Sykehouse Cottage

A beautiful C17th Holiday Cottage in the Lake District


William Wordsworth

Apart from wandering the Fells and spotting the daffodils, there are two excellent houses to visit associated with Wordsworth.

After University at Cambridge and a spell living in Dorset, in 1799 Wordsworth now aged 29 moved back to the Lake District to Dove Cottage in Grasmere; and in 1813 he moved six miles East to Rydal Mount,a house between Grasmere and Ambleside, where he lived until he died in 1850.  Both houses can be visited and are about 20 miles from our cottage.

Rydal_Mount_-_geograph.org.uk_-_959824Rydal Mount is a privately run house with beautifully landscaped gardens shaped by Wordsworth.  Their website can be reached here.

Dove Cottage is the home of The Wordsworth Trust, an independent charity, set up to preserve the house and its neighbouring buildings.  The Trust also looks after works by Wordsworth and other writers and artists of the period.  At the heart of this collection are the manuscripts that Wordsworth’s descendants donated in 1935 so that they could remain at Dove Cottage.  The Trust has an excellent programme of exhibitions and activities.  Their website can Dove_Cottage_-_geograph.org.uk_-_70618be found here.


Ruskin at Brantwood

John_Ruskin,_1882

In 1871, when Ruskin was in his early Fifties, he purchased – on impulse and unseen – a dilapidated house on the shores of Coniston Water.  This became his main home for nearly 30 years until his death in 1900.  Ruskin’s love of the Lakes started as a child.  His parents travelled to Scotland every year and always broke their journey in the Lake District.  When he bought it, Brantwood was little more than a cottage; Ruskin altered and enlarged it, including the lovely lantern set in the corner of his bedroom.

Here, he could experiment with his gardens.  He built a reservoir, and redirected the waterfall down the hills, added an ice house, and enlarged the harbour, from where he rowed his boat, the Jumping Jenny.

Brantwood is now a museum, exhibition space and arts centre with a rather splendid cafe, The Jumping Jenny, and is a favourite day out of ours.

If you want to find out what’s on Brantwood.org.uk has all the details.

Across the Water, the Ruskin Museum in Coniston is a fascinating Cabinet of Curiosities, crammed full of wonderful objects and paintings inspired by Ruskin’s love of geology, botany and the Lakes.  It also includes a special exhibition on the Coniston Bluebird and Donald Campbell.  Click here for more information about the Ruskin Museum.


Picturesque Gilpin

lake district

“Shall we suppose it a greater pleasure to the sportsman to pursue a trivial animal, than it is to the man of taste to pursue the beauties of nature?”

The idea of scenic pleasure touring in this country rather than abroad began in the mid C18th and with it came a new aesthetic approach which disregarded symmetry to focus more on accidental irregularity and the charm of the “rustic”.  A leading thinker of this new approach was Cumbrian born, Gilpin.  His writings were a direct challenge to the ideology of the Grand Tour and he showed how an exploration of rural Britain could compete with the Continent.

Gilpin was born in Scaleby, just north of Carlisle,  on 4 June 1724.  From an early age, he was a sketcher and collector of prints, but while his brother became a painter, William went into the church and subsequently became a headmaster. His interest in prints produced instructional writing and, in his Essay on Prints (1768), Gilpin defined picturesque as “that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture”.

Picturesque-hunters began visiting the Lakes hunting out suitable scenes to sketch using Claude Glasses – tinted mirrors to frame and darken the view, and named after the 17th century landscape painter Claude Lorrain.  Of course, tlake districthe Picturesque fashion was ripe for mockery and Gilpin was satirised in a comic poem,  The Three Tours of Dr. Syntax, which was illustrated by Rowlandson.  Here he is: “Tumbling in the Water”.

I wonder how many chasers of the Picturesque get into scrapes nowadays from concentrating on capturing that special view rather than where they are putting their feet?

