Wilderness in my soul

I realised this weekend that despite the fact that I live in the most beautiful corner of England, the Lake District (in my opinion at least), Ive never written about it.  I suspect this is partly to do with my love-hate relationship with England, while it always has been and always will be my home, so much about it makes me want to never think of it again.  Yet the wildness of the Lakes has escaped my scorn and rejection, its raw beauty is undeniable and as separated from humanity as the land in this overpopulated island ever can be.

Most foreigners (and a lot of Brits) have never heard of the Lakes, and almost all of them couldnt point to it on a map.  Nestled up on the border with Scotland, it is as far removed from the stereotypical rolling hills of southern England as it is from the jungles of Borneo.  Perhaps that's why Cumbrians feel more of a kinship with the Scots than we do with our London countrymen.  It has long been the inspiration and spiritual home of poets, writers and artists, those sensitive enough to appreciate its ancient grandeur and dispassionate wildness.  And yet they are not the guardians of this precious isolated savage landscape, that role is left to the farming families who scrape and scratch a living from its harsh unforgiving slopes.  This is a place that does not accept incomers easily, I was born and raised here but wouldnt class myself as properly Cumbrian because my parents are not from the area.

Cumbria is one of the last homes of the rare (and super cute) red squirrel
Although it is an area with a facade of tourism, farming is still the throbbing pulsating life force of the county.  The foot-and-mouth disease epidemic of 2001 wounded and scarred communities, families, livelihoods and lives.  I was 12 then, and every time I smell certain types of disinfectant it still takes me back to the disinfectant mats that were laid on the road to try and stop the spread of infection.  I can still see the smoke billowing from the pyres of burning animals, still feel the oppression of death and sorrow thick in the summer air.  I sincerely hope that this time was the closest I will ever come to living in a war zone.  It might sound odd and overdramatic, but the impact that disease and the half a million slaughtered animals had was unimaginable.

Sally in the snow!
 And yet some of my favourite childhood memories are wrapped up in this land as well.  Summer days lying in the short spiky fellside grass above Lake Ullswater, with nothing but the blue sky and the skylarks for company.  The incredible brightness of the spring green leaves gradually fading to the hues of autumn as I walked in cool leafy woods.  The sound of my kayak cutting through the still waters of the lake, the mysterious shroud of mist slowly rising to reveal the bracken cloaked valleys and bare mountaintops.  Adventuring up the river in the height of summer, cool dark water up to my thighs with the dogs happily splashing along with me.  The exhilaration of snow days in winter, sledging and snowmen and the pure joy of living.

I could talk forever about this place.  I love it, not just for its unquenchable wildness and its uncompromising permanence, I love it because it soothes me.  It calms me and grounds me and revitalises me.  All my worries and cares cannot even murmur a complaint when Im on a mountaintop or othewise immersed in this landscape.  It makes me sad that I have so few pictures of this stunning place.  Despite its timelessness, not even the shadows ever look the same twice.

"Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." John Muir

I cannot wait to leave England far far behind me, but I am so thankful and glad to know that this place will forever be ingrained upon my soul.


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