10 Jan The Lakes feeds the soul
“Guests – be careful not to talk to them too much: you never know what they will want next – more tea, more toast, more advice on the best walks! We are supposed to know everything about the Lake District!” I was disheartened with this advice, not long after moving into our beautiful B&B in a gorgeous Lakeland village, dreaming of offering our guests all they could wish for and more…
This also echoed colleagues in my former life at a top UK university who would bemoan “Students! They want me to talk to them! I have papers to write, research grants to get, teaching evaluation forms to compile – and they want me to talk to them!” Think of that – students wanting time with their lecturers, paid to teach them.
Or B&B guests – wanting time with their hosts, having chosen to come to a home not a hotel, to meet people who live and work in the Lakes, and might know a little about the best cafes, pubs and walks. We certainly love being out as much possible – doing our ‘B&B research’ walking the fells, trying out new pubs and tea-rooms. Universities do need students, however demanding; B&Bs do need guests, however demanding.
There are annoying guests, to be sure, just as there are annoying students in universities – or annoying customers in any sphere of work. Over the last three years since opening, we have met one or two. We had one recently who I will always remember. He was one of our most annoying guests, and I hope I will always remember him with great fondness.
Alarm bells rang as soon as he arrived. We have a large sign by our front door and a huge sign on the street (for which we had to wait 6 months to get planning permission – it’s that eye-catching) – but he said he had driven past the property 5 times before finding us. He was a bag of agitation. Over the week he was with us, he left a trail of old and new nicotine trails behind him, he managed to break a bespoke blind – which has cost us a large sum to replace, and managed to spill tomato soup on the fairly new pale grey carpet. He complained about the weather – pretty good weather as I recall, and complained that everyone in the Lake District seemed obsessed with walking, or worse still – fell running.
But also in those first few moments I felt something must have happened to him. I wasn’t sure what, but wondered if he was bereaved, possibly tragically. He had a slight tremor. Perhaps he had post-traumatic stress. He came to the Lakes for calm, for peace, for a change of context. He didn’t want very much. He certainly didn’t talk very much. Many people say that the Lakes nourish the soul. And most imagine this means walking or running in the fells, standing by a lake – lost in thought. That the Lakes feed imagination, creativity and mental well-being. For our guest, he did not walk the fells. I am not sure that he even walked to ‘our’ lake, Derwentwater, which is only 5 minutes away. He did not paint or write. He probably did not even take photos. He came to a B&B for a change of scene, a new environment. I felt humbled by the experience. On his mysterious journey of recovery we were just one week, just one small stepping stone. But I had a strong sense we had given him a little oasis, a little haven away from the traumas that lay behind his unusual manner, and offered some connection with humanity.
We have had a few more guests like this – recently divorced, recently redundant, recently lost a child. Or just a bit sad, a bit lost. They never talk much about their sadness, and you know not to ask. The Lakes draws people in who are in need of something. The beauty and enormity of the landscape can give a sense of calm, a sense of other horizons and a sense of connection. To have a B&B in such a place can be quite humbling in quite unexpected and disarming ways, even with the most annoying of guests…