Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

As I begin to write this, the sun is setting neatly into the notch of hills formed by Langstrothdale. Its light is spilling the length of the wooded vale, illuminating the bare hills over a distant Buckden, with an ethereal glow. That scene, those hills, at this hour, in this light, fills me with a deep aching joy that’s impossible to describe. But I’m going to try.

I want to do something other than just sit here gazing through the window at it. I want to close with it, to gather it up somehow. I want to seal it in a jar for future dark times, when all I need do is twist off the lid and the darkness will be gone, and I imagine I will be here again, in this vale, at the setting of the sun.

I have been outside to gaze at it, to breathe the air of this golden hour, to feel the cool breeze on my face, to hear the gentle stirring of the trees. From the little garden of this cottage, I have combed the crenelated tops with binoculars. I have photographed the scene a dozen times. But I know what I feel cannot be captured. It is like a love that can be neither consummated, nor ignored. It can only be witnessed and felt, and the feeling of it is a kind of transcendence. It is the key to another world, to another mode of being.

Such a thing can only be shouldered. It is our lonely duty to feel it, to be the eyes, and ears, the heart, the soul of the universe, if only for a moment, as it becomes aware of itself through us. Nothing more is required, nor even possible. We must simply lend it our selves. Our reward is that, for a moment, it and we might become one, but only if we can let go of this vanity we can somehow capture it, record it, preserve it, for it is now, and only now. That’s the deal. That’s the only way in to experience the full joy of it.

Joy is not happiness. Happiness is the chatter and splash of a sunlit brook over pebbles. Joy is the long plunge of white water into a deep, crystal-clear pool.

Thus, I sit and watch as the shadows lengthen, and the light grows more beautiful, and more golden as the moments pass. Until,… of a sudden, they are no longer lush and bright, and awake with wonder, but hushed and cast over with the soft, blurry blue of sleep. The day closes, silence creeps over the vale and, from the barns that dot the buttercup meadows, the owls slip, one by one, big and white, arresting as ghosts, to own the night.

But the night comes slow in June, inching slow, dotted now and then by the ragged flight of bats. The hills become theatrical silhouettes against a blue grey, muffled sky. I draw the curtains, settle to dulcet lamplight and, as I seek the words to close, the owls call.

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On Whernside

Whernside is something of a paradox. It is the highest of the three peaks of Yorkshire, at 2415 ft, yet also provides the gentlest of ascents, the starting point at Ribblehead being a considerable leg-up at 980 feet. It is not particularly photogenic in itself, yet provides a platform for some of the most stunning views in the dales. The trail is pounded constantly, of course, by three peakers as part of their epic undertaking, but as a day’s objective on its own, it lends itself to an especially fine round of about eight miles. And the climb to the summit is, at this time of year, is almost bettered by the return to Ribblehead, through wildflower meadows. These seem to be a new feature of a rural England, recently awakened to the steep decline in our pollinators – our bees and other bugs. I’m not sure if this is aided by a decline in the numbers of sheep being grazed, for they do seem fewer in recent years – the latter being the tell-tale of an economic, rather than an ecological, collapse. There are certainly pressures on traditional upland farming, post crash, post BREXIT. And it’s plain to all who walk the hills that things are changing.

We came this way in April, last year. There was ice and snow that day, and very few cars at Ribblehead. Today, there are droves, and a chuck wagon selling everything from hot-dogs to 99’s. At the nearby station pub, the jolly jacks are flying, and there is a festival air. It’s a strange place, Ribblehead. Its altitude has it catch some atrocious weather, and there is an air of remoteness about it, yet there is always something of a gathering here: cars, coaches, trains passing, walkers in procession.

It’s still cool as we step out, and the sky is moody, but the forecast is for things to clear around noon. We’ll just about be making the summit by then. For now the tops are lost in a lingering cloud, but the day has the feel of brightness and warmth to come. Sad to say, we’ve left the little blue car at home. She blew a hole in her back box this week and, though the resulting deep, throaty note sounds lovely, like a tuned exhaust, there’s a risk it’ll get very noisy of a sudden, so she’s waiting on repair. Instead, the Astra carried us with a stately kind of grace, this of course being a modern illusion, courtesy of cleverly folded paper-thin steel, mixed plastics, and packing foam.

Blea Moor signal box, Settle Carlisle line

From the iconic viaduct, completed in 1875 we make our way up the rough trail, by the railway line to Blea Moor. There’s a signal box here. Weather blasted and forlorn, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was abandoned, but it’s still manned 24 hours a day. The signalmen work in twelve-hour shifts, and their day starts with a mile long walk, in all weathers. It has the distinction of being the remotest signal box in the UK. First shift starts at six a.m., yet far from being considered a hardship post, it is one of the most coveted, amongst signalmen.

It’s a long walk in, this, and in the process we lose sight of our objective, only gaining it again at the aqueduct which carries the lively Force Gill, and us, over the railway. Here we have a grand view of the line as it emerges from the Bleamoor Tunnel. They run a good deal of freight on this line, gypsum and timber being common sights, but the jackpot is one of the heritage steam excursions. I’m guessing there are none today, or there would be enthusiasts here with cameras on tripods looking to catch these beautifully restored behemoths as they emerge in an explosion of steam

One of the hazards of this tunnel, in winter, is icicles, which can grow as long as fifteen feet. That’s not going to be a problem for Network Rail today, though. The clouds clear on time and, from a moody start, we find ourselves climbing gently over a sunlit Slack Hill, thick with cotton grass, bobbing about in a pleasant breeze.

We have had no rain for many weeks now, and the ways are dusty. I’m not sure if it’s a result of my last struggle up the fells of Patterdale, but the legs have no problem today with the gentle, and mostly paved route to gain the ridge. Like many of our popular upland routes, they were beginning to suffer from erosion. At the same time we were pulling down the mills, and someone had a bright idea of taking up the flagstone floors and laying the pavings end to end across the moorland routes. Not all walkers approve of these paved ways, and they do present their own challenges in winter, when iced, but mostly I think it’s been a success. From a distance, they are also invisible, unlike the ugly scars that were once becoming such a regrettable feature of the national parks.

As we begin our climb in earnest, and gain the ridge at Knoutberry Hill, the path catches a fierce upwards blast of wind, which accompanies us most of the way to the summit. Here we finally attain the lee, and the sun gets to work. The views open up, and the charms of Whernside are revealed as the ringside seat of impressive Dales scenery. Ingleborough dominates to the south, while to the west, suddenly, we see Lancashire’s only remaining mountain, the lonely and little visited Gragareth.

It’s busy here, lots of hikers about. It’s the school’s half-term this week, and many of them are very young, and nice to see them starting out in the right way – either that or being put off the hills for life. The sense of altitude from Whernside is exhilarating, the land falling away steeply to the left and to the right, but it’s the view Ingleborough that most draws the eye. It’s usually the final of the three peaks to be climbed, before the long descent to Horton, and it must have struck fear into the hearts of many a walker over the years, already tired from two stiff climbs, to be suddenly faced with its towering crags and gulleys, and all this after another long slog across the dale to get to it.

