Wednesday, August 02, 2006


July 15-27, 2006

Saturday, July 15
Today was a totally smooth day of travel. My flights to Raleigh and then to Boston were as pleasant as they could possibly be. The little planes I flew in rose up quickly to a level where I could see billows of peaceful-looking clouds below us. As easy as these flights were, we might as well have been sailing on a perfectly mild sea. Surprisingly, I didn’t have to rush at all in the airports. There was plenty of time to make the connecting flights, so I relaxed and enjoyed myself, both in Raleigh and Boston. In fact, at Logan in Boston I enjoyed a glass of wine and watched a bit of the Red Sox game while waiting for my flight to Manchester. I wish I could say I relaxed on the flight across the ocean, but the opposite was the case. I tried my best to get some sleep, but of course, trying to sleep only renders sleep more unattainable. I’m afraid I spent most of the six hours of the flight shifting in my seat and hoping the minutes would pass quickly.

Sunday, July 16
After a long overnight plane ride and a hot two-hour taxi ride, I finally reached the Grange Hotel in the village of Grange-over-Sands around 2:00 p.m. today (9:00 a.m. Rhode Island time). The Grange is a perfectly lovely old-world hotel. From the shaded lawn you can look out on the long stretch of marsh and sand for which the town is named, and beyond that is the bay and sea gleaming in the distance. All of us “English lakeland ramblers” gathered for a hearty lunch and then a walk to nearby village and its Augustinian abbey. It was great fun meeting and chatting with my eight fellow walkers: Bill and Laurine, Pam and Sara (sisters), Ruth and Lauren (mom and daughter), Susan, and Gloria. We finished the first day together with a very elegant dinner in the spacious and gracious hotel dining room.

Monday, July 17
After a wonderful night’s rest, I walked down to the little train station, bought a Daily Telegraph, and sat on a bench overlooking the far stretches of sand and the distant bay. Later, I enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast in the “breakfast room” of the hotel.

8:40 a.m. Sitting at a white ornamental iron table on the elevated terrace in front of the hotel. Nearby, I hear the sound of a mason’s hammer hitting stones, while in the distance a machine of some kind is working away. Birds are darting here and there in the trees below me.

1:15 p.m. Resting in the shade on a narrow country road, enjoying a refreshing lunch after a hard morning’s hike. Weeds growing up around. Soft breezes blowing.

Tuesday, July 18
Yesterday, for me, was a wonderful day of walking. As I told some of my tour companions, I felt like I did when I was a boy and would set out early on a summer morning with my buddies and just “walk around” for hours. In a way, that’s what we did yesterday. Yes, we did have a goal toward which we steadily made progress, but there was also a sense of aimless, happy wandering, or “sauntering”, as Thoreau liked to call it. I loved the whole day. A few special memories come back. I recall the stone tower on the summit of a hill in the morning sunlight, with a Greek inscription from Homer, meaning “rosy-fingered dawn”. Our guide explained that the landowner many decades ago had the tower erected as a tribute to the fabulous sunrises he had seen from that hilltop. I recall, too, walking through countless pastures while cows and sheep were grazing just yards away. In one pasture, we had to gently prod the animals to move so we could continue on our way. One especially large brown cow resisted until the last moment, and then finally pulled herself up and moseyed off with her friends. I also remember walking through acres of six-foot high bracken and thinking of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, when Allan Breck and David Balfour hid from the Redcoats in the bracken of Scotland. We were walking on a hot and steamy trail, which helped me sympathize with the plight of Stevenson’s heroes. I pictured them ducking down to become invisible in the sweltering bracken as the British soldiers searched the hillside.

Wednesday, July 19
Yesterday featured easy walking followed by some of the hardest I’ve ever done. We started out from the lovely Swan Hotel in Newby Bridge and spent a few hours strolling through undulating pastures,. passing more cows and sheep as we walked. We often remarked on the many varieties of “stiles” – quaint wooden and metal gates that allow humans to pass, but not farm animals. We stopped for a time in the Rusland Valley to visit an historic chapel, and then enjoyed lunch in the shade by a small stream. (Before we settled down to eat, several of our group helped a farmer free a sheep who had become entangled in a fence.) The day was growing seriously hot, so some in the group decided to ride in the minibus to the next hotel after lunch. The rest of us climbed up a very precitious and rocky hill to Bethecar Moor, a strangely empty and almost hostile place. The weather had grown still more sultry, and our pace slowed considerably as we climbed higher into open country covered with bracken and heather. We were rewarded, however, at the summit of the moor with a stunning view of a large lake called Consiton Water, a refreshing sight on this scorching day. We almost rushed down through the bracken to meet Anne, one of our guides, who lovingly provided us with refills for our empty water bottles. After resting a bit, we drove to our next hotel, a small, snug inn on the lake. We stayed there two nights, enjoying the lovely lawn and garden in back, facing the water. Many of us sat out quite late after dinner, taking pleasure in the cooling evening air and the dancing flights of swallows.

