We spent a day and two nights at the Fairview, enjoying the elegant comfort of an English country inn, and touring the Lake District. It was a full day of winding up steep narrow roads, visiting a stone circle, taking a boat ride, having lunch at a bustling market place. There were traffic jams, cars, buses, campers, cyclists.,etc all trying to do the same thing we were. Beautiful scenery, but unpleasant crowds.
A terrific storm blew in the next day. Liz, our terribly efficient hostess, helped us figure the best route to Swarthmoor Hall, our next destination. I wanted to take the train, but Liz said the bus would be easier. She said Ulverston was a big town, where we could get a taxi to Swarthmoor Hall. Not to worry.
In the Fairfield’s beautifully appointed library, we watched the rain smashing the flowers outside our window, and listening to the cheerful houseboy/waiter singing Castillian love songs. Silke said, “It’s Agador Spartacus, the houseboy in “The Birdcage.”” Yes, the same clumsy good nature, the same disheveled look, shirt hanging out of his pants, etc. and a pronounced Castillian accent. A nice voice too. He was quite a contrast to the oh-so serious Liz.
Around noon we caught the bus, and forty minutes later we were in Ulverston, a half hour ahead of schedule. When the bus pulled over to let us off, Silke’s mouth dropped. Mine must have done the same. “Is this the center of Ulverston?” “Yes,” said the bus driver. Now Silke’s worst fears were being realized. It was raining, we were utterly clueless, and besides our backpacks, we now had our suitcases to deal with. Just then an elderly couple came along. They directed us to the main street, and dragging our bags behind us, we found a cozy little tea shop and squeezed ourselves, our sopping wet ponchos, our backpacks, and our rolling suitcases inside.
It was about 1:30 by this time, and I had been told we should arrive at Swarthmoor Hall after 4:00. Only two and a half hours to kill. We ate our soup and sandwiches slowly, trying to decide what to do next. Our waitress knew Swarthmoor Hall. She gave us directions to the train station, where we would have a better chance of finding a taxi. Luckily it had stopped raining, and once we found it, the train station was opened, although it was Sunday. The clerk gave us a list of taxi numbers. On my eighth attempt, I finally connected with a live person. The taxi ride was short, and suddenly we passed through a stone archway into the courtyard of Swarthmoor Hall. The hall was a sixteenth century manor house, tall and dark, with small, mullioned windows, and a heavy, wooden door. Beside the manor house and some lovely gardens, there were three other buildings, a barn, the office, and a row of guest quarters.
Nicole, our young hostess showed us to our suite. She gave us lots of instructions about the alarm system, very sensitive, the heating system, the hot water system, very complicated, the toaster, which could easily set off the fire alarm. A notebook of additional instructions, and information was set out on the table. I knew I was in Quaker territory. After giving us an orientation, Nicole said our supper was in the fridge, and not to call her “unless it was an emergency.”
The weather had cleared by then, and the wind had come up, so after Nicole left, we found a foot path on the other side of the wall around Swarthmoor Hall. The path led through a meadow, across a creek, and back up into Ulverston, a much shorter distance by the path than by the road.
Our dinner, some tasteless soup, salad greens without any dressing, and two rolls was by far the worst meal we had eaten since our arrival in England. Quaker simplicity is not always tasty. After dinner, it began to feel a little bit nippy in the apartment, and the hot water went off. A red blinking light appeared on the hot water heater, which meant according to our instructions, “flame failure.” We were supposed to push the “Reignite button.” Nothing. Now the room was downright cold, and outside the wind was fierce. Worried about fires, we called Nicole. She arrived and tried the same ritual. No luck. She said we could change rooms, and took us over to the old hall, which at night was dark, gloomy, and a little scary. By the time we got back to our suite, the radiators had started to warm up again. This series of outages went on all night as the wind howled and the temperature plummeted. Other than that we had a wonderful visit.