It struck me, as I had a week without the children while they were away on holiday with their father, how my life seems to fall into two extremes. I am either child-free and single, spending a lot of time on my own doing my own thing; or I have three children around creating a lot of noise and havoc. I don’t prefer either over the other – but they are very different and sometimes adjusting from one to the other isn’t straightforward. I’ll have got used to having the house to myself, the quietness, peace and tidiness – and in the three of them storm, dropping things, losing things, demanding things, fighting: and giving mammoth cuddles and (in Edward’s case) sloppy kisses.
Then they vanish, it seems almost as quickly as they have come, and I walk back into a house which suddenly seems too large and quiet for one person. At least because David and I share childcare 50/50 it’s never that long before my mini whirlwinds rush back into my life – and because we live near each other the time at each house is rarely regimented, and we’ll both borrow a child or two at times so the other can do something with the others (I took Bella and a friend of hers skating one weekend; it took me back about 12 years to when I first knew David, and recalled memories such as the time David and I were driving up to Hemel Hempstead for my lesson but never got there as it had started snowing that afternoon. The snow was so heavy it was causing problems on the A41 and M25 and roads around north London. The next day there were news stories of people who had slept all night in their cars).
The weather has been as schizophrenic as my life. Working at home I get really cold, and when the children were away I even had the fire on a couple of evenings. Then the sun will come out for a few days and the temperature soars and everybody strips off their jumpers and lets their arms go brown in the sun. Fortunately a couple of days I had with the children were exactly the latter, and we took advantage of the weather to go to Lowther Castle one day and Mirehouse on the other.
Both places are great for the children to have a good run-around, and both have play areas as well as the general grounds. Lowther was somewhere I had been thinking of going for ages but what especially prompted me was the fact that I had read about it not having the largest wooden play structure around. It’s something like the ruined house, with a ‘tower’ type building on three floors and other parts to run around on two floors, plus a zip wire and an under-5s area. In the wood nearby is a wiggly footpath created out of fallen logs, with a ‘wobbly bridge’, boardwalk, upended logs of various heights to jump from one to another – etc. There are also lots of tree swings as you walk through the parkland to get to the play area, as well as ponds and gardens to discover as well as the ruins themselves.
We took a picnic and spent several hours there, and it’s clearly popular – I was talking to another mother and we agreed that actually the wider appeal of the gardens with the play areas is probably financially more sustainable and successful than just restoring the gardens, which had been the plan several years ago. There are bits of garden: I didn’t get a chance to look around the exhibition or the shop, but did get time t
o read the boards in the memorial garden which is a touching tribute to men from the Lowther estate who fought in the Great War. There is also an area of formal garden and a lovely colourful area of wild garden which greets you as you first enter the park.
A couple of days later and we headed down to Mirehouse, on the edge of Bassenthwaite Lake. I really like the Old Sawmill tearoom next to the car park (you have to park in the car park for Dodd Woods) but I wasn’t feeling particularly affluent, so we took a picnic again (I must get myself one of those backpack picnic hampers though – my cool bag is not comfortable to carry for any great distance or time). It was also a relief that the price of admission was far less than it had been for Lowther. At Mirehouse there are several play areas, including a small wooden fort, a steeplechase course, an assault course ending in a zip wire ride over a stream, and an area for younger children. You can also walk down to the Lake – we didn’t make it more than halfway before we sat down for lunch – and look around the Bee Garden, which is lovely and peaceful unless disturbed by Briggs children.
Lowther costs almost 3 times more than Mirehouse and whilst the café is lovely, that is also on the expensive side. It’s definitely worth going but only if you are prepared for it to be a relatively expensive day out (from memory it was £30 or so to get in and despite having a picnic we spent about the same on tea and cake in the café – but parking is free). Mirehouse and the Old Sawmill tearoom are cheaper and just as good, but you do have to pay for parking – with any luck the Forestry Commission will introduce those numberplate recognition machines soon so that you don’t have to remember to take cash. It’s a long walk from the far end of the car park to the tearooms and back in order to pay for a parking ticket, and also of course you then have to estimate how long you’re going to be.
I’d recommend both, particularly on a fine day. Remember the backpack for a picnic, and it might be worth taking a change of clothes and a towel to Mirehouse.