Polly was my first cousin and there was always a closeness between us. When she was 3 and I was 10, I suppose she must have looked up to me in the way small children do. But always – even when she was very little – there was a sense for me that she was a wiser being and that she had things to show me. And, in all my memories of her, I have a sense that she was gifting me something. I think Polly did that for the people she loved – and who loved her.
As a toddler, she let herself be carried around the house. I had no natural leanings towards small children and I remember perching her, quite precariously, on the book case in the hall of our home in Bollington and being overwhelmed by the trust she placed in me to keep her safe. Perhaps, even then, she was teaching me how to be careful and to cherish the things we love. Looking back at that memory now, I realise I certainly needed the lesson!
When she was a little older – may be 5 or 6 – and I, almost a teenager, we stayed together at Dooker Beck with Grandma and Grandpa. I don’t know how many times we stayed there together – maybe only once or twice – but our adventures in the garden and beyond seem boundless now. Keble, mum and I had recently been on holiday to Ireland and, on a boat trip in Kerry, had been entertained by stories of the teesy-weesies, which I brought home and embellished for Polly. The teesy-weesies were my gift to her from Ireland but I think her Irish heritage gave her a greater claim on them than I could vouch and, despite the difference in our years, we were soon sharing the narrative equally. The teesy-weesies were, of course, tiny people and together we created their miniature world in our minds and in the rivers and woods around the cottage. Twigs were trees and mossy stones were mountain meadows. Minute riverlets became mountain torrents and we moved pebbles across them as if they were boulders. Our shared love of stories, our imagination and the wonderful open spaces around Dooker Beck kept us busy for hours. This was the beginning, for us, of the love of Grasmere that held us two – and our wider family – together for many years.
As we grew up, we spent other joyful times together in Grasmere. We only met there occasionally but each memory is marked by the love I had for her and by a sense that it was always sunny. That can’t have been true – it was always the Lake District after all! I think she must have been about 14 when she joined me and a friend out walking and we got caught in the boglands at the end of the ridge beyond Helm Crag and we brought her home in the rain, wet and muddy to the core. But there were sunny times – we spent a whole afternoon once, playing together in Sour Milk Ghyll, the waterfall on the way up to Easedale Tarn; it is crystal clear and always cold and the memory will always be sparkling. And in the heart of these memories, there is always Polly’s laughter – reminding me that life – even with its muddy boglands and shivery waterfalls – is quite hilarious.
Perhaps my fondest and most precious memory of my time in the Lakes with Polly was more recently – only a few years ago. It was a beautiful hot sunny day and we took our costumes and walked to the far side of Easedale Tarn. Again, we shared our delight in the wonders of nature and, again, Polly gave me permission to just be. ‘We’re otters!’ she sang as we lay on our backs in the dark water, surveying the mountains around us and cherishing together the deep sense of awe we felt at all this beauty and our tremendous fortune at finding ourselves there.
I feel a huge sense of privilege to have had Polly in my life – and to have shared so many memories of The Lake District together. Those memories remind me that it often felt to me that she was able to achieve a precious balance of being both carefree and careful at the same time. And, when I go back to the Lakes, she is still there in the mountains and rivers, getting stuck in the bog and chatting with the teesy-weesies and – always – at Easedale tarn, laughing and playing at otters.