Music on Nature: Finding A Language For Landscape.

Every year in November, Kendal hosts a Mountain Festival – four days of of films, talks, exhibitions and events covering all aspects of mountain and adventure sports culture. It’s probably the major gathering of outdoor enthusiasts in the UK and I’ve never been – although I did buy a ticket to watch the talks which were shown on-line during the Pandemic. Now I have more free time I was thinking of spending some time there, but the weekend events clashed with the Rugby League World Cup final which took place on the Saturday. However, I’d spotted an event on the programme on the Friday evening – Music on Nature: Finding A Language For Landscape – “tracing the connections between nature and sound, … (and exploring) the landscapes around us through music, prose and poetry“. 

The publicity for the event told us that

In this new and exciting event, we welcome you on a sound journey to explore what the landscape means to you, how to tune into and unlock its hidden tracks. Set your ear to the earth and travel through its layers. Join us as we travel through deep time and sing the songs of the Anthropocene – enter a sonic world encompassing a nature rhythm to capture the visceral tones of our world – and dream of a history of things to come.

It sounded interesting so I booked a couple of tickets. I thought we might travel over and experience the exhibition and free events in the Base Camp and at the Brewery Arts Centre before the concert. A well intentioned plan didn’t work out quite so well as the weather that day was appalling. It was chucking it down and windy too so we delayed leaving and driving up the M6. We were lucky and managed to grab a space on the packed Parish Church car park, as someone was leaving just after we arrived.

It was only a short walk to the Base Camp which was on the park near Abbot Hall (we’ve missed our visits to the gallery while it’s been shut for over 2 years for refurbishment – crossed fingers it opens soon) so we were able to have a look round the various stalls and grab a coffee before crossing over the river and walking the short distance to the venue at The Barrel House. We went back to Base Camp after the event and had a bite to eat in the Food Court before setting off back home.

So, what about the event? We didn’t know quite what to expect.

First up was Amy-Jane Beer is a biologist, nature writer and campaigner, based in North Yorkshire, whose book , The Flow, was published earlier this year.

a book about water, and, like water, it meanders, cascades and percolates through many lives, landscapes and stories. From West Country torrents to Levels and Fens, rocky Welsh canyons, the salmon highways of Scotland and the chalk rivers of the Yorkshire Wolds, Amy-Jane follows springs, streams and rivers to explore tributary themes of wildness and wonder, loss and healing, mythology and history, cyclicity and transformation.

She read passages from her book about swimming in a chalk stream in the Dales and the Severn Bore, accompanied by Jack McNeill a local clarinettist, composer and maker who created a soundscape of computer enhanced sound effects and clarinet tunes

Zaffar Kunial is a poet who was born in Birmingham. He has a connection with the Lake District having spent 2014 in Grasmere as the Wordsworth Trust Poet-in-Residence. Again accompanied by Jack McNeill, he rad selections from his latest collection, England’s Green has been shortlisted for the 2022 T.S Eliot Prize. One of the poems, Ings, was inspired by Zaffir receiving points on his licence having been caught twice exceeding the speed limit near the said village. Anyone who has driven to Windermere from the M6 via Kendal will be aware (or needs to be!) of the speed camera on the A591 where it passes through the small village and where the speed limit suddenly drops from 60 to 40 mph.

Ings. The name came to mean: Now. Slow. Down. And little
else. A splash of houses cut by a dual carriageway, a petrol
station, a lane with an easily missable church.

It’s a long poem which takes in a subsequent visit to the village where he goes into the church and graveyard and reflects on what he sees and feels.

Zaffar Kunial

The final act paired the writer and Patron of the festival, Robert Macfarlane, with the musician Hayden Thorpe, former lead singer with Wild Beasts who grew up in Kendal

They performed together, Robert reading extracts from his slim volume of poems, Ness, accompanied by Hayden on guitar, the latter singing a chorus in between the verses.

Finally Hayden performed a solo set of songs to complete the concert.

On the Autumn Equinox

A couple of weeks ago, Friday was the Autumn Equinox, the second day of equal daytime and night-time and the start of Autumn. The sun was shining and I decided to make the most of it. After my experience the previous Saturday when I was held up for 6 hours when they shut the southbound M6 around Lancaster I decided I’d let the train take the strain and caught the direct service from North Western station to Windermere. I disembarked at Staveley ready to repeat a walk I did earlier in the year, more or less on the last leg of the Dales way, but diverting off the route to take in three smaller fells.

