High Street wet and dry; camping on a mountaintop

By Pendolino to Oxenholme, tilting through the heartland like an aircraft. In Lancashire the weather deteriorated, to pouring rain as the train called at Preston. At Oxenholme, to the Station Inn for a pint and then to camp in their garden. We were the only campers on a wet and windy Thursday evening. Next day, after a breakfast of champions prepared on a Trangia stove in a pub car park, to Sadgill at the head of Longsleddale.

We were away onto the hill before 0800. It was absolutely pouring. I’d not walked a hundred yards before regretting not fetching waterproof trousers. I stopped to put my gaiters on, which helped somewhat. Earlier in the week I had hurt my heel slightly mowing the lawn while wearing big boots with inadequate socks. I was now on the hill with both heels dressed in prophylactic, pre-emptive dressings, a kind of talisman, perhaps, to ward off blisters.

We plugged away up the valley to Gatescarth Pass. I read after our walk that when a railway through these lands was first proposed, back in the 1840s, one possibility considered was a route through Kendal and along Longsleddale, with a 2-mile tunnel under the Gatescarth Pass and into Mardale – the valley now filled with Haweswater. In the end of course, the route chosen for what is now the West Coast Main Line from London to Glasgow, took the much longer and steeper route over Shap and through the Lune valley. What might have been, eh?

Left up onto Harter Fell (778m) and squelch down to Nan Bield Pass, where there was a shelter, one side of which was exposed to the rough northerly wind. We hid behind it. There was a great view of Blea Water, and Haweswater directly “above” or behind it. Then, on up Mardale Ill Bell (760m) and onto the summit of High Street (828m) where it was possible – just, for they are in a north-south direction – to hide for a snack behind possibly the highest dry stone walls in the UK. They weren’t dry stone walls at that moment, I can assure you.

Then the long walk downhill to Patterdale, past the very picturesque and shapely Angle Tarn (I call this one the “other Angle Tarn” to distinguish it from the arguably better known Angle Tarn high up in the northern corrie of Esk Pike.) This gentler and larger Angle Tarn has a little island in the middle with trees on it! Onwards, down to the Patterdale valley floor as the rain eased somewhat. At one point we passed a frenzy of foxgloves, almost as if someone had gone out of their way to seed the hillside with that lovely flower.

At Patterdale we found welcome at neither the Ship Inn nor the Patterdale Inn. Desirous therefore, of leaving the hospitality of Patterdale behind us, we walked with some effort down the valley towards Glenridding. We found St Patrick’s Boat Landing, a little cafe up a flight of stairs, serving tea and cakes. Here we remained, wet and dripping but welcomed by mine host, for a couple of hours.

Refreshed, we set off again, walking up the eastern and more wild side of Patterdale, through delightful woods – a generation or two ago, one might have camped wild here in these remote woods both with impunity and with great pleasure. Perhaps not today – not really the done thing. We crossed to the right-hand side, walking alongside Brotherswater, through still more lovely woodland. At the campsite at Brotherswater, we found no room for us. To be fair, it was a Friday afternoon in late June, whatever the weather. Jaded, we took a short snack and set off yet again.

We slogged through improving weather, our waterproof gear coming off by degrees, until we reached Hayeswater. Here we made the most excellent camp, along with at least three other parties. Our supper was tortellini with pesto, washed down with some very strong beer, followed by chocolate and fruit. A 32 km hike in two halves.

Hayeswater

The next day, we had a breakfast of porridge and coffee, and then struck camp in light clag. We reversed yesterday’s route, more or less, back over High Street. No rain this time, but it was windy in places. In improving weather we descended into Longsleddale, for a total round of 45km in less than two days.

Thence by car to Bowness, thinking we might rent a canoe and relax with some boating on Windermere. But Bowness was full of tourists and there was nowhere to park. It made Ambleside on a busy Saturday afternoon look like a deserted hamlet. Dreadful place, possibly only the second time I’ve been there in my life; I shan’t willingly go back. We left, and took the chain ferry across the lake, and sat with a pint in Hawkshead.

Later, we met up with some friends, and in the golden evening, climbed up onto the summit of Holme Fell near Coniston, and camped right on the summit. Very fragrant and heathery. Sat on the summit we ate well – this time we had a spicy dal, and some Farinata – spicy chick pea pancakes. Though the evening grew cold, there was tremendous visibility and glorious views as the sun went down.

Coniston Water from Holme Fell – evening
Coniston Water from Holme Fell – morning
the central fells seen from Holme Fell, late evening

The long way to a small angry planet, by Becky Chambers

A readable example of what some have referred to as “social” science fiction, that is, science fiction that (at least ostensibly) deals with the human or personal story rather than engines, guns, planets and stars – though all of the latter four items figure in this book. Other examples of this sub-genre would be Maria Dona Russell’s The Sparrow (reviewed here) and Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, reviewed here. We can include in this category, some sci-fi classics like Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness.

I found this copy in a pile of second-hand books in a church in the Peak District, and it did make for entertaining and satisfying holiday reading. To me, that is enough. However, once into it, one swiftly became aware of the rather conventional Californian left-liberal politics and moral philosophy of the author. It’s all co-operation and warm fuzzy feelings, and that’s fine, as far as it goes – even if it all seems a little far-fetched to this hard-headed and cynical reviewer.

At one level, this is exactly what I have long called for – science fiction that is positive, warm and encouraging, eschewing the dreadful dystopian vision of many modern writers. At another level, it beggars my belief at least – there are no convincing baddies in this book, save possibly for a few prison guards. There’s never any sense that things could go badly wrong.

What’s the story? A young, well-born woman escaping from her past, takes a job as a clerk on a ship…a ship whose crew, all have their own secrets. The ship is then swept up into an escalating war, from which they narrowly escape. The plot, which is solid and believable, is pretty much used as an excuse for five or six essays or short stories on the secrets of the crew. We have a nod to Vernor Vinge’s “Fire on the deep” in that humankind are part of a pan-galactic community of sapient species, all connected by some form of galactic internet. We have a borrow from Ursula Le Guin in the use of her word “ansible” to mean a device enabling faster-than-light communication. The author must be familiar with the darker futures described in the works of such writers as Richard Morgan and Alistair Reynolds. She has worked hard to portray something better, and has brought us something – there’s no other word for it – more feminine.

Part of the back-story is that humankind has managed to completely ruin the earth, and yet somehow be technically able to escape to the stars and thus be rescued, as refugees escaping from a desolation, by compassionate star-faring aliens. There’s a strong theme of pacifism in here; the captain of the ship, an otherwise sensible and upright fellow, has pacifist leanings. The “Exodans” – the humans who have escaped from the dying earth, have learned lessons in that escape, ostensibly, about peace and war, about the importance of co-operation versus competition. These are, perhaps, important lessons. It is an interesting position to take, but it is a feminine position. It’s not a position I wholly share. I think aggression, chutzpah, arrogance, risk-taking, curiosity, and immense energy are some of the fundamental qualities that have brought humankind out of the dust. The meek will inherit the earth, as R. A Heinlein’s character Lazarus Long notes, “but only in plots about six foot by three foot”.

In the end, if the author is weak on engineering and logic, she is strong on relationship, on friendship, and on compassion. I’m happy for faster-than-light travel to be illogical or inadequately explained, in exchange for a series of sketches of broken people moving toward healing, towards a kind of very secular redemption. It works, as far as it goes. As a man I’m afraid my suspension of disbelief did fail in places. Humans are nasty as well as good, and the balance is a little too much in favour of the good here. No-one is that nice in reality. But well worthwhile and thought-provoking reading.