Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Lakeland Fell that is all over Britain

Lingmoor is a 3 mile ridge of moderately high ground that separates Great Langdale from Little Langdale. But the chances are that even if you have never been to either of the Langdale Valleys, or even set foot in the Lake District, you will have seen fragments of Lingmoor. They are to be found all over Britain as well as further afield. A friend of mine came across some in New York!

Lingmoor Fell
 So why should tiny pieces of this small lakeland fell be scattered so widely? The effects of glaciation perhaps? Or maybe a prehistoric volcanic explosion? The answer is a little more simple than that. It has to do with a man named Thomas Farynor.

Few people have heard of Thomas Farynor, but most are familiar with the events that occurred in the kitchen of his house in the early hours of September 2nd 1666. If you are still struggling, maybe I ought to reveal that Mr Farynor and his family lived in Pudding Lane, London, and it was in his bakery that the Great Fire of London started.

The Great Fire of 1666 was not the first conflagration in the capital, nor was London the only city to suffer the fate of destruction from burning. It didn't, as might be supposed, signal a change in the law to prevent the kind of conditions that led to the rapid spread of the fire. There was no need to change the law in favour of building houses from stone instead of wood, and roofing them with either tiles or slate, instead of thatch. Such laws already existed. What was needed was a change in attitude of those in authority.

No law can ever be effective if it is not enforced, and the attitude of those in charge of London in the 17th century can best be demonstrated by the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Bloodworth. It is tempting to wonder why Mr Bloodworth had been knighted, since his ineptitude in the face of catastrophe was astounding. His knighthood clearly was not for decisiveness or quick thinking, because he looked at the fire, dismissed it as trivial and went back to bed.

No, Bloodworth's knighthood had little to do with his abilities as a leader of men, and everything to do with money. He rose to prominence as a result of a successful trading career, a fact which gives further indication as to the priorities of the day. He was not alone. Much of London's population was engaged in some kind of trading or manufacture. Houses were cramped together, with trade being carried out on the ground floor, and living quarters above. The streets were polluted with waste, and there was little regard for safety. Fires were commonplace, and deemed an inevitable hazard, to be dealt with on a community basis when they occurred.

The Great Fire was clearly the wake up call that the city required, and when London was rebuilt in the years after the fire, more attention was paid to ensuring that the long ignored building regulations were adhered to. Other places followed suit. Laws were properly enforced on a nationwide scale. Which is where Lingmoor fell in the Lake District comes in.

Lingmoor, along with the fells in it's vicinity, has extensive reserves of good quality slate, perfect for the manufacture of roofing tiles. The only problem for the early quarry owners was transporting the finished product to other parts of the country. For the first 100 years or so of their existence, the slate was shipped out over Wrynose and Hardknott Passes to the port of Whitehaven via pack horse,  a slow and laborious method of distribution that resulted in production being barely able to keep up with demand.  Then came the railway age, and with it a golden period in the slate roofing tile industry. Production soared, and as more and more quarries were opened up, so whole settlements grew in prosperity and importance. The villages of Chapel Stile, Elterwater and Little Langdale thrived.

Abandoned quarry building on the side of Lingmoor Fell, with Crinkle Crags and Bowfell in the background.
Any fell walker familiar with Lingmoor knows that the area is littered with the remains of the slate quarrying industry. From spoil heaps to abandoned buildings, the evidence that this was once a thriving industrial landscape is there for all to see. But not all the workings are abandoned. On the North Eastern flank of the fell, close to the village of Elterwater, the jack-hammer has replaced the chisel. Modern lorries now do the work of a hundred pack horses. Production of slate tiles is in full swing, and the demand is as high as ever. From kitchen worktops to polished floors in office block entrance halls, Elterwater slate is still a popular building material the world over.


This video of the walk from Elterwater to Brown Howe, the summit of Lingmoor Fell, actually goes through the modern quarry. Filmed on an unusually  hot day in September  2016, it shows how the modern landscape has been shaped by the quarrying industry, and how both tourism and quarrying live and thrive side by side in the 21st century.

Friday, 7 October 2016

When a packhorse bridge isn't a packhorse bridge.

