Waterfowl were the big attraction expecting to be fed by tourists

Waterfowl were a star tourist attraction at Derwent Water during Robin Masons visit to the Lake District.
Waterfowl were a star tourist attraction at Derwent Water during Robin Masons visit to the Lake District.

I enjoyed a trip to the Lakes last week, with Keswick calling to attend “Words by the Water” – a festival of words and ideas held in the Theatre by the Lake.

A more stunning location could not have been chosen, situated on the edge of a scintillating Derwent Water surrounded by snowy peaks and blessed with clear, blue skies.

The backcloth of woods were a home to a woodpecker which could be heard drumming each morning as if to draw people in, whilst at the end of the day a tawny owl hooting concluded proceedings.

There’s been ample time between events and enjoying the chat with others to wander to the water’s edge to soak up the scenery to see the view down the lake into the “jaws” of Borrowdale and the ridge upon ridge of mountains beyond.

And if that wasn’t enough, the contrasting colours of the fells – rich earthy hues topped icy-white above the snowline – were accentuated in a slanting March sun.

At the jetties, resident waterfowl were the big attraction, making the most of attention from tourists – a motley group of mallard ducks, gulls, mute swans and geese, both Canada and greylags, milling about on the pebbly shore with an expectancy to be fed. All seemed to be in very good condition and faring well from their chosen lifestyle – welcomed from the wild.

It was the bulky greylag gander that caught my eye, looking the self-appointed flockmaster ambling in and out of his charges – even the swans stepped aside. Eying up that large bright orange bill of his with a telescopic reach, together with the glint in his eye, I too kept my distance!

But I was close enough to appreciate his dense and intricate feathering, especially the pale-grey leading edge on the wings – the ones selected to make flights or fletches on arrows for bowmen to shoot straight and true, and the primary flight feathers – when discarded after the annual moult – used by the learned for centuries for quill pens.

The black and white Canada geese looked docile and patient in comparison – an introduced species to adorn lakes three centuries ago and cosseted, though they have by both their size and possible aggressive behaviour to both predators and competitors been able to establish themselves in some places to the point of becoming a pest. A tight flight of them honking in unison passed disconcertingly low overhead to land further out in the bay, not quite ready to feel at home meeting the public.

I kept geese years ago – to save cutting the grass in an orchard. They proved as good as a watchdog by sounding off with a raucous cackle at the sight of strangers or anything unusual along the lane.

All that seemed to stop at about Christmas time, I recall!

It was time though to get back to the theatre to replace the call of the wild, or at least the semi-feral, leaving you only with these “Words by the Water”.