Known for its picturesque lakes, forests and mountains, Lake District is a perfect holiday destination
Ž“But not even Hitler can damage the fells.“ A few days ago, this famous quote by Beatrix Potter started making sense to me.
I first heard the name Lake District from my course director Stuart Durant at Kingston during one of our weekly discussions on the art/ design/ architecture influencers of the Dada and De Stijl movements, Kurt Schwitters being one of them, who lived in the Ambleside, Lake District in his last years (1940-1948). Born in Hanover, Germany, in 1887, Kurt Schwitters had a long and varied career, working in visual art, graphic design and poetry. Yet much of his art belongs to his one-man art movement, Merz. The fourth of his Merz Barn was supposed to be a permanent structure in Ambleside, a small town in Lake District, where Schwitters could exhibit his existing work. When he died in January 1948, it was left unfinished. In 1965, after lengthy discussions about the barn’s future, the Merz Barn Wall was handed over to Newcastle University, which undertook its removal, restoration and preservation.
Durant also had a holiday home in the Lake District like any other English person who is interested in spending their summers in this inspirational, picturesque, serene, capricious English Lakeland. He would say that his creative ability and reading capacity escalated around this place. Many other teachers, seniors and friends agree with this time-off therapy from everyday city life, but a few don’t. The Lake District is a mountainous region in North West England, in the county of Cumbria bordering Scotland. A popular holiday destination, famous for its sixteen designated lakes – Windermere being the most prominent of those – among dozens of ponds, tarns, forests and mountains. Lakes District’s association with William Wordsworth’s childhood home and gardens in Keswick, John Ruskin’s Museum in Coniston, and Laural and Hardy Museum in Ulverston makes this place even more enjoyable.
As we embarked upon a long-awaited trip from Birmingham to the Scottish Highlands by road, we decided to stop over at the Lake District for a few days before going any further. All motorways and associated A-routes are well connected and smooth throughout the way. Once one crosses Lancaster on the M6, one comes across a number of Lake District signposts at various points. We exited from Crooklands on A590 straight towards Ulverston, enjoying some great peninsula views. As we approached our hotel, it was around 7 in the evening and a tall, white structure on the summit of Hoad Hill welcomed us – Sir John Barrows Monument. This highly visible memorial – which almost looks like a colossal lighthouse – overlooks the town of Ulverston and can easily be seen from miles around. We were going to hike to the monument, which stands tall at the top of the 450 ft high Hoad Hill.
Lake District’s association with William Wordsworth’s childhood home and gardens in Keswick, John Ruskin’s Museum in Coniston, and Laural and Hardy Museum in Ulverston makes this place even more enjoyable.
The following day, we had to start our journey towards the monument early in the morning – preferably around 9am – to avoid clouds and possible rainfall as that would naturally restrict our view from the top. The eye of a city dweller is trained to see at a specific distance, may that be the next traffic light or the vague image of the tallest building in the town centre, or just a little Cash & Carry down the road where one lives. It’s different to see at a distance with a pair of eyes not used to the optical range. We hardly managed to reach the central visitor car park on Brewery Street by 10:30 am, near the town centre. The easiest way to get to the Monument was to take the footpath that leads through Ford Park, following the apparent blue pedestrian signs from Hart Street. According to the locals, there were two choices in front of us: turning left on Ford Park Crescent to follow the park boundary or going through the park entrance and following the tarmacked road to the cafe and walled garden. Both routes take roughly the same amount of time to reach the monument. We opted to go through the park and continue following the signs, joining the alternate route around the park boundary, which seemed relatively longer but a bit easier with distinctive flora and fauna all around. Horses, cows (tagged with yellow plastic badges in the left ear), and herds of sheep grazing fresh grass. An old English couple, Joanna and Edwin, also started this little journey with us. They were full of mental and physical energy.
We finally reached the summit after a 30-40 minute walk. The view at this point was breath-taking, mostly because of the sky which was just beautiful with white clouds playing hide and seek with the sun. The monument commemorates Sir John Barrow, who was born in Ulverston in 1764. Sir John was one of the founding members of the Royal Geographical Society and held various government posts in the 19th Century, before becoming the second secretary to the Admiralty. This 100 ft tower was erected in 1850 at a cost of £1,250, paid mainly by public subscription. The monument is not a lighthouse: it has never had a functional light. It is a Grade II listed building, built of limestone quarried locally. The hollow tower can be ascended via a spiral stone staircase of 112 steps. At the top, eight apertures provide a 360-degree panorama of the Furness Peninsula, Morecambe Bay and the southern Lake District.
It wasn’t fun staying there for long, as it was pretty windy and cold even for July. We started descending after taking some memorable pictures. Our next stop was Priory Plaice. A local gentleman had told us that it was the best place for fish and chips in all of Ulverston. He was right. It was the most delicious fish I’d ever had.
The following day, I woke up early out of curiosity and the excitement to visit the Laurel & Hardy museum, a small private museum run by friends of the highly celebrated comedy duo. Their connection with Ulverston was established as Stan (Laurel) was born there on June 16, 1890. He appeared with his comedy partner Oliver (Hardy) in 107 short films, feature films and cameo roles. This little museum has a number of visuals and materials to look upon, including thousands of miniature figurines gifted by fans to be kept safe and celebrated here. Their production posters, certificates, old pictures, dresses and various bowler hats have either been worn by Laurel and Hardy or their fans. The semiotics of the bowler hat reminds me of multiple visuals. Helpmates (1932) was one of their funniest offerings in this regard, in which Hardy calls Laurel to help him clear the mess from a weekend party before his wife returns – one must watch the rest to get the gist of it. It is indeed hilarious. Charlie Chaplin wore the hat and made it iconic. René Magritte, a well-known Belgian surrealist artist for creating several witty and thought-provoking images, used the idea of a man wearing a bowler hat in many of his paintings. Le fils de l’homme (The Son of Man) and un l’homme au chapeau melon (Man in a Bowler Hat) both painted in 1964; being my favourite. As the writer Karen Chernick mentions in one of her articles, “the bowler… poses no surprise,” Magritte said in 1966, “it is a headdress that is not original. The man with the bowler is just a middle-class man in his anonymity. And I wear it. I am not eager to singularise myself.” Alex DeLarge, a fictional character portrayed as a sociopath in Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange robs, rapes and assaults innocent people. Malcolm McDowell later plays him while wearing the bowler hat in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the same name.
The next couple of days were full of amusement. We tried to explore most of the Lake District and the surrounding areas, including Wray Castle, Bowness–on–Windermere, Ullswater and Derwent-water Lakes, Ambleside and local forests. I wanted to visit a little museum in the Derwent, called The Pencil Museum, and The Mining Museum because Cumbria has been famous for mining and quarrying of lead, copper, zinc, graphite and coal dating back to Roman times. But due to a shortage of time and teenage travellers with us who were least bothered about anything, we decided to spend some quality time in the dining hall of our hotel and sleep early before resuming our drive to Scotland the following day.
The writer is an art/ design critic. He heads the Department of Visual Communication Design at Mariam Dawood School of Visual Arts & Design, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore