I haven’t, exactly, been critical about season 3 of Treme so far because I have been enjoying it, but the first two episodes have felt a bit soft focus, lacking in any narrative bite. That comes to the fore in episode 3, which felt sharper and a lot more energetic from the outset.
Things feel like they’re starting to move now, the characters not just living their lives but actually set in motion towards things that will play out. For instance: Janette’s down in New Orleans, looking over the generous restaurant space her would-be partner’s eager to put up, whilst Annie’s gone for a meal with the guy who manages Shawn Colvin and who’s interested in managing her. There’s an unusually telecinematic sequence where, instead of letting each scene play out, the episode cuts back and forth, making the two strands intertwined when they have nothing to do with each other except thematically.
Both go for it, with differing aftermaths. Janette re-hires Jacques as her sous-chef, moves out of Brooklyn with a farewell hot dog blow out with her housemates, Annie goes on the road with her band for an overnight gig.
There’s a third negotiation in town too. Davis is utterly committed to his opera and is hiring old musicians left right and centre, guys who played on classic recordings but never saw a penny from them. So now he’s up on his great big ethical high horse, determined to give them payment, at the expense of not just himself but Aunt Mimi, both of then foregoing their percentages and expenses. Poor Davis. He’s still the same clown he always was, though Annie has rubbed some of the sharper edges off; I can tolerate him now because there are some tiny indications that he may be growing up, not that he ever will, completely.
Elsewhere, some more of the characters are interacting. Antoine and Delmond are playing in a gig and talk afterwards about Albert. Delmond’s taking an increasing role in organising the tribe but they need rehearsal space. So Antoine puts in a word and Delmond turns up at LaDonna’s, very clearly out of his depth with a woman like her (I loved the scene, which was a gross mis-match: when has Khandi Alexander ever not dazzled in Treme. But Rob Brown sinks it as well with a finely judged piece of underplaying).
Terry Colson and his partner, Detective Nikolich, catch up with the potential killer of Jay Cardello. Terry’s getting tired, thinking of handing in his papers. He gets a boost, and Nikolich a cynical surprise, when they stop for coffee where Sofia Bernette works and she passes on to Terry the words of praise her mother, Toni, had for him.
And the girl has a definite streak of the little minx in her, dropping onto her mother’s shoulders that she’d seen Terry and that, oh yes, he’s very tall.
Not that Toni’s interested right now. Toni is precipitating something that will run through this last full-length season. We’ve seen in the open a black Police Officer in uniform walk into a crowded bar where the music is playing and Delmond is watching along with his current girl, Alison, Toni’s assistant, collect a crate of Bud at the bar, then beat a kid who stepped in his way. Wilson is Toni’s suspect for the Arbrea murder. Now she’s throwing the cat among the pigeons by taking out a newspaper ad inviting people assaulted, brutalised and browbeaten by Wilson to contact her. There’s going to be a lot of shit coming her way, and she’s warning Sofia to be squeaky clean, because she’ll be a target if the Police can get her on anything.
Meanwhile, Nelson’s still trying to build his Empire. This NOAH thing is going to blow up in people’s faces, sooner rather than later, and if he and Robinette’s firm have done it right, even at no-profit, they’ll be first in line when the real tap opens and gushes money. There are signs that something’s starting to crumble: Antoine’s wife, Desiree, has found a NOAH sign outside her family home, she’s see Nelson, she’s started digging, along with others, into what’s going on. Nelson don’t mind, Nelson’s taking out Cindy who wanted a job but who settles for an evening’s wining and dining and getting all her kit off in Treme‘s most comprehensive and gratuitous nude scene so far.
In fact, Nelson’s not the only one getting his end away. As the episode slows down towards the end, it’s in the air. Antoine’s on a five night tour in Texas, the suspicious Desiree is phoning him every night and, what do you know, the pone rings unanswered whilst Antoine is screwing this fat, bouncy bird.
And Sonny and Linh are finally grated an hour away from her chaperoning father, which they use to finally get it on, in a scene that, for all its sordid setting in the back of a car, is a delicate, gentle and touching counterpoint to Antoine’s crude thrusting.
Which makes all the more effective the transition to a Doctor’s surgery, where Albert Lambreaux is being told he has Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. There is a treatment, with a 50% survival rate. I’m betting he doesn’t tell Delmond any time soon.
It’s a closing scene to its roots, which is why I was surprised, and a bit shocked, that the actual closing scene was the relatively unimportant one of L.P. Everett following up the death he’s investigating, by being taken to see the overturned, burnt-out car, down by the river. It’s a morning scene, and it couldn’t have gone anywhere else, chronologically, nor could it have been placed between the Life of sex and the Death of Albert, but I wouldn’t have finished with that.
Having successfully managed to get myself a round trip on the Ratty and eighty minutes in Central Eskdale all by public transport in a single day, last month, I am now emboldened to plan another expedition to a part of the Lakes that I thought was more or less barred to me by distance and communication.
