Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Real Thirst Quencher

I love the Lake District. We try and go to my 2nd cousin’s cottage there every summer when we are back in England. We went again this year. Reassuringly the same as ever.

The cottage is tucked into a little corner of the Lakes in a sleepy valley where the road runs out.

The cottage belonged to my great uncle. He saw a tiny advert in the Times, during the war, for 2 shepherds’ cottages, & bought it for £200. It was very near the place where he had spent his summers as a boy. No one quite knows why he was shipped off there for his summers, but ever since he had loved the Lake District. It has been in the family for nearly 70 years.

My great uncle was in shipping and lived in Henley all his working life. When he retired, he and his wife moved up to the cottage. I can’t help being amazed by this transition: such a contrast, from the manicured, bustling, suburban prettiness of Henley to the wild, remote & elemental environment of the Lakes.

The cottage had no central heating (it was installed about 10 yrs ago) no TV, a very basic (& cold) bathroom, a good 25 minutes drive from the nearest shop or post office, and in winter it was often snow bound. In fact they used to have to move down to a cottage lower down the fell because they would get snowed in. My great aunt lived there alone till she died in her eighties. It must have been a very isolated existence. There have been a few 'home improvements' since, but in essence it is much as I remember it when we visited them in my childhood.

To approach it, you have to climb up a steep winding fell in 1st gear, through a little hamlet, & then, at its gate you rattle over a cattle grid, & then climb again, up a steep grassy path, strewn with rocks & the odd rabbit skittering out of the way as the car bounces up the track.

The cottage itself is hunkered down into the hillside, the slate roof pulled snugly down, like a hat, against the cold. Like many Lakeland cottages, half the façade is stone, the other half white, the only man made splash of colour on the entire green canvas of the valley.

The garden is enclosed by a dry stonewall, designed to keep the sheep & the wilderness at bay, only marginally successfully. A stream runs through, and, because it is no longer permanently lived in, the foxgloves & nettles run wild.

Beyond the wall, behind the cottage is the boulder strewn hill side, site of ”The Bone Cave” & at least 2 other dens the children have made & which remain untouched from one visit to the next.

I love the fact that the children can run wild here, explore, make dens, collect sheep bones, climb rocks, scramble up the fell side.

I love it because it’s part of my history. I love the stories that emerge when talking about it to my mum, whose cousin inherited the cottage from his father. He adores the place, (in his 80s now), but because he married a Japanese woman, he has lived abroad all his life, with his 6 Japanese daughters, another dramatic contrast threaded into the fabric of a very Northern family. Fortunately one of his daughters lives in the U.K & has inherited her father & grandfather's passion for the Lakes. So the mantle has passed to her for more generations to enjoy it. That's a relief.

My great uncle passed on 2 properties when he died, 1 to each of his sons, both in the Lakes, 1 the snow bound shepherd's cottage, the other the winter abode down the hill. The other son hated the Lake District & sold it immediately. I'm glad my great uncle knew his sons well...

I also love the cottage because my grandparents loved it & visited regularly & so do my parents. I’m carrying on a family tradition.

But most of all I love it for the view.

Early each morning I pad downstairs in bare feet across the stone floor, shivering slightly, to make tea. The sitting room is damp & dark, a ‘winter by the fire’ room, but the warm fug of the kitchen hits me as I open the door. It has an ancient aga which is always on, so it is the cosiest room in the cottage, & is largely unchanged. It still has the tin opener mounted on the wall, the enamel green tea& coffee tins, the blue & white striped jars, kilner jars, a pantry, all exactly like my grandparents’ kitchen and so redolent of that era.)

I open the top half of the kitchen door & lean out sipping my tea& drinking in the view in greedy draughts, slaking my thirst on the beauty before me. It helps me replenish my reserves. I can never get enough of it.

I can never quite believe this unsullied landscape, utterly pristine: no litter, no dead dogs, no ugly buildings, no wind turbines. And no noise, just sheep bleating & the odd tractor & even more occasional vehicle. Even by the exacting standards of the British countryside, this is stunning

Just fells, green hills polka dotted with sheep, scratchy blankets of bracken & the tiny peephole of the lake below.

Just nature, green, rural Cumbrian England in all its gorgeousness.

I can’t wait to go back next year. I’m pretty sure it will still be the same.


Iota said...

That was 200 pounds very well spent. What a lovely thing to have in the family. Oh my goodness, what an oasis a week in the Lakes must have been for you. I think I'm feeling just a tad jealous.

Sarah said...

How magical and special to return to a place that your ancestors have walked in for years. The walls of the cottage must be filled with love and share so many stories of life and laughter. I too adore the Lake District, having holidayed there a lot as a child, growing up in the South of England. I always felt so free in the Lakes; there really is a magic in the air. My husband grew up in a part of Lancashire, just over an hour's drive away, and my father in Liverpool. It will always hold a piece of my heart and I so enjoyed reading your post.

Wishing you many more happy years making wonderful memories there!

nappy valley girl said...

How lovely. The house sounds spookily like the cottage of my husband's great aunt, also in the Lakes (in the very undeveloped Dudden Valley). It too is fairly unmodernised and until recently had a kitchen that looked like your grandmother's. We have spent many a happy long weekend there, just watching the sheep from the window and walking. Haven't been back with the kids, waiting until they are old enough to do some walking!

Anonymous said...

That sounds blissful - what a way to recharge.

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