Underbarrow, evening ...

By Marianna Edmunds | Jul 07, 2010
Marianna Edmunds

Recently I had the joy of a gift trip to England – to visit cousins in London – but more importantly to walk in the Lake District with a good friend, John. These are some reflections from that trip.

Underbarrow, evening …

The cry of a peacock rings across these Thomas Hardy, or are they Jane Austen, hills? Like a crack in the picture frame of this postcard landscape, the discordant scream of the peacock mars the serenity of the scene. Peacocks should keep to their looks; opening their beaks simply fractures their stunning visual effect. But even the peacock pales in the largesse of this land.

Fields in multi shades of green lie in folds like soft blankets, sprinkled with clusters of black-faced sheep, standing motionless (of course) as they chew on the fresh grass of an early spring in Underbarrow, a small village in the southwest corner of Windermere. This is Wordsworth’s Lake District in an England preserved in painting and song.  

“Warm for mid-May,” he said. “All the bloom is a month early; what will it look like in July?” I wonder if this land could ever be gone-by brown?  Like a fish out of water I struggle to take in the oxygen of this breathtaking environment, an environment etched in the stillness of time frozen, yet carrying on with aged relics of a farming people totally dependent on land and livestock.

I try to write, but feel paralyzed. It’s hard to write anything here; it is so idyllic, the beauty is distracting. I see not a line in the landscape that is out of place, not a stonewall that doesn’t wave perfectly between patchwork pastures, not a hedge that is not clipped, not a hill that isn’t soft and rolling, in layers undulating toward the giant Cumbrian mountains to the north and west. Isn’t it strange that words cannot capture this landscape in the 21st century the way they did 200 years ago? So to get something down, I’ll just go to why I came, why I’m here.


Bounding up this mountain, or the likes thereof, in the dark velvet green setting around Ullswater Lake, to the north of Underbarrow, he was like a young mountain goat, sure-footed and economic in all its moves. I say this having no idea if a mountain goat looks this smooth or efficient in its moves, but I’m going with the stereotypical image of a creature that is born and bred and survived for eons on this particular topography. I’m in all right form, but I’m pressed to keep up with John.

John is that type of man whose physique, a small firm frame, strong and sinewy, and looks, with a healthy head of thick curly gray hair, belie his age; last year he peaked the third highest mountain in the Himalayas. His hands are strong, but gentle, a writer and an acupuncturist, retired from Oxford a few years ago. Now he lives to please those he loves: three daughters – Sophie, Polly and Pip (Philipa ) – and six grandchildren. Pip, the youngest and mother of four, is his challenge he says, so wild and free, but his tone suggests she is secretly his favorite. Then there is Sophie, his oldest, more conventional, happily married with two children and with whom he is very close. And finally Polly, in the middle -- a stepdaughter he adores and has raised since the age of 6, and whom he will give away when she marries her partner this summer. And then there is my sister, my twin, Dorsett, whom John lives to please -- together for the last 15 years -- he here in Underbarrow, Lake District, UK, and she in Tucson, Ariz., USA – a mere 6,000-mile-long distance relationship, but one, they both affirm, that works.

This trip was a gift from Dorsett and John, after my last few years – to pamper and heal, and pampered is what I got. I learned that I have a hard time with pampering, but what I was learning was that love can really sustain what seems an infinity in time and distance.

Day three, Lake Ullswater

A boat on a silver lake at the magic hour of dusk took us to a stop where we got off and walked the escarpment around Lake Ullswater. Watching the light change over these ridges and layered blue Cumbrians was as if you were painting by looking. Still struggling to keep up with John on the Ullswater escarpment, I used my little Panasonic Lumix as an excuse – “just one more snap of this cute little black lamb, please” or “let me pause to pluck one of the thousands of bluebells for you John, for Dorsett, for Eliza, for all those I am here for this day.” I wanted to cry out, “it’s all right, all is right,” or maybe I wanted to stall in order to stoop down, get close to catch the sweet fragrance of a tiny white primrose in a moss bed under a huge oak tree, or to take in an intoxicating whiff of the wild white lilac trees -- as big and majestic as the oaks that lined the rough escarpment of this deep old lake.

After walking and traversing five miles gently uphill, standing on top of the scar that cut through the valley of Winster below -- God was I glad to be on top, finally -- I stopped, took a breath, then slowly pivoted all the way around in my new but well-worn hiking Timberlands from Renys, and inhaled this panorama. You really do see "the sea," as they call it -- not the ocean, but "the sea" – and he tells me “one day this will all be the sea again,” as it once was. These hills of porous limestone now thickened with moss and gold lichen tell that story of an ancient sea, but above all, this is a panorama of a very ancient landscape choreographed in a design that shrinks you and expands you, to a sense of wholeness and wonder ... what a gift.

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