A Little Cumbrian History and Pre-history

The day after my walk up High Cup we decided to go out for a drive and visit a few sites in the vicinity of Penrith. Our first stop was a few miles past Brougham Castle – Brougham Hall

This old hall, enclosed within battlements, was built in the 14th century and after years of dereliction has been restored (in fact, still being restored) by a Charitable Trust. It’s free to visit and although there isn’t as much to see as in the nearby medieval castle, it was tointeresting looking around. Some of the buildings have been converted into workshops and retail outlets for a number of small businesses and we had a mooch around the displays. There were several potters and makers of ceramics and I spotted a room of kilns, which I suspect are used communally. There’s also a cafe on the site.

Our next stop was only a few miles away; Mayburgh henge, a prehistoric site at Eamont Bridge on the edge of Penrith, right by the M6. Expecting to see a circle of stones, we were initially a little surprised when we parked up by the site not to really see anything. But when climbed up a steep slope in the middle of a field we realised that we were actually standing on the henge, which was a large oval bank, three metres high, constructed of pebbles collected from the nearby river. It surrounded a central enclosure, in the middle of which was a single standing stone, almost three metres high. (There was a flock of sheep grazing inside the enclosure – more shoe cleaning required on return to the car!).

The English Heritage website tells us that

seven others accompanied this: three more in the centre, forming a square with the fourth, and two pairs flanking the entrance. 

….. (the henge) probably dates to the end of the Neolithic period or the beginning of the Bronze Age, about 4,500 years ago. The function of such large monuments is not fully understood, although it is thought that they played a role in social or ritual activities, perhaps involving trade or astronomical observations.

My photographs really can’t give a proper impression of the structure and it’s scale, so the following aerial shot is pinched from the English Heritage website. You can see how close it is to the M6 which must have been having a quiet day given how few vehicles can be seen.

There’s quite a number of prehistoric sites dotted around Cumbria – there’s another Neolithic earthwork henge close by – King Arthur’s Round Table , also under the stewardship of English Heritage. We didn’t stop to take a look properly but drove past it as we set off to drive to our next objective which was near near Little Salkeld, a village a few miles to the north east of Penrith and on the other side of the A66.

Long Meg and her Daughers

Long Meg and her Daughers is probably one of the most well known of the Prehistoric sites in this part of Northern England. It’s a very impressive oval stone “circle” The monument is 109metres by 93 metres made up a large number of glacial erratic boulders, some standing and some lying prone on the ground. It’s said that you can never count the same number of stones in the circle twice – and if anyone is able to count them all twice and arrive at the same number the spell could be broken and bad luck would ensure! (There’s actually 59 and would have been more in the past)

Long Meg is the tallest stone, about 3.5 metres high, that stands apart from her “daughters” outside the circle, to the southwest. Made of sandstone, a different rock than the stones in the circle which are rhyolite.

Long Meg

There are carvings on the surface of Long Meg

Cup and ring marks on the Long Meg stone.

It’s hard to say whether they were carved by the creators of the monument or by later visitors (the carvings on our “local prehistoric monument – Pike Stones on Anglezarke moor are fairly recent).

Local legend has it that Long Meg was a witch named “Meg of Meldon,” who, along with her daughters, was turned to stone for profaning the Sabbath as they danced wildly on the moor. Alternatively they were coven of witches who were turned to stone by a wizard from Scotland named Michael Scot. Take your pick! But the large Meg stone certainly had the profile of a haggard witch from some angles

Long Meg – the profile of a witch?

Again, it’s difficult to gain a proper appreciation from my photos so here’s an aeriel shot pinched from Wikipedia

There’s apparently a decent walk that takes in the monument and other points of interest. Sharon writes about it on her blog. Something for another day!

Until recently visitors had to park up on the roadside, which must have been rather chaotic especially given how narrow the nearby roads are. However, there’s now a decent sized car park just a short walk away from the site.

High Cup Gill

Our holiday in Appleby wasn’t a walking break but I did manage to tick off a route I’d been wanting to walk for some time. J was quite happy for me to disappear for a day so she could have a little time on her own.

The Monday was pretty awful – wind and rain, but I woke on Tuesday to a fine day, if a little cold when I was loading up the car with my walking gear. It was a short drive of about 5 miles to Dufton, where I parked up in the village car park.

It’s a pleasant former mining village, close to the Pennine Hills with several options for walks. I had planned to walk up to High Cup Nick, the top of High Cup Gill, an almost perfect glacial valley in the north Pennines.