As some of you may now, for several years I’ve been in the habit of taking a week off in November, around my birthday, and treating myself to a day in the Lakes on the Thursday. Usually, these are pretty staid affairs: train to Windermere, bus to Grasmere, wander round Ambleside, blah de blah. There’s not much margin for variation.
But Eskdale has shown that maybe I’ve got more options that I dismissively thought, and another quick planning session has made it clear I can do something a bit less ordinary for 2018. I’m planning a Patterdale Expedition.
Credit for this must go to Drew Whitworth, whose splendid blog ‘The 214 Wainwright Fells without a car’ covers his determination not only to climb all 214 Wainwrights but complete a second round that includes every summit in the Outlying Fells as well, all via public transport (it’s in the Blogroll on the Home Page, and if you haven’t tried it, do so). His most recent walk included a trip on the Ullswater steamer from Howtown to Glenridding and a return from Patterdale on the 508 bus to Windermere. As Wally (Thhe Flash) West used to say, when Mark Waid was scripting his comic, Bing Bing, Bing Bing, Bing Bing.
So: by catching the 8.30am train from Manchester on the relevant date, and waiting 45 minutes for the 508, I can get to and from Glenridding (where I was married) and back for the 5.40pm train, returning to Manchester for 7.25pm. And, having safely arrived at Glenridding, I will have time for the complete round trip on the Ullswater Steamer, Glenridding to Pooley Bridge, calling in at Howtown both ways.
Of course, it’s not perfect. There’ll be no getting off at Pooley Bridge, just there and back, non-stop. And I’ve a 75 minute layover at Glenridding before I can catch the Steamer in the first place, not all of which I can fill by getting a hot meal. But I’m going to have two glorious hours travelling up and down Ullswater, my favourite Lake, the Queen of the Lakes, and I can say that even if it chucks it down the whole time I’m out there.
But if this comes out as well as Eskdale did, there’s all of next summer to play with, and with more sailings, who knows? Time to be a bit ambitious, methinks. Make this one work and we’ll see if I can contrive some quality time at Buttermere for 2019…
Once upon a time, going to Eskdale for the day would have been simple. It would have been alarm at 6.00am, behind the wheel at 7.00am, cross the Cumbria border at 8.00am and, depending on which of the many short cuts available that I chose, Eskdale for about 10.00am, early enough to climb Scafell, if that was my thing for the day.
But let’s not pretend that’s my option now. Public transport won’t do that sort of thing for me. Today’s expedition is going to cost a lot in terms of traveling time, the best part of ten hours on trains, or waiting for connections. And that’s not counting the Ratty.
Given that, at the very best, I’ll only get two and a half hours in Eskdale itself, some have asked if it’s going to be worth it? That’s before we throw in factors like being on a week’s leave, which means that this year’s extraordinary heatwave has vanished out the window, leaving cool, cloud-laden and frequently wet conditions all round, or that I’ve been feeling drained and dozy all week, the wet weather has brought out my arthritic knee and hip, not to mention that I’ve been finding sleep as elusive as the point to Boris Johnson, and I’m asking myself the same question.
It’s not merely tradition that sees me keep too the 6.00am alarm, which has to drag me awake. I’m booked on the 8.30am train from Piccadilly but I intend to catch the bus at 7.00am: it’s a 203, remember, and my paranoia about that service is entirely justifiable. I then excel myself by painfully half-jogging to catch the 6.50am bus which, with a clearly energised driver charging through traffic lights instead of slowing down in a bid to get them to turn red, drops me off with over an hour to spare.
Of course, if I had taken even half of that hour for additional sleep, I would not have been here for 8.45am.
My bag is full of all the wants and requirements for the day – scotch egg barms, water bottle, mp3 player with old-style ear-covering headphones and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, which I want to read in readiness for the English publication of The Labyrinth of the Spirits next month – except for cold drinks. I acquire two small bottles of Diet Coke and take up position in Platform 14’s ‘Departure Lounge’ by 7.50am, wondering how I’m going to get to Lancaster on a train bound for Blackpool North.
The mystery is solved when this is fully announced as one of those split services: from Preston the rear two carriages will detach and head for the seaside and the front two carry on for, ultimately, Windermere via my first change. Needless to say, Piccadilly announce that the other way round and we’ve reached Bolton (hack, plew!) before the conductor interrupts my musical reverie to tell me I’m in the wrong half of the train. I’d snagged myself a nice window/table seat too, but then I get another one further up, albeit with the surface sticky from spilt juices.
The day’s early tension faded out once I was on the train and everything was out of my hands, but the relaxation didn’t last.
There were some hints of blue streaks in the sky, pale from a hundred washings, and they grow a bit until, by Horwich Parkway the forward sky looks very promising.
