The Generosity of the Fells – Starting ‘The Buried Moon’ – Climbing up The Old Man of Coniston:
It was the official start of the creative process for ‘The Buried Moon’. After proposing, the excitement of being accepted, and the flurry of meetings, and discussions, and plans: It was finally time to come to the Lake District and climb a fell.
Over the past few years The Strange Names Collective has been exploring our reciprocal relationship with our environment, and the gifts that it give us. We’ve looked at Clouds, and at Forests, and now for Lakes Ignite we’ll be looking at Rocks. Or rather we’ll be exploring how the geology of the Lake District shapes us, inspires us, and why we must protect it.
We’ll be doing this with performance, artworks, and virtual reality. But before we get there, we have to do some research and legwork, literally and figuratively.
There are several members of the creative team – Myself, Adam, Ben, Gillian, Penny, and Ben (I’ll introduce them in later blogs). This trip was for me to meet with Penny Newell (Poet, Researcher and Co-writer and performer for the project), and to talk through the foundations of the project, start thinking about scripts, and get out into the area to find source material.
We started this particular day with a very early visit to the Keswick Stone circle (as it was on the way), to do a test flight with our Drone, and test the weather conditions. It was clear at that stage we had picked a great day, the sun wasn’t up, but it was light due to the clear skies. So from there we drove in convoy to The Old Man of Coniston.
On arrival Penny led me to the inconspicuous start of the trail, which soon became a path, then a trail leading to a view of our destination. I looked past the initial hills, to the large outcrop. ‘Are we going there?’ I asked, pointing, ‘Yes there’ replied penny, not pointing to the summit I had picked out, but to the huge distant monumental fell behind it, all 2,634 feet of it. Off we went.
On the way up we talked about the evidence of mining that could be seen, the glacial geology of the fell and surrounding region, meanwhile Penny called Seamus (her famous whippet) who darted about us, regarding the nearby sheep. The walk is a perfect is a perfect way to be inspired, to talk, and immerse ourselves in work. The mental effort can never feel that hard, when you are climbing up in such a landscape.
On the way up we keep stopping for photos and some drone footage, to look back at the views emerging, which are breathtaking (The pauses help me recover my actual breathlessness). Then, part way up, the sun finally comes up over the horizon. Everything suddenly glows and saturates with colour, the greys of slate, the greens of the plants, the oranges and yellows of lichens and all the other shades and hues are flooding our eyes. Even though there are so many colours, it’s as if everything has turned to gold.
Later we pause to take some drone footage over Low Water on the way up. The body of water was still, as the drone glided over its surface. An offered cup of crystal water, held in the hand of the Old Man of Coniston. Then further up we exploring mine shafts and quarry caves, the remnants of the mining industry that forms such a major part of the region. In the absence of a ‘do not enter’ sign, I enter a tunnel, to get a sense of scale. Outside Penny writes notes of our discussions so far, Seamus keeps guard at the entrance to the mine, that or he’s just looking for Sheep it’s hard to say.
At the summit, the view at eye level is still gold, but the view back down and out to the horizon is quicksilver. Each frosted path, stream, river and lake is now reflecting the white light of the sun and has become a trail or pool of mercury blazing bright against the background of the valley. It’s hard to know, besides their beauty, why views like this are so attractive to us, why we keep coming back despite the effort. Penny offers a theory that it is because from a high vantage point you can see everything you need; water, food, shelter. I wonder to myself if it is also because you are in a advantageous defensive position, to see and avoid threats. That or because from a highpoint, after a climb, you regain a sense of yourself, your own scale, thing you cannot really grasp, or consider, on the way up.
The way down was significantly easier of course, and it is pleasurable to see others coming up, to go the way we had been. We greet each other with the smile that says ‘we’ve done it, it’s ok, you can too’. I can feel my right knee at this point, and the tiniest of stones in my boot, makes me pause to be rid of the irritation. Soon enough, we have retraced our steps and at a vastly accelerated pace we find our way back to Coniston, and the smell of a real coal fire, which instantly reminds me of my Grandmother’s house.
The end of the trip is a welcome hot drink and piece of cake from Herdwicks Cafe, we chat with strangers who are visiting the region. I pop into a nearby shop to find a gift for my kids. After selecting I realise no-one is there to take my money, finally I realise, it’s an honesty shop. Write your purchase in the book, put your money in the box, which I dutifully do. It is lovely to be on the receiving end of the generosity and trust of absent strangers. I give the shop a tip, it’s customer service was excellent.
This is what marks in retrospect this visit to the Lakes, the generosity of the people, and of the landscape, whether by accident, design, or a mix of the two. One of the themes of Lakes Ignite is to explore how the Lakes inspire. Perhaps here is an example: not quite because of their beauty, not quite because of their unforgiving nature, but because the landscape in its complexity and extremity, gives. The Lake District challenges and rewards in equal measure, again, and again, and again. The Lakes also foster generosity and trust in the people who live and work here, and this is what inspires.
Philip Stanier. 2018.