It’s mad. I’ve lived in England all my life. I’m a keen walker, I love nature, I studied Wordsworth at university, grew up enamoured by Peter Rabbit and all of his other fluffy little mates and yet, until Christmas 2020, I’d never been to the Lake District: THE most walkery, naturey, Wordsworthy, Peter Rabbity place in the entire world. Only 6.5 hours away from my flat!
With Covid-19 putting a swift, probably smug end to any hopes of a cosy family Christmas with my really cute 6-month old nephew, we woke up horribly early (about an hour after we fell sleep), filled the car with chocolate, booze and gifts (all the camping essentials) and whizzed away up the gloriously empty M6 to a little Finnish-style cabin on the side of a mountain in the middle of the Lake District.
It was early afternoon by the time we parked up. The winter sun cast a glorious golden hue over the grassy hills and snow-capped mountains beyond. Smoke puffed from the chimney of a neighbouring yurt and a trail of hikers in brightly coloured puffer jackets emerged from the trees in the direction of the village of Rydal (the very same village Wordsworth lived in and wrote some of his famous poems from back in the 1800s).
“I wandered lonely as a cloudWilliam Wordsworth, Lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze …”
I did have the feeling that we’d gone back in time and shunted sideways a bit into a fantastical universe inhabited by nymphs, hobbits and other cute, small woodland creatures. There was just something other-worldly about the spongey, mossy, mole-hilled ground scattered with boulders and stumps, and the ancient, twisted chestnut trees (which were over 800 years old, according to a sign) that encircled us – silent but curiously sentient.
We were excited to taste the primitive life for a few days. I say primitive…the cabin had electric lighting and 2 USB ports powered by a solar panel, the toilet block (down a very steep hill) was blessed with underfloor heating, and firewood had been conveniently cut and stacked for us.
After spending so long sitting down in the car, we were desperate to stretch our legs so we set off to explore the mountain, following the sound of rushing water. We were astounded by what we found just a few feet from our cabin.
A series of waterfalls tumbling down the stony mountain-side; the water crystal clear and reminiscent of the pools I’d seen in Costa Rica (minus any warmth whatsoever).
How could this seriously be in grey little England? The same place that’s home to the M25, and Slough?
When we awoke on Christmas morning, the mood outside had changed. No more Shire-like whimsy. This was Mordor, minus the rivers of lava thank goodness. The sky was dark grey, heavy, and the wind was bitingly cold. We wrapped up and walked down to Rydal water – a large lake full of glassy black, very cold-looking water in which people were swimming. As we stood watching a young, bathing-suited couple edge into the almost-icy water, a passing dog walker mumbled ‘nutters’, and she was right. But this is the best kind of nutty, isn’t it? To wake up on a freezing cold Christmas morning, strip off and throw yourself into a lake. Not just looking at how pretty nature is, but plunging into it, feeling its deathly, breath-taking power encompassing your entire body. Nutty, but cool.
We climbed to the top of a hill away from the many other walkers, got out the gas stove, made a cup of tea and had a chocolate Lindor ball each. As we sat there looking over the lake, it began to snow. Proper, big, fluffy snow the likes of which we rarely see in the south. I suddenly noticed we were sitting right next to a holly tree replete with big, polished red berries like something out of a festive greetings card. All we needed was Father Christmas to whip by on his sleigh and the scene would be complete.
Before heading back to the cabin for our Christmas Dinner of nut roast and roasted potatoes and parsnips done in the log burner, we dropped into Rydal Cave – a huge, jagged mouth gaping through the rockface, accessed (rather romantically) via a trail of steppingstones over a shallow pool of crystalline water. Another unexpectedly exotic sight in chilly Blighty – and not a sign, food van or souvenir stand to be seen, thank goodness.
We enjoyed the rest of Christmas Day opening gifts, eating, drinking wine and dancing in the cabin.
Three nights wasn’t really enough to fully take in the sublime splendour of the Lake District. It left us with a feeling of wanting more. I can see now why it’s such a popular tourist destination.
Maybe one day we’ll return to climb more of those beautiful mountains, but for now – there’s many other incredible places we hope to explore when it’s safe and possible to do so.
Here’s the website for the cabin we stayed in at Rydal Hall – I really recommend this if you like camping but don’t want to freeze your tits off.