I have been digitally detoxing these past few weeks. I have been reading, instead of doomscrolling, drawing pictures and feeling out the direction of the current work in progress. Our access to digital and especially the “social” media is doing something to our brains, I think, sucking something out of them, dulling the imagination. I feel much better for the break, much more creative and in touch with that indefinable inner self. Current affairs can be addictive, and they have a deleterious effect on the psyche, over time, whereas time spent in the high places, like this, are a tonic. And on days like this, the tops can be lingered over, their views truly savoured, erasing all of that which is less wholesome to us.

Wild flower meadows, under Whernside, Late May 2023

We walk on, a little way south, now, before making our descent. It’s a steep one, and used to be tricky, but extensive repairs have provided basically a stairway, which is nevertheless still hard on the knees. The legs are reduced to jelly by the time we come down to the farms at Bruntscar and Broadrake. From here, a delightful series of meadow ways scoots us back to Ribblehead. The last time I was here, that cold April day, I noticed the signs pleading with us to keep to single file across the meadows, and today we reap the rewards of it, a beautiful thread of a path across a golden meadow – mostly buttercup, but also clover and mayflower.


One again though, it is the view of Ingleborough, rising across the dale, that draws the eye. You can never walk any of these hills too often, and I suspect I’ll be up there again before the year is out. Easy going now on smooth, tracks of crushed stone, which paint our boots white with their dust. And then the final bend, around which the viaduct calls us home, back to the car and a well earned brew.


Whernside: a beautiful circuit, not too hard on the legs or the lungs. 8 miles, 1400 ft of ascent.

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My thanks to fellow blogger Bowland Climber, without whose guides I would never have heard of Brock Bottom. Thanks also to the Copilot navigation app, without which I would never have found it. Brock Bottom lies in a wooded valley, and consists of an ancient bridge, a small carpark and picnic site, all tucked away at the bottom of a steep, narrow lane. Riverside trails and romantic ruins provide the main draw for visitors. Around ten miles north of Preston, on the edge of the Forest of Bowland, there is a sense of deepest rural Lancashire here, and a place out of time. We arrive mid-morning, mid-week, meet no other traffic on the lane, and the car park is almost empty. Notices, warning against parking on the lane, however, suggest weekends might not be the best time to visit.

By the River Brock

I’m feeling a bit off-key, today, a bit muddle headed. I don’t know why. The little blue car is also sulking. She says nothing, but I know it. I got her road tax renewal yesterday, and with it the usual shock, also the feeling there must be a mistake. She’s a 1.6 litre 125 horsepower roadster, so hardly a super-car. But she’s old, and primitive, and carbon heavy by modern standards. I’m guessing they want her off the road, stinging us £365, this time. I know she thinks I’m thinking I should be getting rid of her, and that’s why she’s sulking. But I’m not. Days like this wouldn’t be the same in any other car. Little lanes, sunshine, top down, birdsong, scent of meadows, woodland, fresh air. This is what she was made for, and we will continue to live this particular, dream so long as we are both still able.

The plan is to follow the River Brock upstream. Then a zigzag of quiet lanes and meadow paths will bring us round to the north of Beacon Fell. We’ll return by climbing the fell and dropping down the other side, back to Brock Bottom – a walk of around six and a half miles. Ahead of us are ancient woodland, meadows, pine forest, and stunning views of the Bowland hills.

If you search Brock Bottom, one of the most common comments is: “great place for dog walking”. So I’m expecting a lot of bags hanging from trees, but there are none. Nor is there a speck of litter anywhere. The dog population of the UK exploded during Covid, and you’re the odd one out to be walking without a dog these days. It’s as if you need a canine companion to explain your presence out of doors. Not weird, mate, honest. Just walking the dog.

Downstream, the riverside isn’t especially accessible. It’s also what photographer’s call “a bit messy”. What that means is there’s a riot of shape and colour in which it’s difficult to isolate a particular subject. You can take a dozen pictures and in every one it would be impossible to say what it was you were looking at. Some places are better simply experienced, and defy summing up in a photograph. This bit of the River Brock is one of them. The waters run clear through a tumble of rocks and fallen trees. The banks are thick with vegetation.

Earlier this week I was roughly equidistant, south of Preston, at Birkacre, another wooded valley, one where the ramsons have already finished. But here they’re still in their prime, competing with common mouse ear. And the woodland is thickly carpeted with bluebells. A yellow wagtail keeps pace with us, hopping from rock to rock. Tall, exotic-looking butterburrs crowd the riverbank. There is season, and then there’s climate. And then there is microclimate. Nature is too subtle to obey general rules on the timing of events.

I am not a botanist, but I do enjoy spotting wildflowers, then looking up their names. I’m guessing the more wildflowers you can count in an area is a sign of a healthy environment. If that’s so, then the valley of the River Brock is in good shape.

Everyone knows bluebells. Mayflowers, and stitchwort, though, are less “in your face”. Indeed, I’ve never seen stitchwort before – not at all common in my locale, but growing in profusion here. Its flower is impossibly intricate and beautiful,…


After only a mile or so, I make the first navigational error, ending up on a path heading out of the valley, across meadows, towards a farm where the dog is loose and aggressive. I’m not for turning back, but then I don’t want to end up in A+E either, and this dog looks mean. I can hardly show it the map and say look, this is a public footpath so f$%k you. I guess the attack will come when I cross the line into the farmyard, even though it is a right of way. Is nobody home to call it off? Maybe it’s just bluffing. Or perhaps I’d better turn back after all,… this is not a good start.

The farmer appears at the last minute, calls it off, apologises. I’m not convinced, though, and suspect they want to discourage passers by. Anyway, we pick up our course again, finding our way back down into the river valley. Here, we discover the biggest scouting centre I’ve ever seen. There are tents everywhere and youngsters happy to be separated from their phones. They are playing with canoes and bows and arrows and tomahawks instead. This is proper stuff.

I enjoyed my time as a cub-scout. It seems incredible now, but fixed bladed knives were part of the uniform. I don’t suppose they are now. We wore them in scabbards, razor sharp, and polished up with pride. Mine was a bowie knife. I was especially proud of it, learned how to throw it, and we were generally trusted to behave ourselves. Sticking them in one another was the last thing on our minds. Knives were different then, not weapons, but tools. We’d be arrested now, wearing them on our way to the hut, like we used to do. I wonder what happened, what changed, to make it so.

I don’t know why I went wrong back there – enchanted by the woodland faery, perhaps? The way is clear enough, the paths well-marked, and I’m following a GPS trail on the phone – so no excuses. Anyway, we’re on track now, and we find ourselves climbing up Beacon Fell. This is a modest hill, but quite prominent, rising above meadows, on the edge of Bowland. Its wonderful views make it a popular destination for visitors. Part forested, it boasts many trails, and viewpoints.

Sculpture, Beacon Fell

I’ve met so few people on the route, I don’t want to spoil the sense of peace and isolation, so I avoid the main summit, and pick out a bench in a recently cleared area instead. The day has warmed to a high summer sultriness. We have terrific visibility over the Fylde coast, then north to the Lakes. South, towards my home patch, Lancashire melts into a soft haze, and a shimmer of heat.

