We ended August by driving out to the Lake District, and from there onto Scotland, and got back last week. But as usual, it’s taken me longer to come back to this space. I quite enjoy keeping away from the laptop these days. As much as I enjoy coming back to catch up with those of you who are still here. I hope you’ve been well!
When we reached the Lake District and our little, whitewashed B&B in the village of Near Sawrey, I looked at the hills and realised that I’d forgotten to pack my watercolours. For this, I’m thankful. I could never have done justice to the light and the land, to the greens that were at once opaque and translucent, the ferns that were delicate and raucous, and the dew-soaked smell of wild things.
I could not have captured the trickle of the brook, the scores of tiny snails clinging onto half-eaten leaves, or the smile of the woman who invited us into her garden for freshly-picked runner beans.
I would not have known how to paint the din of the village pub, the warmth of strangers with whom we had many long conversations as we sat with our pints in the evening, nor the wisps of smoke that rose from our coil of Cumberland sausage.
This was the same pub that Beatrix Potter had painted in her Peter Rabbit books a century-and-a-half ago. And much like the pub and her paintings, her hills haven’t changed. They speak straight to your soul, they slow down your thoughts, they inspire poems, and roll on as gently as they always have.
We walked up the hills and down, we met people who told us stories of how their great-grandfathers had built their houses, grown their gardens and died with a love of The Lakes in their heart. We stopped to pick blackberries. They’d been washed shiny from the rains of the night before. We ate the blackberries standing by the road. The bushes were prickly, the fruits sweet and tart. They stained our fingers the same shade as the sky at sunset, when the last light dipped behind the hills.
by Seamus Heaney
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.