“The history of mankind is the instant between two strides taken by a traveller.”
Sitting* at a desk kills you!
When I travel I want to walk very far on most days. It is true that I walk to work but really striding out for days one end, as countless generations of our ancestors did, is only possible when one has time away from the regular week. This time to travel and not have to sit at a desk each day must be seized even when the opportunity is not arising.
You just have to make it happen!
When I travel alone, walking often fills the hours with thought and emotion so fantastically light that one feels like never having to stop, sleep or eat again. The landscape changes and a delicious melancholy can take over, helping one to think about self and others, ideas and plans. This can be painfully sad, even revelatory. Walking is both an answer and a question unlikely to have been formulated without the strides taken when travelling by one’s self.
Travelling alone is a fundamentally different experience than being on the road with family or friends. It is this gentle wanderlust I have craved ever since my first journeys three decades ago. It is sometimes challenging to be away from loved ones but ultimately the distance makes me feel how precious are our shared lives.
There’s also Skype and texts and emails.
It amazes me to think about the distance so many humans must have felt so intensely – when they travelled or were forced from loved ones – in previous eras of our history with no news for inordinate spans of time. Whenever I hear people bemoaning our current age, I wonder how’d they’d have fared in 1815. Ironically, I think I’d have been fine in that period, maybe have revelled in it but I digress…
I have written before about my love of solitary walking and a little over two years ago was in Cumbria, exploring the Lake District and climbing fells. This time I travelled to the far Western Fells to get away from the madding crowd and spend time walking alone.
Ennerdale Water is a gorgeous place and I stayed at a B&B just a few metres from the lake allowing me to spend time enjoying the ambience and exploring the surrounds. The local community is endeavouring to re-wild the area and you can learn more about this project here. The photo essay that follows, although not stylistically consistent, is an attempt to represent the area and my feelings of lonely wandering.
I was not always alone.
Ed, a friend of Nina who runs “Beckfoot”, was walking to Wasdale Head via Steeple and Scoat fells and was nice enough to allow me to tag along. It really suited me as I was keen to explore Wast Water, the deepest of the lakes in Cumbria. It was a long, eleven-hour day of walking which was perfect. Ed is training to be a fell guide and his open, wide-ranging and personable conversation was very enjoyable. He will make a great guide.
Wherever I travel it is good to find at least some local art, photography, writing or poetry to enjoy. Tom Rawling (1916–1996) was a late-blooming local poet who grew up in the Ennerdale area and returned each year to enjoy quiet summer retreats walking and fishing.
Here is one of his poems that resounded with me.
Departing Ennerdale Water, I headed for the Black Sail Youth Hostel and the steep climb onto Great Gable to meet with Julian, my walking buddy from last trip. His idea, ‘to meet on a fell’, had the added bonus of being the only place we were likely to get phone coverage in case either of us had trouble making it. There were just a few possible challenges but nevertheless I loved idea of such a meeting place.
The fells were clouded in mist that morning and I felt a little anxious, walking in the rain, that there may be some challenges navigating if the weather worsened as predicted. My luck held and the sun broke through, clearing the mist from the summit. It was great to see Julian again and to continue on with our conversations as if two years had not interceded. You can see we were rewarded with stunning views in all directions, not just of Ennerdale Valley that I had ascended from in virtual isolation (except for a flurry of fell-runners as I neared the summit).
We did some high-fell walking and also ascended Green Gable, Base Brown and Grey Knotts before descending into the Borrowdale Valley and Julian’s car. He dropped me off at Seatoller after we ate and I continued on alone to explore the Borrowdale Valley in following days.
Seatoller is a charming huddle of farms and B&Bs but has no phone coverage nor was there wifi at my accommodation making me feel a little disconnected from my family. The red phone box you see below saved the day although it cost a fortune for just a few minutes of base-touching.
Into the woods
The Borrowdale Valley has countless woods and river scenes like the ones below to enjoy. I spent a couple of days exploring, watching birds and spotted elusive red squirrels several times. While framing a shot on the Derwent River I saw a camera crew wandering along the other shore but didn’t pay much attention to them. About half-an-hour later they returned to what was clearly a good spot to film ie. the place I had found. 😉
We chatted for a while and it soon became clear that Julia Bradbury is making a new walks series. Apparently it revolves around day walks that just about anyone could do if they are prepared to “walk six-eight miles” or so. In my experience that rules out a hell of a lot of people but nevertheless it sounds like a series that will be popular. Julia was in Keswick interviewing people for a good cause and her team were scouting locations and filming in preparation.
You can see my shot below and watch out for the crossing in her next series. I can imagine that Julia will be standing on one of those stones.
The next day I headed for Grasmere pursued by strange sheep and clouds. The walk from Seatoller to the poetic heartland of the Lakes is really great day on the Coast to Coast walk that about 15 000 people do each year (also walked by Julia).
I met some Queenslanders on the path who rejoiced when I mentioned that Malcolm Turnbull had deposed Tony Abbott in ‘a spill’ just hours before. I almost felt guilty mentioning it as we strode along, sun shining but they seemed genuinely pleased to have had a bush telegraph.
The virtues of Helm Crag have not been lauded enough. It gives an exhilarating little climb, a brief essay in real mountaineering, and, in a region where all is beautiful, it makes a notable contribution to the natural charms and attractions of Grasmere.”
There are some more ‘Wainwrights’ on this route including Calf Crag, Gibson’s Knott and the fantastic Helm Crag that overhangs Grasmere. I have only ‘bagged 10% of Wainwright’s 214 fells so there’s plenty of walking still to be done in Cumbria. 😉
I really enjoyed the walk into the village and the over-sized hot chocolate, ploughman’s lunch and ginger beer downed at a local cafe while the rain fell. I slept very soundly.
If I lived in England, the Lake District would be a regular weekend destination. Miss 9 thinks I just like the black pudding for breakfast but there is strangely alluring music, magic almost, that high fell-walking seems to cast over my imagination. I will return and spend more time walking and exploring when I can. I would really like to take my family if only they would commit to at least one day up high on the fells.
Maybe in 2018, when the Sondergaard and Moore families go walking in Germany, there could be a few days in the Lake District. What do you think Carsten?
*Perhaps, more importantly, I am yet to find an appropriate standup desk. Surely this must be a priority when I return to my regular life.
Daniel? Andrew? 😉
BTW Here’s a Flickr album of my shots in Cumbria.
Featured image: Flickr photo by Darcy Moore http://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/20836516684 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license
Next stop, the Isle of Man!