The other day we walked to the North Pole.
Okay, not that one.
I mean the North Pole at the head of Windermere, immortalised by Arthur Ransome in his Swallows and Amazons novel Winter Holiday. In the book, the children mount an expedition to the “arctic” – in reality a summerhouse at the head of the lake, arriving in true explorer style in the height of a blizzard.
The summer house no longer exists, but some interested person has put an inscribed stone on the ground marking the place where the North Pole would have been.
Now the location is in Borrans Park at Waterhead just by Ambleside in the Lake District. Very different and busy these days.
Now, we decided not to just turn up at the North Pole, but to make at least a little walk out of it. So we set out from Rydal church (still limited parking there) and walked along Under Loughrigg Lane until we reached the end of the lake.
Our walk was made at an appropriate time of the year for Winter Holiday, but the snow amounted only to a light dusting on the highest of the mountains. But it was a crisp and frosty day, so that got us in the mood. There were grand views in the clear air as we made our way along this lane, a favourite walk of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Thomas de Quincey and Matthew Arnold.
Arthur Ransome’s books probably did more than anything to encourage and expand my youthful wanderings. Each volume is a positive love letter to its setting, where it be the Lake District or the Norfolk Broads. Winter Holiday is one of my favourites, though the later volume The Picts and the Martyrs, with its grand evocation of Lakeland life comes top of my list.
I was already an explorer of the great open spaces before I read Ransome, but his writings inspired many an expedition and fired my imagination with new ways to look at the countryside. I knew nothing of the Lake District – a place I’ve come to know well – until I read Ransome.
He was a remarkable writer and man too. Worth seeking out his quite fascinating autobiography. As a journalist he was at the heart of the Russian Revolution, played chess with Lenin and married Trotsky’s secretary – before settling down to write these masterpieces of – no, not just children’s fiction, but works that appeal to readers of any age.
I never walk through the Lakes without thinking of him. As we wandered back through Ambleside and back through Rydal Park, I thought a lot about this man whose writings have now endured for near a century.
If you’ve never read Ransome, do give him a try. He’s created a world the reader can lose him or herself in.