Volume II: The Lake District (Part 1)
Given what happened in Stratford, Izzie and I approached the Lake District with no small amount of trepidation. Sue dropped us to the station; we had to catch a train to...my memory fails me...let’s call the place X, and from there, grab a local train to Windermere. The journey was uneventful (I slept through most of it) except for a few brief moments of anxiety when we had a five minute gap between the two trains and we both needed to – uh, relieve ourselves – and the loo was as far away from our platform as could possibly be expected at a train station in the middle of nowhere.
We both discovered that we have a possible career in sprinting and we made the train to Windermere in time.
We were also the only people on the damn train.
We reached Windermere and, to our relief, saw people. Well, tourists. I’m not sure if they count as humans. The B&B we were staying at was only a five minute walk from the station (it may interest you to know that to walk from one end of Windermere to another takes less than twelve minutes) and so, carrying our bags, we huffed and puffed our way there.
As soon as we entered, we nearly got run over by a pack of Japanese kids. We went into the office and Andrew (the B&B owner) was there to make us feel at home. He did this by thinking I was Mexican and bitching about Mexico for seven minutes, finding out I was from Calcutta and referring to it as the Black Hole, implying Izzie was a moron because she couldn’t add one hundred and twenty three and forty six off the top of her head straight away, and telling us that if we smoked or brought takeaway into our room, we’d get chucked out.
“Especially curry. Curry smells, and birds come in. It’s happened before” he said, looking at me.
He disappeared for a moment to fetch our key, and I started reading a couple of posters pinned to the door. They all proclaimed how the British government was trying to shove multiculturalism down everyone’s throats and how Britain belonged to the British, goddamnit, and it wasn’t fair to let non English speaking Asians dilute Britain’s great culture.
He then came back in and introduced us to his wife.
She was Japanese and couldn’t speak English.
Turned out the Japanese looking kids belonged to him too.
People are strange.
Anyway, Iz and I dumped our luggage in our room (a little on the frilly side, but decent) and decided to explore. This basically translated to finding food since we hadn’t eaten all day, and everything in Windermere was shut since it was ten past five and apparently the entire town (for want of a better word) closed at four thirty. We walked a couple of miles until we reached the neighbouring town of Bowness which looked a little livelier. According to the signs, nothing shut till six.
Found a nice little restaurant, ate (a lot) and then walked down to Lake Windermere, one of the Lake District’s main attractions, and also, the largest lake in England.
It was beautiful but my god, the birds.
There were ravens, pigeons, gulls, ducks, geese and swans. I did my best to ignore them and I even sat on a bench close by to a pack of geese that were being fed by tourists (raving lunatics) until three fat pigeons wandered over to me and started pestering me.
Iz caught up with me eventually and since it was six thirty and everything was shut, we trudged back to the B&B and collapsed into bed.
The next morning, I woke up to a gorgeous day. The sun was shining brightly- but not too brightly- and there was a gentle sort of breeze blowing- the right kind of breeze. It was the kind of day when nothing can possibly go wrong. The bacon at breakfast was too salty though but even that was insignificant.
We decided we wanted to walk a bit, so we went down to Lake Windermere again and from there, examined a map that would lead us on a nice walk to the fells (that’s what the hills there are called). We walked north, climbing our way through the steep streets of Bowness, passing shops and cafes and people, until we reached a narrow path that twisted and turned its way up towards what, according to the map, was one of Bowness’ highest fells. We passed a lot of lovely little houses, white washed and gleaming under the summer sun, until we reached a gate and beyond that, fields that continued rolling their way up into forestland.
After crossing the first gate, we climbed our way up to the second, and sat down on a rock there to catch our breath. I could see green meadows spread out beneath me, dotted with wildflowers, and I could see those little houses we’d passed, framed picture perfect by leafy green trees. Beyond all of this, lay Lake Windermere, glistening silver under sky, occasionally interrupted by a brightly coloured boat.
Then we climbed higher. We kept climbing and all around us were slopes, impossibly green, and what seemed like hundreds of daisies and buttercups and dandelions, and of course, trees. Some were tall and grand, with a king of the forest sort of look about them, and others were small and gnarled like troll like guardians. Every now and then we came to a gate and finally, after we reached our fifth, we could see the top of the fell. The space between the gate and the peak was occupied by a rather alarming number of sheep but they ignored us. A few were even nice enough to pose for photographs, pausing their chewing and blinking up at the camera flash like owls.
