Thursday, 13 June 2019

Luxury Fell Walking, Victorian style - Trekking up to Easedale tarn for tea!

Back in 1866, Robert Hayton, a Grasmere businessman, had a brilliant idea. He'd open a small tea shop, in a scenically beautiful position beside the water, and hire out rowing boats so that visitors would not only be able to partake of refreshments, but also enjoy a spot of trout fishing during their holiday. There was just one small snag. The teashop would not actually be in the village of Grasmere, or beside the lake of the same name. It would be at the end of a two mile pony track, 900 ft up on the fell-side, at Easedale Tarn, to the west of Grasmere.

Over 20 labourers carried the materials needed to build the hut up the fell side. How long it took them to construct the substantial stone building is not known, but it was open for the summer season, and soon became famous amongst early tourists for tea, sandwiches and cake. To add to the attraction, there was boat hire for those wishing to fish on the tarn.

The existence of the tea hut shows how popular the excursion up to Easedale Tarn was in mid Victorian times. In an age before walkers regularly tramped their way up the hillside, a constant stream of visitors made their way along the track that led up the fell-side from Easedale Road to the tarn. Rather than walk, many would hire a pony and guide for the trip. The ride offered not one, but two natural attractions: the cascades of Sour Milk Gill (see short video below), and the tarn itself, with its impressive backdrop of Tarn Crag.

The success of the tea hut offers an indication of the way in which the Lake District tourism industry developed during the Victorian period. The advent of the railways had led to an increase in visitors, but there were no attractions of the kind that modern tourists enjoy. Victorian Grasmere had few shops. There were no museums or art galleries. In addition, the summer holidays of wealthy tourists were considerably longer than nowadays. There were no weekend breaks. Visitors stayed for at least a fortnight, or more. Many would take up residence for the entire summer, accompanied by an entourage of servants to ensure all home comforts were provided.

For most, the purpose of their visit was to escape the hustle and bustle, and more importantly, the pollution, of the cities. Relaxing amidst stunning scenery, breathing the fresh, clear air and drinking natural water that was deemed to be amongst the purest it was possible to get, was seen as being invigorating for the mind, body and soul. Although few would have considered venturing out onto the fell-side on a regular basis, the opportunity to visit a unique beauty spot was not to be missed, especially if, on arrival, afternoon tea could be readily obtained for a modest charge. 

A late Victorian photograph of the Easedal Tarn tea hut, as featured in Walks Around Grasmere, a Jonathan Craig Guide
The Easedale Tarn tea hut, photographed in the late Victorian period. Although not large, the structure was substantially built in order to protect those inside from the elements. The site of the building can be accurately ascertained, as it was built adjoining a large rock, which formed part of the outside wall. Although the building no longer exists, the rock remains in place beside the path. (see picture below)
The lack of any form of heavy boots or weatherproof clothing was not seen as a problem. Most wealthy visitors would not be walking, but transported up the fell by pony, although it has to said that their servants were expected to tramp up the fell behind them. All the necessary arrangements required to protect them from inclement weather would be provided by their guide, who would personally guarantee not only their safety, but their absolute enjoyment of the excursion.

The Easedale tea hut is just one example of the ingenuity of the local population in exploiting the tourist market. Although rarely as busy as a modern day cafe, it opened each summer, serving both tourists and, in later years, fell walkers, until the start of the second world war. It enabled those early tourists to sample the delights of the Lake District fells in relative safety, whilst ensuring that their daily comforts were not disturbed by their trek onto the fell-side.

In the late Victorian era, and on until the First World War, the attitude of tourists became more adventurous. The two mile pony trek up to Easedale Tarn was no longer sufficient to satisfy their needs. Instead of being the final objective, the tea hut became a stop en-route to higher destinations. However, that was not the reason for it's demise. In an age before the thermos flask, it remained popular as a stopping off point. It was ideally situated for a welcome break before heading over to the Langdale Valley. 

