The River Ehen runs through this beautiful, tiny village on the western edge of the Lake District. There’s a church that dates back to 1584, and the Shepherd’s Arms Hotel, where we are staying, was built in 1604 . This little hotel, only recently reopened after a former manager had run it into bankruptcy, is exactly my idea of an English country inn. I wouldn’t have known how to describe such a place, but having arrived at it, I know that it fulfills whatever that fantasy was: warm, welcoming, unpretentious, comfortable. There are maybe ten rooms on two upper floors. Downstairs, there’s a cozy bar and dining room, along with an entrance area with deep leather sofas. In the back, there are some wooden tables and chairs, set up beside the little stream that feeds into the Ehen. That’s where Jimmy and I had our dinner: liver and bacon for him, broccoli and goat cheese tarts for me. In our room, there are bags of organic green tea along with the usual black tea; the cookies are made by a company with “Eden” in the name; the bathroom is clean and bright. But none of this is overdone or precious. It’s a nice place to come home to, and especially nice after the lovely walk we had today. Diane, the woman who checked us in and who works behind the bar and in the dining room, lives just around the corner. “From my bedroom window I see the fells; in the back are sheep meadows. It’s a great place to live–in the mountains, yet close to the sea.”
The main feature of our walk today was Dent Fell, the main feature of the landscape leading from the sea to the Lakeland fells. Bob Richardson, a retired factory inspector from Workington, whom we met on our first day (was that yesterday?!), had told us about Dent: “you’ll be going over it; it’s a climb.” Bob is a walker; that day he had taken a bus from his home down to St. Bees and set out on a 16-mile walk back home along the cliffs with his little dog. “So is this what you do?” I said to him. “It’s one of the things I do,” he said with a grin. We were standing at an overlook on St. Bees Head, and we somehow got to talking about language, the different ways words are pronounced in different places–it’s been something I’ve been keenly aware of here, and fascinated by. When Carole at the Albert told me about “The Brook Inn,” in Cleator, I had to struggle to understand her. “Brook,” she said to me several times, “it’s what we call a little stream.” But the “oo” sound was a really long, deep o, almost a long u, and I couldn’t recognize the very familiar word. Bob told us about one unusual usage he had noticed once in one particular town: “tor,” “pen,” and “how,” he said, are all words for hill; there’s a place called “torpenhow,” which the locals call “trapenna.” I wish I could remember where he said this was.
Back to Dent Fell: this morning, Steve, the bartender at the Grove Court Hotel where we had stayed last night (fairly unremarkable, something like a decaying small Catskills resort from the 1960s, but pleasant enough), told me that he had heard from someone walking westward that the top was unusally boggy right now: “the wettest it’s been in years. ” “And there are some really steep parts,” he told me, “so take it slow.” The climb up to the peak (1155 feet) was steady and not too difficult, though it was certainly quite quite boggy. (I had never imagined a bog on a peak, but never mind.) Jimmy went up way ahead of me; other walkers passed me, but I got there in good time, to find, as a walker on the way down told me, “someone had planted a British flag.” We rested for a bit, enjoyed the astonishing view in all directions–west back to the sea, east to the mountains ahead–and then headed down the very steep eastern side. I was happy to have my poles.
We then followed Nannycatch Beck (really, that’s the name) along a beautiful valley with steep hills on either side, eventually climbing up to an easy road (we walked along a footpath on one side) leading into Ennerdale Bridge.
All day long we saw sheep grazing, and hawks circling. I gathered some tufts of wool I found in the grass on Dent Fell; I also picked up a hawk’s feather on the way down.
This is probably our easiest day of the whole trip, just six miles, giving us time to rest before an especially challenging day tomorrow: 14.5 miles to Rosthwaite, along Ennerdale Water and then high up into the fells of the Lake District National Park. We’re planning on an early start and hoping for good weather.