My dear friend Richa Bansal reacts to my reminiscence of the Fallen Leaves in Berlin with her own memories of an unforgettably beautiful summer sojourn in 2010.
It takes a minute and I am transported back to the moment and the turn, where I wished time stood still, and I did not have to return. I stopped, stood, felt, heard, and cherished the stillness. And still do.
Called the Coffin route, in ironic contrast to its aching beauty, the downhill walk between two of William Wordsworth’s houses—Dove Cottage (in Grasmere) and Rydal Mount (in Ambleside)—remains my favourite travel memory and instant call to solitude. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I was an English literature undergrad, where I both studied and savoured the Romantic poets.
The Coffin route was suggested by the coach driver of the guided tour (on Day 2) in the Lake District in England where I had escaped on my 31st birthday to beat the woes of completing the first year of the dreaded thirties (feels strange when I look back now, give me the thirties any day! J).
On my birthday (Day 1), on a windy, rainy, and sunny day in July, I walked for nine hours in the rolling hills, with a walking group led by the quiet, old but energetic (who puffed on cigar to recharge himself as we kept walking) guide Mark, his dog Sky, and a lovely bunch of people I met for the first time.
Stopping by Angle Tarn for lunch, climbing to the top of Place Fell, we headed back to Windermere (where I was also staying) by late evening, exhausted but satisfied. It was my birthday—Mark offered to buy me a cider, and I bought him dinner. And that’s how I turned 31.
On the second day, while taking the touristy guided tour, and completing the circuit in a rushed manner, as I complained to the coach driver that I wanted to spend more time outside the coach than inside, and wanted to explore something offbeat, he suggested the Coffin route.
This idyllic walk connects Dove Cottage (home to William Wordsworth from 1799 to 1808) in the village of Grasmere down to Rydal Mount in Ambleside (home to William Wordsworth from 1813 to his death in 1850). In olden times, it was the route up which the dead from Rydal were taken to the St. Oswald’s Church in Grasmere, where Wordsworth is also buried.
I decided that on my third and last day, I would do it alone—start by exploring the village of Grasmere in the morning, walk down Coffin route to Rydal Mount in Ambleside post lunch, catch the bus back to Windermere, and be in time to collect my luggage and board the train back to Cambridge. I even had the bus numbers, timings, and rough location of the bus stop jotted down. It was all figured out, and I was pleased with my plan. Little did I know…
Rightly enough I started the day by heading to Grasmere (catching the bus from Windermere, which arrived as per schedule), walked around the charming village, which Wordsworth called home, visited the church and the tomb of the poet, stopped by the famous Grasmere Gingerbread Shop (where the Grasmere gingerbread was invented in 1854), and had delicious creamy risotto for lunch, before walking over to Dove Cottage. A quick tour of the Cottage had to suffice, there was no time for the detailed guided tour (made a mental note for the next time), as I left to take the Coffin route back. The part I had been most looking forward to.
When I walked out of Dove Cottage, it had started pouring (but then it was July in the Lakes), but I was not deterred. Dressed in waterproofs, armed with an umbrella, I began what I was told would be a maximum two-hour walk. As I walked down the road with trees lining both sides and meeting at the top, making a green burrow, with the sunlight filtering in gently, and a mystical feeling in the quietness that surrounded me (not a soul in sight), I could see why the place gave birth to some of the best Romantic poetry.
For the uninitiated but interested, unlike the popular consumption of the word, Romantics were moved by the sense of wonder, most often found in the sublime beauty of nature, and specifically in the case of Wordsworth, starting the creed of Pantheism (where nature becomes divine). Romanticism grew in part as a reaction to Enlightenment or the age of reason and rationalization.
Walking down the Coffin route, I passed the Moss Tarn, where a placard read Wordsworth use to ice skate in winters, a bubbling stream, small waterfalls, and yes, daffodils. And it was somewhere between all of these that the turn came—where surrounded by the hills, the dripping luminescent greenery, and the sound of raindrops, I experienced stillness, a few moments of absolute joy, a space I still visit in my mind.
I also came across a lovely Irish couple who took the only photographs of me down this road before walking on. Suddenly I realized it was almost two hours and I was nowhere near a bus-stop in Ambleside next to Rydal Mount as planned. I saw a stretch of road a short distance away, and trudged there, only to discover I had taken a wrong turn (it had felt too sharp downhill at a point) and was way ahead of Ambleside. I started walking towards Ambleside, only to reach the bus-stop much later, to discover that there was no bus for more than 30 minutes. There was no way I could make the train back to Cambridge, and I was panicking.
And as I looked around hapless, I ran into the same Irish couple whom I met on the Coffin route, and upon hearing of my predicament, the man went to the hotel, brought his car, and the couple drove me down to Windermere, helped me pick my luggage and dropped me to the train station just in time. All the way scolding me lovingly for being too adventurous on my own! I was in such a rush I forgot to even ask their full names, simply mumbling a hurried thank you and rushing to my train.
When I got back, I searched all hotels in Ambleside, and called up a few (where I thought an elderly Irish couple were likely to stay) till I found out where they were staying. I found their address in Ireland, and sent them a post card expressing my gratitude with the photographs they had taken.
My enduring memory of the trip to the Lakes will not only be defined by the jaw dropping beauty of the Coffin route (in particular, although the Lakes as a whole are stunning) but also by the touching kindness of that wonderful Irish couple. And I ascribe it again to the milieu, for beauty without brings out the beauty within, just as much as it does the other way round.