There are many things in life that have left me feeling like a bit of an eejit. Getting lost in my office block while learning about navigation. Giving someone the same book for Christmas two years in a row. Making cupcakes so heavy I pulled a muscle taking them out the oven.
Lake district in autumn
But top of my list is taking more than three decades to realise that the best time to walk in the Lake District is autumn. Not once in those long years has it crossed my mind to head north at this time of year. I blame it on one fondly-held belief: that the Lake District is all water and rock. And of course, water and rock � or lake and crag - don�t look so very different in the fall; it�s the trees who fling on new rags and sashay centre stage.
Swathe of autumn colours
So when I find myself near Grasmere in autumn, I have to blush. The place is aflame with colour and I�ve been missing it all. Suddenly, I stop craning at the peaks and notice the valleys are packed to the rafters with wood, their summer uniform of camouflage-green transformed to eye-popping russet, amber, mustard, gold, ochre � the entire autumn colour-chart daubed across a great swathe of Cumbria.
It all hollers for a better look and I turn to the first fell I can find � the little peak of Loughrigg. It�s the kind of diminutive hill where summit and views come fast, or they might if I wasn�t instantly distracted by the woodland at its base. The leaves crackle underfoot, the golden light drips like treacle through the branches and it takes me a good couple of hours to make it anywhere near the 335 metre summit.
And I begin to feel even more of an eejit as I realise that the water and rock change with the seasons too. The fluttering midsummer blue of Grasmere is now a sheet of steel grey, its sombre tones making the show-off leaves all the more flamboyant, and the craggy peaks have darkened to gleaming black, slick with recent rain.
In every direction bracken clothes the slopes in bronze, as if the fells are quietly rusting in the damp autumnal weather. I can pick out the distinctive shape of the Langdale Pikes, and the bulky ridge of Helvellyn clawing north, while the long strip of Windermere laps south. The entire panorama is textured green and cinnamon and grey, an expanse of colour and shadow I�ve never seen in midsummer glare.
And there�s even some appropriately autumnal mist � well, that�s a romantic interpretation of the clouds piling in the west. A few determined rays of sun spike through, picking out Elterwater and Loughrigg Tarn, polishing them to silver against the darkening hills. It feels like someone�s trying to communicate from above. I can only imagine they�re saying �Welcome to the Lakes in autumn. Gorgeous, huh? You eejit.