A lake is only a body of water

Three friends have relocated to Derbyshire and because of a muddle over accommodation, they are renting a small cottage overlooking Crime Lake in the valley below the village of Odcott.  Their first day there and Jaffa and Frances head off to work, and the main character is left on her own to begin to organise their possessions.

It was cold by the water, in fact it was pretty cold not by the water, but the terrible chill coming off the Crime Lake was something else.
I had left the cottage and wandered up what you might call the main road, but was in fact little more than a lane which, after a cattle grid, petered out into a stony, rutted track. Our cottage, Crime View was in the middle of a row of three, the one we had passed as we arrived looked empty, although there were drawn curtains at the windows. Maybe a holiday home, uninhabited at this mid-autumn time of year. The one on the other side was actually boarded up… so much for having friendly neighbours, we didn’t have any neighbours!
Facing us across the narrow lane was the end wall of a barn, windowless, and when I’d walked up past it and could see into what looked like a farmyard, it was empty apart from a station wagon and a tractor. No sign of life, although I did hear some sheep bleating. Heading in the other direction was the small heart of the village, a post office, not open today but would be tomorrow, a pub which looked very shut, and a few rows of cottages, similar to ours. There were a few cars parked, flowers on windowsills, bits and pieces in the small front gardens, a few tubs with fading plants – yes there were people but they were obviously all indoors.
It didn’t take me long to take in the sights of Odcott, an interesting old church, squat and hunkered down and closed, a Georgian house next to it with name plate, ‘The Vicarage’, a building which must have been a school, now converted into a home, a square building with ‘Chapel’ carved onto a stone plaque… had this village ever been a thriving, lively place? Hard to imagine.
I walked back down the road we had driven up last night, glad I’d put a thick jumper on under my fleece, and wound a scarf round me, but sorry I’d not thought to bring a hat. It was mighty cold.
There were gate posts in the dry stone wall, no gate but a sign pointing down to the lake. It was a bumpy, stony track, but easy walking – downhill at least. I stopped at a wrought iron bench with worn wooden slats and sat down because there was a view! There was a spinney of near naked trees below me, and a wonderful range of hills in the distance. The sun suddenly appeared and cheered everything up. looking further down the path I was to follow I could see the sparkle of the lake and I got up and followed the way down the hill, thinking I’d be puffing and panting coming back up.
The sun might be showing, but it was pretty chilly, and it seemed to get chillier as I descended towards the lake. I stopped to read a noticeboard, and it was if I was standing in the shade, so very cold now. I guess that valley bottoms take a long time to warm up.
The notice board explained that the jealous wife of the Crime village blacksmith had murdered her husband in the lake. Periodically he emerges from the lake with a hammer and goes in search of her, seeking justice and revenge. That was the legend; more recently – for recent take 1854, Hilda Thurston, wife of the vicar of Crime Chapel, had struck her husband Frederick with the oar of the rowing boat they were in and he too had drowned. Cheerful.
I looked round. There was absolutely no-one in sight, and apart from a single bleating which I presume came from a single sheep, there was no sound or sight of any life. Not so much as a tweet of a bird. I’ve lived in cities all my life, I’m super aware of any dangers strangers may pose. Out her in the abandoned countryside, there were no strangers, in fact there were no people at all – the last person I’d seen apart from Jaffa and Frances were other motorists filling their cars at the petrol station last night.
I set off down the path again, walking as rapidly as I safely could on the stony path, trying to shake off the chill. There was a small plantation of scruffy fir trees, I couldn’t tell what variety they were, in fact I couldn’t even think of any different sorts of fir trees. I guess I was thinking about things like this because, to be honest, this lonely and desolate place was a bit creepy. What an effete townie I am.
Stepping out from among the trees was like opening a freezer door. There was a scrubby area of grass and I followed the track through it and came to wooden fencing, beyond which was the lake. I’d seen it when I’d emerged from the fir trees, and instead of thinking, oooh! There’s the lake, excited and interested, I’d felt reluctant for some reason, but had forced myself to continue.
I can’t say why I felt so strange. Maybe I was tired from the drive yesterday, from the supressed anxiety about where we were going, a subdued feeling of regret of leaving maybe overwhelming the excitement of a new adventure.
I tried to rationalise my feelings of disquiet about it, a lake is only a body of water – and then I wished I hadn’t thought ‘body’ of water.
I pushed open the gate and shut it behind me, remembering some country code instruction on closing gates. The grass was even more sparse and gave way to rocks and pebbles and there was the grey, turgid water, rippling sluggishly, There was a severely chill wind now, but it didn’t raise so much as a ripple on the surface.
Water is dangerous, wherever there’s water – canals, rivers, pools, ponds and lakes there are notices warning of the possible peril. But why would it be dangerous to me, standing a dozen yards from the edge? Did I imagine a dripping vicar armed with an oar, or a sodden blacksmith and his hammer emerging, bent on revenge?
I turned and ran, as if I’d conjured them by imagining them. I couldn’t work the latch on the gate and was about to try to clamber over when the latch gave and I almost tumbled through. I didn’t fail to close it properly, anything to delay whatever it was I imagined. I ran, stumbling, almost tumbling across the sparse grass towards the fir trees, which now seemed like spindly soldiers, waiting to defend me.
I stopped when I got to the bottom of the stony path. I didn’t look back although my skin crawled, I just tried to summon enough energy to head back up the hill.
*
“So what have you been up to all day?” Jaffa asked, giving me a hug. He’d stopped at a Chinese on the way back from Castleton and picked up dinner for us.
“Yeah, I’ve been sorting stuff out, putting away what I can.”
“Been out exploring?” he asked, pulling off his coat. “It’s lovely and warm in here, glad you’ve got the fire going.”
“I just had a quick wander round the village,” I replied. “It’s been a quiet sort of day really.” I gave him another hug. “But I’m glad to see you home!”

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