Manchester: A time to rest
After our sprint through Iceland we rested for two days in Manchester. The only sightseeing we did was a visit to the Jon Reynolds Library, a temple to books. Capitalism was conceived there, Marx and Engels penned The Communist Manifesto there, a laundry list of good and bad world changing ideas were spawned there. Inside there were books older than America, leather bound volumes, some the size of butcher blocks. The collection contains original editions of the works of Shakespeare, books with enigmatic latin names, esoteric religious texts, and thousands more. the entire collection was sealed behind glass in climate controlled bookshelves. My favorite part of the the whole visit was the reading room, except for the intermittent whisper, and the turning of pages, the room was silent. We spent a couple hours reading and writing there. Out of reverence for this peaceful chapel of the printed word I could take only one picture. The sound of my shutter echoed through the room, that small click I barely hear most places was deafening in this place. I enjoyed the peaceful quiet of this place more than any image I might make of the building, so my camera was put away.
Many times my camera is a tool to help immerse me in the present moment. Often I pay more attention to what I see, and notice more because of my camera. It keeps me out of my head and focused on the world around me. As strange as it sounds the images I bring back are the least valuable thing I get out of photography. I love that my images are a way to share my experiences with others, but personally it is a tool to engage the world on a deeper level than I normally would. Photography has taught me to be more perceptive, to look past the obvious and to find novel ways of seeing the world. There are times it is a distraction, there are places meant to be experienced and not captured. Any image I might bring back would pale in comparison to the experience of being there. This library is so much more than just a beautiful place, It requires all the senses to fully experience, not just the visual.
Cockermouth: A time to write
After recuperating we went on to stay in a camping pod on Linskeldfield Farm, in the hamlet of Cockermouth. The name of the town disappointingly comes from being near the mouth of Cocker River. The rolling green hills of pastures, snow dusted mountains, and old stone buildings all made for a lovely view. Despite being the same temperature as Iceland it felt colder due to the dampness, and the hail storms. The barely functioning wifi, and practically no cell signal frustrated our attempts to contact the outside world. So indoors much of the day was spent reading and writing. If I were a professional writer I would want to live here.
Some of the Romantic poets lived and wrote in the Lake District. They were some of the first people to see the lakes and mountains as a place of beauty and recreation. Up until then most people were afraid to venture out, and considered it dangerous. It is a great area to write, the scenery is picturesque, and the weather forces you to stay inside. Inspired with nothing to do but write. During our stay I did write quite a bit, but I am still not sure where it is all going. I am still set on putting together a book of some sort. Perhaps as the work develops I will share some of what I have.
As nice as the pod was, by the third day we were getting stir crazy. We took a thirteen mile hike to the Neolithic stone circle of Castlerigg. Part of the challenge was for the first time we carried everything we owned on our backs. Many items I once thought of as necessary quickly became optional when you have to carry it. Learning to get by with minimal possessions is counterintuitively quite liberating. I thought of some of Thoreau's writings in Walden. One part of the book someone offers him a door mat, and he declines to take it because it would be one more thing for him to take care of. That was his general view of possessions is that they became obligations. Thoreau saw free time and simplicity as luxuries, not unnecessary possessions. There is some wisdom in that.
The walk was beautiful, reminding me of Scotland's lochs. Despite feeling like we were constantly trespassing, the signs and maps reassured us that it was okay to take a shortcut through this field here, and that farm there. Everywhere I looked there was such a sense of history. the cottages looked ancient by U.S. standards, some of the churches we passed were 1,000 years old. Things like this just do not exist in the states, the Native Americans were too environmentally friendly to leave much in the way of ruins. In contrast these stone buildings, most everything built in the U.S. feels like it's made to withstand decades, whereas even the most simple English stone buildings give the feeling that they are ready to weather a few more centuries.
An hour before sunset we reached Castlerigg after hiking all day. Setting our packs down felt amazing. There were a couple of other people there, but they were quiet. Everyone treated the site with a spiritual reverence . The setting sun shining on the stone circle, the lush green grass, and the mountains in the background. We wandered the site for about ten minutes, appreciating the quiet serenity. Despite our short visit, I remember the ten minutes spend at the site more vividly than the entire ten hours we spent hiking to get there. I was looking forward to returning the next day to spend more time there. I wanted to experience the quiet serenity of the site again.
As we push on, we have about another mile to hike till we reach the campsite. The sun setting slowly, and the air getting colder I knew we were cutting it close. We had everything we needed to survive for a few days. Still, I didn't want to risk camping in a field and being woken up at 4am by a farmer telling me to pack up. About a mile from Castlerigg we saw the tops of caravans (campers in U.S. english) peek over the stone walls of the pasture. We had arrived with sore backs and legs, but still happy to be there. We set camp up, and cooked dinner while the sun set. A simple dinner of dehydrated mashed potatoes, stove top stuffing and gravy was made especially delicious by our ravenous hunger. Physical exertion makes any meal 10x more delicious. With dinner we were treated to a rare sight in the Lake District, the sky was just the right balance of clear sky and clouds. That evening produced one of those sunsets so vivid and colorful as to not look real. An Englishman commented to me that it was beyond belief that such a sunset was seen in the U.K.
The following morning we packed up to make way to London. We decided that we couldn't leave without seeing Castlerigg one more time. I was hoping to take more pictures, but the place had been transformed. There was a crowd of people, and any sense of spiritual reverence for the place evaporated. There were people playing fetch with their dogs, kids climbing onto the stones, and selfies galore. I was astonished at how much the experience differed from the previous night. All I could do was repeat our mantra "Expect Nothing.".
On our way to the train station I thought about how wrong I was about myself. I thought I was immune to the effect of the crowd, that I could block out those types of distractions. I failed miserably. The first visit I felt as if it were a sacred temple, and the second left me feeling I entered a playground. One experience is not better than the other just different. The original sense of awe and wonder was ruined by the crowd of people who obviously had a different feeling for the site than I did. I preferred awe and wonder, while the crowd preferred fun. What shocked me was that they could take away my ability to experience the site with awe and wonder.
I am excited about all the things I want to see and do in London, but my mind keeps going to the questions that this trip is bringing up. "Expect nothing" has been a great travel philosophy, and has kept me from looking for impossible things to come out of this journey. It tells me what not to do, but how should I approach life? Maybe this is an impossible question, and there never will be a phrase of a handful of words that neatly sum up the answer. Expecting nothing and wait to see what London will bring.