Thursday, 30 April 2020

Flashback Walk September 2019: The Kentmere Horseshoe. . .

If there's one good reason to be happy blogging again, it's to be able to post about this fabulous walk.  

I often use the search engine of the blog to bring up a walk we've previously done, especially if the Liverpud is contemplating leading a walk in the same area, or if we want to remind ourselves of a certain route or terrain. And hopefully I can encourage you to try some of these hikes if you are ever in the area, or give you some vicarious pleasure if you just want to follow along online. Especially now, when we're all stuck indoors. 

Last September (seems so long ago now), we had a long weekend up in the Lake District and we each chose a walk we wanted to do.  The Liverpud chose the Kentmere Horseshoe which is a tough one, but if you have the glorious weather that we had, it's absolutely magnificent.  You need to start early because it's around fourteen miles with lots of elevation as it takes in nine Wainwrights!  There is also very limited parking near the Kentmere church where it begins and although this is a little off the beaten track of most popular Lakeland routes, that car park fills up very quickly.

It starts easily enough on a rough track, gradually going up. 

You then turn onto glorious moorland and already the views are incredible, looking west and south towards the majority of the Lake District.

You then start heading for the first Wainwright called Yoke.  Love the name, and yes, I was wearing a knitted yoke sweater at the time.

Looking back, that's Lake Windermere in the distance.

Below was taken, I think, from the top of Yoke.  Ahead you can start to see the shape of the Horseshoe which roughly bends around the Kentmere Reservoir.

You can see the ups and downs ahead of us. You climb Ill Bell, Froswick and Thornthwaite Crag which is roughly the half-way point. You can also continue up to High Street which we did for a little way before retracing our steps to complete the other side of the Horseshoe.

Looking back at where we've come.

And now we're looking ahead to the turning point or head of the Horseshoe.  Ahead of us we will be climbing Mardale Ill Bell, Harter Fell, Kentmere Pike and Shipman Knotts.

Looking back from the top of the fell in the previous photo.

And now we're on the other side, it's late afternoon, and we've got tired feet  but it feels so great to look at those peaks that we've been traversing.

Once down, there's quite a long walk back to the car park, mostly along a road, but you do get this beautiful shot of most of the Horseshoe curve.

We were so lucky with the weather. The paths are quite good, especially on the first half, but it would be a completely different kind of walk if wind and rain were a factor. On a good day, though, it's one of the best that the Lakes offers - definitely in my top ten - and I can't wait to do it again. 

Friday, 24 April 2020

Flashback to September 2019: A Walk up Blencathra. . .

Happy Friday!

If the world were different, today I'd have been heading up to the Lake District, first to pop into a textile exhibit in Penrith and then I was going to be spending the weekend on a map reading and navigating course in preparation for leading some future walks in my ramblers' group.  Alas, that has all had to be postponed, but understandably so.

The second day of the course was going to be spent practising our skills in the moorlands behind Blencathra, so in lieu of that, let me offer up a walk the Liverpudlian and I did last September when we climbed to the top of this iconic mountain, also known as Saddleback.

Blencathra looms over the road leading to Keswick and while back in 2014 I  hiked behind it, as blogged here, I'd never actually climbed the mountain. We were spending a long weekend in Grasmere and each of us got to choose a walk we wanted to do - this was my pick.

I'd totally recommend Blencathra if you want to climb one of the higher fells but don't want anything too technical.  Just don't go via Sharp Edge which IS technical (I still haven't attempted it and would only do so in perfect weather conditions).  If you start on the western side, which is what we did, though it's a bit steep at first, once you get to the top, it's a lovely long ridge walk with wide, grassy paths and you don't need to go near the edge if you don't want to. 

This is early on in the ascent, looking back towards the direction of Keswick.

And now we're nearly at the top.  You can just see how the path will follow up to that next peak and then turn left to follow the next ridge, but all the hard climbing is done. 

It was a murky day which didn't make for the best photos. You can just see Derwent Water peeking out in this one.

Further along the path, looking back at where we've been. . .

. . . and looking forward to the descent which is also quite gradual and easier on the knees than many of the fells I've been on.