We’re six minutes late at Preston and by the time the carriages are separated, we’ve eaten up fifteen of the twenty-five minutes I have between connections at Lancaster, enough to set the butterflies off again. The sky’s getting better and hotter, though there’s still enough cloud ahead of us to leave it all balanced.
I leave the train at Lancaster with that ten minutes still preserved, debouching onto the same platform the Barrow-in-Furness train will arrive at, but I relax only for moments. The Edinburgh train immediately before it is running late, enough that it will inevitably delay mine. For which I have a five minute connection at Barrow…
The Edinburgh train is processed out quickly, but next on the board is the bloody Glasgow train, which, as an express, takes precedence. A friendly porter confirms the Barrow train will follow it, about ten minutes late: they do try to hold the Coast train connection.
What can I do? Nothing but play it as it lays. I’ve been on a hot streak with the pen all the way so far, and I’m loving the music. So what if the bloody Glasgow train is itself five minutes late? My careful plans didn’t factor in checking alternatives, so until I get to Barrow, I won’t know when the next Coast train is. Every hour? Every two hours? Even if all I can do is turn straight round at Dalegarth, I’ll get my Ratty trip if it kills me.
At last, no more than seventeen minutes late, we move off. I’ve grabbed another window/table seat, from which I’ll be able to see the hills inland, once we’re around Morecambe Bay, but until then the views are through the other windows.
At Arnside, we begin the crossing of the Bay, wide, flat expanses of water to both sides, long horizons. Kent’s Bank, where (Great-) Uncle Alfand Aunty Marion used to live, is an isolated platform in the middle of nowhere. I detect we’re approaching Ulverston (where I was once offered a job I declined) by the sight of the monument we only knew as Hoad (pronounced in a deep and serious tone not unlike Hoder), and this is where I get my first serious views of the fells. I have to puzzle out exactly what I’m looking at before I realise it’s the Conistons – this is an unusual angle to see them at – with the Old Man and Dow Crag cloud-bound.
Dalton, where we holidayed with Uncle Frank a couple of times before the bust-up over Aunty Lily Bunting’s Will that split the family, is much more extensive than I ever remember it. It’s alsowhen my connection should be leaving Barrow.
The train eventually crawls into Barrow, not that that matters when the conductor announces that the next Coast train leaves from Platform 2 at 12.06. So much for the 12.10 or 12.45 Ratty. So much for two hours in Eskdale.
If I have to sit around for half an hour in Cumbria, I wouldn’t choose Barrow Station (or anywhere in Barrow, come to that). It’s now bright, breezy and sunny and I’m filling in page after page in my Notepad with almost manic determination, swapping from the first draft of this post to a vital scene in my current novel, to another ‘Infinite Jukebox’ blogpost, inspired by one of the songs on my new, extended playlist.
The train arrives and the station announcer reels off a list of stops that takes almost as long to read as we were late in getting here. The driver wanders off for a cup of tea, leaving us standing on the platform, listening to the recitation over and over, until a couple of minutes before departure, when we are finally allowed to board. I score my fourth window/table seat of the day but I’m planning from here to spend more time gaping at Black Combe than writing.
At first, the Combe’s on my left as we swing north to cross the Duddon Estuary. A long line of rounded fells extends beyond it, and the predatory cloud keeps picking it its summit as I try to work out just what I’m looking at in the darker distance, but I’m unable to orient the angles to my satisfaction. On my side, the shrouded Conistons reappear.
I’m seeing the Duddon Fells again. It’s been a while. Proud and shapely little Stickle Pike, so easy to access from the top of the Broughton Mills road. Caw, beyond it, that I wanted to desperately to have been included in Wainwright and which I finally climbed from ‘The Outlying Fells’.
Next stop Foxfield (‘all change for Broughton and Coniston’, at least until Dr Beeching swung the axe that had so recently cut off that branch line when first I sailed past here). Shy red deer, a long long way from Martindale, peer at our train from an overgrown field, startled into stillness.
Millom, where one Friday teatime of a cottage holiday we went for fish’n’chips, stunned at the silence, the emptiness of the streets, as if we were in a ghost town, and indeed we were for though we didn’t know it then, this was the day they closed the Ironworks, throwing practically the whole town out of work without a word of warning.
This land is full of memories and the train just a line on which to peg them out.
Now we’re properly in the shadow of Black Combe, the cloud still snatching and retreating, and I can see the line of the path from Wicham by which we climbed it, without fuss or bother, in 1974, was it, when the haze was too great for the extensive view from the top, and then Silecroft but not its beach of stones, so perfect for two kids to try to hurl back into the sea. Rolling grass undulations keep us from seeing the sea.
Bootle, where Uncle Alf and Aunty Marion moved to, and to which I drove, in two successive Aprils, for their funerals. Some of the lower Eskdale Fells are now visible as we finally pass the Combe’s mammoth footprint, Muncaster Fell (which we climbed one morning before paying a duty visit to our elder relatives), a denuded Irton Pike, cloud behind.
