The Comfort of Barns


A delightful account of some very unconventional sleeping places and jolly days in the open, together with a few words on two very human dogs which knew how to enjoy themselves. WE had five free days to make the most of, and there is nothing like
a walking tour to stretch out
a short holiday.

From the moment we left our door this walk was not as other walks-bounded by knowledge of where we should sleep! It would be hard to write about this walk without special mention of Porky Owls and Codfish, for it was the greater happiness of dogs, no less than economy, that suggested sleeping in barns on our holiday.

Porky Owls will always be too young to be taken seriously. Codfish, of the pale grey eyes, is dignified, sensitive and inclined to sentiment. Porky goes out of his way to conceal affection. When one of us returns home Porky’s tail wags hard, but Porky looks carefully in the opposite direction or dashes after an imaginary calf.

As we got beyond our usual range of walks, the dogs kept us carefully in sight as they rushed about indefatigably "chasing smells.” Sometimes we hid and watched them scour the hillside for us, leaping high to look over the bracken and jumping on to walls to see more easily. We carried ruck-sacks, with sketching materials, pyjamas (which we supplemented at night by most of our other garments), tooth-brushes, sand shoes and a change of stockings, bathing suits, jerseys, mackintoshes, camera, knife, electric torch, brush and comb between us. We took cheese, fruit, butter and a loaf of bread (not sandwiches, which get dry) for the day's walk; also (inconvenient, but soon disposed of) a bag of dog biscuits, lest we should find only the thin porridge farm dogs are sometimes fed on. Which leaves our two politely waiting to be fed!

The farmers were all most kind, though sometimes concerned for us, and our expenses worked out at less than 10s. a day for the two of us plus dogs.

In Mardale we spent two nights, one of which was cold and uncomfortable - our only bad night. We were thankful to get up before sunrise, open the small door beside which we had slept, and look out. A field covered with hoar frost sloped to the lake.

The water was very still, and the light was growing over the hill beyond. At the head of the lake, some of the big hills were already touched with the gold of sunrise. It was too cold even to watch the growing beauty, so we bathed with resolution (but oh, the coldness of cleaning one's teeth on the wet rocks at the edge!), dressed, collected our belongings. and were walking fast towards a farm and breakfast by the time the sun came over the hill.

We spent the day walking and sketching beside Haweswater - a glorious bright and shining day. The oak trees with the sun through their green, bronze and golden leaves made the wooded hills in the shadow bluer than ever by contrast. Here and there a cherry tree or birch stood out among the hazels and alders like a flame.

Towards evening we returned to the top of the lake and found another farmhouse and a barn that was the very climax of comfort; We had supper in the cosy farm kitchen; The dogs roasted themselves happily by the fire and were examined by the farmer on the certain points of true Westmorland sheepdogs, (They came short of this ideal by half a whisker or more; but were nevertheless approved; on the whole!)

The night was starry and very cold, but our barn was just full enough of hay to be quite perfect.

Our bed was round the corner from the door and well out of the draught; We were lent abundance of rugs, on which the dogs immediately curled up exactly in the middle and said “Thank you". We argued with them, established our rights, and slept soundly enough to make up for the night before. Next morning it was still clear, and, having laid in provisions for the day, we started across the beautiful little valley of Riggindale. The fields in the bottom were covered with silvery hoar frost, and above, the fell grass was yellow in the sunlight. Sharp blue shadows of hills and trees and a little pocket in the hillside near Kidsty Pike added to the joy of the particularly lovely outline of these hills.

On our way down towards Ullswater we watched through field glasses several herds of deer;  The strange bellowing of the stags we had first taken for a cow in distress. We tried to get close enough for a photograph, but they were alarmed and bounded off over the hillside in long lines, a stag always well to the rear.

That night it began to rain and to snow on the hills, but cleared next day soon after we left our little farm by Ullswater. After a day of exploring and sketching we turned homeward at sunset. By the time we reached the top of Kirk-stone Pass it was quite dark, but starlight and keenly cold. A glorious night to walk, though in that searching wind from the snowy hills the thought, of a real bed was most attractive; The dogs seemed satisfied to be on familiar ground again, trotted up the path ahead of us and scratched at the door.

We. too, were fresh for home.

Mary Yates. (Sometime in the 1920's)