter Davies,

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'a man so captivated by the area back in the Fifties

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'that he vowed to one day make it his home.'

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Wow, what a car!

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-Hello!

-Hi!

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Oh, my God! We've got some good weather.

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Well, it's the best we've had today, I'll tell you!

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There's no such thing as bad weather in the Lake District.

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-Is that what they say?

-Only bad clothing.

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'I just wish I'd had a chance to get used to my car's odd

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'little foibles first.'

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Where we live here, we've got three lakes.

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-Crummock is about... It's...

-ENGINE REVS

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Right, is that first? Sorry.

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-It's a bit like...

-Sorry!

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Oh, for God's sake! I think I don't give it enough juice.

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Well, it's obviously not the driver, it's the car!

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It's the car. Thank you, Hunter.

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Where we live here,

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we've got three lakes, and they're away from the main tourist tracks.

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-Er, yes.

-Obviously, avoid the honey pot places, the tourist traps,

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at any bank holiday and during the school holidays.

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The main tourist places are Keswick and Windermere and Grasmere.

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-Ah, yes.

-And they're absolutely chocker.

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It's six abreast walking the pavements.

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You see more white knobbly knees there than you'll see

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-in a century in London.

-Ooh, this is wonderful.

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Really beautiful.

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HE HUMS

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Who would have a car like this?

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-I know! Now, isn't it quiet? No cars around.

-Wonderful.

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That's because this particular area is not so well known.

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When Wordsworth was alive, the railways came, and he adored the

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Lake District and did a guidebook to it and wrote so many poems about it.

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Once he heard the railway was coming, he was absolutely furious

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and he led a campaign to stop the railway coming, cos he thought

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there would be hordes coming from Lancashire - all unwashed people.

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Cos his theory, which is so snobbish,

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he felt you really need an aesthetic mentality and an education

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and a spiritual awareness to really understand landscape,

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-and I think that's cobblers.

-Yeah. Absolutely.

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-One of the things about landscape - everybody can appreciate it.

-Yes.

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-You like different things, but it's open to all.

-Absolutely.

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The thing about the Lake District is we've got everything in God's world.

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Everything in nature is here, in miniature.

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We've got mountains, we've got lakes,

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we've got snow, we've got lush valleys, we've got twee cottages.

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If you go to Tibet, you'll see mountains.

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If you go to the Rockies, you'll see the Rockies,

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if you go to the great lakes in America, they're bigger.

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Here everything is on tap and on hand and accessible.

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Compared to the Fifties,

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is the Lake District getting worse or better, or what?

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Obviously, there's more cars, because we didn't all have cars.

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Er, there are more perhaps tourist tat shops,

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but I don't think it has got ruined.

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One of the things about the Lake District, wherever you are,

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even if it's Windermere on an August bank holiday, in an hour

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I guarantee you can be totally on your own, seeing nobody,

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walking on the fells, communing with nature.

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And, of course, despite Wordsworth,

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I mean, the people should be able to see it. People, you know...

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-It belongs to us all. Yeah, it's our national heritage.

-Yes.

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Well, it's a wonderful spot.

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'Hunter clearly loves where he lives

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'and has a laudably generous attitude to sharing it.

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'So to the first part of my route, the road from Keswick down towards

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'Lake Windermere, a drive which my 1950s guide describes as,

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'"a wonderful introduction

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'"to the contrasting beauties of the lakes and fells".

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'And guess what?

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'Yes, it's raining.'

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"Flood warning ahead."

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'Nevertheless, I'm determined to be positive.'

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The fact that it's, er, rather grey and overcast means that you

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do have a sort of mist on the hills, which is very dramatic.

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# I believe for every drop of rain that falls

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# A flower gro-o-o-ows

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# A flower grows... #

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'The Lake District has been a national park since 1951.

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'In it are around 350 fells and more than 80 lakes or tarns, including

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'England's tallest mountain and deepest lake.

