We drove in. The lake was grey. The screes grey, the sky grey. Rain. Wind whipping the water into spray. All grey and bracken brown.
Then blue in the west, and a clean white sky. The rain stopped.
The clouds withdrew and the sun played a slow dance of lines on Yewbarrow, then revealed the upper reaches of Great Gable and Scafell. We stopped by the lapping water at the lake’s shore to watch the unveiling of bronze on the fells, and the turning of the lake’s surface from foreboding slate grey to a playful deep blue. The day was improving.
At Wasdale Hall Head farm the pens were full of herdwicks. The farmer told us that they’d been gathered in that morning, amidst driving rain and swearing. Definitely not a good day for it. But they needed dosing and then once they’d been sorted they would be let out. Herdwicks long for the fells.
Beyond the farmland and the gate that opens on to the fell, the path was a stream. There has been so much rain this month, that’s hardly surprising. Above us, high above the highest of the tops, gulls played on the wind. Their white against a greying sky. On the lake, the wind drew lines on the water. Its presence everywhere. Along the lake’s stony edge, hawthorns have rooted, scraggy, determined. Their berries are rich drops of red, brought to life each time the sun sneaks out from the clouds.
We arrive at the first section of scree: chunks of rock knocked and tossed from the ground by millennia of shifting time. The fell falls away sharply, a tumble of rocks into slate black water, and the path cuts across it. Each footfall is a clonk on rock.
I notice the lichen – pale, rock green, ages worth of growth. The lake water laps on the stones and there’s the distant sound of wind. Just beyond this section of screes there is grass and a line of oaks, in twos, marching down to the shore, their branches a writhing mass of curves.
There’s another stretch of screes, the boulders larger, more threatening. I walk gingerly. Then, suddenly: grass, moss, and oaks, and a stand of birch offering elegance in a gold-white celebration of sunlight. It’s about 2pm and this is the first time the sun’s rays have emerged from the barrier of fells and reached this shore. The slate blue water is tinged with gold and moving, a mesmerising dance of light beyond the trees. Wind and lake and air flow from the west, and above me, is the oak. I am going up.
I am beneath the tree, sitting on a wet mossy rock, a branch reaching out above me. It’s steady this tree, solid. Huge, for its location. A cold wind is pulling and pushing a whoosh from its branches, but there’s no rhythm: it’s jumpy like an irritated child. There are sheep grazing here, and several young oaks, their crisp brown leaves shaking. All around is the constant sound of wind, passing over the lake and echoing between the fells that rise from its depths.
I enter a state of calm and for a time, there are not many thoughts. The sky turns pink and the lake mimics it.
It’s time to leave. The sun dips and before the dark becomes too deep the moon rises. The walking becomes trance-like in the half light, feet become as important as eyes in finding the way, the rods in our eyes work hard. The land is quiet – the wind has stopped – and we walk without hats, without coats, warm, wrapped in Wasdale’s midwinter air, moon to the east.
I will take with me
these racing clouds
grey to white
to gold to pink
from bruise to shine
and the certainty of this tree
in the wind