Amy's sitting beside me in the passenger seat with the Autumn 2014 edition of 'Lakes and Cumbria Today' open on her lap. It's mid-afternoon on our second day in the Lake District and we're trying to decide how best to spend the remaining hours of sunlight.
There are the touristy things – Windermere, Ambleside and surrounds have no shortage of lovely ways to pass the time – but we're looking for something a bit more remarkable.
Hey, this says there's a challenging mountain pass leading to a Roman Fort. Looks like a two hour drive. Only recommended for cars – and drivers – who can manage it.
We're driving a hired, questionably insured and pathetically under-powered Seat Ibiza. Our iPhones are down to 15% each, and we've left our charging cables at the guest house.
Let's do it.
We took the A593 out of Ambleside, turning off at Little Langdale and seemingly back in time to beautiful country roads, packed-stone walls, and sheep. So many sheep.
One of the most remarkable things about the English countryside is the so-called Right to Ramble. Fields are open to walkers and thoroughfares wend their way through privately owned farms. These roads are wide enough for one vehicle only and each blind corner brings the threat of an oncoming car. Of course we didn't encounter a single one.
Before we knew it the road had risen up out of the valley around Little Langdale and was tracking the contours of the surrounding hills. Our view went from stone-walls zipping past the windows to expansive vistas. And as we cut our way in and out of valleys, our silly Seat Ibiza started to feel a lot more like James Bond's Aston Martin.
Nearly two hours into this little adventure we found ourselves completely alone. The iPhones had run their batteries flat and we hadn't seen another vehicle for miles. We started wondering whether we'd somehow missed the Hardknott Pass, or underestimated the distance. Without a GPS and only the questionable map provided by 'Lakes and Cumbria' we could have easily taken the wrong route.
And then we rounded a corner –
Here we encountered civilisation in form of a small farm house with a blackboard reading "Honesty Box for Milk and Eggs" – and a small sign indicating that the bridge led to the pass.
It's at this point that we realised why the book had mentioned 'cars and drivers capable' – it was steep and winding with sharp corners that zig-zagged the road straight up the mountain.
There are many things that a 1.2-litre Seat Ibiza is good at: driving at 50 around town, playing music on its stereo, and using very little fuel. Traversing the Hardknott Pass should not have been one of them. Except that this car... this car was a Hired Car. And as I learned on the Hardknott Pass, Hired Cars can do incredible things.
After the 2km ascent - which we later found out has a gradient of 33% in places – we stopped at the watershed to take in the view. Behind us we saw the sheer-drop that we'd somehow driven up, and ahead of us a truly panoramic view past the Roman Fort, towards Brotherilkled and right down to the sea.
We did the downhill side of the pass easily and found ourselves at the Hardknott Roman Fort. Quick history lesson: This fort was built sometime between 100-200 AD during Emperor Hadrian's reign as a base for around 500 Roman troops who were occupying the area and policing the hostile native population living in the valleys.
So why the long story about driving up a hill? I know there are far more adventurous things one can do. We didn't camp. We didn't cook our own food on a make-shift fire. We drove a fairly comfortable car up a big hill.
But the fact that it struck us as such an adventure tells me something. I guess the thrill of adventure is something we've lost in our urban lives. We commute to work in big familiar cities. Entertainment opportunities are endless – if somewhat empty – and what they offer is naturally constrained by practical limitations.
Additionally, we live so much of our lives online, permanently connected to the latest news and views and complaints and hashtags, that being disconnected for an afternoon is a surprisingly remarkable experience.
Getting out of your physical and mental comfort-zone is a great way to break the rut and jumpstart creativity. I encourage you to take yourself on an adventure - even if it just lasts a few hours. Do something unusual. Take a left-turn onto a gravel road and see where it takes you.