Easedale Tarn, with Tarn Crag as a backdrop, from the site of the Easedal Tarn tea hut, as featured in Walks Around Grasmere, a Jonathan Craig Guide
Looking across the tarn towards Tarn Crag, from close to the site of the old Tea Hut.
 The number of walkers may have been drastically reduced following the outbreak of war in 1914, but the stone built tea hut continued in use for another 25 years. It closed for business at the end of August 1939, never to reopen. Over the years it fell into a state of disrepair, and by 1958, when Alfred Wainwright published his guide to the Central Fells, it was little more than a draughty ruin. Since then, much of the stone with which it was built has been utilised by local land owners for wall and footpath repairs, and now just a few stones scattered around are all that is left. A large rock, which once formed part of the main wall, and a patch of summer nettles, are all that mark the spot upon which it used to stand. 

The large rock that is the only remaining section of the Easedal Tarn tea hut, as featured in Walks Around Grasmere, a Jonathan Craig Guide
All that remains of the tea hut. The large rock formed part of the outside wall. A bed of nettles inhabits a small area of ground that was once a small garden, featuring daffodils in spring, and a range of flowering plants during the summer months. The modern path follows the route of the old pony track.

The tea hut may be no more, but the pony track still exists, albeit as a modern footpath. As in Victorian times, many walkers see it as the destination of a summer afternoon stroll up the fell-side, whilst for others it is simply a place to stop for a short rest, and maybe a snack, before tackling the climb up over Blea Rigg to the mountains beyond. What's certain is that the setting is no less beautiful than it was on the day that Robert Hayton and his group of builders set to work on building the tea hut. As with much of the Lake District, society may have changed, but the beauty of the mountains, and their power to relax and revitalise, remains very much the same. 

The video below shows the route up to Easedale Tarn from the top of Easedale Road, in Grasmere. It features views of the valley, as well as Sour Milk Gill, and tells the story of the Greene family, who farmed on these hills at the started of the 19th C and whose lives were torn apart by tragedy. From there we move on to the Tarn itself, before heading back to Gramere via the path up Far Easedale. We hope you enjoy it.

The walk up to Easedale Tarn from Grasmere is featured in the Jonathan Craig Guides 'Walks Around Grasmere' book, which is available online here..

Friday, 24 May 2019

A walk through the quarries on Coniston Old Man.

Pick a Day. Any Day will do, although a weekday from March through to November would be preferable. You need daylight to get the best views. Drive to the village of Coniston, turn up the hill, past the Sun Inn, where Donald Campbell enjoyed his last pint, and keep going. It is a narrow road, especially so after the last junction, the one that leads to the old station yard. (Yes, for those that don't know, there used to be a railway at Coniston, and it is linked to where we are heading).

A quarter of a mile up the hill you come to a gate, and beyond it the most informal car park in the Lake District. An old quarry, with a level surface, serves as the semi official car park, marked on OS maps and used for many years, but there are not many spaces and if you don't get there early then all will be taken, especially at weekends. If that happens you will have to do what the majority of people do and park beside the track that leads away from the gate and over the fellside. In fact, regular visitors sometimes ignore empty spaces in the car park and head up the track anyway, bagging their favourite spot before it is snatched.

The track has an official title; Walna Scar Road. It runs along the side of the Old Man of Coniston, over Walna Scar, and down into the Duddon Valley. Nowadays it is the start point for one of the most popular walks in the Lake District, but long before fell walkers came to the district the tracks hereabouts were used for very different purposes. Coniston, you see, was not a tourist village. In days past it's fortunes were very much linked to what was underneath the mountains as opposed to what was on the surface. 150 years ago, the boots marching up the fellside belonged not to fell walkers, but to the working men, women and children of Coniston.

Miners and quarry workers made their way up the fell on a daily basis. Not just men, but until the late Victorian period women and children as well. At one point over 600 people were employed on these fells on a daily basis. Copper ore and slate were their goal, and had been for the previous 300 years. Exactly when copper mining started in these hills is not known, however, it is fairly certain that by the 1560's German miners, brought to England by Elizabeth I, had uncovered rich veins of ore. By the mid 1800's the mines were thriving.

One problem had always been shipping the ore out of the area. Coniston has never been an easy place to get to by road, and moving the heavy loads out was fraught with difficulty. A wagon down to the lake shore, a barge to the southern end, then another wagon to get the ore to the coast. That is a lot of loading and unloading. Until the Railway came in 1858, that is. 4 years later, the line was extended to the copper mines, such was the amount of Ore that was being hewn from these hills.