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'And driving this superb road, you get a real sense of its magic.'

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But already, so early on in this drive,

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the scenery is spectacular.

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'One of the best trips in Lakeland.

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'It is indeed the finest road in the district.

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'It might be added that this road is crowded

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'during the height of the season, and the wise motorist

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'will endeavour to choose a time when he can raise his eyes

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'to the scenery without unduly imperilling his car.'

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The great thing about the Lakeland mountains

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is that they're all shrouded in green.

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They're very grassy, which makes them spectacularly beautiful.

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'It's undoubtedly a fabulous stretch of road and must take on a whole new

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'dimension on a glorious summer's day.

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'Not that we get so many of those any more.

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'It skirts the waters of Thirlmere, runs through impressive valleys,

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'passes Wordsworth's former home at Grasmere

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'and leads down to the region's most famous lake, Windermere,

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'where I'm going to take a little diversion

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'recommended in one of my old books -

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'one that promises a view normally reserved for the local yachties.'

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Well, my guidebook tells me that there are a good service of ferry

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boats, rather misleadingly described as "continuous".

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The ferry crossing, incidentally,

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gives the finest possible views of the lake, which is seen here

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as a long narrow slash in the face of the mountains, diversified

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by numerous wooded islands.

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This must be...

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There's an island there, and that might be an island.

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So this is one of the finest views of the lake.

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Well, it's very pretty.

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Rather lovely.

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It would be much nicer in the sunshine, of course, but then,

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you go on holiday or you go driving for a day, and it often rains.

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'It cost me £3.50 each way on the ferry.

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'If I'd wanted to, I could've paid a visit to Beatrix Potter's home on the

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'other side, but it seems the makers of this programme have other ideas.'

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The producers have arranged a very nice lunch for me at

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a very pretty inn.

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Unfortunately, it's one of the highest inns in Britain, and in order

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to get to it, you have to approach it by a road known as the Struggle.

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And in this guidebook, it says it's a severe test.

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In this guidebook, it says, "The steepest pass ascent

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"from any town in England."

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And in this one, it says, "The precipitous hill".

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Ho-ho! "Coming up from Ambleside."

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So I've decided that I might need some help approaching this inn,

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so I've invited the owner of the inn

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to come down here to Ambleside, and guide me up the Struggle.

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-How far is it from here?

-Three miles.

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-Three miles?

-Up the Struggle.

-Up the Struggle!

-Up the Struggle.

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-And am I going to struggle?

-Well, you've not been up there, then?

-No.

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Well, we'll see.

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'Rising 1,500 feet in just three miles, the Struggle

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'is a notorious Lake District road.

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'It earned its moniker long before motorcars were invented, when horses

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'used to find its gradient an exhausting proposition.

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'Even the pampered upper-class tourists of Wordsworth's day

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'were forced to get off their backsides

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'and walk alongside their coaches, as the road grew

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'ever steeper towards the inn at the head of the Kirkstone Pass.'

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Right, here we go up to the Struggle.

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'Even the odd modern car falls prey to the Struggle, so I'm nervous my

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'Triumph's 50-year-old engine might not be up to it.'

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See, it does this... quite a lot in first!

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It's the car, Richard, it's the car.

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Well, I hope so.

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So, we could take this in first or second?

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There are parts of it where you go up to second.

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Yeah. Mostly in first.

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Mostly in first.

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-Nearer halfway along, you can get it into third, if you're...

-Yeah.

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If you're feeling confident.

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'Motorists should bear in mind that byroads are often terribly rough

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'and surprisingly steep, offering plenty of scope

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'for damage to the car and giving little or no hold

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'even for cars with efficient brakes.'

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You've got, er, breakdown cover, have you?

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THEY CHUCKLE

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This is the bit I'm looking at, the temperature gauge.

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Yeah. Getting a bit hot.

