Another stroke of luck. As I’d scheduled rest days for when the schools were closed, I had Saturday and Sunday free, but I wouldn’t be resting after all. Today was the day I needed to sort out those missing miles from Wednesday. Today would really be Wednesday (Take 2).
I went back up to Borrowdale School, from where I’d caught that open-top bus in the rain. Now, the weather was good enough to take time to explore what Wainwright had called “the loveliest square mile in Lakeland – the Jaws of Borrowdale”. I’d walk up and over to Grasmere, and be able to get the bus home in time for tea, as it was one of the shorter sections – about 8 miles or so, and I’d already planned to stay at home that weekend rather than shelling out to stay a short bus ride away.
But it was vital I did these miles. Having switched things so I could still keep on schedule with all the schools, and replace my boots (and my feet), I’d thought hard about these 8 miles every time someone asked me if I was on the Coast to Coast. Until I’d joined the dots, I wouldn’t feel quite right or that I’d done it all.
It wasn’t about the total miles, as my various diversions to look at smuggler’s hideouts and Striding Edge, that emergency shelter and eroding peat meant I’d pretty much ‘done’ the miles. But I’d missed this gap between two of Lakeland’s best beauty spots.
The other thing was, that people had rallied round to help. People I’d not met. The first surprise I had was being turned into a cartoon by artist Harry Whinney, who’d created a film of my route as a gift, using that adder photo from Kendal Walking Festival. Cain had loved this so much he’d been inspired to join me in Ennerdale to make a short film too. Which would lead to much more, given time.
I’d also found out there were a large number of people around the country who’d supplied books in their areas and were all still involved in varying degrees, with bookshops, communities, festivals, hospitals and charities. Harry had drawn a grand Lost Words map where he gilded the places that had been ‘told in gold’ with donations of Lost Words books and resources. There were, and are so many creative responses to this book, I am certain it continues to surprise its creators, Jackie and Robert.
When so many others offer to help, you realise you’re not the only one who feels strongly about this. And that you’ve got an awful lot to live up to, as the others have all done such brilliant things. From Sheffield’s city tree protestors to daily examples of the work done by schools and groups, as they share their achievements online. And none of this brings any pressure. It just helps to remind you that it all matters.
I mean, just look at this, from Nottinghamshire. (Watch out for the fist pump).
So there I was, back outside the school where children had told me South Walney’s seals should really make more of an effort with their whole mating game.
I’d never walked in this corner of the valley. It looked like a long haul up to Greenup Edge, which I assumed was an old shortcut for market or a mine. To the north, at the other end of Derwentwater rises Catbells, where the Spell Songs group had met to create the Lost Words album I played at schools along the way.
Plenty to think about as I set off, passing reminders of old and new life in the valley. The reliance on Herdwick sheep. The different style of the drystone walls. The new additions to old buildings to help prevent the repeated flooding, now the rain has changed.
Lakeland’s best carrot cake used to be made a couple of miles away up the river, but the cafe owners had finally thrown in their tea towel after a series of storms, floods and road closures had made their excellent business impossible to run.
As I sat for a rest and the view, I noticed loads of bronze beetles I’d never seen before. Antennae like a clown’s hands. There’s something about beetles. Just think for a moment – there’s thirty times as many species of beetles, as there are species of birds, or of mammals…
There’s a beetle quote, apocryphally linked to Darwin which I love – from when a group of churchgoers asked a scientist what their studies had revealed to them, about the supreme ‘Creator’…
…. “if anything, it reveals that they must have had an inordinate fondness for beetles”…
A rock with a plaque, one of the subtly sobering reminders of how dangerous these areas have been and could be. I’d foolishly thought ‘it’s only 8 miles’, but this plaque was only a mile or so up from the valley and farm.
Meadow ant hills told me it was time to collect some photos for #wildflowerhour that Sunday. As well as the Lost Words supporters I was starting to attract online, messages on social media seemed to quickly link to other groups with a love of botany, birds, curiosities, landscape and local history. And (I dared to hope) were helping with the fundraising, which I often forgot all about. What with all the beetles and birds.
