Riding North one Summer





The wildest and most spectacular landscape I had seen so far in England spread out all around. Far below, from where I had come, in what seemed a surprisingly short time, was the valley of Little Langdale, a jigsaw of small fields, tenderly green in contrast with the rock and the grey-green herbage of the heights. Ahead, beyond the Three Shire Stone that marked the spot where the boundaries of Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland touched, was an inviting ribbon of road twisting down to another meeting of waters.

At the bridge the ways divided also, with the old Roman road continuing on over Hard Knott Pass - ten feet higher than Wrynose, and meriting seven little chevrons on the map. An even narrower way snaked away to the left. The stream of cars, like an endless line of toiling ants, was moving inexorably up to Hard Knott, but nothing seemed to be turning left. Consulting the map, I saw that this left fork led down through the Duddon Valley to Ulpha. From Ulpha I could head right on another lane over Birker Fell, to rejoin the Roman road at the foot of Eskdale. This way it would take at least twice as long to reach the same point, and I would miss the remains of the Roman fort on Hard Knott - but these were small sacrifices to make if I could escape the traffic.

Once I had entered the Duddon Valley, the change was as immediate as turning a knob on a radio. From the roaring of engines and the squealing of brakes, the fumes and the dust, I moved into a chorus of birdsong, the music of a merrily gurgling beck, and the faint purr of Evans tyres on the smooth tarmac. The pot-pourri of evocative valley scents was just as suddenly  unstoppered - hot sun on rock, water, resinous trees, grass, heather, and a hundred other subtle scents of growing things. The stony summit of the Grey Friar and the steep faces of Seathwaite Fells were on my left, while on the right Harter Fell rose serenely above the woods that clothed its lower slopes. Now I had the peace and freedom to enjoy what was there, the day as suddenly assumed a splendour that made me want to join in the bird chorus with my own ‘Te Deum. The only vehicle I saw in the next hour was a battered old van with a well-mannered collie dog hanging out of one of the windows.

It took me considerably longer than an hour to cycle the five miles to Seathwaite because the way there called for so many stops to look at views and waterfalls, and small happenings like a hawk hovering above the trees, or a bird splashing in a puddle in the road. I stopped to boil a kettle at the side of the little river, and as I sat there drinking coffee, my eye was caught by the sudden iridescent blue sparkle of a kingfisher, flashing out of sight over the water almost before I had registered its presence.

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