Wikipedia tells us

The Ordnance Survey name the valley as High Cup Gill but it is often referred to by the name High Cup Nick, a name which properly refers in a more limited sense to the point at its northeastern limit where the headwaters of Highcup Gill Beck pass from the relatively flat terrain of High Cup Plain over the lip of High Cup Scar into the valley. ‘Gill’ is a word of Norse origin meaning narrow valley or ravine………….as seen in the classic view southwest over the valley into the Vale of Eden from its head at High Cup Nick, it is considered one of the finest natural features in northern England.

After parking up, I had a quick mooch around the village. Looking at that blue sky and it was hard to believe how awful the weather had been the previous day – but that’s the north of England for you! From the village green I could see that Cross fell and Great Dunn fell were capped with cloud – which isn’t so unusual, but the lower Dufton Pike was cloud free.

But that wasn’t were I was going. I was heading along the Pennine Way in the other direction and had my fingers crossed that the day would stay fine and that I’d get some good views.

It was a bit of a trudge at first up a fairly long stretch of tarmac, although as I climbed steadily views began to open up and the weather looked promising. It was misleadingly warm in the sunshine and I rapidly started peeling off layers – other walkers I met during the morning had also prepared for colder weather and had rucksacks full of fleeces and jackets that weren’t needed!

Looking across to Dufton Pike

The road came to an end after a mile or so, turning into a rough track. I later met a couple of walkers who’d parked up at the end of the tarmac road, which cut out the walk on the tarmac.

Looking back there was a great view over to the Lakeland fells spread out on the horizon. Visibility was good and I could see for miles

I wasn’t going down that track but it looked quite tempting. That could be a way back up to a car parked at the end of the road after a circular route round High Cup Gill.

I then passed through a gate onto the fell proper.

I passed an old lime kiln

It was a gradual climb up the side of the hillside, but, initially, the valley wasn’t visible being obstructed by the undulating landscape. But then, suddenly, it’s there before you.

Looking back down the valley.

The geology of the valley is particularly interesting, although much of the rock is limestone,

its rim (is) topped by enormous columns of volcanic rock. This rock, known as dolerite, was created during the Carboniferous period when the movement of tectonic plates forced magma to be squeezed sideways between beds of existing rock. As it then slowly cooled, the magma crystallised and shrank, forming the hexagonal columns that can be seen at High Cup today. (This same layer of dolerite, known as the Great Whin Sill, also forms the ridge along which the Romans built much of Hadrian’s Wall.)

cumbria.com

I soon reached the head of the valley – the High Cup Nick. This was the view – the picture doesn’t do the view justice. I’d been concerned that it wouldn’t live up to it’s reputation and be something of a let down, but it definitely was not, particularly on a fine autumn day with views right across the Eden valley to the Lake District fells.

Looking in the other direction was a more or less featureless moor, wet and boggy.

I stopped for a while enjoying the view and to have a bite to eat and a coffee from my flask. There were a few other people who’d made their way up. I’d walked the last stretch up to the nick with a couple from Darlington, a young couple appeared who’d come over the bogs from Cow Green reservoir over in the East, another solo walker had come up from Murton via Murton Pike, and another person appeared climbing up from the bottom of the valley. I expect it gets very busy up here in the summer and at weekends, but on a fine autumn day mid week before the autumn half term it was fairly quiet and peaceful.

Time to start heading back! I’d decided on a circular route so started to make my way along the south ridge. There were a few options – I could have climbed a bit higher and followed the route over to Murton Pike, but that would have been a longer walk than I’d intended.

The path along the ridge gave good views down into the Gill.

Looking back to the Nick

Crossing the Middle Tongue it got a bit boggy !

but, hey, who cares with views like this

Starting to descend from the Middle Tongue I was back on drier ground amongst the limestone.

Murton Pike was over to my left. It was tempting!

Nearing the bottom of the descent I diverted and turned back following the lower level path that led into the bottom of the Gill. I wanted to get a shot up the valley. The light was good and with the sunlight filtering through cloud in the sky created patterns of light and shade.

I turned back and continued my descent towards the farm at Harbour Flat.

Looking back towards the hills and the Gill

I reached the quiet lane that runs between Dufton and Murton. Some more walking on tarmac for a while

before I turned off along a path through the fields and then joined the route of A Pennine Journey heading towards Dufton

Nearing the village I took the path through the very pleasant woodland that lines Dufton Gill

Then a final climb out of the gill into the village. I had a mooch around the village green taking in the views of the high Pennine hills

The village, “the farmstead where the doves were kept”, goes back to at least the 12th Century and grew during the 17th and 18th centuries when lead mines were opened up on Dufton Fell. Most of the houses around the green are from this period

there are extensive mining remains on Dufton Fell. The early mining leases were granted by the Lords of the Manor of Dufton throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. From about 1820 the mines were taken over by the London Lead Company (the “Quaker Company”). Lead mining ceased on Dufton Fell in 1897; however barytes have been extracted from the spoil heaps on two occasions in the 20th century.

 in the 19th century there were many, including grocer’s, butcher’s (with abbatoir), bakery, general dealer’s and draper’s. The present cafe was the village post office and shop into the 21st century.

