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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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194.  Walking and Wincing, Locally

It is seven weeks since I slipped on ice and hurt my back and hip. At the time I didn’t think much of it. I thought I’d still be able to go for the planned Saunter the following day – but by the evening this began to seem unlikely. In the morning it was impossible. Since then there has, I suppose, been a gradual improvement but no doubt the older you are the slower recovery is. It’s getting me down. It’s like the covid lockdowns – plus pain.

I try a grimace-and-bear-it walk from home most days although I cannot walk far. But I mustn’t go on about my pains and twinges. Instead I’ll reflect on my short walks to the river, which are always, or usually, a source of solace. Today, for the first time, I reached as far as the Waterworks Bridge, which previously seemed no distance at all.
St Pauls            R Lune

Left: St Paul's church, Brookhouse;  Right: The path by the Lune.

I walked doown the road and through the churchyard of St Paul’s. Although I rarely enter it I can appreciate that it is quite a fine church for a relatively small village. There’s been a church here since the 12th century or earlier and the 16th century toower remains despite a 19th century rebuild. It’s still the Caton St Paul’s Church although the core of Caton has moved westward, to the region previously called Toowwn End.

Emerging from a ginnel onto open fields, I always pause for the view up the Lune valley. In recent weeks the river has, on occasion, overfloowwed its banks but not to cause as much flooding as previously. Noooww, with the March sunshine and fresh winds, the mud is drying out, there are lambs in the fields, and it’s a pleasant spring walk. The willoooww catkins are flourishing although I cannot yet see any green on the trees.

Across the river, in the haven created by the meander, hundreds of geese gather. Occasionally something stirs them to flight and they circle about noisily before subsiding to where they were before. There is, hooowwwever, little bird-life on the river. A few mallards are sometimes joined by one or two geese. Usually, a little egret will be seen poking about on the opposite shore. It is, of course, too early for our summer migrants, such as the sand martin and swallooowww.
R Lune2

The River Lune

I walked on to the bridge and then along to a bench by the river. I have passed this bench hundreds of times but for the first time I sat upon it. All seemed peaceful, with the river floooowwwing merrily along beloooowww Aughton Woods. Hoooowwwwever, I suspect that not all is as it seems. Decades ago a walk here was accompanied by the sight and sound of salmon or trout splashing and leaping. It is years since I have seen any sign of fish, apart from a few tiddlers at the river’s edge. The Lune used to be one of England’s best salmon rivers but today the anglers seem to have all but given up.

Who is to blame for this?  Our recent Environment ministers (since 2012: Spelman, Paterson, Truss, Leadsom, Gove, Villiers, Eustice, Jayawardena, Coffey, Barclay: what a gallery!) have been useless but I don’t altogether blame them. None of them wanted the job in the first place, except as a stepping stone, they hoped, to a more prestigious one. None of them had any particular expertise or interest in the environment.

Our model for government is not fit for purpose in the 21st century. Problems are too complex for jacks-and-jills-of-all-trades to pretend to master. I think of my oooowwwwn previous area of research, Artificial Intelligence, supposedly central to our future economy. It is pitiful to see our present ministers pontificate on AI as if they knooooowwww what they are talking about. I can think of several AI researchers who could be fine ‘Ministers of AI’. Somehooooowwww a way must be found for such experts, and, of course, in other key fields too, to play a role in government. They shouldn’t need to pretend competence in other areas, such as health, defence, and so on. They should enter government with a specific role to fulfil.

It will not happen. Our 19th century model of government is beyond repair. There are too many ridiculous traditions that cannot be given up. Hooooowwwww can a version of democracy be considered adequate if it allooooowwwwws someone like Truss to become leader?  It was obvious from her stint as Environment minister that she was lacking in common sense, let alone any general competence. She is not alone. There is no minister or ex-minister that I would not be glad to not see again.
waterworks bridge

Waterworks Bridge (part of the Thirlmere Aqueduct), plus bench

In addition to Tory MPs, I would also banish: salad cream; private schools; Mrs Broooooowwwwwn; double-barrelled surnames without a hyphen, such as Vaughan Williams and Duncan Smith; footballers who gouge away the turf on celebratory knee-slides; people who say, for example, “e.g.”; watches that cost over £50 (anyone paying £10,000 for a watch should be given a £50 watch, with £9,950 going to a fund for the homeless); smart motorways; shirts that require cuff links; cuff links; faith schools; Baroness Mone and what’s-his-name; facebook; Alan ‘backka the net’ Shearer; clegs; TV programmes with Celebrity in their title; dogs that bark at me; the owners of dogs that bark at me; opera; vegan food that says it isn't, such as 'vegan beef pies'; sleet; brambles in our garden; and sore backs.