Descending from here, the views over the Fylde get better and better. I’m three quarters of the way down, and pause to take it in. Then I get this funny feeling something is amiss. Hard to pin it down,… then, even harder to believe: I’ve left my rucksack on the top of the fell.

I’m guessing it must be on that bench, but I’m tiring now, and baulk at the idea of having to climb back up. I’ve no choice, though. It contains my soup pot, and a decent waterproof jacket. It’s strange, how quickly you can climb, when you’re motivated – tired or not. I reach the bench, and there’s the rucksack, looking at me with an accusatory stare. I’ve left a few sit-mats lying around. That’s an easy thing to do. But, for pity’s sake: your rucksack?

So, we enjoy our second rest at the viewpoint. While we’re at it, we empty the water bottle, as the sweat pours out of us, and the heartbeat settles back to normal. Sometimes my head goes sideways and I enter a different universe. At this rate, I’ll struggle to find my way home, satnav or not, especially with the little blue car sulking at me. But on such a beautiful day as this, it doesn’t matter how short or long the route home. And she’ll come round.

Reunited with our gear, we make the descent again, ticking off country lanes, birdsong, lush meadows, and lone trees. Then we’re back in the shady hollow of Brock Bottom, which is by now steaming as if it’s August, not mid-May. A terrific round, one I will repeat, and hopefully get right next time. About six and a half miles, eight hundred feet of up and down, but that second ascent of Beacon Fell is optional.


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Evening, Southport Pier (by me)

It was the late great Kurt Vonnegut who reminded us the arts are no way to make a living. You can apply this to any of the arts – writing, poetry, painting, photography – all things we amateurs take great pleasure in. This is a pity, but it’s also an obvious fact of life in a world that values capital, above soul.

We might wind up in a toxic job, suffering under bad bosses, and psychopathic colleagues. Or maybe it’s more simply that we find the day-to-day business of paid work unfulfilling, because that’s just the way contemporary work is organised, robbing us of all sense of our own agency. It is only through our art, carried out in free time, we become re-animated through our satisfaction in what we do, and by exploring life’s meaning. Through the lens of art, life takes on a greater depth and a richness. Without it, life is featureless and void as any workplace on a wet Monday morning. We can hardly be blamed then for making the connection, and wanting to earn a living by our art. During my own early working life, I sought financial independence by writing, and by landscape photography. Neither worked out. Obviously, some artists do make it, but for the main part, at least, Kurt was right: it’s no way to make a living.

The Ruined Windmill, Harrock Hill, Lancashire (by me)

Some formerly amateur “hobby” photographers have made a success of themselves by virtue of the Internet, setting up smart YouTube channels where they can be the stars of their own show. I follow a few, find them entertaining, and a useful source of tips and tricks, but I have also noticed they are not making a living from photography. When we look more closely, we realise that although their photographs are very accomplished, they are making a living by selling a lifestyle. They gain followers, and thereby earn ad revenue, and sponsor products and services. They also hold workshops which others pay to attend. As for their picture, they actually make very little from sales. Like everyone else, then, they have to reach beyond their art in order to pay the bills. If you are an articulate, good-looking and charismatic individual, moderately skilled in picture taking, I dare say you might do as well as any other YouTube photography guru. If, however, you are an introverted, camera shy, tongue-tied old gargoyle (like me), it’s probably better giving it a miss.

Bank End Farm, Cockerham Marsh (by me)

But this does not mean the art of photography is denied us. Quite the opposite. We have the opportunity to become much more intimately acquainted with it, to truly grow our souls by it, undistracted by the need to apply our art to the business of making money. That said, we have to reconcile ourselves to making a living by conventional means, and making our peace with it. Then we can begin to explore the art in photography.

It would be vain to call myself a photographer. I have a smattering of technical knowledge gained ad-hoc over a lifetime of simply fiddling with cameras. I have picked up compositional guidelines – the rule of thirds, for example, or the Golden Mean. I can talk about the times of day when the light is more interesting, more dramatic, but if we are not selling our photographs, these details are secondary. What brings us back to photography, to the frame and the shutter, is something else.

“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Lone figure, on a hill. Rivington, Lancashire. (by me)

This comes close to nailing it for me. My own photography is mainly landscape and rural scenes. It fits in with a love of exploring those wild places that remain to us, here, in the British Isles, mostly the North of England within a radius of a couple of hours drive from home. I walk with a camera. Just a camera. Too much gear, and especially a lumbering great tripod, gets in the way of the freedom to move, to stalk those things Cartier-Bresson describes as continually vanishing. And in the hills you are better packing an emergency bivvy bag and an extra layer of clothing than, say, a bag of photographic filters or other accessories you are unlikely to use.

A patch of light on a fellside, a dramatic formation of clouds, above a light-painted tree, a single mountain standing out from its neighbours by dint of time and light, and moment. All these things are continually vanishing. Blink and they are gone forever. They are moments to be enjoyed in the moment, of course, as we bear them witness, and this is the pleasure of the walk. But if we can return home with a camera full of images, we can continue to explore our day though the dimension of the photograph, and what more we can draw out of it in the (digital) darkroom.

Penyghent, Yorkshire Dales National Park (by me)

This way, an afternoon’s walk, say in the Yorkshire Dales, can be enjoyed, relived, and explored for the rest of the week, or longer as old photographs are revisited. And sometimes even the shots we thought blurred and uninspiring can reveal something new, something unexpected at a later date in their colours, shapes, or contrasts. This is the art in photography, and anyone can do it if they are so minded.

How we develop as photographers is down to individual experience. Beyond a basic grasp of the triangle of shutter, aperture and ISO, the rest is application and, here, as Bresson says, your first 10,000 photographs will be your worst. In other words, we gain nothing by having our camera in a box. We must get out there, and use it.

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”

Ansel Adams

Drinkwaters farm (ruin), Anglezarke moor (by me)

The difference between a snap and a photograph is in the perspective. Two photographers can capture the same subject. One will record the subject as existing, in a documentary fashion, the other will frame and express it, and add to it something of the moment. It’s like looking at an apple. Fine. It’s an apple. But how does it make you feel? How you express that is down to where you stand.

As for the kind of camera, a simple phone camera has plenty to teach, and reveals as much about the art in photography as a top of the range Leica or a Hasselblad. Art is not about counting pixels. It’s about growing the soul. And the art is in the image, even a grainy one. I am still discovering things in pictures I took twenty years ago, with a 3 megapixel camera – considered the bee’s knees at the time – when now even 24 megapixels is pedestrian, at least from a technical perspective. And personally speaking, I shall never bottom the potential of my 24 megapixel Nikon, and to which I apologise, for I am sure it would perform much better in more capable hands.

But then:

“All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice.”

– Elliott Erwitt

And, likewise, all the megapixels in the world are secondary to the eye’s ability to look and to truly see whatever it is looking at.

Thanks for listening.

