“Do you mind if we ignore your ‘Road closed’ sign?” I asked the chap raking gravel across the footpath.
“You carry on miss,” he replied, “hundreds of people do every day”
He looked resignedly at his colleague who had arrived on a mini dumper truck that had carried the gravel they were raking
“Is that because there isn’t a ‘road closed’ sign at the other
end of the path?” I went on.
“Well, there is a sign there,” raking man said, looking at digger man for confirmation.
“There’s meant to be a sign,” digger man confirmed, “has it gone?”
“A couple we just passed who came from that direction said there was no sign,” I explained.
“Oh,” both men looked puzzled.
“Someone’s nicked it then?” raking man suggested, scratching his head.
“We’ll check for you and let you know when we come back,” volunteered Linda, “seeing as you’re letting us pass”
We were halfway along a short linking section of path on the Cumbria Way between Portinscale and Keswick and had just left the car parked at the north end of it. We were meant to be in Silverdale but the weather had done one of its about turns in the middle of the night and was now forecast to throw it down on Morecambe Bay for much of the day. In fact, the weather predictions weren’t looking hopeful for any local area so we had effectively pinned the tail on the donkey and come up with a circuit of Derwentwater as an alternative.
A dry morning was apparently in prospect and we decided to default to the Keswick launch if rain appeared before we had finished our walk. The weather hadn’t been our only challenge. Linda had forgotten her walking boots, I didn’t have a fleece or my walk computer, we were still morning coffee-less and there was now the possibility of a detour associated with the ‘road closed’ sign. Enough was enough. Two workman with rakes on path maintenance duty really didn’t have a chance.
We promised to find out about the signs and, stepping around the large gravel pile, strode out in search of a café. Keswick thankfully has a multitude from which to choose, and sanity restored, we then headed off to the lake. The path around Derwentwater is very well signed and maintained and is also serviced by the Keswick Launch Company so it makes for a lovely stroll/boat ride in almost any weather. We were still in the morning dog walk time zone as we headed out of Keswick and many owners were making the most of the views and paths to exercise their pooches. It is invariably a topic of conversation between us as dogs and their walkers come in all shapes, sizes and attitudes.
Linda and I had already met three French bulldogs last week who were dressed in Hallowe’en costumes. A pumpkin, Harry Potter and a skeleton had proceeded to rub themselves firmly against our legs despite the protestations of their accompanying adults. We found it hard to stay upright but no comment was made to us as all three dogs finally waddled off in search of more playthings. We were thankfully left alone by the various animals we passed today but very few showed any attention to the people who were being dragged along by their leads.
Except a Pekinese who had decided that his walk was done. Laid belly down in the middle of the path, he refused to budge despite the cajoling of mummy owner. The Peke’s eyes were firmly set on a small buggy that daddy owner was pushing.
“Looks like you’ll be needing that,” said Linda jokingly.
“That’s what it’s for,” replied daddy owner.
We walked on.
The path cleared as we headed south towards Lodore Falls hotel and we fell into a companiable pace. The conversation wandered through gin, vodka, Shanghai, care homes, the NHS and finding somewhere to sit for a quick picnic lunch out of the stiff NE breeze that had picked up now we were out of the lee of Walla Crag.
On the west side of the lake the woodland comes down the hill to meet the water. The path weaves through the intersection and, even on a grey day, there was a glorious light reflected through the fading leaf canopy. Our American cousins use the archaic term ‘fall’ to refer to this season; it comes from the original English saying “fall of the leaf”. Our more current term, autumn, is based on Etruscan and French terminology, with the original Latin verb ‘augere’ as the root. This means ‘to increase or to make grow’.
Whilst ‘fall’ indeed describes exactly what the leaves are doing, I was intrigued by the notion of autumn instead being a time of increase. However, a clue to why the word has developed may be held by the original title of the season, that of ‘harvest’. With holly berries and crab apples along our path, it’s easy to see that the final blaze of leaf glory is really a reminder of their photosynthetic and respiratory role behind the harvest of this year and the seeds for next.
Theirs is the last beautifully flamboyant final say before hanging up the chlorophyll timesheets for winter. And it is a well deserved kaleidescopic shout of colour where mustard, gold, bronze, copper, lime, burgundy and crimson patchwork quilt the fellsides.
“There isn’t a sign at the other end of the path,” Linda reported to digger man who was reloading gravel.
Recognition dawned as he looked back at her through the opened window of the car as she had pulled up beside him.
“Ah, so it’s been stolen,” he said, “that’s a pain.”
He thought a moment and looked at her quizzically.
“You got it in your boot then?”
Linda just smiled as she drove away.