However, the link between the railway and the mines did not last long. Shortly after the Coniston line was extended to the quarries, the price of Copper began to drop. Production declined, and some of the deepest shafts were allowed to flood as continually pumping the water out was a costly business. By the turn of the 20th century, the mines were all but finished. They continued until the start of the first world war in 1914, and then production ceased. Limited workings were re-commenced after the war, but there was little profit to be made, and mining ceased permanently in 1940. 

The railway, copper mines and quarries may be no more, but their remains throughout the whole of  this region are extensive, stretching from the workings on the side of Coniston Old Man to the slate quarries of Little Langdale. Key areas are Tilberthwaite and Hodge Close, Cathedral Cave, close to Slater's Bridge, workings on the Little Langdale side of Lingmoor, and Greenburn Mine, situated at the head of the Little Langdale Valley. For those with a keen interest in industrial archaeology it is a wonderful region to explore. However, if, like me, you are simply interested in the relics of a bygone era, there is still plenty to spark your interest on the climb to the summit of Coniston Old Man, which, with so much of interest on the ascent, is a wonderful walk at any time of year.

The well preserved remains of workman's huts and a latrine, almost 1,000 feet above the village of Coniston, on the wide track up to the summit of Coniston Old Man

A little further up from the first picture, and more well preserved buildings are passed. In the past few years a certain amount of work has been carried out here to ensure that the buildings remain as safe as possible, however, exploration is certainly at your own risk.
Within a short space of time, this third set of buildings is passed. As can be seen, there is much interest in them from passing walkers.

High walls and thick steel girders that are well over 100 years old are a key feature as we approach a fourth level of quarry buildings

With high numbers of walkers passing through this area, the path has been restored to how it may have looked 100 years ago.

This building may have gone, but the doorway remains.

A sign urging fellwalkers to respect the integrity of the site and not remove artifacts.

One of the iron artifacts that the sign in the above picture was attempting to protect, a set of railway points over 1,500ft up the side of the mountain. The trackway was an important part of the site, and existed well before the railway from Broughton to Coniston was built. This particular set of points probably dates from the middle part of the 19th century.

The remains of heavy lifting gear, situated close to the set of points in the previous picture. It was part of the winding gear for the railway. There were no locomotives, the trucks being moved by a mixture of winches and gravity.

Low Water, which is situated above the quarries and mines, some 1,000 feet below the summit of Coniston Old Man. It is a natural tarn, but at some point was dammed to raise the water level in order to provide power and a water supply for the quarries below. After the quarries closed the dam was removed. A little further north is Levers Water, a larger tarn which was also dammed to provide water for the quarries and also Coniston, some 1500 feet below. Unlike Low Water, Levers Water has retained its dam.

Looking down on Low Water from the well used track up to the summit of Coniston Old Man. We've left the quarry workings behind now, as we head for the summit another 500 feet above. However, it is the case that many people who start out from the Walna Scar Road never reach this far. Their interest is not in reaching the fell top, but in exploring the quarry and mine working remains, which are amongst the best preserved in the North of England. 

Sunday, 26 March 2017

A late winter wander around lovely Loweswater

At just a mile long, and half a mile wide, Loweswater is one of Lakeland's smallest lakes. I also happen to think it is one of the loveliest. I well remember the first time I set eyes on it. It was during a family holiday in 1970. It was our first visit, and we were touring the area in the family minibus. Having visited Buttermere and been entranced by it's beauty, we took the road to the coast, where we were staying. Crummock Water passed by the window, resplendent with it's backdrop of mountains, the names of which I had yet to discover, and once the end of the lake was reached I settled back to enjoy the the rest of the journey, thinking that there were no more lakes to see that day.  When Loweswater suddenly appeared to our left, it was a such a delightful surprise that I demanded we stop and have a look around. My plea fell on deaf ears. The rest of the family had decided that we had seen quite enough lakes for one day, so we drove on by, and all I could do was promise myself to return one day to fully investigate it's charms.

