This week I went to a little cottage in the Lake District. I went there on my own, partly to write, partly to breathe in air from the mountains and waterfalls and partly to see whether I could spend five days in complete isolation. No internet. No phone reception. No make-up. No nothing. Would I flourish? Or would I fold, destroy the cottage and then have a difficult conversation with my mum’s friend Barbara, who owns it?
I got off the X5 bus, breathed in about four pints of cold, mountainous air and wheeled my luminous green suitcase through the village. I waved at locals in my blue leather jacket and they nodded back, then I picked up the keys from Geoff and entered the cottage. We used to go to this cottage when we were little so everything was familiar. The dark orange carpets. The electric blankets. The fire. My dad always used to be in charge of the fire. He is a real man – he’s been to caves – and his relationship with fires is like the Fonz’s with jukeboxes. He barely had to pout at it and there’d be an inferno. I squatted, put in some receipts and a log and started striking matches.
I had bought provisions in Penrith. Cumberland sausages, Hula Hoops and salt. And now I unpacked them proudly. I’d also bought a long-wave radio so I could keep up to date with the cricket and the shipping forecast. The last thing I wanted was a ferry smashing into the cottage. I wanted to leave it as I’d found it. If anything, with more salt in their salt cellars. I’d bought potatoes, too, but because I didn’t have the internet I had no idea how to cook them. I had a look around. I tried to turn the water on. I relaxed. I had another go at lighting the fire. I found a chair. I lowered my arse on to it. I began to write.
In the evenings I drank local ale in the pub garden, breathed in loads of air and stared dreamily up at Blencathra. When we were little, my dad took us up this majestic mountain. The conditions were unacceptable – bitter winds and snow – and he tied us all together with a massive rope from his rucksack.
If one of us had fallen, we would all have surely gone. In the end, I don’t remember any of us going and my father’s decision to risk our lives was vindicated. And now here I was again. At Blencathra’s toe. The pub served deep-fried fish in the net they’d pulled it out the tarn with, and I ate it greedily in Blencathra’s thrall.
On the fourth day, I took time out and walked to Keswick. There’s a disused railway line that takes you there. Full of wonderful air and green scenery, it was a welcome respite from writing this. I had bought a loaf of Kendal Mint Cake from a petrol station for my trek, but I didn’t need it. In Cumbrialand, nature is your caterer. You can drink from brooks, pick wild strawberries and sink your teeth into sheep for energy. I arrived in Keswick a new man and devoured her tourist attractions like a man possessed. I visited the Pencil Museum. Fun. Better with mates. But fun.
My writing completed, I had to catch the bus back to Penrith. But I knew there was one last thing I had to do. And her name was Blencathra. I don’t care who you are, if you loom over me like that for five solid days, you’re getting climbed. I packed my stuff up, handed the keys to the cottage back to Geoff and up I went.
The weather was less unacceptable than when my dad had hauled us up all those years ago, but it was still a challenge. My back isn’t what it used to be. I’d forgotten to pack water and the terrain was rugged so it was hard to keep my luminous green suitcase on its tiny wheels. But boy, was it worth it. I conquered it! I stood on its teat and puffed my chest out and I devoured the vista. Mega! I slid down on my case.
Before climbing on board the X5, I breathed in one last bit of air. Then, reinvigorated and replenished, I began my journey back to the drear.