By Matt Lancashire:
We recklessly chose to spend the end of February in the Lake District – statistically the wettest part of England – but were blessed with blue skies and t-shirt weather while the rest of the country got the cloud cover we were expecting. There was still snow on the mountains and broken ice washing down them into the lakes, but it was ideal weather for us, with misty mornings and red sunsets.
I’d not been before and my initial reaction was amazement at how the mountains appeared to have been upholstered with tweed, and how many beautiful shades of dusty brown there were. I kept stopping the car every ten minutes to get out and look at the view; partly because it kept surpassing the last view, and partly because the constant blind bends and bumps on the road made it too dangerous to gawp as I drove, even without the high-season crowds. Every mountain differed from the last and barren, rounded hills sit next to craggy, tree-covered slopes.
Stone walls coat the mountains and line the roads, which keeps the dark grey sheep loosely in the right place but also keeps the traffic invisible, so the area felt much quieter than was probably accurate. It was here that Wordsworth famously wandered lonely as a cloud (although these days there are hikers everywhere), and many other artists and poets have also been inspired by the area. Beatrix Potter was another famous resident, who I hadn’t realised was also a champion sheep-breeder and left several farms and thousands of acres of the Lake District to the National Trust.
Another entirely unexpected pleasure came in the smell of coal fires, everywhere. As with many areas of England, where I live in London they’re illegal, and I hadn’t realised how closely I would associate the smell with visits to my grandparents’ house during my childhood. Aside from the occasional sweet whiff of farmyards, I’ll also always remember the smell of ginger wafting across the churchyard in Grasmere, next to a bakery where they specialise in a unique and delicious style of gingerbread.
I have a tendency to over-plan holidays so had made a conscious effort to turn up and see what we found. Admittedly I still took four guide books, which taught me the top fact that there’s only actually one lake in the Lake District (the rest of the water is in meres, tarns or waters), but we had no itinerary and no specific plans. This gave us a few pleasurable surprises – visiting a fantastic waterfall called Aira Force because the place name was intriguing on the map, and unrelatedly the unexpected and frequent presence of military jets practicing their low-level flying along the valleys. This more relaxed style of holiday still worked well, although it took until the end of the holiday to notice that we hadn’t been out for a walk in this hikers’ paradise, because we were always off investigating another town or stone circle. You have to actively make the time to stop doing things.
Words & Pictures: Matt Lancashire