There was a real autumnal feel to the day but the sun was bright and it was pleasant and warm. A good day for a walk, especially as the air was clear and, not being too hot, visibility was excellent.

Turning right on leaving the station there was a stretch of walking along a minor road before turning off onto paths across the fields.

The route then followed another minor road with views starting to open up of the fells

over to my right

Then back on a track through the fields

I caught up with a retired couple who’d been walking the Dales Way from Ilkley. We started to chat and then walked together for a while before I strayed off the Dales Way to climb the first small fell – Grandsire.

A young female fellow walker was sitting on the summit – eyes closed. I didn’t disturb her but found my own rock to sit in a drank the views of the fells while drinking a coffee from my flask

The Howgills in the distance
The Far Eastern Fells. Some cloud over there.

The distinctive Whaleback of Red Screes clearly noticeable

Part of Windermere with a backdrop of the Coniston Langdale Fells
Zooming in

Time to carry on. I took the path along the top of the hill, gradually descending down to the tarn at the foot of School Knott

and then climbed my second small fell of the day

I descended, retracing my steps down to the tarn and then took the path which re-joined the Dales Way which I followed until, getting close to Bowness, I diverted up the final hill of the day – Brant Fell

There were a few other people on the summit, but it wasn’t very busy. More brews to soak up with a coffee and a bite to eat. From here I could see almost the full length of Windermere

I spent about half an hour soaking up the views before making my way back down the hill and on towards Bowness.

I had about 20 minutes to wait for the bus back to Windermere. The bus stop was by the church so I popped into the churchyard to take a look at the war memorial which was designed by W G Collingwood

It was only a short ride up to the interchange by the train station. I had time for a brew in Booths supermarket cafe and then feeling good after a grand walk made my way to the platform to catch the 4 o’clock train direct to Windermere. No hassle like the week before when. Well, not quite. The signs on the platform said the train was cancelled. A few minutes after I arrived one of the staff told us the train was going to be arriving on time but was only going as far as Oxenholme. There had been a fatality on the West Coast main line between Oxenholme and Lancaster which was affecting all the services travelling up and down that section. As promised the train pulled in on time and everyone boarded, but we all had to disembark at Oxenholme. The station was hectic and there was an Avanti train standing on the south bound line. I boarded and somehow managed to find a seat on the packed train. I found that it had been stuck there for two hours. After another hour it finally set off and I sat back and relaxed knowing that it would get me back to Wigan in about an hour. Well, it would have done except as it approached Preston it was announced that they were terminating the service there. A packed train of passengers, many going down to London had to disembark. It was chaos on Preston station with very little information available. Eventually I managed to board another packed train – standing room only but it was only a 20 minute journey back to Wigan so I coped!

Well, after my last two visits, the lesson here is that you’re ever travelling south from the Lake District, by any form of transport, you’d be advised to make sure I wasn’t on my home using the same means of transport. I’m clearly jinxed.

On a more serious note, it had been a nuisance being delayed but there was no point being annoyed. It wasn’t the fault of the train operators and it has to be said the effect on travellers was a minor inconvenience compared that on the family of the person who was killed and the driver who had to face the though that his train had killed someone.

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

Scout Scar and Cunswick Fell from Sizergh

I’m trying to get the hang of my new “arrangements” – so far with only limited success. However, last Wednesday promised to be a fine day for a walk. I didn’t fancy going too far in peak holiday period so I drove up the M6 towards Kendal, parked up at Sizergh Hall, and set off for a walk along the limestone ridge of Scout Scar. I’d been up there a few times, but previously from the other end.

At first I retraced our return route from a walk during our visit to Sizergh Castle a few weeks ago – across the fields and through woodland

up to the viewpoint near to the “Chapel of Ease” of St John Helsington – and on a sunny morning with decent long range visibility, what a fine view it was.

the view over to the Lakeland fells
the limestone escarpment of Whitbarrow (I must get up there one day soon)
Looking over to Arnside Knott and the Kent estuary

This was as far as we’d got during our previous visit, but this time I carried on heading north

crossing a minor road and then taking a path on to Scout Scar

The views over to Lakeland just got better and better and opened up so that I could see over to the Fairfield horseshoe, Red Screes and the Kentmere fells

I reached the “mushroom”, a popular destination, not far from the car park on the Kendal to Underbarrow road, where I stopped for a bite to eat.

