“I like being in the car when there’s a storm outside,” said Curmudgeonly Former Housemate (CFH). “It’s like being inside a turtle shell.” And what a storm there was. Outside pedestrians huddled miserably under covered awnings and in the mouth of a shopping arcade, wind lashing the rain into their faces from a prematurely dark sky. One brave woman stalwartly ignored all attempts to unbalance her and her two bags of shopping, standing in the rain with no protective cover on her head. We saluted her bravery from the warmth of our rental car.
We were on our way to the Lake District to ring in a quiet country new year. Long walks. Log fires. Fresh air. That sort of thing. And we were stuck in a seemingly endless line of traffic in the small town of Glossop on the edge of the Peak District. With the incessant rains and wind battering Cumbria over the past few days we’d feared that the roads wouldn’t be passable at all but luckily the rains had lightened enough that we were even able to take the scenic route along smaller back roads, though we did go through a few alarmingly deep puddles en route.
We’d stopped in the village of Bakewell, busy with New Year’s Eve shoppers out for a day’s stroll, and tootled along to Castleton, whose attraction Peak Cavern is alarmingly subtitled ‘The Devil’s Arse!’ Alas we didn’t have time to visit the Devil’s Arse this time, but we will be sure to save that pleasure for a future journey. We swept through Hope Valley and along Snake Road, through woodland and along moors.
Shortly after we left Glossop, the skies cleared for a glorious sunset over the motorways around Manchester and CFH’s girlfriend awoke in the backseat, having missed the best of the scenery and the worst of the weather. Win some, lose some.
Eventually we reached our destination: a charming guesthouse, closed for the season, where we were staying courtesy of the caretakers who live there year-round. Full of the owner’s collection of Asian art and instruments, it is everything you could wish for in the way of an atmospheric setting. There is some sort of special metaphysics that happens around the turning of the year, something about renewal and life and death and beginnings and endings, which gives everything a portentous quality. Yewfield out of season certainly enhances the feeling.
On New Year’s Day we tackled Holme Fell. CFH would not have you believe this is much of a tackling, but it was about as much of a physically exerting walk as I could do while still enjoying it. Granted, this is a pasty urbanite who takes no exercise speaking, but I think I did pretty well, considering I was walking in borrowed gear. En route I was delighted to learn from our hosts that we were walking through land once owned by Beatrix Potter. How much richer and more enjoyable to be tramping through the mud across her fields than ingesting overpriced tea and rock cakes in a twee Potter-themed cafe somewhere. Wordsworth, Coleridge and Ruskin are of course all associated with the Lake District, but I have a special place in my heart for Lady Writers Who Lived On Hillsides. (Next stop on the tour: Greenway.)
The next day we drove a around some of the picturesque areas near where we were staying and we passed the entirety of our walking route in about 40 seconds. All of my bravado about climbing steep hillsides in the howling winds and staring dauntlessly at distant peaks dissipated in that brief period.
It was with heavy hearts that we awoke before dawn on our last day to make our way south towards the Big Smoke. Rain lashed against the windows as we contemplated our imminent transition from the peaceful agrarian life to the hustle and bustle of modern commerce. Though the radio was tuned to HeartFM, in my mind echoed hints of the nostalgic ballads of the industrial revolution. But the wonderful thing about atmospheric reminiscences is that they are with you always: Beatrix Potter’s fields and Yewfield are now a little corner stitched in the landscape of my inner world.