The past two months in the Lake District have been a blast, and I have had the benefit of time, a not too demanding job, and the landscape itself to enjoy simple things in life. Considering the plan was to find an alternative and more sustainable approach to life, if we mean something which meets the needs of now, without compromising the future needs of yourself/others then I reckon it has been a success.
Some of the most serene and peaceful moments I have had not only the past few months, but ever, were going to sleep and waking up in that tent in Borrowdale. The sound of the animals, the hush of the wind, the often incessant patter an/or clatter of rain, was a nice was to feel connected to the world in a more natural way. The canvas became a catalyst for realisation to focus less on seeking happiness and approval from outside sources, and to generate it from within.
We are drawn to natural beauty, remoteness, and space, and of having our spirits lifted by being in a nice place and doing things we enjoy. Happy things are happening all the time everywhere, it’s just making and taking the time and perspective to realise this. Who you are and what you enjoy is different for everyone, and for every amateurish philosophical realisation, were equal moments of frustration, loneliness, and thinking what the fuck am I doing in this tent still, or in the middle of nowhere trying to cycle up this hill as fast as possible, or run down that hill with as little thought as possible, or find a 50p somewhere for a warm shower to at least get rid of some of the aromatic specks of dried up pesto residue that has become knitted into my patchwork facial hair before breakfast service.
The poetry of living in a tent can be as disjunct and discordant as it can be lyrical and harmonious. I found cooking a chore on the camp stove when getting back late at night after work. So cooked hardly ever, and often ate cold tins of food, or went for the easy option and picked up food on the way home, or, more likely, went to Wetherspoons or Booths. Which meant I spent alot of money on food. This is not as zen as the reveries before hand of a summer underneath the sun, tickling trout and bbqing them with a squeeze of lemon juice, knocking up a tender beef and red wine stew, or even frying off a couple of sausages and folding a crusty white, brown-sauce sodden, bap around them, but my justification is that the money I am saving on rent/bills/etc. is still far more than the cost of a competitively priced Wetherspoons special.
Wetherspoons was always reliable for a bit of social interaction too. Space and solitude is great, but like all things, in good measure. Being able to go into a large eatery, and just be around people, listen to conversations, watch what they are doing, and be apart of something other than your own company, helps feed the human need for social interaction aswell as hunger, and is also a good place to connect to the wifi to check Strava. I’d rather sit than go through the pain of awkward conversation with strangers, and so it is just fine for me to be amongst other people, hanging about, free to come and go. However, from working at the restaurant, I can happily say that I have gained two friends in Ash and Eloise, and am looking forward to coming back up for their wedding next year.
At work there was great pleasure taken in successfully completing small tasks, in meeting different people from across the country, in making animal noises and listening to the babble of the chef for entertainment, and in delivering what I think eventually became a friendly and even sometimes competent service. A memorable couple for their kindness and positive outlook on life were a couple in their late 70s from Cambridge, and were softly spoken, though outgoing, and loved to tell a story whilst receiving their morning coffee. They stayed for a week, and through that time told us all of the happy things they had done in their life. They met at the end of war in a dancing hall in Cambridge, he, a soldier, had a friend tell her that he had his eye set on her, and a week later they met again, and within a year were married, and still so happily to this day some 70 years later. They were just nice. Nothing out of the ordinary, no bat shit mental stories of lost weekends with the Hell’s Angels, or backpacking in Somalia. They were Just nice. And that was nice.
Though of course there were many painful customers. One unfortunately unforgettable party of 4 were particular grating and had real difficulty in navigating the tea pots too, and had their own special bread bought in with special toasting instructions which if written out would be equal to if not longer than their list of fictitious dietary requirements. Let’s leave it at that. Best wishes to them.
The unsung beauty of the split shift has given me the time and freedom to get outside doing things as much as possible. Working breakfasts always ensure I was out of the campsite by 7am, and working evenings meant I would always be back no earlier than 10pm. I usually would have 11am – 530pm off in the daytime to do whatever I wanted. I initially thought I would do loads of cycling and a bit of running, but have ended up doing more running. I think this is because running can take you wherever you want, and biking means you can only go where the tarmac is, unless you have a mountain bike, which I don’t.
I have done a fair bit of cycling, going out three or more times a week on average, and having a good time playing out running on the different hills in the area. It is through these pretty much daily excursions that I have wondered about many things. The rhythm of foot steps, the repetitive spinning of the legs, sets trains of thought into motion. Why we run or why we cycle is for the most part, because we enjoy it and it keeps us fit. And furthermore, I think that there are different types of outings for different purposes. Let say we categorise them into 3 sorts, though there are no doubt different variants, overlaps, and strands of flavour. The categories of these rides are predominantly one of the following types 1. The Sorbet ride 2. The Flake 3. The Knickerbocker Glory
When Joe and Eddy visited we had a massive ride taking in the most arduous of hills around here, Honister, Newlands, Winlatter, Hard Knott Pass, Wrynose, amongst others. We egged each other on to go as fast as we could up each climb, until we were completely shattered. Chasing down another group of cyclists finishes us and my bike off! This is a Knickerbocker Glory ride. The Knickerblocker Glory ride has a bit of everything in it. It will include usually big miles, lots of climbing, different scenerey, some fast riding, some slow riding, lunch breaks, coffee breaks, it is the whole hog! The Knickerbocker Glory ride is a big undertaking, will remain in your memory for a long time, and will have some form of physical, spiritual, or mental impact on your future self. The Langdale Horseshoe Fell Race was a Knickerbocker Glory run.
