If you’ve ever pulled on a sturdy pair of walking boots, you’re the sort of person who would enjoy the Lake District, located in the northwestern corner of England in the county of Cumbria.
After landing at the Manchester airport, you can walk a few yards past the customs check to catch a very convenient train that will take you northward into the Land between the Lakes, a place with a language and rhythm all its own. Looking out the window of your railcar, you begin to see miles and miles of dry stone walls held together not with mortar but by the skill of clever stonemasons. Then the land begins to undulate into tall fells (high moors) down which sparkling becks (streams) come babbling. And everywhere, everywhere you see thousands of sheep scattered over the verdant hillsides in wooly puffs of white, gray, and black.
Upon your arrival at the tiny local train station, you exit and follow the pull of gravity down the clustered streets bordered by greystone buildings—outdoor outfitters, B&Bs with inviting rooms to rent, shops where you can buy a cup of tea with a scone smothered in Devon cream and strawberry jam—until you reach the majestic body of water known as Lake Windermere. There, you draw in your breath and understand what has moved writers from Beatrix Potter to William Wordsworth and artists from JMW Turner to John Ruskin. You find there’s nothing more you’d like in the world than to become a fell-walker and make your way over stiles and through kissing-gates from quaint village to quaint village across the district. You’ll visit Near Sawrey to find Hilltop Farm and identify every scene from the Peter Rabbit stories; you’ll study the purple foxglove and golden daffodils at Dove Cottage in tiny Grasmere as Wordsworth did.
Many older customs are still kept in this countryside as well, one of which I offer here from “A Cumbrian Christmas Memory” written by English expatriate Liz Addison:
“I myself have failed spectacularly at being British over this festive period [of Christmas]. Have the makings of mince pies in the larder and lard for the pastry in the fridge, but still no pies. And not a peep of of a Yule Log. And I bought three tiny imported Christmas puddings from Foods of All Nations. Bought.
My Mother, who lives in a constant two-year rotation of Xmas Puds [puddings/desserts], would be horrified. Hers are wrapped in the cloth of Baby Jesus and placed in a cold corner of the Cold Room for two years. A cold room could be any room in a Cumbrian household. But her designated cold room is the one across from the kitchen. We would probably call it a boot room. So in reality the Xmas Pud sits amongst an array of Wellies [boots], wedged up against the Sloe Gin (which is also in a two-year rotation) and the new kid on the block—the Christmas CAKE.
This person arrives each June. In a mixing bowl. And it is fussed over for the next seven months. Right up to the day. The Day. The day when she will cut into it and pronounce it, “Too dry…,” her words tailing off into emptiness. Or in other years it has been “Too wet….” Or too heavy. Or sometimes the icing itself gets cast the culprit. Once even the marzipan. Not in all my years has the Christmas Cake ever been deemed OK. And it does not stop there. Because, after we had bolstered her flagging spirit by refuting the charges against the Cake, we would then have to battle the Martyrdom of the Goose….
Because in truth my Mother is a superb cook of Yuletide tradition. And not a jot rubbed off on me.”
‘Makes you want to cozy in to a stone cottage, bask before the warmth of a crackling fire, and listen to Christmas stories, doesn’t it? However, before you settle in with your mince pie, you’ve got to earn it; so next time we will walk in earnest around the Lake District.
Next time: Rambling in Cumbria
Photo credits: Nancy Parrish