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M6 Northbound. 10:00 AM. The forecast was for minus two overnight, and nippy all day, but the day is already shaping up to be a warm one. We’re heading for the pretty little Dales village of Clapham. As we drive, the mind meanders, pausing now and then on a snippet of news picked up from this morning’s dawn doomscroll. The chief economist of the Bank of England, a Mr Pill, tells us we must accept we are all a lot poorer, now, and stop expecting it to get any better, and certainly not by agitating for a pay rise. Mr Pill’s pill is indeed a bitter one, and I must be careful not to choke on it.

The run east from Crook O Lune, through Caton and Hornby, towards the Dales is such a beautiful drive. Conditions look perfect for the hills, and a little route I’ve not walked before. We’ve got a blissful blue sky, and meadows so green they make your heart ache. Ingleborough puts in an early appearance, and tells us we’re nearing our destination. The plan is to visit an upland area littered with boulders that came from the Lake District, during the last glacial period. These are the Norber Erratics, and I’ve had them on my list for a long time.

Parking for a day in the Dales, is typically half the price of the Lake District. In terms of prettiness, Clapham is easily the equal of what the Lake District’s Grasmere might once have been, had it chosen another path, and which Grasmere has now lost to tourism. Thank heavens, Wordsworth never so much as hung his hat here. I’m sure there are many fine poets who have lived in Clapham, for the setting most definitely inspires verse, but they remain obscure. They attract neither pilgrimage nor the curse of memorabilia.

Clapham Tunnels

We head for the church, and enter the tunnels. These are a peculiar feature, giving access to the fells, but without our having to cross over land owned by the Big House. Instead, we go under it. I recommend a torch on poor days, or if returning in the gloom of twilight. I have literally fumbled blindly through them on occasion, but not today. After the tunnels, it’s a stiff climb up a broad track, then we’re on our way to Austwick, and Robin Proctor’s Scar.

Here we meet an enormous school group, and a lively bunch they are too. When my good lady was teaching, so many safeguards needed to be in place for a school outing, they were becoming all but impossible to organise. It’s good to see some schools still making the effort to get out of doors, but cheery as these youngsters are, I’m glad they’re coming down, and not going up at the same time as me.

Robin Proctor’s Scar

Just past the scar, a path strikes north, climbing to the plateau where most of the erratics are scattered. They are indeed an impressive sight, some of them massive, and beautifully weathered – much darker gritstone rocks, sitting atop the white of the native limestone. This is a place to loiter, so I do, prowling around for photographs, most of which I manage to fluff.

This is said to be one of the premium sites in the British Isles for students of geology, and it’s plain to see why. Interesting glacial factoids: twelve thousand years ago, the ice was half a mile thick, and the last British glacier to disappear was in the Cairngorms, only three or four hundred years ago.

Norber Erratics

We decide upon our favourite erratic, hunker down beside it to take in the view and rest a while. What about that Mr Pill, eh? The foodbank queues are getting longer, the NHS is on its face and the poor have been huddling together in dedicated, council run warm spaces over winter. But this is the first time I’ve actually heard it admitted that there is no real concern among the plutocracy things should be better for the population at large, and no plan to get us even halfway out of the mess we’re in.

Anyway, we have a much more pressing problem now. The right of way gives out in a dead end, up ahead, and we must return to the valley, lose quite a lot of altitude if we are to pick up the path that will take us up Crummakdale. But I’ve just spotted a ladder stile that gives on to the open access land around Thwaite Scars. This is an area the map shows littered with cairns, and crags, so I suspect a profusion of faint ways, and long drops. With luck, we can contour round and intersect the Crummackdale path, without losing the height we’ve gained so far.

Over the stile, we follow the wall north. There is a faint way here, but hard to tell if it was made by sheep or man. Still, it’s easy going, and the wall draws us a good long way, before tumbling to ruin over precipitous crags. The path skitters along the edge of its remains, but the exposure is extreme. The route definitely shows use here, but perhaps by mountaineers who have more of a head for these things. As a humble pedestrian, I could be walking into trouble, so back track a little, try a faint path higher up the fell, and this brings us more safely around the dangers. The view of Penygent from this angle, is breathtaking.

Penyghent from above Crummackdale

A profusion of faint ways now crosses a more gently undulating area. The land closes in around us, pockets us quietly, and there is a sense of having lost one’s way. The mind temporarily misbehaves, refuses to think properly, confuses west and east. I’m probably wanting my lunch. The map on the phone spins uselessly around our position when we activate the electronic compass. An old Silva compass settles the argument, and on we go. Phones are great for pinpointing your position, and a real boon in bad weather, when you might otherwise be reluctant, or even unable to unfold a map. But an analogue compass is still a good thing to carry, if only to set north.

Anyway, we crest a hill and the massive cairn on Long Scar rises into view, Ingleborough beyond. A friendly hand, it waves the traveller in. Over here, it says.

The cairn on Long Scar

Lunch at the cairn. We are a little way above the grand fissure that is Trow Ghyll, a popular route up Ingleborough. Our way is clear, now: simply pick up the head of Long Lane, and follow it back to Clapham. This is a daunting proposition, though. Long Lane is so named for obvious reasons. Arrow straight, a rough track bordered by drystone walls, it undulates into infinity. There is no past, no future, and an almost supernatural lack of progress when walking it. There is only an infinite now. Fortunately, that now is in the midst of some of the finest Dales scenery.

Long Lane

I don’t know in what context Mr Pill was speaking, nor what the media intended we are supposed to make of it. At face value, it seems an incredibly crass thing to say. And anyway, he’s wrong, because on days like this, in places like this, we are all enriched beyond measure.

About seven miles round, seventeen hundred feet of ascent.


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Tarn Hows

It’ll cost you £8.50 to park at the bottom of Tom Ghyll, if you’re planning on a long walk. There is no option to pay by debit card. It’s coins only, or you can scan your National Trust membership, and park for free. I have neither. You can pay by phone – or you could if this wasn’t a dead zone. The alternative is the last place I want to be, which is where we are now, the visitor centre at Tarn Hows. I’d thought they might do pay-by-card here. They do not. But the helpful warden is able to change my emergency ten pound note into coins, all but one of which I then feed into the hungry machine. It gives no change. It’s a shaky start, but this is the Lake District, after all. It’s busy. All the time. And it’s expensive. But it’s also beautiful.

Indeed, I’ve forgotten how beautiful it can be. The forecast hadn’t been too promising, and I’d expected a bit of a claggy day. But, after a light frost and morning mist, the day cleared, and the fells are now on display to a degree that makes your heart sing. The plan is a circuit of paths, taking in two lesser summits, Holme Fell, and Black Crag. I remember I had a go at Holme Fell long ago, but got lost in mist. So, today is a rematch, and we’ve no excuses, armed with GPS, which would have been like science fiction back then.

I’ll wager anyone who’s ever visited the Lakes on holiday winds up at Tarn Hows. A man-made lake, forested, in a bowl of fells, it provides a variety of attractive walking for all abilities. It is without doubt a pretty spot, and if you’ve not been, you must visit, but come early. Also, sadly, in spite of the National Trust’s best efforts, the volume of visitors still brings attendant stresses. I even spotted the dreaded dog poo bags – calling cards of the graceless and the damned – lurking in the bushes as if this were Rivington. But, we’re soon out of its environs with a quick plunge down the sylvan ravine of Tom Ghyll. The rush of lively water fills the air, and there are several gorgeous cascades at which to pause and admire.

