For somebody traditionally organised I find myself in the unprecedented situation of starting my holiday today having made precisely no arrangements. It’s all laid out in my mind, a 5 night walking tour of the Lakes taking in some known and treasured areas and (unsurprisingly) pubs, but when I tried booking accommodation last Wednesday everywhere I rang was full. Thursday night I got home past midnight and Friday evening was another night out so here I am hoping availability has somehow improved in the last three days. It hasn’t, but what has improved is the weather forecast meaning I can break my promise of roofed nights only. In the space of an hour and a few phone calls everything is booked – 2 nights camping in Hawkshead, 2 nights B&B in Keswick and 1 night at the sublime Kirkstone Pass Inn. The car is packed and three hours and 2 seconds later I’m standing in a field in Hawkshead next to my erected 2 second tent. Can it really be this simple? Have I lived my adult life under a code of regimented planning and organisation for no reason? Is this how spontaneity feels?
The omens are good. It was a painless journey, the sun a constant and the landscape improving every yard further from Stoke (obviously). I decided to take a short cut to Hawkshead taking in the Sawrey car ferry, bisecting Windermere and taking 20 minutes off the landlocked alternative journey. It bothers me not the least that I just miss out on a crossing and have to wait the 20 minutes in the glorious sun watching ducks and dinghys while the ferry turns around. The sun, panoramic splendour and a sense of freedom have insulated me against almost anything that might otherwise attempt to take the shine off proceedings.
Hawkshead, if you are not familiar with it, is the epitome of a Lakes village. Framed by rugged peaks that beshadow the village from the late evening sun it conveys an authentic charm throughout. This is exemplified by the impossibly quaint church that sits perched atop a small hillock, and the perfect slate flagged winding footpaths that radiate gently away skyward – to who knows where – between peaceful sheep filled fields and ancient hedgerows alive with birdsong.
It has four pubs, the best for drinking being the Kings Arms but none less than great. The KA is a no-go zone presently as it is packed with young families winding down for the evening with the shouts, tempers and physical outbursts that young kids have when they are tired and have had enough for the day. Perhaps a return after their bedtime…
A silky pint of Hartleys Cumbria Way at the Queens Head (traditional pub names are alive and kicking here) anoints my arrival and I start to write this blog. The inevitable Man Utd fans are enjoying “their” team beating Spurs on TV (the digital switchover has finally brought decent picture quality to Cumbria) and tired Daniel on the next table is being implored to have one last fork of food but cannot be drawn away from his plastic pterodactyl that climbs the exposed stone wall in a way that is both historically inaccurate and scientifically impossible. Surely mum and dad need to put Daniel straight on this before getting hung up about one last mouthful. Then it’s onto the Sun Inn, the pub I rate least but a kid free zone, where my first three choices of food have all sold out along with the Jennings Cockerhoop I had in mind. The trade is non-stop and the bar staff stressed out but a pint of Landlord is a good second best and I expect events will be more civilised after tonight as the weekend sun-seekers depart the area.
Two couples on nearby tables have struck up conversation and discovered they are both from Leeds. Couple A describe their neighbourhood (well – mostly pubs) in detail and after they leave I enjoy listening to couple B slagging off “common” Couple A. I entertain the notion that Couple A are simultaneously chuckling about snobbish Couple B as they trudge back to their lodgings. My walk back to the campsite a quarter of a mile away is cinematic. There is no man-made light and the cloudless sky would put any planetarium to shame. The stars are are numberless, bright and vivid and it becomes profoundly obvious why our ancestors would routinely navigate by the night sky. Sat nav and GPS are great inventions but hardly beautiful or romantic. That said, when I want to get somewhere I’m more interested in the accuracy than the art. Back at the campsite it’s too dark to see where I left my my tent and I resort to using my car remote to flash the lights and guide me home. Lets call that a scoredraw: Technology 1 – Nature 1.