By the time we had found the little lane that would lead to the place we were staying for the night, the light had almost gone. Not quite… for which I was thankful, because, yet again, we found ourselves looking for an inn lost in the middle of nowhere. For once, though, it was easily found and we settled in for the night.
This time, the ‘middle of nowhere’ was Mungrisdale, tucked away in a corner of the fells below Blencathra. There are just a few houses and the 17th century coaching inn, but, with the setting and the landscape, that is more than enough. The Glendermakin river flows around the inn and the ‘mountain views’ that were promised in the advert were real… the hills rise just yards from the inn and to wake to their beauty was wonderful.
We spent most of the evening by the fire, accompanied by a small flock of glasses. The lack of street-lighting outside meant that the stars were brilliant against the blackness of night and ice was already forming underfoot in great, glassy sheets. That, we thought, might make us rethink the dawn trip to Castlerigg we had been considering for the hours prior to breakfast next morning. My little car does well, but she’s not great at ice-skating.
But that was fine. It meant we had a little time to explore before breakfast. The morning dawned clear and cold. Snow crowned the mountains, frost and ice covered the roads and trees and the little river roared under the one remaining bridge. The other, presumably a little footbridge, had been carried away by flooding some time previously.
There is something incredibly intimate about being out early in the landscape when the light is just spreading over the world. You see things that the busy-ness of the later hours would obscure from consciousness. Little details make sense in some indefinable way, like the frost edging the carpet of fallen leaves or the layered colours of the hills.
It is as if, before the human day begins demanding attention, the earth can speak to you with a silent voice, imparting a wisdom for which there are no words. Perhaps not even concepts. Secretes shared heart to heart, bypassing the conscious mind to colour the morning with a strange richness.
We didn’t wander far… there was no need. Everything we could possibly have wished for was right on the doorstep. Once again, we had fallen very lucky with our choice of inn. We watched the river rushing beneath the bridge, gazed up at snow-clad hills and copper-gowned trees. We watched two young rams testing their strength, head to head with a sound that rang through the dale in age-old challenge.
Small birds were everywhere, raiding the berries from the bushes and breaking their fast at the bird tables. Robins, as always, blue-tits and sparrows…and one delightful little wren. They are shy birds and so tiny, with a distinctive shape and cocked tail, yet this one seemed happy for us to observe as he foraged amongst the flower pots and guttering of the inn.
We watched him for a little while before heading in for our own breakfast, one of those humongous northern meals that fortifies you for an entire day, no matter what you have in mind and no matter what the weather. None of your plastic-packed ingredients either, but all farmhouse made, with proper sausages and bacon as thick as you please. It is odd how we, who seldom eat much at home, can plough through such a meal at that time of day. I think it is the whole ‘holiday’ thing… no work to go to, no clock to watch and no stress. No cooking either. All you have to do is listen to your body and go with it.
‘Going’ was the next thing, though with a certain reluctance. We had been made to feel welcome and at home, but there were stone circles to explore. First though, we needed to find a shop that sold gloves. A repeat of the previous day’s cold would do us no good at all. Penrith would have shops… It also, we knew, has a castle…