Clear Lakes and Guinness Cake

November 18, 2014
Clear Lakes and Guiness Cake by Greenside Up

Lake Windermere, Cumbria

Apart from devouring a delicious Guinness Cake (recipe below), a recent family get together in Cumbria in the UK gave us a glimpse of something we’ve been too busy to realise was slipping us by…


It’s been eight years since I last saw my sister who moved to Canada more years ago than we can remember, where she found and married a kind Canadian man and between them gave us three gorgeous nephews, the youngest of which are now 9 and 11. Recently the opportunity arose for us to get together to celebrate our Dad’s 80th birthday and catch up with one another.

Clear Lakes & Guinness Cake by Greenside Up

Muncaster Castle, Cumbria

We spent Dad’s birthday surrounded by owls at The World Owl Centre then meandered our way around the glorious castle walk at Muncaster where the views are simply mouth dropping and we were offered  the opportunity to blow away the cobwebs in the unseasonably warm November winds. Owl - Clear Lakes & Guinness Cake by greensideup.ieAfter filling SD cards with photos we headed back to our accommodation where we cooked a variety of vegan/vegetarian/meat-eating delights before tucking into the lip lickingly delicious Guinness cake baked the night before, a cake that would carry just two candles on its surface and not a chocolate melting eighty.

Sleeping Eleven 

To accommodate us all on this rare family get together, our parents hired a revamped old farmhouse in Corney in the Western Lakes in Cumbria, located in the shadow of Black Combe (it fell just 30ft short of being designated a mountain at 1970ft).

Clear Lakes and Guiness Cake by Greenside Up

Foldgate at Corney

Foldgate was chosen for its ability to sleep twelve and it kept us warm and dry with its 140 year old Aga, central heating, jacuzzi bath as well as the more modern hot tub outside.

We had to pull our children out of school for the reunion, a first for us, yet in my nephews school travel is considered an education in itself. I kindof like that attitude don’t you? Strangely, our children objected to taking unexpected time off and having their routines disrupted, but in the end I hope, they came to realise the importance of this trip.

Clear Lakes and Guinness Cake by Greenside Up


The lure of unlimited WiFi eased fears of losing touch with friends and for the first few days it was home from home as our two older teens shut themselves away and communicated online with Ireland. Then just a couple of days in, the internet went down. Horrors! Their lifeline was pulled from under them. Apart from being unable to find places to visit online, I found the unexpected inconvenience of being unavailable a tremendous relief. For a few short days, with no pinging distractions, I could be completely ‘there’ for my family and I realised how little I offer that to them in terms of my time or ‘presence’ these days.

Clear Lakes & Guinness Cake by Greenside Up

On the Beach in November

Yes I cook their dinners, answer their questions, drive them here, there and everywhere, every day of the week, but am I really ‘there’? I suspect not. Once they discovered their gadgets were no longer of any use to them, I think our children discovered how ‘absent’ they’ve been too. They caught up and they laughed, they played chess and learnt card games. They bonded with their cousins, chatted with the adults, played hide and seek and teased. They shopped, walked, laughed until they cried and even swam in the sea. They relaxed and unwound. And so did we.

Clear Lakes & Guinness Cake by Greenside Up

Nearly at the top of Black Combe

We wondered what ages we’ll all be next time we meet and we made plans to start saving for airfares that will take the five of us across the Atlantic to visit our Canadian family. An expense that could easily buy a second-hand car or pay the first year of college fees.

While we discussed plans for our children before they fly from our nest, their grandparents looked quietly on, perhaps thinking about being alone in Lincolnshire, their own children hundreds of miles away, an ocean and a sea distancing them. No doubt they were wondering the same thing… when will the next occasion for a family get together be.

Clear Lakes and Guinness Cake by Greenside UpBack home again I’m in a reflective mood. I’m a long way from my extended family but am wondering how we can take time out more regularly to retain the closeness with our own children. I’ve become acutely aware of their young years quickly passing by and I’m wondering how, now that we’re back in the modern ‘convenient’ world of our internet led lifestyles, can we hang on to that childhood bond.

I don’t know why the internet went down – was it a technical or human intervention? If anyone knows they’re keeping it quietly to themselves though a little part of me wishes it could happen more often in our own household. As much as I’d like to be the one who puts her foot down and demand a couple of WiFi free days on a weekly basis, with an 11, 14 and 16-year-old we also have to weigh up a quietish life versus an argument filled one. I’m also not too old to remember how important friends are when we’re teens but can only begin to understand how different it must be for my own children who are growing up with their contacts at the end of their fingertips. I do know that I have to treasure those increasingly rare times when we spend more than the daily half hour at the dinner table together.