I see more when we cross the Esk estuary. I see the gates into Eskdale, I see the shape of reclusive Miterdale, where last I reached its head I took my then-wife and her children. I see Scafell is cloud-choked.
And then it’s Ravenglass, and I may be way behind on my carefully planned schedule, but I am nevertheless here. Because this is where I come from, in whatever an atheist has for a spirit. Great Grandad Robert, who I never knew, was Station Master here. Grandad Arthur was born here in 1894. This is where the Crookalls are from, for all that the rest of my lineage is pure Manchester.
Do I recognise the Ratty? Not a bit of it.
It’s changed and grown, and I’ve seen too little of that, and nothing for the last fifteen years or so and everything of the ramshackle little organisation with the two trains, run by Volunteers from a Preservation Society, the members of which included my Dad, descending to me after his death, is gone. Only the lines and the turntable remain. I’m booked on the 1.30pm from Platform 3 (Platform 3!). There’s a green steam train hooked up to it.
I hasten down to see it (and take a photo), though it’s ‘Northern Rock’ and not the familiar and very old faithful, ‘River Irt’. The surroundings may have changed, but the small of coal and steam is instantly recognisable.
There are a variety of carriages: open, closed, roofed. I stake a claim in an open carriage with ages to go. I am going to see everything the clouds will allow me to see. And this really is how it used to be: I remember roofed carriages first being introduced. I remember ‘Northern Rock’ being introduced to the line, and the debate about what to name it: it was suggested that, to harmonise with the three steam trains already operating, it be called ‘River Bleng’, and wondering where the heck the Bleng was.
How long is it since I actually rode on the Ratty? It isn’t this century, but Hell’s Bells, it could be as long ago as the Eighties! It was a cold, frequently wet day, with the fells out of the question and I made up my mind on the spur of the moment, killing time with a there-and-back-again to Dalegarth that I remember for getting chatty across two carriages with an attractive young blonde (wearing a wedding ring) who was up from Lancaster for the day. At Irton Rose, she invited me to sit with her in her carriage to continue the conversation, an enthusiasm for my company I wasn’t used to. Alas, to my everlasting regret, I took the ring pretty seriously, and let her go off wandering from Dalegarth instead of volunteering to accompany her: what else was I doing with my time anyway? Frequently, the kindest word I can say for my younger self is ‘chump’. Absolute chump.
There are no blondes today, attractive or otherwise, and the conductor reckons it will rain before we get to Eskdale. So what? If it rain, it rains. (And it doesn’t).
Steam starts to be produced up top amidst a regular noise more like clicking than chuffing. I’d worried about getting a train in mid-August, even on a midweek day, remembering crowded carriages and sharing compartments but we’re not much more than half-full. It never used to be like that on the Ratty in August.
We’re only waiting for the line to clear, for ‘River Mite’ all handsome in gleaming maroon, to draw in the down train. Oh God, I remember ‘River Mite’ being introduced, and the shock of seeing it not being in green livery, before the decision to repaint ‘River Esk’ in black.
Then we’re really off and outside the station everything is as it was fifty years ago, and if you think I’ve waxed nostalgic this far, now I’m mainlining times that were. Parents and Uncle and kid sister crowd me into the corner of this little compartment and for a moment, several moments, eyes sting and my cheeks are wet.
Irton Road (where I am shocked to find we don’t stop) means we have swung away from the line of the Mite and the miniature crags and cliffs of Muncaster Fell, and are entering Middle Eskdale. Harter Fell stands proud, taller than its real height, and Green Crag’s Cullin-like ridge commands the eye. Eskdale Green has, shockingly, been renamed ‘The Green’ (and we don’t stop there either, what is this place coming to?) But we do stop at a station that never existed in my time, Fisherground Halt, because these intermediate stations are now only request stops.
Next is Gilbert’s Cutting, which flabbergasts me by being so green, moss and fern having softened the bare rocks of its creation in 1963. And Beckfoot Crossing, where the line of ‘Owd Raty’ runs parallel for a stretch before diverging to Boot village, a section deemed too steep for ‘Laal Ratty’ when it was rescued from oblivion.
At last I’m in Dalegarth, for 2.10pm, giving me only eighty minutes among hills and fells, rock and grass and woods not seen in like forever, that I’d honestly given up hope of seeing again, and I was wrong about that, and glory be, ‘River Irt’ is sat here, bright as ever, waiting to pull the next down train.
Where our walks to Boot tended to be more of an amble, I haven’t the time now to be anything but brisk. I cross to the right hand side to face the oncoming traffic, little of it that there is, but nobody else does. Boot has been heavily re-developed, and they’re still knocking it about now, scaffolding over the bridge: tourism. I don’t recognise much.
