Chasing Clouds

by afatpurplefig

The anticipation of a day without rain set our imaginations ablaze. Lucy and I are similar, in that we believe it’s possible to see most of the United Kingdom (including Wales and Ireland) in a week, if only we can craft a sufficiently-efficient itinerary. After developing a dozen routes on Google Maps, and feeling as exhausted as if we had completed them, we awarded the sun to a single, worthy recipient…the Lake District.

First stop: grocery shopping. Getting to Morrison’s before the crowds, as is Jimmy’s new routine, means arriving at 7am. This also means leaving in the dark, waiting for the ice to melt on the windscreen, and struggling to white-knuckle the steering wheel with hands stiffened by cold. Why white-knuckle, you say? Standard procedure on dim back roads with a 60mph speed limit. At least they weren’t wet.

Task completed, we drove through Penrith, and another ‘casual castle’;

…before joining the road that runs alongside the banks of the Ullswater. I can’t find the superlatives to describe the beauty of this area, so will settle on my favourite photographs of the day, taken near Glenridding Beck:

The first thing I notice about the Ullswater is its stillness. An occasional breeze creates the gentlest of ripples that resists breaking, and instead causes a gentle undulation across the lake’s surface. A single duck, swimming with purpose, generates a beautiful, ever-widening wave pattern in its wake, often creating the only discernible variation in the mountainous image that is mirrored on the surface of the water. There are few places to stop, so I content myself with the occasional snap from the car, in the hopes of getting lucky.

Another feature of the area is the endless kilometres of the drystone walls that are characteristic of the Lake District. Built without mortar or cement, and relying solely on the placement of the stones to hold the entire structure in position, the walls are centuries old and snake their way across the landscape, sometimes up to the rockiest mountain outcrops. In the background of this roadside wall, you can see one banding the mountain beyond.

Kirkstone Pass, in the hands of Jimmy, is a hair-raising experience. With an altitude of 1489 feet, it is the highest point in the Lake District that is accessible by car. The road is mostly hugged by drystone but, on occasion, it feels as though we are momentarily suspended above the earth. Wordsworth wrote a poem about the pass, called The Pass of Kirkstone, which states:

‘Who comes not hither ne’er shall know
How beautiful the world below’

And how beautiful it is. We marvel and gasp, at both the icy air and the sights beyond each turn; the unexpected waterfalls, the sheep at impossible heights, the country estates, the quaint villages; Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere. Jimmy keeps it real, as always. ‘C’mon, Bo Peep!’, he chuckles, when I show him this snap of a lone sheep that met my eye on a photo stop.

In the distance, we occasionally see low clouds that hang close above the earth, yet they disappear before we have a chance to meet them. And it is difficult to tell the clouds from the mist, which gathers across the surface of the water. In Grasmere, we stop briefly to see Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth and his wife, Dorothy, engaged in ‘plain living and high thinking’:

…before stopping for fish and chips in Keswick. Here is Jimmy, refusing to cooperate at photo time.

In Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth Bennet accepts an invitation to travel with her uncle and aunt, ‘perhaps to the Lakes’, she replies:

‘[W]hat delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of any thing. We will know where we have gone — we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations…’

There is little more to say that can be said quite so well.