One explorer’s longstanding love affair with a lake.
Words and images: Kevin Rushby
They were all beautiful, but this one was special. She was wilder, more spectacular, and a bit dangerous. I was ten years old and ready to fall in love. My parents threw us together with uncharacteristic glee, repeatedly taking camping and walking holidays in her company. I loved the way, when we arrived from Penrith in the east, she always seemed rather dreamy and lovely – a bit Laura Ashley – but delving further west she became wilder and moodier – definitely Raquel Welch (this was a long time ago), or should I say Veronica Lake. No, I’m serious. My love was a lake, a nine-mile long silver beauty that is the equal of anything that Italy or Switzerland can offer.
My opening encounter with Ullswater was not promising. Our first camp was at Park Foot and my father borrowed a sailing dinghy with the stated desire of teaching me and my brother to sail. The only drawback was that he didn’t know himself. We set off on a lovely calm afternoon from Pooley Bridge and an hour later a vicious little squall blew down off Barton Fell and turned the boat over. The water did not seem so cold, but after half an hour of attempting, and failing, to right the craft, we were all exhausted and starting to shiver. Fortunately a man in a speedboat came along and helped us to shore. We stuck to using the vessel as rowing boat after that.
Curiously the experience did not put me off the lake, if anything it increased my fascination. When I built a coracle, it was Ullswater that I automatically chose for the grand launch. When I bought my first tent, it was to Side Farm at Patterdale that I went to camp. When I decided to do a triathlon, I chose one of the hardest and most spectacular, the Helvellyn, whose swim is in the shockingly chilly water off Glenridding pier.