Dufton Village Website

It seems like the Quakers were decent employers, building cottages for their workers as well as a school, and a library. They also provided a water supply installing five fountains in the village including this one on the village green, built in 1858.

The former Methodist chapel

It was very quiet. There were a few other walkers returning to their cars but other than that not a sole to be seen. There was a cafe in the old Post office, but it was closed – it doesn’t reopen until Easter – and the village pub, the Stag, didn’t look as if it was open. So no chance of a brew!

I returned to my car and changed out of my boots. After chatting with an older couple who’d been walking with their young adult granddaughter, I set off back to Appleby. It was only a 20 minute drive back tot he cottage where a welcome brew was waiting for me.

A great day out!

Brougham Castle

Leaving Acorn Bank we felt that it was too early to head back to our accommodation on what had been a fine afternoon. It had clouded over somewhat but we decided to drive over to Brougham Castle, only a few miles away up the A66, on the outskirts of Penrith.

There’d been a fortress here since Roman times – the fort of Brocavum which was the start (or finish, depending on your viewpoint!) of High Street, the Roman road that traversed the fells and there were some remnants from those times on display in the small shop at the entrance to the site.

The Medieval structure, the remains of which stand on the site today, had its origins in the 13th Century when the Norman overlord, Robert de Vieuxpoint was given lands on the border with Scotland. Initially it would have consisted of a stone keep surrounded by a timber palisade, but over time it was extended and strengthened. It was in an important location in disputed territory which changed hands several times.

In about 1268 it came under the control of Roger Clifford, an ancestor of Lady Anne, when he married Vieuxpoint’s great granddaughter. Today the castle is under the stewardship of English Heritage. We’re members of Cadw, the Welsh equivalent, who have a reciprocal arrangement with EH so we were waived the entrance fee.

To reach the castle ruins we had to pass through a field of ferocious (!) looking sheep – although the biggest danger was stepping in their droppings which had been left all over the site.

We entered the ruins via the gatehouse and began to explore. High level cloud had come in during the course of the afternoon so we now had dull, flat light, that didn’t make for particularly good photos. Like most old castles, Brougham had been used as a quarry by locals over the years, but there are still substantial remains to look around.

Graffiti on the walls in one of the towers – some of it quite old!

The keep is the oldest part of the castle.

Originally 3 storeys high, additional floors were added increasing its height. It was possible to climb up stairs to the higher storeys from where there were good views over the surrounding countryside and, on a good day, over to the Lake District fells.

The view from the keep over the River eamont towards Penrith
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Zooming in on Blencathra
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Zooming in on Clough Head and the Dodds

We spent a good hour exploring the ruins before returning to the car and setting off back to our cottage in Appleby. (Cleaning of shoes was required!)

Acorn Bank

The second full day of our holiday we decided to visit Acorn Bank, a property owned by the National Trust, near the village of Temple Sowerby, just a few miles up the A66 from Appleby. It’s main attractions are the woodlands, gardens and the restored mill rather than the house itself, where only a few ground floor rooms are open – including one used for a second hand bookshop.

It was a decent day, so after parking, we booted up and set out for a pleasant walk through the woods towards the water mill, which was restored by a group of National Trust volunteers. There’s been a mill on the site since at least 1744, initially used for grinding oats and later for producing wheat flour and as a power source for nearby gypsum mines. At one time there were three individual water wheels running in series on the mill race.

Following the Covid pandemic the Acorn Bank Watermill Trust was set up by the mill volunteers to continue to maintain and run the mill and keep it open for visitors to Acorn Bank. It’s open to visit on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays, so we were able to see it in operation, grinding wheat to produce flour. Bags of flour were available to purchase so we bought one to take home as a present for our daughter who enjoys baking.

The mill wheel is a pitchback wheel, an adaptation of the overshot type – the water falls on to the back of the top of the wheel at a position of about 11 o’clock.

We carried on through the woods, following the path beside the river, and made our up towards the house.

The National Trust website tells us that

Acorn Bank has a long history that dates back to the 13th century. The first owners were the Knights Templar in 1228, from whom the nearby village of Temple Sowerby got its name.

Parts of the house date from the 16th century, but the main block was rebuilt in the mid-17th century. The whole house was then given a new façade in the 1690s, with Georgian sash windows added in the 1740s.

Only a few rooms on the ground floor are accessible, and one of them is used for the second hand bookshop.

