3 hours later, numb jawed, pop-eared and stump-footed, we understood why.
We understood why there were so many hiking shops in Ambleside, a quaint town on the shore of Lake Windermere, fringed by majestic mountains (well, they’re probably hills, but half way up, they feel like mountains.) These hiking shops were for ill equipped morons like us, who would never even attempt a hillock again without reinforced ankle boots and crampons. Instead, we made our first ascent in the most sophisticated urban garb:
Me – New Look plimsolls – designed to be used only in conjunction with a primary school gym apparatus -check!
Cream mac from Gap kids – too tight in the arm sockets – check
Cropped jeans – check
Snazzy T- shirt – check
Him – shinier than shiny bottomed trainers – check
Hooded top – check
Map – for losers
Kendal mint cake or other sustinence – no, ta.
The picture of my shoe may give you some idea of the relative success and comfort of our all-terrain wear.
The aches, pains and fearful looks of the locals were worth it however, for what turned out to be a blissful weekend in the Lakes, unmarred by the age long English traditions of shit weather and lousy traffic. I originate from the North (the other side of the Peaks) and enjoyed pretending that I held some sort of mystic connection with the area – in reality, getting out of the E10 ghetto made me realise how far I’d moved from my roots (man) and become a creature of the city, like an etiolated baby rat or mangy bin- fox.
I think Bill Bryson wrote that what the North has that the South doesn’t is ‘big skies’. Big, but also very bloody dark. Driving around Kendal (the nearest thing to a big city) at 9pm was like navigating an ancient mineshaft, such was the lack of streetlight. It made me believe in ghosts, but good friendly ghosts that live in the hills and watch over lonely travellers…oh dear God. The main thing about the lack of light is that it demonstrates that up North, even now, things are left to trust and instinct, including road safety.
But I’m not here to rally against the technocratic, superior South; nor am I here to embellish that dreadful old cliche of the philistine North. London is wonderful, irritating, witty, edgy, noisy, self-centred etc etc, but here are some reasons why the North still rules, gathered from my brief 2 nighter in Cumbria:
1) The Dunkirk spirit lives on – at 2 am on our first night, I’m woken by hushed tones in the corridor – ‘there’s ever such a strong smell of smoke near number 15’. Everybody up and out. I barely register any of the pasty faces in the hallway and am relieved when I can crawl back to bed. My fellow guests view the occasion differently – having used the false alarm as a springboard into conversation (‘did you smell it?’ ‘well, no but my wife saw some youths burning something outside earlier’), they happily stand around, having unhurried ‘getting to know you’ chats in assorted pyjama and anorak combinations, till the dawn chorus strikes up. Turning adversity into opportunity.
2) People are bigger, ruddier and can handle the cold. Women and children included. Never have I seen such a proliferance of shirt sleeves and bare arms in arctic conditions.
3) No place for a London face. Smile at someone in the big smoke and you’re a perv or a loony. Up here, it is rude not to exchange a howdoo with fellow wayfarers. By the end of my stay, I was crossing the road to make eye contact and establish smiling terms with anyone in the vicinity.
4) I don’t care if its a lousy truism – the air is better. The difference between breathing up there and breathing down here is like drinking Malvern sparkling after years of drinking….piss with cigarette butts in it. That’s how strongly I feel. My boyfriend got drunk on the Friday and was up at 6am on the Saturday, hangover or no, such was his faith in the restorative powers of fresh air.
5) Fashion is secondary, which is how it should be. We only learnt this through experience (see shoe photograph), but now I can’t wait to buy some of those shell-suity legwarmer things (gaiters?) and a cagoole.
It was nice to go somewhere and be the tourist, to get things wrong and do so very publically. It was nice to go somewhere which boycotted 24 hour culture, where the food hatch was battoned down at 9pm sharp of an evening. It was nice to go somewhere where the pavements were smooth, not an uneven patchwork of tarmac and brickwork.
And it was wonderful not to be in London.