Tuesday 26 May 2015

Consider the Lily Tarn

Loughrigg may not be as well known or celebrated as the English Lake District's 'Big Three' mountains; Scafell, Helvellyn and Skiddaw, but it should not be under-appreciated.

Squatting at the Northern end of Lake Windermere, it has an undulating plateau of hollows, tarns and shiny streams.

It is an easy yet safe place to get lost on because you can, in good weather, take your bearings on the higher, distant fells in the knowledge that if you go in vaguely the right direction, it'll work out.

The ascent from Ambleside is very steep at the start, but after a lung cleaning hundred metres you take a left and it levels off before winding its way to one of the more famous views of Lake Windermere on a trio of rocky outcrops.

When I first arrived in the village a few decades ago I was living, well squatting to be honest, under this fell and it was on this rocky perch that the Lake District began to work its magic, just half an hour from the madding crowds pounding the tills of the multitude of cagoule shops below.

Back then, the kindest word to describe me would be 'lost'. I'd come through a series of misadventures that had turned darker and darker until I thought that something inside of me had died.

I'd paid a heavy price but had escaped with my life somehow, heading to the hills like a bandit fleeing a posse of nightmares.

But sitting on the rocks with birdsong in the air, there was a whisper from the void within me. "Here, this is the place," it said. I was too exhausted to ignore it, to explain it away, so I took to wandering up Loughrigg frequently.

If I couldn't seep, I went alone in the night, especially near a full moon, where there was enough light to climb a well known path.

The fiercest storms were a challenge, so I climbed in howling wind, when rain blasted my face and hurt and I danced like the madman I was in the hail and snow.

Over the months, from the end of Summer to the harsh Winter, something happened, something changed and it is only recently that I began to understand it.

After looking over the lake, the next stop was always Lily Tarn, set in a high hollow, one of nature's infinity pools with a small island near one bank where a solitary tree grew, braving the elements, safe from the chomping jaws of the herdwick sheep.

It was small tarn, roughly 25 metres in wide, but it felt far from anywhere, hanging on the edge, with the grander hills behind.

Yet, it was a place of stillness, helped by being in a natural windbreak. I visited in all its moods, when giant dragonflies darted around, when the midges came out, the smallest vampires.

And as the sun set one Winters' eve, I saw the stillness of the tarn seem to hold, to pause and edging to the waters' edge, little clear lines appeared, forked and fragmented across the surface.

A few minutes later, they faded and the water turned to ice as I watched, feeling the cold numbness spread to myself.

There are a million ways of looking at a mountain tarn. It takes time, but in the end you are rewarded if you learn to love the unfolding of its moods and colours as the seasons cycle past.

In the end, the fells gaze back into the visitor and it is this that transforms so many who love them: They tell you who you are.

If you are patient enough and humble before nature, something happens that recalls Neil DeGrasse Tyson's observation of the Apollo space program, "We went to the Moon and discovered Earth."

In the Lake District, you don't need to fly so high to make the longest journey, to find your heart and soul.