I carried on to the end of the ridge

I’d intended to turn back from here, taking the path along the edge of the scar, but a moment of madness came over me and I decided to carry on for another couple of miles over Cunswick Fell to the other limestone edge of Cunswick Scar.

It was quieter along here – its obviously not as popular as its more dramatic companion. But there were a few people about.

The walking is easy going, and at the summit I was rewarded with excellent views over to the Kentmere horseshoe

and over Kendal towards the lonely hills of Borowdale (the lesser known Westmorland variant, not the more well known one south of Derwent Water) and the Shap Fells

over to the Howgills

and the major fells to the west

Outstanding views and the photos don’t really do them justice.

I turned around and more or less retraced my steps back towards Scout Scar

I crossed over the minor road and climbed back up onto the ridge of Scout Scar

and set off along the edge of the ridge heading south.

There’s the mushroom again

This is the view looking backwards that shows the limestone escarpment. It is quite a steep drop down to the bottom

As I walked along the ridge the Kent estuary began to dominate the view

along with Whitbarrow over to the west

At the end of the ridge I descend down to the Brigsteer road, crossed over and retraced my steps back to Sizergh, with a slight variation at the end, following a different path than the one I’d come. I arrived back in time to buy myself a well earned brew and tasty peach crumble cake.

It had been a good walk and I’ve got in mind to come up here again on a fine day during the autumn or winter when I’d get a different perspective of the landscape. I think I’ll cut out the diversion over Cunswick Fell though.

A visit to Windermere Jetty Museum

Leaving Blackwell we decided to drive over to, another Lakeland Arts site, the Windermere Jetty Museum, a short drive away on the other side of Bowness. We’d visited before, just before the first lockdown, but though we could spend a little time there revisiting the exhibits and enjoying a brew on the lakeside.

As it turned out we spent longer there than we expected as there were a couple of art exhibitions – normally they would probably have been shown at Abbot Hall but with that still be shut for refurbishment I guess Lakeland Arts were taking advantage of the facilities here.

First, though, we had a look around the main displays

One of the exhibitions, shown in the main building in a room with a view over the lake, featured large scale abstract watercolours by Barbara Nicholls, an artist from Cheshire.

Her technique used to create these works involved laying out large sheets of heavy weight
paper on the studio floor, which were then wetted before applying the pigments which would then begin to spread out by capillary action – just like ink dropped onto wet blotting paper. The skill of the artist is then to manipulate and control the pigment. The finished works being made up of sections from several of these sheets cut and then collated to form a whole.

These monumental watercolours emerge from a process of manipulating coloured pigment in large quantities of water. The pigments behave in a variety of ways; some gather in dark, opaque pools, others are translucent, lapping at the paper to form gentle tidal marks.

Lakeland Arts Website

It was quite appropriate for paintings created by the movement of water to be displayed in a room with a view over the Lake.

The second exhibition was in the old fire station that had been relocated from Bowness village to the grounds of the museum

Dovetailing is an immersive installation by Sculptor Juliet Gutch in collaboration with composer and viola player Sally Beamish and filmmaker Clare Dearnaley inspired by luthiery (the making of stringed musical instruments). 

Entering the small building we encountered a darkened room with wooden mobiles suspended from the ceiling with a film being projected onto a screen.

The mobiles were made up of wooden shapes resembling shavings produced during the planing of the wood used in the construction of a violin or viola. The film, with the soundtrack by Sally Beamish, included natural sounds, the workshop process during the manufacture of a violin and the movement of the mobile forms.

Then it was time for a brew. It was a pleasant day so we sat outside looking over the water (there are good views from inside the cafe too)

I liked the wooden shelters that had been built by the museum staff using boat building techniques

Leaving the museum we weren’t ready to set off for home so we drove into the village centre, parked up and went for a walk along the lake.

There is very little of the east side of Windermere where it’s possible to walk along the lakeside. Most of the land is privately owned and access isn’t possible for the hoi poloi – reflecting the theme of the exhibition we’d visited at Blackwell that morning. The main exceptions are Fell Foot, at the south end of the lake, and Cockshott Point, a stretch of parkland where we were walking at Bowness. Both of these are owned by the National Trust. Cockshott Point was bought by the Trust with the help of a certain Mrs Heelis (better known as Beatrix Potter) who sold some paintings to raise funds for the purchase. Without this intervention it would have been likely that the land would be sold to a private buyer who would have prevented access.

