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My blog nick-name is SIR HUGH. I'm not from the aristocracy - my middle name is Hugh which relates to the list of 282 hills in Scotland compiled by Sir Hugh Munro in 1891. I climbed my last one (Sgurr Mor) on 28th June 2009


Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Travels with Conrad

Steinbeck's Travels with Charley made a lasting impression on me many years ago - his opening paragraph is a fine piece describing the fever of wanderlust which those who wander will appreciate. Others who can't empathise have my commiserations.

The journey was made in 1960 and the book published in 1962. 

The result of that first paragraph set Steinbeck off on a journey around USA in an RV along with his dog Charley to rediscover his own country which he thought he had neglected for too long.

Well, in my own little way yesterday I had a similar itch to re-explore my own  environs.

Even at ten in the morning the steep road leading down to the path alongside the railway from Black Dyke was icy - black ice which I was fortunate enough to identify from a minor hint underfoot before I might have gone headlong - I continued with much care.

With JS in mind I was looking for any changes on this overdue excursion on local paths.  That was not as easy as one may think - I was walking directly into the low winter sun and could hardly see anything. I did manage to snap a passing train. I understand Northern Rail have put new coaches on our line but have not yet received the full delivery. I'm not sure if my photo is of old or new stock. I nearly collided with a runner, she was coming from the other direction straight out of the sun. 

Before crossing over the railway to head for Haweswater (not the Lake District one) Middlebarrow Quarry (disused) rears high above to the right and today it was glowing with that winter sun. Since my last visit its lower perimeter has been enclosed with an ugly barricading fence.

After crossing the railway I noted the reed beds of Silverdale Moss are now even more established following attention of conservation bodies - will we get bitterns nesting there?

Further up the road old farmhouse property has been undergoing redevelopment on the right, but now I saw the barns on the other side are well underway to residential conversion. I chatted with the owner. She told me the quarry fencing had been erected about six months ago "to keep out cyclists and motor bikes...  Health and Safety" she posited.

A steep path to the right provides a shortcut to the Silverdale Road and a stile crossing leading to footpaths to Hawesawater. On the road I met the aforementioned runner again. She must have covered some distance. She was following a route on her smart watch that was merely a single line and  with no other mapping and she was a visitor to the area with no local knowledge, consequently after going on a further hundred yards she returned as I was clambering over the stile on the other side of the road - she had diverged from her line - I couldn't live with that very easily, I am thankful for my OS 1:25 mapping on my iPhone.

Along with similar activity in all parts of the country I have visited in the last few years tree felling mania prevails around Haweswater. Reasons are often given such as opening up views or enhancing the habitat of some butterfly which is on the verge of extinction.

Not much had changed over the fields and track to Yealand Storrs and the footpath across to RSPB Leighton Moss - this is still fine country walking. I had seen many people about on this sunny New Year's Eve but there were even more as I trudged up the causeway past the RSPB Causeway Hide. I had been anticipating a visit to the café - I entered by the back door, then up the stairs to find every single table occupied and unbearable clamour. I just continued unhesitatingly down the far steps and back out through the front door.

There were a few more property conversions as I followed the lanes back to Silverdale. As always the path across The Lotts south of Silverdale was delight on cropped turf.

Another big change is only seen as a snatch view across the cricket field after The Cove. Holgates have extended their static caravan/touring/camping empire by acquiring the old Leeds Boys Club worn out holiday buildings on the headland and replaced them with thirty or so holiday chalets.  Holgates do everything to a high standard - they could well qualify for the best presented such facility in the country, but they charge appropriately - just an example: a caravan touring pitch or a tent pitch £39 per night (all year round). To take on one of their static holiday homes would need deep pockets I reckon.

I walked through the Holgates complex followed by the steep little climb up Heathwaites and back home by the tracks and footpaths around the foot of Arnside Knott.

On the map back at home I was surprised to measure a distance of 9.4 miles.  Because Leighton Moss café was full I had walked the whole distance without a stop.

Steinbeck finishes off with his anticlimax on returning home, but you will have to read the book for more if I have aroused your interest.

Just after leaving my local road to follow the railway on the left, and the next three. 