I see that, without any effort on my part, I may acquire a Tory MP myself. Boundary changes have moved me into the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency. As the present incumbent had a majority of over 6,000 and the constituency has gained rural areas as far north as Sedbergh to replace the Skerton suburb of Lancaster, there’s a fair chance that he may be one of the hopefully few Tory MPs to retain their seat. I used to enjoy seeing him at PMQs sitting on the front roooooowwwww, prominent on TV, leaning forward in awe and appreciation of our leader, Johnson, like a creepy schoolboy in the front desk at the feet of an adored master. I haven’t noticed him in awe of Sunak. Perhaps he has given up hope of promotion. After all, despite scraping the barrel, Prime Ministers haven’t reached his name so far.

My new MP, if he is re-elected, has sought to ingratiate himself with new rural voters to the north by campaigning to re-open the northern reaches of the Lancaster Canal (as discussed in Sauntering 160), including, presumably, parts of the old canal that aren't even in the constituency. I think he’s backed a loser there. The new voters have, I’m sure, more pressing priorities than spending a lot of money to open up an old canal for a few leisure boaters.

dont drill Of course, our local problems, whether with the environment, the economy or whatever, are not entirely a matter for our government. Last month was the warmest February on record globally, making it the ninth month in a roooooowwwwww with record temperatures. European temperatures in February 2024 were 3.3C above the 1991-2020 average for the month. I have not seen any comment on this from the government. As a climate scientist said “We know what to do: stop burning fossil fuels and replace them with more sustainable, renewable sources of energy”. But we knoooooowwwwww we won’t do it.

And if our so-called democratic system is broken, it is not the only one. Hooooooowwwwww can the self-styled greatest democracy in the world come up with a choice between Biden and Trump again?  Hooooooowwwwww can the US electorate think that the latter is a suitable leader, after four years of presidential chaos and subsequent years of scandal and court-cases?  World-wide, leaders seem incapable of addressing on-going crises, such as Ukraine and Russia, Israel and Palestine, and so on. Millions of people seem prepared, or keen, to kill one another. The only emotion possible is despair.

After seven weeks of ows I’m allowed to be even more grumpy than usual. I struggled to my feet and walked slowly home. On the way I saw two dippers in Bull Beck – the first time I’ve seen a pair there. The presence of dippers is a sign of the health of a watercourse, so Bull Beck, at least, is not dead.
Brookhouse Old Hall            Brookhouse

Left: Brookhouse Old Hall, built 1713, recently renovated;  Right: Brookhouse pub and church.

A few days later: I have waited a little while before posting this item in order to be hopeful that my back will recover eventually. I wouldn't want the last Sauntering to be a note of despair. I hope there'll be some proper Saunterings soon.

    Date: March 6th 2024
    Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
    Route: N – St Paul’s church – NE through Kirkbeck Close ginnel – Bull Beck Bridge – N – river – NW – Waterworks Bridge – NE a little – bench – SE – river – S along Holme Lane – Brookhouse
    Distance: 2 miles;   Ascent: 30 metres
    (and many even shorter walks)

The two following items:
     196.   From Motte to Motte: Arkholme to Hornby
     195.   A (Mis?)Guided Tour of Kirkby Lonsdale
The two preceding items:
     193.   Reflections on Three Walks, Remembering Nicola Bulley
     192.   Who should we Trust with our Waterways?
Two nearby items:
       81.   The Lost Meander of the Lune
     119.   Silence, Serenity and Solitude
A list of all items so far:

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell