July 23rd 2012

Pictures and Words: Julie Hulten For many a springtime, the line from Robert Browning drifted  through my thoughts. This was the year to finally make it so…and oh, what a joy! Always knowing I would walk with Wayfarers based on a friend’s recommendation, after much perseverating, I chose the Hadrian Wall/Lake District Walk. I could not have been more satisfied. After some train difficulties, we met up with the group at Corbridge, once a Roman fort and then a garrison town. Colin, the hike manager, greeted us, teasing that we were late. I knew, from the twinkle in his eye and his infectious laugh, that we were in good company. Alan, the hike leader, confirmed this, providing us with a quick but thorough overview of what we would see. Astonishing … that people had built and lived here … fought and frolicked … worshipped and wished they were home … close to 2,000 years ago! We had an excellent tour under brooding skies, the stiff breeze stirring ghosts from the past, adding tone to the evocative ruins. On to our first night’s stay. Oh, my! Langley Castle! Was that haunting cry the spirit of some medieval torture? No, ‘just’ two peacocks. Completing the check in, we trooped over to our accomodations ... converted ‘outbuildings’ – stables? – with a fine view of the castle. I have a new picture for the word luxurious. How very splendid the rooms were! We met for drinks and a presentation by a friend of Alan’s – Ulfric, a self-taught weapons master. Dressed in Roman garb, he displayed and explained period weapons, shield, and helmet, all made by him. A fascinating presentation, and a most appropriate interlude between our afternoon visit to the fort and Monday’s planned walk along Hadrian’s Wall. Dinner followed – very grand and beyond delicious! I did have to chuckle to myself. I was asked. 'Is madame having soup or appetizer?' When I  replied, whisk, and the unused, 'offending' utensil disappeared in a twinkling. After a lovely sleep, another repast to start the  day. I really think porridge is a much lovelier word than oatmeal. The word made the breakfast staple taste ever so much better! Fortified for the first leg of our hike we were off. First, a climb to the wall, then a few moments to admire and contemplate the expanse, the rise and fall, and the sheer engineering feat of this fortification, built close to 2,000 years ago and snaking across the countryside. Absolutely astonishing! Then … we walked … took a snack-break … walked … had a pub lunch … walked! Fantastic! Fields of buttercups, sheep, a view of Scotland, sections of the wall long and straight … sections that followed the contour of the land, up and down, sometimes quite steep. Periodic stops along the way for explanations, history, commentary – Alan put it all into perspective. Then, there was Colin, with our lift to Ullswater and the Lake District. So long Hadrian’s Wall … it was a grand day, full of sunshine, history, views, and congenial company! Our next stay at the MacDonald House was just as fine as at Langley Castle, though not with the same history.  The hotel sits right on the shore of Ullswater, the second largest body of water in the Lake District, and the views were superb! Again dinners of elegance, filled with savory and sweet delicacies, and fortifying breakfasts. Not to mention the very good company! We began Tuesday at Pooley Bridge, a charming little town at the far end of Ullswater. The British ‘right of way’ for walkers is truly remarkable; we hiked not only through forest and pasture, along rivers and streams, but also right through farmyards, a concept a bit foreign to folks from the States, but cherished by the British for, literally, millennium. By walking the countryside, one develops a sense of place, as well as imagining the lives of those who have passed here. We stopped at St. Michael’s (Barton) Church, with Norman Tower, lych gate, and graveyard.  Alan brought the place to life with a simple but informative explanation of the building, grounds, and local customs.  In gazing over the churchyard, I was reminded of the thoughts expressed in Thomas Gray’s 'Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard'. 'History' is made as much by the simple folk who go about their daily tasks, as by those whose great deeds fill the pages of history books. Colin made a bit of history of his own. Elevenses! What a repast! For me, a real treat was Pooley Gingerbridge – a yummy bridge-shaped ‘biscuit’ chock full of ginger! Then on our way, with scenery much like earlier. Each vista was as breathtaking as the last, each field as filled with intriguing sights, sounds and smells and each trail spread itself before us, enticing us onward. We made some local 'friends' out in the country side. Baaaaah! Moooo! Oops, watch out for ‘meadow muffins’! We passed through small villages chock-a-block with gardens overflowing with blooms and through meadows where the Queen Anne’s lace was shoulder high. When we reached The Queen’s Head and lunch, it was as welcomed as it was delicious. In the afternoon we 'learned by doing' that moors, flat topped hills, are reached by fells, the slopes of the hills. It made for spectacular walking, the weather being superb … warm sun and cooling breezes. Once we stopped to watch a skylark hover, hover, hover … and then dive … only to hover again. Totally captivating! As we made our way down the fell to where Colin and Donna awaited us … Donna back from her side-trip to Dalemain, an historic home, with a garden renowned for breeding a blue poppy … we crossed paths with a group of youngsters about to overnight on the moor. Their backpacks were almost as big as they were. Now there’s an adventure! The next morning found us re-tracing our steps to the remains of ‘the Roman road’ and a stone circle. The backpackers had spent the night therein; we wondered if they’d dreamt of Roman legions. Alan