Not sure if these are the new carriages. Just after this I nearly collided with the lady runner coming the other way out of the sun

Arnside Tower where they would lock themselves in while raiders stole their cattle

Arnside Knott

Looking back down the railway path to Arnside - note my long shadow in the winter sun - it was only just after ten in the morning

Middlebarrow quarry

Silverdale Moss newly formed reed beds - even that paler colour is part of this extensive coverage  Incidentally it is not near Silverdale

Approaching Haweswater

And Hawester from the other side - note the area of thinned out trees

The Causeway Hide, RSPB Leighton Moss

Across The Lotts - Humphrey Head in the distance

The Cove, Silverdale

Clockwise from near the level crossing at the top. The green route is the Cumbria Coastal Way


  1. Happy New Year to you! I look forward to seeing what adventures you're going to get up to in 2020.

    In the meantime, this looks to have been a fine way (on a fine day) to have seen out 2019.

    For Christmas I received a new running watch that allows me to follow a 'breadcrumb' trail back to my start point, but it won't stop me always carrying my phone, with mapping, when running somewhere new. I'll not forget the day in Germany in 2018 when I ran past the same distinctive building five times before I finally conceded defeat and resorted to an electronic map to get me back to my start point (as described in this post:

  2. Just suppose the running lady (how that noun grates; makes me wonder how many gentlemen you meet during your travels), the growth of the reed beds, the new barrier fence, the property conversions, the new holiday homes, hadn't happened. You'd have been left with nothing to say. What does change - and would allow you to do this walk and write about it ad infinitum - is your relationship with the things that don't change. What distinguishes you from the inanimacy of the passing scene is the gift of introspection.

    And here's a point. When VR and I used to come up from London and you took us on West Riding pub crawls we were amused by a hard and fast rule practised by you and your mates: if it had proved possible to order a tentative half-pint without queueing, we all immediately moved on. Lack of queues meant that the pub - by definition - wasn't popular enough. As I've said before this seemed like an excellent prescription for varicose veins in later life but this has proved to be an eventuality you've failed, as yet, to explore.

    However, I now see that places can be too popular. With "every single table occupied and unbearable clamour" at the Causeway Hide, you passed by, denying yourself the loving teapot ritual (and the possibility of chat with a living human being). The change is in you, of course. And it's that kind of thing that makes you less dependent on the erection of barrier fences..

    Travels with Charley was very well reviewed at the time, and I suppose I can't argue with JS's subsequent Nobel Prize. But there was always a vein of sentimentality that ran through the later work (The Winter of Discontent, notably) and in compiling my recent hundred books I mentioned a preference for the earlier stuff like Cannery Row. However I'd forgotten the mock-humility JS frequently brings to the party; here he "apologises" for wanting to be a wanderer, knowing full well this is not an option available to most working stiffs. And how he exaggerates: "ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of the stomach high up under the rib cage." What, you wonder, would be his reaction towards a member of the opposite sex who was convinced he was a literary genius?

  3. I seem to remember that when Steinbeck arrived back in NY he was lost and had to ask for directions. You surpass him in that respect, or is that down to modern technology?
    It's a shame you can't substitute Chalie with Barny.

  4. Gayle - I'm glad to read that you place more faith in maps than disembodied lines on a gadget. Years ago with Pete I took a bearing, perhaps on a sheep or something from a Munro summit in the mist. We then walked for ten minutes after I had put the compass back in my pocket only to find ourselves back at the summit cairn.


    RR - I have problem with many personal pronouns most of which never seem to fit. You recently quibbled here about my use of "guy" because it was American and in your opinion uncharacteristic for me. What were my options here? female (sort of biased), girl (she was older than that}, woman (too formal), or even less suitable from my thesaurus: lass, lassie, maid, miss or wench - I give up.

    I understand what you say about using personal reflection but in this post I had a theme and intertwining with your suggestion would have made it twice as long and if those changes hadn't been there I would have resorted to some other theme, or maybe personal reflection. I thought using JS gave this post more interest than the kind of mechanical route description so often seen.

    Your crit. of JS is valid because it is how you have read him and it is you opinion. I agree the he uses a certain amount of hyperbole and sentimentality, but I find I can go along with that because it is cleverly not overdone and obviously a bit tongue in cheek with the hyperbole and more entertaining than a dry pragmatic description.. We all get different perceptions when we read a particular text.