The village of Little Langdale is very much a two road town. A tiny collection of cottages, one inn, a couple of farms, and one of the most famous bridges in the Lake District. Slaters Bridge spans the River Brathay close to Little Langdale Tarn. From its appearance it would not be unreasonable to believe that it is one of the best surviving pack horse bridges in the region. A monument to the days when trains of pack horses, laden with a wide range of goods from wool to cooking implements, precious metal to food, made their way through the mountain passes, linking tiny farming settlements like Little Langdale with the coast.
Slaters Bridge, Little Langdale
But as with much of the Lake District things are not all they seem. It is true that Slaters Bridge resembles a pack horse bridge in many respects. It is narrow. Pack horse bridges did not need to be any wider than the horse. It also has very low parapets, a key feature of the pack horse bridge. Having low parapets served two purposes. It allowed safe passage of the packs the horse was carrying, as very often the horse and pack combined was actually wider than the bridge; and it also prevented the bridge being washed away in times of flood. So far, so good.

It is when you consider the position  of the bridge in relation to the ancient roads and trackways that it becomes obvious that it was not built with pack horses in mind, at least, not the kind that ferried goods over the mountains. It is about a quarter of a mile upstream from the known pack horse route. And it crosses the river in an area that floods readily, making all year access to it difficult.

The clue to the true purpose of this bridge lies in its name, and its proximity to the slate quarries on the south side of the river. Slate quarrying in these parts dates back to the middle part of the 17th century, and the introduction of stone or clay tiles as a roofing material. The events that triggered the growth of the quarries occurred some two to three hundred miles away, in towns and cities like London, Northampton and Warwick.

Most  people have heard of the Great Fire of London, but the capital was not the only centre of population to suffer the fate of total destruction by burning. Overcrowding, poor waste removal and early industry combined to turn the wooden houses of many towns into potential tinderboxes. The introduction of stone built buildings, with slate or tile being used as the roofing material, did not stop individual properties from catching fire, but it did prevent the fire spreading out of control and the whole town from being engulfed.

In the latter part of the 17th century the quarries thrived, and Slaters Bridge came into being. In keeping with local tradition it was built in the same style as a pack horse bridge. There was no other requirement. It needed to be no wider than the width of one horse, nor did it need to have parapets. It served just two purposes. The first was to enable the men working the quarries access to their working environment, and the second was to allow the carriage of the horse drawn sleds that were used to convey the slate to the dressing sheds in Little Langdale.

It says much for the durability of the basic design, as well as the materials with which is was constructed, that over 300 years later it is still as sturdy as the day it was built, and although the traffic it is required to carry is less demanding, it remains a well loved, and more importantly, well used relic of the Lake District's industrial past.

Lest we forget

One of the prettiest places in the Lake District is Loughrigg Tarn. It's peaceful waters attract many visitors, for all sorts of reasons. Some simply linger beside the water's edge, enjoying the peace and watching the plentiful wildlife. Others come to fish, or canoe, and some, like the couple that I saw whilst walk checking this week, come to swim.
Loughrigg Tarn. Peaceful and inviting.
 Now it has to be said that this particular swimming trip was not an impromptu affair. Both swimmers were adorned in wet suits. They clearly knew what they were doing, which is important because although the waters of tarns like Loughrigg look inviting, hidden dangers lurke beneath the surface.

Beside the shore of Loughrigg Tarn is a cross, upon which is the inscription " In memory of John Stanley Skelton. Drowned 4th June 1960 whilst on holiday with Cowley Boys Grammar School". There is nothing ambiguous about the message here. The cross serves two purposes, one to commemorate the tragedy that unfolded here during a school trip, and the other to sound a warning to all those who might wish to venture into the lake to cool off.

One of the more interesting characters of Lake District folk lore is Jenny Green Teeth, (sometimes called Ginny Greenteeth, depending upon the region and dialect). Jenny Green Teeth is a witch that lives in various tarns in the region, most notably those small stretches of water which are generally covered in weed during the summer months. Jenny lives on pond weed, but has a particular liking for young children, which she devours with relish whenever she gets the chance. She lives on the bottom of the lake, and cannot be seen from the surface, but if young children venture into the water then Jenny grabs hold of their legs and drags them under the surface. Once she has a child in her grasp there is no escape.

