“I am often asked to name my favourite view. This is hard, for…any view is conditioned by the experience of it. But I confess that nothing quite matched a late-summer afternoon on Gummer’s How in Cumbria. Windermere was glistening at my feet. The heights of the Lake District and the Pennines were spread on either side and the Lancashire plain lay as a foil to the south. It is surely the classic English view. It made me feel I never wanted to be anywhere else, in a landscape exhilarating, consoling, desperately precious and, above all, alive.”
Simon Jenkins* has never been to my house, so it’s not surprising that he omitted to name the view we wake up to every morning as Britain’s best; but he did name Gummer’s How, a view I drive past every day. The view from Gummer’s How has that essential combination of all the best views of combining water with mountains – in this case the full ten and a half miles of lake Windermere with the backdrop of England’s highest summits. No photograph can do it justice because the lens of a camera cannot take in the entire length of the lake. You need to climb to the summit to take it all in, something I do regularly, as I pass the entrance to the walk on my daily round between Newby Bridge and Damson Dene. As the walk only takes twenty minutes, sometimes I do it on impulse, as was the case on Christmas Day in 2009 when the ground was covered with a fresh fall of snow and I found that I had the entire place to myself, until I reached the summit, when I bumped into an old friend, who had had the same impulsive thought. It occurred to me later that if either of us had fallen the chance of us being found would have been very remote, as neither of us had told a soul where we were heading. The view then was particularly special, as the valley was covered in mist (see the photo below). When I reached Newby Bridge I told some guests about my walk and they were inspired to try it out for themselves, even though walking wasn’t their thing. They were encouraged to have heard that it was only a twenty minute walk to the summit. When I saw them the following day I was surprised that they didn’t share my enthusiasm – in fact they were rather disgruntled. “Why didn’t you enjoy it?”, I asked. “Well”, they replied, “you said it was a twenty minute walk, but it took us five hours- we’re absolutely shattered”. It turned out that the silly buggers had walked all the way from the hotel – they hadn’t realised that there’s a car park close to the summit.
*Simon Jenkins’ book “England’s 100 Best Views” has just been published.