It was a very wise move to have such a bountiful feast last night, because this morning we were awake and on the road again by 7am – into ‘May Day’ traffic, a lovely mix of holiday makers getting away and school kids/workers on their way about their usual business, with us being jostled in the middle! We’re also not quite sure what’s happened to the good weather we were enjoying in the south, where it’d been a lovely/balmy high teens/twenty in Somerset, Dorset and Devon, up here as we travelled through Cheshire, Lancashire and into Cumbria it has taken on a decidedly chilly nature – which is not totally unexpected, it is ‘the North’ after all. We were also greeted with mists and varying degrees of showering down pours en route, some just a light smattering that barely greased the windscreen, others so hard and furious we considered pulling over and waiting it out – much to the amusement of locals we might add. But along the M58 and up the M6 we barrelled and into the steep and barren hills of the moors and dales on the outer edges of the Yorkshire Dales.
I’ve been through this area several times over the last 20 years, and in high summer it is glorious, the heath and streams that little the open moorland, crisscrossing it like a game of snakes and ladders. In mid spring however it is an entirely different kettle of fish, the winds are bone chilling, the fields look tired and frozen – probably from the winds if not the residue of winter snow falls – and everything feels more austere. I wouldn’t say it’s ugly, or uninviting even, but it does hold a beauty that is not necessarily visible on first glance. These lands are not as free and easy as their southern cousins, they are harsh and unyielding, they do not suffer fools gladly, much like the people who live here, who over generation upon generation have become as hardened as the land that nourishes them. That’s not to say they’re mean, just careful, they don’t waste anything, their lives are in constant challenge of the elements and modern-day demands. An agricultural life here should be granted the same ‘danger’ rates the military are afforded, it’s all work and very little play. But of the people we have met, they have a genuine smile, a warmth of character and open friendliness – if slightly guarded towards strangers. It’s an amazing region in constant contradiction of itself and we’re really enjoying being here, even if once again the roads have become a personal invitation to become a rally car driver.
During our rambles we passed through Kirkby Stephen, Great Musgrave, Brough and Tebay, quaint villages filled with stone houses and cottages, of farmhouses perched on the very edge of busy roads, surrounded by fields lined by rockwalls that seemed to run on forever as though they were the binding of a giant grey and green knitted blanket, or woven together with the black of the bitumen roads like a bizarre highland tartan. When we descended the last of the hills in the afternoon on our approach into Kendal we couldn’t help but instantly notice the difference between the hills and moors and now the green and leafy lanes that will ultimately lead into the Lakes District, I guess the could call Kendal the gateway to the Lakes as I’d say most visitors do come through it before heading into Windermere and on further around the waterways. Kendal itself is beautiful, as with all the villages in the area the bulk of the buildings are stone – of the local variety, a warm grey if that’s possible – with boldly painted front doors with winding roads and ancient alleyways.
All in all we’ve had a rather pleasant day today, the drive up was relatively uneventful, the scenery beautiful, the lunch of cheese rolls with stout basted chicken and salad surprisingly edible, and the walk through Kendal both enjoyable and exhausting – there are some seriously steep streets in that ‘little’ village! We’re staying overnight just south of the village, before pushing on further north tomorrow, an as I recline against the bed-head right now I’m very thankful I packed a polar fleece jumper and my heavy-duty jacket. The snow season may have come early back home, but it ain’t far off over here either, brrrrrr!