Holker Hall

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For our last full day in Cartmel we decided to visit Holker Hall, the local stateley home. We’d had a long day the day before so had a little lie in and so only set out after 11 o’clock. We could have driven to the Hall but it was another fine day and it was only a couple of miles away so we decided to go on foot – a little less carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere!

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The building dates from the 16th century, and so originally Jacobean in style, but there have been substantial alterations and additions over the years, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. There was a major fire in 1871 which destroyed the west wing and most of it’s contents, in 1871. It was rebuilt in an “Jacobean revival” style.

The land on which the house stands was originally owned by Cartmel Priory but following the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII it was bought by the Preston family, who were local landowners. Through marriage the estate passed to the Lowther family and then to the Cavendish, the same family as the Dukes of Devonshire. Today the older part of the house is occupied by Lucy Carrington, the daughter of Lord Cavendish, the Tory peer.Like Chatsworth, the home of their relatives, the rest of the house and most of the grounds are open to the public – for a fee, of course!

We started by exploring the house. The west wing, although still used by the family, is open to the public. Lucy Cavendish lives in the older part of the house which is “out of bounds”.

This is the Library on the ground floor – a large display of books being de-rigueur for all grand houses. I wonder how many were actually read? I bet many f them were just on display to show how cultured the owners were!

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One particularly fascinating exhibit here, for me, were the microscope that had been owned and used by the brilliant, but eccentric, scientist, Henry Cavendish (I’m sure he was on the autistic spectrum). Couldn’t avoid reflections, unfortunately.

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The Drawing Room

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The dining room – the painting over the fireplace is a self portrait by Van Dyke

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The main staircase. All the carvings in the rebuilt wing were created by local craftsmen.

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Upstairs – the Long Gallery, a recreation of a typical feature of grand Elizabethan and Jacobean houses

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The Wedgewood Bedroom

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Named after the collection of blue and white Wedgwood Jasper ware in the Dressing Room.

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One of the grand bedrooms

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“Queen Mary’s bedroom” – where the wife of King George VI stayed when she visited in 1937

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Then we explored the gardens. They are very extensive – 23 acres with a series of formal gardens set within a more informal landscape and woodland – and we really didn’t have enough time to see everything. But on a sunny Spring day, with flowers and blossom coming into bloom, we enjoyed wandering around.

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We stayed almost to closing time and then headed back towards Cartmel through the pleasant countryside, with a good view towards Hampsfell

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Coniston to Black Crag via Yewdale and Tarn Hows

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Last Wednesday promised to be a fine day, so we drove from our cottage in Cartmel over to Coniston. A couple of miles from the village I had to stop to snap a photo of the Lake.

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We parked up on the edge of Coniston, donned our boots and set off on the path up Yewdale.

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There’s the Old Man – no cloud on top today!

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A good view of Holme Fell ahead

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Carrying on up the valley through pleasant woodland

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Looking across the valley to Wetherlam and Tilberthwaite

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Helvelyn and Fairfield in the distance

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Looking back towards Wetherlam

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and there’s the Langdale Pikes appearing over the top of Holme Fell

After an hour or so we reached Tarn Hows which was created in the 19th Century by James Garth Marshall, at that time the owner of the Monk Coniston estate, from a number of smaller tarns. Today it’s a popular tourist spot with a car park that makes the relatively easy walk around the tarn accessible, and, especially as it was a fine day during the school holidays, so there were quite a few other people around

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We stopped for a bite to eat before setting off along the path that skirts the western shore of the tarn.

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At the top end of the lake we made the decision to carry on and climb up onto Black Fell.

After walking up hill through scrub land and through woodland

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Black Crag, the summit of the modest fell, came into view

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We climbed to the summit which is reputably one of the best viewpoints in the Lake District. And on a day like last Wednesday I would definitely not argue with that!

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The views in every direction were astounding. I snapped a panorama with my phone. You’ll have to click on the photos to get an idea of what we could see, even if a photograph really can’t do the views justice.

Looking towards the Coniston Fells, the Langdales, Helvelyn and the Fairfield Horseshoe

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and towards the Eastern Fells, and four lakes (Windermere, Esthwaite Water, Coniston Water and Tarn Hows)

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No question it had been worth the effort to walk up to here.

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We stopped for a while, soaking it all in before turning round and retracing our steps back down to Coniston, taking the path along the eastern side of Tarn Hows this time

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and then back down Yewdale

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Getting close to Coniston

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Reaching the village we decided to grab a meal before driving back to Cartmel and, although it was busy (school holidays, remember) we managed to bag a table in the Yewdale Inn. A bit of a wait for our food, but worth it.

We were lucky to have arrived just before rush hour!

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What a great day!

