Rainy Day Rambles in the Lake District

John Self    Drakkar Press

Rainy Day Rambles in the Lake District includes the first ever published extracts from a controversial file of documents recently discovered in a derelict barn in Aspatria, Cumbria. The documents appear to have been written for the Cumberland Courier but were never published, presumably because their content was deemed detrimental to the image of the Lake District as a paradise for tourists.

A pdf version of Rainy Day Rambles was placed on-line in 2015 but is being replaced by this html version (which I will add to, item-by-item, when I have the time).

Contents

wet langdales    Editorial
   These Boots
   Save Our Sausage
   Tak Hod: A Book for Offcomers
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 1
   You Don’t Need a Weatherman ...
   Letter to the Editor
   Plane Sailing on Windermere
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 2
   Letter to the Editor
   The Way We Were, with Silas Jessop
   The Fairy Fell Roundelay
   Mrs Mudderdale’s Diary (June 15)
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 3
   The Annual Harriet Martineau Lecture
   What Bare-Faced Cheek?
   Nature Notebook
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 4
   High Society
   Council Head Loses his Head
   Low Brow Opening
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 5
   A Brand-New Brand
   Mrs Mudderdale’s Diary (August 13)
   How Pathétique
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 6
   Nun the Wiser
   Mottos for Murals
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 7
   The Tale of Squire Ruskin
   Hawkshead 3 Windermere 4
   Pen Your Pimp
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 8
   A Word’s Worth
   One Fell Swoop
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 9
   Border Conflicts
   Fell-Walking Tip 15
   A Week in the Lake District
   Many Happy Returns to Bassenthwaite
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 10
   At Your Beck and Fell
   Away With the Councillors
   Mrs Mudderdale’s Diary (September 22)
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 11
   Cumbrian Weather
   The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Fell-Runner
   Barking up the Wrong Tree
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 12
   Bluebird Flies Again
   Farrago in Court
   The Legends of Lakeland 26: The origin of mountain-climbing
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 13
   Drama in Court: Ladies’ Bigamy Case Halted
   The Way We Were, with Solomon Seal
   The Wild Places
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 14
   The Lake District National Park-and-Ride Scheme
   The Life of Dame Mary Merewether
   Corrections
   Four Men in Their Boots, Day 15
   Appendix: Notes on the Rainy Day Rambles Manuscript

Editorial

The Lake District of northwest England is renowned for its scenery. It is the United Kingdom’s largest National Park and the most often visited. Its high mountains, deep valleys and attractive lakes have proved irresistible to tourists and it was here that the Romantic writers first extolled the outdoors for spiritual reasons.
      However, a new light was shed upon the Lake District by the discovery in 2010 of a cache of confidential documents that seems to have been hidden in a barn in Aspatria, Cumbria. It has taken experts some time to decipher the documents, so badly affected were they by mildew and wot rot. Many of the pages had been chewed by mice. Indeed, in many cases, it has required a thorough forensic analysis of adjacent mice droppings to determine the text.
      Here are the first results of the experts’ endeavours. It is generally agreed that the documents have no literary merit whatsoever but their contribution to the social history of Cumbria is a matter of interminable dispute. I have included an Appendix which provides some background to some of the items included here. These notes are adapted from my The Sociological Significance of the Rainy Day Rambles Manuscript (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cumbria, 2013) and my subsequent seminal papers in the Journal of Cumbrian History (JoCH).
      The documents became known to experts as the “Rainy Day Rambles” (or RDR, for short) because it seemed that they had been gathered for entertainment on rainy days, for which the Lake District is also well known. These are not, however, rambles as fell-walkers understand the term but metaphysical meanderings in the spirit of the Middle Dutch rammelen. The author of RDR (or ARDR, or Arthur with a cold, as he (or she) became affectionately known) remains a mystery. He appears to have been a roving reporter for the Cumberland Courier, in which case he certainly roved far and wide.
      The interpretation of RDR is difficult because Arthur appears to have combined the factual and the fantastical in ways which the modern reader finds hard to distinguish. In some cases, it is difficult to relate to the very different world of the Lake District at the time the documents were written. In fact, experts cannot agree when RDR was written. There are references to events in the previous century, suggesting RDR was written shortly after them. On the other hand, there are discussions of policies which social historians believe were implemented long before or have yet to be implemented. Some critics believe that Arthur was just prescient in his meanderings and that the whole thing is a fantasy, and therefore date RDR much earlier. The photographs further confuse the chronology.
      The work on deciphering the documents is on-going and likely to be so for some considerable time. As new results emerge, they may lead to additions to this document, who knows?

The multitudinous scribblings, jottings and cuttings that Arthur left behind were not dated or sorted in any way. Some of the items appear to be inter-linked and those are included here in what we hope is a rational order. Otherwise items appear at random and irrationally, as Arthur would no doubt have wished.

These Boots

Nancy Sinatra       I resolved to be decisive. Yesterday I had wandered the streets of Ambleside, daunted by the shop window displays, never once daring to go in. Today would be different. I strode to the first boots shop, took a deep breath, and marched in. It was the chemists.
      So I walked out again and on to a shop called ‘These Boots ...’, which I assume to be an allusion to that jaunty song by Nancy Sinatra that reached No 1 in 1966. “These boots are made for walkin’ and that’s just what they’ll do”, I mumbled. I tried to pull myself together, muttering “Focus, focus”. Another deep breath and in I went.
      I was still holding my breath when I heard a voice. “Can I help you, sir?”
      “Have you any walking boots?” I gasped, a question so inane that it received the answer it deserved - none at all.
      “May I measure you, sir?” I felt nauseous. I looked all around for help. What did he mean?
      “Your feet, sir”. Ah, yes, this shop means business. They wouldn’t just take my word for it if I said “size 8”. I put my right foot forward.
      “Take your shoes and socks off, please, sir”. Of course. I sat down. Now was my chance to gather my thoughts. I took my time untieing my shoelaces. Eventually I offered him my right foot. He put it in a sort of box, drew in the sides, like a gentle vice, and wrote some numbers down.
      “And now the left foot, please”. He did the same with the left foot, and then casually said “Your left foot is 1.6 millimetres longer than your right foot”.
      I was astounded. How could that be? I had had these feet for 45 years and no-one had ever suggested that they were deformed. I was lop-sided. A freak.
      “Most people’s feet are different” he said, sensing my concern. “Now stand here, please”. And he measured them again. “Feet change shape when you stand on them” he explained, as if to a child. “They get longer and wider, and, in your case, the arch here collapses”.
      What was he suggesting now? That my feet were weak as well as deformed? This was getting serious.
      “Do you have trouble walking?” he asked.
      Cripes! I tried to lighten the mood. “Only after a few drinks” I replied.
      He ignored me. “Do you pronate?” Pronate? Prenate? Prenatal? Prenatal exercises? Surely not. “Don’t lose it now, focus, focus” I told myself.
      “Does your heel bend at an angle?”
      I gaped.
      “Do you wear out the soles of your shoes unevenly?”
      I had no idea. I picked them up and had a look. Sure enough, the outsides of the heels had worn away and the insides were intact. I was walking on two slopes. I must be bow-ankled.
      “Never mind” he said. “We can fix that with insoles”.
      “That’s a relief” I said, and, feeling a little bolder, I added “I would like my boots to be British-made, sustainably-produced, ecologically-sound, carbon-neutral, energy-efficient, odour-free, organic, biodegradable and dishwasher-proof”.
      “So would I” he replied “but in the meantime I think we’ll find something suitable over here”, and he waved towards several shelves of boots. I was reassured by the ‘we’, and I noticed the ‘sir’ had gone. We were in this together now.
      I padded over and picked up a boot at random. I scrutinised it thoroughly from all angles.
      “That, sir, is a lady’s boot” he said. The ‘sir’ was back. I was on my own again. I nearly asked if ladies’ feet were different to men’s feet, but I thought better of it.
      “Try these, sir. They are our best-selling make this summer”. boots boots wasdale
      I did. I walked about in them, stamping in them, flexing my knees, not quite sure how to test them out.
      “How do they feel, sir?”
      “Snug” I said. There was no other word for it. They were snug.
      “Try them on the slope” he said. I hadn’t noticed but there in the corner was a little ramp, complete with rocky protuberances.
      “Not exactly Striding Edge, is it?” I said.
      “No, sir, but it’s the best we can manage in this room”. My, he was an earnest young fellow. To humour him I stepped up and down it a few times.
      “How do the toes feel, sir?”
      “Well, now you mention it, a bit scrunched up”.
      “I thought they might be. That make of boot tends to have a small size 8, we find”.
      I was non-plussed. Surely, a size 8 is a size 8. Why measure feet to one decimal place if the manufacturers can make a size 8 bigger or smaller, as they wish? It should be illegal. I faced the appalling prospect of having to try on all these boots to see if any corresponded to my particular size 8.
      The assistant realised this too and said “Excuse me a second. I’ll just deal with these customers”, for quite a crowd had formed, enthralled by my travails. “Try any of these on and wander around and up and down as you wish. I’ll be back in a moment”.
      He was back two hours later. “How are you getting on, sir?”
      “Just fine” I said. I bought five pairs of boots, adequate, I thought, to cover all the walking conditions I was likely to meet (road, track, grass, hill, rocks, mud, rain, ice, snow, anything), plus various insoles, some spare laces, several pairs of socks, and a few boot beauty kits. Actually, to be precise, I bought ten pairs: five pairs of size 8, for the right boots, and five pairs of size 8½, for the left boots.
      As I stepped out into the rain with my many bags, I glimpsed the assistants whooping and high-fiving by the counter. But I didn’t mind: I had been decisive.
      “And one of these days these boots are gonna wock all over you, duh, duh, duh, duh, ...”.

Photos: Nancy trying out her new boots; Two of my boots enjoying a view of Wastwater; Some of my boots having a rest in the Wastwater Hotel.

Save Our Sausage

eu From an Office in Brussels

      M. Grévitrêne (EC Bureaucratiat):   Please come in, Mr Davis, and take a seat. How may I help you?
      Mr. Davis (MEP for NW England):   Well, I sent you a note about Cumberland sausages ...
      M. Grévitrêne:   Ah, yes. I have it here somewhere. One moment ... right, now, I see, you want to protect the Cumberland sausage. Protect it from what exactly?
      Mr. Davis:   From impersonation. From rogue sausage-makers making sausages and passing them off as Cumberland sausages and so besmirching the excellent reputation of the bona-fide Cumberland sausage.
      M. Grévitrêne:   I see. Tell me, what is special about the Cumberland sausage?
      Mr. Davis:   Well, for a start, it must be made in Cumberland!
      M. Grévitrêne:   Ah. Perhaps you could help me there. I studied the map of England last night and couldn’t find Cumberland anywhere. Could you show me on this map where Cumberland is.
      Mr. Davis:   I’m sorry but Cumberland isn’t on the map. It was abolished in 1974.
      M. Grévitrêne:   I see. Is there anything else special about the Cumberland sausage? Its contents perhaps? Cumberland sausage
      Mr. Davis:   Perhaps.
      M. Grévitrêne:   Perhaps?
      Mr. Davis:   Well, I don’t know what is in a Cumberland sausage because its makers keep the contents a trade secret. They tell me that it doesn’t have preservatives, it doesn’t have seasonings and it doesn’t have colouring but they won’t tell me what it does have.
      M. Grévitrêne:   I see. Anything else? What does it look like? How long is it?
      Mr. Davis:   It doesn’t have a length. It is round. Or rather a spiral.
      M. Grévitrêne:   Excuse me a moment. (Walks to the shelf; takes down a large volume; spends twenty minutes reading to himself, murmuring gently “braunschweiger ... falukorv ... mortadella ... blagenwurst ... kielbasa ... boerewors ...”; returns to the desk.) Well, I’m sorry, Mr. Davis, but according to EU Directive S316.2 a sausage is cylindrical.
      Mr. Davis:   Oh.
      M. Grévitrêne:   So, let me summarise. You want the European Commission to protect a so-called sausage of illegal shape and of unknown content, to be made only in a nonexistent place.
      Mr. Davis:   Yes. That about sums it up.
      M. Grévitrêne:   Très bon. This is exactly what the Bureaucratiat likes to get its teeth into. This will keep us busy for a few years. Leave it with me. And if you’ve brought any Cumberland sausages, please leave them with me too.

Photos: European Parliament, Brussels; Harrod's "authentic Cumberland sausage".

Tak Hod: A Book for Offcomers

wrestling wrestling2       Because of the housing shortage in the Lake District it is necessary to impose quotas on offcomers. From now on only those who can show a deep knowledge of Cumbrian history and culture will be allowed entry permits. In fulfilling my duty to help potential offcomers with their preparatory reading I will make some suggestions. Here’s the first: Tak Hod: The Definitive History of Cumbrian Wrestling, by Abraham Dodd (Corinthian Books, £99.99), 612 pages with nearly 400 black and white daguerreotypes, including a 236-page appendix giving in full the revised rules of the Cumbrian Wrestling Authority, as defined at the historic meeting in Cockermouth, 1889.
      Cumbrian wrestling begins when the two wrestlers ‘tak hod’. If you tak hod of this book you will be gripped by the mesmerising story of Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling, from its introduction by Viking invaders to its starring role at present-day fairs.
      Revel in the exploits of Jason Greatgirdle, who, after winning the all-comers title for thirty-four consecutive years in the nineteenth century, retired undefeated with acute muscle fatigue after an epic ten-hour draw with Charlie Craggfast. Wonder about the ethics of the Aikriggs, who adapted sheep breeding methods to develop the ‘Aikrigg dynasty’ that reigned supreme for eight generations. Be amazed by the startling costumes worn by wrestlers through the ages.
      The author’s hands-on experience comes to the fore in the illuminating chapters on the wrestling holds and moves, all three of them. It is easy to underestimate the supreme technical skill of champion wrestlers. They stand, legs braced, arms locked and buttocks athwart, hardly moving for what seems like an eternity, until suddenly, after a momentary lapse of concentration or loss of balance, one of them is seen miraculously tumbled to the ground.
      You are advised to follow assiduously the step-by-step instructions given by Abraham Dodd, for if your knowledge of Cumbria does not satisfy the examiners then your holds surely will.