It is not only children who are at risk. Adults, particularly the elderly, who are foolish enough to venture away from the shallows have been known to suffer the same fate. Jenny Green Teeth may live on pond weed, but she is certainly strong enough to drag a fully grown person to a watery grave.

In the north of England, the legend of Jenny Green Teeth is based on the need to make children aware of the dangers of Duckweed, which carpets the surface of small ponds and tarns, making them particularly treacherous to the unwary. However, as the memorial at Loughrigg Tarn shows, it is not only small, duckweed covered ponds that represent a danger.

Open water swimming is becoming more popular in the UK. Events like the Big Swim on Windermere have attracted large entries from people of all abilities. But, rather like those that take to the Lake District fells, open water swimmers need to have a healthy respect for the environment in which they carry out their hobby.If they do, then they are guaranteed a huge amount of pleasure, as the vareity of tarns and rivers available to them is unrivalled.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The golf course hidden amongst the bracken.

Walk checking on my Ambleside walks book started in earnest last week. This is a rewrite of a book first published in 2005, and regularly updated ever since. It is sold by Rothay Garth, a large guest house in Ambleside. A contribution to LAMRT is paid for each one sold.

Checking the walks in the book on a regular basis keeps them as accurate as possible. This may be the Lake District, but the fact is that walking directions can quickly become out of date. Bad weather or erosion control work often sees paths re routed, whilst forestry operations can soon render directions through the forests totally useless.

Monday saw us visiting Stock Ghyll Falls.This is one of the easiest walks in the area, as well as being amongst the most popular. In 2012 I made a short film of the walk, which can be viewed here .....

Tuesday saw us heading up to Loughrigg. We were not alone. It seems half the tourists in Ambleside had decided to make the most of the fine weather by heading out on to the fell. As is my way, I spoke to quite a few, and was surprised to learn that only one knew that there used to be a golf course on Loughrigg Fell. When told, some refused to believe me, whilst others expressed surprise that the terrain was suitable.
The view across the old first green, with the fells of the Fairfield Horseshoe an impressive backdrop
But exist it did, and for the best part of 50 years it provided a great deal of pleasure to locals and visitors alike. It was situated on the path that leads from Miller Bridge to the Summit of Loughrigg Fell and if you look very carefully the remains of the course are clearly visible today. Most prominent is the old Club house, which upon closure of the course was bought and converted to a private residence named "Pine Rigg". It stands proudly beside the track, just past Deer Hows, marking the start of the course, it's seven acre garden, including the first tee, still immaculately maintained.

The main part of the course was on the opposite side of the track. Dotted around the vicinity of the course are a series of flat, bracken free areas. Thin reeds grow in among the grass, denoting a high amount of water just below the surface. These are, or were, the greens. Continuous cutting and rolling of these areas caused subtle changes beneath the surface of the soil. Once abandoned, they did not revert to their previous state, remaining free of both the bracken, and the long grass that populated the rest of the fell.

The club opened in 1903 as a small, 9 hole course, barely little more than a pitch and putt. But it soon gained favour with both locals and wealthy visitors, and by the twenties had been enlarged. It still had just 9 holes, but they were both longer and harder than before the first world war. An indication of the degree of difficulty faced by those post war golfers is to be found in a comparison of the course records of the time. In 1906 the professional course record was 37, with the amateur record just one shot higher at 38. This was beaten just a year later with a certain CH Stephens going round in just 35 shots. The best anyone could muster on the new, more challenging layout after WW1 was 38. The course record for two circuits was 65.

The golden years for the golf club were the twenties and thirties, when club membership easily topped the 100 mark, and visiting non members paid half a crown a day to play. After the second world war the club started to decline. New members were becoming harder to find, and with less visitors wanting to play, the club struggled through to 1956, when the decision was made to close the course. The old clubhouse was sold off and the tees and greens left untended.

This  video, shot at the start of May 2016, shows the walk up to the summit of Loughrigg via the Old Golf Course.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

A reminder of Summer

It is almost a third of the way through April and we are celebrating the fact that today there is wall to wall sunshine and a temperature of - wait for it - 8 degrees. Compared with March that is positively balmy, but this time last year the landscape had already started to come to life. The daffodils and crocuses had given us a fine show, the first of the bluebells were starting to appear, and the scenery had that fresh, spring feel to it. Today the Lake District is still wearing it's winter coat. The snow capped mountains look lovely, but how we all long for the fresh green leaves to appear.

