Walking Lunesdale and the Lune Gorge.
The nymph Arethusa, fleeing from the predator Alpheus, leaped into a stream in Greece, and emerged in a spring in Sicily. And this, poetically, is a resurgence. Geologically, it is a stream that disappears in one place and reappears in another. When Claire de Lune, as I’ve taken to calling her, leaped into St Helen’s spring [Letter 6], what whisper, deep down, did she hear of its origin, of where it came from… before she emerged, weed-covered, silent, and set off towards the sea …?
From the spring the Lune once flowed unimpeded through Newbiggin-on-Lune. Now it is culverted four times before it escapes under an old stone bridge, weed streaming like Ophelia’s hair [Lune Bridges, Letter 2]. Heading west, it picks its way across the wide lumpy valley, through the till of clay and stones left by the last glacier. [Letter 3]. In the six miles to Tebay it grows from a two-feet stream to a twenty-feet river, fed by a dozen tributaries from the Howgills to the south. It is wide and shallow, flowing between white shingle; but with banks, after Storm Desmond, bulwarked with Cyclopean stones.
This fifteen-feet high pedestrian bridge was submerged by Storm Desmond, the old farmer tells me. One tooth, dog glued to his calf, he worked fifteen years on the railway to buy his farm, hated every minute, now he’s up at four, bed at ten, his own man, knows every inch, every animal. Proud of the otters that are back, even of the ducks, allows no shooting on his land, hates the fishing for salmon, ‘jerking them about – they’re pregnant!’ For the first time, he hasn’t seen a single dead salmon (they spawn and then die) this year.
In Tebay, a man carries an armful of mannequin body parts out of the church. ‘I’ll not ask.’ ‘Best not.’ ‘More inside?’ ‘Plenty’, as he stacks them in the van.
Hitting the hard rock of the Westmorland Supergroup (definitely the name of my next band) (Ordovician, 450 million years old) of the Lake District massif at Tebay, the river is turned sharp south, along the fault line of the Lune Gorge.
Here are two bridges together. The old bridge is of stone, with abutments growing out of the rock, forces contained and transferred, arches curving up to meet like the tips of steeple fingers. The new bridge is concrete and steel, horizontals and verticals, forces defied and
neutralised by contraries.
The river, the Roman road, A685, West Coast railway, M6 are all crammed into this narrow pass between Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. But what might be visual overload is eased by the long relaxed flank of the Howgills to the east, relief to the weary eyes of train and motorway passengers, its rounded rock further softened by velvet grass, the shadows of passing clouds like smoothing hands.
After the wide open, bare grass Lunesdale, the Gorge is a narrow linear woodland of variety and dappling shade, trees that grow on either side and over a river carved into rock, its nature ever changing. Here a deep pool, transparent as amber, with a shadowy trout deep down. Here it ripples, rattles, dazzles over and between white stones, creating miniature rapids – I imagine miniature people in miniature boats running them. Here a long stretch of dark water, with long jagged submerged rocks like prehistoric megacrocodiles. Terns, heron, a mewing buzzard, wagtails. A sudden spark of emerald/sapphire flashes bullet-like upstream. There are narrow stone bridges that cars creep across, wing mirrors pulled in. This one has two arches like stern eyebrows.
It is huge, and unexpected, the Waterside Viaduct. 570 feet long, 100 feet high, stepping across the valley, three arches on each side of the river built of alien red Penrith sandstone, linked by a metal central arch. Hard to believe that this was built to carry a minor railway line from Ingleton to Lowgill near Tebay. Such was the railway mania of the 1850s. I resolve to map all the lost lines, imagine them today as cycle paths.
Now the valley opens out into Lonsdale. Enough for today.