As a Londoner, I am guilty of keeping myself bound to this great city and naively believing that no other place in the country could offer me as much fun, excitement, joy, and opportunity as the Big Smoke. Likewise, in my mind, the term ‘up north’ refers to that mostly unknown land north of north London (jk, but not really). However, as much as I am adamant that London is likely to be the place I’ll always choose to live in if I remain in Britain, I am trying to be more deliberate in exploring different parts of the country and what they have to offer.
For most of last week, I uprooted myself from my little corner of west London and ventured far out to Cumbria for the first time, which is about as north as you can go in England before reaching Scotland. A friend of mine had invited me to an annual philosophy conference that he organises with a few friends around the Lake District. The first thing that struck me was how long it took for me to get to my destination. I took two trains: one from London’s King’s Cross to Leeds and the second from Leeds to Kirkby Stephen. All in all, those two journeys took close to five hours. Nevertheless, I can’t say this was too bothersome for me. There’s an old style charm about travelling great distances on a train and this couldn’t be more true for the Settle to Carlisle railway route which I was able to discover on that second leg of my train journey. Luckily for me, a group of tourists had boarded my carriage and were being treated to fun and interesting facts about the views we were passing through by a member of the Settle and Carlisle Railway Trust. I listened in as we passed Three Peaks of Pen-y-ghent, made a stop at Dent railway station (the highest station in England), and rode past the river Ribble.
My accommodation for the majority of my stay was a secluded 18th century converted schoolhouse right along the edge of the Dent fault that separates North Yorkshire and Cumbria. Abutting the schoolhouse was a quaint little cottage overlooking endless fields of green. As a self-professed history buff, I revelled in the romanticism of it all. A lot of my time was spent walking great distances across the vast Yorkshire Dales. To walk for miles and miles and miles without coming across another human being is a foreign feeling for anyone who spends so much of their time in a densely populated area like London. Every now and again I would encounter a flock of sheep or the occasional wild pony running or gazing freely.
A number of years and several jobs ago I found myself spending my lunch hour walking up and down York road in King’s Cross simply because I love the feeling of walking for the sake of it. Inevitably, these walks could often become stressful when the objective was as much trying to avoid bumping into people as it was to try and undertake a leisurely stroll.
The other significant activity that took place during these few days was talking – almost endlessly and about anything (since it seems almost any topic can be discussed in terms of philosophy). The topics ranged from God to artificial intelligence, and classical music to the realisation that most male pop stars today are tenors. In a lot of ways I felt completely out of my depth, surrounded by philosophers who knew how to articulate themselves in the self-assured manner that people who have spent a considerable amount of time working on their craft know to do. But at no point was I made to feel that my contribution was less significant or unimportant. While I wish I could have added more to the discussions, I was fairly content on this occasion to listen in on the ideas floating around the table.
On the day of the summer solstice I sat outside, holding a book in one hand and a glass of wine in another. There was little pressure to do anything else. And as with the complete quiet and the pitch blackness of the night, this allowed me to feel at perfect ease.