Cumbria is not famed for it’s good roads and easy access. Anything outside Penrith and the national speed limit is merely a lofty goal. Behind tractors and milk wagons and haulage trucks, and Sunday bloody drivers, getting anywhere fast is simply an unrealistic dream.
And that’s the good roads.
Venture off those, onto the old back roads and you step back in time (albeit with tarmac) where the pace of driving was even slower.
I love those old roads; very often original signposts and telephone boxes still abound, and if I stand still and close my eyes I can pretend that I’m back in my childhood home – the world I knew full of people I love, where life was uncomplicated and my future an unwritten novel which would be full of excitement and adventure!
Up on the fells tiny villages sit huddled around the roads in awkward bends, and tiny streets branch off between thick high hedges that look like cart tracks but just happen to be the B-road you’re looking for. On gloomy days you smell wood smoke and hear crows calling and listen to the drum of the rain on your car roof as everything steams up around you and you realise, uh oh, the mist has descended. And at the very highest places, out on the fell proper, once you’ve passed the cattle grids out of the last village, you are now in sheep country – those little beggars have no care for life or limb, and even though they have an entire mountain to graze on, they will at times saunter over the road and taunt you. Half on, half off. Head on the grass, bum on the road. Herdwick sheep are hardy, and unfazeable. At these points, especially in the mist, you have to drive even s l o w e r …
Why do I bother, you ask? Yarn. For the yarn. For in one little jewelled village, Caldbeck, is a beauty of a yarn shop with handmade and handspun and hand dyed goodness for God and man. It also houses an excellent tea room and a beautiful village to wander around. And an aptly named village too. For it does have a beck and it is indeed cold! I find the Scandinavian roots of our words still fascinating – kald, for cold; bekk, for brook; fjell, for mountain (fell); dal, for valley (dale) – it never ends; when Cumbrians say they’re “garn yam”, it means ‘they’re going home’; a modern Norwegian might understand them, as ‘go’ in Norwegian is ‘gar’, and ‘home’ is ‘hjem’. The norse influence on Cumbria is strong and undeniable.
Back in the day my family came from this village, and further beyond. Like many towns and villages on a river there were mills here to keep many people in work, and tracing my mother’s family tree is like watching a slow migration from Scotland to the West Coast of Cumbria as each generation moved on to find work. Carlisle, Caldbeck, Keswick, Cockermouth, the march went on. Cockermouth itself had several mills on various becks and rivers, until now the reality is that there is not much in the way of employment anywhere anymore.
Wandering around the kirk (kirke in Norwegian, just saying) and the churchyard we see names of ancestors a stone’s throw from John Peel’s grave. These are just names to us, some tales passed down. A geologist ancestor of ours who must have been in his element, no pun intended, living as he did in mineral rich Caldbeck, and would maybe be pleased to see one of his descendants be as enthused of his subject matter as he was. For me, I am fascinated by the huge (now defunct and derelict) watermill wheels and cogs that lie abandoned. I find it quite a pleasing symmetry that a yarn shop should now stand in this place.
Buying a little local yarn, handmade buttons, roving and tapestry needles, it was worth that trip to the top of the fell.