Inspiration to artists and writers for centuries, the Lakes are somewhere I’ve been trying to return to for many years. Many of my childhood holidays were spent here and the dramatic landscape made a lasting impression on my young mind. Even saying the place names aloud stirs a whisper of excitement in the soul, the Old Norse and Brythonic names tumbling and resonating like the wind on the high fells.
Scafell Pike! Blencathra! Helvellyn! Ravenglass! – a chant fit for Macbeth’s wyrd sisters.
This trip started at Lake Windermere, then on to Ambleside, Thirlmere, Ullswater and Keswick. We walked and cycled past the glittering indigo blue of the lakes and up through rolling green hills filled with spring lambs, the high peaks forever resolute, eternal, like ancient sentinels. From Thirlmere we took a day to climb the austere slopes of Helvellyn, a tough but rewarding hike. We started on the valley floor in bright spring sunshine which graduated as we climbed to a sharp easterly wind, with the promise of snow on its tail.
We started on the valley floor in bright spring sunshine which graduated as we climbed to a sharp easterly wind, with the promise of snow on its tail.
In Keswick I delighted in recognising many familiar old friends, the quirky Moot Hall, Ye Olde Friars sweet shop and George Fisher, the famous mountaineering store. These shops are all part of the older part of Keswick, built from the local green hued slate stone so typical of the Lakes. Velvet smooth and the colour of moss and rainy days, the quality of the stonework is beautiful and fascinating. Pulled straight from the mountain, it appears to barely cling to it’s new form, home not bedrock; a jumble of rocks held together by sheer force of will.
While in Keswick we also made a pilgrimage to the Castlerigg monument, that enigmatic gathering of ancient standing stones, enclosed by their guardian peaks. Arriving mid afternoon, we found the site crowded with day trippers and dog walkers, so we decided to return at twilight. This time the stones were silent, wrapped in a lilac half light with a waxing moon suspended high above. Turning slowly to take in the landscape it is easy to see why our Neolithic ancestors chose this site to raise their monument. The stones sit in a wide grassy field, surrounded on all sides by the folded ranks of the mountains, a natural amphitheatre on a vast scale. Sit quietly for a while and it’s possible to hear the whisper of aeons, a fleeting glimmer of new perspectives.
So much of our history is lost to us, but these things remain, and if we pause to listen, they may speak to us of ourselves.