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It's a pleasure to be in the Lakes, says DJ Stuart Maconie
I FEAR Mr Maconie’s attention may be somewhat divided when I phone him to talk about his time in Cumbria.
There is a muffled noise on the other end of the line.
“Hello,” I say.
“Gammon slices please,” is his non-sequitur reply “Hello, Stuart?”
“Oh, hello there. Ah you’ve caught me. I’m in Booths.”
The 51-year-old is having to squash in his appointments, and his sandwiches, between an afternoon radio slot on Radio6 Music, ongoing book projects and TV appearances.
He has written screenplays, reviewed music for Q magazine, and written for Word Magazine, Elle, The Times, The Guardian, the Evening Standard, Daily Express, Select, Mojo, Country Walking, and Deluxe magazine to name a few.
Alongside this he has written books, including the autobiography Cider With Roadies; a comic discussion of northern England called Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North; and Adventures on the High Teas: In Search of Middle England.
I can imagine this media powerhouse scanning the Salford supermarket aisles, but what has he got to do with Cumbria?
He told me, and possibly also the checkout girl: “I spend a lot of time in the Lake District – in fact I’ve spent all my weekends there for the last 15 years.
“I have a little bolt hole near Ullswater, which I have visited ever since I started working at NME. And the county has been a place I have run to since I was a teenager.”
He explains that in his early years, his trips were all about freedom – fishing trips and Esthwaite pub crawls.
It was only many years later, when he was coaxed to Lakeland by his wife, that he learned there was more to the region than fish and beer.
He explains: “I never thought I would wind up a walker, but we walked up Loughrigg and saw the view and I fell completely in love.
“We became real obsessives.”
Over the following 15 years, Mr Maconie became an Alfred Wainwright walker, ticking off each of the guide book writer’s 214 routes.
He tells me: “I left Kirk Fell to the end. It’s an absolute bugger.
“We had champagne afterwards, with fish and chips.
“We used the walks to help experience the whole of the Lakes. Now, we head to wherever we fancy going.”
While Mr Maconie has clearly taken to the northern countryside, he is keen to dismiss any suggestion he has become a macho hiker.
In fact, he says the idea horrifies him: “I haven’t got a beard. It terrifies me a bit, those hearty faces and all the macho attitudes. Those brash blokes who have to get 500 miles up a fell before dawn.
“I’ve never even been across Striding Edge – I went up the other way for the Wainwright.
“You get people who always head to Helvellyn. On a Bank Holiday Monday there are lads going up in minibuses, weeing up against people’s back doors. I never want to be involved in that.”
His personal favourite part of the Cumbrian landscape is Bowscale Fell and Tarn, and his voice goes slightly drifty on the other side of the phone line as he describes the beautiful scenery.
The site, at the back of Blencathra in the Northern Fells, was the final resting place of his West Highland terrier Muffin, which he used to carry across the fells in his rucksack. He scattered the dog’s ashes there in tribute.
Mr Maconie also uses Cumbria as a place to help with his writing – and he often works from rural spots near Penrith.
I ask him what the great attraction is between writers, like William Wordsworth and Thomas De Quincey and himself, and Cumbria.
“It’s not that you can cut yourself off – everyone has a mobile phone nowadays – but it feels different with mountains and sheep and red squirrels around,” he said. “I get more done in a weekend in Cumbria than in six weeks anywhere else.
“It’s a joy – a real pleasure to be there.”
And with that final thought, we finish our interview. Mr Maconie races back to MediaCity to go on air, leaving me with a dead dial tone and the Lakeland fells.