“I THINK that it’s going now,” I said, staring at the wood burner. Behind the glass sat a stack of kindling, gently smoking. There were no flames. “Yup,” I nodded, more hopeful than believable, “definitely going.”
I was in a small self catering cottage in the tiny village of Maulds Meaburn, East Cumbria, in the North West of England. In a manner completely unfitting of someone who attempts to maintain a travel blog, this was the third time that my fiancée and I had stayed there. How did that happen? I blame London. We’d both been working crazy hours, and as the long-booked week-off crept closer, everything seemed too much hassle. It wasn’t that we wanted to do something easy, it was that we wanted something edifying for the soul; some peace and solitude away from walking up escalators on the left hand side; some peace and solitude away from the hiss of bendy buses’ doors, endlessly swallowing commuters; some peace and solitude away from the six inches of dirty grey seat where, if I’m lucky on my train journey into work, I might attempt to place my backside inbetween two impossibly large people seated either side, one of whom is inevitably listening to One Direction on their ipod at 600 decibels.
And what could be more edifying than this view from your window every morning?
The first day of our stay in ruralville was a bright, cold day with clear skies and not a single bendy bus in sight. We resolved to make the most of the fine weather, the country air and the peaceful tranquility. So we went to the pub.
Yes some people might see this as a missed opportunity to hike up a mountain, but we saw it as an important opportunity to visit the heart of this small community. And drink some beer.
We didn’t waste the short walk to the nearest (and only) drinking establishment, either. It was about a mile. It took us an hour and a half, on account of the fact that I had my camera and Beckie had her foraging book. Our journey was therefore punctuated by me doing a passable impression of paparazzi to the countryside, and Beckie failing to identify the various fauna we passed on our way (“Is it fat hen? I think it might be fat hen.” “Great, what can you use it for?” “The book says it’s good in salads, but some types are poisonous.”).
This is what we saw:
Eventually, we reached the pub.
All in all, going to stay in a tiny village in East Cumbria made me feel overwhelmingly urban. It’s strange the feeling of otherness that you can experience in your own country sometimes; I find this especially so considering that I live in a cosmopolitan city which has most nations on earth represented in its inhabitants.
A FEW weeks later I found myself in Borough Market – one of London’s busiest and best known food markets. People jostled me, I jostled people. I joined the crowds wandering from stall to stall, searching for the ultimate, most satisfying, most outrageous lunch. Elk burgers? Exquisite sushi? Slow cooked rabbit? Caribbean curry? Scallops the size of my hand? This is what Borough Market is about: the choice, the quality and, of course, joining the biggest queue possible because that’s surely where the best food must be, right? ThisIsLondon. This couldn’t be more different than Cumbria.
By contrast country life is, I feel, of a slower pace, with different concerns. There were a few signs, in particular, that I came across in Cumbria which made me feel alien to this land.
It’s easy for me to mock to these signs; perhaps people who live in East Cumbria do too. Taken together they give the impression that not a lot happens there, that in some way East Cumbria is a fragment of the past in the modern day. That’s not true, of course, but it’s easier to mock something for its strangeness than it is to understand difference. And my week away in the beautiful village of Maulds Meaburn has convinced me that there’s lot I don’t understand about rural life. I am not a country boy. I probably knew this deep down, but travelling to this place where I’ve been before, in my own country, and yet experiencing otherness has caused me to re-evaluate how urban I am. It turns out that I like the city.
But I also dream of living in a place like this:
So how do I square these two desires? Am I a cityboy who wants to live in the country? Is it possible to have one foot in both? I’m not sure, but if I hadn’t visited Maulds Meaburn I wouldn’t have been thinking these thoughts. I suppose that the message to take away is that travel, even to somewhere you supposedly know, makes you think, makes you look at the way you live your own life.
But it turns out that I may not be alone in my city/country divided self: we like staying in East Cumbria because it’s less crowded than the rest of Cumbria, i.e. the Lake District. And the problem with the Lake District? It’s full of people from London.