Saturday, 7 July 2018

Me and the Ghosts of Mardale Green

The old field walls of Bowderthwaite
on the shores of Haweswater 

I love a good walk. I was down in the Lakes recently, and rather than go to the gym I got up early, packed my breakfast and headed off for a scenic walk. Just as I did for the walk I described in my last blog I picked Mardale, which happens to be where my current protagonist, Jude Satterthwaite goes to clear his head. 

This time, I chose to walk round the lake rather than head up the dale. It was hot, and the route is much flatter and there is, crucially, no bog, though there are other hazards. Haweswater as we see it isn’t entirely natural, but a larger lake resulting from the expansion of the original body of water following the building of a dam in the 1930s. 

The new reservoir flooded the village of Mardale Green, leaving us one of those drowned villages that are common across the UK and that occasionally reappear in times of drought.

The long-submerged walls and old bridge
emerge from the lake
As you may be aware, it’s been incredibly dry in the UK recently, and Cumbria’s lake levels have dropped dramatically. On an earlier visit, a lady I met on my walk informed me that we would soon be able to see the church tower, which we never will because the church, like every other building in the dale below the waterline, was demolished, though the village bridge does appear along with the footprint of its buildings. 

Even the ducks sink into the soft mud.
Maybe one day these will be fossil footprints.
The village hasn’t emerged yet, though its presence is slowly crystallising as the water level drops. For my walk I left the main footpaths and walked around to Riggindale, out of sight of the car park and much of the road. Once there I followed the shore back round until I ran into rocks and had to scramble up the bank and into the woods. 

If you look at old maps (you’ll find one here) then you can see where the old houses are. I spotted the ruins of Fieldhead and the skeleton of its bridge. On the other side of the lake, the remains of the farms of Goosemire and Grove Bridge were printed on the landscape. Ducks had left their footprints on the rapidly-drying mud, making fossils for the future. Most hauntingly, I could see the trees. Cut down before flooding, their stumps roots are still there, the soil washed away from under them so that they stood free on the rocky shore like stranded aliens. 

The line between the lucky and the unlucky -
trees above and below the new shore.
It was an amazing walk, made all the better for being so early in the morning that I met nobody. I doubt I’ll ever weave it into a story, because someone somewhere will have done that before, far more elegantly than I ever could. But it’ll be a long time before I forget that sunny early morning on the parched shores of Haweswater. 

Just me, a couple of sheep, several dozen ducks and the ghosts of Mardale Green.

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