I took advantage of the weather this afternoon to do a walk that is a joy at any time of year, - Holme Fell, with a return via Tarn Hows. However, instead of publishing the pictures of today's walk, I've delved into the archive and dug out some pictures from a previous visit over the same route in August 2007.

We started from the car park at the bottom of Tom Gill, just beyond Yew Tree Tarn on the A593 Ambleside to Coniston Road. To avoid the road, the first part of the walk is through an adjoining field, and at the other end one of the locals decided that we were not allowed to go any further!

After tough negotiations during which I had to give up part of my sandwich, we were allowed to pass, and crossed the road to Yew Tree Farm.

From the farm we headed along a farm track, before going through a gate and then following a path along the side of the fell. After a short distance this rock (below) was reached. Not being a geologist I have no idea why it stands here. My worn out old copy of Pearsall and Pennington's excellent book on the Lake District has no mention of it. An amateur geologist friend of mine claimed it was due to erosion causing a large lump of rock to break off the crags above and roll down the fell side. I'm not so sure about that, so answers on a post card please

Just beyond the rock, we get a lovely view of Yew Tree Tarn, which is a popular spot for passing motorists to stop and admire. We waved, but no one waved back!!

Not far past the rock the path bears left and starts to climb the wooded fell side. Before long we come across a beck and follow the line of it up the fell. It's not too steep and luckily carries barely a trickle of water. After reaching the top of the slope we bear left again to clamber up the craggy fell to the summit, where a superb view of Coniston Water awaits.

One very noticeable feature of this trip was the abundance of wild heather, coupled with a lack of sheep. The two are linked, since the sheep are more than happy to munch away on the heather, however, the absence of sheep on the fell at this time is an indication that when left alone the heather recovers nicely.

From the top of Holme Fell, Coniston Water is not the only key landmark to be seen. To the north lie the Langdales, with the pikes prominent on the horizon.

We are not returning via the same route. Instead we are heading down the fell towards Hodge Close Quarry, where we can join up with the Cumbrian Way for a short distance. Being a couple of total sissies, we keep well away from the edge! Out of camera, a party from an outdoor pursuits centre are abseiling down the old quarry walls. From the sound of it, they are having no end of fun.

There's a bit of road walking now, along a minor road leading to a farm, and offering superb views of the fells over the wall!
We soon  reach the main A593, and cross over to take the short road up to a gate leading to the track to Tarn Hows. This is not only a popular route for walkers, but also mountain bikers, who like to test their skills on the rocky path. Today however, despite it being the middle of the holiday season, there is no one else in sight.
Tarn Hows is not so peaceful, with families enjoying the fine August weather. That having been said, there is plenty of space for everyone, so it is not difficult to take a picture that makes it look as though we have the place to ourselves.

From Tarn Hows we head down a footpath following the line of Tom Gill, the beck that drains the tarn.
Nowadays this is known as "Glen Mary", after the wife of James Marshall, the man who first developed Tarn Hows by damming the stream at the top of Tom Gill to make one large tarn from three smaller ones. It is reputed that John Ruskin was responsible for persuading Marshall that the name Tom Gill was not suitable for a place of such beauty, and suggested the name "Glen Mary" instead. Whether the story is actually true or not remains open to speculation. Marshall died in 1873, not long after Ruskin moved to Brantwood.

Midway down the slope is "Glen Mary" waterfall, which, because the flow of the beck is controlled by the dam at the tarn, always seems to have roughly the same amount of water flowing over it.

From the falls, it is a short distance down the hill to a bridge at the bottom, and beyond, the main road, the car park, and a freshly brewed cup of tea.

Roll on Summer!!!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A Scientific Cure for Wardrobe Damp.

Autumn is well under way, soon winter will be upon us, and in preparation I've been doing some research on t'internet. I entered the words "damp in wardrobe" and came up with some remarkable facts.

Why "damp in wardrobe" I hear you ask? Well the simple fact is that all over the country wardrobes are being plagued with damp, and it seems that the problem gets worse in the winter, and is especially troublesome around Christmas time. Many people have experienced it. They hang their day to day working clothes up on 23rd December each year, and then on the 2nd of January get them out again to wear, only to find they have shrunk. Damp can be the only cause. Unless ....