described these stones as most likely directional indicators - they were like mile markers, the stone in the middle (no longer present at this site) likely pointing the way towards someplace of importance to early tribes … a meet-up, a trade fair, perhaps a religious ceremony … not so different from mile-markers and sign posts today. The track led us along slopes that we had seen from our hotel across the lake, and past stone structures and walls that could have told fascinating stories – on this day left to our imagination. Howtown, where we caught the ferry which would take us to the other end of Ullswater, is a tiny and wondrous gem of a village nestled amidst high peaks, with the lake at their feet. After lunch at The Mortal Man in Glenridding, we rode over Kirkstone Pass, past the 'highest haunted pub in England' – The Kirkstone Pass Inn – its foundations purported to be close to 2,000 years old. A quick trip to Jesus Church, with windows designed and created by pre-Raphaelite artists, preceded a stop for ice cream at a post office, cum grocery, cum every other thing you can imagine. Yes, more food. This army did rather march on its stomach! As we completed the afternoon leg of our journey, encountering more views, cows, one with a new-born calf, and fields, the sky began to cloud over. Not so promising for the next day, but we still hoped. Our hopes were dashed in the morning, much as the driving rain splattered against the windows and onto the pavement. Get that rain gear out! We were relatively protected as we took a small ferry across Lake Windermere to Wray Castle, where Beatrix Potter, at age 16, first experienced the Lake District. After a quick look ‘round, we continued along the Lake about four miles, in the streaming rain. Oh, to be in England! Colin with his sunny repast met us for elevenses – still, it was hard not to feel damp! We eschewed the track that would have had us hike to Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm, as too tricky for the weather. I think that gave us the opportunity to tour; despite the rain, it was charming. Lunch was at the Tower Bank Arms, a pub appearing in at least one Beatrix Potter tale. Despite the gloomy weather, how could one not enjoy the summer display of blooms, contrasting brilliantly with the deep grey of the stone cottages or against a backdrop of whitewash? We piled back into the van and continued on to Hawkshead Grammar school, attended by William Wordsworth as a boy. The curator was most informative, and Alan played task-master, letting us know who was ‘boss’ with the bamboo cane. Then we were let loose to shop – 20 minutes, please! Quick, like a bunny, I found a fleece and a rain coat to replace my sodden attire (yes, I had a raincoat with me, but it was reeea-llly raining!). All warm and dry, we headed for Ambleside, hoping to avoid the traffic that might accompany the Olympic Torch carrier, as he made his way there. What a treat to see! Alas, the weather did not improve! Alan even picked up an umbrella on his way out of the hotel that last day. Excursions were going to provide us with comfort challenges, but with no lack of enthusiasm and enjoyment. We stopped first at Wordsworth’s grave – Alan a fount of knowledge about one of his favorite poets. I admit to being even more enticed by the smell of warm biscuits assailing us from Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop. Oh, the aroma – sweet, spicy wafting out to us on warm air, welcome in that chilly morning. The cooks grinned at us, as we walked by the open windows at the back of the shop, waving our hands in the air to encourage the tantalizing aroma closer. Sometimes, it’s the small things! We would return later, once the shop opened. We traveled to Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s first home in the Lake District, and then hiked 'the coffin route'; paths used to carry coffins from villages that did not have a church to the nearest church. This would have been the route that Wordsworth’s coffin would have taken as it connects Rydal Mount to St. Oswald’s, where he is buried. Alan also told us that should there have been a coffin, the locals, paid to carry the coffin to its final resting place, may have, from time to time, allowed the bodies to fall out of the coffin and down the slope into the brush. Oops! It was along here that, while I held his umbrella, Alan read to us … the signature poem, 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud', and another poem that, if I remember correctly, was 'She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways'.  After a bit more walking, we reached Rydal Mount as lovely inside as out. Back to Ambleside and Sarah Nelson’s for gingerbread, then lunch, and a walk along the somewhat flooded Cumbria Way past Skelwith Force to Skelwith Bridge, and cream tea! Dinner the last night was fun-filled and bitter-sweet. Alan made us earn our photo albums with a trivia game – and I should have gotten those two points for our team! The ferry from Howtown to Glenridding WAS the Lady of the Lake! After dinner Alan gave out ‘awards’ for photographer, gate-master, shopper, first aid recipient, disciplinarian (?), conservationist, and the one with the biggest smile. I tried to tell Alan that what he saw on my face was more ‘rictus grin’ from trying to keep up, but he was having none of it! On Saturday morning, we were all mostly back into ourselves, considering travel arrangements and focusing on getting home. Hugs, tears, laughs, and good-byes, but not without parting words from Wordsworth: 'and the music in my heart I bore, long after it was heard no more'! Editors Note: Julie's walking tour in England with The Wayfarers coincided with a particularly wet spell in June! Click for details about the Hadrian's Wall & the Lake District Walk and more.

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