But the path I want, up beside the Whillan Beck (we always called it ‘the’: I wonder why) has to be the only one on the right. The cascades and torrents, the rushing, milk-white water crashing down over broken rock is immediately familiar, but it’s inaccessible now, and I’m sure there used to be a monkey-puzzle tree along here. And surely this wasn’t a tarmaced lane? Often steep, it leads me almost to Gill Head Farm (National Trust) and the real footpath, to Eel Tarn and Scafell. A half day scrambling around here, that forlorn week of going away after Dad died, me with my little transistor radio in my anorak front pocket, my mother disgusted.
From here I should have the perfect view of Scafell’s least interesting side but for that bloody cloud. It’s not much, it’s not far, it’s maybe 500′ at the very best, but it’s all I can do in the time I have.
So, down to Dalegarth again. The steep bits of the lane are worse for my knees than in ascending, but its still quicker downhill. The Whillan Beck cascades are too screened by trees for a decent photo but I take one anyway. Back in Boot, there’s a big pub with a big beer garden, full of benches and tables full of people, with parasols advertising Robinson’s Bitter (our Robinson’s Bitter? Robbie’s from Stockport?) and that’s just wrong, completely wrong. My parents would have had a fit.
The first thing I do back at the station is to leave a little liquid reminder that I’ve been here (TMD, I hear you cry but I couldn’t resist the alliteration). I’ve just finished buying replenishments when my train steams in: this time it’s ‘River Mite’, to my disappointment, having hoped to see the old holy trinity of trains (‘River Esk’s driver is off ill, I later hear). Three rivers three trains, three memories.
I transfer the contents of a bottle of cold Harrogate Spring Water (what’s wrong with Buxton, then?) to my water bottle and drain the cold can. As I recycle plastic bottles and cans fervently, I have to take these home. I’m now accumulating quite a stock.
As we pull out, the first fine spatters of rain hit us, but we quickly outrun them. So much for showers in Eskdale.
I sit with my back to the engine, looking back at where I’ve been, at Eskdale for the longest possible time. At the end of the line, bordering the Mite estuary, there behind me is Nether Wasdale, free from cloud at last. Seatallan, where it ended, and Middle Fell, where it started, side by side. Unseen, all the other Wainwrights crowd between them.
As I cross the the mainline station that Great Grandad would probably still recognise, I’m gratified by one last reminder that not everything has changed: ‘River Mite’ has edged onto the turntable, and the driver still has to turn it round by applying his shoulder and pushing!
It’s all about going home now and retreat is never as interesting as advance. It should be straightforward as I have only the one change, at Lancaster, ahead of me, with a forty-six minute connection to sit out. Of course, that depends on the 4.25pm train turning up on time and it doesn’t. A clearly disgruntled customer with a smartphone reports it is running twenty-five minutes late. Still, if i have to hang around a railway station, Ravenglass is my preference.
Once the train arrives, correctly late, it’s chocker with homebound workers from Sellafield. There’s not a seat to be had and I’m bloody lucky that I only have to stand until Silecroft. It’s now a beautiful evening, glorious traveling weather: beyond Bootle, I can catch glimpses of the sea from my ‘extra’ height, sparkling and light, but we’re both too low and too far south for there to be the remotest possible chance of glimpsing the Isle of Man.
Coming this way, I remember a Sixties holiday when we all drove up as usual in Uncle Arthur’s car on Saturday, but he had work commitments and couldn’t stay the week, so on the Tuesday morning after the Bank Holiday Monday we saw him off from Silecroft to Manchester on the ancestor of this train, and he left his car keys for Dad to drive the rest of the week.
At long last, my non-stop writing is slowing down, not that it stops for a very long time yet. But this is Barrow again, and it’s now nearly twelve hours since that alarm dragged me awake. And still hours to go before I get home.
After Barrow the train becomes an express, stopping only at Carnforth, which I’m sure it wasn’t originally. We flash through empty station after empty station, chasing the sun and the glitter on the Bay towards a mainland dark with cloud that we nevertheless brush away. The train was originally scheduled to reach Lancaster for 6.26pm, then forecast for 6.44pm, and it pretty near exactly splits the difference when it does arrive. Which means another thirty minutes hanging around before I grab my last window/table seat of the day.
Even with all the stops we have to make, I’m not sure why it’s supposed to take us more than ninety minutes to Piccadilly, but I get my explanation at Preston, where we arrive at 7.30pm. In a symmetrical moment I would normally appreciate if it hadn’t been so long a day already, we are to be joined by a Blackpool North train and depart at 7.44pm. Trains, eh?
I’m still writing away, though the energy level has dipped. A quick check at the end of the day confirms I have covered fourteen and a half two-sided sheets of the Reporters Notepad, which is going to make for a lot of typing up and redrafting over the next couple of days. Not looking forward to that.
