Days Like This, No 4: Before Night at Beacon Tarn

Beacon 1

I HAVE a book in my rucksack by GV Carey. It???s called Mind the Stop. It could be about buses, it could be about church organs, but it concerns neither. It???s a book about punctuation, and I had half a mind to leave it in my parent???s caravan in Cockermouth to cut down the weight. But I stuffed it in a rucksack pocket with my map and teabags as I set out on a backpacking trip to Greenodd on the edge of Morecambe Bay. It was one of my better decision . . .

This is a retro post for Because They???re There. It???s a letter from the past featuring a memorable walk and the contemporary events surrounding it . . .

That was three days ago. Now I???m at Beacon Tarn, a small though picturesque body of water tucked between moors in what we natives call High Furness. I???ve pitched the tent, cooked a Vesta beef curry and rice, and I???m just about to embark on Chapter Six: Proof-Correction (personally, I wouldn???t have inserted a hyphen there), when the light begins to fade and the sky changes colour. There’s going to be a splendid sunset.

Beacon 2Beacon 4aFirst, let me tell you where I???ve been. I walked from Cockermouth to the foot of Honister Pass and pitched my Ultimate Tramp tent on the banks of Gatescarthdale Beck, at the eastern end of Buttermere (pictured above).

That first evening I read the introductory pages of Mind the Stop and I was hooked immediately. Punctuation has seldom been so fascinating. Gordon Vero Carey knew his stuff and had the knack of turning what could be, under most circumstances, a dull subject into wholesome entertainment.

Yesterday morning I took a rough path from the Honister slate quarries across Seatoller Fell to the Borrowdale wad mines (wad: plumbago, graphite, black lead) and descended to Seathwaite Farm. Here something quite unexpected occurred. I was parched, so I knocked on the farmhouse door and asked if I could buy a pint of milk.

Beacon 4Beacon 5A young man told me he wasn’t allowed to sell me milk because it wasn’t pasteurised ??? but if I was really thirsty he would give me a ???bowl???. I thanked him kindly, as polite travellers do, and he led me to the dairy where he provided me with a bowl of the warmest, freshest milk I have ever raised to my lips.

I???m not a big fan of warm milk. It???s a schooldays thing ??? frozen bottles stacked on classroom pipes to melt the contents and all the thick yellow cream rising to the top and beginning to curdle. The memory turns my stomach even now. But this milk in a bowl, passed to me by the hands of a farm lad who sought no payment, this milk was nectar. It was warm ??? but it was fresh and clean and earthy. It tasted, I suppose, like milk should taste.

Beacon 6And so, fortified and refreshed, I crossed the fells to Langdale and then Little Langdale, spent last night in the woods beneath Hodge Close Quarry, and this morning walked to Coniston then down the western bank of the lake ??? passing Coniston Hall with its impressive Tudor chimneys, and Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin ??? to end the day on Blawith Fell at Beacon Tarn.

Beacon 7 Beacon 8 Beacon 9 Beacon 10 Beacon 11Now the sun is setting behind the western fells. The sky is red and gold, Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man standing grey-blue above waves of dark foothills.

This is what walking is about ??? brief moments of peace and solitude; earth and the universe changing silently in scenes that will be captured and compressed in memory.

The colours fade, the darkness comes, and a cold wind suddenly stirs the grasses. I retire to my tent, light a candle, and find comfort in the enlightening words of GV Carey.

Beacon 12 Beacon 13 Beacon 14

Gordon Vero Carey, by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd), June 2 1927. With kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place London, WC2H OHE

Gordon Vero Carey, by Lafayette, June 2, 1927. With kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place, London

Studying punctuation might seem like the antithesis of standing among mountains and appreciating a sunset (comma) an unsatisfactory and inappropriate way to bring a memorable day to a conclusion (semi-colon) but I suppose it???s to do with quality of life (comma) expectations (comma) and an unshakeable belief that basic certainties (dash) such as the Earth???s journey around the sun and the atmospheric effects it produces (dash) remain constant (full point) That???s what I think anyway (full point)

