Poop, poop! The open road. Or at least, the M6 Toll. The heart begins to lift at the sign for the Kirkby Lonsdale turn-off, the tension to fall from the shoulders past the exit for Kendal. Bit of a ritual now. Check in, unload, cup of tea, then go and see if the stones are still there.
The way we go, you don’t see them until you’ve climbed the steps built into the wall, but once in among the stones it makes perfect sense why they’re where they are, seeming to be at the centre of something. No astro-science, ancient science or pseudo-science necessary to appreciate that.
Wednesday is the hottest day of the year so far. We choose to do Walla Crag, which overlooks the north half of Derwent Water and, in the distance, Bassenthwaite (what’s the only Lake in the Lake District?) Lake. And, of course, a whole lot more of the solid stuff. Fortunately the higher we get the stronger the breeze, which is a wind by the time we reach the top and laze for a bit. Photographs (or at least mine), especially in summer, never get anywhere near the magnificence of the view, so here’s one of a northern (or oak) eggar moth, trying not to get blown away.
Today we make the descent (probably too grand a term, even though the walk leaflet calls it strenuous and steep, and the worst bit involves dropping from a seated position) lakewards down the other side. To our left Cat Gill, and after the aforementioned worst bit, the gill briefly flattens out so I have the brilliant idea of stepping down and bathing my sweltering salt-strewn face in the cool clear waters. It is here that I learn the aptness of the ancient wisdom enshrined in the old adage, “Slippery when wet”, even when there are no warning signs. Twelve days on I still bear the residual signs of what proved to be a truly psychedelic bruise on my thigh; nor can I yet grip a pen as tightly as I am wont to. No matter. Onwards to a fine lunch on the veranda of the all-welcoming Mary Mount Hotel, bestrewn as it is with busy bird feeders – chaffinches and great tits so fine and handsome we had to do a double-take.
Thursday to town, and my favourite little museum: The Keswick Museum and Art Gallery. Where I play Louie, Louie and From me to you on the musical stones – 3 sets thereof, stacked like they’re waiting for Keith Emerson to come and climb all over them. It’s a fascinating piece of rock music history. In the gallery a major exhibition celebrating Alfred Wainwright – Wainwright: a love letter to the Lakeland Fells. Along with his tweed jackets (pipe sticking out of the pocket of one), his ‘best’ (for council meetings) and his first boots, and all the obvious stuff, we get to see memorabilia from his life as an active Blackburn Rovers supporters: a cartoon of his of fans at the 1922 Boxing Day match with the legend “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching”, his ‘motor coach excursion ticket’ to the 1940 (wartime) Cup Final. At one end of the gallery, a one-piece vinyl floor covering, maybe 15 foot square, printed with an old style OS map of the Lakes; Isobel stood on top of Helvellyn, no probs. And with one bound …
And so to The Dog & Gun, there to partake of their vegetarian goulash, a disappointment last year because we only discovered its very existence after we’d eaten elsewhere. It was worth the wait. Pictured is what they call a small portion – it comes with garlic bread too – and I couldn’t have eaten anymore. I was drinking a pint of Ruskin’s, pretty much the most cultural it got this time around, and – goodness! – taste buds now fully engaged, it had twice the flavour after the meal. A splendid array of ales, imaginatively and helpfully presented with a colour sample in a jar beside each pump (click on the image for an enlargement, and once more if that’s not good enough to whet your taste buds, beear drinkers) :
In the afternoon, the gentle railway walk out of Keswick, the river winding, wildly here, wandering there, under the permanent … walk-way. Such sights, such engineering. The tallest foxgloves everywhere. For fans of ironworks, rust and greenery:
On Friday we sample a live railway. Eighteen minutes there and eighteen minutes back behind ‘Victor’ on the restored Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway – the lake being Windermere – and in between a look around the Lakes Aquarium, stocked with a lot more than fishes. We saw voracious mean-looking ‘baby’ crocodiles included being fed.; lots of potential ouch there.
In the locoshed at Haverthwaite I discover I am older than all the engines in the shed – including four steam locomotives of varying size – except for a diesel shunter. There are a couple of older engines outside, but I wasn’t expecting that: to feel that old, even pursuing memories of a childhood and early-teen pursuit. As it happens, the photo is one of the class of locos mentioned in a poem of mine some readers might remember having heard performed, called The lamb’s last gambol: “I sold my stamp collection for a train set / a Hornby freight diesel / Lion and wheel logo / painted grey and green“. Except this one was missing a lion and wheel logo, though one of the other young locos proudly displayed one (compare and contrast with, say, Virgin, or any of the other railway companies now).
Saturday to the seaside and a bracing sea breeze at Alonby on the Solway Firth, which could be a very forlorn place on the wrong day. When the interesting clouds lifted we could see the green fields of Dumfries under a blue sky. Stony beach, true, but with plenty of delightful pebbles to peruse. Borrowdale’s Great Wood again in the pm, finally making geographical sense to us in the scheme of things fitting together. And the next day home again, home again, jiggety jog, fortified midway with Waitrose sandwiches at Keele services – the high life! – even if we did have to walk over the Keele services bridge and through Burger King to get them.
Soundtrack of the sojourn in the car proved to be REM’s gorgeous masterpiece Reveal. Hardly a rock album at all, but there’s certainly a lot of roll, and some floating. Song soundscapes. Anticipation, sympathy, self-doubt overcome, with a nod to science while not letting that take away the poetry. Beguiling, sinuous melodies that don’t hit at first but once they catch you’re waiting for them eagerly the next time. To sing along to. A sadness that glows, with a bit of Beach Boys in there too. Lovely.
Oh, and I forgot to mention in chronicling the Welsh trip how my breakfast Marmite habit had been broken, it being overtaken on the toast by Rose’s pleasurably sweet and sour Lemon & Lime Marmalade, but I’m over that now.