Since Coronavirus has made international travel difficult – quarantine rules apply even for a teddy bear unlikely to be susceptible to a human virus – this year I stayed at home for my summer holiday. I returned to the Lake District, which I first visited around 15 years ago. Since then my travels have taken me all around the world – from Kamchatka to Kyrgyzstan, and from Ireland to Iran. Out of the all these places, I have a list of a few places that I would return to – the world is big, and there are so many places to see, so a place has to be very special to make it on to the “return” list. The Lake District is firmly on the list, and this year seemed like the best time to visit it a second time.
My first day was a long but smooth drive up the M40 and M6 to my holiday cottage. The owner’s directions warned that it was remote, that the roads were full of potholes, and that SatNav should not be trusted – all of which turned out to be correct. It was raining but I could already appreciate the pretty scenery as a I left the M6 onto the Kendal-Windermere road, and then found an unnumbered narrow road that led to the tiny village of Winster. From there a bumpy track led to our cottage, a traditional building next to a stream at the bottom of a wooded hill, facing a bright green flowery meadow. It was getting late to I unpacked and settled down to dinner (I’d brought a lot of food with me from London) and a glass of wine in front of the big wood fire.
The next day I planned a practice short walk to prepare for more ambitious treks later in the week. Low clouds hung in the sky, but the weather forecast promised some sun later in the morning before a return of heavier clouds and rain in the afternoon. I picked a walk from my book graded 2 out of 5 for difficulty and supposed to last around 4 hours – such that I should be finished before the rain came. I had yet to learn two facts of Lake District life. Firstly the weather forecast should not be taken literally and is only a broad indication of the types of weather you might meet during the day. Whatever happens, they will always be some sort of rain, whether it be a short shower, prolonged drizzle, or powerful storm. Secondly, there are no easy strolls in the hills – any hill walk will always involve a steep climb of several hundred metres. The Lake District’s mountains sound puny by international standards – the highest, Scafell Pike, is only 978 m high – but the starting point for any walk is always close to sea level, so climbing any peak will always involve lots of very steep climbing. Both of these truths hit me on my first walk. Initially the path from the car park followed the shores of a lake – or tarn, as they are called here – accompanied by a soft and bearable drizzle.
Then the route went relentlessly up a very steep grassy hill – I am guessing that the slope was 1 in 2 – and a strong wind transformed the gentle drizzle into a nagging, penetrating rain. I reached the top soaked with the heavy sweat that builds up under waterproofs during intense exertion. The promised spectacular view was partially hidden by the clouds, and the cold wind encouraged me to move on quickly rather than stand and enjoy it.
The guidebook offered me a short-cut to finish the walk early, which I took gladly. On regaining my car, the sun promised by the weather forecast finally arrived – a few hours later than forecast. On the way home I decided to pop into Winster’s local pub. I was expecting something old and traditional and quiet, but whilst the outside of the building indeed looked traditional the inside was modern, cheap, and noisily crowded with people finishing Sunday lunch. To further dampen the experience, I was offered a pen at the bar and asked to write down my contact details in case there was a Covid 19 case in the pub and I needed to be traced. I looked at the cheap, heavily used biro that the barman was holding out to me and which every other pub visitor had presumably handled. I found my own pen and signed with that instead. I found a table as far away as possible from other visitors and hurried to finish my beer – the whole experience felt very remote from the traditional English pub visit that I love, and I didn’t stay long. Although my first day hadn’t been a great success, I sat down to a nice meal and drink in my cozy cottage and hoped for better things the next day.