There’s more of a “right to roam” on the west side of the Lake (formerly in Lancashire!), but, again this is due to the intervention of the National Trust. I think a lot of people think the NT is all about preserving manor houses, but their original vision was about opening up the countryside and without them large area of the lake District and other parts of the country wouldn’t be readily accessible.

So our say in the Lakes ended as it started, with us reflecting on how access to the countryside and the lake shores is still limited and how we need to continue to campaign for the “Right to Roam”.

“Something in Common” at Blackwell

A couple of weeks ago we decided to drive up to the Lake District to visit one of our favourite places – Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts style house near Bowness. We hadn’t been there for over two years (yes, you know why) but we were keen to see the latest exhibition there – Something in Common – featuring the works of James Fox, a textile artist from Glasgow, now living in Lancaster. His recent work delves into the history of land rights and land ownership, posing the question – Who Owns England? – and the Blackwell exhibition takes up this theme, exploring the “right to roam” and is part of their ‘Year of Protest’ programme, featuring artists who use craft as a form of tool for social change and revolt.

I spend quite a lot of my leisure time out walking on the moors and mountains and kind of take it for granted that I can do that. But that wouldn’t always have been possible. In many areas landlords forbid the hoi poloi accessing their estates on the moors that they used for hunting and shooting. But as working people started to have more leisure time walking and hiking became more popular, leading to frustration where they couldn’t gain access to what they saw as open land. This led to protests and mass trespasses, the most well known being that on Kinder but there were others, two examples being the trespasses on Winter Hill in 1896 and Latrigg, near Keswick, in 1887. We’re free to walk on all of those hills now, but despite the  Countryside & Rights of Way (CRoW) Act of 2000 the Right to Roam only applies to “open access land”, which comprises about 8% of the mountains, moors, heath, and coastlines in England and Wales. (Scotland has a different legal system and the The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 allows everyone access to most land and inland water in Scotland for “certain purposes”.) People campaigning and fighting for the Right to Roam have never gone away, including veteran campaigner John Bainbridge, who sometimes comments on this blog 🙂 – his book is worth a read.

Of course, there’s a balance between access and respecting people’s property and in Scotland exempts land where there are buildings, private gardens, land where crops are growing, schools and school grounds sports grounds.  The legislation also requires the right to roam to be exercised “reasonably and responsibly” and I’m sure that the vast majority of people would respect this. I can’t see any reason why the same approach shouldn’t be applied to England and Wales. Yet many wealthy landowners think otherwise and resist any extension of the Right to Roam.

During lockdown, where travel was restricted, James Fox started going out exploring the countryside close to his home in Lancaster. In particular, the Abbeystead Estate in the Forest of Bowland. the estate is owned by the Duke of Westminster and before the CRoW Act access to many parts of the wild moorland was restricted. I experienced this 20 or so years ago I used to go walking in Bowland regularly and know that I strayed off the permitted track more than once.

The works on display were created by a combination of hand stitching, machine embroidery and digital media. A small number of works from the Lakeland Trust’s collection, including paintings by Lowry, Ben Nicholson and Sheila Fell were included in the exhibition and there were two “soundscapes” playing

the Political Soundscape

a series of speeches by protesters and politicians who thought for the Right to Roam, Political Soundscape reflects the deeply emotional relationship between people and the land throughout history. Together, the readings are a testament to the ability of everyday people to affect positive social change when their voices rise as one.

and the Bucollic Soundscape

Featuring a series of poems by writers who were inspired by the landscape, Bucolic Soundscape reflects the enduring and affectionate relationship that people have with the land.

A two sided quilt A Patchwork Quilt (2021) illustrates the two different sides to the gouse shooting on the Abbeystead estate,

the front displaying images associated with grouse shooting

while the reverse highlands the “hidden” aspects of the use of the land for this leisure pursuit – restricted access, eradication of predators and “unwanted” wildlife and vegetation, burning of the land and other environmental issues.

One of three videos running on a loop showed how this banner had been created

The Rewilding Plinth (2022) raised questions about how the grouse moors impact on the ecology of the moors. He also raises the question of what impact “rewilding” – returning the land to it’s natural environment – could have on tenant farmers

and how, depending how it’s done, could have other adverse effects on the land.

