Lakeland’s Autumn Colours
Simon Whaley takes a walk in the Lake District
INew England is famous for its autumnal colour,” the American tourist standing next to me in the grounds of Rydal’s St Mary’s church says, “but your Old England display is pretty spectacular, too.” I smile. The Lake District’s autumnal colour can be amazing and I’m hoping to take some photos of it, if I can. Luckily for me, the Lake District is a bit closer to home than New England.
“We’ve seen red, golds, oranges and even purples! Especially just over there by . . . what’s it called again?” The retired gentleman turns to his wife for inspiration. “Rydal Water?” I suggest. “That’s it! Absolutely spectacular. Anyway, we can’t stop. We’re off to Rydal Mount now,” he says, nodding up the lane. “We’re going to see where your famous Wordsworth lived. Have you been?” I nod. “It’s a wonderful place, but I’m walking the old coffin route today.”
The Americans frown with puzzlement.
“Before St Mary’s was built, the nearest church was St Oswald’s at Grasmere. I’m following the track the coffin-bearers used when they had to carry a coffin from Rydal to Grasmere.”
I wave farewell to my new American friends and watch them wander through St Mary’s grounds with its benches and picnic tables and Victorian streetlamp.
I’ve never thought about a church having a grand opening day, but St Mary’s opened its doors to the people of Rydal for the first time on Christmas Day in 1824. That seems a pretty good day for a church to open for business.
Wordsworth had been living at Rydal Mount for nine years before St Mary’s opened, so many of the trips he made to Grasmere would have been along the route I’m travelling today.
Just as I reach the lane, I spy the Americans turning into the grounds of Rydal Mount. The lane is lined with parked cars along the left-hand side, all belonging to hikers out climbing the fells, no doubt.
There are several pretty Lakeland cottages here, forming the hamlet of Rydal, but on my right over a high stone wall is Rydal Hall, now a religious centre, with some fantastic formal gardens (admission free, but donations gratefully accepted) and a tearoom. Past experience enables me to recommend the scones!
Simon Whaley strides out for a seasonal walk from Rydal to Grasmere.
Tlane bends sharp left, and minutes later I pass through a gate, on to a stone track and the open fell side of Nab Scar. A couple of Herdwick sheep glance up at me and bleat, as if to say, “Morning!” and then return to their grazing.
“Morning!” I reply, before checking no-one’s watching me talking to them.
Suddenly I see the view my new American friends saw earlier. Each step along the stone track takes me further on to the open fell, and a kaleidoscope of colour opens up before me.
No wonder Wordsworth was inspired to write his poetry if he witnessed this glorious sight every autumn.
From my vantage point, the lower slopes of Loughrigg Fell are a riot of reds, yellows, oranges, golds, silvers, the greens of coniferous trees and . . . yes! I can see it! The thin silver birch twigs have a purple hue about them. Purple is an autumnal colour. Who’d have thought it?
Overhead the sky is a little drab, but still bright, and there’s not a breath of a breeze caressing my face. Rydal Water is one giant mirror, reflecting that wondrous autumnal sight. I’m getting two views for the price of one.
Somehow, I continue to wander along the stone track without taking my eyes off the view, until I turn a sharp corner and see a swathe of yellow larches amongst the deeper reds and browns of bracken. It’s as if an artist has brushed a splash of brightness across the scene before me.
The track descends steeply and arrives at a junction with a quiet lane. It’s still downhill to Grasmere, and I think about those poor bearers having to carry
A rainbow stretches across gorgeous Grasmere.
St Mary’s church at Rydal.