Lakes, Love and Legacy.
I’ve just got back from a short break in the Lake District. It was a fantastic weekend of hiking, exploration and family fun. Our visit coincided with the announcement that the Lake District has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, which was no surprise to those who, like me, consider this to be the most beautiful corner of England.
It’s long been a favourite place of mine, a love which traces back to the first time I was taken there as a child in 1994. For a southerner accustomed only to the lowest of hills and the gentlest of contours, this place was a revelation. There are mountains in England? Small ones, yes, more humble than the towering peaks I’ve encountered later in life, but amazing in their own right. The Lakeland Fells are astonishingly beautiful, thanks to their multi-coloured garb of heather, grass, forest and stone, and a long-weathered reminder that these were once as lofty as the Alps. They are the bones of an ancient landscape.
But it’s not just the mountains, it’s the lakes; big lakes, small lakes, thin, wide, deep and shallow, all of them reflecting the shapely hillsides rising all around them. I first saw these reflections in autumn, when the red-gold and russet-brown mirror images were a picture of blended magnificence and tranquillity. Add that natural loveliness to the charm of rural England at its best and you’ve got a truly wonderful place.
A special bond formed on that first trip that kept us coming back. We didn’t just pass through or admire from the roadside, we strapped on our hiking boots as a family and struck up into the heart of the Northern Fells. We got to know the rolls and folds of the landscape through our feet, rustling through bracken, crunching over stones, scrambling up scree-slopes and tramping over little wooden bridges and stiles. I’ve written before about how this experience lies at the roots of my love of adventure, and I’m forever thankful to my parents for teaching us to explore and conquer summits. Never mind the fact that my sister was only five when she topped Skiddaw, never mind the fact that the weather frequently closed in around us, we loved it. The breathtaking views, the intimate encounters with nature, the exhilaration of reaching the top, the discovery of hidden patches of beauty, all these things forged something very special inside us.
It was in the Lake District that I learnt to push myself, both against physical obstacles and against the limits in my own mind. It was here that I discovered a passion for exploration. It was here that I realised quite how amazing our country is. It was here that I was taught how to brave the elements and reach a goal, no matter how hard the going became. I learnt self-reliance, practical outdoor skills and that outdoor adventures bond people together more than many an indoor pursuit.
So I kept coming back. We climbed more fells, explored new areas and built up an intimate acquaintance with the land. It’s such a blessed relief from the interminable flatness of East Anglia. I can’t explain it, but there’s just something about getting up into the hills that refreshes my soul in direct correlation to the fatigue in my leg muscles. Distance is the main reason why I haven’t yet conquered all the Wainwrights.
This time we sauntered around Grasmere, got lost in and around Loughrigg, stepped across huge river-stones at Skelwith Bridge, explored the delights of Wray Castle on Lake Windermere, hiked an ambitious circuit around Rydal Beck and followed the River Kent up to its source. It was a fantastic time, and the weather was kind to us.
But the main reason why this trip was so special was that it was Lucy and Ethan’s first visit to the Lake District. I’ve been trying to persuade Lucy to come since we first met, and I finally succeeded after 10 years. Not having had the benefit of my childhood encounters, I’m not sure she quite gets why I love it so much, but she certainly enjoyed it and having some family time together. Ethan loved it too. I carried him around Loughrigg Tarn, crossed rivers on stepping stones with him, and taught him the word ‘mountain’ – a vital one. We played knights and castles, counted ducks together, paddled in streams and drank in the beauty and the quality time.
It was so special for me to show him a place that means so much to me. It felt like reliving my childhood, seeing first-hand repeats of memories I can only vaguely remember from the first time. I hope the same seeds that were sown in me have been sown in him. I don’t know if he’ll grow to love it quite as much as me, but I hope so. It’s not about me trying to relive my life through him, or forcing him to be someone he’s not, it’s about giving him the same opportunities I had. I make the introductions; the relationships are down to him.
However much he loves it, I hope he’ll have a thirst for adventure, a spirit that dares. I hope he’s not daunted by wilderness, and learns how to take care of himself and others when the comforts of twenty-first century life fall back a bit. I hope he finds a confidence and determination to conquer challenges, whether physical or metaphorical.
I long for him to see the beauty of this world, and not just to see it, but to cherish it. To protect and nurture it. His generation will face unprecedented challenges to the natural world that we have known, and it’s vital for him and his peers to have a passion and a connection to that natural world that inspires them to preserve it. If he doesn’t learn to love it now, he won’t care about saving it tomorrow. So I’ll take him back to the Lake District, and I’ll keep immersing him in the wild spaces around us. Fell or forest, bug or bird, lake or leaf, we need to keep connecting with this wonderful world that we’ve been given. We need to always remember how much we depend on it, how much it gives us. We need to make sure it’s there for those who come after us.
May a love of lakes be my legacy.