Monday, April 23, 2012

Lake District

It’s been a week since our return, and in this week of heavy bustling and hours of staring at computer screens and collections, I’ve tried to hold onto the Lake District. It goes so fast. And really, it took three days for the ludicrous grandeur of the scenery to sink in.
We caught the train from Oxford to Windermere by way of Birmingham New and Preston stations. It’s the first time I’ve crossed England and I craned out the window to catch impressions. The prettiest stretch of country was Oxfordshire, between Oxford and Banbury, which was caught in a mist, and the Lancashire/Cumbrian countryside between Preston and Grasmere. In between were large stretches of green and of ripe yellow rapeseed, interrupted by smokestacks, dirty stations, and industrial towns; trailers penned in next to sheep.
Grasmere is idyllic, the Disney world of England. Its old world prettiness makes everything beside it look contaminated. The mountains rise steeply around the valleyed village, and dry stone fences braid the hillsides. Sheep graze everywhere and lambs stood under their stoic-faced mothers' bellies, stamping their hooves and wriggling their tails while they suckled. We walked through the small village (entirely pubs, restaurants, inns, and cafes), and wandered alongside the Rothay to skip stones, throw pooh sticks, and count the obscene numbers of daffodil clumps. (Whether they are native to the area or planted by gung-ho Wordsworth devotees who mutter ‘I wander lonely as a cloud’ on the hour I don’t know. The church, outside of which Wordsworth and his family are buried, is filled with the pungent smell of rotting daffodils.)
That evening we ate dinner at a pub called the Traveller’s Rest, which was down the main highway from our bed n’ breakfast. The sheep were being gathered in when we walked down the side of the A591 to the pub. A night of good food and wine followed – we were the last to leave. Outside we realised our mistake in forgetting a torch; there were no lights on the roadside and any illumination of the path came from the beams of passing cars. Above our heads the stars shone fierce and coldly. It’s the moment that stands out most to me from the entire weekend: the biting valley air, our unsure footsteps in the dark, and the wheeling constellations above. It's hard not to break the Wordsworth out: The universal spectacle throughout Was shaped for admiration and delight, Grand in itself alone, but in that breach... That dark deep thoroughfare, had Nature lodged The Soul, the Imagination of the Whole. Prelude, Book XIII

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