Life in the Lake District during the lockdown

Coniston Water

Coniston Water - Credit: not Archant

Emily Rothery reflects on the effect on the outbreak on the countryside near her Coniston home

Walking through Lake District woods in spring, it seems that all is well with the world. The sun is shining, and the fresh green leaves of birch trees cast dappled shade on the ground. Hawthorn hedgerows are laced with blossom and wild daffodils are making way for bluebells. Butter-yellow primroses, starry wood anemones and tiny violets line the paths and last year’s parched leaves crunch beneath our feet.

The only other sound is birdsong. Seemingly more noticeable than usual because other everyday sounds have ceased. There are no planes above and the thrum of distant cars has been replaced by the drone of bees foraging among the flowers. It is as if the world has pressed the pause button; nature is thriving, but life for human beings, it seems, is on hold.

We are weeks into lockdown and many things that have seemed so familiar have ceased. The countryside is eerily quiet, there are no visitors wrestling with unwieldy maps or picnicking by the wayside. Tourists, for now, are a thing of the past – no motor homes or caravan convoys blocking the lanes; no vehicles laden with canoes heading for the lakes; no family cars packed with holiday paraphernalia. Normally busy roads are empty apart from delivery vans, tractors and the occasional car. Solitary cyclists enjoy sun-filled days and, now and again, families weave and wobble up the road at a much slower pace. It is more like the 1950s than 2020.

Coniston Water is just a 15 minute ride from my house so I pedal there to take my daily quota of exercise. The lake and its shores are deserted. The iconic gondola and passenger ferries, normally bristling with sightseers, are berthed, sailing cruisers drift listlessly on their moorings and the familiar sight of dinghy sails is, for now, just a memory. There are no fishermen or children at the water’s edge; no enticing smells coming from smoky barbecues, just geese grazing on the shoreline and buzzards circling silently above.

Skies are blue with conditions perfect for fell walking, but the fells too are quiet. It seems people are heeding the warnings to stay at home, with Mountain Rescue teams reporting just one rescue compared to 28 in the same 16 day period in 2019.

People may not be venturing into the mountains but a small break-away flock of sheep has left the hills and ventured into the normally bustling town of Ambleside. They take their time, unafraid, nibbling at rows of flower heads and privet hedges. Every day brings sombre news but there are heart-warming moments too. Babies are born and people reach out with offers of help and support for others in the community and further afield.

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The pandemic has brought an air of unreality and yet the rhythm of the natural world carries on, heightening our senses and bringing solace. The first swallows return followed by the swifts and house martins, the curlew’s distinctive warble carries across the fields and the cuckoo call signals its arrival. Day to day life in the valley carries on for farmers – lambs fill the fields, calves are born, cows are milked, fertiliser is spread so grass can grow and be turned into hay and silage as spring turns to summer, land has to be managed.

After weeks of being immersed in the countryside it seems strange to drive the car on nearly deserted roads to collect shopping. Life in the nearby town is an unrecognisable world where people wear protective masks and gloves and wait patiently outside the supermarket, well- spaced in a long line that zig zags through the car park, and we can’t wait to collect our order and head home.

Life carries on, yet we cannot visit our family, our friends, our neighbours. Children’s birthday parties can no longer be shared with friends, celebrations are postponed, community events cancelled and yet we know we are privileged to live here and are truly grateful for the natural beauty around us.

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