The rest of our week in the Lake District was characterised by my dad’s transformation into a technology wizard. He had purchased an iPhone the week previously and was already sending me links to articles and taking more snaps that his 36 pictures per roll of film would previously have allowed. Our family time was also cut into somewhat by the fact that the inn’s wifi allowed him to use his Guardian app instead of talking to me over breakfast. To be fair, he has probably had his share of being rejected in favour my phone over the years. However, since it made him so happy, this post is partly a tribute to some of his portraits. I usually focus so intently on the landscape in my photography that my dad’s portraits are a welcome change. Credit for him.
We spent the next few days exploring the area. Much of our walking was on treacherously boggy, unclear paths. We spent the first day almost entirely wading through mosquito ridden bogs and leaping from one grassy hillock to another (perhaps slightly less cheerfully than a Disney character might have!) If I had read John and Anne Nuttall’s description in The Tarns of Lakeland that Eel Tarn is ‘best admired from a distance for its shores are marshy’, I might have been saved my soggy boots.
On our travels, we startled yellowhammers and butterflies from the undergrowth and spotted house martins swooping out from wizened, Rowan trees. I spotted a pair of buzzards swooping gracefully above Wastwater and picked blackberries from hedgerows as we walked. As I swam in Stony tarn, I am convinced I was attacked by eels. I am not usually a jumpy wild swimmer and am not fazed by reeds wrapping around my limbs. I even prefer to swim without a wet suit so as to feel the water and rocks but, it must be said, I found that alarming. Still, a patch of blue sky passed over as I swam and dragonflies buzzed delicately past, so it was still more than pleasant.
I had been reading George Monbiot’s Wild which advocates the reintroduction of formerly native species into British countryside for a more authentically wild experience. Ennerdale Valley is part of this scheme meaning that Galloway cattle have been introduced instead of sheep and native broad leaved trees instead of conifers. I was half expecting to encounter some wolves in these deserted valleys. When we reached the desolate abyss of a former larch forest which had been affected by Ramorum disease, I felt sure we were on the set of a dystopian BBC drama. Luckily, we were not attacked by wild animals.
Apart from the odd sheep, and a sheep skull, we had only the bracken, pink Eskdale granite and curiously silvery oil-like substance to dot the landscape. This, and the shifting colours of the clouds made it look to me like a landscape worthy of Studio Gibley animation: soft, epic and strangely mythical. I certainly had animation on my mind.
Even on a cloudy day, I was amazed by the range of colours in the mountains, pink bracken, green and russet grasses. From the top of Illgil Head, it was possible to look down on the ripples of Wastwater, 600 metres below. They looked to me like the static on a poor television screen.
And from Sca fell, I could see mountains in every direction, shadows of clouds floating across them. An army of wind turbines stood uniformly in the glimmering sea and, in the other direction, a smaller congregation of stick figures trailing along the skyline summit of Scafell Pike.
As we sat atop one of the highest mountains in England (glad to have avoided the crowds on the highest), I could not help wonder why anyone would rush this awesome experience. A friend of mine, called Ellis, races up these mountains in attempts to conquer as many Wainwright peaks as possible in one day. I can see the appeal of the challenge but I much prefer to be mindful. A passing walker agreed with us before trudging purposefully onward.
The Lake District is a deeply personal place. Almost every activity encourages you to compete with yourself. I really enjoy that you don’t need to be hugely fit to reach the top of a mountain: all you need is determination. It allows me to remove a lot of the stress and hustle that is so firmly entwined with life. And it allows me head space to re-orientate myself and my wellbeing. So, if a post about any destination justifies a lot of self portraits, I feel it has to be the Lake District.