Before night at Beacon Tarn (comma) May 1980




About McEff

Alen McFadzean. Journalist. Recently made redundant from The Northern Echo when my job was transferred to Wales to be done by people on lower wages. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climb mountains and run long distances to make life harder. Gravitate to the left in politics just to make life harder still.
This entry was posted in Camping, Climbing, Environment, Hiking, Mountains, Quarrying, Slate quarries, Walking, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Days Like This, No 4: Before Night at Beacon Tarn

  1. Will says:

    Thank you for sharing these “moments…and…scenes,” Alen. Great writing and photos – too good for The Northern Echo (exclamation mark)

  2. The combination of blue-skied photos and an old book on correct punctuation seem to evoke a time when everything was better. How things have changed. (Strangely, farmers I think are now allowed to sell unpasteurised milk from the farm, but not other retail premises. (I heard it on Radio 4.) ) And look at that, brackets within brackets! That can’t be right. Carey would turn in his grave.

    • McEff says:

      Chris, if you could see my face you would be able to discern my disapproval of your brackets within brackets. That???s just not on. Carey might well be turning in his grave but I???m sitting at my kitchen table spluttering into my pint of Old Golden Hen.
      Blue skies and books about punctuation ??? you???re correct, things were definitely better in May 1980. It was shortly before the Dark Lady had gathered her full powers and sent acrid clouds to smother the sun. But not before she???d taken all that healthy pasteurised milk off the innocent children.
      And where would we be without Radio 4? Cheers, Alen

  3. Hanna says:

    It is a very beautiful place, Alen. It is a good experience to have early in life. The more times you’ve been in the mountains, the better you feel.
    I love punctuation books. They are always with me on my holidays. Nah I’m just joking.
    But there is one famous book, at least in Denmark :-) It’s called “Malice of Life” and is about a customs inspector. He collects commas. That is what he tells his friend, senior teacher Clausen. He does not read the books, but counts the commas in them.
    Do you really count the Commas? The teacher asks his friend in disbelief. Hell, I do so yes! Here you go … he pulls his wallet out.
    Ewald: Fishermen. 27.335. Balder’s Death: 45 860. The … He continues: But … you have to be terribly careful; it is so annoying when it does not match the second time!
    – Counting them twice? The teacher asked with eyes like Dessert Plates .
    – Hi yes a ! And the second time, from behind !

    I think its good that a sunset came in the way, Alen.

    All the best,

    • McEff says:

      Hanna, what would I do without you? You had me going there for a minute with your holiday reading of books on punctuation.
      Your book about the customs inspector sounds like my kind of book. But I???m not so sure I would read it backwards to count the commas. I always thought obsessions were an English thing, but obviously not. Perhaps we are all barking mad.
      Having said that, have you seen Jean-Pierre Jeunet???s film Amelie? There???s a bloke who collects discarded passport photos from photograph booths on station platforms, a beggar who refuses to accept money on Sundays, a man with brittle bones who spends his life painting copies of Renoir???s Luncheon of the Boating Party, a retired army doctor with an obsession for garden gnomes, and a woman who???s waiting for her husband to return after he ran off with a dancer in the 1960s. I can identify with every single one of them. We are all little bits of forsaken humanity blowing about on the wind.
      Cheers, Alen

      • Hanna says:

        Yes, I’ve seen Amelie and I love every little part of this cornucopia of a movie. Audrey Tautou is lovely …. as for the narrator; Andr?? Dussollier and the rest of the team
        Thanks for reminding me, Alen

        • McEff says:

          PS. I forgot to mention the retired Paris metro ticket collector who spent his days clipping holes in the leaves of his wife’s shrubs.

  4. We should all read that book really, especially nowadays – I don’t think they teach punctuation at all now?

    I’m definitely off up to Beacon Tarn with my little inflatable boat – will be a great row :-) Would make a nice camping spot too. Incidentally, I once saw there a most unusual sight – a group of young moslem girls out on their own negotiating the shoreline of the tarn – I was heartened to see them out on their own for a change.