On the way down, you'll pass other routes up. Across from the tarn, you can see Sharp Edge.

I love the sky in this one. 

Once you are down, you can return to your starting point following a path that runs along the front. And you can look up and see the ridge that you've just walked. It was about an eight mile circular.

A good walk always demands a good meal - I would totally recommend The Jumble Room in Grasmere for the ambience and of course the food!  You definitely need to book ahead though.

I really miss the hiking during this lockdown but am taking comfort in the fact that the weather will at least be nice this weekend and the hills aren't going anywhere.  They'll still be there when all this is over.

My next post will be the Liverpud's choice of walk from this September weekend - and it's a brilliant one!

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

On Losing . . . and Finding Julia Hedges . . .

Hello.  It's been awhile.

It's the strangest of times to be picking up a blog again; does any of this minutiae really matter among all the global suffering and anxiety taking place amidst Covid-19?  I am feeling very lucky. My friends and family are all safe. My partner and I can both work from home so we still have our salaries.  I have a lovely back garden where I can sit on the grass, inhale the fresh air, look at the emerging growth and feel the sun on my face.  We have food in the fridge.

I know this isn't the case for thousands, and worries about how this world is going to look and act when this is all over are prevalent. But if this lockdown has taught us anything, it's to slow down, treasure the small things, and never to take anything or anyone for granted. It's given us the time to reflect, perhaps on what we've been, who we are and who we want to be in the future. And in some ways, this blog is a record of that for me.

I started writing this twelve years ago and back then I had a busy career in publishing, getting caught up in all the latest literary trends, discovering new authors and having early access to manuscripts from some of my favourites.  But I was also a bit sad that I'd had to give up on a PhD (impossible to combine with a full time job), and I wanted to keep my academic mind alert and indulge in my ongoing fascination with the literature written during Virginia Woolf's lifetime -  particularly books written by women about the suffrage movement, their participation in the First World War and life during the inter-war years - at a much more leisurely pace.  And that was the impetus for Julia Hedge's Laces - a reference to a character in Woolf's novel Jacob's Room, who is frustrated that all the names on the dome of the British Library Reading room are male.  I liked the fact that her laces were sloppily undone.  I wanted to tie them up into a neat bow, as we all want to do with our lives, while acknowledging that we will inevitably  trip up at times.

Fast forward to 2010 and I moved to the UK and this blog became a way to write about my new obsession with knitting and textiles, and to record the amazing walks I've been able to do all around the country.  And gradually the reading slowed down.  And almost stopped. Whether it was to do with my new activities or whether it was because my partner doesn't read at all, or whether I was secretly mourning the eighty percent of my book collection I had to give up in order to move, I still don't know. I went from someone who easily read over a hundred books a year to one who was struggling to finish ten. I had even stopped reading blogs - and I used to read dozens a day -  although over the last few years, I've noticed that lots of these have stopped too in favour of quicker forms of social media. And then my laptop mouse stopped working and I procrastinated on getting a new one and weeks went by and then months. . .

So what has spurred me on to this post? Two things really. I received a lovely comment on an old post from a complete stranger that really made my day (merci Catherine).  And then something unexpected popped up in a book I was reading that just seemed like a sign that I should log on again.

One positive about spending much more time at home has been the return of my reading mojo. I have been reading a lot over the past few weeks and thoroughly enjoying it again. So it seems apt that my first post after this break should be a round-up of some recent reads, all of which I'd recommend and, perhaps surprisingly, (perhaps not), rather reflect the reader I used to be ten years ago. Something old, something new, something translated, something re-read, something about women's lives in the inter-war years, yes, that feels familiar.

Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade

The premise of this book really intrigued me, covering the lives of five women writers and thinkers - H.D, Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf - but choosing to focus on the years in which they lived at various numbers in Bloomsbury's Mecklenburgh Square (not all at the same time). It's an ingenious way to write about a pivotal period in someone's life and also to consider how a similar, distinctly urban setting might influence or reflect a certain life stage.  Some of these women knew each other; some only knew about each other.  H.D. and Dorothy Sayers actually lived in the same room (years apart) which I found very pleasing (if those walls could only talk!)  They also had a relationship with the same jealous, overbearing and bitter man, (years apart) which was rather less agreeable. I certainly need to reread H.D's autobiographical novel of this time - Bid Me to Live.