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Well, what we do up at the inn, Richard, is we keep lots of five

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litre plastic bottles full of water, because the car park, in the summer,

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when it's hot, it's just full of cars. It's a bit like a steam rally.

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THEY LAUGH

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I'm serious. You're doing very well, actually.

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I was expecting a lot worse.

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'Almost everywhere,

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'constant care is called for by winding roads and steep hills.

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'For all that, motoring in the Lake District is well worth while.

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'There's hardly a mile of road that is not worth following

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'either for itself or the views it commands.'

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Oh, look at this! This is quite steep!

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Richard, forgive me but I'm gonna let you concentrate now.

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-Cos this is getting, this is the bit...

-This is a steep bit.

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Where you might like to focus your attention, please.

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And I take this in first.

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I think I'll stay in first. But then...

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ENGINE REVS

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I see what you mean.

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That...that is, er, well done, that's not bad.

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The car has lasted well too, hasn't it?

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The car's doing very well, it's just the driver.

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He's a bit frayed. And here we are, the Kirkstone Pass.

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The Kirkstone Pass Inn freehouse.

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It's lovely.

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Oh. 'There has been a pub at the head of the pass for centuries and

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'the Kirkstone Pass Inn still feels remarkably ancient and isolated.

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'It often sits above the cloud line

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'and has no mains electricity or water.

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'Not surprisingly, it's purported to be haunted.

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'Well, you wouldn't expect anything less, would you?

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'But inside, it's a cosy little spot and owner, John, holds

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'regular sing songs that help warm the most frigid of cockles.'

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# Ear-lay in the morning. #

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'But dammit!

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'John's got wind of an event I was trying desperately to keep quiet.'

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-It's his birthday, you're all going to join in, aren't you?

-Oh, no!

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Yes, it's his birthday.

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# Happy birthday to you

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# Happy birthday to you

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# Happy birthday, dear Richard

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# Happy birthday to you-u-u-u! #

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APPLAUSE

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-Thank you.

-You have to blow them out in one, my friend.

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-OK.

-And a wish.

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And a wish. All right, OK, and...

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My word!

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APPLAUSE AND CHEERING

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-Well done, well done.

-That was wonderful, very unexpected.

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You're not going to tell us how many, are you Richard?

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-Er, yes, I am 72 today.

-Oooh!

-What?

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They thought it was 86.

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LAUGHTER

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Ooh, it's thick, thick chocolate.

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# And it's no, nay, never No, nay, never no more

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# Will I play the Wild Rover

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# No, never, no more... #

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'Well, what a lovely way to celebrate one's birthday.

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'Very sweet of them to pay me so much attention.'

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'And if the road up to the head of Kirkstone Pass was a struggle,

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'the drive back down the other side, although steep, is an utter delight.'

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Oh, a spectacular view of the water there.

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'On the descent of the pass, it is wise to keep in low gear

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'for some distance, to save the brakes and to see the views.'

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Beautiful - this is supposed to be one of the best vistas in Britain.

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Very, very pretty.

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This is an absolutely wonderful vista.

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You can see the road stretching away in the distance...

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..which is really lovely.

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'At the bottom of the pass,

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'nestled amongst the gloriously verdant mountains, is Deep Dale farm,

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'where father and son farmers,

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'Chris and Jimmy Brown, tend their flock of Herdwick sheep'.

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Jimmy's'll go through.

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HE WHISTLES SHARPLY

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What does the whistle mean? Is it different sounds?

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-That one meant sit down that I did just, then.

-All right.

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'Herdwicks are an inseparable part of the Lake District landscape.

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'Legend has it they were introduced to the region by Viking settlers

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'and they are extraordinarily hardy,

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'known to survive for six weeks at a time completely covered

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'by snow drifts, sucking the oil from their own fleeces for nourishment.'

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How many have you got altogether?

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We'll have about...500 sheep.

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You don't have a scooper bag, I notice.

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No, just keep going. Just watch where you're walking.

