I’m not big on classic literature. I usually find the language – whether in prose or verse – too staid. There are exceptions – I love Shakespeare, I love Bronte’s Villette – but for the most part, my interest in writing starts with the First World War poets, and steps up a notch during the 1960s and beyond – decidedly modern literature, really. I’m always slightly embarrassed I haven’t read more of the classics, but those I’ve persevered with – and I have tried, believe me – simply don’t do anything for me: reading Middlemarch was like pulling teeth.
With that confession out of the way, here’s the Lancrigg Hotel. It’s a great vegetarian hotel and restaurant, half a mile outside of Grasmere in the Lake District. Monica and I went to stay a night to celebrate our five-year anniversary. While walking in the grounds, we discovered that William Wordsworth had been instrumental in renovating the house for a friend of his – that he’d often dined and slept there – and so had Charles Dickens, a generation later. Robert Burns stayed at the house and taught one of the subsequent owners, too. I can’t pretend the place felt haunted by the ghosts of these literary giants, but I liked the idea of Bill Wordsworth rolling up his sleeves to strip out rotten plaster, of Dickens playing pranks on his pals, and of Rabbie Burns warming his feet by the fire. That tickled me.
The woods around Lancrigg feel quiet and ancient. Sprouting from cracks in the limestone and carpeted in deep green moss, the trees could be Tolkein’s ents, hibernating through the decades. There’s a profound, tangible stillness beneath the canopy, and the light is filtered dark and green, drawing you into the forest.
After tea, we walked into town for a drink. I’ve had my differences with Grasmere in the past – during the summer, it’s infested with tourists, most of whom wear very expensive, very clean walking gear – but the town was fairly quiet. The heat of the day, freshened by a late shower, left the meadows heady with scent. The smells were intoxicating – the Lakes felt almost Mediterranean. We stood beside Wordsworth’s grave and watched bats skitter above the river, and walked back to Lancrigg in a deep blue midsummer gloaming. It was a long overdue break after months of hard work.
Teaching has finished for the summer, though I still have a fortnight of marking and admin to finish. Then there’s a fence to build, some films to edit, a holiday to go on (glory be) and what should be the final draft of Riptide. Around all this, I’d really like to start work on writing my next novel. I’m already reading and researching and starting to block out the plot; the issue, as ever, is time to write.