 

 


A change of air and exercise

celia fiennesIn c17th, when travel for its own sake was unheard of, Celia Fiennes roamed around England on horseback “to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise.”  Sometimes she travelled with relatives but she made her “Great Journey to Newcastle and Cornwall” of 1698 accompanied only by one or two servants.

Fiennes took notes to entertain her family and never intended to publish. So it is lovely that we can now all read her frank, vivid and unvarnished opinions in “Through England on a Side Saddle” as her writings provide an entirely unmannered portrait of the Lake District – unlike later Romantic writers.

char fishingShe talks of “Charr ffish … they pott with sweete spices”, oat Clapbread (easier to digest than the more common rye bread) and the “great Lake Wiandermer” into which trickling springs give “a pleasing sound and murmuring noise.”

A full transcript of her journey can be read at the delightful Vision of Britain website created by the University of Portsmouth’s Geography Department.


Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides: “all the little trees on this map”.

IMG_8255The charm of these guides undoubtedly lies in Wainwright’s personal touch with painstakingly detailed heather bound fells and minute contour lines; carefully annotated compass view points; and multiple approaches to each summit.  But amongst all this obsessive detail, Wainwright does relax every so often and the hard work is leavened by a joke or two such as: “TAKE CARE DO NOT START FIRE and so waste the effort spent in drawing all the little trees on this map.  The Forestry Commission, too, will be annoyed.”

Wainwright’s sketch of the Summit of Coniston Old Man includes details and descriptions of  “Tourists looking for Blackpool Tower”, a regimented line of Boy Scouts and “a Solitary fell walker, bless him, looking north to the hills.”

We hope you will find your own favourite vignettes whilst planning your walks!

For further information about Alfred Wainwright, please follow this link to the Wainwright Society.


Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides: fireside companions.

WainwrightIn Sykehouse Cottage there is a complete set of the 50th anniversary edition of Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. These seven little hardback books contain the most magical evocation of fell walking I have ever encountered. Each of the seven volumes is dedicated to a different group of people or animal: map makers, dogs, solitary wanderers and each book has a personal note at the end. And this warm and idiomatic approach to the fells is continued throughout the books which are hand drawn – and handwritten (!) – guides to walking the fells.
The walks are catalogued with a wonderful combination of description and maps, complete with contour lines, tussocks of grass and little trees and personal observation. Poring over these little black and white drawings and humorous asides draws you from your armchair into the vast green fells of your imagination and makes you want to jump into this Lilliputian world of Wainwright and bestride the fells like Gulliver. As Wainwright himself puts it: “this book has been written, carefully and with infinite patience, for my own pleasure and because it has seemed to bring the hills to my own fireside.”
We hope you enjoy planning your walks!
For further information about Alfred Wainwright, please follow this link to the Wainwright Society.


Samuel Whiskers at Hill Top Farm

Tom KittenI have read all the Beatrix Potter stories to the children at bedtime.  Some more often than others.  Certain tales were as delightful and easy to read as well paced poems (Jeremy Fisher); others were a vicious, verbal obstacle course for a very tired reader to stumble over and I used to hide them behind other books (The Pie and the Patty Pan, anyone?)  So the boys and I absolutely charmed when we visited Potter’s Hill Top Farm run by the National Trust for, instead of a worthy guide book, we were given copies of “The Tale of Samuel Whiskers”.  (This was the boys’ favourite though I found Tom Kitten’s close shave quite unnerving.)  We were instructed to search the house for the exact places Potter had drawn for the book.  Well done the National Trust for thinking of such a thing!  The boys were entranced to find the VERY skirting board, the stairs etc from her watercolours and trace the story of the enormous, old, thieving rat, and the ever resourceful Maria, around the house.

Be warned Hill Top Farm is extremely popular and entry is by timed ticket only.  Allow plenty of time of park – because there’s not much of it and it’s a walk from the site.  Click here for the official site.