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'But, as timeless as this scene appears, for hill farmers, the Lake

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'District is a very different place than it was 50 years ago.

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'It seems these tough little sheep no longer pay their way.'

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So you can't make enough money from sheep alone?

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No, not really.

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We've had to diversify quite a lot, haven't we,

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the last sort of few years?

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We've always sort of let a cottage, self catering, for people,

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ever since we started here.

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Tourism's always played a part in the life of the farm,

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-but more and more so now.

-Would you be happier with the sheep?

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Yeah, I think so.

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At least the sheep don't answer back!

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So, I notice when the sheep see the dogs,

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does that mean they know they're going to be moved?

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Well, they're wary - they know something's going to happen.

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But where's your whistle?

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Just a...whistle, like. You actually put it into your mouth and...

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HE BLOWS

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..And the dogs take no notice.

0:21:530:21:56

I can't use the whistle so I just use voice commands.

0:21:560:21:59

-Why's that?

-I'm just useless with the thing.

0:21:590:22:01

What's this lamb doing? Hello!

0:22:010:22:04

BAA!

0:22:050:22:06

-There you go, you see?

-It's coming.

0:22:060:22:09

-I think he's actually recognised you!

-Come here, then.

0:22:090:22:12

BAA!

0:22:120:22:13

-Hello!

-I know who it is.

-That's extraordinary!

0:22:130:22:16

Oh, he's not coming to me at all.

0:22:160:22:18

You made that up!

0:22:180:22:20

'Responsible for protecting this ancient landscape is

0:22:220:22:25

'chief executive of the Lake District national park, Richard Leafe.'

0:22:250:22:29

Talking to Chris and Jimmy, they're saying that sheep farming

0:22:290:22:33

is no longer viable, that they can't make a living from sheep alone

0:22:330:22:38

and so they've diversified into tourism.

0:22:380:22:40

Is that common in the Lake District?

0:22:400:22:42

Yes, that's very common, that the farmers and land managers have

0:22:420:22:46

a range of activities they get involved with.

0:22:460:22:49

Looking after the visitors is a great contribution

0:22:490:22:53

to the national park.

0:22:530:22:54

I think also farmers are increasingly paid for the work

0:22:540:22:59

that they can do, with their grazing animals and their land management,

0:22:590:23:03

to look after the environment, increasingly addressing

0:23:030:23:06

the issues of climate change in a place like this.

0:23:060:23:09

It's something that land managers can start to work on.

0:23:090:23:13

-Good boy. Sit.

-So what would you say was the single

0:23:130:23:17

biggest difference in climate change over the last 10 or 15 years?

0:23:170:23:21

I think over the last few years,

0:23:210:23:23

the biggest change we've seen is the amount of snow you get here.

0:23:230:23:26

Whereas years ago in the winter,

0:23:260:23:28

you'd have a constant blanket of snow

0:23:280:23:32

on the high fells for three or four months during the winter and now we

0:23:320:23:37

just don't have that blanket of snow - in fact,

0:23:370:23:39

we're lucky to get a coverage of snow at all.

0:23:390:23:42

In the fifties, there would be very few cars presumably,

0:23:450:23:48

but now...a lot of cars.

0:23:480:23:51

Yes, in the fifties, it would be a lovely place to drive around,

0:23:510:23:54

the lake District, and now on a bank holiday and during the busy periods

0:23:540:23:58

in the summer, it's far from that.

0:23:580:24:00

We get about 8.3 million people

0:24:000:24:03

visiting the Lake District every year.

0:24:030:24:06

In fact, about 93% of people arrive by car.

0:24:060:24:10

You wouldn't have anything against my little Triumph, would you?

0:24:100:24:14

-It's a beautiful little car, isn't it?

-It is.

0:24:140:24:17

You should try driving it.

0:24:170:24:19

There's so many beautiful hills in your lake district, that...

