Thursday, May 04, 2006

Postcard from Cumbria (1)

Sunday, 30th April 2006

I am standing on a path behind the northeast corner of the church of St Mary in Kirkby Lonsdale. In the mid 19th century, when the view before me was immortalised in words and watercolour, this part of the country was known as Westmorland, only much later to be amalgamated with Cumberland to form the county of Cumbria.

The scene I am visually and mentally absorbing was once described by John Ruskin, the artist, writer and thinker who lived from 1819 to 1900, as ‘one of the loveliest scenes in England and therefore, the world’.

Ruskin’s View, as it is now known, was captured in watercolour by the artist Turner early in the 19th century. The scene has changed very little since then. What we can now behold is that which first entranced both Turner and Ruskin. (As I stand here, I am amused by the passing thought that Freemasons would perhaps share with me a quiet satisfaction that something so perfect should be viewed from a vantage point looking towards the northeast.)

Below is a wide valley of meadowland through which a broad river, the River Lune, wends its way in a U-shaped curve. Above the pasture is a deep band of woodland, behind which, dry-stone walls climb the heather-clad slopes of the fells of Barbon. Cattle and sheep graze the hedged grasslands, flocks of birds feed at the water’s edge, and small farmsteads and old Halls dot the landscape. The various components of meadow, river, woodland and fell form a composition of perfect harmony, topped today, by sunshine, a blue sky and the occasional white cumulus cloud.

Simply standing there, with nothing but the sound of bird song and the chiming of the church bell to disturb the silence, I am left with an intense feeling of inner peace and contentment. It is impossible for me to imagine being more relaxed. Ruskin was correct; it is a scene of perfection.

* * *

Descending a long flight of steps enables the riverbank to be reached. From there, the most pleasant of riverside walks stretches to the Devil’s Bridge at the road junction to Kirkby Lonsdale. Large rocks allow one to sit and gaze in contemplative mood at the waterside scene, made even more pleasing by the presence, at this time of year, of Orange Tip butterflies.

I am aware that, beyond the Devil’s Bridge, a car boot sale is in progress, with hoards of cars and people. There they can stay. The real attraction is here amidst the solitude and beauty of nature. For me, this is the true value of being alive.

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