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The finest small group vacations in rural Britain





Early summer mornings are always cool and refreshing in Britain and this morning is no exception. The honeysuckle is in full bloom in hedgerows and cascading over garden walls. Its delicate fragrance mixes with the heavenly scent of rambling English roses carried on the calm morning air. The early sunshine picks out the worn cobblestones of the sleepy main street in the Lakeland village of Cartmel as it prepares itself for one of the biggest days of its calendar. The tranquil village center has just the odd soul around in the stillness of early morning, preparing the pig roast or putting out the temporary traffic cones. Although Cartmel is out of the way of the popular regions of the Lake District, today the English will travel from all over this beautiful North West corner of their country to indulge in that classic tradition - a day at the races.

Returning to Cartmel in the afternoon after a wonderful walk and a sumptuous picnic, we find the village with its numerous old pubs a hive of activity. Racegoers of all ages and from all walks of life have gathered to join in this unique event, one of only five racedays taking place here throughout the year. The tweeds and classic fashion of the Rangerover owners mix with pensioners, prams and people who have come simply to soak up the magic of the races.

This is pure storybook stuff. The idyllic setting for the venue is private land owned by Lord and Lady Cavendish of nearby Holker Hall. Here the racecourse circles around the cricket ground and the bowling green with its whitewashed and weather-beaten pavilion. A couple over to our right have brought along their deck chairs and champagne glasses and are popping out the cork. Behind them in the sunshine lies a multicolored sea of folk eagerly awaiting the start of the race. A weathered old man closes off the lane that leads to the centre of the racecourse covering it liberally with straw. The well-groomed horses gallop past us on their way to the starting line as a well-bred BBC accent captures our attention over the loudspeakers, announcing the colours of the jockeys' "jerseys". The drama unfolds as the towering horses pound past us towards the finishing post. The noise of the crowd crescendos with excitement.

The eloquent voice of the race announcer echoes around the racetrack once more informing us of the prizes. Locally-made Sticky Toffee Pudding is the fine reward for the trainer, the more usual champagne for the owner and jockey, as well as twenty pounds to spend for the stable lad or lass in charge of the best turned out horse. I would have gone for the trainer's prize myself.

As we leave, dads are lighting barbecues, kids are kicking soccer balls, grandmas lay the heavy woollen plaid car rugs on the ground and mums produce a vast array of mouthwatering salads and sandwiches from seemingly minute cars. My copy of the Racing Post will be kept as a memento - it seems strange now that only an hour ago well-meaning local folks were jabbing their fingers helping me pick a sure-fire winner as if life depended on it.

Mark Hodson is a freelance travel writer, having written articles, features and books on a wide variety of topics. This is what he made of a day on one of our Gateway to the Lake District tours.


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    The finest small group vacations in rural Great Britain. Lancaster Authentic, Tour operator of quality Walking Vacations & Driver Guide Tours
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