Thursday, July 20
Yesterday was a day of much needed rest – and a surprising amount of inspiration. The day began with a delicious breakfast in the hotel dining room looking out on the high fells (hills), followed by a ride in the Coniston Launch (boat) over to Brantwood, the last home of the 19th century art critic and essayist John Ruskin. I found our visit there quite enriching, since I knew nearly nothing about the man and was pleased to discover that he could be my intellectual twin. I loved the introductory film, and I purchased a copy of one of his lectures (“Sesame and Lilies”), a treatise on the art of reading which I immediately plunged into. After lunch at the Brantwood cafe, known as Jumping Jenny (after Ruskin’s boat), we motored to Beatrix Potter’s home, called “Hilltop”. The weather, once again, was intensely hot, so I decided to skip the house and sit in the shade with mycopy of the poems of William Wordsworth. (More on him later.)Perspiring tourists were coming and going as I enjoyed a few poems and wiped my brow. Later, back at the hotel, we sat outside again as darkness came on and the swallows swooped and sailed.

Friday, July 21
Yesterday’s temperature was refreshingly cooler, and therefore I think we all enjoyed the climbs much more. We started in the morning by climbing a steep, shady hill, going slowly but fairly steadily in the pleasant weather. At the top, as we enjoyed the wonderful views we heard a talk on Beatrix Potter, who, it turns out, was much more than merely a creator of whimsical children’s stories. For lunch, we met the van beside a pond where swans and ducks were gracefully paddling about. Then some of us followed Anne up a steep path across Holm Fell. We puffed and panted, but the impressive 360 degree view from the summit made it well worth while. From there, we descended through picturesque pastures and past charming cottages and farms, eventually arriving at the van, which was parked at the Three Shires Inn, where some of us were staying. The rest of us drove on to what was (in my opinion) the loveliest inn of the entire trip – the Elterwater Park Guest House, where I slept next to a window looking out at mountains and stars.

Saturday, July 22
Yesterday I began the day sitting outside at the guest house, watching the sunlight slowly come to the hills in the distance, and listening to the buzzing of bees in the lavender beside me. After breakfast (one poached egg, tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage, and superb coffee), we all set off in the van for a heart-stopping drive over Wrynose Pass and Hardknot Pass. I held my breath as Janet (our guide) piloted the van back and forth over the twisting switchbacks. We knew the trip was well worth it, though, when we reached the summit and were able to tour the ruins of an ancient Roman fort. From there we drove through the valley of the River Duddon (immortalized by William Wordsworth’s sequence of sonnets) to a pub and a traditionally heavy English lunch, which we all enjoyed amid much good conversation and laughter. We ended our excursion at Muncaster Castle (near Ravenglass by the Irish Sea), a medieval home of generations of lords and ladies. I enjoyed touring the castle, but I most enjoyed sitting in the shade of a 400-year-old Spanish chestnut tree, reading some of the poems of Wordsworth, who lived and wrote in the Lake District some 200 years ago.

Sunday, July 23
For me, yesterday, perhaps, was the highlight of the trip, for we did some of our best hiking and, in the course of it, stopped at the two homes of my favorite poet, William Wordsworth. We began in the morning at the Three Shires Inn, and the first hours of the walk were across fairly cool fields and down a shady forest footpath. We stopped briefly in the village of Elterwater to refresh ourselves with water and a short rest, and then headed up the hillside of Loughrigg Terrace toward the village of Grasmere, Wordsworth’s best-known home. It was an extremely difficult climb – almost vertical, it seemed, at times. The day was hot and the high bracken trapped the heat, making things more sultry than ever. We stopped on the summit on a grassy ledge with a full view of the beautiful Grasmere Lake, around and upon which Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, spent so much time in the first years of the 19th century. Our guide told us a bit about the poet’s life, but I’m not sure I was listening. I was too busy relishing the sight of this lovely lake that was so vital to one of the great poets of the English language. We descended the hill and climbed up another, where we met the van for lunch in the shade of some old trees. We then walked on to Wordsworth’s home, Dove Cottage, a small, shadowy dwelling where some of his best (and my favorite) poems were written. I enjoyed touring the cottage, but I loved even more the elegant museum next door. I appreciated the opportunity to look at the original manuscripts of his poems, and to listen, on headphones, to wonderful readers read his best-known poems. My group had to come and find me and pull me away when it was time to depart. From there, we went to Rydall Mount, just down the road, where Wordsworth and his family lived from about 1815 to the end of his life in 1850. This was a sunny, airy, and inspiring place, especially the elegant gardens surrounding it. I felt happy for Wordsworth, that he was able to spend so many years in this comfortable home. I pictured him sitting in the garden, carefully revising The Prelude, his long autobiographical poem, as the years passed. (It wasn’t published until after his death.)

