Hawkshead Grammar School

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Hawkshead Grammar School is in the centre of the village and it’s main claim to fame is that it was here that William Wordsworth went to school

The school was founded in 1585 and the original students would have had a limited education principally being taught Latin and Greek with a smattering of ancient history, arithmetic and geometry to prepare them for work or University.

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Today it’s been restored as a museum and is a Grade II listed building. On the ground floor a classroom has been reconstructed as in Wordsworth’s time. Upstairs is the headmaster’s study and an exhibition telling the history of the school, the founder and, (surprise surprise!) Wordsworth.

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Visitrs are given an informal introductory talk by the duty member of staff and are then free to look round on their own. However, the member of staff was very approachable and keen to tell us about the school, what it was like to be a student there in the 16th Century and Wordsworth’s time as a scholar there. He had some fascinating stories to tell and wasn’t shy about outlining his own theories.

School students have always carved their names and initials into their desks and chairs, and it wasn’t different in Wordsworth’s time, although wheras today school students would be in trouble if caught doing that it appears that the practice was tolerated when Wordsworth was there.

The museum highlight the name W Wordsworth carved into the top of one desk and have protected it with a glass panel.

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However, it does seem rather convenient. The staff member had his own theory. He thought that the name had been carved by Wordsworth – but William’s brother John who was also a student there. He thought that the J (which at the time would have been written more like an I) had been modified to become a “W”. I have say that looking closely at the “W” he has a point.

He also said he thought William had made his mark, though and pointed out the initials “W W” carved into a different desk near to another name – “J Bird” (the “J” looks like an “I”) who was a close friend of William. His theory certainly sounded credible.

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The building has been beautifully restored and the it made an interesting visit, enhanced by the tales told by the staff member. And entry is very modest – only £2-50.

The Old Man of Coniston

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The old man of Coniston, the highest point on the ridge of mountains that make up the Furness Fells, dominated the view over the lake from our cottage. It used to be the highest point in Lancashire until the local government reorganisation took “Lancashire over the sands” into the newly formed county of Cumbria. It was begging to be climbed. On the last day of our holiday, although some rain was forecast, conditions looked promising. So we packed up the car, drove into Coniston village, parked off and set off.

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We took the “tourist route” up the mountain. Past the Sun Hotel

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Along the lane and through the five bar gate

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following the river, past the waterfall

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and up along Coppermines valley. The reason for the name is pretty obvious. Coniston used to be a centre for copper mining and slate quarrying (some quarrying still goes on today) and the industrial heritage is very obvious for a good part of the climb up to the Old Man by this route. On the other side of the valley we could see the houses that used to be the homes of miners and quarry workers but which today have been converted to holiday homes and a Youth Hostel

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A relatively gentle climb at first

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It started to get steeper as we passed through the old abandoned slate quarry workings and spoil heaps. Not a particularly pretty site but  interesting as a relic of industrial history. But there were also views of surrounding mountains and the lakeland valleys

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We eventually reached Low Water, a small tarn in a glacial bowl with the summits of the Old Man and Brim fell looming over. There was barely a breeze and the surface of the tarn was like a mirror, reflecting the surrounding peaks.

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We rested for a while before tackling the final steep section up to the summit. Looking back there were great views of the tarn and the other peaks.

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As we climbed the views opened up. We could see the whole of Coniston Water

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Eventually we made it to the summit

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To be welcomed by some excellent views.

Looking over to the Scafel range, including Scafel Pike, England’s highest mountain

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Over towards the Duddon estuary

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Back down to Coniston Water and Morecambe Bay. We could even see the Isle of Man on the horizon to the north west (hard to capture on a photo, though.

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Over to the north west there were dark clouds and we saw a tornado up in the sky (although it didn’t reach the ground)

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After taking a rest and admiring the view, we decided to walk along the ridge over Brim Fell

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To our right, we could see Levers Water, another tarn, slightly larger than Low Water.

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and to our left, Seathwaite Tarn

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We walked over Brim Fell, and although we would have liked to continue further along the ridge, as we hadn’t planned for this and hadn’t sufficient supplies, decided to descend via the steep path from Levers Hawse down towards Levers Tarn. It was a little hairy at first as it was steep, the path wasn’t easily discernable and we were descending on scree.

