As we rounded the corner into Orton last night, Jimmy sauntering, me stumbling, we were greeted by a happy hail: “It’s the Americans! I’ve been asking about you, wondering where you’ve been.” It was Mike, from Burton-on-Trent, whom we’d last seen heading off from Black Sail with his wife, how many days ago was that? We’d breakfasted with them at the Shepherd’s Arms in Ennerdale Bridge. They had come down the wrong path from Dent Fell the day before, much steeper than the already quite steep one we had taken, and the wife was still shaken by it. So she was thinking of taking a taxi to Rosthwaite. I had said I was similarly inclined. Yet we saw the two of them out on the path that day, and I worried about her even as I struggled up Loft Beck in the rain. We saw them below us, but we never saw them afterwards, and I heard vaguely about a mountain rescue and wondered.
Mike told us that they had both made it to Rosthwaite, but then she took several buses to meet him the next evening in Grasmere, and then went home as planned. Mike is continuing on alone to Robin Hood’s Bay. We’ll probably be crossing paths with him again.
Today, we hardly encountered anyone as we walked; and the longest stretch, from the outskirts of Shap to the bridle path leading down into the Lune Valley and the village of Orton, was entirely solitary. We were on a high limestone plateau, amid undulating heather moors extending in all directions. Back in the west we could see the eastern boundary of the Lake District, with the distinctive beak of Kidsty Pike dominating–where we had been just yesterday. We were worlds away now, and part of the sense of distance was the fact that we were crossing an area of “prehistoric” settlements, with numerous relics in plain sight across the moors: stone circles and tumuli and hut villages (though I never exactly saw one).
Despite the pains I was experiencing in my knees and feet, I loved walking across this landscape — the openness and wildness and ancientness of it touching me deeply. I felt more than compensated for leaving the Lake District. Jimmy has been enjoying visiting the old churches we encounter (today we spent a good half hour or so amid the ruins of Shap Abbey). For me, it is the encounter with the pre-Christian monuments that is stirring, along with the open landscape. Crosby Ravensworth Fell appeared vast to me, and I imagined people wandering across it over the centuries. I was reminded of scenes from Thomas Hardy’s novels, and though I know that his Wessex is far south of here, my sense is that the landscapes might be similar.
To the south and east, I think we were already seeing the Yorkshire Dales, exquisite soft folds of earth beckoning us onward.