The frieze running along the wall is part of the exhibition and symbolises how the land is “fenced in” to prevent access. The frieze design reminds me of some of the wallpaper designs by Morris and Co., particularly “trellis
Sheila Fell – “Cumbrian landscape” (1967)

It’s a small exhibition, but inspiring and thought provoking, and we felt it was definitely worth the visit. Of course, we also took the opportunity to revisit the house and have a light meal in the cafe, after which we took another look around the exhibition.

And I never tire of the view from the gardens over Windermere towards the Coniston fells.

It was still early afternoon as we left the house, but we felt that we weren’t ready to return home. So what to do next?

Sizergh Castle. A walk, a meal and a concert.

A few weeks ago we had tickets for a concert in Kendal by This is the Kit. Rather than just drive up in the late afternoon for the evening performance we decided to make a day of it. We had thought of visiting Blackwell as we hadn’t been there for a while, but found that they were installing a new exhibition that would open a couple of days later so it wasn’t the best time to go. We’ll get up there soon though, Something in Common tells the story of England’s countryside and the peoples’ fight for Common Land, a theme right up my street, so to speak. So, instead we decided on visiting Sizergh Castle, a National Trust property, as we hadn’t been there for quite some time.

The National Trust website describes the property as a “beautiful medieval house with rich gardens and estate“, and I think that pretty much sums it up. The house isn’t owned by the Trust though – this is one of those sites where the owners couldn’t afford to pay for the upkeep of the house and estate so made a deal with the Trust. The castle with its garden and estate is in the care of the National Trust but the house is still owned by Hornyold-Strickland family – a type of arrangement I’m not comfortable with. Most of the house is open to the public, but there’s a private residential wing and I expect the family use the hall for entertaining outside he NT’s opening hours. I’m not sure whether they live there full time, mind.

We parked up and after a coffee went for our self-guided tour of the hall and gardens.

The oldest part of the house, the defensive tower, was built in the mid 14th century. It used to be thought that it was a pele tower, built as a defence from marauding Scots, but these days is considered to be a “solar tower” as it contained private living space for the owners, for their “sole” use – hence the name. A true pele tower was a defensive structure that could be used by the local population when being harassed by the reivers.

The most impressive features of the house for me were the oak panelling and fireplace surrounds.

Some of the panelling had been sold to the V&A in the 1890’s. However it was returned in 1999 on a long-term loan.

As usual with these “stately homes” there was a large collection of paintings, particularly portraits, and we spotted a couple by the local lad George Romney. The Strickland family were Catholics and strong supporters of the Stuart monarchy and one room is full of portraits of the monarchs from that dynasty.

The gardens are particularly impressive. Our previous visit had been during the autumn so the colours were much fresher and greener in early summer. However, I reckon they would look good whatever the season.

The limestone rock garden, which was created in the 1920s, is the largest of it’s type under the National Trust’s stewardship.

I always like a good vegetable garden!

After looking round the garden we returned to the cafe for a light meal before setting out for a walk around the grounds. A misunderstanding on my part meant we ended up following the longer set route which was more than J intended. I blame my poor colour vision for misreading the map!

After walking through some fields and meadows the route took us into the woods of Brigsteer Park

and then on to Park End where a short diversion down a boardwalk took us to a hide overlooking a recreated wet land.

Park End Moss, which is on the edge of the Lyth Valley, was once an area of degraded farmland that’s been “rewilded” by the National Trust into a wetland haven for wildlife. It’s probably how much of the valley would have looked before it was drained to create agricultural land.

Looking back as we climbed the hill up towards the nearby farm we had a good view over the wetland with Whitbarrow dominating the far side of the valley (I must get up there one of these days).

We then had a steep climb for a while to take us to the top of a ridge overlooking the valley (I was getting in trouble now for misinterpreting the map).

A short diversion along the ridge as far as St John’s church

allowed a view over the valley right across to the Lake District Fells. Worth the climb (at least I thought so).

We then followed the route back down through woods and field to Sizergh (down hill more or less all the way), passing some typical Cumbrian farmhouses (I think they’re rented out now as holiday cottages by the Trust).