    BC - Yes. I was pleased to find that I could still navigate my way back home without asking a policeman as JS did, or in the absence of "more cops on the beat" ringing 999. Although I knew my route back from Leighton Moss I did consult the gadget just to confirm the most advantageous of minor options. I do still miss Barney my old springer who departed about fifteen years ago.

  5. In three recent exchanges between us you have used the phrase "tongue in cheek". I take this to mean "not to be taken at face value". The problem for me is deciding which of JS's failings are real and which are those he - mysteriously - should be forgiven for. I'm not sure I can accept this conundrum-like approach to reading his stuff.

    I am very "anti-sentimental" and the dictionary supports me: "sentimental - having an excess of superficial sentiment". I don't think it can be cleverly underdone, especially when it crops up so often. Too much supposed "tongue in cheek" suggests he's unaware of the fault, that he's doing it for real.

    As to hyperbole, there are rather more options than "dry pragmatic description".

  6. I disliked most of Steinbeck except The Grapes . . . - I cannot now recall whether it was for the artificiality or sentimentalism or the language: but that extract says it (nearly) all for roaming, running true, as it is about himself and thus without invention, 'from life' - Robert MacFarlane does it for the mountains in a similar vein, but very different style, in fine, erudite English.
    On a different subject, as children, my mother always taught us to say 'woman' - never 'lady', unless the subject was either titled or disreputable in a certain ancient way. We often wondered what that meant: few in Appleby - that we knew of, anyway - maybe at Horse Fair time. So the pronoun was never in doubt. Nowadays, one says 'them' (etc) to avoid handbags at dawn, whether singular or plural. Surprisingly, rarely confusing or ambiguous, even in print.

  7. RR - My Chambers Dictionary for tongue-in-cheek gives: ironic, insincere, or humorous intention. If I use that expression I am referring to the third of those definitions, and it seems obvious to me in the piece we are discussing that is JS's intention. I think he is setting the scene for a not too serious adventure.


    gimmer - I gather that you, as a fellow wanderer appreciate JS's description here as I do. I have only read East of Eden and that was circa 1959 and I now have no recollection so I'm not in a position to judge on JS's works of fiction. All I can say is that I read Travels with Charley round about the same time and was enchanted by the project and the writing and BOTH have stuck with me - I even re-read it about ten years ago.

    Whatever is said about the feminine personal pronoun I am still struggling and to have used "woman" in my context would have "grated" with me just as much as "lady" grates with RR. One way round it would be to say for instance, "I almost collided with a runner unseen as she appeared out of the sun..." but that seems like a cop-out and rich as our language the various personal feminine/masculine pronouns don't seem to be adequate in many contexts.

  8. I try and help but you ignore most of what I say. How often are you tempted to say "I met a gentleman..."? Reflect on how ludicrous that sounds, and what unwanted speculation it arouses. Yet "lady" is routinely paired with "gentleman" and should be treated in the same way. To me it is outmoded and betokens a writer who is so uncertain of himself socially he grovellingly touches his forelock and bows his bared head in the hope this "creature of the opposite sex" will not be offended by his presumption.

    By the way pronoun is misused throughout your response; "woman" is a noun, not a pronoun. "She" and "her" are feminine pronouns.

    You are clearly uncertain and this uncertainty appears to have social rather than literary roots. A bit like those hopeless sales people who knock on the door and when a woman opens it asks: "Am I speaking to the lady of the house?" What's worse, you seem incapable of imagining how this obsequiousness sounds to someone with a better awareness of the British class structure than you have. Do you think this timidity - because that's what it appears to be - was born out of selling?

    I was going to recommend you read writers you admire and see how they resolve the matter. However that would need qualification. Fiction writers avoid such a problem by giving their characters names that are recognisably feminine and then slide easily and naturally into identification-by-pronoun (she, her, etc). Writers of the Shackleton mould avoid the problem by ignoring women in general.

    Why is woman formal? Is man formal? Is child formal?

    The answer is to put your problem to a woman who is intelligent enough to know the answer and witty and sympathetic enough to be able to overcome your embarrassment. I realise I am disqualified on a number of points here.

  9. RR - Replied by email. The post has been ammended.