Monday, June 11, 2018

Watching paint dry

On our recent trip to Cumbria, we had unusually fine weather.  So fine that we were able to contemplate tackling the front door. Our property is in a coastal settlement and corrosive sea air seems to weather surfaces faster than normal. Last year I used sandpaper to rub down the blistered varnish and applied a new coat.  However, all this did was varnish over a scabbled surface.  This time we were determined to do a good job and laid in supplies of Nitromors.

This is one of those tasks which you wish you had never started.  After all a scabbled surface is of no real consequence.  But once we had started we had to finish.  Working in shifts, we removed the stained surface of the door, sanded it down and restained the wood.  Then we needed two coats of varnish, which takes twelve hours to dry.  So we found ourselves working in shifts to watch paint - or in this case, varnish - dry.  But we were very pleased with the finished result.

So, on to our last walk - Bleaberry Fell and High Seat.  We drove to Keswick and parked in the carpark near Ashness Bridge.  From here we climbed the steep Walla Crag path.  It was a gloriously sunny day.

We turned right towards Bleaberry Fell, following a clear path.  Towards the summit a set of very steep steps has been helpfully laid.  It was a stiff pull up the last stretch.

The views across Derwentwater opened up.  You can easily see how much the water level has dropped in the recent dry weather.

Between Bleaberry and High Seat is an expanse of boggy ground.  We were relieved to find that the dry spell had done its work here too, as we hopped from tuft to tuft.  High Seat too offered expansive views.

We headed back down towards the gorge of Ashness Beck.  Here, a narrow path led vertiginously around the rim.  It was wild terrain, quite unlike the chocolate box image of the lower beck by the famous bridge.  We were relieved to get back to the car.

Taking tea  at Brysons in the middle of Keswick, I was surprised to see an older, but not frail, lady counting the steps down from the toilets.

"Just keeping a record of all the stairs I've climbed" she chuckled in a self-congratulatory manner. Perhaps she lives in a bungalow?

Friday, June 08, 2018

Rannerdale Bluebells

After our week near Hawkshead, we moved on to our own cottage in west Cumbria.  A regular walk for us has always been Rannerdale, and the bluebells of Rannerdale are justly famous.  So Rannerdale it was.

But we were not alone.  An entire camera group was in full swing up and down the bluebell banks.  People who did not look like natural walkers were venturing out.  The valley was full of bluebell tourists, some of whom were determined to make it to the top for their lunch, panting and sweating as they went.

Odd how they have spread so far up the hillside - the bluebells, that is.

We have done this walk in all weathers, but prefer it when we have it more or less to ourselves.
Oddly, looking at these pictures, you would never guess that so many people were out and about that day.

Thursday, June 07, 2018


Of course, we had been building ourselves up to tackling a Big One. - Wetherlam.   In view most of the time was the Old Man of Coniston, a mountain which we usually count as our first serious climb, almost thirty years ago. On that occasion we followed a very stiff route up the front for two hours only to find that many others had walked up the quarry road at the back and reached the summit that way.  But we still remember that airy ridge feeling as we walked round to Dow Crag feeling on top of the world  - and the wonderful relief of cups of tea back in Coniston after descending the Walna Scar road. Wetherlam is the next top along from the Old Man.

This time we drove to Tilberthwaite where we were interested to see this example of the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a sculptor who has reconstructed a whole series of ancient sheep folds. Inset in the centre of each side is a panel of slate mosaic - a circle in a square. This one certainly makes you think - about the interface between practical ingenuity, craft skills and art.

This is a landscape bearing many signs of an industrial past with disused quarries, mineshafts and levels everywhere.

We followed a steadily rising path to the hause reaching across to Wetherlam.

The route we had planned meant that we would return by the same track.

 The final ascent was a scramble over huge broken boulders, so extensive that neither of us could imagine descending by that means.

The summit was, as usual, breathtaking, with views in every direction, including right down the Fylde coast past Heysham and Blackpool Tower.

 We took stock.  We asked a number of those who were coming in from other directions about their route and identified a path down the other side with a longer walk back to the car.  This suited us.

The ground dropped away, but not in the precipitous way of the boulder scramble.  And for some, this is simply their home turf.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Rest Day

Mid-week - and another fine day.  We began by driving down to Sawrey and on to the ferry terminal.  A car ferry runs continuously across Windermere, cutting off a long road loop through Ambleside.

First stop was Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house, always a treat to visit.