A walk around Cartmel

Our first full day staying in Cartmel, we decided to get out for a walk. Our cottage was at the foot of the limestone ridge of Hampsfell, so we set out on the path which ran right past our front door and which would take us across the fields and up the hill.

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As we climbed, looking back, we could see the group of buildings where we were staying

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It didn’t take too long before we started to approach the top of the ridge which is covered by an expanse of limestone pavement

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It was windy on top of the ridge and given the ways the trees had grown, it clearly usually is!

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Walking along the ridge Hampsfell Hospice came into view

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The building of the folly was commissioned by the pastor of Cartmel “for the shelter and entertainment of travellers” in 1846.

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It commands 360 degree views over to the high Lakeland fells to the north and Morecambe Bay to the south, particularly from the roof, which can be accessed by climbing some rather precarious stone steps.

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We stopped for a while, sheltering from the wind while we had a bite to eat and taking in the views. Long range visibility wasn’t too good but we could still make out the fells in the distance.

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and over the Bay – although the tide was out revealing the extensive sands and mudflats

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Looking down to Cartmel

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After our break we set off again walking along the ridge. Passing other walkers, as is usual, we exchanged greetings with other walkers and a couple of fell runners. Then I heard a shout a short distance away. Someone wanted to speak to us so we waited and were joined by an elderly lady. She asked where we were heading and as we were taking the same path she asked whether we minded if she joined us and if we might help her to climb a difficult stile on the descent. Of course we agreed. As we walked we chatted and it transpired that this sprightly lady was 86 years old. She had always been a keen walker and was still getting out and about, today having walked up from Kents Bank, a good few miles away. When we reached the stile she got over without any assistance but we were there to provide reassurance and help to arrest a fall in case she slipped.

Here she is on the left of the photo

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We continued down hill with her, enjoying her company, chatting and exchanging experiences. Reaching the bottom of the hill we continued in the direction of Cartmel and parted company when we reached a cemetery where her husband, who had died only 2 years before, was buried. She was going to visit his grave. We said our goodbyes and continued on. A chance encounter on the hills which had been a rather lovely experience. I hope I’m as efit and energetic as this lovely lady and able to get out on the fells when I’m 86 (no! I’ve a few more years to go!)

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Another mile or so along a quiet road and we reached Cartmel in the early afternoon and we decided it was a good time to stop and have a brew! Refreshed, we decided to continue our walk, heading across the racecourse and along the tracks through the woods and fields towards another hill, Howbarrow to the west of the small town.

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After a stiff climb we reached the summit of Howbarrow

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It’s a modest hill, only 558 feet high, but we were again greeted by extensive views over the Bay (the tide now in) and over to the Fells

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Looking over the Leven estuary

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My photos across the bay didn’t come out so good as the light had turned flat and grey and we were looking into the sun.

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We had several options to return to Cartmel, all a little convoluted, which tested my rusty map reading skills. Our route took us through pleasant countryside of green fields and woodland

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and small groups of farms and other buildings

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Eventually returning to, and crossing, the racecourse

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(not sure I’d have been able to clear the fences!)

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We returned to the village to pick up a few supplies from the small, but well stocked, convenience store, before heading back to our accommodation.

A good “figure of 8” walk, about 10 miles in length but not too taxing.

Spring Break

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It’s been a long haul from Christmas this year with Easter being so late – I wish they’d fix the date! So I was glad to be able to take a week off work last week to go away for a few days. We found ourselves a cottage for 4 nights just outside Cartmel at the foot of Hampsfell.

Cartmel is a small, attractive village to the north of the treacherous sands of Morecambe Bay, which is something of a “honeypot” with an old Priory church, old houses and other buildings, a number of touristy shops, a Michelin 2 star restaurant, four pubs and the smallest racecourse in the UK. The village is just to the south of the Lake District National Park, although our cottage, one of a small group of properties, was just inside the National Park boundary. Historically the Cartmel peninsula, together with nearby Furness, the other side of the Leven estuary, were part of Lancashire. Cut off from the rest of the county the area was often known as “Lancashire over the sands”. Following local government reorganisation in 1974 it was absorbed by the newly created county of Cumbria.

This old map shows the pre-1974 county boundaries and includes “Lancahire over the sands”

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Although seemingly cut off from the rest of the county the area was accessed via routes over the sands of Morecambe Bay. The tide recedes from the bay leaving behind a vast area of sand and mudflats criss-crossed by a number of river channels and notorious for it’s quicksands. Until the Furness railway was opened in 1857, crossing the sands was a major route of communication. It was a dangerous crossing, though, and many people were trapped by quicksands and a rapidly rising tide, losing their lives. According to Wikipedia Cartmel apparently means “sandbank by rocky ground“, from the Old Norse kartr (rocky ground) and melr, reflecting it’s location a few miles north of the bay.

