I have come over all poetic this morning which is not normal for me on a Tuesday. However, I have been fired up by a rather damp but wonderful weekend in the Lake District – a landscape which has inspired generations of artists, storytellers and poets.
My September Saturday walk along the shore of Grasmere Lake, up to Rydal Cave and around Rydal Water to Wordsworth’s home at Rydal Mount was, as in Wordsworth’s poem below, surprising calm after the wind and rain of the previous night. I travelled up to Cumbria with my dear friend, Gail, on Friday afternoon, and after battling the traffic jams, rain and blinding spray from the lorries filling the lanes of the M6, we were amazed to witness waves (yes waves!) on Grasmere Lake as well as a wall of white mist which travelled down the valley as the wind sucked up the water from the lake’s surface.
So as we set off along the Lake Shore the next morning, we found ourselves stepping over a carpet of broken branches and fallen trees. In fact it’s incredible how, on reading these lines from one of Wordsworth’s poems, I found within them such an accurate description of the lakeshore we witnessed. The poet’s words are far more beautiful than anything I could produce, of course, so over to you William…
A narrow girdle of rough stones and crags,
A rude and natural causeway, interposed
Between the water and a winding slope
Of copse and thicket, leaves the eastern shore
Of Grasmere safe in its own privacy:
And there myself and two beloved Friends,
One calm September morning, ere the mist
Had altogether yielded to the sun,
Sauntered on this retired and difficult way.
— Ill suits the road with one in haste; but we
Played with our time; and, as we strolled along,
It was our occupation to observe
Such objects as the waves had tossed ashore–
Feather, or leaf, or weed, or withered bough,
Each on the other heaped, along the line
Of the dry wreck.
Our return walking route from Rydal followed the ‘coffin trail’ which is so called because it was the route by which coffins were carried from Ambleside to Grasmere to St Oswald’s, which was the only church at the time with consecrated ground for burial. It’s a gentle ramble with just a rucksack to carry, but it’s hard to imagine how tough it must have been when carrying a coffin. In fact, you can see at least one coffin stone along the route, which must have provided a much needed resting point.
We were staying in Grasmere itself, which is also the home of the UK’s first Laureate for Storytelling – Taffy Thomas MBE – and the site of his Storyteller’s Garden. So our weekend visit was a perfect opportunity to meet up with him and share a pint of ale at the Grasmere Guzzler beer festival which was taking place in the village all weekend. I have worked with Taffy on many projects in the past and am currently co-writing two collections of World War I legends with him (to be published next year). He and his wife Chrissy have become good friends, ever since I first visited them in 2007 while working on Literacy Time magazine. I shall never forget the day we first met for it was probably one of the most pleasant day’s work I have ever done. After meeting me at Windermere station, Taffy and Chrissy took me to the National Storytelling Centre, fed me Grasmere gingerbread and kept my cup filled with coffee while Taffy told me stories and riddles by the fire. The centre itself may no longer be there but the Storyteller’s Garden is still going strong and Taffy continues to tour the country performing and telling stories to audiences of all ages. What a treasure he is!
By the way, the circular walk we did – from Grasmere to Rydal – is one of the walking trails in a lovely little book I produced for Taffy earlier this year. Called Tales and Trails, it offers five walking routes and maps, starting and finishing at the Storyteller’s Garden in Grasmere. Each is accompanied by a traditional tale which features locations along the walking route. It’s quite unique and a lovely little walking companion.
All lovely things really do have to come to an end and sadly my Lakeland weekend was no exception. Today it’s back to the desk and back to work while my walking boots dry out and my dog, Dexter, enjoys a well-earned rest. Bah humbug!