Reading poetry on Helm Crag
Reading poetry on Helm Crag

The weather was in our favour.  We set off in a light drizzle, which you might think is a bad thing, but it felt very welcome after the searing heat of the last two weeks. Clouds were teasing the tops of the fells all around us, concealing, revealing, and adding a drama to a landscape coming into its full flush of green.

We were heading out on the first of our public walks, this one to the Under Helm Sycamore. We began at Town Head Farm, wandered up the lower part of the hanging valley of Greenburn, and climbed to Helm Crag (also know as Lion and the Lamb) before dropping to the Sycamore, which overlooks Grasmere.

In the inbye fields around the farmyard, meadows were bursting with buttercups, clovers and grasses. We left these behind as we climbed slowly beneath the boughs of beeches in the woods that shade the last of the road, and headed out onto the open fell. There were eleven of us, including people from Cumbria, London, Lancaster and the Australian city of Perth, and we fell easily into gentle conservation as we walked. We took regular stops along the way and Rob and I shared our own insights into this landscape and the history behind it that is told in the placement of miles and miles of dry stone walls, walls that separate inbye, intake and fell. We talked about the system of commoning in Cumbria, which has western Europe’s largest area of common land, and the way sheep become hefted or heafed to the fells. The Shepherd’s Guide we were carrying shows the specific smit marks used by each farm, and we were able to identify two flocks on our walk.

Discussion also turned to biodiversity and tree cover in the United Kingdom and more locally here in the Lake District, and the different organisations that work independently and together with the collective ambition to ensure that by 2020 this landscape is showing signs of enrichment. Wordsworth got mentions too – the view from Helm Crag takes in the Vale of Grasmere where he and his sister Dorothy settled in Dove Cottage in 1799, together in their own place after many years of separation. His words found the way into conversations, and we wondered about the exact location of Michael’s sheep fold way off in the distance.

Our stopping points were also a time for poetry. I read poems that I have written in this place and for this place, beginning with one directed to the Under Helm sycamore and taking in a range of themes from the more universal subject of trees to the tiniest of worlds found in the delicate white flower of heath bedstraw (gallium saxatile), which grows in abundance in the grass around the summit of Helm Crag. You can read the Under Helm Sycamore poem here.

When we descended and wound our way beneath the crag to the Under Helm Sycamore, we walked under the careful gaze of a peregrine. Some of the group walked up the scree slope to the tree, and were able to look up into its fully leaved and beautifully symmetrical crown. The other half rested some way beneath it and took in the view north towards Dunmail Raise and the Helvellyn range, and south to Grasmere Village. It had warmed up, and dried up, but clouds still played on the fell tops all around.

the Under Helm Sycamore from the Long View seven trees

This was the first of The Long View walks and it did just what we had hoped it would: firstly it entailed a walk, so we could all feel the rise and fall of the fells under our feet, and the weather in our faces; we saw history physically present around us, and uncovered some of the stories behind the landscape. It was a gentle day that left us all smiling. There was plenty of chat and no shortage of pauses to take it all in: there us plenty to wonder at.

The next walk will be to the Little Asby Hawthorn on July 25th. All the walks are free, but if you wish to make a donation the money is going towards the planting of an established tree on Friends of the Lake District land.

For the dates of the other walks, visit The Long View Walks page.

 

11 thoughts on “Public Walk #1: the Under Helm Sycamore

  1. It was a really lovely and thought provoking day. I went along conscious that I didn’t particularly like sycamores and wondered whether the day would change that. The first poem that Harriet read tackled that head on, and moved me to tears with its poignant relevance to the world’s refugee crisis (and I wasn’t alone in the group to have that reaction). It was wonderful to see the tree up close, to be watched over by a peregrine, to have my thinking changed, to meet lovely people. Thank you. I wish I could walk with you to them all.

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    1. Thank you. There was a lot about the day that was thought provoking and it felt great to have lots of stimulating conversations in such gorgeous surroundings. Thanks for coming and you never know, maybe you will make it to another one (an Autumn visit perhaps?).

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  2. I came home feeling refreshed and renewed and full of reflections on how being rooted in nature (just like all trees, including the Under Helm Sycamore) is where I belong and feel most at peace and at one with the world. My arms might have ached from my energetic Boxer dog dragging me up hill (bonus!) and down dale (hard work on slippery stones) but my heart felt joyful from a day spent in inspiring company. The Long View project should be prescribed on the NHS. I can’t recommend getting involved highly enough. It was a beautiful mix of sharing thoughts, knowledge, history, feelings and poetry in a glorious setting. Thank you Rob & Harriet for a superb day. Looking forward (and hoping to) join you on some more.

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    1. Thanks Ruth, it was great having you along. We loved it too and, like you, ended the day feeling refreshed. Really glad you had a good day, and hope to see you on some more of the walks (or even all of them – I know that’s the goal of at least one person who joined us!).

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  3. This was a beautiful walk, with like minded people; a gentle and informative day in stunning scenery. What a tree the sycamore is! Thank you so much Harriet and Rob..

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  4. A truly inspirational day. The chance to meet such a variety of people and perspectives was exciting and refreshing, especially in a landscape that, although beautiful, can be easy to consider as something to only admire from a distance. What struck me most was the shared attitude of acceptance of the changes and challenges that lie ahead. I came away feeling like I had held a conversation with the landscape as much as the people, and getting to know both was a real joy. Thank you for making such magic happen, and it’s heartening to think this is just the beginning!

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  5. Thank you Harriet and Rob for showing us the absolute beauty of Helm Crag. What a privalage. We hope to return to the beautiful landscape one day soon and hold onto the memories with much love. Thanks again from your new Aussie friends.

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