A straightforward walk along the Esk to Great Moss, in and out, there and back. You’d think that would be all there is to tell, but the memory of this walk has stuck with me for so long and with such vividness that I can’t really describe it here in simple descriptive terms, so I’ll try to write about it some other way.
Map (click on it to open in a new window)
June 12th. 2004. Starting from Brotherilkeld. I see Hard Knott Pass ahead of me, but that’s not my struggle today.
I have a choice of paths, one to the left of the Esk, one to the right. I choose the right, not because it’s right but because it’s easy. The right path is over grass, across fields, through stone walls. It is a preparation. The amble in the preamble.
The Esk is always alongside me going in the opposite direction. It reminds me of the joke about the man who sees a crowd running towards him. He asks what is happening and they say a lion has escaped from the zoo. ‘Which way did it go?’ he asks. ‘Why, you don’t think we’re chasing it, do you.’
Eventually I come to a pool. The water is a vivid green, the colour of a huge emerald. The pool is a fanciful archetype found in Romantic paintings and science-fantasy novels. There are no supernatural creatures here. The monsters are up ahead. In line, waiting to play.
Rocks are no obstruction to the Esk. They may form a hindrance now and again, but nothing the water can’t just skip around or wear away. In time.
Before the climb begins there is a pause at Lingcove Bridge, a chance for more photographs and wet feet. I remember getting wet feet here.
The water occasionally steps down the hillside. Water has this agreement with gravity. It never travels uphill. Never makes life hard for itself. It allows gravity to decide where it’ll travel. Water puts its trust in gravity. We, on the other hand, are constantly fighting against it. Water is happy to go down. We’re always trying to go up.
The ghyll up Throstle Garth is where the action starts, where the noise is generated, where the water plays without fear of broken bones (another clause in the deal with gravity). I climb the path unaware of the scenery about to appear, but I can sense there’s something up ahead, something big lurking.
Great Moss is where the runoff collects. It trickles and meanders, oozes and drips from the high guardians of the valley. Scafell and Scafell Pike, Ill Crag and Broad Crag. Esk Pike, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags. Few are bigger than this lot. They’ve been here a while, shedding their rainwater and captured cloud into the bog below.
The river is prematurely wide, but gives away its infancy in other ways. The depth of its stony channel is no more than the length of my hand. Clear and shallow and winding, it sweeps around in a carefree arc, deflected by the unmovable mass of Scar Lathing.
And so it’s here where I slow down and gape at the world’s end, or could it be the world’s centre; the umbilicus mundi. The cloud cover threatens to become a fog, trapping me on the plateau, promising to send me round in circles, round and round until I sink into an unexpected quagmire. They wouldn’t find me for another ten thousand years if I was eaten by the boggy soil here.
As the cloud approaches ground level I leave, retracing the route back to Brotherilkeld. But one day I’ll be back. When you visit Great Moss part of you will stay forever.