Sunday, 13 August 2017

Cumbria Pastoral 1

I’d recommend Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost, her writing around the theme of walks, journeys and life stories is hugely enjoyable. 

Before I left home to go camping, a friend offered me a compass. I decided in the end not to take it with me (I have a detailed map, I’d hardly need a compass, so I thought!) But had I taken it and used it, then I might have realised I was walking in the opposite direction from where I believed I was going. I kept consulting the detailed Ordinance Survey map. Not a very good map I thought, it doesn’t show this road going off on the right, or the place shown on the signpost and I should have reached this fork in the road ages ago, surely?

I was up early that morning, heading for a campsite in Great Corby, Cumbria. As soon as the sun comes up over the hill the morning becomes warm and welcoming as the light arrives all at once, a layer of gold on the garden grass. And it’s still, no wind, a good morning for setting off. It feels like autumn really, that chill in the air, those lengthening shadows on the grass, the flicker of red among the long grasses, a docken leaf turns scarlet. And there are a few coy raspberries and brambles turning pinky-red before they become deep-purple glossy.

I’d spoken on the phone to the lady at the camping site and explained I was arriving by bus. Then your nearest stop to Great Corby she said will be Warwick Bridge. I’d missed an important piece of information though I didn’t know it then. The journey of a few hours, with gaps in between waiting for connections (giving time for coffee) was in glorious sunshine. I got off the bus at Warwick Bridge and found a small road signposted to Burnrigg. I checked with a passing pedestrian who assured me the road would take me to Great Corby. I should take the right fork after Burnrigg, the road would turn into a path and I’d need to cross the railway, and then I’d be there. It’s a couple of miles though he says, looking doubtfully at my rucksack.

But I was prepared for that, the sun keeps shining, the road is quiet, the path is lined with trees

and once I’ve crossed the railway 

I soon arrive in Great Corby, which is a loose arrangement of a few large houses with big gardens and I spy someone loading his car and ask him if he knows where the caravan site is. He does, and says it’s about 3 miles away in Cumwhitton. This is when I realise I clearly got something wrong, I remember the lady mentioning Cumwhitton but it had not really registered in my mind.

My pack is heavy but there are no buses and it seems I’ll just have to keep going. And then the man says that he’ll give me a lift, which he does, and I am so grateful for this. I check in at the site, put up the tent, have some lunch and decide I will walk back the way I had been driven, now unencumbered by rucksack and tent, to explore Great Corby and possibly Wetheral, on the other side of the river Eden.

And this is when I got lost though I didn’t realise it until I reached a signpost and couldn’t find any of these places on the map. It was only because the name of the crossroads was marked – Hornsby Gate – that made me realise that I had walked in the opposite direction to the one I intended to walk in. 

So I walked back.

Several roaring trumpeting tractors swing round corners with trailers of cut grass, dust rising from their massive wheels. 


Back in the village of Cumwitton, I visit the churchyard. All the gravestones look in one direction – towards the dales. In the other direction the view is blocked by old houses and tall trees. The older original stones on either side of the church are the same red-brown or ochre coloured sandstone as the church building itself. These tall thin stones, some of them lean forward or to one side, or both. Some are gnarled and near illegible with lichen and with some, the soft stone has rounded the edges of the letters, as if trying to make the occupant – or perhaps memory, who knows? - feel more comfortable.

The church bell chimes and it’s so loud and close and sudden, it makes me jump. Glancing over I think I see a motionless figure in profile, head slightly bowed, standing by the side of the church.

But it turns out to be green-verdigris stones close together and the round carved decoration of another slab, flush with the church wall and half hidden by a spindly obelisk. 

Graveyards are often peaceful – this one is. Perhaps it’s as much to do with what people bring here and leave at the church gate, as with the restfulness of the dead. We bring sweetness usually or melancholy, sadness, wistfulness and some kind of respect even if we do not know for what – giving it various names none of which define the mystery that we don’t know about – or say we don’t. A cloak of absence – a kind of self-forgetfulness, self-abnegation, covers the well-cropped, well-tended graveyard grass.

Further down the slope, the stones are smaller, shorter, most are shades of grey granite, one or two black. 

A white butterfly dashes past, in late afternoon sunlight.

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