Photos: Synchronised Cumbrian Wrestling; Cumbrian Wrestling, a sport for everyone, today.

Four Men in Their Boots, Day 1

oxenholme station

Windermere Railway Station ...

      None of us were quite sure how it had happened. But there we were, stepping into a surprisingly nippy breeze at Windermere railway station, laden with large backpacks, ready for a fortnight’s strenuous walking in the Lake District. Well, I was ready: I was unsure about the others.
      I suppose it had all started on that sweltering July day when Richard and I had gone to watch Derbyshire play Hampshire. Derbyshire were following on, some 250 runs behind, when, in the very first over of their second innings, the batsman had given himself out, to our great annoyance. Nobody had appealed; the umpires were already moving into position for the next over; but the batsman must have thought he had nicked it and had ‘walked’. Richard, a stickler for precision, didn’t think ‘walked’ was the right word at all. “It’s only a hundred yards from the wicket to the pavilion” he said. “Walking should be rather further than that. Like last Saturday, when I walked for five hours in the Brecon Beacons”.
      To a serious walker like myself, five hours is a mere stroll, so I could hardly let that comment pass. I mentioned that I had walked the eighty miles of the Dales Way in just four days. And, after escalating exaggeration on Richard’s part, we ended up agreeing to have a walking weekend in the Lake District to enjoy our hitherto unsuspected shared enthusiasm for long-distance hiking. As we discussed our plans in the Black Bull over the following weeks, Harry and Thomas overheard them and became interested in joining us. To our surprise, they too were, according to them, strong and experienced walkers. And so the weekend grew to a fortnight.
      We talked as though the fortnight would be an amiable amble in the company of good friends, although, to be honest, I don’t think I knew any of them well enough to choose to spend two whole weeks in their close company. But it was implicit that we had each been challenged to demonstrate our walking prowess, and nobody could withdraw from the challenge.

... Windermere Tourist Information Centre ...

      As we left the railway station, Richard noticed the Tourist Information Centre on the left and with a “just a minute” in he nipped. I didn’t mind too much, as we had only a short walk to Troutbeck on that first afternoon, but I made a mental note to not allow too many stops and detours from my planned route in future. We followed him in.
      I noticed that the Centre had not been renamed as a Visitor Information Centre, as was becoming the custom elsewhere. We, of course, were much too serious and accomplished to be either ‘tourist’ or ‘visitor’ but I wondered about the subtle differences between them. A tourist is now almost a term of denigration, indicating someone who travels around, photographing everything but seeing nothing, and spoiling what there is to see. A visitor is somehow more refined. He comes to visit or to see and may not tour at all. wordsworth
      I blame William Wordsworth, as I often do. The word ‘tourist’ was coined in the late 18th century, originally as a synonym for ‘traveller’. Wordsworth generally used the latter word but ‘tourist’ does appear twice in his poems, both times with a negative tinge. His poem The Brothers begins
          These Tourists, Heaven preserve us! needs must live
          A profitable life: some glance along
          Rapid and gay, as if the earth were air.
Ten years later Wordsworth, considering himself short of money like most poets (although in reality they must have a comparative life of ease if it provides them time to write poems), wrote his Guide to the Lakes for these very tourists.
      Perhaps the difference between ‘tourist’ and ‘visitor’ derives from the semantics of the -ist and -or (or -er) suffixes. An -ist suggests a certain expertise or dedication or affectation. An -er is less judgemental. But an -eer, as in mountaineer, indicates even more expertise. I idled through the brochures, day-dreaming about who first invented these words. Can anyone make a similar contribution to the English lexicon? Take any object, say, a pencil. Could ‘penciller’, ‘pencillist’, ‘pencilleer’ be words? I propose ‘pencillist’: an artist who specialises in pencil drawings.
      I was interrupted in my profound thoughts by Richard’s intense discussion with the woman at the desk. I sidled over to see what was going on. Richard had accumulated several sheets of paper with the phone numbers of doctors, dentists, chemists, chiropodists, masseurs and psychoanalysts, and was now asking for details of the 555 bus timetable.
      “What’s this, Richard? No hopping on a bus, you know. This is going to be a walk” I said.
      “If you twist your ankle on Skiddaw you might appreciate a 555 bus back from Keswick to Windermere” he replied.
      He had a point. I had asked Richard to look after the health and safety aspects of the walk, knowing that, with his excessive attention to detail and general determination to do the right thing and to do it right, he would do the job conscientiously. Our emergency medical kit, survival bags, supplies of bandages, ointments, paracetamol, midge repellents, and so on, would be second to none.
      As our plans for the walk had taken shape over the winter, I had allocated responsibilities to my team. I was, naturally, in overall charge of logistics and route planning. But there were a great many other things to do in preparation for such a long walk and although I find it difficult to delegate tasks, because they are invariably done less well than I would do them, it seemed fair to share them around.
      So, Richard was responsible for health and safety and, after I had devised the route, I had asked Harry to organise accommodation along the way. He is a sociable person who I thought would enjoy making arrangements with suitable guest houses and hotels. Of course, if it was up to me alone I would have managed with a tent, camping rough, but I had to make allowances for my less hardy companions. orrest head
      And then Thomas, who considers himself something of a gourmet, was to look after food. We all felt that, after a good day’s walking, we would have earned a substantial repast. Thomas had also to make sure we had sufficient sustenance during the walks, not just after them. This was quite complicated, because we would sometimes be away from shops for days at a time, but, of course, we didn’t want to carry more food on our walks than was necessary. Time would tell if the team were adequately prepared. Richard, at least, was leaving little to chance. And thus reassured we at last set off.

... Orrest Head ...

      We walked up the track to Orrest Head, which is renowned as an inspirational viewpoint over the Lakeland hills. We could not help but reflect that, if all went to plan, we would be walking over almost all the peaks we could see within the next fourteen days. The route I had planned would take us on a 180-mile circuit encompassing all the main peaks and all the best ridges. I did not emphasise the extent of the challenge to my companions, so as not to daunt them too much. But, if a challenge it was, we would see who the fittest was, although I had no doubt about that.

Photos: Our train at Oxenholme, about to leave for Windermere; William Wordsworth; The Langdales from Orrest Head.


You Don’t Need a Weatherman ...

Transcript of Day 127 of the Public Enquiry into the Proposed Flimby Wind Turbines

      Mr Doldrum (chair):   Today, I believe, we have submissions from the Lakes Ramblers Association. I understand that Mr Breeze will introduce the speakers. Over to you, Mr Breeze.
      Mr Breeze (president, Lakes Ramblers Association):   Thank you. Yes, we would like to present various points of view on the impact of the proposed Flimby wind turbines on the county of Cumbria. First, I’ll call on Professor Mistral, an expert on anemometrical engineering.
      Professor Mistral (University of Cumbria):   I am indeed an expert, recognised as such world-wide, but what I have to say is simplicity itself. Let’s say x ergs of wind energy arrive at the borders of Cumbria. The 3,659 wind turbines that encircle Cumbria from Carlisle to Sedbergh to Barrow to Workington extract y ergs of this to contribute to the National Grid. On the leeward side of the wind turbines z ergs of wind energy remain. By the law of conservation of energy, z equals x minus y ...
      Mr Doldrum:   Is there much more of this algebra? wind turbine
      Professor Mistral:   No. I’ll get to the point. Modern turbines are so efficient that y equals x. Therefore z equals zero.
      Mr Doldrum:   Z equals zero?
      Professor Mistral:   In plain English, there is no wind energy in inner Cumbria.
      Mr Breeze:   Thank you, Professor. I’d now like to ask various people about the practical implications of this profound theoretical result. First, Ms Zara Zephyr, who is a stalwart member of the Lakes Ramblers.
      Ms Zephyr:   Yes, I do so like to think so, thank you. Yesterday I walked along Striding Edge and didn’t get blown off once, not like in the good old days. Sharp Edge, Swirral Edge, every other edge - all the same. Not a whiff. It’s no fun anymore. The wind used to whip the map out of your hand before you’d got up the first hill, which always added to the challenge. We might as well stroll around the duck-pond now.
      Mr Breeze:   Thank you, Zara. All our members say the same. Many of them, even Ms Zephyr, are wondering whether to stay as members. But it’s not just fell-walkers who are suffering. I call on Mr Simoom, who runs the Paragliding Centre in Keswick.
      Mr Simoom:   We haven’t been able to glide for three years now. It’s very frustrating for all of us. Last week, in desperation, two of our members ran as fast as they could off Blencathra, hoping that their own velocity would generate enough wind. Sadly, it didn’t.
      [There then followed lengthy submissions from: the head of Bassenthwaite Yachting Club, complaining that yachting was impossible; the owners of various mountain wear shops, complaining that sales of wind-proof wear had collapsed; ornithologists, complaining that birds were exhausted through having to flap their wings unceasingly to generate an updraught; botanists, complaining that many plants were unable to disperse their seeds; and so on.]
      Mr Doldrum:   This is all most distressing. What do you have to say about this, Mr Gale?
      Mr Gale (head of Slipstream Turbines Inc.):   Yes, I agree, most distressing. I agree with Professor Mistletoe, all those hours ago. Z is indeed zero.
      Mr Doldrum:   But what about the Flimby turbines?
      Mr Gale:   Well, let me put it this way. When Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsburys built their supermarkets in Keswick they killed off all the corner shops. If, then, Asda proposed to build a supermarket in Keswick it is no good objecting because of the impact on corner shops. There aren’t any. Asda would hope to do a better job than Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsburys. And that’s all we want, the chance to do a better job than the others.
      Ms Zephyr:   But what about if Morrisons merge with Safeways?
      Mr Doldrum:   Oh, be quiet. I think I see Mr Gale’s point. Thank you everyone. An illuminating, if inconclusive, day. Just like the previous 126, in fact.

Photo: A wind turbine blade in transit through our villages.

Letter to the Editor

gablegarth Dear Ed
      My dear wife and I have been coming to the Lake District every autumn for the last twenty-five years but I regret to say that we shall not be coming again. The hospitality of guest houses towards keen walkers such as ourselves has reached deplorable standards. It is obvious that owners prefer the more genteel clientele that has increased in recent years.
      Last week we returned from a strenuous outing, in atrocious weather, on Hell’s Bells to be confronted at the door of Gablegarth Guest House by the owner who insisted that we enter by the back door to discard all our muddy, wet clothes there, so as not to drip upon her new Axminster. As our Goretex is past its best, we had to strip to our underclothes. It was most embarrassing negotiating our way up to our room. We gave Canon Limpet quite a shock, although Mr Chuckwater thought it most amusing. “A bit early for that, pal” he said, but then he is American.
      It was bad enough having to divest ourselves of our wet clothes but the proprietor made no effort at all to dry them for us. By the end of the week almost all the clothes we had brought with us were wet through. But it takes more than that to stop us: we went walking in our underclothes.
                  Geoffrey Jefferson, Gravestone, Kent

Photo: We were sent round the back here.

Plane Sailing on Windermere

From a Cumbria Council Meeting

      Diana Dubble-Barrell (chair):   For the next item on the agenda it is my great pleasure to welcome Mr Charles Smarm, who has just been appointed the head of Cumbria Tourism Services. Welcome, Charles. Would you like to introduce the next item?
      Charles Smarm:   Yes, thank you, Diana. May I first of all say how pleased I am to be here and how much I am looking forward to working with you all to develop tourism in the fine county of Cumbria. Now, my guiding principle is that the tourist is always right. Whatever the tourist wants we should seek to provide. Even if what he wants is not what Cumbria has traditionally provided. Especially if, in fact. That is what we mean by diversification.
      Joss Jenkinson (Cartmel ward):   Could you spell that for me.
      Diana Dubble-Barrell:   Please. Let Charles finish.
      Charles Smarm:   Thank you, Diana. Now, as you may recall, my predecessor received the results of a comprehensive survey of tourist requirements just before he left. Indeed, that may be why he left. Anyway, I have summarised the main conclusions in the report that you have before you. There are many interesting outcomes but for today may I just draw your attention to all the comments on the low-flying planes ...
      Joss Jenkinson:   Damn jets, they give my sheep kittens.
      Charles Smarm:   ... the wonderful terrain of the Lake District, with its long valleys and steep hills, provides an excellent training area for RAF aircraft, as you are no doubt aware. Many of our visitors really appreciate the unique photo-opportunities provided by the Tornados and Harriers swooping over the Kirkstone Pass and Dunmail Raise, with the accompanying sound effects adding a piquancy to the normal tranquillity of Lakeland. With this in mind, and considering that we are now in the 21st century, when punters are looking for a bit of excitement and entertainment, I have arranged with the Windermere Revolutionaries to put on an Air Show next summer. red arrows
      Harry Cowan (Furness ward):   An Air Show? On Windermere? Windermere isn’t a runway you know.
      Charles Smarm:   Yes, I appreciate that. I have visited the site. But we have booked some Chinook Search and Rescue Helicopters just in case some pilots aren’t aware of that.
      Harry Cowan:   Are you sure that you are not confusing jets with jet-skiers? These we do have on Windermere, more’s the pity.
      Charles Smarm:   I don’t think so. I don’t recall any proposals for the jets to ski on the lake. Although it sounds fun. I’ll check.
      Harry Cowan:   But we don’t have an aeronautical tradition in Cumbria, do we? It’s not really part of our heritage, is it?
      Charles Smarm:   Precisely. That is why we must diversify. We must create new heritages. A new heritage has to start sometime. Cumbria wouldn’t be known today for its daffodils if, er, er, somebody hadn’t written a poem about them.
      Mary Bland (Hartsop ward):   Um, excuse me. I have been reading through this survey and trying to make sense of it. It seems to me that most of the comments about the jets are in the ‘negatives’ column not the ‘positives’ column, in the section from page 224 onwards.
      Charles Smarm:   Oh. Let me see ... Oh dear. Ah. Um. Ah. Um. Ah, you misunderstand me: when I said that the tourist is always right, I wasn’t referring to the ones already here. They are already here. It’s the potential tourist I mean. The new breed of tourist. Who wants excitement, action and thrills. Who finds daffodils and walking a bit, um, dull.
      Mary Bland:   I see.
      Charles Smarm:   Anyway, it’s too late to change now. We have already booked the Red Arrows and a Vulcan Bomber for the punters to gawp at. And lots of thrilling action: aerobatics, parachutes, wingwalking (whatever that is), ... Great fun for all the family. Not that they have to be families, I am open-minded about that sort of thing. I am sure crowds will swarm here from far and wide. From Manchester and Liverpool, at least. Those sorts of people expect plenty of noise in the environment.
      Diana Dubble-Barrell:   Well, thank you, Charles. I suppose we will just have to see how this one flies. In the future, Charles, perhaps you could bring your ideas for us to discuss before your enthusiasm carries you too far. Thank you.

