I come to the ancient wool trading and market town of Kendal, a return after many years; I lived here in my youth.
I had forgotten what a beautiful town it is; full of historic buildings, little alleys, shambles, a castle on the hill, a river running through it, in many ways it is a northern Totnes in its architecture and geography. The sun is shining hot and it feels good to be alive.
I have walked a good way of the way from Shap. I spent far too long in the morning deliberating on my route; afraid, I have to admit, of meeting cattle. I knew the 20 mile stretch of A6 between Shap and Kendal crossed open fell land with not a settlement between the two. What if, I muse, I meet grazing cattle out there, there will not be walls and fences lining the whole stretch, that is for sure, and what if I am chased… there will be no place to protect me. The alternative is a good 24 miles round, but through three villages; Orton, Tebay and Greyriggs. I know I cannot walk this distance in a day.
I set off down the A6 till the pavement runs out 2 or three miles later; the lorries and cars are moving fast; there is no way this is going to be a pleasant experience. I back track a half a mile and take the road to Orton. I cross a cattle grid onto open fell; trepidation in every breath. The road sign warns of grazing sheep; it doesn’t reassure me, I have seen cattle put in to graze with sheep. I keep walking; I put the whistle Julie of transition Sidmouth gave me as protection against cows, that seems a long time ago now, around my neck, and walk on. It is 6 country miles walk over open fell land. I would be loving it if I weren’t scared a highland cow with long horns might leap out at me at any moment; I know my fears are clouding my enjoyment and that they are irrational. I feel like the timid soldier in Dad’s Army who looks nervously from side to side as he marches with his gun at the back of the troop.
My fears are unfounded and I reach Orton without seeing a single cow until I am back on the lower grassland fields that lead into the village off the fell. I come to a field of goats and stop. I fancy I would like to keep goats, I scratch their noses through the fence and they come to look at me and sniff my hand. An old couple, small and wizened, slowly cross the road from their cottage. It is their herd/flock, what do you call a group of goats I wonder?
They are clearly proud of their brood and I soon discover they are not kept for any purpose other than love. They are beautiful creatures, gentle and content, grazing their wild flower filled meadow.
I ask all my questions, I ask about goats, and about cattle. How lovely to find teachers like this. I learn that contrary to what I have been told goats do not necessarily escape and eat everything in sight. These goats have never escaped – why would they I suppose, they have a loving relationship with the couple and a delicious natural meadow on which to graze. The wall between them and the neighbouring cattle farm is tumbledown, the goats have never climbed over it. I suppose when we purpose plant inviting rows of veg it is inevitable the goats will see it as a supermarket.
I learn that goats make excellent mothers to orphan lambs, and there are two very large ones in the field with the goats. I learn that if you have the horns of a billy cut they grow back, and that goats make strong bonds with one another and sleep closely curled up with their loved ones. I learn that some nannies are born with horns and some without, and that billies grow twice the size of their mother nanny in just one year.
I hear what is felt like to watch the army come in and shoot cows and leave them heaped up in piles beside the wall opposite your house for days in the time of the foot and mouth disease, and the fear it provoked to have these men come and check the mouths of all your livestock, knowing they had been given the authority to kill them if they found any trace of the disease. Then there was the row of trucks stretching from here to the village half a mile away to take them away to burn them in heaps.
I hear of the race horses kept on the next farm up and see the half mile run up the fell where they are exercised. I hear of the southern farmer that brought his entire stock up north on the train to the farm he had bought and how he has a southern accent still though now he is old and it is his son that farms.
I walk on, heart warmed from these local tales, and glad I have taken the long way round. I recall as I walk, my departure from Shap and the old man I met on the street as I perused my map.
“Yer can’t get lost in Shap, luv”
“I know that” says I “but I’m walking to Kendal; what’s the best way to go?”
Eyes me for madness, and says
“the bus, luv”
I walk on greatly amused by this and acknowledge that if I walk the long way round I will not only meet people but I will be on the bus route which could be a handy thing.
As I leave the goat herders I feel that this encounter was the reason for my walking this way and that even if I do catch the bus I’ll have accomplished a good day’s work. Orton is a lovely place and I stop for lunch at the pub and then I visit the town’s factory…they make handmade chocolates to die for!
Well now, if I were to be stranded here a while I don’t think I’d be miserable!
I reluctantly walk on from this haven. The road to Tebay is a little busier; it is nearing the end of the afternoon, but it is still a pleasant walk. I have decided I will catch the bus from Tebay to Greyrigg as this patch of road is an A road and not the safest for walking along, and there isn’t time to walk the whole way doing detours on back roads in the time I have left myself today.
I enjoy Tebay too, notice the strong sense of community, everyone, young and old, stops to talk to one another. There are houses for sale here as in Orton, and I wonder why and if they are expensive.
The bus comes, barely stops for me to hop onboard, and then hares off along the road. It is a crazy journey, I have paid till Kendal, planning to get off at an appropriate moment – but there is no chance; the driver is hell bent on making Kendal; even to stand up to reach the bell would be taking my life in to my hands. I finally succeed in alighting on the outskirts and thankfully slow my pace to an amble and stroll gently, leisurely into the auld grey town.
I pass the driving centre where I took my test from, the cattle auction where my oldest friend worked when I lived here, and gradually enter the town at my speed. It is a lovely feeling and as I walk I soak in each and every feature, the river, the bridges, the ruins of the castle on the hill, the old buildings, the Fleece Inn where I once worked, past the shop that was an off licence in my time here & where I worked once too, through the old cobbled pedestrian areas, past the old chocolate shop, and through the market place, up Lowther Street, narrow dark sober street where I once rented a house.
I am slow to call my friend; I am revisiting my old town. It is healing somehow; seeing the town through new eyes, eyes that are fresh to its beauty, and not jaded by the sadly limiting life I had lived when I was young and knew no better. I am struck by the fact that I have moved from one ancient town, snuggled cosily into a river valley, made rich by the wool trade to another, equally beautiful to me.