Travel: Lake District, UK
PS: where are you?
Blame it on the movies!
Don’t blame me, blame Hollywood and the British film industry.
In film after film ( The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Miss Potter, Snow White and the Huntsman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens ) they have shown me vistas of the Lake District (LD), with its impossibly green downs, the sparkle of glittering water, a profusion of flowers in all colours of the rainbow.
A pastoral paradise with a strong literary link. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sir Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Carlyle, John Keats, Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, all were frequent visitors. The children’s author Beatrix Potter was one of the district`s most eminent conservationists.
It`s been the setting for several crime novels and been mentioned by Hemingway,Ian McEwan, Jane Austen. Above all, the place is home to The Poet of the Lakes, William Worsdworth. But more anon.
So, here I was in the aforementioned LD, scouting that perfect spot (PS) which was going to be mine own for a spell. A spell during which I would open my notebook and get creative, really creative.
This eye-watering beauty would break open the writer`s block, and words would flow from the fount.
Basing myself in Windermere may not have been the best idea, given that the town seemed packed with the ubiquitous Chinese tourists, as well as serious trekkers in serious trekking gear from all around Europe.
Millions of visitors visit
The LD gets about 23 million annual day visits and at a guess, 22 million were milling around when I was there.
The water bodies in LD are 16 in number, not counting the many delightful tarns, the small mountain lakes. Water bodies, because technically, there is only one lake in the LD, Bassenthwaite Lake. The rest are meres or water, the latter a Lakeland term for lake.
My first stop was, quite naturally, Grasmere, home of The Poet. Which poet? Why, the Lake District`s own William Wordsworth.
This was not because I was besotted by him, it was because in high school, I was press-ganged into going up on stage to recite one of his Lucy poems. Fingers duly interlocked in the poetry-reciting mudra, I started off well, then forgot my lines. Standing there slowly turning beet-red while snickers rippled through the hall ranks high on the list of my life humiliations.
So I needed to do this. To stand before Wordsworth`s grave in the small cemetery of the charmingly simple St Oswalds Church, and recite the first four lines of that Lucy poem. Call it a rite of passage or something.
Grasmere (`the lake flanked by grass`) fed by the River Rothay, was as pretty as a picture. In fact, The Poet, who lived here for fourteen years, described it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.“
Seeking the PS, I climbed the high ground above the lake towards Stone Arthur, munching on the fabled and flavorful Grasmere gingerbread. Quite in the fashion of Samuel Taylor Coleridge who is supposed to have composed parts of his The Rime of the Ancient Mariner while walking here. But no PS did I find.
Still following in The Poet`s footsteps, the next stop was the smaller Rydal Water which, at its western end, has steps leading to Wordsworth’s Seat, The Poet`s favoured viewpoint. Postcard- pretty but nope, not that spot.
It was clear I would have to look further afield. And so I hied off to Coniston Water, the third- largest lake in the LD, a ribbon lake in a deep U-shaped valley formed by glaciation during the last Ice Age. To the north-west rises the Old Man of Coniston, the highest fell (mountain) in the Coniston Fells group.
I would like to tell you more about this alluring body of water but I got sidetracked by a tree studded with brilliant scarlet buds. After standing and staring for an indefinable period, I started to accost passers- by, asking about this amazing tree. As luck would have it, all of them were tourists, and I got no answers. (Back home in Bangalore, I googled and found it was a hawthorn tree.)
The weather then put paid to all efforts to find the PS at Derwent Water, Thirlmere, Brothers Water and Ullstawer. A steady drizzle started to dominate proceedings, turning the day gray, the waters of the lakes livid, giving the distance a blue haze.
Thirlmere is a reservoir which supplies water to Manchester, with the imposing Helvellyn ridge to its east. Ullswater was where The Poet came upon the famous daffodils which inspired him to such sublime rhyme and metre.
I visited Crummock Water (`the crooked one,` possibly referring to the River Cocker which flows out of the lake) ) and Buttermere on a fairly sunny day. Mellbreak Hill runs the full length of Buttermere (`the lake by the dairy pastures`) quite like a protective sentinel.
The ridge walks hereabouts are hugely popular, given that they afford some lovely views, basically fells with scree slopes, rocky summits and a cairn or four. Then again, none of these routes are for the idle rambler; alas, I was one of the latter, and was quickly made to realise my limitations.
The perfect spot
My Lake District idyll was coming to an end with no sign of that perfect spot. On the last day, in the early hours of the evening, I took a path which read `Orrest Head` and started up a steep hill, passing creaky wooden stiles, meadows full of yellow and pink wildflowers, a field where a piebald horse grazed, up and up.
And then, abruptly, I came to a verge. In front of me stretched the sinuous silver of Windermere. To the left lay the marina of Bowness-on-Windermere, with sailboats bobbing gently on the water. Several shallow bays cut into the long line of the lake. A motor launch was leaving striated ripples in its wake. The afternoon sun shone like a benediction on the lake, on the pikes, the hills and fells, on me.
Windermere is the largest natural lake in England, formed 13,000 years ago during the last major Ice Age, with 18 islands on the water. Fed by the rivers Brathay, Rothay, Trout Beck, Cunsey Beck and several streams, this stunning lake is surrounded by foothills; some people believe that it contains Bownessie, its own lake monster.
When I could tear my eyes away from the glossy swathe, I found I was at a bench which quoted The Poet on its back. I went around to read the lines and then looked up. Downs, grasslands, paddocks stretched on to the far horizon, hedged by drystone walls, a symphony of emerald and gold. Horses and the local Herdwick sheep grazed quietly. I became breathless again.
After a long time, I seated myself on the sturdy wooden bench. This was it, my perfect spot.
Which was when I discovered I`d left both notepad and pen back in my room at the B & B. (An iPad or tablet would have demeaned the moment).
Somewhere on the gentle breeze that was blowing, did I hear The Poet laugh?
All photos by Sheila Kumar and are subject to copyright.
This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 20 Nov 2016.