There’s nowt wrong with the smell of honest toil

We had been to the Lake District twice before and, in order of visits, we have had rain; rain, overcast and snow.

You don’t have to be Fermat or Pascal to work out, therefore, that the probability of rain was high this time and we duly packed waterproof everythings. What was unexpected was the sheer quantity of rain that fell in 48 hours. It was positively Manchester weather (three visits; rain every time).

I had vowed never to visit the pencil museum again after the first time when, given the great outdoors with its scenery and the lakes, it seemed like an admission of defeat. But as the clouds settled ominously over Cumbria last week it seemed like the only dry place although the history of the humble pencil had not altered much in five years.

Roads were awash as the rainwater coursed down the hillsides and broke through the dry stone walls into a network of rivulets across the highways.

***The high winds tossed the leaves from the trees and branches were ripped from trunks and hurled to the ground.


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Not that I’m complaining. It made the intermittent sunshine of the latter half of the week seem like basking weather. On Thursday, I even took my hoodie off.

We spent the week with our best friends Jane and Richard, staying in a holiday let called The Belfry (no bats) which was, appropriately, next to the church. We hid the wine behind the sofa.

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We arrived on Saturday and were able to walk down to Lake Windermere on Sunday for a brief frolic on a hillside before the rain set in.

When the rain eased off (Wednesday), we went to Blackpool for the day.

Blackpool is the holiday mecca of the north west and we were keen to sample its pleasures. It is one of those places where the sea’s paddle zone appears to stretch to the horizon. **The sand is a pale gold, sculpted into ridges by the ebbing waves.

There was no one on the beach though. This was late September and most people seemed to be of a certain age. That is to say, about my age or older. There were a lot of mobility scooters being pootled down the prom but we decided to take the tram instead.

We started at the Tower where we were a bit disappointed that there was no Tower museum. If Keswick can find enough material for a pencil museum...

We peered into the Tower Ballroom where people of a certain age were taking afternoon tea and dancing to the sound of the Wurlitzer.

I was, to be honest, a little disappointed with the Tower close up. The pavement end is currently surrounded by hoardings and you don’t get much of the Eiffel experience.

At the south end of the prom is the famous pleasure beach with its tangle of roller coasters – including The Big One.

The Big One is the highest scenic railway in the UK taking its victims up 213ft before dropping down 205ft and my husband was keen to go on it. No one else was. Climbing the steps to get into the cars looked too vertiginous for me. Off he went, by himself. He sat alone in the car and I felt a pang of guilt I was not there beside him, as a good, obedient wife should be. I also felt a surge of relief that I was not there beside him. The mechanism cranked the carriages to the top of the mountainous incline and, at the apex they seemed to stop for a long moment before plunging downward: cue screams... but I managed to stop myself. The whole ride couldn’t have lasted more than three minutes and soon I had my husband back by my side, which was just as well because I’d forgotten to get him to sign the will I’d drawn up.

“How was it?”

“Fantastic. There was a notice that people shouldn’t put their hands out of the car but several of them did.”

“You didn’t?”

“No,” said the law-abiding man I love, who can now say he’s done The Big One.

We strolled back along the entertainment-packed prom, chock full of spectacle with lights flashing their wares in a promise of innocent fun. And you can still buy a little stick of Blackpool rock.

Back in Windermere, we made haste while the sun shone and walked in Grizedale Forest, where, we understood, you might see red squirrels.

We didn’t. You would have thought that in the great, unspoilt Lake District there would be a good deal of interesting wildlife but our few days yielded only jackdaws in the trees, swans on the lake, rabbits in Beatrix Potter’s garden and sheep everywhere. But we saw spectacular waterfalls and I walked until my calf muscles were like iron. Sadly the rest of me has remained flabby.

Greeting fellow walkers, I couldn’t help noticing that the ones with all the gear – proper walking boots, anoraks with hundreds of pockets, back packs with drinking water tubes, double thickness socks – are built like whippets; lean, fit and eager. With my best thick-soled trainers, rainproof jacket and cross-body handbag I was more like an overweight corgi. Here, working up a sweat is a badge of honour.

In Booths supermarket, a well spoken woman next to us in the check-out queue said “hello” and announced: “I’m hot, drenched in sweat and I smell.”

In an East Anglian supermarket I wouldn’t put up with it, I’d swap queues. But in the Lake District, being cool and fragrant is the mark of a dilettante – someone who buys all the gear just to walk from the fell-side car park to the coffee shop. It’s no good buying a Lake District map if the nearest you’ve come to a grid reference is tapping the post code of Scafell Pike (CA12 5XJ ) into the Sat Nav. Respect is earned by taking the difficult routes; getting significantly muddy; eating mintcake and having hair plastered to the head by a mixture of sweat and rain.

Next time I’m going to get properly smelly.

In the style of Stella Gibbons, author of the great comic novel Cold Comfort Farm, I have marked my best descriptive bits with a star rating.

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