Lost in the Lakes by Tom Chesshyre – Review

Lost in the Lakes by Tom Chesshyre – Review (1)

By David Schuster

That master of the short story, M.R. James, discussing the popular travelogues of the 1840s and 50s, describes them as comprising of “details of hotel accommodation, and of means of communication, such as we now expect to find in any well-regulated guidebook, and they dealt largely in reported conversations with intelligent foreigners, racy innkeepers and garrulous peasants. In a word, they were chatty.” Almost 200 years later, that description can equally well be applied to the intelligent, witty, and relaxed style of Tom Chesshyre’s latest publication, Lost in the Lakes.

Sub-titled, ‘Notes from a 379-mile hike around the Lake District’, it immediately sets out its stall; here’s a narrative, loosely based around a walk, the scale of which is outside of the normal experience of the reader. However, by breaking the whole adventure down into many small parts, Chesshyre cleverly makes it relatable to the majority of us, whose walks are of the day trip variety.

There’s a huge volume of writing about the mountains and waters (of which, ironically, only one is officially a lake) of this beloved National Park, 50,000 in one estimate. However, the author differentiates Lost in the Lakes by focussing on the people he meets along the way, and the thoughts and feelings he experiences as a result. The scenery isn’t ignored, and is at times beautifully and poetically described, but instead forms a backdrop to this more personal account. For example, the patron of his hostel suggests that he meets with a local dignitary; “He’s called Alan Dunn”, Christy said, “And now he’s the mayor of Keswick. Take him for a pint. He can talk his arse off.”

“Active meditation”

Lost in the Lakes by Tom Chesshyre – Review (2)In another encounter, from his conversation with a National Trust worker, who had previously been a biographer for rock musicians, he observes: “a friend asked me to ghost the Robbie Williams section of a biography of Take That. For a short while I was an expert on everything to do with Robbie Williams, until I forgot it all”. ‘Richard had not written about music since that job; the life of Robbie Williams seemed to have undone him.’ If, like me, that form of sideways, wry, observation makes you smile, then you’ll love this book.

However, this isn’t a rose-tinted chocolate box view of life in the Lakes. The conversations subtly begin to form a pattern that reflects the wider world. Life for those working in beautiful, but remote locations is challenging. It’s clear that the entire hospitality sector is struggling with the aftereffects of Brexit and the pandemic, the first which has made staffing a real issue and the second has had a lasting effect on peoples’ behaviours. There are also themes of worry about world affairs, especially the war in Europe. Whether in years to come, this will cause it to appear out of date, or a valued snapshot of a point in history, only time will tell.

One thing that is certain, is the fact that getting out into the countryside, taking moderate exercise and interacting with others are all excellent for mental health, and that the act of walking any distance provides a form of active meditation. An inherent value of Lost in the Lakes, is that they remind one of these simple truths and, perhaps, encourage us outside. Tom downplays his experience as a hiker, but it’s clear that he must have some confidence in his own abilities to plan a 379-mile hike over a 30-day period, and to forward reserve his accommodation. That said, the chapters follow his route day by day, making it easy for any competent hiker to walk individual sections, and I’d certainly like to do that.

Chesshyre is the ideal companion; intelligent and witty. The good news is that he’s a well-established travel writer, and this is his eleventh book. So, if you enjoy Lost in the Lakes, there’s a lot more of his company to enjoy.

‘Lost in the Lakes’ by Tom Chesshyre is published by Summersdale


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