I HAVE resolved to leave my hiking boots in the back of the Mini Estate this August Bank Holiday and avoid the Lake District fells. The reason is simple. The roads will be crammed with Vauxhall Vivas, Morris 1300s, and assorted bangers with mismatched bonnets and coat hangers for aerials. The crags will echo strange voices from Manchester and Newcastle – perhaps even Scotland. The Lake District is a place to avoid at August Bank Holiday, unless you like crowds, bus trips and queuing for ice-cream . . .
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 . . .
But when I’m making my breakfast I glance through the kitchen window. Hazy mountains glance back beneath a blue morning sky. The urge to climb among them is overwhelming. I must feel the sun on my brow and the wind in my hair; smell damp moss and bracken; tramp across rocks and yielding peat. Surely, quiet corners exist where the crowds never venture.
An hour later I leave the car at Ulpha Bridge, high in the Duddon Valley. I climb the winding road up Rough Gill, then on its summit – between Dunnerdale and Eskdale – strike south-west across open ground to Hesk Fell and the stony crown of Whitfell.
Up here the air is clear and cool and larks are singing. Distant mountains stand blue in the haze. The turf is warm and dry. I lie down and close my eyes, listening to birdsong and the sound of grass. And I sleep for an hour or two.
Mid-afternoon. I wander down the fell to Bigert Mire and follow narrow roads to Ulpha Bridge. The only signs of life I’ve seen on this glorious day in August are the larks and three butterflies on a bunch of thistles. So I shall keep this corner of Lakeland a secret. For now, at least . . .
A walk in solitude took place during August Bank Holiday in 1978.
THE butterflies on the thistles I photographed that day were small tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae. I grew up in a part of the country (the Furness peninsula) where they were known as King Georges.
As kids, we were familiar with all the common butterflies – cabbage whites, orange tips, red admirals, large whites, peacocks – and used their proper names. But a King George was a King George, and nothing else – small tortoiseshell didn’t feature in anyone’s vocabulary.
A few years ago I searched the internet for the origins of the local name, but drew a blank. I’ve just carried out another search, and with little success. But it appears to be a name from the North-West, very popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and it might be linked to the King George aster, which is known to attract bees and butterflies.
Has anyone any thoughts on this?