Monday, July 24
Yesterday, with my friends gone, I decided to give my body a day off. I walked down the footpath from the guesthouse, easily finding my way through the pastures (without a guide!) by following the National Trust signposts. I loved, once again, the experience of walking in fields of browsing cows and sheep. In one cow pasture, a hand-lettered sign said, "BULL IN FIELD", so I walked more warily there, slowing down a little as I passed the massive animals lazily munching and moving along. I then walked along the level and lovely footpath leading to the village of Elterwater, a walk I was to take many times in the next few days. It's a beautiful panorama, something out of a Constable painting, with the placid stream and sheep peacefully grazing and the Langdale Pikes rising grandly in the distance. Occasionally I sat in the shade and read from Wordsworth, imagining him sitting and writing by that same stream some 200 years ago. I rested on the village green for a few moments, and then walked back to Skellwith Bridge and on up to the guest house for an indolent evening of reading and (like the cows) ruminating.

Tuesday, July 25
Yesterday I took a wonderful walk over Loughrigg Fell and down into the village of Grasmere. We had taken this walk on the tour, but this time I felt far more energetic. The climb was steep -- sometimes very steep -- but I loved all of it. I dropped down the hillside to Wordsworth's home village (for about 12 years) and quickly came upon a charming café that was serving tea, coffee, and scones directly beside Grasmere Lake. I sipped my delicious coffee and ate my scone in perfect happiness as I looked out on the body of water I had come so far to see. (I made it a point to stop there on my way back.) In the village, I visited the Wordsworth Museum again, wandering through the quiet, beautifully arranged rooms and soaking up the atmosphere of the poet and his times. Again, I listened to some of the poems read quite professionally by excellent actors, and I also spent an enjoyable amount of time in the rooms devoted to the pianter John Constable's visit to the Lake District in 1806. My hike back up over the fell to Elterwater and the guesthouse was every bit as enlivening and pleasing as the one in the morning.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006
Yesterday I completed two wonderful walks. In the morning (after the usual delicious breakfast at the Elterwater Guest House) I climbed a fairly steep footpath up to Loughrigg Tarn and Little Loughrigg Fell. I skirted a lovely mountain valley (what Wordsworth would have called a "vale") containing the silvery Loughrigg Tarn, near which a group of people were camping. I then passed a few hillside farm houses and reached the top of Little Loughrigg. To my joy, I was able to look across the valley and see the guesthouse where I was staying, perched high on a hilltop. I climbed down from the heights and walked along the stream called Elterwater to the village of the same name, where I purchased a few items for lunch, including two delicious-looking red apples. After a brief rest, I headed up toward Lingmoor Fell past Fletcher's Wood, and then down to Wilson Place Farm. I enjoyed a simple picnic lunch in the shade beside a bubbling beck, and then continued climbing up to Stang End Farm, where I was treated to breathtaking views of the Langdale Pikes. The remainder of the walk took me down into the Colwith Forest to what is known as Colwith Force (waterfall), where the River Brathway rushes down some forty feet to the streambed below. I was very happy, after my long, warm walk, to reach my home-away-from-home, remove my shoes from my exhausted feet, stand in a cold shower for many minutes, and, later, sip a glass of chilled white wine in the garden.

Thursday, July 27
Yesterday, my last in the Lake District, I relaxed a little and climbed a lot. For relaxation, I first rode a bus to the village of Ambleside and wandered among the tourists for a while. It was a sunny, inspiring kind of day, and there seemed to be a spirit of enthusiasm among many of the people I passed. I first withdrew some cash from an ATM (my main reason for going to Ambleside), but then I spent some time stopping into stores, buying nothing but taking pleasure in the pleasant atmosphere of excitement. I then rode the bus back to Skellwith Bridge, where I enjoyed a relaxing hour with some friends of a dear friend. I had never met these folks, but we struck a cordial friendship immediately as we lunched at a café overlooking the rushing River Brathway. I had a delicious plateful of grilled sardines and a tasty lemony salad as we talked about many things. It was an appropriately genial way to bring my charming trip to England to a end. After lunch, I climbed back up to Loughrigg Tarn and then headed up the steep path to the summit of Loughrigg Fell. I could have made it all the way to the top, but, when I paused and turned to take in the view, I was shocked by the steepness of the hillside I was on! It almost seemed sheer, like the face of a cliff instead of a hill. I tried reading some Wordsworth, but I actually became dizzy because of the height. I decided, judiciously, to hike carefully back down the path and try for the summit on another day. I finished my last walk by ambling along several appealing footpaths through forests and fields on my way back to Elterwater.

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