The End of Autumn in Cumbria: Or, How I Am Not A Country Boy

Sheep Sign

“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 funny thing about this photo is that moments later the seven year old girl who was herding these cows (apparently they start them early in the farming world) walked past and looked straight at me, the lunatic London man up for the week and taking pictures of cows out of his window. I can only imagine what she thought. When she and her cow walked past on other mornings, I was altogether more furtive in taking pictures. This probably did little to help her impression of me when she caught me a second time. Somewhere in East Cumbria, a small child thinks that a bad private detective is on her tail. Either that or she thinks that all Londoners are morons.

The funny thing about this photo is that moments later the seven year old girl who was herding these cows (apparently they start them early in the farming world) walked past and looked straight at me, the lunatic London man up for the week and taking pictures of cows out of his window. I can only imagine what she thought. When she and her cow walked past on other mornings, I was altogether more furtive in taking pictures. This probably did little to help her impression of me when she caught me a second time. Somewhere in East Cumbria, a small child thinks that a bad private detective is on her tail. Either that or she thinks that all Londoners are morons.

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:

The deepening shadows of shortening days.

The deepening shadows of shortening days.

The way autumn leaves gather together in rushing water.

The way autumn leaves gather together in rushing water.

The contrast of metal and petal.

The contrast of metal and petal.

A cemetery coloured by dead and dying leaves. Actually, I really had to resist the urge to inspect the graves here: as longer term readers of this blog will know, I have developed a habit of photographing old headstones. I'd already convinced one local seven year old that I was A Bit Weird. No need to make the good people of Maulds Meaburn think that I was also A Lot Creepy.

A cemetery coloured by dead and dying leaves. Actually, I really had to resist the urge to inspect the graves here: as longer term readers of this blog will know, I have developed a habit of photographing old headstones. I’d already convinced one local seven year old that I was A Bit Weird. No need to make the good people of Maulds Meaburn think that I was also A Lot Creepy.

Eventually, we reached the pub.

The Butchers Arms is a community pub in the tiny village of Crosby Ravensworth. When the oub closed down several years ago, the local community grouped together, bought the pub and refurbished the place.

The Butchers Arms is a community pub in the tiny village of Crosby Ravensworth. When the pub closed down several years ago, the local community grouped together to buy and refurbish it. On the walls there are pictures of the Prime Minister in front of the pub, from when he came to open it as a shining example of Big Society in action. We arrived just after the kitchen had closed, so we lunched on roast chicken flavoured crisps and a local ale. Whilst we were there, lots of locals in funny socks and funnier hats arrived for what appeared to be a post-hunting knees up. Or it could have been that they had been Morris Dancing. Or maybe they always dress like that on a Saturday? Who knows: it was a mystery. We hunkered down in the corner and tried to look casual. I decided not to tell them that they’d missed an apostrophe off the name of their 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.

Something witty

Enormously busy, discerning and important foodies charge around Borough Market, tutting at idiots with cameras who get in their way and opining on the best place to buy organic veg. Through a popular process known as ‘queueing’, they then assemble in lines to work themselves into a feeding frenzy.

So that's what I'd been queueing for! It's always a relief to get to the front of a queue and discover that it's all been worthwhile.

So that’s what I’d been queueing for! It’s always a relief to get to the front of a queue and discover that it’s all been worthwhile.

Something witty

The sign tells you that the prices are eyewatering, but it’s too late now you’re at the front of the queue. You’re not going to quit now, are you?

Wit

Seating is few and far between in Borough Market. Those victorious sit and laugh at the standing. It’s cut throat.

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.

I didn't see any horses in the town centre, but evidently this has been enough of a problem in the past that the local authority felt the need for a sign.

I didn’t see any horses in the town centre, but evidently this has been enough of a problem in the past that the local authority felt the need for a sign.

What does the Red Squirrel Ranger do to any grey squirrels that he finds? And does he ride a horse?

What does the Red Squirrel Ranger do to any grey squirrels that he finds? And does he ride a horse?

Slow day on the local paper, or big news? I had no way of telling.

Slow day on the local paper, or big news? I had no way of telling.

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.

Home. I guess.

Home. I guess.

But I also dream of living in a place like this:

brew16

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.

I am, however, one step closer to becoming a country boy: I lit the fire! It only took four days of trying.

I am, however, one step closer to becoming a country boy: I lit the fire! It only took four days of trying.

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4 thoughts on “The End of Autumn in Cumbria: Or, How I Am Not A Country Boy

    • Yes, every year people get trampled to death by cows. The Health and Safety Executive say that in the last 8 years 481 people have been injured by the walking steaks. And people say that cities are dangerous! Thanks for reading.

  1. Just discovered your ramblings about Maulds Meaburn, London etc .
    I sometimes cannot work out my otherness, the village is like that, you think you know it but what is under that top layer of nearness, the other world below………Nothing too scary of course.
    Gorgeous pictures though, I would love you to email me afew, I always need more snaps of our land of the hobbits for my s/c website of the Brew House. Look forwrad to an update next time you stay there, I will make sure the kindling is dry.

    • Hi Ruth, thanks for reading and I’m glad that you liked the photos. I’ll certainly email them across. Maulds Meaburn is certainly a beautiful place and it’s great to hear that it’s a place of many layers! What comes across strongly whenever we stay is the sense of community – something that I think that Londonfolk could learn from. And, of course, we love the Brew House and I would highly recommend it to anyone else for a relaxing place to getaway:

      http://www.craketreesmanor.co.uk/self-catering

      And the smoking fire…? I don’t think that your kindling can take any blame for that – the responsibility, and the lack of firecraft, is all mine!

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