Not far from our doorstep is the Ulpha bridge spanning the Duddon river. The stone bridge connects the parish of Copeland with the parish of Duddon. In the past the river represented the division between two Counties, Lancaster to the south of the river and Cumberland to the north. In the hot summer months, locals from neighbouring towns turn up in droves to jump off t’bridge and bask in the sun along the banks. However, unlike other areas of the Lake District, Ulpha Bridge is not really a tourist attraction. It has become a place that generation after generation visits with their children.
My feet do not realise when they have crossed the old county lines. Neither does Mageika, our dog, who diligently walks along the flat stone wall, not appearing to be bothered by the risk of falling into the crystal clear river below. On the other side of the river is Rainsbarrow Wood. This wood is filled with silver birch, beech, oak, sycamore, hazel, elder and ash. The crown jewel is the 700 year old small leafed lime tree, with its gnarly trunk almost the width of a car. The forest floor is a thick carpet of leaf mulch and surges in waves of primrose, brambles, violets, ramsons, daffodils, bluebells, ferns, pignuts, wood sorrel (and many others yet to be identified) every spring.
Along the old walking path there are the remnants of a hazel coppice. Each tree is evenly spaced and has several splayed limbs that have thickened into trunks over time. Long, straight shoots branch off the limbs. The two or three year old shoots are thick but it is still possible to cut them with my secateurs. They are perfect for bean poles. In the late winter I cut 6 foot poles for making trellises, carrying the poles over my shoulder for the 500 metre walk back to the school.
If you step off the old walking track, the wood slopes steeply up towards the uplands. Climbing it requires nimble steps to carefully tread between the supra-terranean roots and moss covered rocks. The terrain juts sharply out from the ascending mountain side. A pathway emerges; it is less than shoulder width and is defined by the finely broken leaf mulch pressed into the ground. It moves along a gentle incline following the contours of the land in between trees and rocks. The path stands out against the tangle of branches, cobwebs and leaf litter appearing at a passing glance as an indistinct and chaotic blend of browns, reds and greens. The absence of any overlapping twigs and breakthrough shoots and grasses confirm these paths as deer trails; as well as the fact that none of these paths move in a straight line. These trails mark the boundary between my valley and theirs.