We are staying at Merlewood, not far from Grange-over-Sands and just south of Windermere and overlooking Morecambe Bay. It isn’t wilderness but it is countryside. Grange-over-Sands itself is along a mudflat, a once thriving cockle picking coast. There’s a great promenade that has runners, dog walkers, and Sunday morning walkers along. When we were there it was low tide and the beach stretched on but there was no one on it, no swimmers or tourists, the risk of swift and dangerous tides was far too clear to everyone. The sea glistened in the sun, a few birds swooped, sea gulls mostly but perhaps oyster catchers too in the distant reeds.
The local park boasted ducks, mandarin ducks, mallards, shell duck, barred geese, and a flock of blackbirds. The pond was filled by a stream, Picklefoot Spring. There were surprising vegetation, pampas grass, monkey puzzle trees, yuccas, and some palms. I suppose it comes with the Gulf Stream creating a micro Mediterranean climate here. It was unseasonally mild.
We were as far from signals of the earth’s distress. Elsewhere, in Nigeria for instance, flooding had displaced millions and arable land was submerged not to mention the numbers dead. In Pakistan too a similar flood and not too long ago another in Bangladesh. In the Horn of Africa, Somalia was in the throes of drought and famine. These gross not so subtle signals of distress were either being ignored or unremarked upon as signifiers of malady. Bush fires in Spain, California, and Australia were different repertoires, alternative manifestations of the selfsame malady.
We walked up Hampsfell, on a bright sunny day and could see across Morecambe Bay and to the north the Lakeland fells. It was the season for fungi and there they were in their myriad forms and colours. Sometimes we walked through swarms of wasps. There were brown sunburnt bracken and the occasional gorse with yellow blossoms. Sheep were everywhere as were cattle with young bullocks locking horns and cows snorting if we came anywhere near their young.
We had to step gingerly to avoid cow pats and not so carefully round sheep droppings. I’m still recovering from the 8-mile round trip. We had set of soon after 10 and returned close to 5 pm. Lunch was out in the open on benches, remarkable for mid October in Cartmel, a small settlement with a priory that survived the dissolution and still serves as a parish church. It has outstanding stained glass windows and the tomb of the Duke of Devonshire.
Then that climb up Lower Allithwaite, once again overlooking Morecambe bay, the blue of the sky reflected in the sea below us. Strafes of clouds hanging there, suspended like ethereal islands. The trees windswept and bending to one side, hair tousled and sprayed in place.
This is so far from the distress signals from wilderness that you could be forgiven your disbelief that we are all headed for extinction, and soon too even with prompt action. That’s the conundrum, how to fathom the grievous risk in the absence of imminent danger.
We took a boat from Ulveston Lakeside, through Low Scott Park, Newby Bridge, Cartmell Fell to Ferry Nab Windermere. A display of autumnal colours, yellows and rust, the occasional sporadic flamboyant red and resolute deep green of the background. The lake itself, a muddy ripple of scales and gray and the sky, obscured by low mist, wisps rising as if pockets of fires lay in the bushes and woods below. It was a truly dull day of rain and damp, glome is the word that comes to mind.
At Arnside, the estuary was at low tide. The beach if you can call it that was squelchy. I suppose if you weren’t careful, you would quickly find out what the term quick sand means. My shoes sunk into the sand and it was a struggle to pick my feet off the earth, to seek more secure ground. For all the danger, the curve of the beach, the smooth iridescence of the sand in the sun was beautiful still.
To return to my subject, a trip to the Oxford Natural History Museum, with its displays of Edmontosaurus, of Iguanodon bernissatensis, and Tyrannosaurus Rex in the main hall, if there was need for it, confirmed that mass extinction is a very present possibility. For all their might and success, the dinosaurs died out as we may yet find that so do we.
Photos by Jan Oyebode