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
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.