I was neither born in Britain nor raised here, but I’m lucky enough to call it my home now, a home that I love. The fact that I’m a late comer means that the stories I set in the UK choose me rather than the other way around. That being the case, it’s no wonder that I set so many stories in the Lake District, and it’s no wonder that the Lake District chose me the very first time I set foot on the fells. Being born and raised in the mountains, it’s the place in Britain where I feel most at home, the place I know the best and love the most. That being the case, it’s not any real surprise that my boys, Will and Doc’s story, Toys for Boys, is a delicious walk across England – the first five days of that walk spent in the Lake District. Love of a place is one of the sexiest, most romantic ways I know of to connect, and how could it be any better than al fresco on the Lakeland Fells?
The photo below was tweeted several years ago by Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield from on board the International Space Station,. Commander Hadfield was a flight engineer on Expedition 34 on the station and gained popularity on Twitter by sharing stunning photos of space and his views of Earth as the International Space Station orbited roughly 200 miles above the planet, moving at over 17,000 miles per hour. I’ve shared it before, and I’ll no doubt share it again. It’s too good not to. It’s one of those images I can’t get enough of. With Toys for Boys newly re-released, now seemed like the perfect time to share it again.
I can’t help wondering what Alfred Wainwright would have thought if he could see his beloved Lakeland in such a view from above? His incredibly detailed drawings and descriptions of the Lakeland Fells are among the most accurate, most lovely, most poetic ever recorded. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat in the Twa Dogs Inn in Keswick, the night before climbing a fell I’d never walked before, drinking Cumberland Ale while reading through Wainwright’s notes and studying the maps and drawings from his Pictorial Guides of the Lakeland Fells. The beauty in the minute detail of his work is now reflected in a stunning overview from space. How could anyone not be moved by that? And how can I not keep coming back to such a place over and over again to set my stories?
I’m so glad it was clear the day Commander Hadfield took this picture. I can’t stop looking at it. I love the fact that I’m somehow connected to that place and all the stories it evokes – not just mine, but everyone else’s – all those poets and walkers and writers and photographers and artists – past, present and yet to come — who have found Lakeland as powerful and as moving as I have. I’m connected to all of them, and by that connection, to all of those who read the writings and look at the works of art inspired by that tiny, rugged piece of land that’s just as exquisite when seen from 200 miles above as it is when explored slowly, painstakingly, one footstep at a time, Like Will and Doc do.
Surely there is no other place in this whole world quite like Lakeland … no other so exquisitely lovely, no other so charming, no other that calls so insistently across a gulf of distance. All who truly love Lakeland are exiles when they are away from it.
Toys for Boys Blurb:
Alpha nerd Will Charles teams up with Caridoc ‘Doc’ Jones in a coast to coast walk across England reviewing outdoor gift suggestions for the Christmas edition of Toys for Boys—an online magazine dedicated to the latest gadgets to tickle a man’s fancy. Will is recording their adventures with the latest smart phone technology. Doc is reviewing the latest outdoor gear. The two quickly discover the great outdoors provides even better toys for boys, toys best shared al fresco, toys that, in spite of Will’s great camera work, will never be reviewed in Toys for Boys.
Note: Toys for Boys has been previously published as part of the Brit Boys: With Toys boxed set.
Toys for Boys Excerpt:
“I really am sorry, lads,” the proprietress at the Keld Lodge said, “but I’ve only a tiny single room available which, due to health and safety, I can’t rent as a double.”
“God, I really don’t want to spend another night in that leaky tent,” the dark-haired bloke was barely understandable between chattering teeth. “There must be something else close by.”
“Not within easy walking distance,” the proprietress said. “I can let you put up the tent around the back,” she offered. “You can even use the showers and the drying room for your wet gear. Of course stay inside by the fire as long as you like.”
The weather had been abysmal when I arrived the night before on a short writing and walking retreat. It was worse today, so I’d spent my time ensconced in the pub’s restaurant at a table by the window looking out onto the misty Yorkshire Dales. It was mid afternoon when the two drenched, bedraggled lads slogged through the door, bringing with them a gust of icy, wet wind. I had just come to the bar to order a pot of tea and, as I stood quietly in the queue behind them, I noticed the blond casting worried glances at his shivering companion.
“Walking the Coast to Coast?” I asked.
“We are,” the dark-haired bloke replied. “Though I’m pretty sure we swam most of it today.”
“You taking the high level route through the mining ruins tomorrow?” I asked.
They both nodded. “Supposed to be sunny,” the blond replied. “Three days of bad weather and last night the tent sprung a leak. We were hoping for a hot meal and a real bed tonight.”
“I’m truly sorry, lads,” the proprietress said. “I wish I could help.”
I’m not sure what inspired me to make the offer, perhaps memories of the times I’d walked cold and wet, but more than likely it was simply because I’m a hopeless romantic and I recognised that the two men were more than just mates out for an adventure.
“Look, why don’t you take my room for the night? I’m on my own and I have a nice double until the end of the week. I can take the single, and then we can switch back tomorrow. Wouldn’t that work?” I asked the proprietress.
“I don’t see why not,” came the reply. “I’ll sort it with housekeeping, and you can work out the details among yourselves.”
“It has a bath and lots of hot water,” I said, recalling what a pleasure an actual bathtub was after a long, cold walk.
“Oh God, you’re a saint,” the dark-haired one said, offering me a blinding smile between chattering teeth.
Still thanking me profusely, they introduced themselves as Will Charles—the dark-haired lad with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, and Doc Jones—the blond with a lovely Welsh lilt in his rich, baritone voice. They helped me switch my meager belongings to the smaller room. Then I returned to my table and my tea. I couldn’t help wondering what their story was and just what they might get up to in that deep tub and on that nice bouncy bed. Quite the coincidence that I was here because I had agreed to write a story for the Brit Boys: With Toys anthology and, with the deadline bearing down on me, I was still drawing a blank, but with Doc and Will’s arrival, I suddenly felt inspired.