Thoughts from the Lakes
We nearly got blown off the fell today. The winds at the top of Broom Fell were like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I was literally driven to my knees. I had to stop several times, just dig my poles in and hunker over. We didn’t continue on to Lord’s Seat as we intended. It was just too dangerous. Brian says when it’s that windy, the safest thing to do is just to lie down flat. It was an amazing, terrifying, exhilarating experience, and strangely I noticed the wind smelled like line-dried sheets before you put them on the bed, though I suppose in reality line-dried sheets smell like heavy winds on the Lakeland fells.
The wind made me think about what it actually would be like for Marie coming down off High Spy on a steep descent of loose slate in the wind mist and rain. Now I have first-hand experience to confidently say that it’s not a good place to be in bad weather.
We decended out of the wind to Spout Force, a lovely waterfall in the protection of a tight canyon. In the afternoon, we went to the Rannerdale Valley, and I’ve never seen so many bluebells up the sides of the fells and in the valley below. Apparently this valley was The Secret Valley, which writer and publican Nicholas Size wrote about. It is the valley where the native Britons and Norsemen ambushed and defeated the Normans after the Norman invasion. According to legend, for every Norman invader killed, a bluebell grows. More dark grist for the creative mill and my ghosts and witches as I write Lakeland Heatwave.
We took the long way to Ullswater, over Kirkstone pass to Sheffield Pike and Glenridding Dodd. We had planned to walk Red Screes on top of the Kirkstone Pass, but most of the upper fells were lost in the mist as we began our day. We had a lovely walk anyway. Both fells were rocky with inviting hidey holes and nooks and crannies, just the sort of places strange things, which are not easily explained away, might happen. We finished the day walking along the shores of Ullswater in rain-washed sunshine.
We spent the evening at the Keswick Mountain Rescue Base where Chris Harling gave a presentation about his climb of Mt Everest in 2007. Wow! What an experience! It was good to spend a little time at the base and hear some of Brian’s stories of mountain rescue call-outs he’d been on, all of which helped me get a picture in my mind’s eye of what sort of experiences my farmer, Tim Meriwether, might be dealing with as a volunteer for Keswick Mountain Rescue.
I went to bed thinking about Chris Harling climbing Everest. Chris said for him the hardest challenge was psychological, keeping his mind focused so that no matter how hard it was, no matter how much he wanted to quit, he could keep the goal before him and keep pushing forward to it.
With witches and ghosts and mountain passes being the order of the day, one of my Facebook friends, Thomas Gardener III, put me onto this fabulous song called The Witch of Westmoreland. The song is set in the Kirkstone Pass and at Ullswater. More atmospheric inspiration for my witches and their ghosts. Give it a listen.
We had more iffy weather, so again we walked the lower fells. We started our day on Raven Crag. Brian told us a story of the Mountain Rescue being called out to remove a decomposing corpse from there, which only added to the deep woodsy, eeriness of the fell. Like every place we walked, there were gorgeous views from the top. There is logging going on along some parts of the trail now. The ever-present smells of sawdust and pine resin brought back childhood memories of going to the woods with my father to where he worked. We made a quick side trip to take in the earthworks that remain of a bronze age fort overlooking the Shoulthwaite Valley.
We finished the day walking High Rigg, and Low Rigg down through St. John’s In the Vail to Tewit Tarn (pronounced Tiffit) taking in a lovely view of Castle Rigg Stone Circle from below Low Rigg. I’d always looked up onto these fells from the circle, but never seen it from above before. I can see why the Neolithic residents chose that particular site for their stone circle – sat on a raised plateau completely surrounded by high fells, no cathedral ever built could offer such a breath-taking experience.
Unfinished business got finished today. We decided to do the fells we had to give up on Tuesday because of the wind. We started off the day walking Barf in the rain. I know most of you American readers are laughing by now, but don’t let the name fool you, the ascent up Barf was probably the toughest ascent we had. It was steep, rocky, and wet, and we did the majority of it in the worst rain we’d had all week. But wow, what a lovely walk! We were rewarded with exquisite views out over not only Bassenthwaite Lake, but over a large chunk of the Western Fells. By the time we got to the summit, the sun was shining timidly.
We also managed Lord’s Seat, still windy and cold, but at least we could stand up. Then with the unfinished business finished, we walked into some of the most beautiful forest I’ve ever seen, thick with sphagnum moss and heather, up over Seat How where we enjoyed the first dry, wind-free lunch we’ve had all week. We walked roads along forest so thick that the sunlight didn’t penetrate through the canopy, and underneath the trees it literally looked like night. From there we made our final ascent of the day to Whinlatter Top, accompanied, once again, by the howl of the wind, daunting, but not unbearable this time, not exactly an old friend, but no longer the great unknown either.
I always feel a bit bereft after our last walk in the Lakes when we have to head back to the Soft South. Lakeland is so magical, and walking the fells stretches me and challenges me in ways nothing else I’ve done does. There is no denying the inspiration I get from being here. I’ve come away with lots of ideas for the Lakeland Heatwave Trilogy, and lots impressions that can come only from moving through the landscape and feeling the many layers of history, geology, natural science, and legend swirling around me with each step I take. It’s a place so steeped in possibility that I’m not at all surprised the story that comes to me won’t be told in only one novel. Lucky me. It’s not only the place that is amazing in what it offers up to me, but the people as well. And I owe a very special debt of gratitude and appreciation to Brian and Vron Spencer for all of their help and enthusiasm as I tease out the stories of my Lakeland witches and ghosts. Thanks Brian and Vron. You’re the best!