We were lucky to have some decent weather – cool, but sunny – so managed to have a good break taking in some walks, a visit to a stately home and even some art! So, lots to write up, but for a starter here’s a few photos we took in and around the village and our cottage.

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A visit to Moorcroft Pottery

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A couple of weeks ago we drove over to Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent for a visit to the Moorcroft Heritage Visitor Centre. Moorcroft are one of the few remaining British pottery companies based in the city (or cluster of towns) which was originally the centre of pottery production. Moorcroft specialise in the production of hand made art pottery using traditional craft techniques. Their distinctive “tube lined” Art Nouveau and Art Deco inspired pieces have a loyal following and some designs can fetch high prices.

One of my Christmas presents last year was a “factory tour” and we’d finally got around to organising a date to visit. The Visitor centre is located on a former manufacturing site and the first thing you see when you arrive is the Grade II Listed Bottle Oven, the last remaining one of several that used to be used for firing the pottery made here.

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These traditional kilns were fired with coal and were very polluting, belching out smoke, carbon dioxide and other gases, so were replaced with cleaner electric kilns following the 1956 Clean Air Act. Moorcroft’s production now takes place in a more modern factory a short distance away, but this site is used for research and development of new pieces as well as hosting factory tours. There’s also a small museum of Moorcroft pieces and a shop.

We started off by looking round the display of photographs showing the history of the site and the traditional production process. And we were able to peek inside the Bottle Oven.

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This is where “ware” twas fired. The individual pieces were initially put into fireclay boxes called “saggars” which were then stacked inside the oven ready for firing at a temperature between 1000° C and 1250° C , usually for two or three days.

We then had a look around the small museum with it’s extensive collection of Moorcroft pieces covering the company’s history.

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I particularly liked this large pot with pictures of pottery workers

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There were also some pieces from the Blackwell collection which had featured in an exhibition at the Arts and Crafts house near Bowness (which we visit regularly) a few years ago

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Then it was time for the tour. The guide, Corrie, was very knowledgeable and took us through each step in the production process which included by demonstrations by the highly skilled workers.

These days the pots are cast using the slip casting technique, so the initial step is the production of the pattern which is then used to manufacture the moulds. A liquid slurry of clay is prepared which is poured into the mould. Water is absorbed from the “slip” leaving a solid layer in contact with the mould. The excess slip is poured off and the mould disassembled leaving behind the cast pot. We’d had a go at this ourselves a couple of year ago during a visit to Tate Modern (of all places!)

The casting is then cleaned up, initially on a lathe and then by “sponge fettling” (a great term!) before the design is traced onto the pot and the tube lining applied. Liquid colour is then applied inside the areas created by the lining. All these process are carried out manually and require enormous skill. And the hand made approach means that each piece, even of the same design, are all slightly different.

The pots are then given an initial firing, coated with glaze and then re-fired to complete the piece. The firing process is where the real “magic” (or, possibly, alchemy) occurs, as the colours are transformed.

No photographs are allowed during the tour, but the following video provides a potted version of the process

and it’s summarised with some good photos on their website.

We finished our visit by looking round the shop. The pieces may seem expensive for pots, but having seen the process, the skill involved and the time it takes to produce the pieces, they seemed well-priced. We were tempted to shell out but we’ve nowhere to display ceramics properly in our mess of a house (perhaps I should stop going out so much and stop home and get it sorted) and, perhaps more importantly, we’d be terrified of knocking it over and breaking it!. However, we decided to buy a plaque we could hang on the wall, selecting a design based on the work of Charles Rennie-Mackintosh, partly influenced by the exhibition we’d visited in Liverpool the previous Saturday. The price was similar to what I’d expect to pay for a limited edition print by an established artist, so not unreasonable for what, in effect, is a ceramic equivalent – and having paid for the factory tour we received a modest discount.

I really enjoyed the visit, being able to see skilled workers in action. (I had to stop myself concentrating on the health risks, mind!). And I can now really appreciate the individual nature of what are really works of art.

A walk around the “little Lake District”

The weather over the last few weeks has been up and down – some days warm and sunny and then a return to winter. Last Friday came at the end of an unseasonably warm week. I was able to finish up work early and get out for a walk so I decided to drive the few miles over to Rivington and go for a wander around the reservoirs.

With its string of reservoirs and moorland hills, when I was young my mother would refer to Rivington as the “Little Lake District” and although the lakes are man-made and not as large as those in Cumbria, and the hills aren’t as high and rugged, it’s a fair point.

I parked up on the car park near Rivington High School and set off for a walk that would take me around the chain of reservoirs that stretch from Horwich over to the bottom of Healey Nab near Chorley, The route wasn’t as strenuous as my walk up on St Sunday Crag the week before, but it had plenty of interest.