Sunset is now advancing like a Roman Army conquering Gaul, and will coincide with my arrival at Piccadilly. There’s Rivington Pike and the Winter Hill transmission mast to the right, and to the right are the last sunlit clouds, the ice cream castles of Joni Mitchell’s words and Judy Collins’ voice, earlier in the day, massive vanilla ramparts. When I worked for Bolton Council, one of our Chief Surveyors took me up our private road to Winter Hill. It’s bloody flat up there, no place to be on foot in cloud.
Finally, it’s Manchester. I’m lucky enough to drop onto a 203 bus after only a couple of minutes and now I’m really tired and glad to get in for more or less 9.30pm.
Could it have been better? Of course it could. Would I have preferred to have had a companion? Yes, I would. Was it worth it? Course it bloody was, and I’ll do it again, and there’s the full Coast train run to Carlisle to try.
Because it’s possible. And because when life hands you lemons you make lemonade, even if it takes you ages to work out the recipe. I’ve been back to the Ratty, I’ve been back to Eskdale. What’s next?
One of the problems of living in a confined space like mine is that certain possessions cannot be put out for display. It’s only recently, as in, this year, that I’ve dug some of my pictures out, battered hooks into the walls, and hung them up to enjoy again.
However, wallspace is limited, and I still have more that for now have to stand stacked and unseen in the little storage cupboard.
But browsing on Amazon a few minutes ago has unlocked a thread of memory about a completely impractical purchase from a few years ago. It was one of my annual birthday week pilgrimages to the Lake District, maybe as long ago as 2013, I can’t remember. I saw a fascinating thing in the now-only-surviving bookshop in Ambleside, whose name escapes me for the moment (it’s the one opposite the street on which Zeferelli’s lies.)
I couldn’t resist buying it and bringing it home, though I had nowhere to put it, and indeed have no idea where to go to get it framed – at either a reasonable or an unreasonable price – for hanging on the wall. What was the impulse purchase? It was an A2 poster titled Tubular Fells.
Tubular Fells is the work of geographer Peter Burgess, who devised it in 2011. It’s a very simple yet wonderfully effective concept: represent the 214 Wainwright Fells as a geographical map, but to do so in the classic style of the Harry Beck London Tube map.
Ridges are represented as Tube lines, summits as stations, the lines coloured as the coloured Wainwright editions. It’s the kind of idea that seems obvious once it’s done yet it demanded individual inspiration to conceive.
Though I’ve never seen any publicity about it, Burgess’s map has sold out multiple printings. It’s available at various Lake District shops as well as online at Burgess’s website, although my online security won’t let me access the site so you’d better be cautious.
For most of the time since I bought it, Tubular Fells has been rolled up in its cardboard tube. I’m almost sure where I can lay my hands on it, and there is a stretch of wall above my bed where it might fit, so my next step is to google Picture Framers in Stockport and see if I have enough uncommitted cash to warrant getting it out of its tube. I’ll let you know when I’ve got it done.
Many of you will be aware of (and probably be thoroughly bored by) the number of times I have bemoaned the circumstances that keep me from seeing familiar and wonderful places in the western Lake District. Reliance on public transport to get to Cumbria, and the extreme limitations of public transport once I’ve got there, pretty much rules it out.
But not completely. I’ve long nursed an ambition for a particular day out that can get me by train to the Ratty and thus give me something like two to two and a half hours in Eskdale. And I’ve long put that off because it has always felt like I should be taking someone with me.
If I make that a deal-breaker, I’ll never do it. So, with a week’s holiday coming up in August, I’ve been looking at the practicalities – financial and timetable-wise – of making an Eskdale expedition on Thursday August 16.
Basically, the cheapest and most convenient journey is to break it into two legs: Manchester Piccadilly to Lancaster, departing 8.30am, 50 minute break at Lancaster, then Lancaster to Ravenglass, arriving 12.04pm.
This then gives me the options of the 12.04pm (diesel) or 12.45pm (steam) trains from Ravenglass to Dalegarth, with the former the train of choice, but that’s dependent upon the train being on time as I only have six minutes to transfer over.
Based on the Ratty timetable, I’d have to be back at Dalegarth to catch the 3.30pm to Ravenglass, then retread my steps.
It’s slightly cheaper to get single tickets each way, but that ties me to certain trains and, to keep the costs down, I wouldn’t be back at Piccadilly until 8.45pm. On the other hand, if I buy returns for the two legs, it’s only about £2.00 – £4.00 dearer, depending on which train I get back from Lancaster but I have a free hand catching return trains, including ones from Lancaster that are a damn sight more expensive as single fares.
Basically, I can get, as I said, two to two and a half hours in Middle Eskdale, around Dalegarth for just under £50 in rail fares, including the Ratty. For that, I’m committing myself to about five and three-quarter hours of train journeys, not counting the 40 minutes each way to Eskdale, which doesn’t count because that’s the whole point of the day.
