Friday, July 22, 2011
Back to Britain - Part 3 - Ullswater
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
I've heard it described as a heat wave; I've also heard it called summer in Virginia.
On these days when the heat hangs heavy on the concrete freeways and every time I get out of the car I feel I have been mugged and dragged across the parking lot under the armpit of a 300 pound Sumo wrestler, I think of England, and the Lake District in particular.
The Lake District is perhaps the most beautiful place in England but it can also be the most fickle. In the tourist trap villages choked with cars in the summer the Lakes can feel kitsch as if their beauty has been their undoing. Also as the wettest place in England you can visit the area for a week and find the reticent peaks shrouded in low cloud for the whole time.
Ullswater is said to be the most beautiful of the lakes, bearing comparisions with Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Wordsworth certainly thought so when, inspired by a profusion of daffodils by the lake, he wrote his famous poem of the same name.
The secret to the Lake District is to get away from the honey pot villages and up onto the vast empty fells, although as I found once when climbing the hills above Ullswater, the exertion can test those knees. Climb a thousands meters and you are in a different world of high grantite hills and foreboding peaks, with what once seemed to be a vast lake now a mere gray sliver below you, like a narrow pewter mirror that captures the fleeting clouds.
On days like today I miss the shrill summer breezes of Lakeland and the freshness of those fells, even on the warmist of days. But there's something melancholy about the Lake District too.
In the early 19th Century William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived here around Keswick, writing some of the most famous verses of the romantic age. But they were to fall out and Coleridge's life became beset by maritial problems and drug abuse.
I have mixed memories of the Lake District too, of two relationships that unravelled on vacation here, of days that promised dizzy climbs only to be beset by driving rain, or beautiful vistas that never quite materialized the closer you got to them.
The idealism of the Romantic poets was ultimately flawed. Daffodils is a deeper poem that it seems to be on the surface. Wordsworth writes of his vacant and pensive mood.
The cold waters of these lakes run very deep indeed. And with the heat index hitting 118 today, I have an unfulfilled longing to swim in them.