I headed over to the replica of Liverpool Castle

A good view over to Rivington Pike

Following the path along the reservoir

with a short diversion to have a look at the Great Hall Barn

I crossed over the dam that divides the Lower and Upper Rivington reservoirs

and then took the path along the west shore of the lake. Unlike when I was here on a misty morning a few weeks ago, there was a good view over to Rivington Pike and Winter Hill

Carrying on along the quiet country lane

At the end of the Upper Rivington reservoir I crossed the road over the dam and took the path along the west shore of Anglezarke reservoir

The route veered away from the lakeside for a while, but not too far.

Looking over to Anglezarke Moor and Great Hill

Diverting from the reservoir for a while I took the path up towards Healey Nab, passing an old, flooded quarry

up through the woods

When I was a teenager we lived in at house at the bottom of the hill, on the other side, and this was my stomping ground. The trees were young then, but some 40 odd years later they’ve grown to the extent that they block the view over the town.

Heading back down towards Anglezarke, this used to be a favourite view in my youth (the photo doesn’t do it justice)

I passed the flooded quarry we knew as Bluewaters

and then made my way back to the shore of Anglezarke reservoir

I crossed over the dam to the east shore, walkng along a short stretch of road past Waterman’s cottage

and then took the path through the fields along the eastern shore

Part way along I cut across the path past High Bullogh reservoir (the smallest in the string of the man-made lakes it was the first to be created)

and climbed the hill emerging on the road opposite High Bullough farm

After a short walk along the road I reached Jepson’s Gate

and took the path through the fields and on to the moors

I passed the monument to the aircrew that died when a Halifax bomber crashed on the moors near here during WWII

and then descended down the hill to Lead Mine Clough

I followed the path down the valley to Allance Bridge, until I reached Yarrow reservoir. I then took the path through the fields on the the east side of the reservoir and then along the small river

eventually emerging at Rivington village. A small group of buildings, it’s a hamlet, really – but has two churches!

I cut across through Lever Park up to Rivington Hall Barn

I walked round the back of the barn and took the path through the woods

and after about another mile was back at the car park.

A good walk on a beautiful afternoon! And after a 20 minute drive I was back home. Time for a brew!

Charles Rennie Mackintosh Making the Glasgow style

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

On Saturday we travelled over to Liverpool to visit the exhibition about Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the “Glasgow style” that had recently opened at the Walker Gallery. I’m a fan of the work of this rather brilliant architect / artist / interior designer and have visited a number of buildings that he designed over the years, so was keen to see the exhibition, even though, unusually for the Walker, there was a charge for entry. Despite this we had to queue for a short while before we were allowed in as the galleries were at capacity, so the entry fee certainly hasn’t put everybody off.

There was a lot to see; architects’ drawings, paintings, furniture, other objects produced by Mackintosh and other members of the Glasgow School, plus contextual information (including a number of short videos), and we spent a good hour and a half looking round. Unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed but the catalogue was, I thought, reasonably priced at a tenner, so we were able to take home a good reminder of what we’d seen. A number of “highlights” can also be viewed on the exhibition website.

Although Mackintosh’s work featured heavily, and was no doubt the main draw for visitors, there were some works by the other members of his close circle,
Margaret MacDonald (who he married), her sister Frances and his friend James Herbert McNair (who married Frances). Together, they became known as “the Four”. The group has a Liverpool connection as McNair was appointed as Instructor in Design at the city’s School of Architecture and Applied Art in 1898 and he moved there with Frances. The Walker had previously held an exhibition about the McNairs back in 2007, which I remeber visiting.

Exponents of the Glasgow Style were influenced by a number of artistic movements, particularly the Arts and Crafts movement,  Art Nouveau, and Symbolism , and they in turn, particularly Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald had an impact on the Continental artists.

Although a lot of attention is paid to Mackintosh, I think that his wife had a major influence on him and it could be argued that they were collaborators. And one of the highlights of the exhibition for me was Margaret’s large gesso work , The May Queen

Other highlights included

  • Architectural drawings by Mackintosh for some of his iconic buildings including the Glasgow School of Art (sadly severely damaged by the fire last year) and his proposal for Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, which I think would have been a magnificent building if his design had been selected,
  • Man Makes the Beads of Life but Woman Must Thread Them, a watercolour by Frances MacDonald McNair from 1911, painted when she was going through a very difficult time in her relationship with McNair
  • Furniture, fittings and stencils designed for Mrs Cranston’s tearooms in Glasgow
  • Drawings and a video about buildings designed by two other architects, James Salmon Jnr  and John Gaff Gillespie 
  • Book cover designs, bookplates and sketches by Talwin Morris

So, all in all, a very good exhibition, well worth seeing. It’s a pity about the entry fee, as I’m sure that will put off some people who’d like to see it (especially families).