Monday, 14 July 2014

The magic of Keswick


One of the best places I know is Keswick, in the Lake District; which is the main place I have taken my holidays over the past thirty-five years.

I hope it is not tempting fate to say that the place has never let me down, but always proved potent at curing alienation, and reconnecting me with 'life'.

Keswick is England's nearest (and preceding) equivalent of Concord Massachusetts as the rural literary centre and birthplace of Romanticism - at various times Coleridge, Southey, De Quincey and Shelley lived there (and were visited by other major writers of the time); and the Wordsworths were just a couple of hours walk over the fells at Grasmere.

Keswick - located on the banks of the sublime Derwentwater, is also the centre for hill walking in the northern Lakes - which was an activity also pioneered by the Romantic poets - so the place attracts residents and visitors who have an outdoorish and also somewhat poetic cast of mind.

Keswick's other main claim to fame is The Keswick Convention, which is an evangelical Christian gathering that was very influential as a cross denominational grouping in Victorian times, and continues in some form - but although church groups visit throughout the year; Christianity is not, overall, a major presence (as it is in, for example, Oxford or Durham or some small Cathedral towns). The spiritual feel is of a general pantheistic/ neo-pagan type.

It is interesting to speculate why Keswick is such a magical place, because there are many factors against this - the fact it is a magnet for tourists, and seems to have a greater number and density of bed and breakfast 'hotels' than anywhere else I have ever been. (Yet these are, in practice, a plus; since the B&Bs tend to be owned and run by couples and families who are some of the nicest people I have met.)  And of course all of Keswick is not magical all of the time - mornings are best, and evenings next best.

Yet somehow the enchantment stands. The surrounding hills have a lot to do with it. The fact that much of the building uses local stone (a dark blueish green slate) probably helps. The type of people it attracts. And probably some cumulative atmosphere built-up over the centuries.

Also, Keswick is very English in a deep and traditional sense of that word, which includes resonances of Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) and Scandinavian - and that also is something I like very much.

How fortunate I have been to know and benefit from Keswick.