lake district

I am from the Lake District and yet have never owned a waterproof jacket. Until now. At the tender age of 34, I have become the proud owner of weather-appropriate clothing.

From the moment I moved from Edinburgh to Cumbria aged six, all I could think of was moving back to the city. I liked shops. I liked shopping. I liked clothes. Hills? Trees? Wildlife? Not that bothered. When we bought a house that came with three fields my mother prayed that I would want a pony. Though we had little cash to spare, she would have sold her left arm to buy me a horse – her own childhood dream fulfilled. But when I opened my first savings account at the Cumberland Building Society in nearby Appleby I was decidedly not saving for a pony. I was saving for a convertible Porsche – red, of course. I was seven.

My countryside childhood was idyllic – and completely wasted on me. Despite all the freedom a child could wish for, all I wanted to do was shop. Or run a shop. Or start a magazine. I opened a bar in the disused privet hedge in our garden and sold orange squash for two pence a glass. I wrote, illustrated and photocopied my first magazine called Jo’s Pets (Jo being chosen as it was a unisex name that would appeal to boys and girls. Get me). I was more interested in the production and potential sale of the magazine than the animals it featured and was eager to find local shops where I could sell it for 20p a pop.

Of course I spent the summers outside, playing in fields and swimming in the beck, running away from curious cows and having sheep ticks severed from my scalp. I concocted potions from varieties of grass and mud and insisted that I hated rhubarb every time my mother made crumble from the plentiful garden crop. I must have appreciated all of this in some way. Yet all I dreamed of was shops.

When we moved to Kendal aged 11 I was bereft at leaving my friends yet excited about living in a town with a population of more than 20. As I ventured through my teenage years, friendships evolved into a proud group of misfits; the geeky, arty, hippy and outdoorsy all jumbled into a close-knit bunch. The boys were into cycling, climbing and canoeing. Girls were interested in clothes, gossip and Take That. And boys. But not enough to to join them in their outdoors pursuits. In the eight years I lived in the South Lakes I can remember just a handful of walks, tarn swims or encounters with a proper hill. Little wonder I never needed a waterproof.

What appalled me so much about waterproof attire back then is what still repels me today. It is ugly and unflattering. As my technical clothing-enthusiast boyfriend waxes lyrical about Gortex and taped seams, all I see is an overpriced, garishly coloured plastic bag that would make me look like a glow-in-the-dark sack of potatoes. As a stylist in London, there are few occasions when a practical coat seems necessary – an umbrella and a closed-toe shoe cover most bases. But as I get older and increasingly in search of comfort (yes this happens to stylists too) the more I have come to accept the need for a weather-protective coat.

So when a friend’s wedding in Kendal prompted the idea of a Lake District holiday this summer, I knew what I had to do. Relieved of the need to purchase new swimwear, beach cover-ups or flip-flops, I resolved to find a proper yet stylish waterproof. The BF insisted this was impossible, that style must be sacrificed for ultimate weatherproof technology. This made me even more determined to prove him wrong. And then, like a beam of sunlight from a grey northern sky, I spotted Caroline Issa, stylish-woman-extraordinaire, in a gorgeous leaf green, hooded, rain coat. I had to have it. Thankfully Caroline was gracious in sharing the origin of her outerwear find, and so I discovered The Arrivals and its Breuer Welded Explorer Coat. It has a removable hood, welded seams and bracelet sleeves. It’s gorgeous. And waterproof. In your face BF.

One of the best things about holidaying in the north of England is one’s very low expectation of good weather. I find the best attitude is to expect grey, cold and rain and then enjoy anything better as very good luck. Packing jumpers and socks and layering items seems weird in August yet somewhat comforting. Summer in London is a hot and sticky affair that I find increasingly claustrophobic and stifling. The promise of a cool breeze through rustling trees and open fields was a welcome relief. And herein lies the irony. I spent the first half of my life longing for the excitement of the city. Now that I have it in abundance I am more likely to be found scouring the internet for seaside homes on Zoopla or cheap flights to anywhere-but-here. It is true that youth is wasted on the young. In my case, so was the countryside.

The wedding was wonderful and the sunshine that day was glorious. Catching up with old friends was as heartwarming as it was fun and the Auld Grey Town was bustling with August visitors. The hire car was more monster-truck than expected and excellent fun to drive. While a car can be an unnecessary hassle in London, in the rest of the country it’s a blessing. The BF hadn’t seen further than Kendal and day trip to Bowness before, so it was for him that we took the back roads and the scenic routes, the twisting lanes and steep valley climbs. For me there is nothing so exhilarating as the twists and turns of the Cumbrian roads on which I learned to drive. Sheep on the track, risk of debris, tractors pulling out; all are welcome obstacles in place of cyclists, busses and triple roundabouts.

Though our intentions were purist, our execution of a Lake District break was pure novice. We spent more time in the car than in our walking boots, barely burning the calories from the endless pub lunches and pork pies. We ascended half of a child-friendly hill before the BF exclaimed that his selvedge denim jeans had no give and were too expensive to risk being caught on a bramble at such a steep incline. We went back to the car.

But we did see some lake in the district. We trundled around Coniston and took the steamer on Ullswater. We saw the devastation of Storm Desmond in Glenridding and Pooley Bridge, where the aforementioned bridge was washed away. We were distressed to find the famous Pencil Museum was damaged and closed until further notice, the safety of the world’s biggest pencil unknown. We realised that more than ever the Lakes needs our tourism and our support.

The sun shone, the wind blew, it rained. But who cared? Not us. We had no phone reception, no wi-fi and I had a waterproof coat. When the clouds rolled in over the hills it was almost more beautiful than clear skies. The multitude of greys and greens, that moment when the sun pushes through and illuminates the water below. The air is so fresh and so abundant it becomes the ultimate high. There is so much space and you can see so far. And then there are the stars. I always forget how overwhelming it feels to see a sky full of twinkling lights, rather than the orange mist and the flicker from a police helicopter. In a society where it has becomes the norm to barely look up, it can be a shock to see how much world is really out there.

And so we returned to London life in which I play with clothes, make magazines and go shopping for a living. My childhood dreams have come true. That holiday feeling is receding, the ‘let’s move here!’ conversations over a pint of local ale are fading to a distant memory. I miss the fresh air and my friends. And I miss my out-of-office reply. But I still have my green waterproof coat and with that I am ready for anything.

Your pocket guide to the Lake District…

TO STAY

The Shepherds Hut in Foxfield

TO VISIT

Kendal: Baba Ganoush, Brewery Arts Centre, The Nutshell

Cockermouth: The Castle Bar, Castle Antiques and Curios

Cartmel: Cartmel Village Shop (for the famous sticky toffee pudding)

Coniston: The Black Bull Inn in Coniston, Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

Keswick: Merienda Café, Pheasant Inn

TO WEAR

TO LISTEN (mumcore alert)

Dolly Parton – Greatest hits Paul Simon – Graceland Carole King – Tapestry Joni Mitchell – Blue

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Destination Inspiration: Lake District, Cumbria

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