Lake District – Where Daffodils Dance (2011)

Lake District – Where Daffodils Dance (2011)

“I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills

When all at once, I saw a cloud

A host of golden daffodils

Besides the lake, beneath the trees

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze” 

Oh, treat the last bit as poetic license to exaggerate. I did wander lonely through Wordsworth country, but saw no daffodils; they had already blossomed and wilted, unseen, unsung and unappreciated by me! But the profusion of other flowers, buds, tendrils shoots and leaves had all burst forth in joy.  It is springtime in England and Mother Nature had donned her glad rags and ornaments so ostentatiously that you had eyes for little else.

England’s Lake District is  charming, to put it mildly – gentle inclines coaxing you to climb, rolling meadows all velvety and green invite you to bury your feet in them, the soft grass squelching only to bounce back when you step away. The terrain is undulating, the placid lakes shimmer in the distance; the serene cottages perched on the hillsides beckon seductively; wherever you turn, it is lambent green. The setting is so gorgeous that it tickles the reluctant poet in you to babble.

Long years ago, I had spent three precious years of my youth in England when my first son was an infant.  I did wander all over the countryside, but somehow, Lake District had eluded me. So, now when I was invited to a conference in idyllic Wilton Park, an imposing castle on the outskirts of London, one with a formidable intellectual reputation, I decided to chug across to Windermere after the conference.

Taking the Virgin train from London to Lake District is not exactly the ideal way to reach this most romantic of destinations. The seats were cramped, the train, crowded and noisy. An inconsiderate pillar blocks my view of the full rectangular window and I am squeezed between two gentlemen, one constantly tapping on his laptop and the other, who nodded off on my shoulder. I console myself thinking it is a heritage line, one of the oldest in England, built in 1847. As the train chugs into Cumbria, the scenery gets better –  boats bob on canals that run alongside picturesque villages studded with rose-speckled cottages. Why is all beauty and tranquility concentrated in a few places on our planet?

Bowness and Windermere used to be two separate villages, but tourism seems to have fused them into one. Bowness on Windermere clings to its artery – the high street – scattered with shops that sell charming but utterly unnecessary stuff without which you can live your life happily forever. There are quaint and very English tea-rooms serving scones and tea at extortionate prices, shops devoted entirely to Peter Rabbit stuff and others hawking home-made fudge, affordable to the likes of me. The entire area is perfect for a leisurely stroll along the promenade of the Windermere lake and in the process, lighten your wallet.

The meadows are peppered with groups of picnickers. My boutique hotel is just a hop away. It is a grand Victorian mansion claimed by unruly vegetation and grabbed by curly tendrils, greedy branches, fearsome barks and covered in a shower of leaves. The stairs creak and the flush handle comes loose.

Windermere is a ribbon of a lake with more length than depth, once glacial and filled with snow-melt and held by moraine. Hugging its coast are many quaint, picture-postcard perfect villages. There are eighteen islands in the lake and one can hop on and off boats to visit villages with such evocative names like Birch Holme, Snake Holme, Hawes Holme Kendal, Ambleside and Westmorland.

Lake District is not only about Wordsworth. In fact, it is a lot more about Beatrix Potter these days. Japanese swoon over her, using her books to teach English to their children. Sailing down the lake, I almost feel like Peter Rabbit, looking for a well-stocked hole on the banks for me to retreat into. Beatrix was also an artist who brought alive in vivid colours, the animals in our picture books, those she grew up with in her sprawling farmhouse in Ambleside.  She was conservationist, sheep farmer, naturalist, illustrator and writer, truly an inspirational figure for several generations of children growing up in her neighbourhood. I learn that if Lake District still retains its charm despite the onslaught of urbanization that has devastated many an idyllic region in the rest of England, the credit goes entirely to Beatrix who strove to keep the land unscarred by these ugly invasions.  All royalties from her enormously successful books went into buying up vast tracts of land to preempt anyone from setting up ugly chimneys and factories that dot the rest of English landscape.

When in Windermere, walk, or better still, bury your bare-feet in cool grass, let the dew caress your face, roll with abandon on the meadows, trudge up the gentle incline to take in the views of a breathtaking glacial lake. Or just sprawl on the grass and watch a bevy of feathered beauties put up a virtuoso performance, flying in regimental formation and sprinkling you with blotches in the process. Wander through the cobbled streets and watch a county football match, saunter into the village church and watch the bell-ringers rhythmically play out an ancient sonorous ritual.

Of course, you can’t visit Lake District without paying your respects to the bard of the county. The rose-draped Dove Cottage in which he grew up and chased his beloved sister Dorothy across the meadows is now a much-visited museum maintained by the National Trust of UK. There is a steady stream of pilgrims queueing up to glimpse the premises. William and Dorothy were the second and third of five children of Anne and John Wordsworth. It must have been a crowded household with five domestic helpers busy keeping the family well-fed and the sprawling gardens well-tended and blossoming. Two plaques in the adjacent St.Oswald’s Courtyard guard the exact spot where William and his wife Mary Hutchinson are interred. Also buried in the same yard are the couple’s three children, a sister and a friend. As I wrap up my visit to Lake District, I resolve to come again when the daffodils dance.

(Published in CFO-Connect magazine in November 2011)