    • McEff says:

      Hiya Carol. I would imagine that Beacon Tarn is the perfect place to splash about in on an inflatable boat on a sunny afternoon. And there is (or was) a perfect grassy area right on the bank at the Coniston end which is just the job for a wild camp.
      As for the girls, it’s times like that you realise you should always carry a camera with you. I was walking a remote path in the Pennines once when a bloke in full cowboy gear rode past on a horse. If you don’t take a picture of people like that then after a few years you begin to wonder if you were just imagining the incident.
      Cheers, Alen

  5. qdant says:

    [ , { ! ” ( * ) ‘ ~ ‘ : ; } , ]
    still remember helping on a local farm in the 1950’s milking the Jersey into one bucket putting a tea towel over another bucket and pouring the milk through non of your pasteurized skimmed pap as for punctuation i’m more a fonetic sound speller

  6. David says:

    That has a bit of a famous five feel about it with the farmer and the fresh milk (hope that’s not an insult).

    I must admit I have never been much good with punctuation despite the fact I loved reading as a youngster. Mind you some people are seriously obsessive. A couple of years ago I visited the Camasunary bothy on Skye with my wife. I had a read of the bothy book and believe it or not someone had gone right through it and marked it. There were lots of inserted commas, full stops and comments on tense. There was even a few “please see me” as well. It was either a very bored person trapped by the weather, or a rather sad obsessive-compulsive English teacher who couldn’t resist.

    Amelie – now that was a good film.

    • McEff says:

      Ha ha. I like the story about the bothy book, David. In my first job as a journalist, which was on the North-West Evening Mail in Barrow, I used to work with an old sub-editor who spent his lunch breaks proof reading the front page of the Daily Telegraph and marking up in red ink. I think that’s veering towards the sad obsessive-compulsive as opposed bored person trapped by weather.
      And yes, Famous Five. Fresh milk at Seatoller and lashings of lemonade at the Old Dungeon Gill bar. Actually, it might not have been lemonade. I can’t remember now.
      Cheers, Alen

  7. mandala56 says:

    Chasing down the book right now, I love reading that kind of thing! And I should watch Amelie again.
    We’re fighting quite a battle with punctuation these days, aren’t we? We are in the USA, anyway. I think it’s not being taught, like grammar… but don’t get me started.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Jeanne. I’m glad there are sensible people on both sides of the Atlantic who appreciate and insist on proper punctuation. It warms my heart.
      With the rest of the world’s population descending into text-speak and text-spelling, we can stand like a beacon to cherished values.
      All the best, Alen

  8. Everyone should read that book – especially when people today are ‘lazy’ (I put a lot of it down to texting and predictive text phones). Superb photos once again – looks like a cracking walk

    • McEff says:

      Hi James. If I believed in the devil then I would hold him responsible for the invention of predictive text and text-speak. If people need machines to write words for them, and then reduce those words to produce stuff like “how r u 2day” then they deserve to have their fingers chopped off.
      Thanks for the kind words. It was a great walk and one I remember with fondness.
      Cheers, Alen

  9. Tracey says:

    I remember Vesta Curries, do they still do them? And why is it that old pictures look old? It’s nice to look back and remember sometimes, innit? Class!

    • McEff says:

      Ha Ha. Yes, I’ve just Googled Vesta beef curries and Asda still sell them. I remember the very first one I ever had. It was about 1967 and I was ten years old and the whole family sat around the table and ate it. It were a right good treat.
      I have a theory about old pictures, Tracey. I think the world really did look different back then. I base this on my own appearance. I was thinner and had fewer grey hairs in my beard.
      Cheers, Alen

  10. Jo Woolf says:

    Alen, another wonderful post, and your photos are extraordinary! There is almost more life and charm in them than in modern digital images. I believe that our memories from that time are also probably more vivid, because we just didn’t take as many photos (so we didn’t switch off our brains). And I’m with you on the punctuation front – a skill that is being dismembered slowly and painfully by the hands of ‘journalists’ and careless texters (three times that was corrected to ‘textures’!) I hate predictive text. It makes me want to smash the offending device into small pieces. Well done for making such a delightful marriage of hill walking and careful punctuation!

    • McEff says:

      Ah, Jo. It’s so heartwarming to hear from people who believe in correct punctuation and hate predictive text. There really should be a rebellion against these incursions into quality and tradition along the lines of Camra’s campaign against fizzy beer in the 1970s.
      I like your theory about photographs prior to the digital age and not switching off our brains so we retained the images. I shall think about that one.
      Cheers, Alen

  11. backpackingbongos says:

    Just the mention of warm milk had me gagging…………

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