Photo: Red Arrows over Windermere.

Four Men in Their Boots, Day 2

... Troutbeck ...

      The day dawned overcast, threatening rain. As none of the locals would commit themselves as to whether the threat would materialise or not we gathered in the foyer prepared for the possibility. Unfortunately, we took some considerable time to gather. I hoped that my companions’ morning routines would become smoother with practice over the next few days, so that we could get underway more promptly.
      Harry appeared in a luminous purple-pink outfit. I regretted not having specified a dress code but I had assumed a certain amount of decorum and commonsense from supposedly experienced walkers. Harry explained “It’s so that people can see me coming from miles away and can get out of my way if they wish”. I imagined that they may well choose to do that.
      The colours of the Lake District are, of course, renowned: the delicate fresh greens of spring, the rusty bracken of autumn, the steely blue of winter snows. We have, I think, an obligation not to add to, and certainly not to clash with, such colours. It has been a principle of mine always to wear clothes appropriate to my surroundings, ever since that embarrassing incident at the golf course.
      Some friends had taken up the game of golf with inexplicable enthusiasm. After a pint or two, I had been persuaded to join them the following morning at the course, although I didn’t consider myself sufficiently inactive to imagine playing the game with any seriousness. “Don’t forget your plus fours” they shouted as we left the pub. I had no idea what a plus four was. I think I assumed it to be part of the arcane terminology of the game’s scoring system - four over par, perhaps. I turned up at the course wearing shorts, it being a very hot day. My friends, in their plus fours (and how ridiculous, and yet appropriate, they looked), did not know what to do. An extraordinary committee meeting was called of those members who happened to be in the bar at the time and after lengthy pleas of mitigation I was allowed to continue. I believe that I am the only person ever to play a round of golf in shorts.

... Garburn Road ...

      I decided to be similarly forgiving of Harry. We strode energetically up the Garburn Road, leaving the caravans of Limefitt Park far below, with the ridge of Yoke, Ill Bell and Froswick visible ahead. And we were soon on the ridge, none of us daring to suggest a need to pause for sustenance. We pressed on nonstop, up and over the three peaks. blea water haweswater

... Mardale Ill Bell ...

      As we climbed the ridge from Froswick towards Thornthwaite, the others were irresistibly drawn to the large beacon, where crowds had gathered for their midday snacks. But they did not know the route: I did. I led them around to the right, to Mardale Ill Bell, where we found a fine perch above Blea Water for our own lunch. Thomas proudly introduced the lunch-time offerings, which had been distributed evenly among our backpacks. And, yes, I have to concede, he had done us proud, and, with the cloud having lifted, we amused ourselves searching, unsuccessfully, for the famous Riggindale golden eagle, and in spying upon the activities in the Mardale car-park.
      All seemed fine in the world but we still had far to go. I roused them to their feet. As we walked over Harter Fell and Adam Seat to the Gatesgarth Pass, there was noticeably less conversation. And when I said that the route now climbed up to Branstree, there seemed to be an air of sullen resentment.

... The Old Corpse Road ...

      We followed the fence on to Selside and then began a trudge across a pathless, featureless ridge to Hare Shaw. When we reached the old corpse road, Thomas began a long story about it, as we sat there chewing some energy bars. To tell the truth, I think he strung the story out rather in order to give himself the maximum time to recover before the final stretch. I didn’t hurry him up, as I could see that they were all flagging a little and I didn’t want to seem too hard a taskmaster.
      The story was that one hot summer, a long time ago, a particularly large, fat woman, Emily Birkin, had died in Mardale Green and her coffin was carried up this track on its way to eventual burial at the church in Shap. The path is steep enough even without a coffin to carry, so it was a real struggle on that sweaty day. And, at about the point where we were sitting, a small, thin man, Jim Ritchie, who had in fact done little to help carry the coffin, collapsed and died.
      That presented the other men with a quandary. Should they leave the dead man here, exposed to the elements, and continue with the coffin to Shap? Or should they leave the coffin here while they carried the dead man back to Mardale Green? In the latter case, they realised, they’d only have to bring him back up here later. In the end they decided to squeeze the thin man into the coffin with the fat woman. Since he added only a small fraction to the weight and had hardly helped to carry the coffin, they reckoned that it wouldn’t make much difference having him in there as well. And so they struggled on, for the six miles or so to Shap.
      The vicar there was none too pleased. There was only one grave dug and he didn’t want bodies lying around in that heat. In the circumstances, he didn’t think God would mind if he buried them together. The men certainly didn’t mind, although as they returned over the road to Mardale Green they wondered what they would say to the dead man’s wife. They need not have worried. When told that her husband had died, she just said “Typical. That man would do anything to avoid doing his share of the work.”  And when it was explained that he had to be buried with Mrs Birkin, she added “Well, I’m sure that, where they’re going, they will be very happy together”.
      As a final flourish to confirm the veracity of his tale, Thomas waved around and said “That’s why that hill’s called Birkin Knott and this here is Ritchie Crag”. And, until someone comes up with a better explanation for the names, we must, I think, take the tale as gospel.

... Haweswater ...

      Suitably refreshed and feeling rather fitter than poor Jim Ritchie, at least, we soon completed the last mile or two and dropped down to our haven for the night, the Haweswater Hotel, by the side of Haweswater. The lady at reception looked with some astonishment at Harry’s outfit and I thought for a moment that she wouldn’t allow him in. But we reassured her that we would make him change into more suitable clothes before we gathered in the bar.

Photos: The view from our perch on Mardale Ill Bell - Blea Water (left) and Haweswater (right).


Letter to the Editor

Dear Ed
      I feel obliged to respond to the letter from Mr Jefferson that you recently published and concerning which you will hear shortly from my solicitor.
      I can assure you and your readers that we at Gablegarth stretch every siiiiiinnnnneeeewwww to make every guest’s stay an enjoyable one. Unfortunately a small number of guests make this difficult for us.
      Mr Jefferson and his wife thoroughly annoyed fellow guests with their loud prattling at breakfast about their plans for the day’s expedition, with Ordnance Survey maps spread out over several tables. “Today we’re tackling Scawfully High by the Ladies Ankle” or some such nonsense. As if we cared. Canon Limpet, for example - now there’s a real gentlemanly guest - comes every year to continue his research on Cumbrian clerestories. He would no sooner climb a mountain than look at it.
      Mr and Mrs Jefferson felt that, because of their imminent exertions, excessive portions were due them at breakfast. Mr Chuckwater was distraught to find that the Jeffersons had eaten all the black pudding, a delicacy unaccountably unknown to him in the United States.
      After dear Canon Limpet found his shoes, which he’d left in the porch, sodden and dirty from the Jeffersons’ drippings, the guests were in rebellious mood and were waiting in the lounge to pounce upon them on their return. It was for their own safety that I ushered them to the back door. I said “Nip round the back”, not “Strip round the back”.
                   Gwendoline Dalbeigh-Smythe, Gablegarth Guest House

(No further correspondence on this or similar topics will be published in the Cumberland Courier. If we printed all complaints from guests and all advertisements (disguised as responses to complaints) from guest house owners we would have no space for anything else.)

hard at work
      I thought you were a rational fellow, trained in science, working with computers - and yet I read about preposterous personages such as Diana Dubble-Barrell, Canon Limpet, William Wordsworth and Gwendoline Dalbeigh-Smythe. Where does all this nonsense come from?
      From my twilight zone, between being awake and asleep.
      Like a dream, you mean?
      Certainly not. Dreams are uncontrollable fantasies. In the twilight zone I can let ideas wander about and see if they go anywhere interesting.
      Is that why you’re always nodding off?
      I am not nodding off. It is crucial that I do not nod off. These magnificent creations must be recorded for posteriors.
      I see what you mean.
      And it’s hard work, I can tell you. Normally the right and left cranial ventricles operate at 5rps clockwise. I have trained the left ventricle to operate in the twilight zone at 10rps anticlockwise. This causes the cognitive cogs at the meta-cranial interface to clash horribly, as you can imagine.
      Does it hurt?
      Only if I am disturbed when in the twilight zone, when serious cognitive dissonance may be caused.
      Like now, you mean?

Photo: Hard at work

The Way We Were, with Silas Jessop

      Now that our mollies are well and truly coddled in the paradise that is modern Lakeland we ought to remember the pioneers who laboured and suffered on our behalf. I have been rummaging through the archives of the Cumberland Courier and have found some old interviews that may help. Here, for example, is one with Silas Jessop, a charcoal burner.
      “My dad was a charcoal burner, and so was his dad, and his dad. So, as soon as I could, at eight and a half, I became one too. The pay was good, 4s 6d a week and all the charcoal you could eat. I walked fourteen miles to work.
      “One morning, after my gran had died during the night, I was ten minutes late. The boss, Mr Grimes, said “Next time you’re late, you can turn round, walk home and never come back”. Silas Jessop
      “But he was alright, Mr Grimes. We knew he had his rules to follow. We did what Mr Grimes told us; Mr Grimes did what the Lord of the Manor told him; and the Lord did what the Lady told him.
      “Another rule we had was that we could not talk while we were working. So we decided to sing to each other. The Lord and Lady were happy, because they thought we were happy in our work; Mr Grimes was happy, because we weren’t breaking his rule; and we were happy, because we could put whatever words we wanted into our songs. Mr Grimes knew this but pretended not to.
      “One of our gang, Titus Gobbie, had a wonderful voice - the deepest bass you ever heard. It reverberated around the fells for hours, like the sound of stags in the rut. One day, the Lady had some friends up from London and they heard this voice and said “We must take this man to sing opera in London”. So they did, although Titus hadn’t been further than Staveley before.
      “It was not a success. Titus couldn’t break his habit of putting comments into his songs. The audience didn’t mind. It was all foreign to them anyway, Italian, German, Russian, Cumbrian - they never understood a word of it. But the other singers couldn’t cope. Titus would be booming away as Boris Goodenough when he’d stick in a bit about the fat man asleep in the front row. Marina’s aria would just come to a stop.
      “So Titus came back to the gang. He preferred to be with his own kind of people, even though he got a lot more than 4s 6d a week in London.
      “Another character I remember is old Sid. He must have been about seventy when I started. He only had one leg and one arm, one each side. Nobody knew what happened to his other limbs. Someone said a tree fell on him fifty years before. But old Sid never said, or sang, anything about it.
      “Nobody knew where he lived: he just seemed to shuffle off (if you can shuffle on one leg) somewhere into the woods. He was not much use, really. He sat there, staring at the ashes all day: he was very good at that. When he died, we really missed him. But we put him with his ashes so that he was still with us in a way.
      “We worked from eight to eight, summer and winter. On very cold days the bath of water they gave us to splash the worst of the muck off would freeze solid. It was my job, being the youngest and lightest, to lie on the ice for half an hour to melt it a bit. I liked this: it was restful after a hard day’s work.
      “One day I feel asleep on the ice. And they went off and left me there. Eventually, of course, I fell in the icy water. So I got some old rags and put them in the bath, knowing they would be all frozen over by the morning. I came in early and hid behind the huts, watching. When I didn’t turn up, the gang became quite upset when they found me frozen at the bottom of the bath. That was nice.
      “After that, I was accepted as a proper member of the gang. A few years later, I was allowed to stay in the huts overnight, which we had to do sometimes when we had several fires to keep an eye on. We’d stay there for weeks. There was nothing much to eat unless we caught a badger or an otter. They were the best nights of my life.
      “These huts, by the way, weren’t proper buildings, with walls and windows and so on. They were just rough pyramids of logs, with turf on top, which we could crawl into. Not much different, in fact, to the charcoal fires, which sometimes they became, and sometimes with us still asleep in them.
      “The work was tough and dirty, and there was a lot to learn. For one thing, charcoal burners didn’t actually burn anything at all. The whole point of covering the logs with turf was to stop them burning. The logs smouldered for days to get rid of everything except the carbon, which made the charcoal. That was the basic idea. But the skill was in knowing which mixtures of wood and which temperatures produced the various delicacies of charcoal. It took years to learn this.
      “And once you had, after about thirty years, you could become the boss somewhere else, which I did. But I never allowed any singing with my gang”.

Photo: Silas Jessop (centre) and mates.

