As we drove across the M62 and up the M6 on Friday 8th December, we were juggling in our minds what walks to do over the weekend and in what order in view of the weather forecast. Our primary aim was to walk to the Kentmere Rowan as part of our 'Long View' walks. The plan was to do this on Sunday so that our son could join us, but, as the forecast was for heavy snow on Saturday night and into Sunday and we didn't want to get to Kentmere but not get out, we opted to tackle it on Saturday. When we arrived the temperature in the caravan was 0.5C so we were pleased we had taken a fan heater to boost the central heating system. Once warmed up, though, the caravan was as warm as toast all weekend.
On Saturday morning the temperature had dropped to -5C so we were pleased that we had taken in the water intake pipe to prevent it from freezing. After entertaining Thomas to coffee at 8.00 am on his way to Helvellyn for some winter gully climbing, we gathered our gear and drove up through Stavely to park in Kentmere village. It is not often that I resort to walking in a down jacket but it was very welcome this morning. Our route took us up out of the village and into the valley of the River Kent where we walked along green lanes and footpaths through farmland. As always when walking along ancient lanes and paths, my mind wondered about the memories these 'old ways' held. We passed several flocks of herdwick sheep (our favourites) and also some dalesbred. The surrounding fells looked spectacular with their covering of snow and I enjoyed dwelling on the small details of winter: frozen puddles, frosted mosses and lichens and icicles. It was good to see a holly full of berries. It was quiet and still as we walked up the valley with only the mewing of the occasional buzzard and the cronk of a lone raven.
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Before long I recognized the location of our 'flying rowan' having studied Rob and Harriet Fraser's The Long View. As with the Little Aysby Hawthorn, I was anxious to make sure that I had found the correct tree - it's a little like a treasure hunt. The confirmation this time was the words that were stenciled on the rocks in the small grassy bay behind the tree:-
The'ink' used was Show Red, a powder thickened with oil and rubbed on the backs of Herdwick to smarten them up before shows. Rob and Harriet were keen to use this medium to link their work with the shepherding tradition and also to the fact that the rowan is the reddest tree. It is also a link to the red of the chakra system in which the colour red is associated with the 'root' and this is a 'flying rowan' as its seed was deposited in a crack in the rock into which its roots grew and can still be seen today. The idea is that the words will fade with time and, in fact, I could only find ravens and split rock, so perhaps the others have gone already since January 1st.
We enjoyed sitting on the rocks by the tree while we ate our lunch and then I photographed it from every conceivable angle while Heather drew it. It was very much in its winter state when we visited and it would be good to return next August or September. The rowan is one of my favourite trees and I love to see them laden with red berries.
As beautiful a spot as this was, time was marching on and the short December daylight hours meant that we needed to get on. We continued up the valley to Kentmere Reservoir where we walked across the dam wall before returning on the other side of the valley. The fells beyond the reservoir looked stunning under their carpet of show. They were clear of cloud and the light was superb. As my eyes followed them round: Ill Bell, Thornthwaite Crag, Mardale Ill Bell and Lingmell End with High Street gleaning in the distance, my mind wandered back to earlier days when I had walked these magnificent hills. The latest time we had been up there was last June when we walked over Harter Fell and down from the Nan Bield Pass into Mardale. We met another couple of walkers/fell runners at the dam who were enjoying a hot flask and it was good to swap routes we had done in the surrounding hills.
Our route down on very icy tracks took us first through the old disused quarry and past Reservoir Cottage where both it and the old quarry barracks had been converted into attractive looking outdoor centre bunk house accommodation. The final section took us down across fields and into Kentmere village where the lights were just coming on. On getting back to the car I made the classic mistake of using the windscreen washer and smearing ice across the windscreen so he had to then wait for the car to warm up to clear it. I hadn't realised it was that cold but I think temperatures had remained below freezing all day. It was good to get back to the caravan and beef bourguignon and time to reflect on a good day in the hills. It is tempting to always head for the high tops, but taking time to slow down and notice more is well worth it; to practice the art of slow travel and becoming a 'human being' rather than a 'human doing'!