Tom Ghyll

Ten minutes, and we’re at the bottom, back at the little car park where we were unable to pay, earlier. Then it’s along the road to the most photographed farm in the Lakes, Yew Tree Farm. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular. Its setting, against steep fells, is quintessential Lake District fayre. It must have graced countless post-cards in its time, all of them wishing you were here. Do people still send post cards, by the way? Why would we, when we’re constantly connected by text or WhatsApp anyway?

Yew Tree Farm

From here we pick up the way to Holme Fell, the one I managed to lose in mist, last time. It’s also where we encounter the first of many Belted Galloways. These lovely, shaggy creatures are now a familiar sight in upland areas in the North of England. Known affectionately as Belties, they are indicative of changing land management. Hard as nails, they forage on the fells all year round, so cost virtually nothing to keep. They’re also selective in what they eat, encouraging greater bio-diversity, and they’re not so easily spooked as other breeds of cattle, which makes them safer to be around.

Holme Fell summit

It’s a steep plod up Holme Fell, its fine craggy summit marked by a huge pile of stones. Although not of massive stature itself – just a little over a thousand feet – as a viewpoint it is 360 degrees of delight. It’s plain to see why it made it into Wainwright’s definitive guides. We have the distant, distinctive profile of the sun-dappled Langdales, and closer to hand, the brooding wall of Weatherlam. Then there’s the Old Man of Coniston, and all the lower fells between, and the sweet pastures, and the mixed woodlands fanning out in all directions. To the south lies Coniston water, visible for its entire length, while to the east is our eventual destination, Black Crag.

We’ve seen not a soul since leaving Tarn Hows, and have the summit to ourselves. We’re beginning to think we’re in for a quiet day ambling among the jewels of the lesser fells, away from the crowds. But then a garrulous, twenty strong walking group appears, and I find myself sitting among wall-to-wall gawpers who threaten absent-mindedly to trample my picnic. It’s like I’ve suddenly been relegated to the cheap seats. As I pack up to leave, the leader, a well-togged out, fruity voiced gentleman, begins his spiel. He points to Black Crag, which, he says, is where they’re heading next. Drat!

The Langdales

Anyway, we fight our way from the top, as if extracting ourselves from a busy pub. Then we make our way down to the awesome hole in the ground that is the Hodge Close Quarry. I remember walking in this area forty years ago. It had been one of those days when the silence hangs in the air, and the only sounds are your own breath and heartbeat. The sense of peace was profoundly all-consuming. Then there was an almighty explosion, and the ground shook. The shock of that moment is still vivid in memory. No explosions today, though, as we make our way up the rough track to High and then Low Oxen Fell farm.

These little unmetalled byways are one of the great charms of the Lake District. They allow glimpses of a way of rural life that disappeared from the rest of England long ago. Lone, limewashed farmhouses, sheep out in the surrounding meadows. It looks timeless, but all is not what it seems. Sheep are awful tyrants, denuding the land of its floral diversity. The effect is a loss of insect species, and birds. As a consequence, there’s pressure to reduce their numbers, and restore habitat.

Farmed landscapes are a part of our collective memory. They can be pretty, but they’re also unnatural, and vulnerable to attack by nature when its dander is up. In December 2015, a massive storm swept over the British Isles, and much of Cumbria. Here the rush of water, thundering from the mountains and filling the gullies, caused terrible damage. It then picked up more water over the North Sea and carried on to Norway, where having gained even more ferocity, it attempted the same carnage. But the damage was ten times worse in the UK, purely as a result of the way we manage our uplands.

There are fewer sheep about now, there are Belties grazing the margins, and meadows are beginning to be set aside for wildflowers. This may be too little, and too late, but it’s a start.


The track emerges onto the busy Coniston to Ambleside road, at Hollin Bank, then makes its way up the fell towards the farm at Low Arnside. We’re on open access land now, and the ways begin to bifurcate. From here, looking back, there is a stunning view of Bowfell, looking very remote and austere, still with a dusting of snow. We choose a likely looking detour from the main track. This brings us to the top of Black Crag, whose main revelation is the sudden view of Lake Windermere. There are two cairns here, one forming the trig point and sporting the metal sign of the National Trust. As it did in Wainwright’s day, it carries the engraved names of passing vandals, intent on establishing their immortality. And, as Wainwright tells us, in his own inimitable prose, it is the only way persons of such mentality are ever likely to manage it.

On Black Crag

To the south of the trig point is another, larger cairn. In Wainwright’s guide, he describes it as being in poor repair, but is now restored to its full height, and very impressive too. We can see the waters of Tarn Hows now, sparkling through the trees. We can see too, the line of our return route through the Iron Keld plantation. As we set off, we meet the twenty-strong group on its way up – it seems we managed to comfortably outpace them. There are more Belties mooching about here, as indeed there are in the plantation. Semi-wild, they add something to the landscape. If I had to have a cow for a pet, it would be a Beltie.

Belted Galloway, Iron Keld Plantation, April 2023

Finally, it’s Tarn Hows, and back to the bustle. But it’s been a beautiful day and, as the late afternoon sun paints everything with a buttery glow, vexations melt away, and we can be magnanimous about anything. After all, are we not one of the crowd, ourselves?

About seven and a half miles, and two thousand feet of ascent.

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When I say “dead zone”, I mean this in a good way. We’re in Dunsop Bridge today, and the pay and display meter on the car park is broken. It says we can also scan the code to pay online. That’s novel, I’m thinking, and good job we have a smart-phone. Let’s give it a go, then. So I scan it, and the phone says there’s no Internet. There is no mobile signal, no 4G or whatever “G” we’re up to these days. This must be one of the last bastions of mobile free sanctuary in Lancashire – at least with my provider. So, I’ve done my best, but there’s no way to pay. Now, I’m never sure of the etiquette in these situations. Does that mean I get a freebie? Or shouldn’t I park here at all? I’ll be lucky finding anywhere else in Dunsop Bridge. We assume it’s a freebie, and trust to luck.

The forecast was a bit dodgy. We had a gloomy start following on from heavy rain overnight. But as we cleared the M6, and came up through Longridge, the clouds became fluffy and, further on, as we emerged from the forests around Whitewell, the fells of Bowland began to preen in pools of soft sunshine.

Easter’s a funny time. In the secular sense, to be frank, I see it as an obstacle to the proper enjoyment of spring. Things are just starting to look up, and you’re anxious to get out in the balmy air, after all that cold and wet. Then,… bang! The kids are off for a couple of weeks, everywhere is rammed and, as for the Easter Weekend itself – forget it. Our later years, and especially retirement, make us selfish with our time. The seasons pass so quickly, and there is a growing sense they are numbered, so we resent missing a moment. The kids are off this week as well, pre-Easter, but Dunsop Bridge is mercifully quiet. Then again, lovely a spot as it is, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it busy.