Beach - Clear Lakes and Guinness Cake by greensideup.ieAn important family birthday in the middle of term time made me realise that sometimes we just have to throw caution to the wind and celebrate life. Whether that’s through eating good food, appreciating the beauty of our landscape or simply spending time in relaxed company with friends or family, the important thing is that we make the time to do it and appreciate it.

As we ponder the ‘convenience’ of the internet, I’ll leave you with the recipe for this truly delicious Guinness cake, found and baked on this occasion by my sister and inspired by one on All Recipes. It’s a rich, velvety cake reminiscent of chocolate fudge and it’s topped with a sweet, creamy cheese icing so that it resembles the beverage it contains. This is a cake deserved of any occasion and I’ll be baking it again soon as we celebrate two more birthdays in our home.

Guinness & Chocolate Cake Recipe

Guinness & Chocolate Cake RecipeHow do you manage your or your own children’s time on the internet? Do you switch it off, have deliberate down time, or is it a free for all? Or do we just have to accept that they’re now finding their own way and step back and be there to guide them if needs be? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below in the hope it might help me manage my own work / homelife more effectively.


  • Reply Fergal Byrne November 18, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    Wow, so much there Dee. Really well translated to the page. Its so hard to get those thoughts about family and the trials and tribulations of rearing one and growing old in one too. In a car wating for 16 year old to come out from rehearsals. Want to read again and hopefully give some thoughts as your post is so close to the bine for me. Thanks, Fergal

    • Reply Dee Sewell November 18, 2014 at 10:06 pm

      Fergal, thanks so much for taking the time to comment and I know I hadn’t expected our holiday to end up being so reflective. Once I started writing I couldn’t stop. Look forward to hearing your thoughts 🙂

  • Reply Lorna November 19, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Lovely post Dee, sounds like you had a great time. I can imagine how reflective you all were at the end especially for your parents with both daughters living abroad.
    I can remember, as a kid, those evenings when the electricity went and we all played cards and board games. We’re still at the stage when the kids like playing those games so many winter Sunday afternoons involve a game of monopoly. I tend to switch the TV off unless we’re actually watching it, hate having it as background noise. Having said that, my kids are yet to get their smartphones and start tweeting and facebooking their friends so I have it all ahead of me!
    I like that schools see holidays as an education in itself. We often end up taking them out for a few days each year as January is the easiest time for us to get away and I’ve often looked on it as an education too – even travelling on the London tube and the Paris metro are educational in themselves.
    Hope you are feeling refreshed after your holiday.

    • Reply Dee Sewell November 25, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      I’m with you on switching the TV off Lorna, drives me mad when it sits there churning its canned laughter out to nobody in particular. One of our best family Christmas’ we had was when we were snowed in and perhaps hadn’t so fully immersed ourselves into the world of wifi. As you say, board games, cards and generally family fun were the order of the week and we all still talk and remember the time spent together. We were quite sad when the snow melted!

      The kind of trips you mention Lorna have to be considered an education – it takes some skill to work your way around the tube or metro!

  • Reply Amanda Webb November 20, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    I’m just back from a week away too and I was almost internet free. For me it’s an escape from work. The idea of looking at Facebook and seeing work related posts turned my stomach and I knew looking at email would stress me out. I also knew internet would be poor so rather than try and access it with frustration I thought it better to give myself a break. It’s something I couldn’t do at home. Like your teens I rely on the internet to connect with friends.

    I think it’s a great idea to take time out though and a holiday can be the best time to do it. A holiday from the internet and a holiday away from home.

    Your photos are gorgeous 🙂

    • Reply Dee Sewell November 25, 2014 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks Amanda and hope you enjoyed your break away as much as we did ours 🙂 if nothing else, our early winter trip was a reminder that we should try and get away more often and spend spend together, before our children no longer want to (border line now), but also to give us all a chance to have some family bonding time, or a good recharge, something we don’t do nearly enough.

  • Reply Naomi November 20, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    Lovely post Dee, glad you got the down time and family bonding. My kids are a bit younger so we have a “no screens until 6 O Clock” rule which is keeping things at bay but I know it will get worse as they get older. I have to say though, it is me who is the worst offender, and do not practice what I preach. Sometimes when I go home to visit my parents I end up switching everything off and I always feel so much better for it. I would love to place greater restrictions on myself and my time on the net but not sure how or what is most realistic. Very thought reflective post, thanks!

    • Reply Dee Sewell November 25, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      Thanks Naomi. That’s a really good rule and one to try and stick with. We found it went downhill once the eldest two started secondary school but if they’ve learnt the value of ‘me’ time before they hit that age, you might be in with a chance. As you say in your own home, and as Mr G pointed out in ours, look at their role model. We do insist on no phones at mealtimes but they’re usually all out the minute we finish, mine being one of the first 😐


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