A week in the Lakes planned long ago, for both of us to write, walk and read, after a far too busy time in Suffolk. Michael found a cottage and booked it, or as it once was in common parlance, Thomas Cooked it, which will soon have no meaning – it has just gone bust 80,000 loosing their jobs and the rest.
As we drove up we left that busyness behind, as we looked to where we were going. Each was coming with our different history here, Michael’s being far more engrained. He was, after all, raised up not so far from here in Birkenhead, and tells the story of how his family were introduced to the Lakes by the man who in effect killed his father. Not intentionally of course.
Much later Michael’s father, an accountant helped his friend, SP, out of a tight corner, in which SP could have potentially been jailed. The anxiety of the case probably contributed to the heart suffered by his father soon after the case. Michael was 18. Some 10 years earlier it was SP who took Michael’s father and mother up to Windermere one year and there after the family, father mother Michael and his brother came to the Lakes regularly. By bus they arrived, with suitcases and stayed in a boarding house in Grassmere run by a woman called Mrs Rack. She would make them packed lunches, or they’d lunch at a cafe which he has seen over the years evolve from a little shed to a large cafe and shop.
Talking of food, not surprisingly M knew of the food stops on the way up the A1, and we had a coffee at the Tower, a relic of the past, unmodernised, the top circular part, that would have been so modern in its time, closed for these past 20 years the girl in a Lancashire northern voice tells us.
My connection was via Bob, who bought me up here shortly after we started going out with each other, for the Coast to Coast walk, 14 days with Wainwright in an area I’d never visited before and only knew through Cumberland Pencils contained in beautiful rainbow coloured tin box.
Michael continued coming up here with Tamsyn and the kids, camping (one night their tent was blown away – he’d camped on a spot with a view!) and throughout the trip the stories and memories unfold as we pass through this familiar geography.
Arriving at dusk, around 6, I am amazed at Michael’s keen interpretation of our hosts instructions at finding our home for a week. At Ulpha, we turned up the single track and suddenly steep road to Eskdale, and motored until he saw a patch of green square fields and a single tree in the distance, turned left, arrived at a closed gate not referenced on our instructions, but in the glooming light we saw the words WOODEND, carved in stone the letters almost covered over with moss.
Our Bothy is exactly as it says, a Bothy in a modest complex of School house, and Barn where it transpires our host lives. We are on a dead end lane, the end being Woodfarm, which we explore the next day.
Our Bothy is small. A single small table, a tight red sofa, TV and kitchen. Downstairs a bedroom and bathroom. It is smaller than either of us had envisaged. However it does have a fire, which we light.
The Bothy is still small. Various Alarms go off. A restless night no doubt due to too much coffee in the day. Restless dogs, moving upstairs and downstairs unsettled.
Up and out in to the landscape we go, down the dead end track, passed a huge beautiful sycamore rugged with tales to tell, round the haphazard farmers barns and outhouses, through a gate and onto the fell. Treeless, with huge views and to the right a small craggy hill.
Whiteheaven to stock up on food at Morrisons. In memory of my first time in the Lakes, M drives us to Bees head, the start of the Coast to Coast, now well signed, and with sea water for the dogs to play in with a Life Guard on holiday from Scotland with his two daughter. The C to C in 1990 was, pre internet, serviced by a handy little booklet with lists of B&B’s in it, which I would call from phone boxes each night to book into the next nights rest. (All the photographs and stories disappeared with Bob’s estate).
Shall we go up the Hardnot pass? asks M.
I am keen. The automatic is a new experience, and i do not find the S gear (Second) until we have gone down the other side. There is a moment when the motor struggles and slows to 3mph. It was edgy. ‘Once in our Renault 4, towing a boat, Tamsyn and I failed to get up. We had to stop, and some walkers unhocked and pulled the boat up to the summit. Tamsyn was furious!’
At the bottom we turned right into our Duddon valley, which after Hardnot, all twists and bends seemed tame.
Stocked up with food and wine, we opened up our computers and began to crank up the writing. Michael on his Survival short story and I on our Australia log.