We’re looking for another short walk today, around four and a half miles, around Hodder Bank Fell, and it’s looking like the weather is going to be on our side. The forest of Bowland is Lancashire’s best kept secret, an area of wild beauty you can truly lose yourself in. Most walks I’ve done here, I’ve encountered very few others on the trail. It really doesn’t have a downside, but if I was pushed, I’d say this was tough country, and it’s hard to find a good circular under five miles, and five is what I need right now. I’m expecting a bit of a bog on top, after all that rain last night, but we’ll see how we go.

There was a hoo-hah in the media yesterday about this guy who ended up with a rare form of encephalitis. He’d caught it from a tick bite in Yorkshire. They worked climate change into the story as well, hyped the whole thing up and basically made out all us ramblers were risking life and limb in the great outdoors, and things were only going to get worse. As far as I know, Bowland is not especially troubled by ticks, but I tuck my trousers into my socks anyway, and off we go. I suppose they have a point, but there’s no need to make such a song and dance about it.

From Dunsop, we walk up the tree lined avenue and cross the Hodder by Thorneyholme Hall. Then we turn upstream, following a fairly straight forward, though faint way across meadows. A path eventually gathers confidence and leads us by the lonely house at Mossthwaite, then down to the imposing Knowlmere Manor, with its many chimneys. This place must have burned a lot of coal in its time.

I’m reminded of a snippet of Wilfred Owen’s poem “Miners”.

Comforted years will sit soft-chaired,
In rooms of amber;
The years will stretch their hands, well-cheered
By our life’s ember;

The centuries will burn rich loads
With which we groaned,
Whose warmth shall lull their dreaming lids,
While songs are crooned;
But they will not dream of us poor lads,
Left in the ground.

The path has become the main drive to the house, now. We follow it down to Giddy Bridge, where our way finally parts for the moor. A fingerpost points us confidently up uphill, but the ground appears not to have been walked for years. I lose my way a bit here, double back, check, and gradually bumble my way to the fell gate that leads on to the open moor. Like all things, the way is easy, once you know it. So, having gained an extensive view we settle on a stone for lunch, check for ticks. There are none. Damn the media and its click-baity hysteria.

What day is this? Thursday. Retired now for over two years. I know of colleagues who didn’t last this long before begging to be taken back. Not everyone can find themselves in emptiness, in sitting on a rock, watching sunlight play upon the green. Perhaps there is something wrong with me, but I can’t get enough of it.

Okay, lunch done, we tackle the bit of moor across the flank of Hodder Bank fell, a cold wind coming at us now from the west. There is a good path, not heavily trod but naturally boggy, I think, especially after rains. It does not threaten to swallow us, not yet, and we enjoy its barren nature, and its wonderful views towards Totridge Fell. A series of low rock pillars mark the way. There is more serious bog on the descent of Fielding Clough, requiring careful footwork. Water is pouring from the moor in glistening rivulets and gathering in vast areas of reedy quagmire. At the farm, at Burholme, the plains of the Hodder are glistening with flood, and alive with birds.

We return to Dunsop through the meadows, by the Hodder. This section has become familiar ground now, in recent years, and is always a delight, with its views across to Totridge Fell, and Mellor Knoll. There are flocks of piping Oystercatchers. I have never seen so many together, always thought them solitary birds, but they circle the meadows now, en-masse as tightly packed as coastal dunlin.

Just a couple of hours out, but a good walk and, it being the first time, there’s always a buzz of satisfaction at unpicking the puzzle of it. We come back to Dunsop to find the car unadulterated by a penalty charge, or perhaps they deliver these things by post now, and I shall have to wait and see? No sense fretting, though. The day was worth it. We top it off with coffee at Puddleducks. This is my kind of Dead Zone.


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We park on the Highmoor road, between Hill Dale and Wrightington, just a little further on than the old restaurant. I remember Rolls Royces pulling out of here, once upon a time, and gentlemen in dinner jackets. Boom time, a long time ago. It has been shut for ages. I’ve no idea where the County congregates, now. I would like to think they go about their business less ostentatiously, perhaps self-conscious at their riches, while the rest of Albion lies in tatters, and that they are meditating on the part they played in all of that.

There are a couple of laybys along here, usually occupied, but it’s a gloomy afternoon with a forecast of rain, so we have the place to ourselves. That said, there’s a feeling of spring, a luminosity to the air, aided perhaps by the daffodils and the forsythea, and the greening hawthorns. We are on the cusp of change, and it’s a shame to be indoors.

I was thinking only recently, places like this country lay-by no longer seem littered with those little silver cartridges of nitrous oxide. I’d wondered if the kids had moved on to some other drug du jour, and how funny that would be, to say nothing of ironic, given recent news of the imminent outlawing of its sale by a government determined to appear tough on antisocial behaviours, while continuing to get away with murder themselves. But as I tie my bootlaces, I see something lurking in the grass, and realise they’ve simply moved on to industrial-sized containers. I presume it’s cheaper when you get your laughs supplied in bulk. Heavens! There’s enough N2O in one of these things to take the little blue car to the moon and back.

We’re a bit late getting out, so it’s just a short walk today, a pleasant circuit across land that is mostly part of the Harrock Hall estate. Still a private residence, it’s one of Lancashire’s grand old halls, bits of it dating to 1699. Former seat of the Rigbyes, it was remodelled in the Neo-Gothic style during the Victorian period, then sadly fell into serious disrepair. It’s now home to a branch of the Ainscough family, who have restored it. A working estate, there is everywhere a manicured look to the landscape.

We begin from the entrance on Highmoor Lane. A sign here does its best to frighten us off. Personally, I would have gone for something more classy. I don’t see a public footpath sign, either, which is curious, but there’s definitely a right of way, so here we go. So long as we keep off the grass, we’re perfectly at liberty to walk, and admire the view.

Now that’s a better sign, I think, calmly authoritative, a polite smile in the accompanying daffodils. There are lots of daffodils around the estate. After a couple of hundred yards, we leave the driveway to curl sedately down to the back of the big house, of which we catch only a distant view. It would be nice to see what it looks like, now, but there are hardly any recent pictures of it online, and the best I can do is this scan from an old postcard, which I’m guessing is mid twentieth century.

Anyway, here we branch off along a network of public ways, all narrowly confined by hedgerow and wire. The resulting concentrated footfall has made these paths heavy going. Indeed, at certain times, the way is almost impassible with deep mud, and best avoided. Today we just about manage to keep going, but the boots will need a good cleaning when they’ve dried out. The sky is a persistent moody grey, but we have those bright lanterns of daffodils to light the way, and an audience of lambs watching with innocent curiosity as we pass.

We’re heading for a local landmark, this being the ruined windmill on Harrock Hill. At a little over five hundred feet, Harrock Hill is one of the first upland areas you encounter as you travel eastwards over the plain, from the West Lancashire coast. A mixture of grazing and managed woodland coverts, it offers fine views to the sea. Shooting is a thing here, with at least some of the resulting avian casualties ending up on the menus of the local hostelries.

In spite of the gloomy sky, there is virtually no haze, so a rare clarity to the air, allowing us to see beyond Liverpool to the mountains of Wales. Northwards, there is Black Coombe, rising across Morecambe Bay and the Duddon, on the western edge of the Lake District and, just peeping over the West Pennines, there’s the grand old lady Pendle. I’m reminded my hapless hero, Tom, in search of his lost love, Rachel, finally traces her to a des-res up here. Thus, in a way, and in my imagination at least, the Road from Langholm Avenue leads to High Moor. It’s an area not on the way to anywhere in particular, so it little visited, except for those who live nearby.

