I have made a few short trips to the Lake District and rarely seen much due to thick fog or pouring rain. I guess it is to be expected when one chooses to visit the statistically wettest part of a wet country. But I am drawn again by the promise of its enchantment when the sun does shine. We (my siblings Biddy and Rick and I ) left sunny Torquay in Buzz, Rick’s camper van, taking turns at sitting in the back with Otis, Rick’s pointer/collie cross. We picked up my nephew Ben in Stoke-on-Trent (he caught the train from Nottingham where he is doing his PhD) and took Otis for a walk in a park before getting back on the road to Grasmere. That is when it started raining. We were rerouted due to motorway closure (accident) so ended up travelling in torrents of rain and pitch black darkness along winding roads through Windermere seeing nothing at all of the lake scenery.
Undaunted, we went off hiking to Easedale Tarn the next morning. Easedale Tarn is a small lake in a hanging valley, scoured by the retreating glacier roughly 20,000 years ago. Dorothy Wordsworth referred to Easedale Tarn as ‘the Black Quarter’ due to its imposing appearance and tight ring of fells. Rick had been reading a book of her letters, and was able to provide insightful commentary as we trudged along. The Victorians enjoyed it in any weather, we learned, and so did we, despite the incessant rain. It is amazing to think that you are walking in the footsteps of the likes of Lord Byron and the Wordsworths. What I like about walking in the UK is the charm of the “old country” which makes me feel like I am walking through Tolkien’s Shire – even the language is laced with unusual words like fell, tarn, corrie, coppice, and kissing gate.
A short walk through quiet village roads brought us to a slate footbridge, and onto a footpath made of natural stone. Whilst the surface is amazingly well-engineered (so they don’t wash away in all this rain), it is as rough as old cobbled streets and quite hard work. We crossed sodden farm fields where black-bodied, white-faced Cumbrian sheep stared at us glumly. A bubbling brook was by this time a roaring, swollen river rushing beside as we started up Sourmilk Gill.
Still, I was taken by the scenery looking back – the waterfall rushing down between boulders and brown bracken ferns to quiet green fields of sheep and the picturesque stone village of Grasmere. I could certainly imagine William (Wordsworth, that is) wandering lonely as a cloud up here.
As we climbed higher the wind whipped stronger and stronger through the gully, pushing us backward till we were at times bent double trying to make headway. And from the top of the waterfall to the tarn the rain had turned to sleet which came down in sideways sheets. We took shelter behind some tall boulders (along with a hardy group of teens on a school outing) and peeked out at the tarn, before deciding to head back down.
As we made our way back, we met a few other “mad dogs and Englishmen” venturing out for an afternoon walk despite the torrential rain. Nearer the village we found the stream had breached its walls and flooded the trail. We were glad we had made an early start and wondered briefly how the people we met starting up the valley were going to make out on their return. By the time we got back my ‘waterproof’ boots were full of water, my toes frozen and wrinkled, and my clothing soaked through all layers to the skin.
Back in our cottage we lit a roaring wood fire. Ben stuffed our boots with newspaper and set them near the fire. I jumped in a hot bath and Biddy made tea. Another charming thing about Britain is that it is still so civilized! We spent the rest of the afternoon in congenial silence doing a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle while keeping an eye on snooker championships on the TV! Then donned our still-damp rain coats again to trot around the corner to the Grasmere Hotel for an amazing dinner with cousin Beth.
Dinner there is like stepping back into a distant, more elegant era. They serve drinks and appetizers in the cosy sitting room while you choose your wine and first and second courses from the ever-changing select menu. Then everyone is shown into the dining room at the same time, where white linen table cloths, fresh flowers and candles grace the tables all set up for your group. The food is amazing, and you retreat after dessert back to the sitting room for coffee and liqueurs. I am sure I was not an aristocrat in a past life because none of this did I take for granted…I relished each moment!
By this time the rain was part of a named system, Storm Clodagh, and the wild wind and thunder made our little cottage and the lovely evening dinners at the Grasmere Hotel seem even cosier. The next day, however, the sun came out as Ben and I walked back from Rydall Hall, where we had all had lunch. So at last I got a glimpse of the Lake District that has drawn hikers and visitors for centuries. As I stared at the vista from the footpath it almost seemed as if an arm would rise out of the lake clasping a great sword at any moment. I hope to return some sunny day for more hikes in this area!
Date: November 25-30, 2016
Trail Guide: https://www.walklakes.co.uk/walk_56.html
Hikers: Rick, Biddy, Ben, Liz (and Beth for companionship in the evenings)