Our story starts and finishes in 1977.
For it was in that year that My Dad and I went for a drink to a pub called the Lowther Arms at Scilly Banks, near Whitehaven, Cumbria. Nothing unusual about that; especially in this part of the world, where every second pub seemed to be called the Lowther Arms, after the Lowther family, the Earls of Lonsdale.
No, what was unusual about this was it was the smallest pub I’d ever been in, and although only seventeen I’d been in a few. The Lowther Arms was basically a ‘two up, two down’ miner’s cottage very typical of this formerly industrialised area of the West Lakes. Small towns built to house the Iron industry’s workforce like Frizington, Arlecdon, Rowrah – (some of them no more than villages or hamlets really) often consist of a single row of terraced cottages, almost defiantly ‘staring out’ the bleak mountains of this less fashionable part of the Lake District.
Formerly the Lowther Arms (with the red door)
In our tiny public house the beer was served directly from the kitchen, where the pints were pulled and placed onto a rudimentary bar. There was a till. The bar also created a partition between the kitchen and the hall. The front room, to give you some idea of scale, was roughly the size of a front room and served as ‘Public Bar’. It was furnished with bench seats which ran round almost all of the wall space and a couple of tables each with two pairs of chairs. After that, there wasn’t space for much else – apart from the drinkers. And it was packed. Fifteen people. You can imagine the noise.
If you didn’t like the ale or gin and tonic then you were out of luck, because there wasn’t much else. Otherwise, your drinks were brought to you at your seats by the lovely, but painfully slow septuagenarian hostess. Parched and dry, you sat patiently, eagerly willing the aged barmaid, hip joints creaking and groaning, to make it in one piece; while your pint glasses slid drunkenly from one end of the tray to the other as she negotiated her way past sleeping dogs, coal scuttles, logs of wood and other drinkers.
It was a fascinating place, made all the more so by a couple of old ‘gadgies’ Bill and Ted, we got chatting to. Typically, my Dad initiated conversation so smoothly that I assumed he had met them before. He is a master at this. He hadn’t. Met them I mean. The two men, I guess in their mid 70’s, were local born and bred and had accents you could cut with a knife. I needed all my concentration to unpick and figure out what they were saying. Anyway, it turned out that the pair: Bill born in Arlecdon, six or so miles east as the crow flies, and Ted in Pica, about three and a half miles more or less north west, had met in the early ‘30s working at the Crowgarth mine in Cleator Moor, some four miles or so from the pub.
Arlecdon and beyond to Ennerdale
Amazing to think that such heavy industrialisation, was just a stone’s throw away from some of the most spectacular natural landscapes, hillwalking and climbing in the world. Take Ennerdale for example – less than ten miles away! My Dad began waxing lyrical about his beloved Lake District.
Ennerdale Water from above Pillar
He has walked, climbed and camped on every inch of it since he was a boy and knows The Lakes like the back of his hand
He doesn’t need to look at a map. He knows where he’s going. His passion is genuine. As a kid I would (as I would now) follow him to the ends of the earth and never once feel the need to look up to check we were going in the right direction.
Ted, rouses us from our reveries of cool, sweet-tasting mountain streams, hillsides thick with bracken, the colour of the heather, and the comforting smell of woodsmoke at day’s end.
‘Ahhh.. I dunno what all the fuss is about’ he says and in a comment which echoes in my ears still, continued ‘People are always going on and on about Ennerdale. I dunno what all the fuss is about. I was born in Pica – lived all my life there. I’ve never even been to Ennerdale. Why should I? It’s only a bit of water and some hills.’
My eyes were beginning to glaze over.
Yes! But what water what hills!