Encounter with place is often enriched when there is a purpose – the eye becomes keener, all the senses perk up, and you take in the sense of place with more intensity than if you were just passing through.
So it was today when Rob and I went to the Borrowdale Valley, just north of Kendal, walking into the heart of the valley along the river for the first time. Our purpose was to take a look at a place I’ll be getting to know more intimately during the summer months. Half way along the valley, where the river snakes in a wide stony bend, the land spreads out flat. In summer, it dances with meadow flowers; and this summer, with me taking up a residency as ‘Poet in the Meadow’, I’ll be watching the flowers emerge, reach their peak, and die back.
With this in mind, today’s walk into the valley felt like an entry into a world alive with promise and I was eager to take in every detail. Ten minutes in and the air rung with the echoes of a repetitive Huhoo, Huhoo, hoo … Huhoo, Huhoo, hoo, an airy call that bounced off the broad grassed sides of the fells and hovered over the water’s constant shush. In this cold weather the Rough Fell ewes, not far off lambing, need the extra food, and quickly respond to the farmer’s call, gathering round his quad bike.
In the soft earth that climbs the fell’s slopes at the head of the valley, hundreds of holes betrayed the presence of voles. And along the way owl scat told its own tale – soft black excretion holding teeth and tiny bones like fossils. A vole scampered ahead of us, in and out of sight quicker than a breath.
We were like children at Christmas when we turned a bend to see the flat meadow land before us. At the entrance dozens of saplings rested dormant, only thigh height, slowly maturing into woodland. The grassland beyond the young trees appeared lifeless – a spread of raw green, its vibrancy washed out by winter.
But it holds flowers like secrets.
Who would know? If I had walked through this valley with no idea what was here, I could well have disregarded it as unremarkable grazing pasture. Knowing that there will be a staggering display of colour in the summer is like a teaser. I have a part of this land’s story, and with it a frisson of expectation and eagerness to come back, again, and again, and again, to witness the transformation. I will learn more – how the grassland puts on its summer garb, how butterflies and insects celebrate the bounty and owls claim the dimming light of evening skies, what show is put on by the stars that circle in a sky untouched by city lights, and tales from the old farmhouse that now stands roofless, overlooked by eight sycamore trees that first put down roots a hundred and fifty years ago.
The first glimpses of the sleeping meadow will sit with us like seeds. Going back is essential.
The meadows in the Borrowdale Valley are on land owned by the Friends of the Lake District, and have been in place since 2005. There’s a good round up of the history of the area, the geology and ecology and other information, at the Friends of the Lake District website. I’ve called this piece ‘the other Borrowdale’ because almost always, when I mention Borrowdale, people think of the Borrowdale that’s south of Derwent Water. This Borrowdale, without any doubt at all, is just as rewarding to explore.