Back to Basics

The cottage peers anxiously over the terrace wall to where the road leaves the rushing Esk and winds up the hill to the rocky platform upon which the Romans built their marching fort and complained about the rain.  Then the focus is taken up again, up the repeating green slope and grey crag, past the tumbling water to the muscular ridges of Scafell Pike, where acrobatic Ravens surf the breaking storm and the Peregrine hangs motionless on the breeze.   

Bird How is a simple construction, such as a child would draw; a rough stone box with a gabled roof , two windows and a door painted green.  It stood there, timeless and impassive, when William strode the coffin route from Ambleside with Dorothy scuttling in his wake, to take out a lease in Grasmere.  Restless beasts still bumped and sighed in the shippon and provided underfloor heating when Ruskin worried about industrial pollution from his perspective on Coniston and Mallory practiced the crags of Great Gable.    

The National Trust rescued the house in 1963. The conversion retains the character and feel of the original dwelling.  You enter into a simple living space, a chair a settee, a table and a fireplace with plenty of wood.  The kitchen is behind a curtain and two bedrooms are at the back, one larger with twin beds painted sky blue, the other with a double bunk. 

This accommodation has no bathroom. You wash in the sink or take a bowl onto the terrace.  But after a  muddy descent from the summit across Great Moss and down through the treacherous gorge,  what bliss to wash naked in the rain and pour warm water from the jug onto the shivering spot between the shoulder blades and then run inside to dry off by the chattering fire.     

There’s a chemical toilet in the shippon.  It doesn’t smell but the bucket has to be emptied into the cesspit outside; it’s that rustic.  We might have stayed three nights in a hotel in Grasmere for the same price, but the luxury would have spoiled us with excess and depleted our initiative. Bird How just provides shelter and basic necessities, but accepting the challenge to make a home in the wilderness creates a frisson of adventure and self sufficiency that can never be achieved in a hotel or on a package holiday.  Only don’t forget your sleeping bag and a spare box of matches.    

This article was short listed for The Guardian’s Travel Writing Competition and pubished in today’s paper.