In the former drawing room there was a display of over a hundred varieties of apple from the site’s orchards.

The website tells us

There are 175 varieties of apple here, including rare, local varieties such as the ‘Lady’s Finger of Lancaster’, ‘Keswick Codlin’ and ‘Forty Shilling’.

Outside in the courtyards there were baskets of apples where you could fill a large paper bag for £2. We took advantage of this, of course! We hadn’t heard of most of the types of apple on display, never mind tasted them – supermarkets have such a limited range, these days – but staff were also running an apple tasting of some of the unusual varieties. But there was one of the varieties J had heard off. She is a fan of the author, Tracey Chevalier, and has read her book At the edge of the orchard, which features the Pitmaston Pineapple. She was made up when it was included in the tasting (it really does have a pineapple like taste) and pick some up from the table for our £2 bag!

Before that, though, we’d had a look around the gardens – both ornamental and kitchen

the orchards

and the extensive herb garden

They even had an apiary

We also went for a walk through the woods where we came across the remains of a former drift mine.

The Boazman family, who owned the house in the 19th Century, started to mine gypsum – calcium sulfate dihydrate, a mineral which is the main constituent in many forms of plaster – on the estate during the 1880s. Extraction continued until the late1930’s when it closed as a small scale operation couldn’t compete with larger mines overseas.

At the ends of the woods there were good views on a clear day towards the Pennine Hills, including Cross Fell (the largest English hill outside the Lake District)

and Great Dunn Fell, topped with its distinctive “golf ball”, part of an air traffic control radar station.

We returned to the hall and enjoyed a rather nice coffee in the courtyard before filling our bag of apples and returning to the car.

Saint Anne’s Hospital

At the top of Boroughgate, close to the house where we were staying, there’s a group of almshouses built in the 17th Century on behalf of Lady Anne Clifford known as St Anne’s Hospital. Originally it housed twelve “sisters” (widows who weren’t able to support supporting themselves) plus a “Mother” who responsible for general administration and enforcing rules, including mandatory attendance at prayers each morning in the Hospital’s own chapel. A plaque on the wall tells us

“This Almes House was founded and begun to be built in the year 1651, and was finished and endowed for the yearly maintenance of a Mother, a Reader, and twelve sisters for ever in 1653 by Anne Baronesse Clifford, Cumberland and Vesey, Lady of the Hon. of Skipton in Craven, and Countesse Dowager of Pembroke, Dorsett and Montgomery”

Built of the local red sandstone with a roof of Welsh slate, it’s a Grade 2 listed building.

The complex is open to visitors to walk around the courtyard and gardens during daytime. Let’s take a look inside.

Through the entrance

Inside, there are 13 self-contained cottages, arranged around a central courtyard. Each of these has a bedroom and bathroom upstairs and a downstairs living room with kitchen area. There’s a communal lawn at the rear of the complex.

In the north east corner one of the doors leads to the chapel. We were able to go inside for a look.

Religious texts on the walls

Appleby in Westmorland

A couple of weeks ago we travelled over to Appleby for an autumn break in a rather nice, cosy cottage. It’s a good time of the year – quiet (it was the week before half term) and although the weather was mixed, with some rainy days, we had an enjoyable stay in a small town in the Eden Valley that we’d never visited before.

Appleby was the former county town of the former county of Westmorland, was absorbed into the newly created county of Cumbria as part of local government re-organistaion in 1974, when it officially renamed as Appleby-in-Westmorland. It’s probably best known for the annual Horse Fair in June, when many hundreds of members of the Gypsy and Traveller community from across the country descend on the small town to trade horses, show off and generally have a good time. For the rest of the year, being a little off the beaten track (although only a short drive from the eastern Lake District – we could just about see Blencathra peeping over the houses from one of the windows of our cottage) it’s much quieter, with a population of only around 2,500, although nowhere near as busy as the Lake District, it does attract some tourists and visitors wanting to take advantage of it’s location in pleasant countryside close to the high Pennine hills and only a short drive to the eastern lakes.

Originally an Anglo Saxon (and later Norse) settlement, the “new town” was built in the loop in the river Eden by the Normans, in conjunction with the castle, later home to Lady Anne Clifford during the 17th century. The castle, with the restored Norman Keep, is now a hotel. The grounds can be visited for a fee but were not open during our stay, which was a pity as I’d have liked to explore them and also get a look at the Keep which wasn’t really visible otherwise from the road.

St Lawrence’s Church – view from the river

We were staying at the top of the main street, Boroughgate, just opposite the entrance to the castle grounds. It’s a broad, tree lined, thoroughfare with attractive old houses, many built of the local red sandstone on both sides, with the old parish church at the bottom of the hill near the river.

