Sunday, June 29, 2014

the lake

When you travel alone, you inadvertently (or mostly inadvertently) pick up fragments of other people's lives. Their conversations, typically muted by the noise of your own voice, ring loud and clear when you yourself are silent.

And so at breakfast...


...I overheard the foursome at the table next to mine discuss their return home today. And at the ferry landing, I listened to the grandma make plans to care for her granddaughters in the comming week as the mom has a particularly busy work schedule. Also at the landing, I listened to a mom reprimand her young son for being restless, and the girls complain about being hungry.

Finally, at dinner, I couldn't help but overhear at the local pub, four seniors (well, they were slightly more senior than I am) complain about not getting responses to various texts they had sent to their various children. They figured, probably correctly, that the kids got them, but just did not respond.

One comment I have on that is how much times have changed since I was last in England! It was a little over five years ago. Then, computers, smart phones, WiFi -- they were all rarefied entities. Few people depended on them when they traveled. I did need WiFi, because of Ocean and it was always a struggle finding a spot where I could post. Now, local seniors at a Pooley Bridge pub whip out their smartphones and compare notes on the lives of their grown children.

[It's somewhat ironic that my biggest source of internet stress right now is at the farmette. I did not mention it in the rush of leaving, but internet at the farmhouse had been down for at least 24 hours before my departure. The old habits were with me again: I had to drive down to a bar with WiFi in order to post. Even as we speak, Ed is still trying to understand why, intermittently this week, the internet keeps failing. Me, I've had splendid connections in the two places Ive stayed at so far. We live in funny times.]

After breakfast, I decide to take the little ferry to the other (southernmost) tip of the lake, some 15 kilometers away from Pooley Bridge. From there, I will hike most of the way back again. In a sense, Sunday is a poor choice for this expedition. If you want a quiet, contemplative setting, doing the ferry and the most popular trail on a Sunday in summer will not give you the retreat from humanity that other days might. But I am less interested in a retreat than I am in good weather and this day looks on the weather maps to be the best guess for a rain free day. An hour long boat trip across the lake and then a multi-hour trek back is best accomplished on a rain-free day.

Well, the rains held off, but it is quite possible that today will have been the coolest of all the days I am in Great Britain. We barely reached 60 and out on the lake, the gusty wind made you wonder if autumn was in the air. I spent only some of the ride outside, admiring the scenery.





The rest? I retreated to the cabin below and dozed off a bit. I'm still way behind in sleep and I find it easy and tempting to take naps in the quiet moments of the day.

At the end of the ride, in Glenridding, I got off with the handful of others and quite suddenly we all dispersed and I had my moment of quiet.


Glenridding is not any larger than Pooley Bridge and I canvassed it quickly and without pause. My goal was to first hike to the nearby village of Patterdale. My last night's dinner companions mentioned that Patterdale would be hosting a Country Fair this Sunday. When I asked what that entails, they shrugged and said -- probably animals. Should be interesting. We might pop over on our way home.

Ah, like our county fairs -- I thought. Cows with blue ribbons. Hogs and maybe a few rides for the kiddies. Okay. I'll check it out.

It was nothing like that. Oh, sure, there were vintage tractors on display. Too, there were food stands, though not too many. And you could buys some local products. Honey, for example. And I saw one ride. Well, not really a ride -- an inflatable slide where a kid could bounce around some. No one was bouncing when I walked by.

The emphasis here was on dogs. Local folks brought their dogs. Working dogs: hunters and herders. But pet dogs as well, to be included in the terrier racing, for example (they chased a rag bone suspended on a pulley).


This is dog country.


Unquestionably. Dogs are welcome in pubs, they travel on the ferries with their families, they hike the trails along with their owners.

And there is great pride in the well mannered dog. The one who knows how to do the basics. Who doesn't pull at the lead or bark at strangers.

I found the pride and preoccupation with the canine world to be both sweet and touching. Here's a lad with his border collie. The bond between them was obvious. And when I went on to pet another pooch, the boy made sure I did not neglect his beloved.


I could have stayed for the entire afternoon watching various dog judging events and demonstrations (or I could have signed up for the Fell Racing event which included a separate judging of the uphill race for senior participants), but the clouds had rolled in and the wind had picked up and I needed to get going on my hike. I noted at the bottom of the Country Fair program that the date has been set for next year's event: June 28th, in case you're in the area.

Time to hike. It's only 7 miles to Howtown -- the point halfway down the lake where I can pick up the return ferry back to Pooley Bridge. There's a bit of an up and down slant to it. Climb up, go down. Climb up, go down. But that's good. I had my jacket off before too long. And the views were as green and lush as you'd expect. This is Wordsworth country: he attended school in Penrith and the beloved poem, Daffodils, refers to a field found just at the western edge of Lake Ullswater. He had spent the night in Pooley Bridge and on the next day, he and his sister Dorothy were enchanted by the cascading yellow flowers along the shore.

It's not the season for daffodils. But there is quite a lot to instill feelings of enchantment:





Oddly, though I crossed paths with a number of other hikers, every single one of them was heading south even as I was heading north. I don't know why. Perhaps it is customary, perhaps the inclines are more gentle -- in any case, I found myself uttering far more "hellos" than I usually do during longer hikes.

At Howtown, I decided to hop on the returning ferry. It would take me another three hours to complete the circuit along the lake all the way down to Pooley Bridge and I had already been up and about for nearly twice that on this blustery day. So, ferry home.


In Pooley Bridge, I buy a shortbread covered with caramel and chocolate (the English like their cakes on the sweet side; this one is common and often referred to as the millionaire's bar) and took it to my little room were I boiled a pot of water for tea.

Still hungry, I set out to a second pub (the Crown) for an early dinner. There, I had the recommended and good enough chicken sizzled with peppers and onions. Pub food. I surely am not complaining -- the portion was huge and I ate all of it.

It's evening now and the village of Pooley Bridge has calmed down considerably after its weekend rush of visitors. The clouds have moved to the north and there are large swatches of blue sky again. I don't know if the weather will hold. I don't know where I'll walk tomorrow. I'm munching a stack of biscuits purchased at the convenience store and thinking about the fields of ferns and foxglove (digitalis purpurea) that I encountered on my walks here.


The foxglove plant produces copious seeds and though the plant's life is short lived (it's really a biannual rather than a perennial), it is sure to be replaced by the next generation and the one after. And that's a comforting thought to keep in your mind now,  on this quiet evening in Pooley Bridge.