Last week, I was on an Arvon course at Lumb Bank – a ‘retreat with walking’, tutored, or, more accurately, led, by local mapmaker extraordinaire Chris Goddard and novelist–poet Paul Kingsnorth. Being in Ted Hughes Country in a heatwave meant that I had the time and opportunity to take huge delight in the landscape. Chris knew its paths, even through the woods, and its history so well that he was a brilliant guide. Chris’s books are like Wainwright’s, but with more detail and less trenchant opinions.
One day, Chris met us up at Widdop Reservoir, the subject of one of Hughes’s loveliest poems, ‘Widdop’, from arguably his best collection, Remains of Elmet (1979).
It was so hot that most of us got into the water. My poem below attempts to sum up the joy of the moment.
BATHERS AT WIDDOP RESERVOIR
At the shoreline, sapphire bleeds into brown and rust.
It’s thirty degrees and there’s a heap of us
removing hiking boots and socks
to take a dip in Hughes’s ‘frightened lake’, despite
the danger sign advising against it.
But we do have to mind our step,
as treading water is like marching on soap.
Four legs are better: unleashed best-friend mongrels,
Dexy and Alfie, splash my socks
with clay-like mud. One of us dangles
legs from rocks.
Another ventures further out, red-hatted,
in it up to his waist.
Re-socked and booted,
we’re accompanied back to the cars
by a flute band of sandpipers
which scoot along drystone walls—as soon as binoculars
lock onto them—from post to post.
Every joyful one of us is properly gripped,
like bright adolescents on a Geography field-trip.