Castlerigg Stone Circle

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A couple of miles to the east of Keswick town centre – all uphill – we came to the Castlerigg Neolithic stone circle..Four and a half thousand years old, with 38 stones (some claim more!) laid in a flattened circle in the middle of a field surrounded by some of England’s highest mountains with Skiddaw and Blencathra to the north and Helvelyn to the south east. The high peaks were shrouded in low cloud, but that only made it more atmospheric

It is not just its location that makes this one of the most important British stone circles; considered to have been constructed about 3000 bc, it is potentially one of the earliest in the country. Taken into guardianship in 1883, it was also one of the first monuments in the country to be recommended for preservation by the state.(English Heritage)

The land is owned by the National Trust and the monument itself is managed by English Heritage.

Being outside the holiday season, and a grey day, there were relatively few visitors, so it was a good opportunity to take a few photos.

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Coniston Hall

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Many years ago during my first visit to Coniston, I stayed at the Coniston Hall campsite, which is in the woods on the shore of Coniston Water, south of Coniston Hall. The old manor house, which dates from the 16th Century when it was owned by the Fleming family, is still standing,  The west north east wing is in ruins but the rest of the building is relatively intact, the east wing being still occupied by farm tenants. The central part of the building, which at one time would probably have been the “great hall” appears to have been converted into a barn at some stage with the earth bank built to allow access to a barn door in the centre of the wall, turning it into a traditional Lakeland “bank barn”.

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The style of the house has many other features common to Lakeland vernacular architecture – stone walls and a slate roof and very characteristic, tall cylindrical chimneys which we saw on a number of houses in the area. Tall chimneys were, apparently, a means of flaunting wealth, rather like people who drive flash cars these days.

The house  has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade II* listed building and today is owned by the National Trust, although it’s not open to the public.

Mount Grace Priory

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We’ve whizzed up the A19 many a time visiting family in the North East, and never noticed the brown sign for Mount Grace Priory, a property managed by English Heritage. We checked out what we might visit when we were heading north up to Sunderland after out short stay in York,  and thought it would be worth a short stop.

It’s the site of a former Carthusian priory, with substantial ruins of the monastery (dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII) and a 17th-century manor house which had been extended and remodelled as a holiday home for a wealthy industrialist, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, at the beginning of the 20th Century. There’s also a relatively small (by Stately home standards, anyway) at the front of the house.

The brown sign was hard to spot and we then had to make a right turn pretty soon after, crossing over the south bound carriageway of the busy A19 to turn into the narrow driveway that led up to the property. A bonus when we arrived – National Trust members are allowed free entry. as the property, although managed by EH is actually owned by the Trust.

First of all we had a look round the house. A couple of the rooms on the ground floor have been done up in Arts and Crafts style, including William Morris and Co. wallpaper, recreating the look from when the house was owned by Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell.

This is the Drawing Room

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with an attractive fireplace, which reminded me of those at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House in the Lake District.

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And this is the entrance hall

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A room at the back of the house has been simply furnished

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and has a particularly attractive stone fireplace – very Arts and Craft in style.

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On the first floor there was an exhibition about the history of the house and the attic space, which was used for the bedrooms for Isaac Bell’s children, has recently been opened to visitors. One interesting feature was the marks on the wall indicating the changing heights of the three children.

Once we’d finished looking round the house we went out the back door outside to where the remains of the monastery are found.

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It had belonged to the Carthusian order (the same as that to which the monks in France who produce the Chartreuse liqueur). Unlike other orders the monks live a solitary lives, praying and meditating, working and taking their meals in their own “cells” and only congregating for short periods during the day. So the church was relatively small and the site is dominated by two large cloisters surrounded by the remains of the cells where the monks lived.

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English Heritage have recreated one of the cells so it’s possible to gain an impression of how the monks lived

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The word “cell” conjures up an image of a dingy space with bars on the windows, but this was far from the case at the Priory. The cell was a reasonably large house

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with a kitchen and living room,

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space for prayer and study

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and bedroom on the ground floor

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and a workshop where weaving and the like was done on the first floor (accessed by a steep ladder)

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with it’s own kitchen garden.

The cells had toilets at the end of the garden, provided with running water

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and accessed by a covered passage

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Very sophisticated for its time!

To maintain the seclusion, the cells were separated by a high wall.

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The standard of living of the monks, and the standard of hygiene, would have been much better than that experienced by the majority of the population. But I don’t know how many people would be able to put up with a life of work and prayer where there was very little contact with other human beings.

The gardens at the front of the house, although not particularly extensive, were very pleasant.

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Even today, the site is very secluded. It’s miles from anywhere and surrounded by woodland. The traffic on the A19 rushes past, mainly oblivious to the fact that the Priory is there. It would be perfectly peaceful, but traffic noise from the busy road does intrude a little. Nevertheless, it was a good way to break our journey.

Clifford’s Tower

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Set on a tall mound in the heart of Old York, Clifford’s Tower is almost all that remains of York Castle, which was originally built by William the Conqueror. The mound on which the tower stands was the “motte” of the original motte and bailey castle which had been constructed between 1068 and 1069. The tower itself was built between about 1245 and 1272 to update the defences of the castle.

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Today it’s owned by English Heritage. We meant to have a look when we were in York last year and had picked up a two for one entry voucher , but ran out of time. So we made a point of visiting during our recent short break in York – although had to pay full price!

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It’s quite small and doesn’t take that long to look around. But there are some good views over York from the top of the battlements.

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