0:24:190:24:23

she doesn't always want to take them at my beckoning.

0:24:230:24:28

I can quite imagine.

0:24:280:24:30

We're keen to encourage people to come to the park,

0:24:300:24:33

-but ideally without a car.

-Oh, right.

0:24:330:24:36

If they can leave their car at home, come on public transport, enjoy the

0:24:360:24:41

park by walking out into some of the remoter areas, so much the better.

0:24:410:24:46

So, we should really rename the programme Britain's Best Walks?

0:24:460:24:50

-That would be perfect.

-That would make you happier, would it?

0:24:500:24:53

-A lot happier, yes.

-OK, I'll speak to the producers.

0:24:530:24:55

Well, no wait, that would mean I'd have to walk a lot.

0:24:550:24:59

Perhaps you could do Britains six best park and rides.

0:24:590:25:03

Yes, there's something there I think!

0:25:040:25:06

'I can't help feeling a little guilty, but this is,

0:25:130:25:16

'after all, a special treat.

0:25:160:25:18

'It's hardly something I'd do every day, as I'm sure has been

0:25:180:25:22

'blindingly obvious to you all.'

0:25:220:25:24

Oh, oh, a whole line of old cars.

0:25:270:25:31

Oh, MGs.

0:25:310:25:34

We're all waving to each other frantically.

0:25:350:25:38

They clearly think that I'm an owner like them.

0:25:380:25:40

The final part of my journey will take me from Patterdale along the

0:25:440:25:49

A592 towards the market town of Penrith, hugging the shoreline

0:25:490:25:53

of one last lake and it's one of the region's most picturesque.

0:25:530:25:59

Ah! Ulswater.

0:26:010:26:04

This is beautiful.

0:26:040:26:06

Ulswater, I think is one of the prettiest of the lakes.

0:26:060:26:09

Without a doubt. Oh, yes, wonderful.

0:26:100:26:14

'But, as I approach my final destination, I am confronted

0:26:230:26:26

'by a feature conspicuous by its absence from my 1950s maps.'

0:26:260:26:32

Oh, lots of traffic ahead.

0:26:320:26:36

'The M6 motorway blazed its way up the eastern side of the Lake District

0:26:380:26:43

'back in 1968, diverting traffic from the gridlocked town of Penrith.

0:26:430:26:49

'After the unspoilt nature of the rest of my drive,

0:26:490:26:52

'this roaring streak of modernity is quite a shock to the system.'

0:26:520:26:57

Now there is the motorway below us.

0:26:570:27:00

Good heavens, what a difference.

0:27:020:27:05

Seeing cars zooming in a straight line after driving around the lakes,

0:27:050:27:11

another world.

0:27:110:27:12

It is amazing to think, really, how the car has become

0:27:180:27:23

so much part of our lives.

0:27:230:27:26

How so many households have got a car now.

0:27:260:27:30

And they're getting more and more of them,

0:27:300:27:33

with carbon emissions building all the time.

0:27:330:27:37

You understand, watching

0:27:370:27:39

traffic of this magnitude, what the carbon emissions must be like.

0:27:390:27:45

I mean, just standing on this bridge,

0:27:470:27:51

well, you can feel the fumes coming up.

0:27:510:27:53

So, I suppose, in a way...

0:27:530:27:57

..one yearns to get back to the lakes.

0:27:580:28:00

'Yes, the lakes really are a special place.

0:28:090:28:12

'Granted, you can't rely on the weather, and, yes,

0:28:120:28:15

'it's rare you'll have the highways to yourself,

0:28:150:28:19

'but perhaps nowhere else in Britain

0:28:190:28:21

'are the roads so entwined with the spectacular landscape around them.

0:28:210:28:26

'50 years since my guidebooks were first written,

0:28:260:28:30

'it surely still is one of Britain's best drives.'

0:28:300:28:34

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:500:28:53

E-mail [email protected]

0:28:530:28:57

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.


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