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.
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.