These ant hills are a reliable sign of the chronically mis-named “unimproved grassland”. Unimproved for who? For what? They indicate some of the very best northern grasslands for wildflowers, and so bugs, then birds and mammals.
You can find still them on parts of farms too tricky to tow fertiliser over, or too small to bother with. The post-war move towards more grass for more grazing, for more meat production for more people, takes place on improved/fertilised grassland. It’s an entirely different purpose. One of the things some people like to fall out about nowadays.
We need both, however these arguments turn out and rumble on.
There were very few people about. I don’t know about you, but I think we all behave a bit weirdly when we’re out walking. We definitely say things we never say anywhere else. You’ll meet people who say things like “lovely day for it!” in overly-jolly, insecure ways. I occasionally bark “al’reet”, which I’ve no right to say. It’s not my accent or connected to wherever I’m from. Perhaps it’s said to discourage small talk? When I asked John about this he started to chuckle and said he used a hearty, yorkshire “ ‘Ow do!” which he’s never said anywhere else. Ever.
Wainwright was said to be uncommunicative by some of those who knew, walked with and interviewed him. I’d been thinking about his epic sketches of every fell, crag and stone. And this ‘grumpiness’. It seemed to me that his obsession with documenting the outdoors for the use of millions was at odds with his avoidance of people. Then it suddenly seemed to click.
I think Alfred Wainwright was possibly autistic. I’ve no qualifications for this view. But for him to achieve so much in his field, yet dislike certain ways of communicating; to have had such obsessive attention to detail and focus makes this seem likely, to my uneducated mind at least.
This thought brought me back to beetles. Victorian collectors like Wallace who spent four years passionately gathering specimens only to then lose them all when his ship sank. He just started all over again. Or the tycoon who blew the family fortune buying every kind of bug he was shown.
Near the waterfalls, under Eagle Crag, I met a bizarrely rude lady who came to question me about my route, then told me I was wrong, then said she was going to stand ‘over there’. And then walked off. I wasn’t sure what to do about any of that. It didn’t really matter either way.
I went over the top in the direction of Grasmere Common. There are peregrines round here, redstarts, ring ouzels, even nightjar. My day was once again mainly one of ravens and skylarks. Which was fine by me.
On the way down the other side, there was a reminder of the rainy week I’d walked through. It’s much wetter than the rushes suggest, thick peaty mud and a bit of slog if you’re not careful. Local ‘Fix the Fells’ volunteers call it “a notoriously boggy spot…difficult to navigate” and they’re often up here due to the Storm Desmond damage caused a few years back. It must have been grim then as it was still a pretty miserable way down, despite their ongoing efforts and the pleasant afternoon weather.
I’d walked either side of here before, along two busier tourist trails. One to the Lion and the Lamb rocks of Helm Crag and the other to Easedale, where Swanny Wilson once built a tea hut around a huge erratic, a glacier must have left behind
Without a school to visit, or place to check into, my day’s walk seemed more downbeat than I’d expected. Perhaps I’d just expected too much. I’d never walked most of these miles before, but I think the feeling I was just ‘getting them done’, had replaced any joy in exploring or relief in arriving, all adding up to a glum descent. Some oddly-flat tree carvings reminded me of roadkill which did little for my mood, but a street name that recalled an old Carry On joke helped a bit.
I decided to try and remedy it by being a tourist for a while in Grasmere village, which I’d often visited but never really looked at properly. Always too busy heading off somewhere.
Saw Dorothy’s grave near her brother and some others. An odd tribute of swimming trunks and socks had been left on the wall. I didn’t know that poem. I was too late for the ace village bookshop but my ‘bookbag’ was full (for once). I’d had far less time to read than I expected during the trip so had swapped four books (I know) down to just two. There always seemed to be so much to see, all the time, when you were walking.
I was too late for the Gingerbread shop too, but that suited me. I’ve tried it once before which was enough. I’d never been grumpy in Grasmere before. I’d need to sort that out sharpish.
Grasmere soon becomes a quietly deserted village in the evening, I’m not sure where everyone hides. Perhaps they’d seen me coming.