Up and down and around. That is what I felt like by the end of my first day after heading west from Penrith to Workington via Dacre and Keswich, then down the coast, straying out to St. Bee’s and then to Gosforth, getting as far as Millom and Haverig, and coming back to Penrith through the Lake District.
In the morning, I wanted off the motorway or dual carriageways because they move too fast and there are not enough places to pull over and look at the landscape or take pictures. By afternoon in the Lake District, I was desperate for a motorway! The narrow, winding, close roads made me claustrophobic, and the British go pell mell over these roads at 50 miles an hour, round curves with no view, dodging oncoming wide vehicles and passing slow tourists. I felt like I was in a theme park ride where the cars dip and turn at the last second, except in this case I am driving the thing, so combine it with one of those racing simulator games with an erratic roadway and obstacles popping up, and it just keeps going on…and on…with no break. Hence, I have no pictures of these marvelous roads.
Confession: without the GPS voice, I would have been completely lost (although I must have done some figure 8s coming out of Manchester before I learned what she meant by various yardage measurements and the difference between “go left on ,” “go right on,” and “go straight across” the roundabout, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd exit, etc. Without a visual map in my head or printed, I had no sense of the road names/numbers or directions. I just did what she said and got there, eventually. The ordnance survey maps are great for locating ancient sites, foot paths, and monuments, but are useless for driving.
Anyway, two thoughts on roads, then and now. (This post is about landscape, later ones will address specific sites and monuments).
First, I now admire the Romans who built straight roads right through all obstacles, like contemporary motorways. The British—meaning Celtic Brits, Anglo-Saxons, and their descendants—apparently built roads following the path of least resistance meandering around any and all obstacles natural or man-made, over hill and dale (I now know what that means!).
Second, how did Cuthbert’s crew find their way across this landscape? They could, like me, take the Roman motorways from one major site to another. But to find smaller places in hidden dales of the Lake District, they would need a guide (or a voice!). I suppose any path one finds goes somewhere, more than likely in the general direction it seems to head–reminds me of Tolkien’s description of Frodo’s journey through the Old Forest and then the deceptive Withywindle! But this meandering landscape may explain the community’s unclear itinerary in the Furness district and their confusion when recovering the Lindisfarne Gospels from the sands, which I am placing at Morecambe Bay following Dan Elsworth’s theory.
Day 2 I headed back to Morecambe Bay, a wet day–thankfully the only one. The rain started the previous evening on my return, whereupon I could not figure out how to keep the windshield wipers “on.” The next morning the B&B lady showed me. In British cars the signals and wipers sticks on the column don’t stay in an “on” position, you just click them. Very confusing.
In the morning, I headed straight for Ulverston and made good time on the motorway, right up to five miles out when I encountered “road works,” as it became apparent after sitting in traffic for an hour. At first I thought it was the 10,000 Buddhists reportedly descending on Conishead Priory, which this particular sect bought.
To get to Consihead beach, Dan Elsworth took me down a hidden road to avoid the Buddhist festival, then we walked along the rocky shore to the Priory entrance. The rain gave it an authentic feel for the grayness and lostness a tired and wet group of travelers might experience. My camera did not like the wet, with the lens cover not opening fully sometimes (it recovered when it dried out). The tide was in, so we did not find any lost Gospelbooks. However, crossing the sands is dangerous if you don’t know the tides and get caught in it, Dan warned. He thinks the Cuthbert group crossed to Cartmel, which I was not able to visit, while I have them finding the book three miles down the bay.
My impression of the Lake District roads from day 1 were reinforced by the dumping rain as I traveled back via A roads to Kendal and then on to Penrith. Most of my pictures are shot out the window or in the rare pull over—a lake, some upland, but most of the windy roads just had to be driven, not photographed.
Day 3 gave me a contrasting landscape as I traveled over the Pennines to Northumbria, taking a circular route south through Stainmore Pass, to Durham for the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibit, through Chester-le-Street to Jarrow and Bede’s World, then back across Hadrian’s Wall to Carlisle and back down to Penrith.
Compared to Cumbria, Northumbria is wide open, broad, browner, with rolling uplands (some of that west of the Pennines too). The Lake District, by comparison, is close, almost secret, with its hills and dales.
On my last day, I explored sites in the lovely Eden Valley before making the long drive to Crayke in Yorkshire. Eden Valley is green, fertile, protected, with open rolling hills, then browner upland areas with sheep. I went along the route of the Roman road to Temple Sowerby and Kirkby Thore to Appleby, then detoured south over uplands to Tebay and across east to Kirkby Stephen, then back north to see the Roman fort Veteris at Brough.
Once again, I took Stainmore Pass, this time veering south to visit Crayke. Stainmore Pass is bare, rocky, open.
My journey to Crayke made clear to me that it is a long way from both Cumbria and Durham. First I sped along the motorway, then was led by my GPS lady across back roads as windy and rural as the Cumbrian Lake District, wondering, not for the first time, if there was a more direct route than across what in the U.S. we would call back country lanes. I encountered horseback riders, and almost ran into some farm vehicles on some of the narrow roads between hedges, curving, no view. (Truly scary, by the way, are the signs on major carriageways indicating pedestrian or horse crossings ahead–and drivers are bombing along at 60 miles per hour! I didn’t see anyone attempt such a crossing).
Crayke is indeed on a hill, with a great view all around, perhaps a good resting place for St. Cuthbert’s body and bodyguards for 4 months, but it is far from the community’s estates. The only connection is its nearness to York, coinciding with the community’s effort to install a viking king, Guthred, friendly to their interests. I am, however, wondering if we (post)moderns go too far in attributing everything to politics–maybe the community’s spiritual interests in creating a safe world for churches and ordinary people is not just about power but encouraging a different kind of kingdom to which their Lord had called them. (This insight may reflect reading Tom Wright’s Creation, Power, and Truth, picked up at the Durham Cathedral shop, on the plane home).
Subsequent posts will go back over these sites to discuss what I saw at each location. For now, I am recovering from jet lag.