St Lawrence’s Church – approaching from Boroughgate. The parish church with origins in Norman times. Badly damaged by the Scots in 1388 (boo, hiss) it was restored by Lady Anne Clifford with later modifications during Victorian times.
Lady Anne Clifford and her mother are both buried here.

There were a small number of shops which included two independent butchers selling top quality produce, a bakers and a greengrocers as well as a couple of pubs. Here’s a few pictures of the street

Looking up Boroughgate from the Moot Hall

Shops and pub at the bottom Boroughgate
Shops at the bottom of Boroughgate
The old Moot Hall built in the late 16th Century – now houses the Tourist Information Centre
The “Red House”
Entrance to the Courtyard Gallery on Boroughgate – next door to the Red House
Houses towards the top of Boroughgate
The cross (well, a sundial on a tall pillar) at the top of Boroughgate opposite the Castle entrance and also opposite where we were staying (just out of the picture on the left). There’s another cross at the bottom of the street near the church. In the past the market extended between the two crosses. The cheese market was held near this cross
View over the Eden from the bridge (there’s only one bridge that can be crossed by traffic, at the bottom of the ill close to the church) – this is one of the traditional locations where the Travellers wash their horses during the annual Horse Fair, accessing from the Sands – the bank on the right of the picture
Looking back towards the bridge from the Sands
A view along the river Eden from the Sands

Further upstream, past the castle, there’s a footbridge over the river to Bongate which was the location of the original settlement

The Eden south of the town, and the former Bongate Mill – view from the footbridge
Bongate Mill
The Primrose Stone – one of the Eden Benchmark sculptures that celebrate the River Eden. Carved from red sandstone by Joss Smith.
The deconsecrated St Michael’s church at Bongate

On arrival we had a stroll along the river and then bought a few supplies from the butcher, the baker and grocer (not the candlestick maker) and then settled into our cottage for a relaxing evening, making plans for what we might get up to during the week – more posts to follow!

Tarn Hows, Black Crag and Holme Fell

It’s well known that weather in the Lake District is highly variable. It changes from one day to the next and often during a given day. But it also variable across the National Park. Each valley seems to have its own micoclimate; it can be sunny in one while pouring down in the next one, and I certainly experienced just that during my recent short stay in Coniston. It had generally been wet in the Lakes while I was there but the South East area, including Coniston, seemed to have fared better than most of the region. That had certainly been the case on the Friday (despite a downpour for part of the day while I was coming off Swirl How). The forecast for Saturday for Coniston was also looking promising, so I was looking forward to a walk on my last day before I set off home.

After a long walk on the high fells the previous day I’d decided on a low level route starting at Tarn Hows, heading over to Black Crag and then on to Holme Fell. Climbing only two modest fells, the walk wasn’t difficult but passed through pleasant countryside and I was treated to outstanding views throughout. It’s now definitely on my list of favourite routes.

I parked up at the small National Trust car park near Yew Tree Tarn, booted up and set off up the path that climbs up to Tarn Hows through Tom Heights Plantation

passing waterfalls

and emerging towards the southern end of the Tarn

Tarn Hows – grey skies and flat light

I’m going to let the photos I took along the route speak for themselves.

Looking back over Tarn Hows to a sunlit Old Man of Coniston while Wetherlam is shaded under cloud
A bit brighter
Turning off the path along the Tarn to take the path over towards Black Crag
Heading up towards Black Crag
The Black Crag trig point

Outstanding views from the trig point

Looking back towards Coniston
The Coniston fells
Over towards Langdale
There’s some weather over on the Eastern fells
The Far Eastern fells in the distance
There’s Windermere
Taking the path back down – looking towards Yewdale and Coniston Water
Taking the path towards Arnside (not the one on Morecambe Bay!)
Some weather over the Eastern fells!
The view over to Langdale
Starting the descent down towards the Coniston road
There’s Holme Fell in the distance
On the tarmac of a minor road for a while
More good views from the Oxen fell road
High Oxen Fell farm
Approaching Hodge Close
Hodge Close quarry
After stopping for a bite to eat I took the path heading towards Tilberthwaite through the woods along the foot of Holme Fell
cutting up the path towards the fell
The view of Coniston Water from the summit
Wetherlam seen from the summit
Looking over to Tilberthwaite
Looking to the eastern fells
Looking over to Black Fell
Descending off Holme Fell down towards Yewdale Tarn
Yewdale Farm

I called into Yewdale farm as I wanted to buy some of their most excellent Beltie and Herdie burgers. The Beltie (Belted Galloway beef) burgers are the best we’ve ever tasted. I normally order online but calling in personally I avoided the delivery charge! It was then a short walk back to the car park.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable walk. I’ll definitely repeat it when I’m staying around here in the future. It’s a good walk to finish a holiday before setting back home – not too long or strenuous but with outstanding views.

