Sykehouse Cottage

A beautiful C17th Holiday Cottage in the Lake District


The wall walks the fell …

dry stone wall “A dry stone wall

Is a wall and a wall,

Leaning together

(Cumberland and Westmorland

Champion wrestlers)”

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.  cumberlandThe 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

Stone hooves;”

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.


Norman Nicholson: “a unique and unjustly overlooked Cumbrian”.

norman nicholsonThis January marks the 100th anniversary of Norman Nicholson’s birth in Millom and BBC is marking the occasion with a half hour radio programme presented by fellow Cumbrian, Eric Robson, on Sunday 5th January.  The Corporation’s press release describes him as “the unique and unjustly overlooked Cumbrian” and I guess a short radio documentary might help raise his profile a little – though calling the programme “Provincial Pleasures” is, I feel, damning the man with faint praise as “Provincial” was a phrase he fought against all his life.

Nicholson was championed by TS Eliot, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney though he remains little known because he chose to stay in the little town of Millom than move south.  On the western edges of the Lake District, in this desolate, post-industrial landscape, Nicholson wrote a lovely meditative poem about his craft and about his middle name (which was also his mother’s maiden name) “Cornthwaite”:  “… I lop, / Chop and bill-hook at thickets and rankness of speech, / Straining to let light in, make space for a word, / To hack out once again my inherited thwaite / And sow my peck of poems, not much of a crop.”

This poem was first published in “Sea to the West”, 1984 and can be found in Collected Poems. pp.354

To learn more about him, you can visit the Norman Nicholson Society’s website.  The link is here.

© The Trustees of the Estate of Norman Nicholson, by permission of David Higham Associates Limited


Norman Nicholson : The Fierce South Lakes Poet

norman nicholsonThe sun has set / Behind Black Combe and the lower hills, / But northward to the fells / Like gilded galleons on a sea of shadow / Float sunlit yet. (South Cumberland, 16 May 1943)

Norman Nicholson was born in 1914 and so I hope there will be many celebrations of his poetry and writing coming up. Apart from the two year bed rest he spent in a sanatorium, Norman lived his whole life in Millom, writing poems both about the fells and the ironworks.

His poems have a honesty and a sometimes shy, sometimes defiant, open handedness about them which makes them very appealing.

His obituary in The Times described Norman as “provincial”.  He fought against this term as a put down and defended the label as a valuable, compassionate and humane perspective on life which we all respond to.  In his most famous poem, “The Pot Geranium”,  he describes the little plant thus: ” “A pot geranium flies its bright balloon … My ways are circumscribed, confined as a limpet / To one small radius of rock; yet / I eat the equator, breathe the sky, and carry / The great white sun in the dirt of my finger nails.”  Wow.

© The Trustees of the Estate of Norman Nicholson, by permission of David Higham Associates Limited