On a slippery slope…

Not one of mine, sadly

This week we’ve had some weather. Cold weather, to be precise. Nothing major, no severe frosts or anything but cold enough to have ice on the road. And no gritting. So every day when it hasn’t thawed, the ice has got steadily thicker in certain places down the lane. In particular, by Echo Rock [I know why it’s called that now] where our single track lane curves and inclines, there’s sheet ice for about 12 – 15 feet.

Now, I like to think that I’m developing a bit of expertise driving down our lane, even when it’s icy – as long as it’s not actually turned into a glacier. I know how to slide, how not to hit the brakes, how to take a run up without being suicidally fast. So this week has been okay because the road has mostly been dry, and me and my dirty car have bowled along happily, if cautiously.

Yesterday, on my way into work, I came across a lady with 2 very small kids in the back of her small silver car. Unfortunately, the car was sitting across the road at Echo Rock – at right angles to it – and kind of wedged across the lane….that’s what happens when you start sliding down the hill and jam your brakes on really hard, instead of calmly gliding down what is only a very little slope…

I parked a few yards away and walked up to the vehicle. Even with my fleece on, the lady driver knew I was a nurse – I could have been the AA from the rapturous reception I got, she knew I was all she was going to get and she was determined that I was going to get her out of this mess.

The 2 toddlers in the back were not happy…snotty, frightened and unsure…The second that grandma got out the car, they started bawling…

“There’s no signal!” she said, in shocked tones, as if her right to mobile phone coverage was inalienable, and waved her useless phone at me.
“I know – I live here” gesturing vaguely to the Tarn, hoping madly she wasn’t going to suggest that she used the phone at the house or needed a bathroom and drinks for the kids…

“Where are you going?” I asked. It was a stupid question – she clearly wasn’t going anywhere but I hoped that maybe she was local and she had someone nearby who’d come and sort her out and I’d do a 20-point turn and go back the other way….

“Just out for a drive with my grandkids…their mum’s poorly and wanted them out for a bit”. By this time the valley was echoing ironically with the sound of their wailing. I could understand a poorly mum’s desire to be rid of the little darlings for a few hours.

“You’ll have to move it for me,” she said.
I took a step back.
On the spur of the moment, I could only manage the very lame “I’m not insured for your car.” I’m a responsible citizen, for heaven’s sake. I don’t jump willy nilly into other people’s cars! Especially with 2 very upset toddlers in them…

She wasn’t taking no for an answer and thrust the keys into my hand. “You know how to do it,” she said ” You’re a nurse.” “And you live here!” Top trumps, obviously. I knew I should have kept my mouth shut and pretended I didn’t speak English.

“Maybe take the children out?” I suggested. “Just in case?”
She snorted derisively and moved to stand on the verge. The Tarn was looking lovely – and still deserted. I was going to have to do it.

I moved my car back another 20 yards, resisting the temptation to turn around and just drive…

In the interests of a clear conscience and actually getting to work that day, I got tentatively into the other car. The volume of the crying trebled and I realised that someone needed their nappy changing. Not me. It wasn’t me crying either. Yet.

The lady herself must have been 5’3″. I’m 5’10”.
I struggled manfully with my knees smashed against the steering wheel and tried to get the seat back.
“Oh, that doesn’t work!” she said, cheerfully “You’ll just have to do it as best you can”.

I was getting a bit sick of hearing “You’ll have to do….”.

By now, the smell was getting very strong and 1 of the children started coughing…I tried to turn to offer a soothing smile but my movement stalled when I spotted a giant green snot bubble coming out of a toddler nostril…it was growing like ectoplasm…and was altogether too close to the back of my head.

I managed to glide the car round the bend and down the hill and was about to get out…”You’ll have to turn it round and drive it back up that hill!” she ordered. Definitely sick of “You’ll have to..” now. But she was actually right – there was no way she was going to get round the rest of the lane or down the Big Hill…The sobbing and coughing in the back had not subsided and I started to wonder if one of them was going to be sick when he coughed. Lisa used to do that. I’ve been known to do it myself. I knew I mustn’t visualise the snot monster or I was doomed…

“Shall I give him a drink?” I asked.
She gave me a look that suggested that she wouldn’t be totally broken-hearted if she never saw their dehydrated bodies again. I was feeling a little bit that way myself and then felt instantly regretful. They were only little, it wasn’t their fault they were revolting.

Engine on and I managed to get it up the hill and round the corner to the car park. It had the pulling power of a small lawn mower. I wondered briefly how she was going to get them home – they were still crying and I felt sorry for them – but I was already late and had discovered a miraculous new vocation… She saw me looking at them and rummaged on the floor in the back and inserted a dummy into each mouth. Magic. Silence. It crossed my mind that she was at least 10 minutes too late with this emergency procedure – but manage to stop the sarcasm.

But I couldn’t stop myself asking why she was up here – it’s a bit out of the way, after all…
“Thought they’d like the view,” she said.
Not for the first time in our short encounter, I found myself staring in disbelief. I didn’t know what to say – the eldest couldn’t have been much more than 18 months old.
I nodded very slightly like one of the posh ladies in Downton Abbey, “Yes, it’s lovely isn’t it.” I’m so polite sometimes but in my head, I was wondering what kind of views they’d be needing for their amusement by next year – the Millau Viaduct, perhaps? In my head, my voice sounded like Basil Fawlty.

I got into my car, leant back against the seat, wondering what the hell just happened – and felt something on the back of my fleece. It had just been washed and dried, clean on that day. I realised that it was a boiled sweet which had been in someone’s mouth long enough to be seriously sticky. Deep, deep joy. Better than ectoplasm, though…

I originally posted this on 10th Jan 2018 – we’d only been here 2 months. Big learning curve that winter. (I’ve edited it a little).