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But the route soon turned into a more distinct path and became less steep as we descended.

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We skirted the side of the tarn, passing old abandoned copper mines

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We took a short break by the side of the tarn admiring the views of Great How, Swirl How and Weartherlam.

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Before heading back down to the village along the north side of Coppermines Valley.

Reaching the village it ws time for a brew! before getting back into the car and heading for home.

The Skriker

On Thursday we went to see The Skriker, the latest production by The Royal Exchange in Manchester, written by Caryl Churchill and starring Maxine Peake in the lead role. The first two weeks of its run were part of the Manchester International Festival. However we saw it during it’s final week, after the Festival.

It wasn’t a conventional play to say the least. A cross between drama, dance, music and an art installation. Very surreal. The Manchester Festival is meant to be about presenting “edgy” and experimental works and this certainly fit the bill.

We had seats on the stage level, but there was no conventional seating. We weren’t sure what to expect. We were guided into the auditorium where there were long trestle type tables set out. We found seats and waited for the performance to begin. It all went dark and then suddenly we were surrounded by performers with actors walking on the tables. We were literally in the middle of it all with performers all around us and walking inches away from us on the tables where we were sat. During one scene when we were surrounded by a choir of zombies and with demons dancing all around the auditorium it felt like we were a part of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

The Skriker was some sort of “fairy” (in the original, sinister sense) or “shapeshifter” who tormented two young women. The dialogue made little sense and much of the Shriker’s speeches were long, rambling, nonsensical rants, incorporating and twisting common everyday sayings.

Maxine Peake was magnificent in a very demanding role. It was some feat memorising long speeches of nonsense. She came across as menacing, threatening, cunning and vulnerable, as the Skriker changed its form and character. The two other actresses playing principal parts, Laura Elsworthy as Josie and Juma Sharka as Lily, were also good. The rest of the cast were an ensemble dancing, singing, performing strange acrobatics as strange spirits and demons.

Was the Skriker real or was it a figment of Josie’s fevered imagination? She appeared to be in a mental institution at the beginning of the play, probably as a result of killing her baby. Who knows? None of us had a clue what was going on but it was an amazing experience.

Romeo and Juliet at Blackwell

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While we were on holiday up in the Lake District, the London based Globe Theatre’s touring company were performing Romeo and Juliet in the garden at Blackwell on three consecutive evenings, organised in conjunction with the Bowness based Old Laundry Theatre . We decided we’d like to and see it as we weren’t staying too far away.

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As we’d left booking tickets to rather late the performances on the Monday and Tuesday were fully booked but we managed to get tickets for the Wednesday. This ended up working out quite well for us. The booking website was clear that the performance would go ahead in all but the most extreme weather conditions. So we made sure we had our waterproofs with us. Luckily, we didn’t need them. Although it had rained for the first two evening the Wednesday performance started in bright sunshine and it stayed dry. However, the temperature wasn’t so warm, especially as the sun began to go down, and we needed to wrap up well. The lamb stew and coffee we bought helped to keep us warm as well.  The setting, by the side of the house with views of Windermere, Grizedale forest and the Coniston Fells was familiar to us due to our regular visits to Blackwell, but magnificent none the less.

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The play was performed by a small company of only 8 actors most (in fact, all except the two leads) had to play multiple roles, differentiated by their costumes and clever use of regional accents. They performed on a “double decker” mobile stage, very useful for the famous balcony scene but also cleverly used throughout the play. Its design was based on those used by Elizabethan companies, when most plays were performed by travelling players.

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I’ve never seen Romeo and Juliet before – either on stage or the films made of it – and never read or studied the text. But the plot was familiar to me, so there were no major surprises. I thought the ending was a little weak. The warring clans were rather quick to make up after the deaths of the two lovers, but hey, who am I to criticise the Bard!

The company pulled the humour out of the play, more so than most productions (I was told!) and there was effective use of music too. The play started and finished with the actors playing instruments and singing and music and other sound effects were used to enhance the mood throughout the performance. The two main roles were played by young actors – Juliet was only meant to be 14 after all. I thought they did well. There were strong performances from Sarah Higgins as the nurse (with a broad Scottish accent) Matt Doherty as Tybalt, Paris and a Geordie servant, Tom Kanji as Benvolio and Friar Laurence and Stephen Elder as Juliet’s father.  The latter was particularly good in the scene where he insists that Juliet marries Paris, seamlessly going from the loving father to enraged dictator.