My search took me on a journey,  as they often do, and I ended up finding out the best way to banish the scourge of winter damp and ensure that your clothes fit as well in the Spring as they did last Autumn. And it is not to simply buy another, brand new, damp proof wardrobe.

We are talking weight here, and evidently it is not so much what we eat, but how we use the fuel our food gives us, that causes excessive growth in the waistline region. Put simply, during the winter many people simply are not active enough.

Two things are to blame. Work, and play. More people sit down to work than ever before. Computer screens are stared at, 'phone calls taken or made, and vehicles driven. And very often a whole day is spent sitting down either working or eating.

After work we come out to play. On long summer evenings that might entail getting out and about, but in winter, when it is cold and snowy, it is a different matter. Televisions are sat in front of, nice warm cinemas are visited, restaurants are eaten in, and when we are tired and hungry after a hard day at work and a struggle home in the cold, it is all too easy to get a takeaway. Then it is a comfy sofa, in front of the fire, with a nice curry, or whatever takes your fancy, and a few hours in front of the telly.

As a nation, a lot of what we do is done sitting down, especially in the winter, and it is not doing us any good. It is time to get off our collective bums and become a bit more active. But how? Join a gym?

Actually, it turns out that you don't need to splash out a few hundred quid on a gym membership if you don't want to or can't afford it. Most gyms offer good value for money, and they will get you fit as long as you go regularly, but not joining one will not condemn you to a life of obesity. The point is that all you actually need for a relatively healthy lifestyle is a good diet and to be physically active. And one of the best ways for you to stay physically active is to go for a daily walk. If you get yourself wrapped up warm, putting those gloves and scarf that Auntie Doris gave you for Christmas to good use (admit it, you have three pairs already, you never thought you'd use them, did you) you can enjoy the best that the British countryside has to offer all year round, and the best news of all is that, by and large, it is free.

It turns out that the reason why walking is so good for you is that it helps you to not only stay physically fit, but also mentally fit as well. A brisk country walk will get the heart pumping, but it can also help to relax and soothe the mind. It can help you to deal with the stresses and strains of everyday life. And if the scenery you are walking through is particularly good it can really lift your mood and help you to beat the winter blues.

But don't just take my word for it. Have a quick look at the walks on my You Tube channel web and then imagine yourself walking beside me through the Lakeland landscape. It may not be the same as actually being here, but if it inspires you to go and seek the finest views where you live then it will have done it's job. Close to most urban areas there are landscapes with their own natural beauty just waiting to be explored, usually for FREE. And walking through them comes with the added bonus of  actually being good for your mind, body and soul. How cool is that!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Rydal reflections

Even I would be hard pressed to claim that the books that we publish are anything other than cheaply produced. Apart from the cover, they are not in colour. The maps may be hand drawn, but they are not to scale, and the writing is, well, basic, consisting of walking route instructions, with a few cultural notes thrown in for good measure. Despite all this, however, they do need to be as accurate as we can possibly make them. After all, if the route you are taking requires you to turn right, then the instructions needs to say "turn right".

The reason why the books have limited production qualities is that they are intended as a simple, easy to carry and practical guide to walks in the area close to the hotel that sells them. Because only a small number of books will be sold by any one hotel in a year, the print runs are not very big, negating the economy of scale enjoyed by most publishers. Which gives us one big advantage over other guide book producers. It means that we can check the accuracy of the walks the books contain on a regular basis, and update them accordingly. Consequently, we spend quite a bit of time out on the fells, and on days like yesterday, that is nothing but sheer joy.

It is, of course, supposed to be work. As I often tell people, it's hell, but someone has to do it. But as I stood on the path between Grasmere and Rydal caves yesterday and stared at the view, the thought occurred to me that I'd do this for nothing if possible. In fact, on days like yesterday I'd pay to do it!

As most folk who have seen my photographic endeavours already know, I'm not the world's best when it comes to capturing fine views.Having said that, you won;t have to hike up a mountain to see the views below for yourselves. The circuit of Rydal is one of the finest low level walks in the country, and these were all taken on the path that leads from Rydal Caves to White Moss car park.