The Lake District – Langdale valley, April, inclement

3pm said the forecast for the weather to go downhill. It’s 1.30 and we’re sheltering in the Sticklebarn pub in the Langdale valley. Only sheep and walkers and rain, or hail and snow and rain, happen in the Langdales. The seasons arrive late, but the weather arrives early.

Climbing up to Crinkle Crag – all hail and snow and gales, all hail Macbeth, and it’s rocky, and I’m wet, but there’s something bizarrely joyful about it all. What – in weather like this – the hell am I doing here?

Lichen, extravagant orange, marks marks grey stone – as if the farmer had thought a stone to be sheep, but his palette, equally extravagant (poor multi-coloured beasts) is red and blue. (And not just the sheep – for tractors his palette is red, yellow and green.)

A line of trees marking the road heading away down the valley appears to be a natural extension of our mountain path – but we must allow for a 1000ft drop down to….

a drowned landscape – every field waterlogged, patterning the land, picking out the rain sky, and the cloud sky, and the fleeting sunlight.

Screes emerge out of rock valleys and spill down the sheer side of Pike o’Stickle – once fifty years I ran the screes but could I have run these screes as once I thought and if I did how come I’m now alive?  Memory playing false. 

We met two other walkers, one having left at 7 and now wet and joyful and talkative and springing done the mountain, and another on the way up, gloomy, a grunt returns a greeting, a plague on other walkers – dealing with inner demons.

We have no inner demons, but it’s our fear of outer demons, interlacing the gale and hail, that drive us off the summit ridge. You can see the lines of hail on a photo of me, bedraggled, smiling – slow exposure (photo not me) in the gloom.

(Four years ago we were here, and walking down to Three Tarns we met someone who’d climbed Everest the previous year – and all four of us took a wrong path down. It was summer, and a 10-minute mistake. But I’ve always felt reassured that we shared our error with an Everest mountaineer.)

We’re back in the hostel. Once a Victorian baronial pile. Silence and you hear the wind in the high-vaulted roof. Talk and words resound – you hear life stories, and they echo round. Hotels are for privacy, hostels are for sharing histories and exploits.

Youth hostels – almost fifty years on, and we’re all ages, and school-holiday children are belting around, making noise, and no-one cares. Who needs hush inside, when all is gale outside. Or in the morning after the gale, when all is still.

Flooding

I went out running a few mornings ago for the first time since I walked the Camino. My left foot remains a little sore, and I’ve been taking precautions, but I have to get out there! Running over Cranham Common, the wind blowing strong but no longer a gale, a rare touch of blue in the grey above, and big views over winter woods and hills on all sides.

My mind all the while has been on my favourite Lake District haunts, many overwhelmed by floods. The A591 torn away at one point, the bridge at Pooley Bridge undermined, and floods in Keswick, and up the Eden valley in Appleby. And now Glenridding.

Helicopter camera shots, TV cameramen, are after the event. Rivers race, streets are flooded. But the deluge itself doesn’t get recorded. Living through the rain, and the apprehension as it doesn’t stop.

And then there are the torrents debouching from the mountains, from the Helvellyn range, from the Scafells, the sheer force of water which tore through Glenridding. TV is after the event.

The fields were flooded as far south as Cheshire when I was there two weeks ago. The rain has nowhere to go. Further north still more so. Down south it’s grey and the wind howls, as it’s doing now, as a new depression wings its way in. But by comparison we’re no more than damp.

The rain follows a more northerly track, and still the depressions pile in.

Cornwall in the rain

Back to walking after four weeks, this time with heavy winter boots, the better to trudge through Cornish coastpath mud. To Falmouth from Truro, by a two-coach train which is as inconspicuous as a railway can be, leastways the stations, all away from the main town. The giveaway is the viaduct.

Clouds look heavy, and threaten, but the wind’s blowing from the north. I follow the rain remnants out to sea, and I’m taken by surprise when cloud suddenly rides lower from the hills behind, and the rain is torrential, but brief, and there’s a tunnel under the viaduct to shelter me, then a little later, just as it deluges again, a beach cafe, no inside, but canvas outside, and just enough shelter for me, a cappuccino and a flapjack. Though the flapjack does get a little soggy. And then at Maenporth, another deluge, and another cafe, empty, but an awning outside is enough – and this time a hot dog and cup of tea. Two real dogs, black, bedraggled and thirsty, arrive while I’m there.

Inbetween times, Gyllyngvase. One place where the Cornish name (Gilenvas) is so much simpler. And beyond Swanpool  I climb away from the road and through woodland, now a threadbare canopy, all transferred beneath, but better the oak leaf carpet than the mud and the muddy pools that lie beyond. But I love the big skies and the sea stretching south and west reflecting a watery sun, which I’m amazed is there at all. No blue sky, so the further landscape is all shades of grey and silver and winter brown, but close to it’s a rich green, and there’s a variety of ferns, including bracken, and tucked below the bushes a few campion still flower, and there’s a late – or early – violet or two as well.  A bramble carries one or two flowers, and the gorse is abundant yellow in places. All beneath that grey sky.

And it’s the 28th day of November.

Beyond lie three headlands, each one stretching further south, the third the Lizard. Tempting, but too far.. much too far to walk this day. First there’s the Helston river to cross, a ferry in summer, an additional ten-mile trek via Gweek in winter.

Advent Sunday tomorrow and I’m singing out loud an Advent hymn – O come o come Emmanuel –  with its lovely cadences and a special history – the tune has been sung in one form of another for maybe 1200 years. I pass a memorial, to a girl who died aged 20 a few years ago. ‘Now in God’s safe hands,’ I think it read.

We imagine a better world when we look out west beyond the sea, beyond the horizon. There lies paradise, and the safe hands of God. West is finis terrae.

But there’s another memorial, above Swanpool, to the Home Guard, who watched through WW2 for ‘a thousand days’ in case of the Germans landed. A memorial to war. There’s been a fort at Pendennis Castle since the time of Henry VIII. Now no-one watches, and there are only concrete bases where the gun emplacements once were.

I look out to sea with a sense of eternity, beyond war, as others have done, almost forever. For ten thousand times ten thousand days. When you walk alone, and I hardly met a soul, that sense is almost palpable.

(Ten thousand x the thousand years I wrote first. 100 million years BC. That would mean dinosaurs and not homo sapiens or homo habilis, or whatever. Not certain they had an ‘sense of eternity’. But who knows?)