So, do I do it? The weather forecast for August 16 is sunny with clouds, and the day appeals because it’s the day after the anniversary of my Dad’s death, and he is the main reason for my love of the Lakes: I took over his Ratty membership for years after his death.
Having worked out how possible it is, and with enough margins at changeovers to minimise the possible problems with delayed trains, I don’t see how I can’t, partner in travel or no partner in travel.
So, when I go into Manchester on Saturday (expect the latest excoriation of Doomsday Clock), I’m going to purchase my tickets, charge up my mp3 player, make sure there’s plenty of ink in my pen and plenty of clean pages in my notepad: there will be an official Eskdale Expedition report.
I have always loved the Duddon Valley, ever since first discovering it as a ‘secret’ valley, when I was still a child.
As I’ve mentioned before, for years we used to stay at Low Bleansley farm, on the west flank of the overlooked Lickle Valley. Low Bleansley was at the end of a narrow road from the hamlet of Broughton Mills, connecting all the farms on that side of the valley. The tarmac road ended there, but a cart-track continuation continued, through a gate and into woods, leading up the hillside. One night, after our evening meal, Dad and I went for a walk along this track. It lead us up to the top of the low fell, and down again into another valley, one I hadn’t suspected existed. It was heavily forested and we followed the track down far enough to see the road below.
Back at the farm, Dad traced the map and identified our newly-discovered valley as the Duddon, and it wasn’t too much longer before we explored it for the first time. I don’t know if this was our first visit, but I vividly remember my Uncle driving us along the valley to Seathwaite (6 miles) and a bit beyond, as far as a forked junction, but refusing to go further since the valley road, at that point, became extremely narrow, with no possibility of two cars passing each other. We explored a short distance on foot, but all this was late afternoon: perhaps a side-visit when returning from Ravenglass.
We did go further, into the surprisingly wide openness of the upper valley, though this came after Dad died, in the early Seventies. There were two such trips for I remember two walks from Cockley Bridge, at the foot of Hard Knott and Wrynose: up Hard Knott on foot on the tarmac, and then the short walk to Hard Knott fell, and, at my suggestion, into Mosedale, almost to the valley head, where it would have been possible in theory to look down on Lingcove Beck, but this petered out, like the path, on increasingly wet ground, causing an abandonment.
These excursions aside, since the Duddon was not a convenient base for walks my family preferred, more often we would see only the lower valley, the pastoral, forested three miles from Duddon Bridge to Ulpha, where my Uncle would increasingly often risk his engine on the steep, zigzagging road behind the Traveller’s Rest to cross the expanse of Birker Moor and take a wide corner off the drive to Eskdale.
Sometimes, he’d compromise, by going over Corney Fell, from which, in ascent, there was a superb view over the Duddon Valley.
When I started going on holiday alone, free of the need to compromise to my family’s physical limits, and able to choose my own walks, I covered most of the Coniston Range in my first full year. I did Wetherlam – Swirl How – Great Carrs in the spring, and Dow Crag – the Old Man – Brim Fell in the early autumn. Later, as described here . I would do the whole Round in a single walk, but before that, I needed Grey Friars to complete the Range. And, so as not to cover ground already trodden, and because I’d never done a serious walk out of the Duddon, I made a point of a climb from this direction.
The obvious approach from the Duddon Valley was by the south-west ridge, which gave me a choice of starting points. The longer route was to base myself at Seathwaite, take the right hand fork from that long ago narrow junction and make a gradual ascent to Seathwaite Tarn, or to choose a base further north, near Troutal, and ascend across the base of the ridge to gain the valley of the Tarn on a more direct route. This latter enabled me to use the extensive car park at Birks Bridge, a short stroll along the road.
This was a bitty, twisty ascent to begin with, under the lee of the ridge with no view of the way ahead until I was descending to the Tarn’s outflow. The ridge itself was pathless in those years, as Wainwright originally indicated, and it was a question of correctly identifying the grassy ride he recommended for access to the ridge. In the end, it was not difficult to spot, and I started to gain height steadily, in the centre of a wide channel.
Wainwright described the ridge as ‘a bewildering succession of abrupt craggy heights and knotty outcrops’, though there now appears to be a continuous path to the summit, but even then I found no great difficulties: just keep moving upwards, and eventually the summit crown comes into sight and it’s an easy ascent onto the round top and to the cairn. The highlight of the view is the Scafell range, seen in a great ring from Slight Side round to Esk Pike, but this was a greyish day, with the cloudline cutting across the range, so that was somewhat disappointing.
You should know by now that I find ascending and descending by the same route an anathema. There’s not much geographical alternative, so I decided to vary my route of descent by crossing the top and dropping down to Fairfield, the wide open plateau between Grey Friars and the wall of Swirl How. There wasn’t a path but by angling round to the right, it was easy to find the head of Seathwaite Tarn’s valley and turn down that.
