Sunday, 18 March 2018

Samuel Johnson was wrong

I've been travelling a lot for work lately and, last week, I was in London for a couple of days working in a trendy hotel which had lots of quotes around the wall and no visible reception desk (I appreciate it makes the foyer look larger but why on earth do away with a reception desk?  A couple of folks in suits perched at a table tapping away on their laptop could be anyone. Would you like me to go around pestering all of your guests until I find the one who happens to be on reception duties or simply hang around looking lost until someone takes pity on me?  But I digress...)

The quote which dominated the wall in the dining area was this "Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford" - well known words from Samuel Johnson.  He was speaking to his biographer James Boswell, trying to convince him that he wouldn't miss his native Scotland if he moved to the big smoke, but I couldn't help thinking that however leaned the man may have been, he definitely got it wrong with this one.  London is lovely in so many ways but it definitely doesn't have dibs on "all that life can afford" - for starters here are just a few of the things which Cumbria has that London doesn't.

Hills

London has plenty of places named hill but no real, proper, hills.  Primrose Hill is 65m high, Notting Hill isn't even a hill (it's only 36m above sea level) and the highest point in London, Betsom's Hill, is only 215m high and surely only counts as being "in London" on a technicality.  And, have you noticed how so many place names in London (and other cities for that matter), have retained the name of the thing which was flattened in order to make way for whatever is now built on top of them?  Places like Waltham Forest (although there are still a few small parks left), St Martin-in-the-Fields (which is on a busy junction right next to Trafalgar Square and miles from the nearest fields) and Wood Green which, despite having been both woodland and a large green space in the past, is now a "...busy urban activity centre with sizeable shopping area..."  I'm guessing updating those names would be bad for business; "St Martin-in-the-middle-of-a-crossroads" doesn't have the same ring to it.

So, Mr Johnson, London definitely appears to be lacking hills; the soaring peaks of the central Lake District, the comfortable familiarity of the Langdale Pikes and the gorgeous rolling hills around the Duddon Valley for starters...

View from Great Gable

Langdale Pikes

Orrest Head

Duddon Valley

Lakes

There may be a few small lakes in London but anything you can walk around in under an hour without getting your boots muddy doesn't really count in my book.  Up here we have so many lakes they named an entire national park after them "The LAKE District" - in fact they are SO fab that we even got UNESCO World Heritage Status - tell that to Mr Boswell next time you see him.  As a comparison the Serpentine in London covers an area of 16 hectrares while Elterwater, the smallest "lake" in the Lake District, covers 17 hectares.  We are also home to the largest and the deepest lakes in England - Windermere and Wastwater respectively.

Windermere

Wastwater
Grasmere
Peace

When I'm away in London on my travels, this is the thing I miss the most.  There is nowhere in London where I can find true peace and quiet - granted there are some lovely parks and quiet back streets, but at no point can I escape the distant hum of cars or take a deep breath knowing that there is no-one else for miles around.  To be fair, back in 1777, when Samuel Johnson muttered his now infamous words to his friend and biographer James Boswell, London probably did have a lot of really quiet corners (Wood Green was probably still woody and greeny for a start) - but these days it's hard to find true peace there.

Of course on a busy bank holiday it can be hard to find true peace in Cumbria too, but there are still plenty of quiet nooks where you can escape the crowds and the drone of the motor engine and enjoy the tranquillity and solitude that is so hard to find in London.

The Eden Valley

Smardale Gill

Black Combe


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