After lunch it was on to Holehird, a very special garden occupying a sloping site.

The views from here are spectacular.

So then we drove down the lake road to a parking place from which we could access Gummer's How.  On with the boots and a short stiffish climb to the summit.  Looking down to the end of Windermere.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sunny Weather

For the first time ever we enjoyed a fortnight of continuous fine weather.  This was very helpful on a walking holiday, but also meant that rest days were few and far between.

We walked ourselves in on Latterbarrow and Hawkshead Moor, both walks that could be accessed from the house.

This antique piece of farm machinery is a cutter-bar, once in annual use on my parents' farm to mow the hay grass.  Mowing was followed by days, if not weeks, of turning the swathes, rowing them up. piling the dried grass into pikes in the field and then leading the pikes in to the barn with a pike-lifter.  Even then, each forkful had to be hefted by hand up on to the mows.  Hundreds of hours of back-breaking manual labour.

So, on the third day we set out for Claife Heights and the Sawreys, home of Beatrix Potter.  This was woodland walking leading out to views over Windermere.

On the path, playing dead and looking like an old twig, this slow-worm.

The views eventually opened out to reveal Windermere and Bowness, across the lake.

We felt pleased to be isolated from the crowds and noise of those streets.

Lush country led down into Far Sawrey and we followed the path to Near Sawrey, where the Potter industry was in full swing.  Timed tickets were needed to access Hill Top and people had clearly come from across the world to visit.  We had already decided to take a short-cut up the road to Hawkshead, but then we noticed that enticing thing, a bus stop.  A bus was due within the next ten minutes and we very much enjoyed the views of Esthwaite from the bus window

Saturday, May 26, 2018


When people ask where we are going on holiday the answer is, as usual, Cumbria.  I realise that this does sound a bit unimaginative.  But the whole thing takes on a different perspective when walking is the main activity.  Between five and ten miles is our limit for the day, so there are many areas of Cumbria yet to be explored at this rate.

Hawkshead is a small town in what used to be Westmorland - at least it was regarded as "Town" as opposed to "Country" by Beatrix Potter, whose territory this is.  It was a short hike across the fields from our holiday cottage, The Cragg.  Now, it is a bit of a tourist trap, but still has some its historic buildings, and, just as important, its teashops.

This is the school attended by William Wordsworth in the late eighteenth century.

And this is The Cragg, a traditional Westmorland farmhouse with stone flagged floors, an Aga and extensive woodland gardens full of rhododendrons, azaleas and birdsong.  It always amazes me that properties like this can be rented for relatively modest sums.  Or you could stay in a Holiday Inn.

We spent many hours enjoying the sunshine in the garden, watching the relentless labours of a group of long-tailed tits who had a nest in a dense bush.  We saw three individuals sharing the task of feeding the young.

All through the property were original features:

This is Westmorland panelling, used for interior walls.  The thin planks are simply slotted into the ceiling beams and there is your wall.

Built in cupboards... Of course you need exterior walls two foot thick to accommodate these.

Spice cupboards, this one dated 1695.

Early walks took us out across the fields surrounding Hawkshead.  Another distinctive local feature is the use of slabs of slate to construct walls, rather than the drystone typical of elsewhere in Cumbria.

This is rolling lowland farm country, heavily wooded.

And it was bluebell time, of which more - much more - later.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Braxted Park

Last week we went for a guided tour of an historic property under the scheme "Invitation to View".

Braxted Park is a late eighteenth century house set in its own extensive grounds, surrounded by a wall which is four and a half miles long.  The current owner gave us a talk about the history of the house and what it takes to raise the income to maintain such a property in the present day.

In the past the house had been owned by a series of people named Du Cane and, improbably, by a Mr Darcy.  More recently, the owner's grandfather had acquired the house to use as a base for entertaining clients and providing office and lab space for the electronics company, Plessey, which he had founded.

The current owner had set up a golf course and managed the property as a wedding venue.  Over a hundred weddings were held there last year. All this, simply to fund the maintenance of the house and grounds.

We were given a guided tour: a beautiful ballroom with Adam ceilings, an orangery used for civil ceremonies and everywhere garden settings suitable for the taking of photographs.

From there we walked down through the grounds to the ornamental lakes where there is a curious structure, like an ice-house, but not actually an ice-house.

Just over the edge of the parapet a goose rose from her nest revealing this huge clutch of eggs.

It was an interesting way to spend a Monday.