The Fairy Fell Roundelay (Rainy Day Walk No. 3251)

ambleside car park Fairy Fell       Disclaimer: The following details are given in good faith and the author cannot be held responsible for any calamities that may arise. The details were correct yesterday.
      Park in the Ambleside car park if it is not under water. (Incidentally, if you have a hoard of pound coins to get rid of, this is a great place to do so.) Follow the young couple with matching red bobble hats. Do not follow them into the Golden Rule pub. Instead proceed along Nook Lane behind a Doberman Pinscher walking a man. After they enter number 26, glissade onto the fell and cross the torrent of Scandal Beck, if you can.
      The path is unmistakable, which is just as well, as you can only see three yards of it. Occasionally, a group of walkers, one holding an umbrella aloft (obviously not a bona-fide fell-walker), can be espied ahead. Follow them to High Pike and pause to reflect on the view thereby attained, allegedly excellent.
      At the top of Fairy Fell a fouetté rond de jambe en tournant is in order. The summit plateau is a confusing place. People emerge from the mist, wandering, lost, in all directions. Do not be led astray by any of them. Ignore the stationary ones: they are cairns. Your best bet is to take a compass bearing. If you do not have a compass, you have and are lost.
      Perform a demi-détourné and prance for ten furlongs south to Great Rigg. Do not waste time looking for a lesser Rigg. A group of five young men are having a rapidly-diluting drink from a flask. Or perhaps some of them are young women. Who can tell, or care, in these conditions?
      Follow the prevailing tempest south. If you are very lucky the clouds may lift to give you a glimpse of the welcoming lights of Ambleside. Pass Riddle Hall, once the home of Walter Wordsmith. At the car, realise that this walk is a roundelay and begin again at the beginning.

Photos: The Ambleside public inconveniences; The view from Fairy Fell (you’ll have to take my word for it)

Mrs Mudderdale’s Diary (June 15)

      The Seymours have gone. We’ll miss them. They came knocking on our door last Saturday night, in the dark and the rain, thoroughly lost. Their sat-thingy had become dizzy trying to find the right Newbiggin. They looked exhausted, so I persuaded them to stay the night so we could sort things out in the morning.
      They were an odd couple. He was a retired admiral, round as a barrel, rough and hearty, with a ruddy complexion from his years on the oceans but she seemed a cultured lady, quiet and dignified, tall and thin, and finely coiffured. After a good night’s rest, they were lively and enthusiastic, reminding me of butterflies the way they’d flit from one thing to another. Raddle Bridge
      They said they’d come to the Lake District for an ‘activity week’, where city types like themselves muck in on a typical Cumbrian farm. Well, you can’t get more typical than Raddle Bridge Farm, so I suggested that they muck in here, as they didn’t seem too keen to continue the search for Newbiggin.
      When they went upstairs to change, Tom gave me a right rollicking. “I don’t want those two under my feet all day. I’ve got work to do” he said.
      That evening, I dared to ask Tom how they’d got on. “OK” he grunted. “Actually, better than OK. The red admiral is as strong as an ox, a real Trojan. He gets stuck into everything with a smile. By midday he’d repaired all the walls that the walkers had knocked down and this afternoon we set about cleaning out the cow-sheds”.
      “And the painted lady?” I asked.
      “Well, she has a remarkable way with animals. She sheared the sheep in no time. And then she checked all the bulls for ticks or any other problem. I can’t get them to do anything but they were like puppies with her”.
      “So shall we have them for another day?” I asked.
      “I’ve already drawn up a work-plan for the rest of the week” said Tom.
      But this morning, before breakfast, Tom was worried. “It’s your fault” he said. “You should have thought about this before asking them to stay. With sheep prices as low as they are, I don’t think we can afford them”. Over the egg and bacon, Tom gingerly raised the matter with the Seymours.
      “We’re new to this sort of thing” he said. “We’ve no idea of the going rate. What would it have been if you’d gone to Newbiggin?” he asked.
      “Four hundred pounds” said the red admiral.
      Tom gasped.
      “Each” he added.
      Tom glared at me.
      “But we’ve done sooooo much this week” said the painted lady “that I think it should be double that”.
      Tom looked as if he were about to faint.
      “Certainly” said the red admiral. “Who do I make the cheque out to?”
      We suggested that they come for three months next year.

Photo: Mrs Mudderdale at Raddle Bridge Farm.

Four Men in Their Boots, Day 3

... Mardale Green ...

      Breakfast was subdued. We gradually remembered why. Somehow, during the previous evening and long night, we had joined the Friends of Mardale Green and had become embroiled in what passed for its Annual General Meeting.
      It was fortunate that Harry had booked the rooms well in advance because it happened that our visit coincided with an inundation of the hotel by the Friends. They were an exceptionally sociable crowd, the Friends having long realised that as their official aims would never be achieved they might as well meet and just have a good time. We could not avoid joining in with them.
      The Friends of Mardale Green had been formed in 1925 when plans were put forward to create Haweswater Reservoir by flooding Mardale and drowning the village of Mardale Green. A vigorous campaign ensued but it eventually failed, with all the residents of Mardale Green being forced away before the flooding of the valley in 1935. But the Friends carried on, vowing, according to its constitution, “to preserve the memory of Mardale Green and to work towards the return of its inhabitants”. That seemed fairly harmless, and hopeless, and so the four of us signed up. mardale green
      The activities of the Friends are rather limited. Every few years a drought lowers the level of the reservoir to reveal some of the remains of Mardale Green and conscientious Friends duly row out to carry out work on the derelict houses, in forlorn anticipation of the ex-inhabitants’ return.
      United Utilities once attempted to prevent this by saying that the Friends did not have planning permission to build in the Reservoir. However, the Friends successfully argued that they were not building - they were only maintaining buildings that were already there (although, they did admit, after a few drinks (not that they had only a few), that they surreptitiously added a foot or two to the church tower each time, in the hope that eventually it would arise permanently above the water’s surface).
      This year, to mark its 80th anniversary, the Friends had arranged a video link to the only known surviving ex-inhabitant of Mardale Green, a Dotty Measand, now living in Surfers’ Paradise, Australia. She joined in with the spirit of the occasion:
      “Hi there, Mrs Measand - or may we call you Dotty? - how are you doing?”
      “G’day. Everybody calls me Dotty, so you can too, whoever you are. I’m fine. Out before brekky to see the surf carnival parade. Lots of fit young men with not many clothes on”.
      “Well, we’re still working on getting you back to Mardale Green, Dotty, but the people of Manchester still seem to need a lot to drink”.
      “Me too. I usually have a few tinnies in the arvo. But you’d better get a move on, if you want me back in Mardale Green. I’m 83, you know. Do you have lots of fit young men with not many clothes on over there?”
      “They may be fit but they’ve got plenty of clothes on”.
      “Thought so. Bloody cold and wet over there, isn’t it? I was only five when I left and that’s all I remember. Bloody cold and wet”.
      “What’s it like where you are, Dotty?”
      “35 degrees. Sun, sand, sea.”
      “Well, Dotty, why don’t you invite us all over there for next year’s AGM?” And so on, in an inconsequential way, to confirm the futility of the Friends’ aims, to their relief.
      We eventually set off from the hotel, saying goodbyes to those few Friends who had made it to breakfast, promising sincerely, but no doubt untruthfully, to see them all again next year. We walked slowly and in silence. We pretended that it was in respect for the drowned village of Mardale Green off to our right but really we were suffering from the night before.
      Our spirits did not really lift until we had trudged around the head of the reservoir, past The Rigg and then up the long ridge to High Raise. There a marvellous panorama suddenly opened out for us, displaying many of the peaks that lay on our route: Coniston Old Man, Bowfell, Scafell, Great Gable, Helvellyn, Blencathra. They roll so smoothly off the tongue: would they pass so smoothly under the feet?

... Thornthwaite Beacon ...

thornthwaite beacon       We strode south along High Street and in what seemed no time we reached Thornthwaite Beacon, which we had skirted past the day before. This time I allowed the team a rest and, as is his custom, Harry was soon on first-name terms with all the other walkers resting there, thankfully not as many as yesterday, which was a Sunday.
      Personally, I see little point in wasting much-needed breath talking to people one is most unlikely to see again. I manage a syllable (“hi”) or two (“morning”) if it’s unavoidable but usually a nod suffices.
      The only occasion I can recall talking to a stranger on the fells was once on Ullscarf. I had walked up the hill from the Thirlmere side to be confronted with a most startling view to the west. The sun and shadows highlighted the red of Red Pike and the brooding pudding shape of Great Gable, with the peaks of Grasmoor and Hopegill Head wonderfully arrayed to the north and, through the gap of Bassenthwaite, a view of the Galloway hills of Scotland. I gathered my sandwiches from the backpack and prepared to settle down to watch the shadows play across the remarkable view.
      And then I saw a man, which is not what you expect on Ullscarf, already settled in the exact same spot doing what I had in mind. He saw me too. I was most reluctant to disturb his reverie, as I am sure he understood, but it would have been somewhat rude to have wandered off. So I sat at the optimum point nearby (not too close to intrude, not too far away to offend) and exchanged pleasantries about the scene in front of us. kirkstone inn
      While I did not learn his name, as Harry would have done, I am sure that if I saw him in a pub now I would recognise him and happily let him buy me a drink.

... Kirkstone ...

      Harry said hearty cheerios to all his new-found friends and within five minutes had forgotten all about them. We scrambled down to Thresthwaite Mouth, with its frogs, and up to Caudale Moor. Here we searched for Mark Atkinson’s Monument and John Bell’s Banner (there is too much name-dropping in Cumbria). We found the former but not the latter. The ‘monument’ is just a pile of stones with a cross, a memorial to a landlord of the Kirkstone Inn, skilfully placed at the furthest point on the ridge from which he may keep an eye on his inn. We were at least reassured that our resting place for the night was not too far distant.
      Who John Bell was and why he brought a banner up here, I don’t know. The fine names that embellish the map of Cumbria soon, though familiarity, become accepted as just arbitrary nomenclature. And yet, if we pause to reflect, they hint at some bygone history and mystery. Who, for example, was the St Raven, after whom is named the St Raven’s Edge, which we now walked down towards the inn? Raven’s Edge I could understand, for there are ravens about. But who put the St there? And why does Wainwright, so meticulous in his work, spell it “St Ravens Edge”, with no apostrophe?
      With such deep thoughts, we dropped down to the inn, where to our concern, we found in the bar two of the Friends of Mardale Green with whom we had over-celebrated last night. They had struggled over from Haweswater by the Nan Bield Pass. But we need not have worried: they were as exhausted as we were.

Photos: Mardale Green, as the Friends of Mardale Green wish it to be; Thornthwaite Beacon; Kirkstone Inn.


The Annual Harriet Martineau Lecture

Harriet Martineau       The annual Harriet Martineau Lecture to the Assembly of Cumbrian Women’s Institutes was this year given by Dame Mary Merewether, the eminent environmentalist and emeritus professor at the University of Cumbria. She gave an absorbing talk, much appreciated by the members, on recent changes to Lakeside flora caused by the multitude of people trampling upon it.
      Dame Mary described the history of Cumbrian plant-life. After the Ice Age, the fells were colonised by hardy arctic-alpine flora, small, delicate but tenacious. Some, such as mountain sorrel and purple saxifrage, survived despite the climate warming. Heather and then trees, such as birch and oak, swept over the lower fells. The forests were then largely felled and the uplands became bog. During the last few centuries, most remaining plants were chewed away by sheep. And now, to polish them all off, we are walking all over them.
      Dame Mary also used the platform to announce the formation of the Campaign for Lakeland Feminisation (CaLF). As Dame Mary pointed out, the Lake District is overwhelmingly masculine, with, amongst others, Adam Seat, Allen Crags, Buck Pike, Carl Side, Great Cockup, Grey Friar, Hart Side, John Bell’s Banner, St John’s Common, Shipman Knotts, and, of course, Coniston Old Man and numerous lesser Mans. The only femininity to be found is in the soppy Maiden Moor and Ladyside Pike. She proposed, as an interim measure, pending the equalisation required by present legislation, that Women’s Institute members should from now on refer to Blencathra as Blencathy, Seatallan as Seatalice, and Glaramara as Glearymary.
      The Campaign will be formally launched on Saturday April 24th with a march around Sisters Water, followed by a rally outside The White Lioness in Pitterpatterdale.

(Your reporter apologises for any inaccuracies above. The information was gleaned by eavesdropping on a formidable entourage that gathered in the Crowing Cockerel after the lecture. He was unable to gain entry to the Assembly of Cumbrian Women’s Institutes, not being a woman.)

Photo: Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), often described as the first female sociologist, was a writer and philosopher who from 1845 lived in Ambleside, where there remains a great need for sociology. Charles Darwin met her in 1836 and commented “I was astonished to find how ugly she is” although his brother “Erasmus palliated all this, by maintaining one ought not to look at her as a woman”. She was, understandably, a life-long feminist. She described Darwin as "simple, child-like".

What Bare-Faced Cheek?

