Thursday, 28 June 2012

Armathwaite and the river Eden- a little nostalgia

You know, they say there is something primeval about staring into the very heart of a fires flames. That something deep within the recesses of our mind stirs, just slightly. The smoke, the heat, the smell of burning wood. The hypnotic quality of its dancing flames. Fire, I find, can be more than just fire...

There are things in life that shape us. They are more than they initially appear. Of all the memories I have from the three years of my course a group trip to Edenbrows remains as vivid as if it were yesterday. In fact it has been over two years since that night in the first year of university when our group spent an evening by the camp fire. I decided that before my time in Cumbria comes to a close I would walk in my own footsteps one last time and re-live the time we spent as a group. It felt a fitting end to the three years.

The river Eden itself is one of the cleanest and healthiest rivers in Cumbria. Its path has gorged itself out of the soft sandstone to form the high sandstone cliffs and sandy shores it currently has today. The remains of semi-ancient woodland aside its banks make the river a good spot to look for spotted flycatcher. High Stand and Coombs Wood are also worth noting as other woods in the Armathwaite area.

So to begin. The trip was organised by our lecturer. The plan was to navigate the footpath that followed the river and eventually rendezvous with him at Edenbrows. "Feel what its like to carry the weight of a rucksack on your back." as I seem to remember him saying. We were dropped off by minibus beside a track, everyone tumbled out, slung on their rucksacks and he drove off.
Back on that same track myself two years on and everything was flooding back. As soon as I recognised where I was to the memories fell into place. "Oh yeah, this is where we started.". Even now, strangely, I could see the minibus parked there as if it actually was. Even though the track was empty the memory was powerful. I felt our group with me once more, equally vivid, and in that moment I walked with them and they beside me as I set off in these footsteps.
A little further down the track and I came across a large group of greylag geese 30+ strong. Experience has taught me scanning flocks is a good practice to adopt and at the very least doesn't hurt (unless its widgeon, but I guess thats another story). A Pink footed goose? In June?? Really??? I must have checked 15 if I didn't check 20 times. Well, that's crazy but true.
On I went and eventually I was following the river. In places the paths had eroded to a single file track, the ground as warm in colour as the sandstone itself. The rivers banks were lush and the rocks worn smooth. All the while I seemed to remember every path in surprising detail. I came across a wooden boat still chained to the bank as it was all that time ago. There was a certain picturesque quality to a little boat, the sandy bank and the cool water that I remember appealed even back then leading to a quick stop amongst some of the group for a few photos.
For a short walk it didn't half turn up its own fare share of moments. I remember how we took a slight detour at one point down the wrong way only to find a dead end. It was a little like watching a group of confused sheep as it was only a narrow single file track and one person simply followed the next. There was then the usual moments pause as the confusion spread as to "why exactly the line has come to an abrupt halt and doesn't seem to actually be getting anywhere?". The person at the front then had to signal to the one at the back and the message went down the line one by one. "Oi! Dead end! Turn around!".
On finding more boats a second time I remember us joking to ourselves amongst the group that we were tired of walking, no one would mind if we borrowed a boat for a little while and rowed to camp. Even just to see the look on our lectures face as we casually rowed past him exchanging pleasantries at leisure would have been classic we thought.
I also remember that one incline that, after a rather gentle ramble, soon put all our leg muscles to the test due to the gradient when the group had to transverse it to the top with our backpacks. Feel the burn as they say. It was slightly comical at the time to see us tackle the task at hand. At the top some of us got a fleeting glance of a roe deer disappearing down the slopes of the woodland to the river now bellow us. Another highlight for me.
Passing what people had dumped beside the river, and making good progress as we were nearly near camp, we came across a entire door so I seem to remember. As adventurous students we decided, as you do, that it would be absolutely brilliant to burn on the campfire if only we could get it to camp. There was visions of six of us all hauling this entire door into camp as if to say "Look at that for team work!...Right, lets burn it!!"

For me on my own walk I had by now begun to reach the same destination as was camp for us that day. Edenbrows came into sight and the track into the wood led me from the river to the heart of camp. From the farmland over the railway tracks the distinctive song of yellow hammers could be heard. By now it was late afternoon and standing by the fire pit of camp I simply sat and soaked up the atmosphere of the place. The green yert had gone. There was a serenity I can not describe to the river and to this place. I felt the warmth from my heart radiate. Here's to good company and a beautiful world.
I still had one last stop to make before I put a line under my time here.I refound the camp I once came to with Rob, Alex and Rachel. I must agree it is a much nicer spot. The heart of Edenbrows is a coniferous plantation making it dark, bare and rather void of life but here the canopy is light and airy. Beneath a large beech tree I lit a small fire and listened to the river in the cool of evening. The river itself was no more than a stones throw from camp.
And in the spirit of the occasion I had brought along marsh mallows for toasting as we had done as a group. In fact our lecturer had led us along so many times with visions of cold beers, a roaring fire and toasting marsh mallows we had all got caught up in the idea. That night when it came to sitting around the camp fire we soon realised we might be in danger of marsh mallow overload as everyone had brought a packet. Cain had even brought an entire tin. We all smiled at how funny the situation was. And now enjoying marsh mallows again myself and watching the flames I feel time slip. Its a fascinating experience to reflect upon how I have grown and been shaped by my time in Cumbria.  This journey for me was very much a spiritual one. I am surprised by how much I can remember. Deep within us all there is something more, I'm sure of it. But its up to us to find it.

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