When we finally reached the top, after many close encounters with thistles and sheep poop, Bowness and Windermere lay spread out below us. You could literally see for miles and there were many other fells, but ours was the highest. Like I mentioned earlier, it was a very bright and beautiful sort of day, but the top of some of the fells – the ones on the other side of the lake – were shrouded in white mist, and it seemed to me that if you closed your eyes, you could almost see some ancient army standing there, waiting to descend into battle perhaps, or a grey stoned castle with turrets and ravens flying around. I wish I could describe how beautiful it was but I can’t. I can only say that, for the next thirty minutes, everything else – and I mean, everything – seemed insignificant.
We sat there for a long time, Izzie and I, not talking because just then, silence was the best possible sound.
The next day, we were booked on a tour. A bus came to pick us up from our B&B. It was a small group of people: Izzie and myself, a Chinese couple who were obviously on their honeymoon, a middle aged American lady, and a retired English couple who kept talking about their dog. Typical.
We went to Beatrix Potter’s cottage first. It really was a cottage – small, made of grey stone, covered with ivy, and impossibly quaint. Everything inside was preserved just the way it had been during her time, right down to the last fussy tea cup. It was really difficult to get a feel of the place though, because the cottage really wasn’t very big, and it was crowded with people. No freedom to wander empty rooms and try and imagine her sitting at a table scribbling away, or maybe standing at the bay window in her bedroom watching the sun set over the fields. Her garden was wonderful. I recognised it from the Peter Rabbit books because Mr McGregor’s garden was, according to one of the guides, modelled on her own. It had flowers, but also vegetables, especially lettuce. Best of all, at one point, I glimpsed a rabbit beyond her garden wall, eyeing it curiously. I like to think he was twitching his nose and tilting his head, wondering whether it was worth his while to brave the people and try and steal some lettuce. He looked exactly like Peter Rabbit – the same narrow body, the upright ears, the brown fur. That’s what most wild rabbits look like in England, I believe, but it was the closest thing I’d ever seen to a real live Peter Rabbit.
We then stopped at the village of Hawkeshead where Wordsworth’s grammar school was located. It was unremarkable. Iz and I were more interested in the cafe nearby, where we got served some excellent coffee by a very good looking waiter. I gave him my most winning smile but he ignored me, looked over the top of my head and called for the next customer. Understandable, but annoying.
The bus then jolted unsteadily to Grasmere, stopping for a few minutes by a lake. It wasn’t nearly as big as Windermere, it was quite small as lakes go, but it was calm and blue and still, surrounded by dark green trees and almost impossibly peaceful.
Grasmere has a very lovely church and Wordsworth is buried outside. I had quite a good time standing in front of his tombstone and mentally hurling abuse at it (I’ve always hated Wordsworth with a passion; it was very satisfying knowing he was dead and not able to steal excerpts from his sister’s diary and pass them off as his own vision of dancing daffodils). I went inside the church then, and noticed a very beautiful thing: there was a corner where people had pinned prayers to a board. Everyone who enters is free to pen a prayer on a piece of paper and pin it to the board and each and every prayer, or thought, is read out by the vicar. I’m not religious at all, and I don’t really believe in God, but something struck me about that, and when Iz wandered off to another part of the Church, I quickly scribbled a little something on a piece of paper and stuck it there, amongst all the other messages.
We then went to Grasmere’s famous gingerbread shop. It is apparently the oldest gingerbread shop in the world and the person who started it, discovered the recipe that is used to make gingerbread all over the world today. The lady manning the shop was kind enough to give me a free sample, and I was rude enough to gag on it, but I bought a pretty box for the family at home, hoping that they’d appreciate it even if I couldn’t.
We also stopped in a valley and on either side of us were tall cliffs, covered in grey slate and ash. Remnants, our guide told us, from the Ice Age. They’d never been moved. I touched a stone, finding it incredible that such a tiny piece of rock was older than human history. We also got taken to the top of a fell where there were a bunch of rocks arranged in a manner similar to Stonehenge. Like Stonehenge, no one knew what exactly they’d been used for. I learnt that the man who discovered them, also found a twin arrangement of rocks, but they could never be found a second time. I tried stealing one of the smaller stones but I didn’t get a chance to.
It was a long tour and by the time we made our way home, I was so tired I kept falling asleep. Now and then, when the bus lurched around a corner, I’d be jolted awake and I’d see the sun dipping low, not setting exactly, but sinking, sending streaks of pink and crimson and gold across the sky, and trees, stark and black against the horizon, and the only sounds that could be heard, were bird calls and the wheels of the bus gently rumbling over stony slopes.