January blues….

Wonderful pencil drawing of the back of the house in winter – artist unknown 2001

I can’t wait for January – and February come to that – to be over. I’m tempted to add March to that list but at least March is generally making a serious attempt at change… Every fibre of my being longs for warm sunshine, blue skies, and meadows full of flowers and birdsong. I can’t wait to see bright colours and butterflies. I want to be back in shorts and t-shirts and seeking the cool interior of the house because it’s too warm outside….Dream on…

I know that spring will eventually be sprung – however, long it takes, it will arrive…But once the excitement of Christmas and New Year have passed, winter drags its heels like an old man crossing the road – you know you have to wait for him but it doesn’t stop you muttering for him to get a move on, and short of running him over in full view of many people who actually like him, there’s absolutely no way of shifting him out of the way faster….

Inevitably we get the ‘excitement’ of snow at some stage. I have mixed feelings about it…If I have the luxury of staying at home and sitting in front of the fire, snuggled up and cosy, I don’t mind it at all. Except for those bits where I have to go out and sort the chickens out or venture outside to the washouse to do a spot of laundry…Mr Pat just hates it. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is, and it really is beautiful, Mr Pat does not like cold feet, and he especially hates cold, wet, slushy feet…

There some horrible things which happen after snow. For a start, one or both of us has to go to work. So, the drive needs clearing, the road needs clearing, salt must be spread. Some of us are better at this than others. And some are just better left to do other things…I wish. Mr Pat does most of the hard graft and I show willing…

Only very rarely do I caught out by a surprise snowfall these days. Our winters are punctuated by a constant check of the weather…Met Office (accept no substitutes) and the Mountain Weather Information Service. We’re halfway up a mountain at nearly 250m (depending on where you are at the time) – not far off 1,000 feet – so we definitely fall somewhere between the Met Office forecast for normal people and the MWIS one for proper winter walkers…The most frequent question in the house over the winter is not “Is the kettle on?” or “Where are my slippers?” (though these can be heard repeatedly) but “What’s the weather forecast?”

So the car is usually nestled into a cosy parking space at the bottom of the Big Hill – where it stays until we head down. I’m never sure what’s worse – leaving it behind, getting geared up in the car, strapping my head torch on and heading upwards slowly in the dark, or treading cautiously on the white stuff and risking a long slide downhill on my backside…

As is the way of things here, the snow either gets washed away by torrential rain ☔️ or it freezes solid. And then we’re all in trouble…The lane turns into an ice rink for which the average driver is majorly unprepared and we await the arrival of distressed drivers who have suddenly found themselves facing the wrong way or settled nicely into a drystone wall or, worst of all, have gone over the top cattlegrid and seen the abyss at the other side and thought better of it. I once came home from work and found a man in the barn – he was searching for a shovel and some grit. I thought that was a bit cheeky, to be honest – it was his entitled attitude I took offence at, he just thought we should have what he needed lying around and that it was okay to take it.

Mostly, though, things are not that exciting…winter is dreary, dark and dismal. I try to take heart from the splendour of the views…

…they are incredible. And they are life-affirming in a grand and eternal kind of way. Mr Pat took this picture of a Herdy the other day on his way to work. Whose day could not be cheered by the sight of this glorious, stubborn breed standing boldly and prettily in front of Bowfell? Even on a muddy, grim afternoon, the landscape breathes life into us.

I still wish spring would appear soon…but in the meantime, I’ll keep looking for the good stuff.

A sense of place

We live here. It’s the most beautiful place on Earth and I can’t believe that my dream came true. Like all dreams, the reality is different, and unexpected in many ways – but in the main, I am very happy here in the midst of my furry family and my patient and loving other half, Mr Pat.

This is Blea Tarn House – at the top of the Big Hill. One of the highest farmhouses in the Lake District. Our postcode says Little Langdale but it’s Great Langdale we belong to historically, and in spirit.

The house is 17th Century with a 19th century extension. We aren’t a working farm anymore – our lovely neighbours, Isaac and Kerrie Benson, from Fell Foot, farm the land. I take a keen, totally novice, interest and am always keen to help where and when I can. I suspect it’s an act of patience for them, rather than any real assistance. I ask lots of daft questions and often need a translation….But I like to bake and someone’s got to eat it…

The house looks quaint from the outside – and in summer, it is just beautiful – pure Lakeland. But it is quirky, to say the least… we are totally off-grid. No mains electricity – just a little diesel generator (Ivor the Engine) for lighting and power, and calor gas for heating. Our water comes straight off the Fell and we have a septic tank. We rent from the National Trust and pay ridiculous council tax for almost no services. There’s no street lighting, an occasional rubbish removal service…Our washing machine is outside in the wash house – access via the lane. We have no freezer, no electric kettle, no dishwasher, no hairdryers, no tumble dryer and no telly (despite the satellite dish), no mobile phone signal and the slowest internet connection in the northern hemisphere.

And we love it.

Mr Pat works a mile down the road at the Old Dungeon Ghyll. He has the best commute in the world. I am very jealous. I’m a nurse, working in Kendal. It takes me 40 to 60 minutes to get there and always longer to get home. We both love our respective jobs but I love staying in the Lakes on my days off. And I love being at home. We walk a lot – I like to be outside. The garden is a challenge this high up – it’s a constant battle…I’m never going to win, all victories are small but I’m stubborn…

I was brought up in Cornwall – another beautiful place. My mum first brought us up here when I was about 7. It was a defining moment – I love the sea but the mountains called to me. They still do. Mr Pat and I might be offcomers but this place is in my soul.