From the Cumbria Magistrates’ Court

      Mr Mucklethwaite (magistrate):   What is this commotion?
      Mr Sowerbutts (clerk):   These ladies are endeavouring to enter the dock. Annie Bensal, Celia Clapperclowe, Sheila Corkin, Mary Drissin, Sue Kelk, Linda Ledder, Meg Powse, Helen Slaister, Sandra Targe, Liz Whezzle and Dorothy Yedder are charged with behaviour likely to disturb the peace, namely of running nude from Coniston over the Old Man and Swirl How to Wrynose.
      Mr Mucklethwaite:   Goodness gracious. Did these charming ladies give a reason for their behaviour?
      Mr Sowerbutts:   They say that they were intending to produce a calendar to promote the Campaign for Lakeland Feminisation. artemis
      Mr Mucklethwaite:   One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. There’s one missing.
      Mr Sowerbutts:   The December photograph shows all the ladies on top of the Old Man.
      Mr Mucklethwaite:   Are there any exhibits?
      Mr Sowerbutts:   Yes, twelve of them.
      Mr Mucklethwaite:   May I see them?
      Mr Sowerbutts:   In due course.
      Mr Mucklethwaite:   No, Mr Sowerbutts, I need to appreciate the finer points of the case now. Thank you ... Now, Mrs January, did you run nude from Coniston to Wrynose?
      Mrs January:   No sir.
      Mr Mucklethwaite, peering at exhibit 1:   Really?
      Mrs January:   I was not nude. I was wearing Walsh Fellrunners, one of a fine range of ladies’ running shoes stocked by our sponsor, Peter Blunt of Kendal. He also, I am sure, has an extensive range of ladies’ apparel for running in all conditions, all at very reasonable prices, although I cannot personally vouch for their excellence, ...
      Mr Mucklethwaite:   Yes, yes. Mrs January, did your, er, outing, cause any consternation to others on the fells?
      Mrs January:   Not at all. It was “Go, ladies, go” all the way.
      Mr Mucklethwaite:   PC Penistone, you, I believe, made the arrests. Please describe the scene on Wrynose.
      PC Penistone:   I arrived there by helicopter, as the roads were blocked by 578 vehicles, all the drivers of which will be called as witnesses. Word of the ladies’ outing had spread rapidly by mobile phone, twitter and the internet.
      Mr Mucklethwaite:   Was there any unseemly behaviour?
      PC Penistone:   On Wrynose, not at all. The assembled crowd was very good-humoured and the ladies were happy to explain their campaign. But there were several serious altercations on the roads, as men became enraged that they could not reach the top of Wrynose. Fourteen men were pushed or fell into Widdy Gill, fatally injuring two sheep.
      Mr Mucklethwaite:   Well, it is quite clear to me that you have muddled the accused and the witnesses. These dear ladies’ uninhibited expedition provided only entertainment and enlightenment. The villains of the piece and of the peace were clearly the motorists who provoked untold unruliness. Case dismissed, but please charge the 578 drivers. Oh, and Mr Sowerbutts, please arrange for the dock to be enlarged.

Photo: Themis, Goddess of Justice.


      This bombardment of fantastical news vignettes is rather hard to absorb.
      Really?
      Yes, it’s a bit like having slice after slice of roast beef but no Yorkshire pudding - or perhaps the other way around.
      What do you suggest I do about that?
      Well, I imagine that in the Courier the ‘sparkle’ of these items would have been enhanced by being surrounded by normal, dull, run-of-the-mill news stories. Perhaps you could pad it out with some of those.
      OK, I will.

Nature Notebook

foxhounds       Last week the Cumberland Courier reported that (and I quote) “foxes are never seen on a Sunday”. Isn’t that amazing! - amazing that some man should be so obsessed with foxes as to record their sightings and then carry out an analysis to uncover this fundamental truth. I say ‘man’ because, in my limited experience, women do not have such obsessions.
      Is there anything we can do to help such a sad individual lead a fulfilling life? Otherwise, who knows where his obsessions will lead him? There is an infinity of similar facts out there, such as “sparrowhawks are never seen on a Shrove Tuesday”, just waiting to be uncovered.
      But the purpose of my column today is to probe the deeper significance of the statement that “foxes are never seen on a Sunday”. Is it a comment about us, the general public, neglecting our fox-observing duties on a Sunday? Are the foxes really there but we are just too busy or lazy on a Sunday to see them, having a lie-in, worshipping at church, watching the EastEnders Omnibus, or whatever? Or is it being implied that although we may be out and about as usual on a Sunday our observational faculties have been dimmed by a hard Saturday night?
      Or is it a statement about the foxes? Do they have an in-built hebdomadal timing mechanism? If so, do foxes in non-sabbatical societies have the same mechanism? Have foxes evolved to have a rest day on a Sunday, like us? Or are they somehow more careful not to be seen on a Sunday? Could this be a legacy from the “D’ye ken John Peel” days, when the hounds were out on a Sunday? Many more questions arise, but you get my drift. The gentleman has been obsessive - but not obsessive enough. It is not sufficient to just state an empirical fact and then leave others to determine reasons for it. There is an obligation to carry out thorough scientific studies to establish hypotheses and theories that can be examined and tested by others, so that we can sleep easily at night without all these questions going around our heads.
      Personally, I think it was a misprint for “frogs are never seen on a sunny day”, a statement supported by my own records over forty years.

Photo: They didn’t see any foxes either.


      You can’t fool me. That’s one of yours too.
      Sorry, yes. The frogs gave it away, didn’t they? Actually, I have been mulling over your difficulty: I think that you are reading this all wrong.
      Am I?
      Yes, these items are not supposed to form a multi-course meal to be digested at one sitting. They should be taken one item a week - as they would appear in the Courier. It is best to take it ten minutes before bed-time, preferably with a glass of gin to improve absorption. Do not take if you are allergic to any of the contents. Should irritation occur consult your psychotherapist or have another glass of gin. If you experience any unusual side-effects then I would be amused to hear about them. Do not take before driving, playing golf, chopping wood, slicing onions, shaving or engaging in any other activity where an outbreak of tremorata may be harmful. Do not use after the expiry date. Keep out of sight of children - they shouldn’t see you after all that gin. I hope that helps.
      Yes, thank you. Goodnight.

Four Men in Their Boots, Day 4

... Kirkstone ...

      The day dawned overcast, with low cloud. At least, I assume it did, dawn being rather early for me at that time of year. Dedicated as I was to our walking expedition, I was supposed to be on holiday. There was certainly low cloud by the time we stood on the steps of the inn, ready to set forth. We could barely see the bottom of Red Screes, let alone its top, which was our first objective. As always seems to be the case when the top of a hill is in cloud, the steep slopes seemed to rise to prodigious, unseen, heights.
      It was a considerable struggle scrambling up the slope. I prefer to begin a long walk with a few minutes’ gentle stroll in order to loosen the legs but here it was straight into strenuous action. I had nobody to blame but myself. Breathless, we paused before we went fully into the cloud to look back to the inn, hardly visible far below. Kirkstone Inn
      Some walkers say that there is no point in walking in cloud. But what do they consider to be the point of walking when not in cloud? For the long-distance views from the peaks and ridges? If so, yes, I concede that they are lost in cloud, but in compensation there is a heightened awareness of what is at close quarters. There has to be, in order to determine the route. And the lack of perspective makes every shape take on a new character, with, for example, huge rocks ahead turning into sheep as they are approached.
      If the point is exercise, then cloud makes no difference. If it is for fresh air in the lungs, then it is newly cleansed by the moist cloud. And if it is to escape momentarily from the stresses of everyday life, then cloud is a great help, for it hides from view anything that might serve as a reminder of those stresses - for example, there is no sight of dilapidated farmhouses to remind us of work needed back at home. But I like walking in cloud because I can be cocooned within my own profound thoughts, which are unfortunately disturbed by external stimulations normally.
      On this occasion, I was contemplating the hermeneutical significance of the ascent drawings in Wainwright’s little books. These are neither maps (from vertically above) nor views (from ground level) but are sketches (from an imaginary floating position above the mountains) distorted in perspective and scale. They provide the walker with a god-like omniscience and power over the Lakeland terrain, even when it cannot be seen. Have these drawings, familiar to all serious walkers, stimulated our sense of mastery over these hills, so feared in earlier centuries?

... Hart Crag ...

      And so, deep in thought (if any, for the others), we clambered carefully over Red Screes, down to the Scandale Pass, over Bakestones Moss, on up by Dove Crag, past Hart Crag, down the dip of Link Hause, on towards ...
      “Which way now now now ...?”
      My thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a faint shout that echoed around the hills and clouds. We stopped. We listened. Silence. “What was that?” I asked.
      “Someone shouting ‘Where are you?’” said Thomas.
      “I thought it was “Wait for me” said Richard.
      “What did you think, Harry? ... Harry?” Where was Harry? We looked around. We tried to remember when we had last seen him. We had all been so engrossed in our thoughts (if any) that we hadn’t noticed his disappearance. Richard thought he remembered him saying something about nipping behind a rock (as he did rather too frequently) somewhere on Little Hart Crag. He must have lost the way trying to catch us up.
      We shouted “Up here, Harry Harry Harry ...” We listened. Silence. We peered into the gloom. Nothing. We waited. We shouted again “We’re over here, Harry Harry Harry ...” We listened. We waited.
      And then, at last, we heard a faint shout “I can see the way now now now ...”.
      We were greatly relieved. We shouted back “We’ll come to meet you you you ...” But which direction did the shout come from? It seemed a little over to the left, so we inched our way in that direction, off what path there was, over various crags. “We’re coming coming coming ...” we shouted.
      “No, stay there ... I can manage manage manage ...” we heard shouted back.
      We stopped. We stared into the cloud, trying to discern Harry’s shape emerging from it. And then another voice, just below us “Nearly there, there’s a good grip higher up this gully, you’ll make it.” We edged towards the voice. We were just about to step off a cliff face into the void when a figure leapt up in front of us. Our relief at finding Harry soon evaporated. This fellow was wearing a safety helmet and was enveloped in a harness with a multitude of ropes with various attachments. fog
      And then another fellow emerged from the left, slapped him on the back, with hearty congratulations. And then another fellow emerged from the right, saying “What’s all this shouting? And why are you over here, on the edge of Scrubby Crag?”. This fellow turned out to be Harry.
      We apologised to the two climbers and returned to regain the path. Harry appeared calm but was quietly seething at being left behind. I kept quiet too, not wanting to provoke his anger. I suppose it was my duty, as team leader, to keep the team together at all times. But if we waited for Harry every time he nipped behind a rock we would get nowhere.

... Fairfield ...

      I led the team up to Fairfield, where we paused for some sustenance by the largest cairn, whilst peering in stony silence into the gloom. After carefully locating the correct ridge I took them down the steep drop of Cofa Pike. As I strode over Deepdale Hause towards the ridge of St Sunday Crag the other three dropped behind and seemed to be engaged in some private conversation.
      The mist lifted a little and, as I tried hard to pick out the shape of Helvellyn, I was astonished to see a wide river flowing down the fellside. I stared at it for a while - and gradually realised that it was a river of debris being eroded down Dollywaggon Pike by walkers. How can walkers be so clumsy? I myself have never dislodged a rock in my life.
      The others were still in sight behind - I didn’t want to lose anyone again. But I saw no need to dally to let them catch up. I pressed on up St Sunday Crag. Is there really a St Sunday? What about a St Monday? St Tuesday? and so on. I dropped down over Birks and at last came below the cloud, to be rewarded with a fine view of Ullswater, even with the surroundings fells decapitated by cloud. I sat for a while, waiting for the others, and then we all sat in silence, contemplating the view and perhaps reflecting on the difficult day behind us.

... Glenridding ...

      But the end was in sight and so, in slightly raised spirits, we strolled down to Grisedale and over by Lanty’s Tarn to Glenridding. After signing in at our B&B we retreated to the Travellers Rest, where we sat outside to admire the renowned view across Ullswater to Place Fell. But the cloud had come down again and we could see nothing at all.
      We retreated inside, to find the bar packed, with not enough space to swing a cat. We didn’t have a cat anyway, so we merged in with the throng, most of whom seemed to be climbers. A noisy group had settled around the fire, blazing although it was supposed to be midsummer. Two of them were regaling the others with a story of how they had nearly been knocked off Scrubby Crag by some foolish walkers who were wandering about, shouting, lost in the cloud.

Photos: Kirkstone Inn; The view from Scrubby Crag.


