“A dry stone wall
Is a wall and a wall,
(Cumberland and Westmorland
so says Norman Nicholson.
What a wonderful image! For the walls here are often made up of two separate walls enclosing a centre filled with small stones called “heartings”. The construction has long “through” stones to tie the two outer walls together and is finished off with a final top course of thinner slab-like stones on top of which the “cams” or coping stones were placed.
And Cumberland Wrestling is a traditional sport you can often still see at the Summer Shows including our own Broughton & Millom Show. The origin of this style of wrestling is a matter of debate, with some describing it as having evolved from Norse wrestling; others associate it with a Celtic tradition. It’s great fun to watch and as they start, gripping each other around the backs, it is easy to see why it reminded Nicholson of the Lake District walls which are some of the most distinctive and most loved features of the fells.
“The wall walks the fell –
Grey millipede on slow
Quotations taken from Norman Nicholson’s “Wall” in his 1981 collection “Sea to the West”. © The Trustees of the Estate of Norman Nicholson, by permission of David Higham Associates Limited.
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.
There’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.”
Occasionally 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.
And 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.
“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, the 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?
We spent a glorious Easter Saturday last year walking around Eskdale, one of the most picturesque valleys in Britain. Starting at the car park by Trough House Bridge, we strolled along the banks of the River Esk then climbed up to the impressive falls of Stanley Ghyll Force. On the way we popped in to visit the beautiful little church of St Catherine’s. The building was much restored in c19th but still retains its simple charm. This beautiful valley is about half an hour’s drive from Sykehouse Cottage and you can find more information from the local website if you click here.
When we come up for a holiday at Sykehouse Cottage, there are certain things we love to do. Here are five of our favourites.
1) Walk across the fields for a gorgeous pub lunch at the Blacksmiths Arms, Broughton Mills. Click here for details of opening hours on their website.
2) Ride on the La’al Ratty : the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway. Click here for their details.
3) Run around Muncaster Castle for the “Luck” and a pose in the stocks. Click here for their website.
4) Imagine, for a moment, living at Blackwell, one of the country’s finest Arts and Crafts houses. The stained glass! The views! Visit the website here.
5) Have a mooch around the lovely clothes, craft and book shops in Market Street, Ulverston.
Slits Cut into Frozen Snow, Stormy … Blencathra, Cumbria, 12 February.
I notice that Abbot Hall Art Gallery’s talk next Monday 2 February, 2pm, is on their series of Andy Goldsworthy photographs. Goldsworthy’s pastoral style of land art has fallen rather out of fashion lately though I still hold his Sheepfolds and Grizedale Forest’s Taking a Wall for a Walk in great affection: they sit quietly, playfully, in the Cumbrian landscape, making me appreciate the art of stone walling. On our picnic walks from Sykehouse Cottage, we still enjoy making a little “Goldsworthy” every now and again. Usually “fallen stars” of sticks, sometimes flags of leaves and twigs, occasionally balanced stones on river beaches. Little Goldsworthys appeal to the scavenger, the creative and the mark maker in us all.
Taking a Wall for a Walk – Grizedale Forest
The Gallery holds talks about works in their collection every Monday exc Bank Holidays which are included in the admission price. Abbot Hall is well worth a visit if you are in the Kendal area. For further details of their events and opening times, please click on this link to take you to their website.
We parked at the dramatic Hodge Close Slate Quarry near Coniston. A good spot to park the car as long as you don’t mind the terrifyingly deep – and unfenced – excavations. One peek over the edge is enough for me though it is a favourite of abseilers and divers. After a hour and an half ramble over good tracks and through lovely woods and past Cathedral Cavern, we reached our destination: The Three Shires Inn. This is a lovely traditional slate inn built in 1872 and it gets its name from a point on Wrynose Pass, close by , where the boundaries of Cumberland, Westmorland, and Lancashire used to meet. Chips and Cumberland sausage were ordered and halves of Loweswater Gold, Cumberland Ale and Hawkshead Red consumed. Marvellous. We took a shorter return route across Stang End Farm as the clouds had gathered: just 30 mins to the car. This walk is about 20 minutes drive (12 miles) from Sykehouse Cottage.
Walk : Duddon, Bleansey, Lickle.
This short stroll down to the river and back up again is now called Uncle David’s Walk as we rambled around it after his funeral one fine September.
Turn right out of Sykehouse cottage and up the hill to the High Cross Inn. Cross the busy A595 to the pavement beyond and walk down to find the signpost and gateway off to the left. Leaving the traffic madness behind, stroll along the footpath across the River Lickle and fields down to the Duddon at a spot called The Sheep Dip. Good bathing in the Summer. At the river bank turn right and stroll along past the wild garlic and trees to the bridge. Stopping for the obligatory skimming stones contest.
Then cross the road by the traffic lights at the bridge and climb up the Ulpha Road, pass the first set of houses at Bank End. Look out for a rough track and signpost on the right leading up through some woods and out down the bottom of gorse covered Bleansley Bank.
At Lower Bleansley, a collection of farmhouses, turn right through the barns, down across the marshy pasturelands by the Lickle again, heading for Manor Farm. Follow the farm road up to the Coniston Road. Cross over to the White Gates of West Park, known by locals as the Show Field. Stop and admire the newly dredged pond, before making you way back across the field and into Broughton Square by the Coniston Road.
Takes about 2 hrs. One short steep climb through the woods at Bleansley Bank.
We started at the NT car park just above the beautiful Hobbit-like Birk’s Bridge and headed into the forestry land, marked on the OS map as Dunnerdale Forest and by the Forestry Signs as Hardknott Forest. Much of the wood that was described by Wainwright as “young plantations” has now been cleared and neatly stacked up making for a rather beautiful, if working, landscape. The Commission is now replanting the forest as a mixed deciduous rather than the stark fir crop to reflect the changing purposes of these fells.
We used the level forestry roads rather than the narrower public footpaths as they are lovely for chatting whilst walking. Good progress was made across the forest to Grassguards Farm with its little concreted ford. Here we picked up the Grassguards Gill bridleway down into the beautiful gnarled trees and river walks around Wallowbarrow. Here, we took the opportunity to lob some rather large stones in the river before retiring to the Newfield for half pints of CatNap and something-and-chips.
The walk took one hour 40 minutes and we were helped by another member of the family was waiting to provide a lift to retrieve cars rather than having to walk back after a rather heavy meal!
The charm of these guides undoubtedly lies in Wainwright’s personal touch with painstakingly detailed heather covered 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.