You chose the Lake District as the UK's top destination in the annual Wanderlust Travel A wards. Our intrepid blogger, Helen Moat, reminisces about her first trip there. And looks forward to another one next month.
My first writing prize of 2014 is a walking holiday in the Lake District. The Telegraph had asked for tips on ‘battle sites’ and war museums. I hadn’t been to any of the great battle sites in Europe or further afield, but I had been to the War Museum in Salford. It had left an impression. I sent my 100-odd words off, expecting to hear no more. After all, the Salford War Museum hardly compared to the actual battle sites of Normandy, or the killing fields of Vietnam, for example. To my surprise, I won the competition. The prize was a week’s holiday for two with Ramblers Worldwide. Working out at £8 a word, it wasn’t a bad return.
I phoned the number given to me. The woman at the other end of the phone advised me to pack appropriately for a rambling holiday in the Lake District with walking boots and waterproofs. I assured her, I’d all the gear, living and walking regularly in the Peak District, and that I’d done the coast-to-coast I few years back which had taken me through the Lake District. Perhaps, she’d imagined me turning up for the walks in high heels and summer dresses, but she seemed relieved. You’ll love this holiday, she said enthusiastically.
It was on the tip of my tongue to say I’d abandoned walking for cycling these days and could she offer me a biking holiday instead, but thought better of it. After all they were a rambling holiday company!
In truth, I’m really excited about returning to the Lake District. It contains some of the best walking in the UK, attested by Alfred Wainwright, the man who wrote those quaintly seductive little walking books. His series of miniature hard-backs were meticulously handwritten in tiny, perfect script, and every hand-drawn map and illustration filled with careful detail. You could say walking in the Lake District and recording the walks, was an obsession for Wainwright.
Wainwright had also come up with the blueprint for a coast-to-coast walk across England, taking in his beloved Lake District.
When I stumbled upon his coast-to-coast walk in a bookshop, I just knew I had to do it. I bought the books, geared up to do the walk. Then I became pregnant. My plans to walk from the Irish Sea to the North Sea were aborted and instead I gave birth to my eldest son. Thirteen years later, the books were fetched off the bookshelf and we set out – my husband and my two young sons.
I remember opening the door at St Bees and feeling that rush of cold air, wondering what lay ahead. We followed all the Wainwright traditions: dipping our toes in the Irish Sea; collecting stones to deposit at the North Sea at Robin Hood Bay.
I remember the helter-skelter Cumbrian coast: my sons flying down steep inclines, only stopping to skin stones across narrow inlets. I remember turning inland towards the hills. In Ennerdale Forest, shafts of light had fallen like daggers between the clearings. I remember the eerie stillness and the mountains in front of us, rising up menacingly.
On top of Loft Beck, we saw how stunningly beautiful the hills and lakes were, rippling out from our feet. We could see the route we’d travelled so far. We had been invisible dots on this sweeping landscape, moving slowly across the days and land that stretched out behind us.
On top, the boys had careered across the moor whirling with the wind, light as kites. I watched them on the skyline, racing the clouds, and hoped they would hold onto the essence of our walk long after the memory had faded: an ability to dream big; a different perspective on time and place; a greater sense of their place in the scheme of things.
The beauty and rawness of the Lake District landscape has that effect on you, particularly if you leave the car behind, climb out of the towns and villages and get right up there in among the hills with all their solitude.
Above Pattersdale we’d looked out over the Fells - a sea of blue waves on the horizon, each range an echo of the one before, until the last one was just a faint smudge on the skyline. There was a dark beauty and a threatening wind. I remember how small and vulnerable I felt - and utterly alive.
Then we’d dropped down to Haweswater on the edge of National Park. We’d completed the first part of the coast-to-coast and crossed the Lake District. We’d walked against the grain of the land, climbing ridges, heading over passes past tarns, tripped down valleys and into quaint stone-built villages. Still to come were the Yorkshire Dales and Moors but nothing would quite measure up to the magnificence of the Lakes.
I’m thrilled to be returning to the Lake District. I’m looking forward to being inspired by that landscape again and discovering some new corners in this very special part of the United Kingdom.
Do you agree with Helen? What do you think of the Lake District? Tell us in the comments below.
Helen Moat spent her childhood squished between siblings in her Dad's Morris Minor, travelling the length and breadth of Ireland: all for a soggy, sandy sandwich and a quick runaround on a damp beach before returning home on the same day. Strangely, it didn't put her off travelling – quite the reverse.
This year she plans to cycle from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul even though she's not that keen on cycling and hasn't a clue how to fix a puncture. And we'll be following her every step of the way. For more information, visit her website.