I set of for home before 3 pm and although I called in at Booths in Windermere to pick up some supplies, I expected to be home before 6pm. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. I hadn’t realised that, in their wisdom, the National Roads Agency had decided to shut the south bound carriageway (all 3 lanes!) just before the Lancaster services for the weekend. They claim they had publicised this but I hadn’t seen anything. The first I knew of it was when approaching Lancaster when I saw a matrix sign informing me of a 2 hour delay due to the south bound M6 being shut. It was too late to turn off and take an alternative route (I could have done this if they’d had a sign up before, or even at, the junction I joined the motorway near Kendal). Oh well, I thought, I can live with a 2 hour delay. I arrived home after 10 pm after 5 hours crawling between the 2 junctions north and south of Lancaster on the M6. It could have been worse, some people joining the queue after me were stuck even longer. Goodness knows why anyone thought shutting one side of the M6 for the weekend was a good idea.

Oh well, I wasn’t going to let that spoil a good short break!

The Coniston fells and Coppermine Valley

Friday morning I was up early and after breakfast loaded my rucksack, booted up and set off for a walk up through Coppermines Valley and on to the fells.

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.

Mining for copper in the valley took place from around 1590, right up until the 1950’s. In the early days German miners had to be brought to Coniston and other parts of the Lake District to develop the mines as there were no English workers with the necessary skills. Al this activity has left it’s marks and scars on the landscape and there is plenty of Industrial archaeology to explore. I’ve always been interested in industrial history and having seen the exhibits on local mining in the Ruskin museum the day before I’d planned my route to take in both the fells and the remains of the old mines.

The Coniston Copper Project, funded by at £450,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, has worked on repairing and conserving ten historic copper-mining structures and they have an excellent website with lots of information on the history of mining in the Coniston area.

The Countrystride podcast (always worth a listen) also visited the valley recently with Mark Hatton, an expert on the history of mining in the Lakes.

As I climbed the steep “tourist path” I passed through the remains of former slate workings. Slate has been extracted up here since at least the 13th century.

There’s two types of slate – green and black. The attractive Coniston Green Slate was formed by volcanic activity over 400 million years ago and is found high in the fells. The Black slate originates from the sedimentary rocks lower down the valley.

I stopped to take a few photographs

Life up here was tough. The work was hard and conditions up on the fell were not exactly comfortable! There was little attention to workers’ safety – it was dangerous work – and inhalation of the dust from splitting the slate caused serious lung disease including silicosis and lung cancer.

Entry to an old mine

After making my way past the mine workings I reached Low Water, a small tarn in a glacial bowl with the summits of the Old Man and Brim fell looming over.

I stopped for a rest. I’d hardly seen a soul since I set off but a couple of walkers were coming up the path behind me (they’d parked on the Walla Crag road car park). We exchanged a few words and it turned out they were from St Helens (8 miles from where I live and where I used to work many years ago). Besides walking we had another interest in common – Rugby League. They were Saints fans, of course so a little banter was in order given that they’re our local rivals! Fitter and younger than me they set off up the steep path towards the summit while I took a rest and had a bite to eat. Then it was time for me to follow in their footsteps.

It’s a steep pull and I took my time, but the views looking back down to Low Water and Wetherlam were pretty good!

Eventually the summit came into view

Made it!

Coniston Old Man is a popular fell and there’s usually a stream of people making their way up the “tourist path” from Coniston or (more often) the Walla Crag Road car park. Today, I’d hardly seen anyone on the way up and had the summit to myself – a new experience! I stopped for a while to take in the extensive views.

Looking down to Coniston Water and over to Morecambe Bay
Dow Crag
Looking over to the Duddon estuary and the Irish Sea
The summits of the Scafells were veiled in cloud
Low Water and Wetherlam with a glimpse of Lever’s Water. The Eastern Fells in the distance were covered with cloud.

After a short while I set off along the ridge, heading to Brim Fell and then on to Swirl How

Looking back to the Old Man
Lever’s Water and Wetherlam
Seathwaite Tarn at the head of the Duddon Valley
Swirl How ahead – my next objective
Looking down to Lever’s Tarn and Coniston Water from Lever’s Hawse
Wetherlam
Hi herdy! – some fearsome looking weather over the fells to the east
The summit of Swirl How

Reaching the summit there were a few other walkers around, but it was still quiet. I decided to head over to the nearby summit of Great Carrs which I hadn’t been up before. It’s an easy walk over from Swirl How

Looking down Greenburn Valley towards Little Langdale – some serious weather over there by the looks
Great Carrs

I could see the weather sweeping over the fells across Langdale and had my fingers crossed they’d stay over there. I’m not usually so optimistic!