The performance finished as it was turning dark and we had a 30 minute journey back down the country roads to our cottage.

All in all an enjoyable evening.

Allan Bank

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‘A temple of abomination’. That was William Wordsworth’s view of the large house that was being built directly across the lake from Dove Cottage in Grasmere, where he was living at the time. Ironically, he ended up living there with his wife, children and his sister, Mary, between 1808 and 1811.

Allan Bank is a grand Georgian villa, originally built for John Gregory Crump, a Liverpool attorney and merchant, between 1805 and 1806, with fantastic views over the lake and fells from the house and its grounds. But its chimneys were inadequate, leading to its rooms filling with smoke, and it suffered from damp. So the Wordsworth’s didn’t stay there for long.

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It passed through the hands of various owners, eventually being bought in1915 by Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, and he left it to them when he died in 1920. They let it out to local tenants, but in March 2011 a serious fire damaged a large part of the house.

The Trust carried out major repairs and restoration work, and opened the house to the public in Spring of 2012.  That was quite a quick turnaround but the reason was that they haven’t attempted to turn it into your usual type of NT property – they haven’t attempted to turn it into a museum piece, recreating Wordsworth’s home. Instead you walk into a shell of a house, undecorated and relatively bare.

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They want visitors to help them to decide what to do with it. In the meantime each of the rooms  has been given a theme for different activities. There’s a room for reading, for writing (Wordsworth’s former study),

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for painting and a children’s play room. You can sit in an easy chair and admire the view

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or do some birdwatching (binoculars and bird spotting books available). You can go and brew yourself a cup of tea or coffee in the kitchen for free (although donations welcome!) – or buy yourself a cake, snack or other type of beverage – and consume them anywhere in the house. The small building next to the house, which looks like a chapel, used to be a billiards room and now visitors can play various games, including badminton.

I think this is a fantastic idea. The house is a facility for visitors, old and young, rather than a stuffy museum piece where you have to watch what you touch and mind your p’s and q’s. We didn’t even have to take our boots off!

The house is set in extensive grounds and there’s a pleasant walk  with good views over the fells. The trail through the ground goes through a “viewing tunnel”.

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And volunteers have started to restore the kitchen gardens.

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As the Trust decorate and restore the house I hope they keep it as a resource for visitors. They could, possibly create a small exhibition about Wordsworth, his life and work, but I hope they continue to focus on encouraging and facilitating creative activities as well as keeping it as a place for visitors to enjoy nature and the natural environment. After all, that was what Wordsworth used to do!

Loughrigg Fell and Grasmere

Loughrigg Fell is a small mountain (or large hill, take your pick) between Ambleside and Grasmere. It’s well trodden by walkers and although it’s a relatively modest height some stretches of the climb are challenging enough

We parked up at the White Moss car park at the top end of Rydal water and headed along the river and through the woods

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and then took the path along Loughrigg Terrace

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Grasmere soon came into view

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before we started the climb up the steep path up towards the summit.

As we ascended views of the mountains, including the Langdale Pikes, began to open up

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The summit came into view

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Eventually we made it.

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Despite the cloudy , showery weather there were good views from the summit

Looking towards Windermere:

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Great Langdale

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Loughrigg Tarn

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We retraced our steps down the path towards Grasmere

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reaching the end of Loughrigg Terrace we took the narrow road overlooking the lake down to Grasmere village

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We stooped off at he village for a brew. Grasmere is a real “honey pot” for coach parties and day trippers besides walkers, so the cafes were all quite busy.

This is the National Trust shop and office in an attractive old house

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and the Grasmere Gingerbread shop, next to the church graveyard where Wordsworth is buried, is in another old building that used to be the village school.

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It was mid afternoon by now and we decided to visit  Allan Bank, one of Wordsworth’s former homes, which is owned by the National Trust. It’s in a very commanding position overlooking the lake and fells.

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More about the house in another post.

We set off back towards White Moss following the shore of Grasmere

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and the River Rothay

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It had been a busy so we decided to head back to the cottage to freshen up and to go out for our evening meal.