Our first walk is to the Devoke Tarn in glorious warm late afternoon sunlight. We walked through the farm yard this time, onto the track, which started off well, but became boggy so we veered off into the grassland, tufted and hard going for Michael, with a stick that kept sticking! He rested while the dogs and I continued down to the tarn.
Like the Norweigian tundra it is full of water, bouncy, uneven, rich in plant life, sedge grasss. Later I read that the Lakes landscape is dominated by Mat Grass Nardus stricta which has formed due to overgrazing by sheep. Sheep do not eat it! At the waters edge, not a stick to be found for Kali. An abandoned boat house at the tarn end.
Our first evening meal was a delicious Indian take away from Morrisons for a bargain price of £5. There is even left overs.
Our Bothy, although still small, is warm and cosy with the fire, which helps us warm to its smallness.
Monday – Writing
Morning walk along the easier road, (grass in middle) in which I learn what M leaned at Boy scouts, when lost in a wood with no sun to indicate north or south, Moss grows on the north side.
After beavering away at Australia and M at Survival, I walk out and up to Devoke Seat.
‘Ah yes, I too had that desire to get to the top’, says m when I return full of news of the view of Selafield and the sea.
Meanwhile M met our host, Paul, who walks with sticks after an abscess on his spin has left him almost crippled. Some Morris dancers have been staying with him and in this jovial atmosphere, M finally gets through on the landline to Aldeburgh to book us into the documentary Film Festival. They lend us their wizzer for us to wiz up our celery soup.
Our only outing this day is to Seathwait were we have a drink in the Newfield pub, later we hear through Facebook with a Barbara connection. Her father had helped restore it and a consequence of this was any one with the name Kellett, would have been welcome for a free drink. We did try it later!
Marsh Saxifrage, Saxifraga hirculus
Our morning walk is along the track to Devoke lake – a much easier walk, where in a cave I find a left over tin can to throw into the tarn for Kali. A flock of geese appear to want to come to us, but are no doubt nervous of the dogs. Cattle with calves and sheep, so the dogs stay down until called. While I am now confident of controlling Kali with sheep, I am still nervous of cattle with calves.
Perfect working weather. M reads out his Survival Story up to the tomato growers of Isle of White – he reads well. He has no idea where he will go from here.
(I finish first draft of Australia – not very inspiring writing)
To Ulpha I walk a good 2 hours stretch, along road enabling an undistracted view of the gentle rolling landscape, before taking a footpath sign across fields. Up hill bog, reminding me of the vertical bog in the Rwanzorie mountains, and realising that will never go there again. My breath is short for the first time. Ah, age comes and pay back for all those roll up times. Back to reading contours, although I come down too soon, but enjoy the uncertainty of it all.
Village shop closed. In the graveyard a couple of older women staying locally had come to see one grave. They are right, it does have a story.
“James Crosbie Jenkinson,
who perished on Birker moor
during the pelting of the pitiless storm
on the 1st of January 1826.”
Unusually poetic adjectives and emotion for a gravestone. M picks us up and in the last light we together we walk up to Firth Hall, a ruin of an old hunting lodge, with substantial fireplace, and views over the hills.
Hooray, Australia is done – at least the first draft. What’s it all for? What is the point of recording this past time, and not living the NOW in this landscape on this glorious day. I walk out and up to the now familiar Devoke Seat and look out.
Michael’s writing is less stuck and he begins to roll.
We finally get out, lunch at the Newfield in Seathwait, and drive into the landsape full of walkers walking in glorious sunshine. One summer, M recalls it was so hot his mother stripped down to her petticoat – for all to see!
Our walk is modest, along the lake side in Conniston, suddenly amongst other people, and after a shop to buy cheese and wine for our evening invitation to Lake End.
Lake End – where Jenny Nutbeam has invited us for the evening – turns out to be shared by her family of plentiful cousins. It is a substantial home, once occupied by the Bishop – who built suitable lake side view windows. In their boat house rest two immaculately kept boats, with half a dozen or more resting out. It is her cousin, who assiduously does the fine maintenance of the place, and who has written a remarkable family history, beautifully annotated with photographs and printed.