High Society

The 6th Annual General Meeting of the Rainwhite Society

      Peter Lingmell (president):   Please be seated. Welcome to this, the sixth AGM of the Rainwhite Society. I believe we have one or two apologies, Mary.
rainwhiteshrine       Mary Clough (secretary):   Yes. John Burthwaite would like to apologise for the confusion he caused by referring to ospreys over Blea Tarn, without saying which one. And Seamus Donnybrook has written an excruciatingly long letter to apologise for his disgraceful behaviour with respect to our guest speaker at the Christmas dinner. Too late: we have expelled him from the Society.
      Peter Lingmell:   Not before time. Now before we begin the business matters, I would like to ask you to stand to sing our anthem.
            Onward Cumbrian walkers, striding out before,
            With the books of Albert in each sweaty paw.
            Like our wondrous Leader, march into the snow;
            Forward onto Loughrigg, see Grasmere below!
            Onward Cumbrian walkers, striding out before,
            With the books of Albert in each sweaty paw.
      Peter Lingmell:   Please be seated. We have some matters arising from last year’s AGM. First, the long-standing dispute with the family of Ruth Saddlebottom (formerly Rainwhite), over the distribution of the Rainwhite legacy, has still to be resolved but we remain hopeful of an out-of-court settlement. Secondly, the increased sales of virtual reality Rainwhite Walks has led to a significant decrease in people on the fells, which is greatly to be welcomed. Now, we have a short reading.
      Sue Blisco:   This is from Book 4, chapter 25, page 24: “Why does a man climb mountains? Why has he forced his tired and sweating body up here when he might instead have been sitting at his ease in a deckchair at the seaside, looking at girls in bikinis, or fast asleep, or sucking ice-creams, according to his fancy? On the face of it the thing doesn’t make sense”.
      Peter Lingmell:   I would like to ask for two minutes silence, as we contemplate those profound words.
      ... bikinis
      Peter Lingmell:   To appreciate the deep, inner meaning of our Leader’s words, you must bear in mind that he was priest and poet in his own blunt way. And, as with all sacred texts from the past, like the Bhagavadgita and the Kama Sutra, we must try to put ourselves into a contemporary frame of mind. The bikini was, of course, designed as experimental wear to study the effects on human skin of the 1950s Bikini Atoll nuclear explosions. When our Leader wrote those words in 1959 it is almost certain that he had never seen a bikini. In fact, it is doubtful that he had ever seen a deckchair at the seaside, because he was forever walking on cloudy mountains. As on so many occasions, our Leader’s words can now be seen to be visionary, foreseeing the swinging sixties, when gazing upon female flesh, such as that of Pan’s People, became the norm. I think he was hoping to see bikinis on the fells - as indeed am I. Certainly, his words must not be mistaken for the meanderings of a frustrated, sexist, grumpy, middle-aged man. Let us doxologise.
            Our Leader, who art on Haystacks, widespread be thy fame.
            Thy servants come. Thy peaks to climb, Ullscarf as well as Helvellyn.
            Give us each day a cloudless sky.
            And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive you, who made up rights of way.
            And cause us not any trepidation, but deliver us from danger.
            For thine are the country, the mountains and the valleys, for ever and ever.
            Amen.
      Peter Lingmell:   Let us turn to the agenda items, of which there are so many, such is the importance of our Society. Item 3, the Society’s interaction with Natural England about the water power schemes in Borrowdale. Luke.
      Luke Screewalker:   Well, to be brief, Natural England replied to our objections by asking why they should take any notice of a self-appointed group of busybodies with no expertise in the matter. I suppose they have a point.
      Peter Lingmell:   Let’s move on. Item 4, the dissemination of the Rainwhite name. Azhar.
      Azhar Abdullah:   I am delighted to report that in the last year we have extended the Rainwhite franchise into another 293 avenues. Not only avenues, but roses, energy bars, bridges, buses - you name it, we have Rainwhited it. I am sure our Leader would approve. He was always one for the limelight. He’d be on Celebrity Come Dancing, if he were with us now.
      Peter Lingmell:   No doubt.
      ...
      Peter Lingmell:   Item 57, at last, the last item, the Society walks. Myrtle, could you update us please.
      Myrtle Bracken:   I am delighted to report that we had a full programme of fortnightly Society Walks last year. I am even more delighted to report that nobody went on them, following the spirit of our Leader, who preferred to walk alone. We already have a complete programme for next year, which should similarly be ignored.
      Peter Lingmell:   On that inspiring note I bring the meeting to a close, unless there are any additional matters. No, well, thank you everybody. A productive congregation, I’m sure you’ll agree. The Liddledale Ladies’ Choir will accompany you as you leave. Have a safe journey, and see you next year.
            Climb every mountain, roam low and high
            Follow every byway, every path you spy
            Climb every hillock, ford every beck
            Follow every signpost, till you end your trek
            A trek that may take, all the time you can spare
            A trek to complete, all the peaks that you dare
            Climb every hillock, ford every beck
            Follow every signpost, till you end your trek.

Photos: The Rainwhite Shrine in Kendal; Bikinis in the Lake District.

derwentwater

Council Head Loses his Head

      There were chaotic scenes at the recent North Lakeland District Council meeting when Mr Dick Burrow, head of Cumbria County Council’s Transport Services, reacted furiously to complaints from local residents over the condition of roads and paths after the recent snowfalls.
      After a series of concerns were raised at the meeting, he literally exploded:
      “These nimby-pimby, whiney-twiney, feckle-fainted, lilac-livered, supermarket-shopping, wine-sipping, Southern offcomers don’t know what a winter is. Why, my parents really looked forward to six months of blizzards. ‘They blew away the flies’ they said. My father was out tramping the drifts every day, looking for buried sheep and old Mrs Hargreaves from High Dudgeon. Yesterday I saw a woman, eighty if a day, on the icy path to the delicatessen in her slippers. ‘That’s why they’re called slippers’ I told the crumpled heap. People should get a grip. Use crampons. They complain that the roads are dangerous. Too bloody right, they are dangerous. You can’t expect my men to go out in those conditions”.
      County councillors spent hours picking up his pieces.

Photo: Treacherous road conditions forced Keswick residents onto an even more treacherous frozen Derwentwater.

Low Brow Opening

      Details of the new season of cultural events were today announced by Abigail Sparti, Cumbria’s cultural commissar. “It is important” she said “to invigorate the mind, as well as the body, of our visitors, and also to give them something to do if it rains, as it does from time to time”. The highlight of the new programme is undoubtedly the long-awaited opening to the public of Low Brow, which was once the home of Willie Black, the ‘Bard of Bowness’.
      Ms Sparti said “We are all excited by this addition to Cumbria’s cultural scene. I have yet to visit the Willie Black exhibition myself but I am sure that it will provide a valuable insight into the life and work of one of Cumbria’s greatest men of literature”. low brow
      The National Truss, supporter of all that is great in Great Britain, has carefully restored the property to the exact condition it was in when Willie died in 1965. Low Brow is therefore a time capsule of an amazing life. Packed full of the bric-a-brac and debris of a shambolic existence, the cottage appears as if Willie had just wandered out for a smoke. Every room contains subtle references to images in the poems, as only those familiar with them will recognise. The cottage garden is an overgrown, haphazard jungle of brambles, weeds and shrubs, just as Willie always ignored it.
      Wilhelmina Black was born in 1924 in Bootle to working-class parents who cleaned and walked the streets of Liverpool. Her childhood took her through the Great Depression, but she was depressed ever after, as reflected in her poetry. She remained true to her roots when in 1946 she moved to the ramshackle cottage of Low Brow, near Bowness, where she wrote gritty poems about the workers of Cumbria, the sheep farmers, the foresters, the bobbin makers, the slate quarriers, the miners of Workington, and the shipbuilders of Barrow, with all of whom she felt much kinship.
      Willie was patronised by the upper classes of Cumbria but she didn’t mind as long as they bought her poems. It was they who dubbed her the ‘Bard of Bowness’. “Pretentious prats” said Willie. “You’d think I sold ice-creams rather than poems the way they come knocking on my door asking for one”.
      Visitors to Low Brow will see the workshop where all her poems were hammered out. Beside the battered typewriter lie half a decade of the Daily Worker, half-smoked Woodbines, half-drunk bottles of Guinness, half-eaten potted meat sandwiches, and half-completed poems, indicating the suddenness of her demise, or her slovenliness.
      Her bedroom is as it was, with no roof. Willie liked to lie gazing at the moon and stars, seeking inspiration. She rarely received it: saturation, yes, but inspiration, no.
      The National Truss has re-installed Reggie, Willie’s long-term partner, who devoted his life to supporting her genius. Now 88, he goes slowly through his old routines in the kitchen, which include preparing tripe sandwiches that gourmands may sample in the generously-provisioned bistro tucked away in the nearby copse.
      The main, but still tiny, room of the cottage has the same chandeliers, looking absurdly out of place amongst the dereliction, that were installed by grateful electricians so memorably eulogised in her Elegiac Stanzas to Electricity and Those Who Bring It To Us. In this room, Willie gave readings to adoring visitors, especially to workers from the Ruhr valley, where she was a cult figure.
      The outside toilet is - well, let’s not go there.

      Visitors should note that there is limited free parking. In fact, there is none at all. Willie Black did not want a road to Low Brow and the National Truss wants Low Brow to remain as it was, preserved for everyone, for ever. Coach parties must ring up in advance to be told that they cannot come. All visitors must walk along the clearly signposted five-mile track from Windermere railway station. The track is narrow and can be very busy, so visitors are advised to allow extra time during peak periods such as summer holidays and Willie Black’s birthday (October 5th) and deathday (April 28th).

Photo: The Low Brow parlour.

Four Men in Their Boots, Day 5

... Glenridding ...

      After breakfast Thomas said that he needed to replenish stocks at the Glenridding shop, the first chance to do so since we had set off from Windermere. I asked if he needed any help but he insisted not, although the others stayed with him, reflecting perhaps some lingering resentment over the events of yesterday. I left them to it and ambled down to the pier, where the aimless splicing of mainbraces was oddly reassuring.
      I felt sorry for Thomas. He was doing a fine job on the food front but I knew that he was suffering stoically, from a lack of cake. He had dutifully supplied us with those sawdusty congealed-fruit energy bars when I was sure that, if it were practical, he would have preferred to have carried several large cakes around the fells. mint cake
      Thomas liked cakes as Wainwright liked fells. He was besotted with them. Every spare moment, when he wasn’t tackling one, he was writing about them. He kept a detailed database of cakes. He wrote recipes. He wrote reviews. He wrote letters to the newspapers about cakes. He was an expert witness at the notorious Jaffa trial, which concluded that cakes differ from biscuits by going hard not soft as they age. Thomas insisted that you should be able to tell a cake from its taste alone. For Thomas, dessert was the main course of a meal and cake was the only dessert. But he preferred cake at tea-time, for then his stomach would be empty and his concentration full, on the cake.
      The only thing that Thomas did not like about cakes was their names. It annoyed him that there was no rhyme or reason to them: cakes were named after places (Black Forest gateau, Eccles cake, ...) or ingredients (cheesecake, carrot cake, ...) or function (birthday cake, mooncake, ...) or people (Battenberg, Lamington, ...) or shape (Swiss roll, ...) or the way they are cooked (upside-down cake, stack cake, ...) or a fanciful allusion (angel cake, red velvet cake, ...), and so on. On those very rare occasions when Thomas came across a new cake it frustrated him that he could not tell from its name what sort of cake it was. What, for example, is a buccellato?
      Being a chemist, Thomas appreciated the benefits of a scientific naming scheme. He could predict something about 1,2,3-trihydroxypropane but not about glycerol. He wondered why it couldn’t be the same for cakes. So he invented his own scheme. He used four ‘dimensions’ to define all cakes: place of origin, shape, main ingredient(s), and function(s). A Lamington cake is an Australian, cuboid, coconut and chocolate, dessert cake. A buccellato is a Sicilian, ring-shaped, fig and nut, christening and Christmas cake. He proposed his classification scheme to the editors of the Journal of Gateauphilia but so far they haven’t adopted it.
      I wandered back to the shop. They were waiting outside. “All ready? Then, let’s be off. After yesterday, today will be a piece of cake”. Thomas glared at me, as I knew he would.

... Striding Edge ...

      A gentle drizzle, soothing and refreshing, fell as we climbed Birkhouse Moor. We soon reached the Hole-in-the-Wall, for after a few days of good walking we were now well into our stride, with no handicaps other than Harry’s blisters, Richard’s sore knee and Thomas’s stomach pains. striding edge
      I led the team on to Striding Edge, scrambling along the very razor’s edge of the ridge, for there is nothing to compare with having precipitous slopes dropping down on both sides. The others, I noticed, preferred the safer paths slightly below the crest.
      As we scrambled along, nose to rock in places, we noticed that the rocks were covered in scrapes. This I assumed to be caused by the hobnail boots of ice-walkers. But, as I looked around, I realised that my team was inadequately garbed and that almost every other walker had a pair of sticks, which they seem to use to poke and probe around the rocks. I thought that walking sticks were for the infirm but here they seemed to be an essential aid to nearly all walkers, old and young. I like to get to grips with the rocks with hands, knees, elbows, buttocks, or any other extremity, but this new breed of walker seemed to prefer to keep the rocks at stick’s length.
      After we emerged onto the Helvellyn plateau and had settled slightly off the beaten path for a bite, we had ample opportunity to study walking stick techniques. On Striding Edge they seemed more of a hindrance than a help but here on top they enabled walkers to bowl along in style. In many different styles, in fact. Some thrust the sticks out in step with the legs, some put the stick out opposite to the leg, some put two sticks out (like off-piste skiers), some used the sticks haphazardly to prod rocks they didn’t like the look of, but our favourite style, determined after a thorough scientific study, was that of a young woman who had tied the two sticks to her belt to protrude, fore and aft, like buffers and then ignored them.

... The Helvellyn Memorials ...

      We ambled over to look at the memorials, which some consider to add a romantic air to the fells. One commemorates the death of Charles Gough in 1803 or, rather, the sentimental fact that his dog stayed by his side for three months until his body was found. We are supposed to be impressed and inspired by this.
      The memorial was not erected until 1890, by which time the facts of the case had been well mythologised. Did Mr Gough die instantly from some accident, or did he lie injured for some considerable time? If the latter, I would be more impressed if the dog had run back for help, as Lassie did on so many happy occasions. And dare we ask how the dog survived for three months?
helvellyn memorial       A second memorial marks the landing of a plane on Helvellyn on December 22nd 1926. The pilots are named as John Leeming and Bert Hinkler. The latter achieved fame in 1928 for the first solo flight from England to Australia, but, not being a woman, not as much fame as Amy Johnson did for her flight in 1930.
      In the course of my thorough preparations for this expedition, I had investigated this matter, in order to enlighten my team along the way. I can confirm that December 22nd 1926 was, as you’d expect, a day when the snow and ice was thick upon Helvellyn. It was not a day that anyone would choose to land a plane there. So, why did they? It is said to have been a publicity stunt. But, if so, what were they publicising? Themselves and their plane, presumably. But there seem to be no photographs - why not?
      So, did they, in fact, land a plane on Helvellyn? There was said to be one independent witness, a ‘professor’ who happened to be walking on Helvellyn. His or her name seems to have evaporated. In those days a professor was an unimpeachable pillar of society, unlike today. Weren’t the pilots lucky it wasn’t, say, an estate agent? They took off from Helvellyn over Striding Edge. Of course they did.

... Threlkeld ...

