After an unpleasant squelch through the muddy forest of Grassguards (no wonder I dislike forests), a pleasant descent led to Wallowbarrow gorge and the unpolluted (rare these days) River Duddon, which Wordsworth describes as the ‘magnificent Duddon’ making a ‘radiant progress towards the deep’; it is one of twenty-one delightful rivers on the walk. I only found this out when I was compiling the index to the book, being totally astounded that there could be so many rivers en route. One of the tributaries of the Duddon, Mosedale Beck, as well as the nearby River Esk, have lovely clear pools that, on a hot day, tempt you in for a dip.
Arrival at the tiny village of Seathwaite gave us a choice of lunch-time venues, either the Newfield Inn or a log opposite the Church of Holy Trinity. We chose the latter, not because we were feeling religious, but because alcohol would not help us to climb to the top of the Walna Scar Road at over 1,900 feet. In the church is a memorial plaque to Reverend Walker, 1709-1802, (nothing to do with Walker’s crisps) who was the parson of the old church for sixty-seven years and to whom Wordsworth refers to in a sonnet as one ‘whose good works form an endless retinue.’ Because of his good works, he became known as ‘Wonderful Walker.’
A long hard climb follows to the top of the Walna Scar Road, but the reward is fine retrospective views of the Scafell range. It was with some relief that we arrived on the crest of the pass but, having got his breath back, Alan decided to do a detour to bag a few summits, including brown Pike, Buck Pike, Dow Crag and the Old Man of Coniston. In order finish the walk, my priority was to look after my knee; therefore I declined the invitation to join him. In addition, I wanted to descend to Boo Tarn, hoping to get a glimpse of a flying saucer that had last been seen in the area in 1952 by a boy who had photographed it. Needless to say it didn’t appear for me as I scurried on down to Coniston, arriving at 3.30pm. I sat on a bench in front of the church, wrote some postcards, then had an ice-cream, this being one of my favourite activities on a long-distance walk.
After looking around Coniston, including the Ruskin Museum, I walked slowly in the direction of the hostel and ‘bumped’ into a young lady.
‘Are you heading to the hostel?’ I enquired, her red anorak giving the game away.
‘Yes, it’s just round the corner,’ she said in a friendly Australian accent.
‘Your not from these parts?’ I was curious to know what an Australian was doing in Coniston.
‘Oh no, I was Secretary in Australia, but have given up my job to travel around Great Britain and Europe.’
‘That’s very adventurous,’ I said.
My mind wandered; I partly came on walking holidays to escapes soaps, one of which Neighbours featured numerous Australian secretaries. They were now ‘invading’ the country in the flesh and blood, not just on television. I thought it was quite ironic that my children sat glued to Neighbours night after night, whereas I was talking to a real Australian in the middle of the Lake District.
‘Where have you been so far?’
‘I’ve just been to Hawes and Dentdale.’
‘Oh, they are on the route of the coast to coast walk we are doing at the moment.’
I was very impressed that an Australian had sought out such delightful places. Her name was Gina and she was getting about in an old banger she had bought for fifty pounds. She was about to visit many of my favourite country haunts, Eskdale, the northern Lake District, Ireland, and Scotland. Travelling alone, she said she got the bug from her mother who had also travelled extensively. She had never been to an English pub and so I invited her along.
Alan arrived at the hostel at 5.30pm exhausted, then was somewhat surprised when I asked if he had any objections if Gina joined us for a drink. At that point she appeared, so that any doubts Alan may have had immediately disappeared. Gina introduced me to Australian beers, whereas I introduced her to Guinness, and I know which I prefer.