Looks like the weather could be heading my way

I didn’t stop long on the top of Grey Carrs,

and taking the path back to Swirl How I diverted to look at the monument to the Wellington bomber that had crashed on the fell in 1944.

And then the weather arrived. The summits suddenly became covered in low cloud and the wind was picking up. Visibility deteriorated and for a while I was a little disorientated.

The walkers I’d met earlier had also been on Great Carrs and I’d passed them on my way to the summit. They told me that they were going to retrace their steps back down the Old Man. I’d intended to descend back into Coppermine Valley via the Prison Band down to Swirl Hawse and on to Lever’s Water. That can be a tricky descent and would be trickier if the rock was wet, but reaching Swirl How summit the rain seemed to have eased off, so, hoping the rain had passed over, I decided to make my way down. It didn’t quite pan out the way I’d hoped.

The cloud and came whipping across from Little Langdale over Swirl Hawse, hitting me side on as I descended down what was now wet and slippery rock and I was getting soaked – I was wearing my waterproof coat but hadn’t bothered to put on my overtrousers. Not a time to take photographs as both hands, and other parts of my anatomy, were needed to make sure I didn’t slip and fall down into the abyss!

I eventually made it to the hawse and took the much gentler path down towards Lever’s Water. The fells were now providing some shelter from the wind and rain., which eased off as I carried on down the path.

It had stopped raining by the time I reached the tarn
crossing over the dam. Lever’s Water was dammed and enlarged to create a reservoir for the copper mines which used water power to drain the mine working and for breaking the rock. The water level was low due tot he dry summer we’d had.
The path down the valley back towards Coniston
passing some waterfalls
The view down the valley with the remains of the copper mining activities
A reconstructed water wheel on the site of the old Bonser mine
Looking up Red Dell Beck with the remains of mine workings visible high up on the fell
Bridge at the bottom of Red Dell Beck
The copper clad rock and truck were created as part of a temporary art installation – Copper in our veins – to celebrate the area’s heritage in 2019
Remains of Upper Bonser Mill
The Coppermines Youth Hostel (I wasn’t staying here!) was once the mine manager’s office, stores and kitchen
“Irish Row” – miner’s cottages on the fellside.
Looking back up the valley

I carried on down the valley and eventually reached the village. After a quick call to the Co-op to pick up some supplies I returned to the hostel. It had been a long walk and I was ready for a shower and a rest!

A great day on the fells and some interesting history and industrial archaeology too.

A short break in Coniston

The week after our family holiday in the Midlands I was off again for a few days for a short solo break in Coniston where I’d booked into the Youth Hostel for a couple of nights. The weather forecast was mixed, especially the first day and at one point I contemplated cancelling. But, with summer coming to an end, I decided against it and take my chances.

The weather forecast for the first day proved to be correct when I arrived in a wet Coniston on the Thursday afternoon. There weren’t that many people around in the streets but the main car park was full and all the street parking spaces were taken. I eventually managed to park up but it was raining steadily so I decided to pay a visit to the Ruskin Museum and see how it looked later in the afternoon.

I spent a good hour mooching around.

The museum was founded as a memorial to John Ruskin, who spent the last years of his life at Brantwood on the east shore of Coniston Water and who died on 20 January 1900, by his secretary and friend, W G Collingwood. Many of the original exhibits were from Ruskin’s own collection of geological samples.

The exhibits cover the history of Coniston, it’s geology, industry and well known individuals, including Ruskin and Arthur Ransome. One wing is devoted to Donald Campbell and his attempts at the water speed record on Coniston Water in the 1960’s. He was tragically killed on 4 January 1967 when attempting to break the record Bluebird hit a wave at over 300 mph, flipped over and crashed upside down on the water and sank. I remember vividly watching the film of the crash on the TV news as a boy.

It was still raining as I left the museum so I decided to make my way down to the lake and have a brew in the Bluebird cafe on the lake shore.

I stopped for a while watching the Gondola leaving the jetty

before retreating to the cafe.

The rain had eased off so I decided I’d set off for a walk along the lakeside. I had thought about catching the launch, disembarking down past Torver and walking back, but I was between sailings, so decided to do a “there and back walk” past Coniston Hall and see how far I got.

Looking over to the Old Man
Looking across the lake to Brantwood, Ruskin’s former home
The Gondola sailing by
Jetty near Torver
Into the woods

I’d walked a couple of miles when the rain started agin so I turned round and retraced my steps back towards the cafe

Time for a warming brew.

