English Lake District — a crying beauty

Started walking again; the wind in my face, lovely surroundings…the creative juices unleashed…

We went for a few days to the Lake District in the north of England. It is a region renown for its natural beauty, lots of lovely hiking (or more precisely fell walking — which I discovered for myself is totally different to regular walking!) and…a very temperamental weather. The weather forecast didn’t look too bad though, so we were planning many lovely walks.

The day of our arrival turned out to be sunny and warm and we headed straight to Bowness, near our camp site. This little town was heaving with tourists making the most of the summer day. Just getting a space to park our car and pay for this privilege was a long process in itself, so we didn’t have much time to amble, or rather to walk avoiding bumping into the crowd, around busy restaurants, quirky shops and other tourists attractions. At times it felt busier than London’s Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday night.

By the time we reached our comfy pod that we booked for a few nights (just like a tent, but it doesn’t leak or fly away in the rain, has a little heater and electric light) the weather started to turn and the following day we woke up surrounded by the wet autumn aura on this lovely August day.

On the second day of our adventure, despite the rain, we decided to go for a hike anyway. We had chosen one of the available paths from our campsite, it lead us towards Gummer’s How. We walked in the constant drizzle, our waterproofs worked hard to keep us dry-ish. I was aware (mostly from the photos of the region) that I was surrounded by beautiful scenery, which unfortunately I could hardly see through the rain and the thick grey blanket of clouds. But hey ho! This was only day two, it couldn’t rain all the time, could it? The rest of England was basking in the sun, surely the sun would show its face here, right?

Wrong!!! On the third day it stopped raining though and there was some promise of summer in the air as a lonely pale sun ray tried to fool us by protruding shyly through a thick layer of grey clouds. So we decided to go for a long hike to the Old Man of Coniston. The hike started well, it reminded me a bit of walking in Northern Spain — there was a good path, occasional sun light coming through clouds. Again time to think, have a head space, feeling free from stress, surrounded by nature…how quickly it all changed!

The higher we went the greyer it became. The further we went the path became less obvious, a few times we had to find it again and get back on track. The steep stony steps lead us up the hill, the steps later turned into just naturally protruding stones, perfect for jumping on or between them…if you were a mountain goat that is. Us, mere humans, progressed slowly by carefully placing our feet and hoping the stones weren’t going to move. That’s where my relaxing pondering had to give way to my survival instincts. The head space was preoccupied by intense concentration on where to place my foot in order not to slide down the steep gorge. This is not a meditative walk in beautiful surroundings, this is some kind of strenuous sport. And talking of the surrounding …where was I? I couldn’t see much more than a few meters. The heavy grey clouds descended and all I could discern was a thick fog and some lonely figures struggling to walk in front of me. The wind was coming in powerful gusts almost sweeping us off the ridge of the mountain. It was grey, wintery and dangerous. And that’s when I properly understood the difference between a relaxing hike and fell walking. Is it “fell” from the word falling? That would make sense, as I did think I would fall quite a few times.

Finally we made it to the top and were greeted by a thick fog. Was there supposed to be a lake here somewhere? Instead of a rewarding lovely view there were more clouds and a few disappointed faces of fell walking tourists. And then the deep, maybe existential thought occurred to me: — what is the point of beauty just for the beauty sake, the beauty which nobody can appreciate? Let’s imagine a pretty woman who cries constantly, her charm is veiled by her tears. Can she be still considered a beauty if you never have a chance to see her allure? For me this is the allegory of the Lake District — the crying beauty, a wonder hidden behind heavenly tears and only lucky few can catch a glimpse of its true beauty. And I would like to pose a question — would you stay to look at this crying beauty on the off chance that she will smile one day? Or would you turn to a smiley, albeit less pretty one? I for one, go for the latter.

I know, there are some people who were lucky and had a few sunny days in the Lake District and maybe they think I am being unfair. However summer in the UK is short and I don’t want to ever waste it again by the off chance that the sun may possibly pop up at the lakes. I am more of a fair weather walker, I like the warmth of the sun, clear paths and time to think. The fell walking is not for me; thank you!

We did stick around the Lake District a bit longer. Since the weather was not suitable for more hiking we braved the rainy journey to Grasmere by ferry, being the only people on the open upper deck. We went souvenir shopping in Bowness. How different was this town in the drizzle, compared to the sunny day. It was almost deserted, empty car park, empty streets. The only places still full of people were the pubs crammed with stranded tourists. The souvenir I bought there was very fitting to the overall experience. I got myself a proper Gore-Tex rain coat — ready to suffer more downpour.

After more cold and rain we packed our things a few days earlier and left in a hurry to head south. When we were driving out of our campsite I was feeling very sorry for the poor buggers who were trying to keep dry while taking down their tents ready to escape. Again I was so grateful we were in a nice and dry pod. As soon as we got south of Manchester the sun was there to greet us. Welcome to the south — from now on I will consider London my sunny English retreat :)