The windmill is a peculiar structure, built half underground. Preserved in what appears to be a parlous state, there is still something romantic about it. Known to be operating in the 1660’s, it was already a substantial ruin by the 1830’s, then a fire in 1880 left us with what little we see today. In the summer months, when the woodland is dense with leaf, you can walk by, and not even know it’s there. In the bare season, like this one, you can see its silhouette, beckoning, and it’s well worth a visit.

From the mill, we follow a broad track down towards Cooper’s Lane, but turn off and cross the boggy meadows to pick our way above Wrights Coverts. Here we have views across the vale to Coppull, the West Pennines rising beyond. I’m walking with an older digital OS map on my device, using a trusty application called AlpineQuest, but the map’s antiquity occasionally lets me down. It’s still showing a right of way around the seventeenth century house, at Higher Barn, which I’d been hoping to get a closer look at. But a massive gate, with coded electronic entry, suggests there’s been some gentrification, and a reroute. I also have the official OS mapping app as a back-up, which I don’t think is as good, either for route planning or navigation, but at least the maps are up-to-date, and this confirms the path has been moved. The house is grade 2 listed, beautiful from a distance and oozing with an ancient, romantic charm. It’s currently valued at around six million.

The rerouting takes us along the edge of a pleasant, sheep cropped meadow, more spring lambs gambolling as we pass. Just as we’re getting cocky, it ends in bog, and it’s with some difficulty we rejoin the firmer ground of the estate road. Our boots have had a squelchy hammering today. They used to be leaky, but liberal applications of boot cream over the winter seems to have rescued them, and they’ve kept our feet dry.

So, now we’re back at our starting point, at the little blue car, and those massive canisters of N2O. There’s some weight in them, stainless steel – I’m guessing. They must have some value as scrap. Perhaps the dealers are missing a trick there and should offer a deposit scheme. Apart from those canisters, there’s been a striking absence of litter throughout the walk. And, miracle of miracles, I encountered not one dog-bag.

Three miles round and just three hundred feet of fairly gentle up and down


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The plan was to drive to Troutbeck, then climb Wansfell. It’s a modest peak, though steep in the approach, as I recall, and it peters out where the big fells are only just getting going. But I thought it would be plenty for the day, and it would get me back into the Lakes where I have not walked since before the COVID restrictions.

Parking’s a bit tight in Troutbeck so, just in case, plan B was to slip over the Kirkstone Pass to Patterdale and do something from there instead, if Troutbeck let us down. And, sadly, Troutbeck did let us down. The last of the slots on the secret (and free) carpark had all gone by 9:15. So, plan B swung into action, only for us to discover the Kirkstone pass was shut for repairs. There was no plan C.

The last thing I wanted now was to end up in the parallel universe of the central lakes, a place of bottlenecked traffic, and zombie crowds. And I especially didn’t want to end up in Grasmere. But when you’ve no plan C, and you’re trying to make up something on the hoof, strange things happen, and, in the end, Grasmere it was. The parking here is not free, and it’s 50p to pee. It’s nice to see the place has not lost its touch.

It was 2010 when I last walked from Grasmere. I went up Tarn Crag, crossed the head of Far Easedale, then returned along the ridge to Helm Crag. But we’re not up to that today. Instead, a simple walk to Easedale Tarn is more our speed. The sun is shining, the morning is fresh, and there are lots of pretty waterfalls along the way.

Reading back about that walk, I did a lot of moaning. The price of parking, and the contempt with which visitors are treated in the shops particularly vexed me. I even took a picture of my parking ticket – shock horror – but those prices seem quaint today. Yes, I have a difficult relationship with Grasmere, though I suppose all tourist traps are the same. I remember being here when my children were still in nappies, and discovered we’d run out – not a situation a parent wants to find themselves in. So I enquired desperately of the chemist, who found my predicament amusing and explained how so few babies are born in Grasmere it wasn’t worth his while stocking nappies. It was a sad indictment of the Disneyland the place had by then become: plenty of money for some, but losing its authentic soul. Wordsworth’s been a long time dead and though he’s still worshipped daily in St Oswald’s churchyard, by the tour busses, all that he worshipped has surely turned to dust. We drove home fast, and with the windows down.

But that old blog piece also reminds me how I stopped to rest by Little Brownhoe Gill, just before tackling the ridge up Tarn Crag. It was where I finally worked out what that line in William Henry Davies’ poem “Leisure” means: streams full of stars, like skies at night. You’ve only to take a little time to stand and stare, and there they are. In broad daylight.

2010 is a long time ago, and there’s been a lot of water down Brownhoe Gill since then, though it feels like only yesterday. But then every decent walk in the Lakes, the Dales, or anywhere, was only yesterday, though that yesterday might have been forty years ago. The normal rules of the universe don’t apply, we tie our bootlaces, and step off into a timeless place of beauty. For today’s yesterday then, we have a straight forward walk, up the Easedale road, then Easedale beck as it tumbles down the fell in a series of rushing falls.

Sour Milk Ghyll, Grasmere

There’s been a lot of rain over the past few weeks, and the beck is boisterous in the shallows, thundering over the rocks. The deciduous trees are still bare, but the yews are a lush green in the sunlight, and the hollies are glossy, berries red and almost luminous. The most dramatic cascade, and what’s been drawing the crowds up from Grasmere since the Victorian Romantics, is Sourmilk Ghyll. It’s one of two to be so named in the district I know of, the other being in Seathwaite.

We have clear skies today, and it’s warm in the sun. The beck is sparkling, and gin-clear. It’s still only mid-morning, and the footfall on the path is light. It’ll be different by midday. There’s a little waterfall every five minutes that draws us aside to fiddle about with the camera, or just to stand and stare. The water-colourist Heaton Cooper described the essence of the district as rocks and light and running water. It’s a phrase that always comes to mind when I’m here, and for obvious reasons.

Easedale Tarn, and Tarn Crag

Above the falls, Easedale Tarn comes suddenly into view. Here, the roar of water falls away into a vacuum of silence. There’s not a breath of wind, and the tarn is a mirror for the backdrop of fells, their lower flanks all rusty, giving way to runs of scree and frozen free-falls of rock towards the craggy tops. Tarn Crag is beautifully lit by late morning sun, and very tempting. I did once pick a line to the summit from here, but I can’t trace it now and, like my last walk, up Rivington Pike, I’ve still not the puff for it. Instead, we head to the far end, looking to perhaps circumnavigate it, but the faint ways here are overcome by water running down from the fells, swelling the boggy bits, and all the becks are in spate, making crossings difficult. I’m not that attached to the idea, though, just glad to be bumbling about. So, we bumble on up the valley a little for the view of Belle’s Knott.