The cafe was closing up as we reached the hall complex so there wasn’t time for a final brew, so we returned to the car and drove over to Kendal which only took about 15 minutes . We had a mooch around the town centre, including the obligatory visit to Waterstones where, as frequently happens, books were purchased. We then picked up some supplies from Booths supermarket followed by a tour around the one way system so that we could park up before we made our way to the Brewery Arts Centre. There were no spaces left in their car park so another trip around the one way system was needed to find a space on an alternative convenient car park – free after 6 pm – near Abbot Hall (which has been closed for the past few years as it’s being renovated. Hopefully it will be reopening soon – fingers crossed)

We’d decided to eat in the Arts Centre restaurant. Having never been there before I was surprised just how large it was and there seemed to be plenty of customers, many taking advantage of an early evening pizza deal. We were too late to take advantage of that but, in any case, I was very pleased with my choice of a rather tasty pie with sweet potato fries, followed by

a pudding to mark the state of our nation i.e. an Eton Mess.

I rather liked this tapestry representing different aspects of Kendal, that wa son the wall of the restaurant.

We finished in good time for a pre concert drink and then on to the gig.

I’ve known of This is the Kit for a number of years – they’re played regularly on Radio 6 Music – and enjoy their work, and I wasn’t disappointed with the concert. I was impressed with the venue. It was larger than expected but with the main seating area quite steeply banked there was a good view of the stage from most seats. I think it’s likely we’ll be returning in the future as we can combine a concert with a day out in the southern Lakes and a nice meal in the restaurant! I’ll be keeping an eye on their “What’s on” page on their website.

After the concert we headed back to the car passing the Leyland Motors Clock that once stood on Shap summit but in 1973 was relocated to stand outside the Brewery Arts Centre.

So, all in all, a good day out.

Fairfield Via Alcock Tarn

Keeping my eye on the weather forecast, a Tuesday in early June looked promising so I decided to get out for a walk. I had an idea for a circular route based on the train, but a cancellation by the ever dependable (not!) Northern Rail put the end to that option. So, I reverted to driving up to the Lakes and decided to park up in Grasmere and see where I ended up. It was bright and sunny when I arrived so I booted up and headed towards the fells to the east of the village. I decided to walk up to the Fairfield ridge via Alcock Tarn. I’d only been up to this small man made tarn up on the hillside once before so I thought it was time to give it another go. My first walk up there, just before the first lockdown, was up the path to the north of the tarn, so this time I thought I’d take the alternative southern route that passed Dove Cottage before ascending through woods on the fell side.

Dove Cottage

It was a steep climb and views over the valley below over to the high fells in the west soon opened up.

Part way up the hill I passed through the gate – the tarn, and much of the surrounding fell, was bought by the National Trust in the 1940s.

I carried on up the hill, occasionally stopping to look back at the view, and eventually reached my first objective where I stopped for a break and a bite to eat. The tarn, which sits on a shelf on the side of Heron Crag, is about 1000 feet above Grasmere and was originally a small natural pool known as Butter Crags Tarn. It was purchased during the 19th century by a Mr Alcock who lived in Hollins, a grand house on the edge of the village the valley below (it’s now used as the Regional HQ for the National Trust), who enlarged it with a dam and stocked it with trout.

The edge of the tarn was swaring with tadpoles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many!

After a short break it was time to set off up the fell side along a clear path up towards Nab scar that isn’t shown on the OS map.

Looking back down on the tarn

The view back down to Grasmere and over to the Coniston Fells

I reached the ridge at the top of Nab Scar. Looking south I had a good view over Windermere

but my route was in the opposite direction, over to Heron Pike then Great Rigg and the summit of Fairfield. There were a few other walkers about, many of them tackling the Fairfield Horseshoe, but that wasn’t my intention.

After tackling the first two peaks I arrived on the stony summit of Fairfield

Looking over to Coffa Pike and St Sunday Crag

and over to Dollywagon Pike, Nethermost Pike and Helvellyn

The view over to the Western Fells

and over to Windermere

I stopped for a while chatting to another solo walker who was tackling the horseshoe and then retraced my tracks back to Great Rigg

I’d decided to descend via Stone Arthur so reaching Great Rigg I left the main ridge and took the path down the slope towards the rocky outcrops that look down on Grasmere village.

Looking to my right as I descended
Stone Arthur ahead

I passed a small group of walkers and then reached my objective where I stopped to enjoy the views down to the valley and over to the western fells.

I made my way down the path back to the village. Having been up this way a couple of times previously I knew it was a steep path and it was tough on the old knees as I descended, so I was glad to get down to level ground. I had a quick mooch round the village buying myself a cold drink from the Co-op which I drank siting on a bench on the village green. It was then time to return to the car and set off back home. The joys of the M6 to come!