Archive for August, 2011

Walking with Cathy Turner on 10 August 2011

August 14, 2011

Ullswater

I am walking with my friend Cathy Turner. Cathy and I have been writing about women artists who use walking in their work. Though perhaps not a woman artist, Dorothy Wordsworth was certainly a remarkable and admirable walker, much of that walking undertaken in the Lake District. This is one of the reasons Cathy has invited me to join her in the Lake District; another is that she has always wanted to visit this part of the UK. Our walk takes us around the eastern shore of Ullswater Lake – the second largest lake in the Lake District, formed by three glaciers. This is also the lake about which William Wordsworth wrote: “it is the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur, which any of the lakes affords”.

Though beautifully sunny the day before, on the drive over to Glenridding the rain is pretty torrential. We are met by an appropriately equipped Cathy though, sporting fluorescent green waterproofs kindly lent by her mum. Setting off from Glenridding – almost immediately it seems as if the rain eases – we walk along a track running parallel to the road that leads us to the hamlet of Patterdale. Engrossed in discussion about Ibsen, Nietzsche, theatre and architecture (‘the master builder’) we fail to spot a subtle sign and have to retrace our steps. No matter, though, as our conversation remains engaged. The sign, once seen, informs us that we have a 5½ mile walk to Howtown. A track leads behind a farm and past a field filled with sodden wet tents. The hills to the east are gloomily ghosted in cloud cover, though as we walk their shrouds begin to lift.

Gently, we climb a little higher, gaining a better view of the lake below. Somewhere on the western side, opposite us, lies Aira Point, a spot Cathy had visited the day before. This is the site that inspired William Wordsworth’s poem, “Daffodils” (1804). Or, rather, it inspired Dorothy to record in her journal in 1802 that the daffodils here “tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake”. Dorothy’s words, in turn, inspired William’s:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

As Cathy points out, William wasn’t in fact wandering lonely, since he was accompanied – as was usual – by his devoted sister.

There’s little breeze today and though the sun is hidden by the thick cloud, the walking warms us. We pass and let pass a few large groups of walkers – some of them in identikit wetwear (red cagoules and waterproofs) – outward bounders not quite bounding along. A group of young lads struggle with rucksacks half their height. A paddle steamer steams up the lake – the boat we aim to catch for the return trip.

Coming to the top of the one of the few rises, we stop for a breath, a view, and a glance at the map. We’ve been walking – and talking – for more than a couple of hours, at a steady but albeit leisurely pace (the talking sometimes faster than the walking, putting the world to rights). Nevertheless, we both register some surprise that, judging from the little island in the water just below us, we are only at Silver Point – which is also the half way point. All of it is more shades of grey than silver today: the water, the sky, the distant hills – but the view down the length of the lake delivers more than a taste of Wordsworth’s ‘grandeur’.

Setting off again, the track beats a path through thick, dense bracken – taller than either of us. The pungent smell hurtles me back towards childhood and bracken dens. A few late season foxgloves break the green sea. A little way up the hill, the white of a waterfall cascades and soon we find ourselves walking towards a more clearly manicured landscape with boundaried fields, selected trees, a well-made stone dyke wall. This signals our approach to Sandwick – comprised of little more than a terrace of houses. Somewhat to our regret there is no sign of refreshments of any sort. A hand painted slate sign – FOOTPATH TO HOWTOWN – points the way over a cattle grid, guarded by a native sheep of the Lake District, the hardy Herdwick.

The look of the walk changes radically for a while – taking us down to the shores of the lake, within spitting distance of almost-sandy bays that on a sunnier day would have tempted me to dip my feet in the cooling lake. Then we climb a little again, but still hugging the shores of the lake, and this time through older native trees, the roots of oaks weaving across the surface. Rock steps are obligingly hewn into the rise and soon we once again wind our way along the bracken sided path, the hills rising steeply on our east. Rounding a corner, we gain a fantastic view right down the lake, to its northern-most shores. A little further round we spy Howtown. We also see the steamer departing and I worry that we might have a long wait till she returns – though hopefully a warm pub will make any such wait a bonus. As we close the distance between us and Howtown, though, we see the steamer already beginnings its return journey to the pier. Picking up the pace – so near and yet so far – we descend towards the shore. Thinking that we still have a chance we decide to make a last dash for it. Though we’ve walked about seven miles, here we both are, finishing in energetic style by breaking into a run. I’m impressed until I recollect that 7 miles would have been a walk in the park for Dorothy. She would think nothing of walking that distance to collect the post, and then turning around and walking home again. The steamer obligingly waits for us and I must admit that I’m rather glad we’re being carried back by the water. Here’s to Dorothy. And Cathy.

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