The snow is now laying on pavements and side-streets, but is vanishing from rooftops and ceasing to inconvenience us in Stockport. It’s still bringing back memories of other snowy periods: this one’s from the mid-Nineties, when I was still a Solicitor.
We were acting for a famous TV personality who also owned a Lake District Hotel famed for its food. I’d been assigned a case with an interesting and contentious legal point. There were, and I assume still are, very stringent, even draconian Health and Fire Safety regulations, about accommodation provided to Hotel staff. Our client had been summonsed in front of the Magistrate’s Court over the application of such regulations to another building, in a different part of Windermere, maintained for external staff accommodation.
Our client was disputing the applicability of the regulations to a property not physically attached to the Hotel: it was absurd to apply them to a distant building. My legal research suggested that the regulations were intended to be so draconian that they applied to external property, but we had taken Counsel’s Opinion, and were fighting the case. It was to be heard on Friday morning, at Windermere Magistrates Court, and I was to attend to sit behind our Barrister.
The problem was, this was taking place in January, and the Lakes were getting very badly hit for snow. I was to drive up on Friday morning, visit the Hotel first, then collect the Barrister from the Railway station and drive him to the Court. The owner would not be attending and the Hotel was to be represented by the Manager.
(Though it’s not relevant to this story, the outcome was that the Court found against our client. He was furious and we looked into an appeal, but I left the firm before learning the outcome of this. However, during once conference with the senior Partners, who were unhappy at the Barrister’s failure, I had the temporary pleasure of asking them to shut up whilst I re-read and got my head round a particular provision in the regulations, and came to the conclusion – which they eagerly supported – that our Barrister had misinterpreted and got 180 degrees wrong. They were talking of suing him for negligence, which you can’t really do with Barristers…)
I was looking forward to an extra visit to Cumbria, even if it was only Windermere. On the other hand, I was a bit cautious of the weather. The first sign came on the Thursday. I called the manager to confirm the following day’s arrangements. I asked him about the snow. I clearly remember his reply. “Well, I got in today without any problems,” he said, “but then I do have skis.” That did wonders for my confidence.
But Friday was clear and fine, in Manchester at least, and all the way north up the M61/M6, as far as Kendal, that is and the turning for Windermere. I had not gotten very far beyond the bypass before the snow started piling up in increasing piles. The foothills around the lower ends of Kentmere and Troutbeck were white, as were the higher fells visible in the interior, but the snow had been efficiently been swept to the verges. Where it was worryingly thick.
Carefully following my directions, I drove through Windermere to the mini-roundabout at the foot of Kirkstone Pass, turned back on the Bowness Road and then into the street where the Hotel was situated. It was a bit slushy, but nothing like the Hotel drive, up which I drove very cagily.
I’d allowed plenty of time, more than had proved necessary, so after being introduced to the manager and getting directions from him to the Magistrate’s Court, I backed out again, very carefully, and headed back to meet our Barrister at the station.
The Magistrate’s Court (which has been shut for years) was a big, detached building on the left side of the main road down from Windermere to Bowness Bay. Our Barrister wanted to get some things before the hearing so I drove him down to the edge of Bowness Village, the first shops, paid a token visit to a bookshop whilst waiting, and then found a parking place more or less opposite the Court.
I won’t bother you with proceedings within which, in any rate, would probably breach client confidentiality. The Court was a big, wide open, old-fashioned building, practically two-storeys high, with a skylight letting on to the mid-morning sky. I mention this in particular because once Court started, we sat there whilst the minor stuff was dealt with and then got on about 10.45.
About fifteen minutes later, I chanced to look up. There were big, swirling, ominous snowflakes falling onto the skylight. They didn’t cease for the rest of the morning.
So I’m trying to concentrate on the legal arguments, so that I can keep comprehensive and preferable accurate notes whilst every 45 – 90 seconds looking up nervously, trying to work out from that little rectangle of sky just how high it might be piled up outside.
The road was still clear when we emerged defeated, but the sky was iron and the snow was showing no signs of even easing off. I delivered our Barrister to the station to make his way back to Manchester and returned to the Hotel – which was even less firm under my wheels – to report back to the Manager.
I was raring to get going, before things got worse and I found myself up the Lakes without a paddle, but I’d been promised a lunch by the Hotel, not to mention the chance to get out of my suit and into comfortable clothes, as I was not expected to be back to the office that day. And even though I could have been back there for about 4.00pm without making any undue effort at it, I had no intention of returning to the office this side of the weekend.
The lunch was not typical of the Hotel’s justly famed cuisine, being a simple steak and kidney pie, but it was a really tasty steak and kidney, with gloriously flaky pastry and loads of gravy, but, what was more important at that moment, it was hot.
Still, I did not linger over it, and as soon as I was decently able, and sent on my way with an equally hot cup of coffee, I was out of there.
Of course, I needed to communicate the result to the office so, having had to take a wide circle round through Bowness again, just to get safely away from the Hotel, I stopped off at a public telephone box (this was prior to the age of my having a mobile phone) and rung Manchester.
To my secret delight, neither of our Senior Partners were available. In fact, there was a general shortage of people available to take a call, so I ended up speaking to another of our Partners who had nothing to do with the case, to pass on the outcome and confirm that I would deliver a full report on Monday. And, with the streets starting to get worryingly slushy, I settled thankfully into my driving seat, and headed for the Kendal road and the rapidly diminishing risk of being stuck up there.
I love the Lakes, and they look gorgeous under snow, but I have never rushed away from them with such eagerness. If I’m going to be staying there in conditions like that, it’ll going to be under my terms, not the weather’s. I got in alright, but then I do have skis: no thanks!