How I (almost) walked the Cumbria Way

I’m back at home, and smiling as I re-read my last post where I was speculating about how it would be to walk the Cumbria Way. What’s the phrase I’m groping for – how misguided could I have been? in your dreams Ruthie! you must be kidding? Any of those would do. Walking about 14 miles a day with a heavy rucksack, day after day, regardless of the weather, your mood or your state of health, hips and feet is tough. I came to the conclusion before very long that ten miles is probably enough, not for endurance but for pleasure. The quality of my new rucksack was such that the carrying load was bearable, and my boots and lightweight Gortex jacket defied the downpours spendidly, but after about six hours walking I just wanted to stop. ‘Are we there yet?’ was thought if not said, and every upwards incline, however benign, felt like a mountain.

That’s enough grumbling. There were some great bits: Langstrath is a splendid valley and worth a re-visit in better weather. Whoever built the path from there over the Stake Pass is a genius and the gradient melted away under your boots. A sunny morning in Langdale is peerless. The Old Vicarage in Caldbeck and The Old Rectory in Torver are divine: thank you to the Church of England for selling them both, so that I could stay in them and eat delicious food. Suffice to say that when Saturday’s forecast warned of torrential rain, thunder and lightning for the last 14 miles from Torver to Ulverston, I hatched a plan, and it worked. I rode home in my daughter’s car with most of the bags I and my companions had been  carrying and arrived back in Ulverston about six hours ahead of them. Bliss, and eternal thanks to my daughter for her cheerful agreement to rescue me.

Did I think about Book Four while plodding through Cumbria? Not at a conscious level, but maybe there was something going on in my head beyond the immediate priorities of the next hill or the next meal. When I got back to my little house yesterday I found a large sheet of paper and spread it out on the kitchen table, and now I’m trying to plan in a non-linear way, scribbling mini-portraits of characters, connecting them with lines and arrows and watching the web of relationships develop. Events and turning points are creeping into the picture too, and a list of the necessary research. Maybe all this was actually percolating during the walk as it seems to be tumbling onto the paper with impressive speed. There are yawning gaps of course, but already a denouement is taking shape. This might be the occasion for starting at the end and planning backwards, a process I’ve used many times in my professional life but never yet in my writing. Who knows; it’s very early days, but already I feel that something interesting will emerge.




Walking through history

I won’t be posting a blog piece for a week or so, while I’m doing a long walk through Cumbria, from Carlisle in the north to Ulverston in the south, via Caldbeck, Skiddaw, Rosthwaite, Elterwater and Torver. For those of you who know this region, those names have meaning. For those who don’t, aren’t the names themselves wonderful : a mix of Norse and Celtic and Saxon. All along the route we’ll be walking on trails first travelled centuries ago – tracks and bridleways and coffin roads – through settlements that date back hundreds of years, and landscapes that have evolved with changing times.

That’s part of the reason I have to live in England, where such a rich history is right under your feet. We’ll walk to the Victorian station early tomorrow, take the train to Carlisle, come out of the station, turn towards the south and start walking. For the next six days the concerns will not be deadlines and logistics and work plans but the more basic matters of weather, physical effort, food and water. We’ve booked accommodation along the route, so at least we know where we will sleep, but the rest will just happen.

What interests me is what will be in my head as we walk. Will my mind turn only on the here and now, or will it default to the usual agenda: new characters in the next book, or the plot, or how best to promote my completed trilogy beyond Cumbria to a wider readership? It would be really good to have a break from all that and live a more elemental existence for a few days, but I don’t know whether my over-active brain will agree. One of my fellow-walkers has been reading ‘Fallout’. Maybe he’s finished it by now. He may want to talk to me about it, and I know I’ll enjoy that, despite the desire to focus on the landscape, or the clouds, or what to have for lunch and where to eat it. We’ll walk and we’ll talk, and sometimes we’ll be quiet, and it’ll be great.