“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Today’s walk at Rydal Water was a happy one; but as we descended the Corpse Road or Coffin Route from Rydal Cave, my thoughts turned somber. I imagined the relatives and friends of a newly deceased loved one being carried on their shoulders as they made their slow sad way from Ambleside to St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere in order to bury their dead in consecrated ground. The mourners, perhaps borne down by grief and literally shuddering with tiredness under the sheer weight and awkwardness of an unwieldy coffin upon their shoulders, would have trod uneven footpaths strewn with rocks and stones, both unyieldingly hard and difficult underfoot.

coffin route, corpse road, rydal water, stones, rocks
These rocks on the Coffin Route at Rydal Water can be treacherous, particularly when the weather is wet, snowy or icy.

Rydal Water was a favourite walk of Zack’s, and he always perked up whenever we took him there for walkies. How my heart ached when I thought of the fact that he would no longer walk these routes in the flesh. Tears beaded in my eyes. I remembered how much he enjoyed drinking from its watering places, the product of waterways that coursed down the fell to form refreshing pools of clear running water. And I thought back to his determination to climb those coffin trails as he took one slow step after another slow step, each footing possibly costing him dear in comfort and energy, yet boosting the morale that is so important in a dog that wanted to enjoy what he still could . . . only, much more slowly. This was the undertaking of an old and arthritic dog, yet his doggedness pushed him on – to achieve that which many a fitter human being might well have turned away from doing so. When he fell, he rose again with our help – and he pushed on until he had completed what he had determined to do. And then, he would stand there, grinning happily, as if to say, “Look at what a clever boy I am!” We were the ones who had to hold him back when he would carry on. We were the ones who had to do this before his legs collapsed under him. . . . But it was never the easiest thing to turn him back, for he knew his own mind. And for this latter reason, his legs did oft times collapse under him, but he would not give in nor give up.

coffin route, rydal water, dog, pyrenean mountain dog, lake district, dog, rescue dog
20th November 2016: Zack was best pleased with himself having walked Rydal Water, including the Coffin Route.

The Coffin Route brought all these thoughts and memories to mind as we walked the paths around Rydal Water. However, life is for living, and it was a joy to see Horatio stepping unconcernedly into the lake as he drank from it, or stepped up to those same water runnels to taste the sparkling freshness of the water coming off the fell. His actions were the affirmations of life that all creatures need: they spoke of joy in his surroundings and delight in all that was on offer to all his senses. When he suddenly began digging at the side of a footpath, I wondered whether he could smell Zack there. Can a scent from one well beloved dog remain so long in the earth? Only Horatio can answer that.

great dane, rescued dog, rydal water, lake district
Horatio sniffed with more interest and intensity than usual at this spot. Then he started to dig. Our rescued boy has never dug before, so we wondered whether he could smell Zack just there. They had lived six months together before Zack left us to grieve.

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