      We continued briskly on, up and over Whiteside Bank and Raise, and dropped down to Sticks Pass, so called because here those walking north from Helvellyn realise the uselessness of their sticks and throw them over the sides of the mountain. There they accumulate in great piles, to be rummaged through by skiers using the Raise ski tow and in need of extra ski sticks.
      We climbed the Dodds - Stybarrow, Watson’s and Great - which are neglected except by connoisseurs like myself, perhaps because they hardly require climbing. While the hordes queue to scramble nose-to-bottom along Striding Edge and down Swirral Edge for the later glow of achievement, hardly anyone bothers to walk the Dodds. We, however, appreciated the quiet, lonely, grassy expanses where we could stride out unhindered by others. It made a pleasant change not to have to be careful on every footstep not to trip over some rock or crag. We could stroll along, heads up, enjoying the panorama in all directions. A light drizzle obscured the view a little but we didn’t mind as it was so pleasantly refreshing.
      We hurried down to the Old Coach Road. The coaches became old by tackling this rough track but at least the travellers within them must have valued the Dodds more than the modern generation of tourists. We turned west, following the track, before dropping down to Threlkeld, our base for the night.

Photos: Mint cake (which was banished: the mention of cake was too much for Thomas); Striding Edge; The second memorial (which reads “The first aeroplane to land on a mountain in Great Britain did so on this spot on December 22nd 1926. John Leeming and Bert Hinkler in an Avro 585 Gosport landed here and after a short stay flew back to Woodford”. Who says so?)


A Brand-New Brand

From a Cumbria Council Meeting

Easedale Tarn       Diana Dubble-Barrell (chair):   For the next item on the agenda we have with us Mr Charles Smarm who, as you will recall, is the head of Cumbria Tourism Services. Over to you, Charles.
      Charles Smarm:   Thank you, Diana. My guiding principle is that we should give the punters what they want. I assume they come to the Lake District for the lakes. So we should have more of them.
      Joss Jenkinson (Cartmel ward):   I’m sure Manchester could do with some more reservoirs.
      Diana Dubble-Barrell:   Please. Let Charles finish.
      Charles Smarm:   Thank you. I was at the University of Cumbria the other day and I realised how successful the re-branding of polytechnics as universities has been. Well, not even polytechnics in the case of Cumbria. From a handful of universities a few years ago, today we have them everywhere. Now, we usually say we have 16 lakes (Windermere, Coniston, and so on). That’s not many for 12 million visitors a year. On average, each lake has fifteen, um, seven hundred and fifty, er, one and a quarter, er, ...
      Joss Jenkinson:   Three-quarters of a million.
      Diana Dubble-Barrell:   Please. Let Charles finish.
      Joss Jenkinson:   We’d be here all day.
      Charles Smarm:   Yes, three-quarters of a million visitors. That’s too many. So let’s re-brand some polytechnic ponds as lakes. I propose that in all future publicity we include the following as bona-fide lakes: Brothers Water, Devoke Water, Easedale Tarn, Grisedale Tarn, Loughrigg Tarn, Red Tarn, Seathwaite Tarn, Sprinkling Tarn, Stickle Tarn, and Tarn Hows. That’s another 10, to make 26.
      Diana Dubble-Barrell:   I am sure that you have given this matter your usual deep thought, Charles, but could you briefly say why those 10.
      Charles Smarm:   Certainly. Some, like Brothers Water and Devoke Water, are bigger than some of the proper lakes anyway. Tarn Hows already has more visitors than most proper lakes. Some, such as Grisedale Tarn, are to get visitors out of the way. Others just have names that would be very attractive in a tourist brochure.
      Diana Dubble-Barrell:   I see. Is that it, Charles? Grisedale Tarn
      Charles Smarm:   Oh no. That’s just the beginning of the re-branding exercise. You see, ‘the Lakes’ is just too anonymous. Goodness, Canada has the Great Lakes and ours are just puddles compared to them. And then there’s Lake Victoria, Lake Titicaca, Lake Geneva, and so on. All much more glamorous than our lakes. I used to work for the Norfolk Broads, which is a distinctive name. ‘The Broads’ means only one thing to everybody. It should be the same here. We should claim a unique marketing niche. And a new brand name can do wonders - think of New Labour for Labour, the Premiership for the First Division, Sellafield for Windscale.
      Diana Dubble-Barrell:   Do you have a specific proposal?
      Charles Smarm:   Of course. I am getting to it. The 26 lakes consist of 1 real lake, 4 meres, 8 tarns and 13 waters. Now ‘Water’ won’t do as a new name: too many of those about already. But ‘The Tarn District’ would be great. Really distinctive. Harks back to our Viking heritage. And we could then add yet more tarns to our list: Blea, Overwater, Angle, Styhead, and so on. So, what do you think?
      Harry Cowan (Furness ward):   Um, the Tarn District. The Tarn District. Has a ring to it. I suppose the punters, as you call them, from the south-east would come up tarn.
      Joss Jenkinson:   Perhaps they’d go out on the tarn. That might get rid of a few of them.
      Mary Bland (Hartsop ward):   Yes, and we could build tarn houses around all the tarns.
      Dick Howarth (Kirkby Lonsdale ward):   Would we all become tarn councillors? And have to do tarn planning?
      Diana Dubble-Barrell:   Well, thank you, Charles. Your ideas are always so, er, refreshing. I think I’ll set up a sub-committee to report back in six years time. That should give it enough time to go to tarn on this.

Photos: Easedale Tarn; Grisedale Tarn.


      I think Charles had a point at the beginning there.
      In what way?
      Well, I’ve often looked at the map and thought Devoke Water would make a good day out. And then I find that it’s ignored in the brochures. It’s not regarded as a proper lake. Any visit there is bound to be unsatisfying. But if you counted it as a lake, and made a big thing of all the ancient cairns nearby, then people would flock there. Well, I would anyway.
      Perhaps you should write to Diana.
      I think I will. Do you know the address?

Mrs Mudderdale’s Diary (August 13)

Mrs M and Herdwick       PC Penistone dropped in again today. We all call him Copper. Sweet man. He asked about the Herdwick as usual. I think he’s more fond of our sheep than Tom is, but then he doesn’t have to de-maggot them every summer.
      As he sat there sipping his tea, I could see that there was something on his mind, apart from our sheep. But our Copper doesn’t like asking questions. He doesn’t like to pry into people’s business, he says. I don’t think Copper has really got over his school days. We all called him ‘Tone’ as we pretended to be too embarrassed to say the first part of his name. “Here comes little, um, Tone” we’d say. Even today he finds that many of his email messages are blocked by these anti-spam things. Poor chap. So when he joined the constabulary we all agreed to call him Copper. He is really pronounced Pennystone, after all.
      I had to interrogate him thoroughly to find out what he was after. I think he said more than he should have but Copper isn’t used to cloak-and-dagger enquiries. I can’t imagine Copper with a dagger. Anyway, he said that Manchester Drugs Squad had raided an outfit called Chemicals Galore that they suspected of supplying stuff to drug-users, and after thorough investigations they had found our address on their computer. So he’d come to see if any drug-using was going at Raddle Bridge Farm.
      It was all a mystery to me. Poor Copper didn’t know how to set about his investigation, so I suggested that he inspect the premises. He glanced in the barns and pretended to look at the various ointments and medications in the bathroom, and with relief came back to the kitchen for another cup of tea. He was just beginning to relax when Tom clattered into the porch, shouting “Is that pot ready yet?”
      Copper dropped his cup. He knows less about drugs than I do but even he had heard about pot. He would have whisked us down to the station in the van if he hadn’t come on his bicycle.
      It was all sorted out in the end. Tom said that he thought Chemicals Galore was a farmacy and he had bought some citric acid to be used as a disinfectant in the next foot-and-mouth outbreak. So the Copper dropped, you could say.

Photo: Mrs Mudderdale and some Herdwick.

How Pathétique

Tch S6       “What’s it about?” - a reasonable question to ask before committing oneself to sitting through a long symphony, don’t you think? Serious musicians, schooled in the conservatoires of Europe, imbued with a lifetime’s experience of the theory and practice of classical music, and dedicated to superciliousness, will reply “It’s about fifty minutes”. A symphony, it seems, should just be itself and not be about anything.
      Serious musicians listen askance, if they listen at all, to the sixth symphony of Tchaikovsky. I, on the other hand, listen attentively. To the untutored ear, or two of them in my case, the music seems to accompany some sort of narrative. But what, if any?
      Consummate professional that he was, Tchaikovsky died a few days after the symphony’s first performance, leaving a note saying that the symphony is about life and death. That may not seem to reduce its scope much but it does, I suppose, rule out, say, goulash and giraffes. Be that as it may, the symphony’s programme was, I am sure, revealed to me during an exhilarating concert given on Saturday by the Lakeland Philharmonia.
      The first half of the concert was strangely elusive. Fragments of music were separated by longueurs of apparent silence, ended by whispered shushes and pokes in the ribs. My mind kept drifting back to the long walk we had taken earlier in the day; my body felt pleasantly exhausted. I forewent the interlude ice-cream, preferring to rest my aching limbs and to doze contentedly awaiting the symphony.
      The music began hesitantly, depicting Amy returning to the car for her gloves, and then Peter going back to check the car had been re-locked. The woodwind hovered uncertainly, like the birds over the reservoir. And then the music began to bustle along, with the fluttering semi-quavers denoting the wind among the conifers of The Rigg. As we emerged from the trees, there was a brief silence and then a marvellous melody arose, representing the wonderful sight of Riggindale and the ridges ahead of us.
      We bowled along, until we were again reduced to silence by the awesome view. An explosive chord accompanied Peter’s fall off Bowderthwaite Bridge. Then jabbing syncopations, as we split into two or three groups, took us up the foothills. The developing whirlwind was heard in the woodwind and brass, with far-off rumbles of thunder in the cellos and basses. The most magnificent passage maintained the excitement until, after much heroic scrambling, we emerged to the relative peace of the knobbly edge of Kidsty Howes. Polya S6
      After a short pause for coughs and coffee, we were off again, waltzing up the ridge in 5/4 time, by which Tchaikovsky skilfully described little Amy taking five steps to everyone else’s four. This was a jolly section, in which everybody glided along in harmony, apart from Peter, represented by a drone bass, complaining of the pains from his fall. And in what seemed no time at all, we arrived at the noble nose of Kidsty Pike, for more coughs and coffee.
      The next section began with dancing triplets, as we skipped in threes along the ridge to the Straits of Riggindale. The soft trombones unmistakably pointed out a small herd of deer over towards Low Raise. As we reached High Street a splendid march tune broke out, leading us swaggeringly along, like Roman warriors surveying far and wide, briskly striding out, banners aloft, swords a-gleaming. A tremendous crescendo took us irresistibly up, and after blood-tingling fanfares we collapsed exhausted at the trig point.
      Breathless, we sat for more coughs and coffee and a cress and cucumber sandwich or two. We felt, somehow, that the symphony was complete, with this moment of triumph. But no, the violins began a grief-stricken phrase to move us, with great reluctance, to descend along Rough Crag.
      Our sadness at leaving the glorious High Street was driven into the depths of despair as Harry, a solo bassoon, told us about Haweswater, which we could see ahead of us, drowning the old village of Mardale Green. The suffering of the villagers was movingly conveyed by a lugubrious tuba, and a single soft stroke on the tam-tam represented disconsolate Myrtle’s sigh of lament. We dropped lower, pausing from time to time to survey the mournful scene but unable to escape our slough of despond. The wailing strings and sombre brass took the group deeper and deeper, and as we finally reached the car-park we were enveloped in a tormented and total silence.
      When a symphony ends on pppp it is hard to be sure that you have had that final p. I slumbered there, overcome by this stupendous, revelatory performance, for what may have been hours, stirring only when I gradually became aware of murmurs: “Is he dead?”, “I think he’s breathing”, “Shall I prod him?”.

Photos: Tchaikovsky Symphony 6; One Day Pathétique by Gideon Polya (According to Polya, “Using naked female forms the painting reveals a joyful hopeful, dawn to night, ‘one day in the life of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’ interpretation of his so-called Pathétique Symphony”. Considering Tchaikovsky’s aversion to naked female forms, this interpretation seems much less plausible than the one given above.)

Four Men in Their Boots, Day 6

... Threlkeld ...

      Over breakfast, I informed the team that today’s walk would be to Keswick, only four miles away. Thomas immediately asked for two more poached eggs. Richard said that it would be good to give his sore knee a bit of a rest. Harry wondered if we would be there in time for a relaxing trip on the Derwentwater ferry. I then added that we would not be walking direct to Keswick but would take a detour over Blencathra and Skiddaw, adding about ten miles and plenty of hills.
      These comments led to a minor mutiny in the ranks as we set off from Threlkeld. I had assumed that they would relish the opportunity to walk carefree on the fells, safe in the knowledge that they were under expert guidance. But no, they wanted to study the maps themselves to see where they were going and to help make decisions about the route. Well, if that was their attitude, I would leave it to them. I handed the map to Richard, muttering only “Blencathra and Skiddaw”.