In the grounds, a cedar tree, some unusual hudranger trees, an orchard, and even an Anthony Gormley. He evidently stayed here. It is a fine work. A relatively small human form, as if in a cocoon of fine silk, moulding his body parts into one form to emerge.
Inside, was a veritable Halesworthian gathering. Marion (of course), Annette, Anthony, Meg, Colin and Liz – and 3 dogs, 2 of which were Annette’s and we established were related to Kali and Bobji. Watching our dogs play by the ‘beach’, the lake edge, throwing the stick, seeing they dynamic, her dogs dominating, mine watching tantalised.
We ate fine vegetarian fare, drank red wine, enjoyed the Baron Bigod M had bought from Suffolk. We talked dog pedigrees, Quinoa (first introduced to me by Ann Wolf), and economic stability of South American. (Since Quinoa had become such a sexy superfood, it had drained the local people of their staple, all going to supply the new western elite market). The Wolfs meeting was taking place at the weekend in Wakelyns, to which Marion was leaving early to attend.
A colder, wetter day and suitable for working in. Michael gets on a roll and towards end of day finishes Survival – which has become S’s stripped tomato (meanwhile I began and almost finished HHP conservation strategy paper).
I did the daily walk up to Devoke Seat.
In the early evening we ventured out to Broughton Mill’s Blacksmiths Arms, to dine with Heather and Ken Bruce. Heather and I had last seen each other 43 years ago, we were at school together, and she would be Michael’s 3rd old fish he’d meet – the previous two in Australia. As we’d both gathered on FB we were all safely of similar politics, remainers and socialists keen on distributed justice. Heather, however, had been on the path loger.
Radicalised to leftism by an Italian lover soon after leaving school, she joined Socialist Workers Party of Norwich, where she was studying History of Art at UEA (ah yes, the Norwich connection). In order to leave it, she had to escape underground – she moved in with her husband (was that underground?). With him she had 2 boys. I have not remembered the joining jigsaw pieces to now, where she lives in Ulverston with Ken, who in effect bought up the two sons.
I caught in Ken, as Heather spoke, a steady concentration in his eyes, which I admired. He’d been an engineer/builder. ’I fell in love with mountain climbing, so i had to be self employed’, he explained simply. Mostly he’d climbed in the UK and European alps, but he had gone out to Kathmandu, walked the Annapurna range, been marooned at Muktinath. He’d also been informed by 10 years of study at the local Buddhist centre around here (another place to investigate when we return, I put away). Yes, they knew where the Gormley was, as they knew Owen the oak swill basket maker.
The food was delicious, the company stimulating. I’m glad to say we shared our own story before going down that familiar route of only talking of ‘and what happened to so and so?’ , although we did do a bit of that too. Heather was naughty at school, clever then, cleaver now, with good humour now. She astonished me by declaring she had never been outside Europe, but now gladly ventured to Spain where she and Ken camp and walk, although both have challenging physical obstacles (Ken broke his back a few years ago, and Heather has augmenting knee problems.)
Heather’s work now connects to her activist beginnings. She is the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian, and essentially she supports whistle blowers within the hospital system. Since Staffordshire scandal in which “NHS Whistleblowers ignored, bullied and intimidated, inquiry finds” all hospitals had to appoint someone to support the whistle blowers. Ulverston was one of the first to do this, her’s is the first appointment, she is creating the role. Her union background is critical. Hat off to her.
Michael very generously picked up the bill, and drove us back through the dark night sky, sheep on the road.
We do not see a soul all day, staying put in our Bothy, busy writing away.
Our walk was to our Tarn, finding reasonable paths, even jumping one or two of the many streams streaming down from the hills, forgetting water and an apple. In the distance some people were swiming by the boat house.
I walked the whole the length of the Tarn and up to overlook the sea and Selafield. Jessy Norman died – the last sound of that night was hearing her sing Strauss Last Songs, Number 3, Beim Schlafengehen. (When I Go to Sleep (Hermann Hesse))