I hadn’t seen anyone throughout the course of the walk which, even then, was how I liked it. The upper valley was lonely and empty, and the slope was easy and uncomplicated. I marched out steadily and confidently, and at a pretty fast rate. It curved to the right, and there was still no sight of Seathwaite Tarn, when I found my rapid course approaching a curious patch of light green standing out from the reedy grass around. It made me curious as to what it was, but my near headlong march took me to it, and upon it rapidly. Without thinking, I planted my right boot down on it. And kept going down.
My boot plunged through the nearly non-existent surface and kept going until I was in above my knee. And, between my insouciant momentum and the natural imbalance caused by having one leg shoot down about two and a half feet below where it should be, my left boot, like night following day, crashed down on the sickly-green patch and didn’t stop until it was almost at the knee.
There I was, in a bog, with no-one in sight and no-one remotely likely to come in sight in the foreseeable, up to an average of both knees in the muck and well and truly stuffed.
If you’ll permit me a brief digression: in those days I still owned a short satirical comic story by Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber, using his experience in writing for TV of having his scripts submitted to Standards & Practices, i.e., the censors. Systematically, they gut every point of tension, drama and natural human response to crisis from his scene. There is a glorious moment when they instruct, ‘instead of the pilot reacting to his spaceship going out of control by banging his fit on the dashboard and shouting, “dammit!”, have him demonstrate a positive coping reaction.’
Positive Coping Reaction! What a gem! You cannot make things like that up, only real life can produce something so astonishingly perfect.
So here I was, in my own little real-life crisis, my opportunity to demonstrate a Positive Coping Reaction. And how did I positively cope? I panicked and, by main, fear-fuelled strength, wrenched my right leg far enough out of the bog to get my knee onto the firm ground on the bank immediately before me, and use that as a lever to drag my left leg out after it.
Now, look here, kids. I know that the likes of Douglas Adams and actual responsible adults will advise you Don’t Panic, but trust me and be flexible. There are circumstances where panic is your friend and you should be prepared to embrace him fervently.
Nevertheless, though I was now safe, and determined to give all spots of bright green the legendary wide berth, I was pretty much sopping wet, and sedgey from the knees down to my socks and boots, which had thankfully emerged with me. Make sure you tie secure knots in those laces.
So I resumed my downhill progress in a somewhat more circumspect manner, eager to see the curve of the valley expose Seathwaite Tarn, though this was still some way below. Walking its shore was calming and gentle, but I had one further obstacle to pass as I neared the outflow and recognised the point where I had to regain the lower part of the ridge to drop down to Troutal.
To get there, I had to cross a wide expanse of wet and soft ground. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have given it too much thought, but I was still rattled by my sinking experience, and was wary of any treacherous repetition. There was no way round it, I had to cross it, but how should I do this? The answer was ridiculous, but unexpectedly practical: a Groucho Walk.
Yes, I do mean the bent-kneed, half-crouch of the late Julius ‘Groucho’ Marx, and no, I am not joking. If you examine the movement, it has clear advantages. For one, the bent-knee stride means more ground is being covered at each step, and consequently a more rapid movement across the ground, whilst by splaying the stride, the centre of gravity is supported by a wider area, and only passes directly over the boot for a split-second. Of course, I didn’t have one fist clenched in the small of my back, nor another wielding an imaginary cigar, but in every other respect I adopted the position and made a very rapid transition to drier and firmer ground.
I don’t know how the theory stands up aerodynamically, but if it was all a load of gubbins, it was nevertheless a very effective placebo. I heaved a sigh of relief, descended to Troutal, the road and the car, and yanked my soggy socks and boots off. I could do nothing about my tide-marked jeans until I was back in Ambleside, however, and that called for a shower too.
Despite all this, I have never lost my love for the beautiful Duddon Valley, though the only other time I returned to Grey Friar, I stayed firmly out of that valley. No more bog-trotting for me.
In 1935, the village of Mardale Green in Mardale, Westmorland, was drowned when Haweswater dam was completed and the former High Water and Low Water rose up to create the modern day Haweswater reservoir, one of the two main suppliers of Manchester water.
Twice at least in the last century, in the drought summers of 1976 and 1984, the water level in Haweswater has dropped so much that the ruins of the village have reappeared. In 1976, I remember Stuart Hall reporting from the foot of Haweswater Dam – on the reservoir side! – and in 1984, in September, I walked some of the old lanes of the village myself. My mother, holidaying the previous week, had also visited Mardale, and crossed the bridge over the beck, but the levels were rising by now, and though the bridge was clearly visible – and safe and intact after all those years – the rising water had closed it off and both ends and the western part of the village could only be looked upon.
The current hot spell has exposed Mardale Green’s remains again. It is, I believe, the earliest in the year that this has happened.