BUY SOME KENDAL MINT CAKE AND CLIMB A FELL OR TWO
Of all the places in Britain that are close to my heart – the Yorkshire Dales, Devon and Cornwall, the Highlands of Scotland, north Norfolk, the Derbyshire Peak District – there is one above all others that seems to me to possess its own particular magic: The Lake District. So it was good to hear the Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey declare that it is to be nominated as a World Heritage Site in 2016. Should that nomination be successful, what will it mean to the home of Peter Rabbit and William Wordsworth, Lake Windermere and Kendal mint cake? Well, hopefully it will ensure that we do not forget to cherish this part of northern England that is unique in terms of both its physical and cultural significance – the two criteria that are considered when Unesco examine applications for heritage status from all over the world. Currently there are 981 World Heritage Sites, from The Taj Mahal and the Aswan Dam to the Great Barrier Reef and the Great Wall of China. America has 21, Britain has – wait for it – 28. Some of them come as no surprise – Westminster Abbey and Stonehenge are among the more obvious, but it is good to see the City of Bath, the mills of the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire and Titus Salt’s model village of Saltaire, on the outskirts of Bradford, rubbing shoulders with the more exalted Blenheim Palace and Maritime Greenwich. If the Lake District is not a shoo-in then I’m a Dutchman. Aside from the uniqueness of its terrain – vast lakes at the foot of towering crags that have quite a different feel to the mountains and lochs of Scotland – the fact that The Lakes is a working community as well as a tourist attraction adds to its all-round appeal. It is not chocolate-boxy after the fashion of The Cotswolds (and I say that without a hint of criticism directed towards the Gloucestershire countryside) and it lacks the bleakness of the North York Moors and the Scottish Highlands, both of which I hold dear. The Lakes has its own particular feel, embellished and burnished by centuries of poets and writers, explorers and feisty characters. More than 20 per cent of it is now under the care of the National Trust, and the patron saint of the Lake District – St Beatrix of Potter – gifted to it 14 farms and thousands of acres over the course of her life; Peter Rabbit really did help save the Lake District, thanks to his creator’s generosity and vision. One hundred and thirty-two Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 18 Special Areas of Conservation, more than 20 lakes, England’s highest mountain – Scafell Pike – and its deepest lake – Wastwater – must surely count in its favour when it comes to the vote. Against it? Well, it rains a lot, but then as long as you have a mac and waterproof footwear that should not put you off. Wet or dry, walking in The Lakes counts as one of life’s greatest pleasures (provided the views are not obscured by mist), especially if you have in your pocket one of Alfred Wainwright’s magnificent guidebooks. Written and illustrated by hand, these books are a must for anyone who values creative endeavour and skilled penmanship. They were written by a curmudgeonly but engaging man who was Borough Treasurer in Kendal. I have a complete set on my bookshelf and have used them to practical effect, even when climbing the slopes of Great Gable with a yellow Labrador in tow. To reach the summit was an achievement exceeded only by my level of embarrassment as she began to demolish the picnic of some stalwart souls who had arrived at the summit before I did. Happy memories of a four-legged friend now long gone. If you have never visited The Lakes I urge you to do so. Take a boat on Windermere, buy some Kendal mint cake and climb a fell or two. Visit William Wordsworth’s House at Grasmere and see if the water at Lodore still comes down as it did for Robert Southey: “rattling and battling, and shaking and quaking” – after this winter’s rainfall I would be surprised if it did not. Fellsides speckled with sheep, locals who love and revere the place where they live, wild flowers aplenty and more views than you have ever dreamed of make up this most exquisite hunk of British soil that deserves to be better known by Brits who imagine that the Dordogne and the Lot Valley are the epitome of beauty. Where else within our shores would I nominate? Well, both the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Derbyshire Peak District are also worthy of greater recognition – Chatsworth and its Capability Brown parkland would get my vote, along with Winchester Cathedral – a magnificent edifice wherein lie the remains of St Swithun and Jane Austen. Windsor Castle and Windsor Great park must be a contender, though whether or not Her Majesty would regard World Heritage Site status as necessary I am unsure. Then there is the magnificent Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire, brought to the notice of millions worldwide as a highlight of the journey from Waterloo Station to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. Delightfully we Brits are not short of features to boast about – whether made by the hands of man or God. The important thing is that we acknowledge the fact and cherish our heritage, as distinct from preserving it in aspic. The Lakes are a living, breathing, functioning part of our landscape and civilisation and I couldn’t be happier for them that the custodianship of its natives has been recognised. Huzzah! And good luck!
Iwas amused to hear one of the presenters on the BBC’s Breakfast News offer the following statistic the other day, concerning the perils of driving while too tired. A survey had been conducted, she informed us, which showed that of all drivers who fall asleep at the wheel “almost fifty per cent are men”. As statistics go, it was an interesting one. What, one wonders, are the other fifty-odd per cent who outnumber the chaps? I just point it out by way of interest.
Spectacular views: for those who think the Dordogne the epitome of beauty, the vista that comprises Derwent Water, Skiddaw and Blencathra from the slopes of Catbells, will make you think again
Caught napping: male drivers fall asleep not quite as often as others