Postcard Two from Coniston

Beech Tree House to Hawkshead

A couple of years ago at the top of Catbells, I expressed a thought out loud and George Renwick, who we all agree is the nicest man in the world, gave me a profound reply.

We’d got to the top and I was sitting on a rock gazing out across the peaks and said, “I didn’t think I’d be doing this when I was in my seventies” and George’s profound and accurate reply was, “It’s because you’re doing this that you are in your seventies!”

Whilst yesterday’s talking theme was a bit rude and whimsical today’s theme is the solar system and there are numerous contributions regarding the names of the planets and the speed that the Andromeda Galaxy is moving towards us. I’m telling you this to expunge the notion that we spend our walking days discussing sex 🙂 We also spend some time discussing our luck at achieving some of these wonderful walks at what the youngsters call “your age”.

We leave Beech Tree House and go to the Cumbria Way about half a mile out of town where the real trail begins. It’s very ‘up’ although there’s about a mile of gentle ascent before it begins to get serious. The gorse is looking beautiful and reminds me of Eastertide when I was a child.


My Mam would send us to gather gorse flowers and we’d come back with scratched arms and legs where the unforgiving plants would exact their revenge for our petty theft. My Mam would boil two pans of water, one with the yellow flowers to stain the eggs’ shells yellow and the other with eggs that had previously been exposed to the process and were now ready to be wrapped in onion skins to create a tie-dyed effect. It was a magical process that we witnessed and when complete she would put them in tin bate-boxes that were part-filled with scrunched newspaper. There’d be salt poured into a square of paper then twisted and added to the bate-box. Bread would then be cut and buttered. The butter would be spread thick so that teeth marks would be left when you bit into it. Finally, the slices would be put together, butter-side to butter-side, so that there would be no mess and these too would be added to the Easter box. Some years there would be no box and she would parcel the whole thing in the waxed paper in which sliced bread would be sold.


The trail is a little more forgiving than yesterday where the ascent was continuous and the gradient quite steep. We’re given a short break this morning where the ground is flat but the scenery remains beautiful as more of the valley is exposed and we make our way into the broad-leafed wood where a colourful surprise fills us with delight.

This is a bluebell wood. It has a delightful carpet of these beautiful flowers and as we walk, the angle that the vivid colour strikes our retinas varies making what could be seen as individual plants, merge like a hazy blue ocean – priceless.

There’s a flurry of activity as mobile phones are sourced and photographs made from every conceivable angle as we all try to capture the scene for social media and the enjoyment of friends who may not be able to do what we are doing now – we consider ourselves lucky, and we are…

Back to the trail. The terrain changes to a much steeper rake and remains so for a couple of miles. It’s mostly through broad-leafed deciduous woods that are in their first flush of leaves or blossom, or even both. The combined smell of the trees and the soft mulchy soil is intense and the light filtering through the leaf-laden branches is dappled and beautiful.

The trail winds through glades and varies in width from single track where only one human can pass at a time to quite wide forestry tracks. Some of the latter are quite rutted by forestry vehicles but not as bad as the ones we’re used to in the managed pine forests of North Yorkshire. The management of these woods is light-touch and conservational rather than the ‘Rest, plant and harvest’ husbandry back home.

We occasionally meet other walkers (this is the Cumbrian Way) and are always greeted with a cheery smile and a wave. Sometimes this is mixed with some advice regarding the trail especially if there has been flooding or where it has become muddy.

It’s a tough walk with a lot of ascent but safe. There are no cliff edges as yesterday and the height is gained in the woods where a branch or exposed root can be used for stability as we climb our way towards How Tarn.

We emerge from the trail in the woods and on to a narrow tarmac road. Tarmac is not the preferred material for walking but this is a welcome change to trip hazards and root-scaffolding that we’ve been climbing for the last hour and we make great progress – but it’s still ‘up’.

At the top, How Tarn comes into view and is partially obscured by mist and low clouds; however, even with these filters, it’s beautiful and we stop for a while to appreciate it.

The descent includes a little more climbing but all on good terrain we pass through a couple of lovely villages before cutting back through the fields on an undulating path that reminds me of Postman Pat and the exquisite countryside depicted by the cartoon artists that produced it. I’ve spent many hours watching Postman Pat with an arm around a poorly child in the middle of the night waiting for the Calpol to kick in. It inevitably did so they’re all happy memories and I could, at one time, recite the dialogue to Postman Pat’s Foggy Day where Mrs Goggins initiates the ringing of the church bells so they can find their way home. It’s amazing what you think of on a walk!

It’s the final leg of the walk and we’re making our way down steps when we recognise someone struggling and there’s an instantaneous rally. We walk a little more slowly to ensure safety and care whilst the log pile that we used last year as a stopping point is located. We find the natural seating area amongst the logs and fallen trunk where a rest and sandwiches will initiate a renewal for the last mile into Hawkshead. I love this group.

Hawkshead is a delightful little village that I would recommend. You can easily fill a morning or afternoon just wandering around. We spend an hour at a cafe in the sun then make our way to the bus stop for the return to Coniston utilising our wonderful “Old Farts Passes”.

Great day, great walk but most of all, great company.

Enjoy the snaps.

Love G x

George Layfield

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