It’s a wonderful world
A sunny Sunday in the Lakes. Glorious weather in a tourist hotspot. The Keswick Mountain Festival still in progress. It was bound to be busy, but wandering through the town before the run, it was easy to see the happiness on people’s faces. These last few weeks of high atmospheric pressure have lifted the pressure off us and shifted the nation outdoors. It’s plain to see that it suits us.
The bowling green was busy, tennis matches were in progress. Kids were scaling a climbing wall. People were celebrating life through sport – cycling, running, kayaking, swimming, taking part in races and challenges, and many, many, others were testing themselves on Derwentwater’s surrounding fells. With the landscape dressed in its Sunday-best weather, they couldn’t have picked a finer location.
We were about to begin a sporting adventure of our own. A route of about 10k, away from the roads, where the emphasis would be on discovery, not on speed, time or overall position. It would still be testing, though – the temperatures been climbing all day.
We met at the Theatre by the Lake. The building stands close to the lake shore, roughcast slate and stone, and it was stone that provided the main feature for much of our run. If I’d listened more in geology lessons at school, I could perhaps have explained the glacial origin of the lake or named the rocks we were skipping around. But I didn’t – or I’ve forgotten – and the main thing I can tell you about stone is that it radiates heat. Although we were out for a run, the idea of a swim became very, very appealing. As did patches of shade.
We started off in shade, and what a wonderful start to a run. We went from being surrounded by people, ice-cream vans and festival infrastructure to being surrounded by woodland within a minute. Green and leafy, this was Cockshot Wood, where the trees have stood for generations and where the paths were clear and wide. Lovely, easy running, soft and forgiving underfoot and perfect for finding a rhythm. All too soon, we were through this oasis of calm and cool and heading out into the sunshine. We followed a lane, hard packed, narrowed with nature’s lush greenery – a few nettles, but mostly benign – then crossed a road and welcomed another bit of shade.
This time, the shade was armed with teeth: a steep climb that all too soon became near impossible to run. The spongy earth gave way to slabs of rock tangled with trees roots. Hands stretched out for balance, others were offered in support, but the climb was mercifully short and the views from Castlehead were more than worth it: the length of the lake, its islands, boats, kayaks and swimmers, tiny in the distance, and across the water Swinside and Catbells – everything laid out in exactly the right places.
We stayed in the woods as long as possible, crossed a bridge by a small waterfall, diminished by the dry conditions to a trickle, but emerging into the sun was necessary if we were to reach the southern end of the lake. And for a while, we had easy terrain. Pathways that must have been used for an event earlier in the day were marked with tiny red and yellow flags, unruffled by any breeze. Then once again we started to climb. The path narrowed, began to twist and turn following the natural contours of the land. Above us, Walla Crag stood proud, while we picked our way around rocks and boulders on a narrow track that dropped steeply below us. It was boiling, it was dusty, but it was worth it. To be away from the crowds, to be in this exceptional part of the world.
A few minutes more, and we were at Ashness Bridge. We’d been promised a drinks stop, and after hearing Barrow Beck’s waters running across boulders that seemed like a very fine idea. We trotted to a shady spot and slurped down the refreshments. And after that, we dropped to the lakeshore and with the hard work done, enjoyed a smashing run back towards Keswick.
The water levels were very low. Under normal conditions, we would have been climbing up and down to follow the route, but the shingle shore was wide. Plenty of people had taken to the waters – mostly, it has to be said, wearing wetsuits – a few dogs were cooling off, families were picnicking, and we crunched around them past driftwood trees and boulders. Occasionally, venturing further into woodland we were on firm paths. There were sections of grassland and a stunning section of boardwalk which curved through head-high grasses and yellow flag iris. There was a tree where the roots were exposed to a depth of eighteen inches before their tangled complexity disappeared under the shingle.
Now we were heading back to town there were more and more people, but it never felt crowded and even at the viewpoint at Friar’s Crag, it was quiet. I stopped to read the words on Ruskin’s monument. I’ll quote part of it:
The spirit of God is around you in the air that you breathe and his glory in the light that you see and in the fruitfulness of the earth and the joy of its creatures …
Now I don’t claim to be religious, but I think those words sum up something profound about nature and our environment. To me it says, open your eyes, experience it, feel it. Enjoy both the heat of summer’s sun and the bite of winter’s winds. Register the pounding of your heart, the heaving of your lungs and the burn of your tiring quads, by all means, but always remember to stop and admire the view, to note the unfurling fronds of bracken and to listen to the sound of water on a shoreline.
At Derwentwater, that was a lesson you couldn’t help but take on board.