Tutorials had finished, and under the illusion that we had plenty of time (a week and a half) to work on our final paper, one of my roommates and I set out for the Lake District on a blustery afternoon in which it definitely looked like rain. The Lake District is a large national park in northwest England, a land of rolling lumpy fells and reflective lakes and streaming gurgling estuaries and little towns that have hardly been touched since before the Victorian Age.
William Wordsworth was born in the Lake District and did much of his best work here; he considered it a retreat from the quickly-mechanizing world and was a fervent influencer in the decision to stop the railroad at the edge of the park. Now the only way from top to bottom is on fluorescent double-decker buses which smell like polyester and last year’s tourists. The buses take the curves of the single-lane roads at an often-careening pace that had the second-story wind-shield where we loved to sit regularly thwacked by knobby tree branches and streamers of green vines.
Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy’s main mode of transportation was walking across the moors, sometimes up to 11 and 13 miles a day. We went on a long hike of our own–from Keswick, one of the northern-most villages, down and around its lake Derwentwater and through some low lush farmland to the even-smaller village of Rothswaite.
Armed with rainboots, a baklava of socks and jackets, and wool scarves already smelling faintly of wet dog, we walked through sheep pasture and along river, up the side of fells through a deep red mud riddled with the pocks of cow prints, along barely-marked access paths slick with wet stones and water-logged leaves which oozed water and mud like a wound. We walked in a perpetual mist, our noses and chins buried in moist warmth against 45mph winds.
As we rose higher a vista of the surrounding hills rolled out below us in technicolor–bright green still like lime lichen, dotted with muddy fluffy sheep like picked tufts of cotton, mottled with patches of rusty red fern and deep mud and dusky purple heather, threaded by the waist-high walls of slate that meandered up and over the undulations like hardy goats. Mounting steep inclines and traversing rivulets and ledges and trees, they divide the landscape like a board game with their blue-green boundaries, culled from a wealth of rock as plenteous and onerous as the sea.
The trees here are different–gnarly, but not in the California way. They are bulbous and spindly and weathered like an old man’s arthritic fingers, their tips shaking unstably in the wind but sturdy in their crusty water-steeped bark foundation like an arm flecked with age spots.
At the top of Walla Crag, the whole of Derwentwater was laid out below us–a scattering of islands like the spikes on the back of a sea-monster sleeping on the lake’s bottom, the deep blue of the lake itself almost purple and rippled like satin in the wind. The gusts were strong enough you could lean into them and still stumble backwards and we couldn’t hear each other shouting.
On the way down we meandered through a hamlet of two slate farmhouses who had dammed their own small lake, stocked with ducks and the sliding shadows of geese far above. Below was a landscape of red rough rock and harsh grey stone, barren slender and yet grasping trees, a seeming silence and lack of life, a valley winding away and away into the hills with streams wending their way forcefully downwards in silvery slips, surreptitious yet powerful trickles.
At our bed and breakfasts we were introduced to the fortifying strength of the English breakfast–two eggs, sausages, salted ham (bacon), sautéed tomatoes and mushrooms, mixed fruit and yogurt, orange juice, toast, and as much tea as you wanted. At the pubs we relished real wood fires and big dogs under the tables, hearty stews and yellow light on cushions and dark wood. With Wordsworth we “could not but be gay / In such a jocund company”–and though it was perhaps the most unproductive five days for both of us it was also the most restorative, the most tea-steeped, wind-swept, and cheek-flushed, the most lasting–
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
–William Wordsworth, “I wandered lonely as a cloud”