Sykehouse Cottage

A beautiful C17th Holiday Cottage in the Lake District


Smoots, Boles and Squeeze Stiles

The dry stone walls of the Lake District are such beautiful things.  Walking alongside and over them on our ramblings across the South Lakes we have become quite adept spotting various holes and ledges in these field enclosures.

Merchant-and-Makers-Dry-Stone-Walls-32-Water-smootThere’s a SMOOT which, I think, is any small hole generally ground level in the wall.  I have come across two types: a Water Smoot for drainage and a Rabbit Smoot.  I was curious as to why a farmer would take the trouble to build a rabbit tunnel until I came across this on the Ruskin Museum’s website :

 “Smoots allowed rabbits and hares to pass from the fell into the intakes (fields). Sometimes stone-lined pits were dug below the smoots having a wooden trough, above which was a counter- weighted trap door. The rabbit would fall into the pit and this could be used to supplement a countryman’s diet.”

beatrix potterOccasionally in walls beside farms, we have also come across a small recess with a slate base.  This is a BEE BOLE.  The farmer would put his straw bee hive or skep on this to protect it from rain and wind.  A Bee Bole usually faced South to South East so that the morning sun would warm up the hive.    You can see a Bole at Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top though it is filled with a more modern hive.  Click here for more about Hill Top.

If you are interested in discovering more about Bee Boles there’s a delightful website run by the International Bee Research Association called the Bee Bole Register.  (What else?)   Click here for the link.

lake districtAnd a SQUEEZE STILE is just as you would imagine … instead of steps built into the wall, you must squeeze through the small gap.  Unfortunately, overweight dogs of the Team Rigg party need to be lifted over the obstacle.


Broughton Moor Slate

broughton moorThe window seats in the sunroom of Sykehouse Cottage is made from some truly beautiful and very local slate.

The Broughton Moor Quarry, half way between Broughton and Coniston, has been worked since the mid 19th century.  lakes slateIt gives a wonderfully rich mid-green stone with a beautiful tone and pale veins which give a distinctive and very pleasing range of irregular markings.  This makes it a favourite for stylish interiors (like ours, obviously …) and can be seen in our local merchant’s showrooms, Burlington Slate.  Their main website is www.burlingtonstone.co.uk


Herdwick Wool Rugs

herdwick sheepThe distinctive look of Lake District fells, ribbons of stone walls and treeless slopes, has largely been created by Herdwick sheep.  The animal has been part of the landscape for centuries and there are now many products you can take home with you to celebrate this hardy breed and to remember your stay at our cottage.herdwick wool

herdwick throw If you pop into Melville’s in Broughton-in-Furness, you can pick up one of our favourite local products: a beautiful Original Cumbrian Wool throw.  These are woven from undyed Duddon valley fleeces and would be a unique memento of your holiday

A link to the Original Cumbrian Wool website is here if you would like further details of their products.


Swill Basket Making in Broughton

swill1A swill is one of the most pleasing objects one could wish to possess.  It is a thing, complete and contained in itself, needing no explanation or props,  assured and possessed of a simple confidence – being both useful and beautiful.  As Ruskin said: ‘Nothing can be beautiful which is not true’ and a swill basket whispers “true” in a very lovely and understated way.

It is made from thin strips of woven oak and, as such, is light and strong.  The closeness of the weave means that it is suitable for holding even very fine material. On the farm, these versatile baskets could be used for harvesting potatoes yet also for sowing seed. They were also used to carry coal or bobbins and, today, our family uses them as laundry baskets and, when there’s a baby, as a cradle.

The South Lakes was once a great centre for swill basket making. Bulmer’s Directory of Furness and Cartmel of 1910 showed a total of 13 swill-making shops in the area and, in Broughton, the focus of this industry was a cluster of buildings behind Cinder Hill, down by the park.

Today, there is just one man in the country who makes his living out of swill baskets. His name is Owen Jones and he lives at High Nibthwaite close to Coniston Water.  He was taught in 1988 by a retired ‘Swiller’ from Broughton called John Barker.  Owen runs workshops from his house and travels around the country attending fairs where you can see him making swills.  He has no trouble selling everything he makes.  If you would like further information about Owen and his work, click HERE for his own website.

There’s a swill in Sykehouse Cottage.  It is usually left on the stairs windowsill for guests to admire and use – if you’ve got any washing to hang out.  Carry your basket with one hand, the rim resting nicely on your hip bone.