The Flake ride, which can also be extended to a Flake with sauce or hundreds and thousands, is less complex in its formation. Usually shorter, and compromised of only one or possibly two main events. These main events are usually a large hill climb, or the arrival at a particular feature, such as a lake or landmark, or the achievement of a average high speed. An example of such a ride would be be the loop undertook from Penrith up Hartside Fell, down and along to the bottom of Great Dun Fell.
Great Dun Fell is a stinking hill that I have always fancied a go at, but with it being a bit out of the way in the Pennines over by Penrith have never had the chance. Coming back on the train from London one day, I have made sure to leave my bike in the back of the car for a ride out. The Hartside Climb is a nice long wind up to a very high point cafe, which has a majestic view back towards the Lake District, with Blencathra standing proud. After a quick descent and ride through little villages on the brink of the Pennine Hills, I reach the bottom of the Pennines highest peak at 2782 feet, Great Dun Fell.
From the very bottom and looking up to the very top of the Fell top you can just about make out the mast which is where your aiming for. As I set off up the hill a flock of about 200 sheep in the middle of the road offer pastoral entertainment, but not nearly as much so as the farmer and wife who clearly haven’t noticed me. They shout at each other repeatedly about where they should be putting the sheep, in between which the Wife performs huge star jumps and massive hand gesticulations whilst making the strangest of whale-song-like noises, in an effort to goad the sheep towards her field of choice. A little while later I carry on cycling up the road and past the farm, through the smell of fresh sheep shit, which sticks to the tires. The road is thin and smooth tarmaced, and carries you up and up, past yet more sheep, around some fun turns, with a continually changing gradient making it real hard work. Eventually some futuristic-looking big white testicles, apparently radio transmitters, reveal themselves marking the top of the hill. As the road is closed to the public it is always quiet, and as you go up into the heavens, it feels quite otherworldly which makes it special. This would be a Flake ride, with the base miles the cone and ice-cream, and the Flake being Great Dun Fell. The Flake Run could be a blast straight up Skiddaw from Keswick, or an evening loop around Blencathra from Threlkeld.
The final ride or run function is labelled The Sorbet. Like a sorbet of the culinary derision, the Sorbet of the cycling and running world is an excursion undertaken with the intention to cleanse the palette. The pallette could be stained the stresses and strains of the day, needing to be shaken off, like the taste of a bad soup, or could be a refreshing marker for the next part of the day, or indeed become the focus of the day. It could be a short spin in the fresh air, a steady run around, or a quick blast around the Lake. The Sorbet run for me would be up Latrigg or Walla Crag. On bike, it would be a circuit around Derwent Water, or maybe a loop up through St John’s in the Vale and around Thirlmere underneath Hellvelyn,
Most rides or runs are a sorbet and then may become something else. Getting outside is cleansing. They say no one ever goes on a run and regrets it. If I don’t go out and do something my concience starts to eat away at me, before self-loathing sets in later on in the day, usually in full overdrive by around 6pm. Running up Scafell Pike was by definition a big Flake run, but the variety of terrain, views, and wonderment, up the route to the highest point in England, which I have never done before made for a memorable run. From Seathwaite to the top of the country via Esk Hause, and then back down the corridor route, a route name dropped at a few fell races, and great fun for sliding down on the scree slopes.
Whatever the type of ride or excursion, it’s always good to get out and do summit.
The Lake District is that it is a great place to come and explore, and that there is something for everyone to do whatever mood you are in that will give you a little nugget of happiness. But furthermore, that enjoyment can be taken from creating opportunities for yourself, committing to them, and making a decent job of it, on whatever level, doing whatever you choose, from setting up tables, to cycling a hundred miles, making a business deal, drawing a picture, or taking a photograph you are proud of. It is this seed of adventure and curiosity, that everybody has, which it is so great to nurture, and it just so happens that the Lake District is a fertile ground to do so if getting outside and doing things is your cup of tea. But you could be anywhere really, just choosing something to do which is going to add value to your life, if you are lucky enough to be in a position to do so, and doing it whole-heartedly, with interest, and taking meaning and enjoyment from it. Learn an instrument, get into knitting, design engines, excel at archery, whatever you like.
In reality I did what I wanted and packed up and set off to the Lake District to live in a tent and go running and cycling. The experience has been excellent, but not perfect. But what is? Make do. I still have incredibly poor financial management, and have in the time of being in the Lakes, paid off my overdraft once, before going even further back into it soon after. But I have found new hobbies, new places, and the momentum to do more. So next I am going to down south to ride about on a bike for money, and see another part of England.