We left the hotel straight after breakfast… we had something we wanted to see on our way home. Even though our destination was fifty miles away, it would only add about thirty miles to our journey… but it would take us most of the day, given the roads we would be travelling.
Dropping down through Troutbeck to Ullswater, we picked up the Kirkstone Pass through Glenridding and Patterdale. It is one of my favourite roads…a sheer joy to drive, in spite of its narrow, twisting path and the steep, unforgiving inclines, passing, as it does, through the magnificent hills of Cumbria.
The Pass is the highest in the area that is open to cars, at nearly fifteen hundred feet above sea level. Coming up from Ambleside, the road is called The Struggle with good reason, but our way took us down towards Lake Windermere and we drove along a fair proportion of its eleven mile length.
The map was quite clear on where we needed to go…at least until we left the main road. After that, as far as the map was concerned, we were on our own in the middle of nowhere… which is where we seem to spend a lot of our time. It usually bodes well…
We prefer to use a paper map, rather than relying on technology or apps to find these sites. Not just because such technology tends to panic and expire when you ask it to work in the middle of nowhere. Not even because, when it does decide to work, it invariably tells you that you must drive down tracks that are clearly unfit for anything with wheels. There is something more to it than that.
Without technology, you have to take time out of your life to pay attention. You have to do at least a bit of research about how to get there. You must seek for these places, work for the privilege of visiting them and read the clues in the landscape. And in doing so, you learn a lot more than you would by just following canned directions; the ancient places are never on the land… they are always placed within it.
We found the lane that looked as if it might lead to the stone circle we were seeking, but the steep, unmade track was closed to all but farm traffic. Fair enough, there had to be another way. All reports said that you could not go into the circle as it was on private ground, but that you could see it from the road… therefore, we reasoned, a road there had to be. We drove on, climbing the hills on an ever-narrowing track barely wide enough for my little car. There was nowhere to pull over and the only other track we saw was a footpath over the moor. Slowing to almost a halt, we allowed a woman on horseback to pass and continued, finally finding ourselves on a high plateau surrounded by hills.
There was a parking spot, so we pulled over to look at our options. We had come too far away from where the circle had to be and had seen no other roads. All we could do was go back and hope we could find a way. It was that or abandon the idea altogether… and we had driven too far for that. We turned around, and this time, when we reached the rider, I wound down the window to ask for help. She could not have lived far away… there were few homes for miles. And sure enough, with the long-suffering smile of one who had answered the same query many times before, she told us exactly what we needed to hear.
Back down to the farm and the impossible-looking track, park behind the white stones that line the road…to allow tractors to get around the corner… then climb the track. We couldn’t miss it…or so she said. We could only hope that she was right…