This post was written in response to Totalfeckineejit's 7pm project - in a nutshell, write whatever comes into your head for five minutes at 7pm on a Monday and post it, no re-writing allowed. It is supposed to be a poem but I'm afraid on this occasion the following popped out instead:
I'm sat writing this in a car, in a thunderstorm, parked by a wall beside the river Rawthey - yards from the spot where, I'm sure, the opening of Basil Bunting's poem Briggflatts is set.
How did we get here? Early this morning we set out on an epic end-of-summer car journey. It was meant to take us to Lindisfarne, but the tide-times meant we'd be stuck there for five hours: great on a sunny day but today was predicted to be wet and windy.
Instead, we headed off to explore the South coast of Dumfries and Galloway. It didn't seem as exciting as it looked on the map, especially in fog and driving rain, so we turned round and headed to the Lake District. 3.30 found us in a coffee shop in Ambleside, by Windermere. We then took the car-ferry to the far side of the lake. I could not resist the temptation to carry on to Coniston, where we spent a reflective half hour by the water, listening to the rain on the roof. And then on - to where we are now. It's all been a lot more fun than it sounds.
And apologies to any readers from Dumfries and Galloway. It's probably a great part of the world and I'd like to go back and look around when it's not throwing it down!
How she had loved sitting on the top deck of the bus when she was small, watching the streetlamps as they drifted past the window, watching the people on the pavement get eaten up by the window's lower edge. The slightly sick feeling as the bus turned a corner and her whole world turned with it. It was always the same journey then, from their house to the town. Half way, the bus waited five minutes or so at the bus station. Then, as now. She used to rest her chin on the chrome bar along the top of the seat in front of her and feel the vibration of the engine. Her mum used to say don't do that you'll break your teeth one day and then what will you look like? Sometimes it juddered, just as now. She wished she could read to pass the time but she always felt sick if she read on a bus. Once she had been: she'd been reading a comic and her mum said put it away you'll be sick, but she took no notice and she was, all down the front of her duffle coat. Her mum had been mad. If only she could talk instead. But there was no-one to talk to and she couldn't -well, shouldn't- talk to herself. Anyone coming upstairs would think she was mad. She would think she was mad. She looked round: she was still alone. Then, it had been different. She rested her chin on the edge of the seat in front, just as she had when she was small. It still felt the same. Then, as now. She raised her head. She looked out of the window. Between the edge and the metal roof of the station, through the waves of rainwater that were running down the glass, she could see the tops of the heads of people getting on the bus. Beyond the roof stood the church, its black spire sticking up in the air surrounded (she knew but couldn't see) by the dirty-looking cemetery. All the stone black. All the stone round here was like that. It was the smoke from the chimneys when the place was all factories did it. It must be like that in hell, what with all those fires burning all the time. Then, as now. There, as here. Only this was real.
Coniston Water is a bewitching place. Yesterday I got to sit on the shingle there, by the water's edge, making coffee for Karen and me on a meths stove. (I'm rather fond of that stove. It lends a ritual to the act of boiling water that leaves one relaxed and open-minded). There was virtually no wind, the sky was clear and The Old Man of Coniston filled the horizon on the far side of the lake. Its reflection in the water was slightly broken by the light breeze that moved the surface slightly. As I sat there, a heron glided past from left to right. Closer to the shore, small, circular waves kept breaking out on the surface, as if it were raining a little. The stove takes a few minutes to boil two mugs-worth of water, and nothing else seemed to happen for a while. All of a sudden, the water surface became agitated. Not content with merely touching the surface to make their circular waves, innumerable small fish were suddenly attempting to jump out of the lake, all at the same time. I'd never seen anything like it. I could think of only one reason -later confirmed by a friend who has done some fishing- that a bigger fish like a carp or even a pike was threatening them. After several seconds, the agitation died away as quickly as it had started. Peace was restored: at least, from where I sat. Only a few feet away it was a case of “nature red in tooth and claw” but it was all happening out of sight, under the surface, and all I could see was the reflection of The Old Man.
Emily -my daughter- and I spent the first part of this week camping in The Lake District. We arrived by car Monday lunchtime and I took the road to Borrowdale, as I remembered seeing several campsites on the map there. Sure enough, it wasn't long before we found one. The campsite at Grange is a wonderfully wild place, surrounded by woodland. Castle Rock towers over the Southern end, while the Bowder Stone is only a few minutes walk away.
Once we had pitched our tents and sorted out our things, we headed off in the car again. We were going to climb Blencathra. We parked at Scales, only a short walk from the path that skirts the Southern side of the mountain.
Blencathra is very satisfyingly steep-sided for an English mountain, with clear-cut ridges falling away from its summit like folds of material. One or two of these ridges are rocky enough for their ascent to involve more than a mere walk and it was one of these, Hall's Fell Ridge, that we hoped to ascend. There is no actual rock climbing involved, only the satisfying experience of clambering over rock using one's hands as well as one's feet combined with a sense of being a long way up! A path skirts the foot of the mountain on its Southern side and we followed this to the start of the ridge. Half way along it we came across a steep rocky step that was more difficult to overcome than anything on the ridge itself. We soon found ourselves at the foot of the ridge and headed up it, on a path through the bracken. We wanted to get the first part over and done with. It was getting late: we'd parked the car around four o'clock and we were not exactly sure how long the walk would take us.
I don't know why, but, when ascending a ridge, there is something very pleasant about being able to see down both sides at once. So it was as the ridge narrowed. As it got narrower it began to get rockier. One could choose: either one walked along the path or one scrambled along the rocky crest. Quite close to the top we reached the point where all the paths seemed to peter out and rock was the only option.
It had rained all morning and we seemed to be enjoying a break in the weather. However, as we approached the summit, wisps of cloud began to brush around it, and I thought for a minute that we were going to be deprived of a view. Fortunately the cloud moved on and when we arrived at the top we were treated to an all-round panorama. Our ascent coincided with the only break in the weather for two and a half days: for the next day and a half the mountain was almost continuously shrouded in mist.
We stopped at a sheltered spot close to the summit to eat our sandwiches before making our way down to Scales Tarn. At the far side of the tarn Sharp Edge curves upwards, back towards the summit. We considered making a second ascent to the summit via this famous scramble, but thought better of it. We were making good time, but we did not want to over-reach ourselves. Instead, we continued down to Scales, jogging and walking above the River Glenderamackin.
It rained a lot that night. We had intended to climb Skiddaw the next day, but the weather was so foul we decided it was a bad idea. Instead, we went for a run around Borrowdale: through the woods and over the river to Rosthwaite, returning via the Bowder Stone. Three-quarters of the way round and in search of The Bowder Stone, I took a wrong turn which sent us off on a steep ascent, through waist-deep bracken, up the flank of High Seat. We finally found the stone, still curiously balanced on one edge. We returned the campsite soaked through and, once dried out, we went to Keswick to investigate the Oxfam shop there. Late in the afternoon we drove up to the car park at the start of the Skiddaw 'tourist path' in the hope that the weather might ease off the way it had the day before, but no such luck.
The weather the next night was even worse than the night before. The wind roared through the trees making a sound like the sea (it sounded as if we were camping on the beach) and my saturated dome-tent kept blowing in and out like a demented jellyfish. In the morning, one end of the field (not ours, fortunately) had turned into a lake. It was time to go home. We had considered doing a short walk -to the top of Cat Bells perhaps- but I don't think either of us wanted to get soaked again.