... Saddleback or Blencathra ...

blencathra       Richard walked along studying the map intently. He suddenly stopped and said “The Ordnance Survey has got this wrong”. The Ordnance Survey never gets anything wrong but I thought that I had better humour him, as he was such a novice at map-reading. “Where?” I asked.
      “Here” he said, pointing at Blencathra.
      I looked. “Seems fine to me” I said. “What’s the problem?”
      “Well, it says
Saddleback or Blencathra” he said.
      “Yes, I know. It is Saddleback or Blencathra. Some people call it Saddleback, others call it Blencathra. Perhaps some people call it Saddleback one day and Blencathra another. Or maybe it’s called Saddleback if viewed from the east and Blencathra from the west. A bit like the ‘morning star’ and the ‘evening star’ - same thing, different names”.
      “No, you’ve missed the point. The map says it’s called
Saddleback or Blencathra”.
      I was beginning to feel rather exasperated. “It is Saddleback or Blencathra” I sighed.
      “Look” said Richard “the book I am reading is called
Hell or High Water. Don’t you see?”
      “No, I’m afraid not”.
      “Well, what’s the name of the book I’m reading?”
      “Hell or High Water. You just said so”.
      “There are you then. You didn’t say Hell. And you didn’t say High Water. You didn’t think that the name was one or the other”.
      “That’s different” I said, uncertainly.
      “No, it isn’t” said Richard. “Look at the map. It says
Saddleback or Blencathra. If I had said the book I’m reading is called Hell or High Water, then you would rightly have said that my book is called Hell or it’s called High Water. But, here, see, the font of the ‘or’ is exactly the same as that of the ‘Saddleback’ and the ‘Blencathra’. If the ‘or’ is not part of the name and it is supposed to indicate alternative names they should have used a different font”.
      I was greatly relieved that we had sorted that out. I could see that Richard was quite agitated by the whole business, because he so likes things to be exactly right. I teased him a little by asking “In that case is the question ‘to be?’ or ‘not to be?’ or ‘to be or not to be?’?”. He couldn’t see my punctuation and was flummoxed. But I didn’t want to let it rest. After all, he had taken my map.
      “Does a name matter that much, anyway?” I asked. “Harry here doesn’t mind everybody not using his real name. Do you, Harry?”
      “Actually, I mind that one person, my mother, does use my real name. I was named Harold at a time when everyone with that name became Prime Minister. I think she still hopes that if she keeps calling me Harold then I am bound to become Prime Minister too”.
      “There you are. Names are no big deal, Dick”.
      “I am not and never will be a Dick” said Richard. And he stormed off towards Sharp Edge.

... Sharp Edge ...

      Sharp Edge is not a place to be tackled in a temper. So we called him back to have a snack break, to let equilibrium be restored. When our balance had been regained, we set out for the fearsome ridge. We were just about on it when Thomas mumbled “Nobody has ever called me Tom”.
      I could have pushed him off the edge for bringing all that up again. People ‘fall’ off Sharp Edge all the time, for much less. “Even Tommy would do” he added. “But I’ve always been Thomas. Even at school. I suppose people think I’m too serious to be a Tom. Tom is always a frivolous fellow: Tom and Jerry, Tom Thumb, Tom Tiddler, and so on. But Thomas is a man of importance: Jefferson, Edison, More, Becket, Hardy, Mann. You wouldn’t call any of those Tom. I suppose it’s a compliment really that people call me Thomas”.
      “What about Thomas the Tank Engine?” I said. “But you’re quite right. From now on I will call you Tom”. He didn’t know what to make of that and went on in silence.
      We focussed on Sharp Edge, as you need to do, and at the end of the nerve-wracking ridge swung left to the Blencathra summit. There was a fine view in all directions, with patches of sunlight picking out highlights through a few dark clouds. Far distant to the west was our next objective, Skiddaw, to which we boldly set off across Mungrisdale Common, as unappealing as its name.
      We walked in determined silence for about an hour and then, without warning, a few large drops of rain fell. Within seconds, many large drops of rain were falling. We were soon in a deluge that simulated the conditions of a test laboratory for a manufacturer of waterproof gear. My outfit soon failed the test, as did that of the others, judging by the oaths.
      Actually, I don’t mind being wet while I’m walking. It’s the process of becoming wet that I don’t like - that stage when my optimism that the rain will be keep out begins to feel misplaced; when patches of dampness creep in around the neck, the arms, the back, soon turning into little rivulets. Once the battle is lost, I can splash along regardless in deep puddles and, as the water trapped within begins to warm up, it even becomes a little pleasurable.

... Skiddaw House ...

skiddaw house       The slightly soggy peat of Mungrisdale Common soon turned into deep boggy pools, submerging all traces of a path. We floundered along, in the downpour, heading for Skiddaw House, which was dimly perceivable ahead, where we hoped to find shelter from the cloudburst.
      As we at last squelched towards the house I noticed (as I imagine those facing execution notice incongruous, irrelevant details) what a strange building it was to come across in such a location, miles from anywhere: four chimneys, three doors and eleven odd windows, the walls rendered like a suburban terrace, the whole thing semi-circled by conifers. But no porch to shelter in. We peered in the windows. Nobody about. Skiddaw House is run by a trust as a youth hostel and perhaps it is run in the old-fashioned way, with everybody turfed out after the morning jobs.
      We wandered around the back. Here we found a sort of shelter and, with some relief, piled in. We fell upon about a dozen other walkers already taking shelter. Harry soon knew who they all were.
      Steaming wet walking gear has a most unpleasant smell. Overcome with nauseous claustrophobia, I had to escape. I persuaded the others that there was no advantage in staying there. Even though it was still pelting down, we could not get any wetter. All that would be achieved by staying was that the quagmires would become even quaggier.

... Keswick ...

      So Harry said his farewells and we trudged off up Sale How. The walk up Skiddaw and down to Keswick was a silent nightmare, silent, that is, apart from the rattling rain. Inevitably, they got lost a few times.
      When we at last settled into a warm, dry pub I thought that I should try to make amends for initiating such a fractious day. Tomorrow, I said, we would walk to Braithwaite, drop everything we could at where we were to stay that night, and carry on for the Coledale horseshoe relatively unfettered. And, to celebrate the fact that we were now heading back, having passed the furthest point from Windermere that we will reach, I bought Tom a large cake.


Photos: Saddleback or Blencathra; Skiddaw House.

More Rambles to be slotted in here ...

Appendix: Notes on the Rainy Day Rambles Manuscript

The Rainy Day Rambles (RDR) manuscript is best appreciated from afar - from as far afar as possible, in fact. Wainwright, in his little books, drew views from what he called “imaginary ‘space stations’” that used “deliberate distortion in order to show detail clearly”. We need something similar here. So I am sat here in my study in 2115, a vantage point that provides a clearer perspective. Whereas the author of RDR (Arthur) muddled the past, the present and the future, from where I sit it is all in the past.
      The interpretation of RDR is complicated by the fact that the Lake District underwent a turbulent transition in the 21st century, a transition accelerated by the Great Energy Crisis of the 2060s. It is hard to believe today, now that the emergency measures introduced then have been fully absorbed into our lifestyle, but at the turn of the millennium almost all adults owned a car, that is, a mode of transport which enabled them to travel wherever they wished, with no reason needing to be given to the authorities!
      The Prohibition of Public Travel Act of 2066 decreed that no journey of greater than ten kilometres could be undertaken (except by foot, horse or bicycle) without permission and without paying a considerable fee to hire a Government Taxi. The so-called tourists, to which RDR refers, disappeared from the Lake District, completing the trend of the previous decades during which the price of fuel had continued to rise.
      Another fact that we find incredible today is that a hundred years ago almost nobody grew any of their own food! For example, their apples came from New Zealand rather than their own garden! At that time the Lake District provided a diet of mutton, damsons, a few char and not much else. The Emergency Coalition Government of 2068 determined that all areas must be self-sufficient in food. Each local council had to ensure that everybody could obtain all the food they needed by walking, riding or cycling to where it was produced.
      These draconian measures did, of course, also cause problems. For example, the prohibition on travel meant that the Lake District population was frozen with those who happened to be resident in 2066. Since nearly all the women had moved there on their or their partner’s retirement and were therefore beyond child-bearing age, the population rapidly declined. The subsequent Repatriation Act of 2089 allowed individuals of Cumbrian descent bred in captivity elsewhere to return to re-populate Cumbria.
      Overall, then, in order to interpret RDR today we must put aside our familiar sedentary, market-gardening existence and imagine a Lake District where millions of people visited on a whim and where almost everything was geared towards providing them with something to do when they were there. The following notes may help. Or they may not.

These Boots

      Scholars cannot agree whether the photograph in Wastwater Hotel shows some of Arthur’s boots, or whether some of these boots are Arthur’s, or both (see JoCH, 155, 44-57, 2106). There are more than twenty boots shown but of course Arthur may have bought boots other than at These Boots ....
      The photograph is by George Abraham. The fact that there is no indication of any permission to use the photographs in RDR rather confirms the theory that it was written for self-amusement not publication. (Please see the ‘Note about the Photographs’ at the end.)

Save Our Sausage

      The Bureaucratiat eventually decreed that the sausage may only be made in Cumbria. Unfortunately, Cumbria also includes parts of old Westmorland and Lancashire. Cumbrian butchers in old Cumberland appealed to the European Supreme Court to prohibit butchers in the non-Cumberland parts of Cumbria from making Cumberland sausages. The outcome is still awaited.

Tak Hod: A Book for Offcomers

      The photograph of synchronised wrestlers was taken by William Baldry. Cumbrian wrestlers were a favourite subject for pioneering photographers because their stances, often maintained for hours, were ideal for the long exposures that the first cameras required.

Four Men in Their Boots

      Controversy rages over whether the Four Men saga is by the same author as the rest of the RDR manuscript. The recent application of psycho-authorial analytic techniques (JoCH, 158, 1-33, 2109) has suggested that the ‘Four Men’ author has a personality disorder not shown in the other documents. The majority view, however, is that this is simply Arthur relaxing, revealing his natural self whilst reminiscing about an actual expedition. It is, no doubt, an entirely factual account, unlike most of the other items, where there is sometimes a suspicion of exaggeration. Since the narrative is truthful there is little to add to the events that befell the four men. However, Arthur’s status as a self-proclaimed route-planning expert has come into doubt after the discovery that the route is but a minor variation on that presented in Tom Calvert’s The Lakeland Ridges Challenge Walk (1995, Hawes: Leading Edge Press).

You Don’t Need a Weatherman ...

      ... to know which way the wind blows, according to the esteemed poet Bob Dylan. The report of the Flimby Wind Turbines Enquiry is an historically significant document, giving an insight into the early stages of the energy problems that led eventually to the Great Energy Crisis of the 2060s. It is revealing that people remained obsessed with trivial issues despite the looming crisis, which must have been plain for all to see (for further discussion see the Journal of Cumbrian History (JoCH), 156, 456-477, 2107).

Plane Sailing on Windermere

      The Rotary Club of Windermere began an Air Show in 2000. Rotary Clubs were secular organisations with the stated aim of helping to build goodwill and peace in the world. Air shows (now long prohibited) hardly brought peace. They wasted fuel on unnecessary flights purely so that people could look at planes, even though the skies were full of them anyway.

The Way We Were, with Silas Jessop

      This photograph of Silas Jessop was taken by Herbert Bell. The names of the other two characters are not known.

The Fairy Fell Roundelay

      The ‘Fairfield Round’ was a popular walk when fellwalking was common. The route was as described, from Ambleside by High Pike to Fairfield and back over Great Rigg. The fouetté rond de jambe en tournant is most famously performed in the pas de deux of Swan Lake. But as the idea is to perform many turns without one’s toe moving a centimetre it would have been useless for getting off the mountain.

Mrs Mudderdale’s Diary (June 15)

      ‘Activity weeks’ were a short-lived manifestation of urban guilt at the way rural lifestyles had been ruined. Their popularity rapidly waned as everybody became farmers, of a sort.

What Bare-Faced Cheek?

      Painstaking research by Alice Ackerman (JoCH, 157, 113-136, 2108) has revealed that the resonantly Cumbrian surnames of the ladies are not from Arthur’s imagination, as it may seem. They are in fact all old Cumbrian dialect words for ‘beat’ or ‘hit’. They are among 130 such words (there must have been a lot of beating in old Cumbria) listed in Land of the Lakes (1983) by the obscure writer Melvyn Bragg.
      ‘Peter Blunt’ could be a mis-reading of Pete Bland, at that time a running specialist shoe shop in Kendal.

Nature Notebook

      As the ‘foxes’ item is introduced as a dull news story, some readers have assumed that “foxes are never seen on a Sunday” is an old Cumbrian saying. In fact, no old Cumbrian has ever been heard saying it.

High Society

      Albert Rainwhite is, of course, a very-thinly-veiled Alfred Wainwright, whose books are still in print today, 150 years after they were written, even though nearly all the walks described are now illegal. Readers adore the quaint pictures, scarcely believing that anyone could possibly have bothered to make every little mark by pen-and-ink.
      Sue Blisco’s reading is from Wainwright’s Book 4.
      Wainwright’s ashes were scattered on Haystacks, an act that the Health and Safety Ministry has since made illegal.

Low Brow Opening

      Low Brow was closed shortly after it opened. A wall fell on four visitors. The National Truss wanted to restore the building to its previous unstable state but planning permission was refused.

Mrs Mudderdale’s Diary (August 13)

      Arthur was mistaken in his belief that this photograph was of Mrs Mudderdale. It is now known to be of a Ms Beatrix Potter, a farmer-writer, or writer-farmer, whose books about anthropomorphised animals were once quite popular with children, their parents and the Japanese.

How Pathétique

      Musicologists have rejected Arthur’s theory about Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony on the grounds that, although Tchaikovsky did visit England in 1893 (the year he composed the symphony) there is, as yet, no evidence that he travelled to the Lake District.

Note about the Photographs

      Arthur left a large pile of photographs, slides, negatives and newspaper cuttings. Some were attached to textual items presumably with the intention to include them (as I've done above) to brighten up the turgid text. The provenance of all these photographs is not known. There is no indication that Arthur obtained, or even sought, permission to use any of the photographs. Maybe he died, or had to flee the country, before embarking on this tedious task. At all events, it is much too tedious a task for me to embark on now.
      If any photographer should encounter a photograph of their own here and should object to its use within this frivolous document (and might indeed intend to sue for violation of copyright) please let Arthur know. Failing that, please let me know, at johnselfdrakkar@gmail.com. If you’d like the photograph removed then I will, after gently pointing out that you really shouldn’t have left your photograph lying around for a scoundrel like Arthur to get his hands on, of course reluctantly do so.
      If, as seems much more likely, you feel privileged and honoured to have been allowed to contribute to this fine document and would like to see your contribution suitably acknowledged then, again, please let me know and I will add a list of esteemed contributing photographers right here:


The rest of Rainy Day Rambles will follow in due course.

    © John Self, Drakkar Press