And then, in the fascinating chapter on the classical academic Jane Ellen Harrison, I came across this timely passage:

". . . In her novel Jacob's Room, Woolf describes a female student staring at the ceiling of the British Museum Reading Room while she waits for her books, noticing not a single woman among the names engraved on the dome: the library's very architecture implies that only men have been and will ever be scholars. Aged nearly fifty, with honorary degrees from Aberdeen and Durham to her name yet no university appointment, Jane Harrison must have felt the same sinking conviction that the world was skewed against her. . . "

Was the character of Julia Hedge a nod to Jane Harrison? 

I like to think so. I was inspired by Harrison's life and work, and her attitude and principles of living and embracing a global world. I was also cheering on Eileen Power, another prominent academic who had to fight sexism and discrimination throughout her career, but whose love of travel led to a lifelong commitment to pacifism and internationalism. These brave, intelligent and ground-breaking women had boundless energy and resourcefulness and it was fascinating to get a glimpse into their lives.

Needless to say, I  loved this book.

Mac & His Problem by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Sophie Hughes
I've read Vila-Matas before and while I'm sure his writing may frustrate some readers, I find him rather funny. The Mac in question, who may or may not be the head of a construction company that has gone bust, decides to put his spare time to good use by studying the idea of repetition, in particular embarking on a project to rewrite the early novel of his celebrated neighbour in which each chapter is a pastiche of a famous short story writer. In the course of re-examining and commenting on each chapter, Mac also finds some eerie similarities to his own life.  This is comic literary angst at its best. And possibly its worst. Read and repeat.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.  
My workplace was having an online book club and this was the first selection. I hadn't read it since I was a teenager.  I also watched the 1940 film version again (apparently a new one is in the works with Kristen Scott Thomas playing Mrs. Danvers which looks intriguing).  I had forgotten that there was one crucial difference between the book and the movie; as a result, after this return to Manderley, I felt much less empathy for the narrator and less sorry for her fate after events unfolded.

There's nothing like a Persephone for comfort reading, and scanning my shelves, House-Bound by Winifred Peck seemed a perfectly appropriate title for our times.  The novel is set in Edinburgh during the Second World War and focuses on Rose Fairlaw, a middle class woman used to having a comfortable life with plenty of servant help, but with the current shortage, she makes a decision to attempt the majority of the house work herself with mixed results. There are many comic scenes within the story amidst the sorrows of wartime and I liked the recurring metaphor of the house enclosing - and in some cases imprisoning - change, progress and growth, personally and in families.  There was a subplot about Rose's fraught relationship with her daughter that was a bit unconvincing, but the story rips along and Rose was a very engaging and likeable character with a self-deprecating humour and a wry way of looking at the world that was endearing.   Winifred Peck was Penelope Fitzgerald's aunt and I think they share a sense of being able to closely observe an ordinary, everyday occurrence and mine it for its comic potential.  A very enjoyable, comfort read indeed.

Currently reading:

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

I'm about half way through this look at Shakespeare's home life in the events leading up to his young son's death from the plague. The story mostly unfolds through an interesting imagining of  Agnes/Anne Hathaway's early life and her relationship to her husband and his family.  So far, Shakespeare has barely made an appearance. 


The Wandering by Intan Paramaditha, translated by Stephen J. Epstein 

I read an interesting review of this book,  a "Choose Your Own Adventure" novel for adults, and ordered a copy on a whim. A young woman makes a Faustian-type bargain with the devil for a pair of ruby slippers and the chance to go travelling.  So far, I've had to make the choice to either stay in a tiny New York apartment or jump on a plane to Berlin (I chose the former).  It will be hard to tell when I've actually finished this novel, but we'll see how to go about reading the rest of it when I've got to the end of my current adventure.

That felt good.  Going to hit publish now. . .