It was still early afternoon and although I had lingered longer at Oddendale – lying in the soft thin grass and watching the horizons – I still had enough daylight left to take in another site. Back in the warmth of the car, and out of the blustery winds that make unfolding maps so irritating, I consulted my notes and decided that I had enough time to visit The Cockpit – a large stone circle on a saddle of raised land between the northern shores of Ullswater and the valley of the river Lowther. The drive took me back into Shap and out again through the quite villages and hamlets of the north eastern fells of Lakeland and into Helton, where I took a turning up a typically steep and narrow Cumbrian track onto the moor. There were several cars already parked at the side of the lane when I got out, booted up and looked at the threatening sky to the north.
Divock Moor has a concentration of cairns, stones and circles and I had already planned a longer and more extensive visit for the spring but today I was aiming for The Cockpit – the largest circle in this fascinating location. Some of the guidebooks warn of the difficulty in navigating across the moor in low cloud and fog but today the walk was clear, level and easy, with the path clearly defined and often as wide as a street. Although the moor is at no great altitude the several hundred metres climb from Oddendale and Haberwain clearly showed in the burning cold that reddened my hands every time I took off my gloves, which was often as I stopped to take photographs of the surrounding topography and sites. Moorland walking is really boring, I have never understood those people in blue windcheaters and woolly hats who set off for a walk across miles of barren and featureless moor land. For me there has to be a point in walking, and I don’t always have to walk a long way. Sometimes I take hours to cover a distance that could be walked in minutes because I criss-cross the area, often crawling through the undergrowth, looking for track and sign. Even when I’m going to a specific place for a specific purpose I deviate from the path and wander as my fancy takes me. There is nothing duller than keeping to the path.
The Cockpit appears suddenly from the deep grass and heather. The circle is made of 75 stones, some standing some fallen, with a diameter of 28 metres. The Cockpit was possibly once a double circle, like Oddendale and Gunnerkeld to the east, although the visible evidence for this is scant. I sat down on the southernmost stone, opposite what seemed to me the “entrance” and partook of my bait. A fell runner, somewhat larger of frame than the usual type, lumbered by in his black lycra suit. Several walkers, one carrying a backpack that would have made a Tibetan Sherpa quake, passed several hundred meters to the west along the line of High Street, the old Roman Road that traversed the eastern fells. After the quiet, contemplative solitude of Oddendale this felt like sitting on a city pavement. A couple on bright shiny mountain bikes went east along the trail to Helton. Some time later a well-to-do couple with leather hats, long coats and expensive dogs passed by, going in the opposite direction. No one stopped to look at the circle. Even taking into account my uncouth, mud-spattered and possibly threatening presence I found this strange. Maybe these people come here so regularly that the place no longer holds any glamour and has become invisible? Maybe some people are so intent on getting to the next place that they fail to appreciate where they are now.