Monday, 19 October 2015

Winter walking

The Lake District in winter is a very different beast from the Lakes in the summer. It's not just a question of the weather, although in the winter the Lakes are, naturally, colder and, honesty compels me to admit, frequently wetter. One of the most significant differences between the two seasons, however, is in the nature of the transitory population.

In the winter, for example, the towns of the Lake District are more sparsely populated, but the people who are there are, by and large, walkers, climbers and cyclists. This contrasts with the peak tourist season over the summer, when the towns can feel overrun with what Bertie Wooster might describe as, "trippers"; people who are there for the views, certainly, but possibly more so for the caf├ęs and gift shops that also proliferate.

For the walkers, however, that hardy band for whom winter brings with it the promise of snow-covered fell tops on which to wander, the season can make the Lakes feel like your own private playground. After the sometimes overly well-trodden paths of the warmer parts of the year, with the shortening of days comes the knowledge that we are likely to meet fewer people, when out on the hills. As misanthropic as that might sound, it can also be immensely liberating.

These are the people for whom the prospect of a day spent wading through snow and ice is worth the occasionally considerable effort of getting there, however short the day might actually be. We relish the fresh air, the sometimes breathtakingly crisp light, and the opportunity to see familiar vistas redecorated with a canopy of white.

There is something endlessly rewarding about feeling the crunch of snow beneath boots, the catch of cold air in the throat, and the knowledge that at the end of the day there is likely to be a roaring file, hearty food and good beer. This is the season when the smell of fresh air on one’s clothes, as you stumble into a warm pub after a full day on the hills, is as pungent and rich as perfume.

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