4 out of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Shuttling back and forth between London and the North, never staying in one place to feel rooted. He existed without belonging anywhere and because of this felt of the periphery of places. It was those feelings that drew him to the edges of the Lake District National Park.
It was the discovery of The Lake District Boundary Walk devised by Graham K. Dugdale in 1996 buried in the Ambleside library that gave him an idea. He decided that he would follow these routes alone on these mostly forgotten parts of the park and being on the fringe took him away from all the crowds. He didn’t have the luxury of doing it all in one stage as Dugdale recommends, rather he had to do it in stages as and when he could. It would be kind of an enormous beating the bounds exercise, a modern-day pilgrimage to the real Lakes behind the tourist façade.
He begins his circular route around at the wonderfully named Plumgarths or Toadpool as it is known on the maps. It is a strange pear-shaped roundabout that you will only realise if you have to do a U-turn. Exploring the verge on foot, he is shouted at by some bloke in a white van, by the time he has got back to his car he is soaked and watches two ambulances and three police cars go past. He soon finds out what they are there for when he was asked to run around because of an accident. It was an inauspicious start to his journey; a week later he was back.
His first walk takes him past the Helsfell Wolf, a skeleton that was found among the stones and who now resides in the Kendal Museum and a haunting memory of the predators that once walked our landscapes. He soon passes the Greenside Lime Kiln, that was saved from dereliction back in 2009 and a reminder of our industrial past. This mix of wild landscape and ancient rocks alongside brightly lit industrial estates and small villages make up the majority of things that he sees on his circumnavigation of the park. He walks slowly through the Swinside Stone Circle moving from stone to stone, trying to imagine what is was like in the Neolithic age when it was built. It was thought to be a place where a sleepwalker entered the human world at night.
On his walk from Newbiggin to Gosforth, there is a misty gloom as he passes a 9th Century Anglo-Saxon Cross place to mark the point where four ancient trackways met. Near here is one of Britain’s most haunted castles and it is a place where human has tried to fight back against the sea, not always with total success. Windscale as it was originally called is a political folly on a monumental scale. Politician rushed the construction so they could have a seat on the global pollical table, but it was known to regularly emit vast quantities of radioactive contamination, and that was before the accident. It was renamed Sellafield in 1981 in the hope that people would forget the past. It is still a glowing hot potato… The armed guards outside the Sellafield power station had a dim view of him taking photographs of the site; it was amicably resolved though.
His final route takes him from Shap back to Plumgarths. It feels like the arse end of nowhere, but there are still hints of the modern world around as he locks his bike up opposite a quarry. It was in this are that Andy Goldsworthy built and moved his arch from town centres to laybys and before it ended up at Shap Beck Quarry.
I have been to the Lakes a few times and always thought that they were a beautiful part of our country. The thought of actually wanting to walk all around the edges would have never occurred to me, but defining the limits of something is what I like to do. Banning’s book is full of the mundane, littered grass verges, abandoned cars, telegraph pole and pylons and the occasional herd of cows. But in amongst the detritus of modern life is a glimpse of the ancient and the eerie that can still be found if you know where and how to look at the landscape. I really liked this book, the drawings by Iain Sharpe and the photos enhance the hallucinatory feel to the journey. Highly recommended.