It looked like a grey cold day but Wednesday turned out to be pure gold. Having some work to do in the Lakes (on which see below) I went up a day early, planning a walk (weather permitting) from the Newlands Valley.
It was my first day out this year (I had pneumonia over Christmas and didn’t leave the house for a month!) and after scraping thick ice off the car in Manchester I was expecting near-hypothermic conditions on the fells. I had thermals, quilted shirt, multiple sweaters, gloves, woolly hat, the lot. So after parking at Newland Village Hall I put on my woollies and set off for the footpath up Catbells.
I soon discovered my mistake. The sky had already cleared and before I reached the foot of the path I’d shed the gloves, then the hat. Once I started on the slope, most of the rest followed. If I’d been certain of privacy (though I only met 4 people all day), I’d have taken off the long johns as well. By the time I reached Catbells summit, all I had above the waist was a thin t-shirt (plus bulging rucksack, of course) and it stayed that way until after 3 pm.
Derwentwater was a perfect mirror with hardly a quiver of air to stir the glassy surface. I kept north over Maiden Moor and along to the wonderfully solid and elegant cairn on High Spy, erected I suppose as a landmark by long-departed nineteenth-century slate miners.
Then I took the path down (left, east) just before the tiny tarn – the point where this path leaves the main one is at about 232154 – down through the old slate workings. Not having taken this route before I hadn’t realised how weird and wonderful this little enclave is. The path twists and turns and sometimes follows long stairways of slate steps across the fellside.
There are fragments of derelict mine buildings and some extraordinary pieces of old mining equipment still standing about. You’d need to be extremely careful coming down here in poor light, or in a hurry, but it’s fascinating. I even found a tunnel entrance containing a snowdrift, still intact and hardly melted weeks after the departure of the snow. A natural ice-house. I wonmder how many weeks it will take for the snow to vanish completely?
Eventually the path reached the beck, where I swayed precariously across on the wet boulders and found myself joining the main route alongside the foot of Castle Crag. By now of course I was steadily replacing the clothing I’d rejected earlier. And having (as always) underestimated the distance, I found myself finishing the walk in twilight, rewarded by the sight of a big warm-gold full moon rising behind Walla Crag with its reflection in the lake. A splendid walk, lit first by blazing sun and then by golden moon, and all in January!
I stayed overnight at Sycamore Cottage, Ellonby (up near Greystoke): a small but delightful holiday cottage – I’ll put the link in just below in case anyone’s interested – which I was kindly lent by Nicky Godfrey-Evans of Cultural Tourism Training, who had asked me to come up and talk to trainee Tourist Guides, the following day, about literature. www.sycamorecottage.info is the link for the cottage! Do take a look.
These accredited Guides are required to know a huge amount about British life and culture, quite apart from their local knowledge (of Cumbria in this case). My brief was to give an outline of the history of English literature in the morning, and a more detailed history of literature in Cumbria in the afternoon. Quite a challenge – but an interesting one that turned out to be great fun.
So in the morning we whizzed from Beowulf to Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney and the Man Booker Prize by way of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens et al; and in the afternoon it was Thomas Gray, the Wordsworth circle, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome, Melvyn Bragg and so on. We had a few coffee breaks, and lunch. I met dozens of lovely and fascinating people. And I was completely hoarse. But it was a great day.
By the time we left the building (in Kendal) the weather had changed again for the worse, and I drove slowly back to Manchester in the thickest fog I’ve ever taken a car through. Fortunately it thinned out a little on the way down. But after a walk like that I’m not going to grumble about the weather.