Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Mountains and lakes; fathers and daughters; and antisocial dog-owners

I had begun to dread fulfilling what was looking like a rash promise to take my elder offspring away for a couple of nights of father-daughter time in the Lake District. It wasn’t the company I was worried about, but the weather… for days the medium range forecast had been highlighting the approach of a very deep depression destined to dump vast quantities of rain, prodigious even by Lakeland standards, on the North of England.

Remarkably, however, the depression first slowed its progress and then chose instead to batter the South of the country, prompting severe weather alerts. And here we were, slowly scaling Red Pike, daughter clad in borrowed boots and waterproofs (reflecting the passage of time since she last climbed anything), and with the sky scarcely hinting at precipitation.

This is the second day of three: we’d got away hopelessly late on Day One, but still found time to visit my old childhood haunt of Watendlath, at the head of a hanging valley, high above Derwentwater. The Lake District is bejewelled by the prettiest of spots and this remains among my favourites. With just the dog end of the walking day remaining, we aptly climbed above Watendlath to Dog Tarn. This is most unlike the typical Cumbrian mountain tarn: these are usually dark and uninviting waters enclosed in lofty cwms by the walls of craggy ridges that overshadow them. Dog Tarn, by contrast, is gently cupped by surrounding tops – water lilies adorn its waters and mallards were yesterday swimming through the reeds, beside an islet topped by silver birch trees dappled by the warm evening sun.

 Delightful Dog Tarn

Today, buoyed by weather, which – although not overly sunny – probably offers even better conditions for walking, nay climbing. The walk from the Bridge Hotel (www.bridge-hotel.com) at Buttermere up to Bleaberry Tarn (of the more typical Lake District genre) looks like a mile and a bit on the map, but the steep zig-zagged ascent means you can at least double that. I am on my first significant climb since surgery. Progress is not fast. Daughter pauses to send a text essay to her sister, detailing how people dressed like they are fetching the Sunday papers are streaming past us and then passing us again on their way back down. She exaggerates, but I do worry that we might become a feature in Wainwright revision: “Carry straight on when you reach the girl in the beige fleece and the sweaty bloke with the turquoise vest.”

 Descent towards beautiful Buttermere

As we finally cusp the lip of the tarn, there’s a noise like a jumbo at the end of the runway. It’s quite spooky but it can only be the wind, which, while fresh, is not of elephantine proportions at our altitude. I learn something over lunch: daughter says if you eat an apple from the end, rather than the side, there’s “no such thing” as a core to leave. Hmmm.

We head for the saddle that links or divides Red Pike from Dodd, but as we ascend, the wind – sandwiched between the ridge and, I guess, a temperature inversion a couple of hundred feet above us – is becoming very strong indeed. When we reach the col it’s increasingly difficult even to stand up and descending walkers confirm that it’s far from pleasant on the summit. We decide that discretion will be the better part of valour and begin our return to Buttermere. Daughter complains about a touch of flatulence – mine, not hers, I confess. I imagine the offending item encased in a sort of invisible bubble wrap and whisked by the now screaming wind over the ridge and down into Ennerdale. Still intact, it will invade the nostrils of someone who will then accusingly confront their innocent companion, who will in turn indignantly deny being the origin of the pong.

Weariness breeds more silliness: “Which flower cordial is the oldest?” I ask. “Elderflower?” ventures daughter. “Have you heard about the man with six willies?” I ask. “No,” she groans. “He’s only got the five now ’cos he sat down heavily on his coccyx and broke it.” “That’s terrible, she says. I can only agree.

Back at the hotel, we mention having chickened out of our ascent and are told that a guest the previous week had frightened herself so badly that she stayed in the hotel for the rest of her time. A Scottish-Canadian, she believed in walking the fells minus map, compass or other navigational aid. Until she found herself on the edge of an overhanging crag, staring into the abyss, that is. This tale is from the Scots guy at reception: no sign today of the Hungarian lad who seems to have spent his entire time in the UK reading a book on English humour. (“Breakfast is served between 5.30 and 6.30. No, I am only joking, ho, ho!”)

The Bridge caters mostly for the older, better healed walker and – like so many Lake District hotels – it has significantly upped its game since my last visit a decade ago. We eat very well à la carte and amuse ourselves playing “Crossroads”, a game in which we have to imagine that our rather ordinary-looking fellow diners hide secrets they’d rather we didn’t share. The seemingly innocent-looking middle-aged couple are actually bank robbers on the run; the older woman in the corner is gay and has lured her unsuspecting younger companion here for the sole purpose of seducing her. And so on.

Day Three is warm and sunny and yet the Scots guy at reception informs that the road up to Cockermouth is blocked by fallen trees because of the wind: our discretion seems even more justified now. We make the easy circumnavigation of Buttermere, a delightful stroll spoiled only by the appearance, at frequent intervals, of little plastic bags of dog shit, both on the ground and, worse, hanging from trees. I find it hard to believe what I am seeing and have never noticed this before. Daughter says there’s a lot of it in London.

I trawl the internet to see what this is about: this is far worse than not bagging the offending item at all. It soon becomes clear that dog-owners now expect there to be bins, in which to deposit their animals’ excretions, every 100 metres or so. If there aren’t such receptacles, they’ll leave said droppings on the path or hang them up. Some say they will collect them “on their return”, but even this marginally more considerate approach requires the rest of us to live with their doggy detritus for a couple of hours. www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22853270   

Disgusting – if you're a dog-owner who doesn't understand this sign!

Now, excuse me, but I don’t see why the rest of us should pay for the installation of thousands of dog poo bins for the minority who own dogs, any more than I want to see the Lake District ruined by the intrusion of such urban clutter. Get real you canine-obsessed: if you have a dog, it’s your responsibility to dispose of its shit, just as it should be your responsibility to stop it eating babies and all the other anti-social things that dogs routinely seem to get up to. Maybe mandatory chipping and dog licences (they still have these in Northern Ireland, I see) might encourage more responsibility among these blinkered owners. Or it might not. I say, choose a cat. They’ll even go walkies with you, if you talk to them nicely. But don’t ask them to read a compass.