Afterwards I made my way back to the car, drove the short distance to the hostel and checked in.

The rain cleared during the evening so I set off for a short walk down to the lake, along tot he jetty and then back through the village and along the path at the bottom of Yewdale.

Looking towards the Yewdale crags
Spotty sheep!
Evening light over Coniston Water

Compton Verney – Part 1

The last day of our holiday and the offspring decided they didn’t want to go ot, but I was ken to visit Compton Verney – another 20 or 30 minute drive away – an old Stately Home and its grounds that’s been converted into an art gallery. I’d heard about it, the first time quite a few years ago, and have been keen to visit ever since. The trouble is its on the wrong side of Birmingham, but here was an opportunity to see it that I wasn’t going to miss.

The weather was beginning to change. Cloud was coming in covering over the blue skies we’d had for the rest of the week, but it was still pleasantly warm.

Arriving at the site we parked up and then paid our entry fee – £17 each. Memberships cost less than double this and allow entry for a year, but it didn’t seem an extra sensible expenditure for us given its location as regular visits aren’t an option.

To reach the house we walked through the grounds along the drive, crossing the old bridge (this view is from the other side, nearer the house)

There’s been a manor house here since the 12th Century but it was extensively remodelled for the owners, the Verney family, in the then fashionable Neo-Classical style in the 19th century by Robert Adam together with the grounds which were designed Capability Brown.

Stable block
The main entrance hall designed by Robert Adam. Having been in a very poor state it’s been restored to its former glory and is now used to host wedding receptions and other events.

The Verneys it financial difficulties and sold the house in 1887. It passed through a series of owners and was requisitioned by the War Office during the Second World War. It wasn’t occupied after the war and started to deteriorate. It was rescued by Peter Moores Foundation who bought the house and grounds in 1993  which restored the house, which was in a dilapidated state, turning it into a modern art gallery. It’s now owned by Compton Verney House Trust, a registered charity.

Next to the house there’s a Georgian Chapel which has also been restored and is registered for weddings

The chapel, which was completed in 1780, was designed by Capability Brown and replaced an older church that stood on the other side of the house and which was demolished to open up views from the house over the lake and grounds.

Very little of the original Medieval stained glass which was taken from the old church, is left; it was sold in the late 1920’s and some can be seen in Warwick museum and at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow.

The tombs of earlier Verneys were moved to the new chapel and still remain

We eventually found the right door to gain entry into the main building and sussed out what there was to see. There are 6 permanent collections

British Folk Art
British Portraits
Chinese
Northern European
Marx-Lambert collection of of English popular art
Naples

and galleries for temporary exhibitions. During our visit there was a major exhibition showing of works by David Batchelor, some loans from the National Portrait Galley, an exhibition of photographs by Magnum photographers of artists at work, and a couple of installations in the grounds. Unfortunatley we didn’t get to see the Folk Art and Marx-Lambert Collections. We’d left it to the end of our visit and due to staff shortages they’d close these two galleries early. However, we were starting to feel “arted out” by then so weren’t that disappointed.

These rowing boats on the lake were one of the installations – Crossings by Luke Jerram. Visitors were able to take out a boat to row on the lake while listening to one of a number of 30 minute audio recordings of stories, created by Luke Jerram in collaboration with BBC Radio 4 producer Julian May, all related to the sea from around the world.

It looked like fun, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have time to have a go!

The other installation was effectively a playground for children in the Old Town Meadow,, a sort of colourful fantasy village, by Morag Myerscough. Children were certainly enjoying themselves running through, in and out and on to the colourful structures.

We started by touring the ground floor to see the art from Naples, Northern European Art and British Portraits (including the National Portrait Gallery Loans) which were all on the ground floor. We revisited some of the works after lunch when we tagged on to a guided tour. (I should add that the room guides were all very friendly and helpful and very keen to tell you about the exhibits)

The gallery claim to have” “one of the richest collections of Neapolitan art in the world outside Naples”, with paintings, sculptures and other objects from the 17th and 18th Centuries. This Baroque isn’t my favourite style but there were some interesting pieces and the explanation of a couple of them during the guided tour definitely added interest as their creation and context were described by a very informative and knowledgeable guide.

I didn’t take any photographs on the ground floor, which is rather remiss of me, but there are plenty on the Gallery’s website, of course (click the relevant links in the above list).

The Northern European art was of more interest and I enjoyed the British Portraits, including the loans from the National Portrait Gallery of celebrities from the West Midlands celebrating the recent Birmingham Commonwealth Games (including a video work of Julie Walters).

We’d taken in a lot so it was time to get something to eat. And after that we went to have look at the upstairs galleries. But I think I’ll save them for another post – this one has gone on a bit!