A Personal Sense Of ‘Saudade’, Laced With A Topping Of Bitterness

Peel Island, Coniston Lake – The Setting Chosen By Arthur Ransome For His Book “Swallows & Amazons”

Recently my good blogging pal, Twilight, at “Learning Curve on the Ecliptic” wrote of the Portugese/Brazilian sense of nostalgia known as ‘Saudade’.

Twilight tells us that ‘Saudade’ is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves, often carrying a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.
(For a more in-depth understanding of ‘Saudade’, nip over to “Twilight’s Place”).

Reading her post and watching the videos she presented made me realise how much Saudade was, and still is, present in my own life.

I remember the first time it appeared.

When I was a very young boy of maybe seven or eight years my parents took my sister and I camping every summer to an idyllic spot, known locally as Blea Brows, on the shores of Lake Coniston in the English Lake District. They would pitch an old, ex-army, tent near a small pebble beach not far from where the lake runs into the River Crake. It was a remote, peaceful, place tucked away behind trees and invisible from the main Ulverston to Coniston road, though that scarcely mattered as in those days the road would be classed as busy if half a dozen cars a day passed along it.

It was two weeks of sheer heaven for me. I would roam through the woods, catch minnows in the lake shallows, but most of all I discovered the bounteous spiritual magic of nature. Whether it was watching the sun set over the hills, the flash and roar of a summer thunderstorm echoing around the fells, or shuffling out of the tent at three in the morning for a pee, only to be caught, mesmerized, by the mighty searchlight of the Milky Way, it’s billion glowing stars reflected in the glassy, mirrored, surface of the lake.

As I grew older the Lake District holidays with my parents waned until they ceased altogether. I returned on a number of occasions, trying to relive those wonder years, but somehow it was never quite the same. Eventually other interests took over as I matured; those childhood holidays faded into memory.

Sixty plus years later, the Lake District and my magical area around the Coniston Fells have changed little geographically, but my time was before the invention of motorways. The sound of a car winding its way round the twisty curves of that lakeland road would send my sister and I scurrying up the path to stand excited at the roadside, waving enthusiastically as it went by.

Now that same road is choc-a-bloc with traffic in the high season, the fells spattered with the bright red and yellow mountain jackets of young enthusiasts at the many outward bound schools, or at rock-climbing tuition. Every farmhouse, it seems, sports its “Swallows and Amazons” tea room.

I hadn’t been back there for quite a long time. I was beginning to feel that thing called Saudade. At first I was perplexed that although those intense feelings that drew me there as a child still moved me, the place itself no longer held the same magnetism. I realize now it wasn’t so much the place I was missing, but those particular moments of my childhood.

The Lake District of my early years no longer exists. Businesses have sprung up to cater to the huge influx of summer visitors. Camping is now only allowed on designated, controlled, sites with shower blocks and toilets. Elsewhere, the “NO CAMPING” signs abound and wardens patrol to ensure their adherence. The quiet isolation I remember has given way under the strain of modern life.

So, too, has the beautiful, idyllic, spot that was all mine for two weeks every summer of my childhood. It still exists, but nobody’s allowed there anymore. That very place, Blea Brows, where my parents pitched their tent so many years ago was sold by the British government to a private developer two years ago for the princely sum of 90,000 pounds, along with a number of other areas of the Lakeland National Park. [1].

Coniston Water, Torver Common, Cumbria
About 9.99 acres [4.07 hectares]
with 575m of Lake Frontage

Tenure: Freehold
On the instructions from the Lake District National Park Authority. A truly wonderful, majestic, stretch of shoreline. Prominent rocky features, variety of trees, stunning views. Immense amenity value. Wonderful birdlife. 575m of Lake Frontage. About 9.99 acres (4.07 hectares).

For Sale by FORMAL TENDER. Closing Date: 12th MARCH 2015.

GUIDE PRICES: £70,000 to £90,000

“Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves, often carrying a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.”

I can never return to those halcyon days of my childhood spent at Blea Brows on the shores of Lake Coniston, but the longing for them never fully goes away. Now that longing, that Saudade, is tinged with feelings of revulsion and disgust at a government hellbent on selling off the birthright of its people. No doubt by now the place where I played as a child is fenced off and signed: “KEEP OUT PRIVATE PROPERTY.”

At least, in my heart I will always have access.

[1] “First they came for Coniston Water. What’s next?” Telegraph, March 9th 2015

3 Replies to “A Personal Sense Of ‘Saudade’, Laced With A Topping Of Bitterness”

  1. But can we ever go “home” again? I know I’ve tried. But those memories are all drenched in the feelings of those years. The endless days of childhood summer when we were safe and the world was simpler. Good word saudade.

  2. Beautiful post, RJ – and many thanks for the shout-out!
    Memories, strengthened and polished through regular use, are the best pain-killer whenever saudade strikes. Nobody, no billionaire, corporation or council, nothing (other than mental disease – gods forbid) can take our memories – they are ours for always.

  3. WWW – No, we can’t go ‘home’ again, our ‘adult-ness’ won’t let us. This is one of those things I discovered when I went back to the Lake District after many years away. It isn’t just man’s changes to the environment over the years, but changes within ourselves. The magnetism of expectancy was certainly there, but it rapidly faded when I tried to relive those moments I’d felt so strongly as a child. I was a child no longer. The actual feelings I’d experienced all those years ago just weren’t there anymore; only the memory of them. I sat on the same rock, with a stunning view down the lake, as the one I’d sat on many years before. I remembered the surging, emotional experience of oneness I’d felt then, but I could not reproduce it. The emotional tide had ebbed away leaving only the sands of a distant memory.

    Twilight – the ‘shout-out’ was no more than deserved. Sadly, I feel the memories are often mere shadows of the moments.

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