Belle’s Knott

Beyond Belle’s Knott, and a little jink to the right, lies Coledale Tarn, which I’ve only visited once, and I’m wondering about heading up to it. As an objective, I’ve often felt the Lake District tarns are as worthy as its summit cairns, each with its own character, but I’ve only got five hours on the ticket. Any more than that, and it would have cost me eight quid. And again, I’m really not that attached to anything today. So we sit a while by the beck, listening to the music of it instead. It’s not how I imagined the trip turning out, but I am glad to be here, and to be reminded of just how beautiful, how special this landscape is. The main routes in the Lakes, like this one, have always seen a lot of footfalls, and that can be frustrating, even on a midweek morning, but you’ve only to slip away from them for five minutes to find secret places, and to experience the intimate magic of it.

We make our leisurely descent via Easedale, arriving back at the car with enough time on the ticket for a brew in the sunshine. I’ve brought my own brew in a Thermos. Heaven knows what they charge for a coffee in Grasmere, now, if it’s 50p even to pee. That would have been an easy walk, once, but a tough one today. I can feel myself bone tired, and the feet are sore. It’s true, then, a mild dose of COVID might only knock you out for a few days, but it’ll leave you empty for months.

Just over seven miles and fourteen hundred feet of ascent.

I leave the last word to William Henry Davies, on the subject of seeking beauty:

Cold winds can never freeze, nor thunder sour
The cup of cheer that Beauty draws for me
Out of those Azure heavens and this green earth —
I drink and drink, and thirst the more I see

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The Ravine, Rivington Terraced Gardens

I was determined to get out a bit further afield today. The forecast was poor, but I’d decided on a trip to the Lakes, anyway, so set the alarm for an early start. But then I woke in the small hours, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I’d had this dream about a belligerent copper who’d smelled something bad in my wardrobe, but wouldn’t say what it was. I wanted to know, then I could fix it, but he was rude and stalked off. So I went after him, and caught him being nasty to someone else. He was a right piece of work, so I thought it best to leave him be. I’m lying awake then until I hear the birds, around six. The alarm is set for six thirty, but I knock it off because there’s no way I’m going to be able to get out of bed. So then of course I fall asleep and the next thing I know it’s half past ten.

It’s a bleary-eyed breakfast, and no plan for the day, because there’s no point heading up to the Lakes at this time. I allow myself ten minutes of doom as I scroll the news. There’s a headline about the Metropolitan police being officially declared a bad lot. It breaks the dream, but the associations are too loose to say the latter informed the former, so we’ll let that one go as a coincidence before we claim it as one of those Dunnian dreams. There’s another headline about hundreds of people gone, and going, blind, for want of timely treatment by our struggling health service. By now, it’s eleven thirty.

The best we can do with the day is get our boots on a local hill, just for the exercise. Any hill will do, and the Pike comes to mind, it being a short drive to Rivington. Now, some days I can overlook the tiredness of Rivington, it being somewhat overrun as an amenity, but I suspect today is not one of them. That said, Rivington it is.

We take the big grey car, rather than the little blue one, because it’s raining, and the forecast is for more. The big grey one isn’t as fun to drive but, being more technologically advanced, it allows me to listen to podcasts. I’m listening to one about metaphysical idealism, which describes how everything is basically a mental construct, and we are disassociated alters within a Mind at large. It’s a counterintuitive way of looking at the world, but it makes sense of those areas where Materialism fails. It also seems to have fewer internal inconsistencies, especially when it comes to explaining consciousness.

The inconsistencies of consciousness are proudly on display, when I park up, noting the usual scattering of multicoloured dog bags. Perhaps I should say “self consciousness”, and the lack of it, otherwise no one would for shame treat our environment with such contempt. Today we also have tin cans courtesy of Dr Pepper and Monster Energy, a plethora of wet wipes, and a discarded pair of trousers (I wonder what he/she wore home). It must have been a busy weekend, but then all weekends (and weekdays) are busy at Rivington.

The Ravine, Rivington Terraced Gardens

Photography’s not really the point today, but I carry the camera out of habit, and you never know. We take a direct approach towards the Pike, up through the Pineatum, then the ravine. There was one shot here I thought I’d try, but there are people all over the place, and one guy in particular looking comatose, and clearly not for moving. So we grab a different shot and on we plod. It’s a steep route, and I can tell something’s lacking in me. It’s not post COVID, more likely that sleepless night, and sometimes the mind just tells you you’ve not got it in you, and there’s no way you can convince it otherwise.

Donuts on the lawn

We make it as far as the lawns, the entire route thus far being marked with a breadcrumb trail of detritus from visitors whose minds are trapped in the low bandwidth regions. There’s an occasional glow from the sun, but the overall mood is gloomy. The Terraced Garden Trust did some sterling work up here, clearing the Great lawn, and the Orchestra Lawn from a near century of scrub, and re-laying them. Summertime brings a delightful rejuvenation of festivals, and family picnics to a once derelict ruin, but I note with dismay the trolls have also found their way up, in their cars, and have been doing donuts. It looks like they had great fun, churning it to slime, and ruining all the hard work.

Decision time for the route. I’ve definitely no puff for the Pike today, so we make do with the Pigeon tower, then descend towards the car-park at Lower House. The track here seems to be disappearing into the earth, as it forms an ever deeper ravine. It sees brutal assault from four by four vehicles, and dirt bikes, then the run-off from the moor gets in it and does the rest. There’s wire cutting, too, to allow access off-piste to rogue mountain bikers blazing slime trails through sensitive woodland. The whole scene is a mess.

As the current BBC series by David Attenborough reminds us, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. A quarter of our mammals are facing extinction, 97% of wildflower meadows have gone, only 13% of the land is forested, and half of that is alien, monocultural plantation, with only a quarter being ancient, native woodland, and most of that in poor condition and under constant threat from rapacious developers. There seems little reason to be optimistic. I suppose the fact of the matter is we’re a small country with a large, and largely ignorant population, who has seriously fouled its nest, and the best it can come up with is to concrete over the nice bits that remain.

Track erosion by 4×4.

The fundamentalist eco warriors would sooner humans were wiped out, then the earth might eventually renew itself and thrive without us, and they have a point, since the earth is as much the rightful home to nature at large, albeit red in tooth and claw, as it is to us. But they’re missing a crucial point, that without us, there is no beauty. Metaphysical idealism to me, amongst other things, implies we are the universe becoming aware of itself, that we are the eyes and the ears of creation. That while the poor old NHS is failing our eyes due to budget cuts inflicted by philistines, we are still the bit of the universe that sees, and is moved by its beauty. Nature cannot do that without us, beautiful though it is. It is we who bear witness, and are moved by nature’s beauty, or horrified by its destruction.

So, as I see it, like it or not, the earth needs us. Without us, there is no point to it, and we have to balance the equation by assuming our proper place in the order of creation, as responsible stewards and witnesses to its glorious unfolding. Poor, tired old Rivington needs us too, or at least enough of us to look around at the despoliation, on days like this, and say oh,… for f*&ks sake.

As we return now to the big grey one, it’s coming on to rain. Three miles, eight hundred and ninety feet of ascent. One hour and twenty-five minutes. Not bad for a bad day with little puff, and we did manage some nice pictures of the ravine after all. But we’re definitely going to the Lakes next time.

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