Slow Journey County: Cumbria
Slow Journey Destination: Loweswater
Slow Journey Distance Travelled: 3 ¾ miles
A chance encounter with the ‘Sage of the Lake’ brings Simon Whaley enlightenment on the road around Loweswater …
“Solvitur Ambulando,” he shouted, as he dashed past me on the path to Watergate Farm, at Loweswater.
“Morning,” I replied, wondering what the heck the at-least-80-year-old hiker was going on about as he made his way back towards Maggie’s Bridge. Had he heard me muttering as I ambled towards the trees at Holme Wood? Probably. I know I have a habit of talking to myself when I’m out walking, but talking to yourself can be some of the best conversations a person can have. Sometimes I just get carried away and forget to whisper. And if a route suddenly gets busy, I have been known to hold a mobile phone to my ear, because people seem to find this more acceptable. That was until someone pointed out there was no mobile phone signal in the area I was walking.
I know I was having one of my more in-depth discussions with myself, because I was trying to resolve a problem. I’d been working for a particular client for some time and was getting frustrated at the amount of effort I was putting in for the meagre reward. Being self-employed, it’s easy to say yes to any work that comes your way, because any work is better than no work, especially in this current economic climate. But that work/life balance equation rears it’s ugly head every so often, especially that phrase of ‘working to live, not living to work’.
Today was one of those days in the Lakes when you had to get outside. I frequently escape to the Lake District, but being self-employed, I often find myself doing some work whilst supposedly ‘on holiday’ – with so many self-catering properties and hotels having free Wi-Fi, these days, it’s difficult to break free. And despite my earlier comment, I did once check my emails half way up the Old Man of Coniston. But today was one of those classic clear blue-sky days, with not enough moisture to make a wisp of cloud, and no wind to turn a leaf, let alone a wind turbine.
Normally, for me, it would have been a day to go high. I’m not one to set out to climb a mountain if it’s guaranteed to be in cloud. If I’ve put effort in to ascend a summit I want to be rewarded with a view, or at least a sneaky peak of a view, and so days like this always have ‘Go high!’ stamped firmly across them. But as I contemplated where to go, my dilemma influenced my decision. If I went high, I’d be doing it because that what I always did. It’s like saying ‘yes’ when someone offers me work. It’s what I felt I ought to be doing. So, going against the grain, I decided to stay low. I wouldn’t climb: I would circumnavigate instead. Which is why I found myself approaching the shores of Loweswater.
Stepping into Holme Wood, just where the National Trust moor their rowing boats, my mood changed. The only breeze was an air of tranquillity. It was the slightest of ripples that took the sharpness off the reflections in the water. A chiff-chaff sang it’s tuneful two-note song and a red squirrel teased me with a sighting before scampering behind the tree trunk.
As I followed the path around the edge of Loweswater, the trees hid the view. Only the dappled sunlight reached the woodland floor, and whereas normally, on a day like this, I’d be scanning huge vistas across half of northern England, and possibly a bit of Scotland, all I could see now were rays of sunshine spotlighting the individual veins on the beech leaves.
At Holme Wood Bothy, I sat down and watched a fish wallowing in the warmth of the shallows. Ahead of me, I was seeing double; two Whitesides, two Grasmoors and two Mellbreaks. I sat there for twenty minutes drinking in the view, marvelling at the sight I was seeing, purely because I’d taken the unusual decision of staying low. “Life is more interesting when you do something different,” I said out loud. Only the red squirrels heard me this time, and they didn’t answer me back. So I did. “Perhaps that’s the answer you’re looking for.”
My circumnavigation of contemplation continued around Loweswater, and after Hudson Place, I cut across the soggy fields and two footbridges to find the shore-side road, with its small layby. There, sitting in a chair with a newspaper and pipe, sat the gentleman who’d passed me earlier.
“Did you enjoy your walk?” I enquired.
“Of course,” he replied. “ How can you not enjoy yourself when you’re doing something you want to do?”
I gazed across the water towards Carling Knott. “And do you enjoy everything that you do?”
“If I have a choice in what I’m doing, then yes. The skill is understanding you have a choice most of the time. In the grand scheme of things, there is little in life that we have to do by law.”
I thought about my dilemma, as I watched a buzzard soaring on a thermal overhead. Perhaps this chap had something.
“You’re nearly there,” he said, turning a page of his paper.
“Yes,” I replied. “I parked at Maggie’s Bridge car park. I’m just wandering back there now.”
“It wasn’t your car, I was talking about.”
“Your decision,” he clarified. “You’re nearly there. Solvitur Ambulando.” He tapped the side of his nose.
“What does that mean, Solvitur Ambulando?” I enquired.
“I’m sure you can find out.” He brought the paper up close to his face, and I realised our conversation was over.
Wandering back along the road, I soon realised I was smiling. Grinning almost. The old gentleman was right. I had made my decision. I was going to tell my client to look for another supplier. I didn’t have to work for him. There was no law that said I had to. I had a choice. Like today’s decision about walking low and admiring the fells from the valley, instead of climbing to the summit. I’d done something different to what I felt I ought to be doing. And it felt great.
Back at the cottage I switched on my computer. I didn’t check my emails. Instead I Googled the phrase Solvitur Ambulando and then nodded in agreement. That chap was right. Perhaps if I’d been taught Latin at school I’d have understood its meaning: you can solve it by walking.
Suddenly, it became clear. That’s why I talk to myself when out walking. I’m trying to solve my current dilemma. And the best solutions can always be found when out in the fells.
(c) Simon Whaley