Articles By Gord
As I see it... Cumbria

January 2008 issue of Vibrant Magazine, view the actual article (including images).

As I see it... Manchester

One Christmas I surprised Catherine with a pair of airline tickets. Our weather had been miserable and a winter getaway seemed in order. So, as she read Toronto to Manchester, return, she said to me coldly: “There better be a Manchester, Barbados or you're dead.”

Well, there was not and I am not. But that was the beginning of a terrific weeklong adventure in England.

On the evening of our arrival my favourite cousin Kyle announced that tomorrow we had best be ready bright and early. That was all, ‘be ready.' No other clues. Just be ready. I received Kyle's announcement with a degree of trepidation for I had learned over the years that there were no half measures taken by Kyle. Everything was full bore. So in regards to his announcement, my only comment to Catherine was “Yikes!”

The following January morn we were greeted with drizzly skies, but Catherine said that a watery sun was attempting to break through. A light wind sharpened the bite of the cold air against my face. To shield myself from that bite I had dressed in layers. I had put on a pair of winter leather gloves, borrowed a pair of ill-fitting rubber boots and put on three pairs of socks just to snug them up. (I didn't have to borrow the socks.) Someone loaned me a scarf and atop my head sat my Newfie cap that my nieces, Mallory and Kate, detested. I was sure they would have approved of the rest of my ensemble. Catherine was similarly attired. And dressed as such we were ready to go to work.

And work it was. For despite Catherine's best guiding efforts, my feet became entangled in the scraggly grasses. She also had logs and roots and rabbit holes to contend with. In that nasty terrain guiding was a full time chore. So occupied was she with the perils of the ground, that the tips of tree branches were free to scratch and prick my face. To each of those branches I had muttered a profanity, but there was no question of stopping. We had a job to do. For on that day, we were beaters. Beaters were what we were.

Beaters are a proud and noble lot. A group accustomed to the harshest of conditions. Beaters: stemming from the Latin: beatus, beati, beatatum. Their motto, ‘To beat or not to beat?' (That depends. Is it raining?)

We were armed with sticks and pot pan lids and our battle cry was a series of hoots and hollers. There were ten of us beaters and we moved in a makeshift line through the woodlot. Our racket was fierce. Neither Catherine nor I had ever been beaters before and so it came as a tremendous shock when that first pheasant suddenly took flight only inches in front of us. Catherine was startled. I jerked back as the flurry of that bird's wings passed right before my face.

Catherine said, “We almost stepped right on her. I didn't see her at all.”

We struggled to keep pace with the other beaters and as more birds were flushed, the sound of shotguns popped the air.

That day we covered two more woodlots, crossed several fields, one stream, climbed a stone wall and there were plenty of muck and gnarly grasses to deal with. I was so glad I'd worn my wellies.

By the end of our shoot sixty-three birds had been taken. The shooters, the dogs and we beaters had experienced an excellent day. We topped off that first pheasant shoot with a trip to the local pub, The George, for a heaping portion of shepherd's pie and a lovely pint of bitter. (Can ya taste it?)

I regard the Lake District of Cumbria, England as a wee piece of heaven on earth. Although many might not consider it a January destination.

I have family located in the village of Orton, Cumbria; it is a mere stones throw from the heart of the Lake District. (Family being my Mum's sister, Joanne and her eldest son, the aforementioned ‘favourite' cousin, Kyle.) Whenever Catherine and I dump ourselves on these good folks and their friends, they make us feel right at home.

That January drop-in of ours was no different. We were immediately included in all of their activities. Hence that pheasant shoot, but there was more. One blustery afternoon we hiked out to an ancient Roman aqueduct where we heaved rocks from the top, then anxiously listened for their splash far below. Another slightly less blustery day, we explored old Martindale church near Ullswater Lake.

The church is so simple, humble and stark. Its location so remote. I find a moment to steal away, to sit quietly alone and I think to myself that surely God dwells here.

The lakes and the countryside of Cumbria are best experienced by bicycle or on foot.

The twisting roads that wind along hills and valleys, the pastures etched with stonewall fencing, the ever-changing cloud formations and the flocks of sheep that seemed to bleat, “come walk among us.” What an invitation.

I am so pleased to share this part of my world with Catherine. I enjoy listening to her descriptions of the region. Perhaps that of a distant farmhouse or the little humpback bridge that crosses the Orton village beck.

All of these I have seen. Seen in the past. All of these I know. And now I know Cumbria again through Catherine's eyes. But I know its soil, the grasses, the hills through my legs and feet, the air, the wind through my lungs and the rain against my face.

Our January visit was concluded with a Robbie Burns celebration. Again, cousin Kyle had ordered that we be ready. And, once again Catherine and I were perplexed. We wondered how one got ready for a Burn's night? Was ‘readiness' similar to our readiness for that shoot? Well what follows here was the best my mind's eye was able to reconstruct. People clapped in rhythm as the haggis was piped in. There was the address to the haggis and the first slice cut. Long crowded tables, we sat elbow to elbow. And oh the noise, the noise. We had to bellow to be heard, reliving our week past. Always to the shoot and to the shoot again, but for me, my thoughts were oft of humble Martindale.

Kyle and I had stuffed ourselves with haggis, tatties'n neeps, all washed down with lashings of single malt. For the tamer there was wine. I was filled to the brim when Kyle barked, “Are you ready, Gordini?”

“Ready? For what, Kyle? For what?”

The tables were pushed back and a band of sorts, fiddle, pipe and drum, commanded us to the floor.

“Ready for some highland dancing of course,” Kyle snapped as he ushered Catherine and I to the floor.

Dancing? There were spins and shrieks, clapping and collisions, bruises and bumps. But there was no dancing. By the evenings end I had wrestled with every person in attendance, female and male. All quite by accident. I had discovered that highland dancing was not blind friendly. Each time I twirled or did a spin, I found I'd left my troop and started off with new.

It was an exhausting wonderful night in which time had been lost. And as Catherine and I had begun the short walk back to Aunt Joanne's, fireworks erupted over the village green. Catherine had stopped to watch, I had stopped to listen. It was then that I said to her, “Not Barbados, Cath. Cumbria.”

Our week over, it was time for us to go. I felt that same terrible ache in my heart that I had felt so many times before. But that time I knew, Catherine felt it too.

But not to worry, we'll be ready for the next.

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