During the early nineteenth century William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, came to Ullswater with a similar mindset, to marvel at its setting, which William described as ‘...the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur which any of the lakes affords.’ In April 1802, he was inspired to write his famous poem about daffodils after seeing a profusion of them across the lake from where I am drifting. He also penned poetic descriptions of ‘Aira Force,’ the grand waterfall that smashes down through the woods of the western shore.
Checking my map, I notice Aira Force is closer than I thought and decide to motor over. Lifting the engine and crunching up to a gravelly beach, I moor the boat, tying it to a tree, and enter the National Trust-owned woodland. Up a path I reach the thundering column of white water, grandly spanned by an arched, stone bridge. Finding a spot away from the water’s refreshing atomiser spray, I eat sandwiches and chew a couple of jelly bears for pudding. The trout can spare a few, I’m sure. Where I’m sitting the earth has been grubbed up recently and, lifting a clod of it, I find a handsome purple-red worm beneath, which I hastily stash in my empty lunchbox.
By the time I return to the boat, the rain has started in earnest and I decide to head back to where the trout first teased me. The journey in to Glenridding is a mesmerising one. A steamer passes, sending me on a rollercoaster ride through its wash. Boats tack around the lake’s little islands, their sails stark and bright against the brooding sky and hills. At the head of Ullswater, near the reeds, I spy the two fly-fishermen I met in the car park, arcing lines gracefully over the flat water. Behind them the heron still stands watching.
I give them all plenty of distance and let my boat drift with in the wind. The water is Guinness-black and cold and deciding to ‘go natural’, I fish my live worm out for the hook and cast into the shore-side waters, letting the swell take it. It can only be ten or twenty minutes later but when it happens the movement of the rod tip is so unexpected that I stare at it for a moment before reacting. Then the float is gone and the line squealing. I jerk the rod back and see a flash of silver near the surface; another jolt and the whole rig bends as I reel in my shuddering catch from the waves. It’s a brown trout and a good weight too. A keeper.
Swallowing a celebratory handful of jelly bears, I fire the motor and turn for shore, nodding at the heron as I pass. Meeting me at the jetty, the man in charge of the boats makes no effort to conceal his surprise. “Do you want me to get rid of him for you?” He asks. It’s a nice try, but I’ve already got designs on this prize.
As evening falls I’m driving over the Kirkstone Pass to my hotel for the night, the BEST WESTERN Ambleside Salutation
. I’ve heard rumour that the chef will happily cook your catch for you, but it’s still a strange thing to produce a trout in a plastic bag at check-in. To their credit, no one on reception even flinches.
“And how would you like it cooking?” The girl on the desk asks.
I think for a second. “However it comes.”
At the end of a day’s fishing you appreciate that sometimes going with the flow is the best idea.