Root Feelings

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Easter Week 2002 was spent in Elterwater, the Lakeland village that was my first home. We left this beautiful area, which was also my father's birthplace, over 50 years ago and it was the first time I had stayed in the village. I had visited it many times but never spent more than a couple of hours there. There was a strange sense of belonging. Nowhere else on earth is like the place where your life started.

The village is now a holiday resort. Almost every one of the green slate cottages is let out to visitors. A timeshare complex has been built in the grounds of the old hall and the owner of the hotel where we stayed told us that its influence dominates the area.

As a child and young man, visits to the village - after we moved away for a nomadic life that began in the Home Counties - were to attend services in the mission. It was a lonely wooden hut on the fellside. Then I was more fascinated by the sight of bracken, crags and green slate roofs through the mission windows than the sermon from the pulpit. It was like nothing I ever saw in whichever English town we were then living.

This Easter I was staying under the shelter of one of those roofs. The Eltermere Country House Hotel. It stands not far from the shores of Elterwater, the small lake from which the village derives its name. Elterwater means Swan Lake in the native tongue of the Vikings who settled there many hundreds of years before I disturbed it's tranquillity with my cries. Swans still glide majestically across the lake.

The mission is no longer open although the hut still nestles in the small copse that's grown up around it. The heart of the community, if that's what you call the transient collection of visitors and holidaymakers, is the Britannia Inn. My parents would never have entered it. They were teetotal. But this year I found the pub busy, friendly, warm and serving a decent pint from the local breweries. The food was about right for this sort of place and we spent two enjoyable evenings there, just across the road from the cottage where I started life in the first half of the 20th century.

I'd only lived there for a month but an invisible thread had again drawn me back and aroused that deep sense of belonging. It may seem tenuous to the casual observer and you may ask if it would have felt the same had my arrival been in a less desirable part of England. But it hadn't been and I had a right to call this village, at the mouth of the Langdale Valley, home. Probably the only person who was there this Easter who could stake that claim.

During the visit I stood on the top of Langdale Pikes, knowing that it was a favourite spot of my fathers. My feet were standing on the rock on which his feet had stood as a young man and probably the feet of his father before him. This was my country. I could have wept - perhaps I did. Primitive feelings usually take us by surprise.


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