It was three years before I was able to fulfil that promise, and I think that my opinion of this lovely little lake was truly formed on that day. The weather was perfect, a deep blue sky, complete with little white cotton wool clouds drifting lazily along on a gentle breeze. I clambered up the lush green pastures of  Darling Fell, to the north of the lake, looked down on it's clear blue waters, and decided that this was probably one of the most perfect places in the world. It was so peaceful, so far removed from the hustle and bustle of the world, that it was imbued with a level of tranquillity that was rare even in the Lake District. Yes, that day I fell in love with Loweswater. I've been besotted with her ever since.

Loweswater is less frequently visited than other lakes, mainly, I think, because it is small and a little off the beaten track. Close by are the ever popular lakes of Buttermere and Crummock Water. They are the City and United of the Lakes, surrounded by impressive mountains, with a huge fanbase, and visitors galore. The village of Buttermere, situated between the two, has more car parking spaces than residents. By comparison Loweswater is very much a local league lake, flanked by fells that even Wainwright could not get enthusiastic about, and apparently not worthy of a pay and display with information board. Yet that is one of it's greatest attractions.  There is a round the lake footpath, which because it features virtually no hilly bits at all, is suitable for the very youngest fell walker. Holme Wood, on the lake's southern shore has both red deer and red squirrels. They can be elusive, but the beautiful Holme Force, a wonderful little waterfall set amongst the trees, is easier to find if you know where to look. There is no need to scramble up the hillside to reach it, a nice wide path leads right to it, but as there is no sign it is easy to miss the turning to it.
On previous visits I have enjoyed the charms of this wonderful lake in many ways, and for my latest visit in mid March, I decided to stay on the south side, walking along the shore through Holme Woods, before heading up the fellside to High Nook Tarn, and then following the footpath along the side of Burnbank Fell to the western end of the Lake. The day was completed by re-tracing my steps a quarter of a mile to enter the woods via a small gate leading to a narrow path that eventually meets a wider forest track. A short distance along this track the delightful Holme Force provides a pleasing end to the walk.

What passes for parking at Loweswater. A large lay-by, one of two beside the minor road, and the small car park at Maggies Bridge, at the Crummock Water end of the Lake, are all there is, and I'm told that there is almost always a space or two available.

This is the only hill on the round lake walk. It leads up to Hudson Place, a small farm. It is not very steep or far, but has this wonderful roadside display of daffodils in mid March.

Beyond Hudson Place the track swings left to drop down towards the Lake Shore, with wonderful views down the lake.

Half way along the Lake Shore and this bothy appears. Owned by the National Trust, it is available for hire.

The small beach outside the bothy has wonderful views across the Lake to Darling Fell and Low Fell. It also has full recreational facilities for those long summer evenings, in the form of a swing.

Looking across Loweswater to the unmistakable profile of Grasmoor, which overlooks Crummock Water.

At the other end of the Lake the track leads to Maggies Bridge, where there is a small car park, a signpost, and a lot of mud!

From Maggies Bridge the farm track leads up to High Nook Farm, and beyond, the open fellside. To the right of the path is High Nook Beck, a lovely little stream running down the fellside towards the Lake. It joins the outflow of the Lake just below Maggies Bridge, and becomes the River Cocker, which eventually joins the River Derwent at Cockermouth.

Looking back across the fellside from the path beside the beck. Grasmoor is prominent, and Crummock Water can also be seen.

High Nook Tarn, a lovely little water which drains into High Nook Beck. My walk does not pass by the tarn, but it is in clear view and a narrow footpath, boggy in winter, leads up to it.

The path swings right, crossing High Nook Beck by a narrow bridge, then climbs the flank of Burnbank Fell.

A little further on and despite gaining height, the trees of Holme Wood start to conceal the view.

The highest portion of this path, and also the highest point of the walk, is also the most disappointing. The view is totally hidden by trees, with the flanks of Burnbank fell blocking the view in the other direction. There is about half a mile of this lack of scenery to endure.

The other end of Holme Wood and the trees are left behind. The view appears, and it is worth waiting for.

The head of the lake. This end is closest to the coast, and conventional thinking dictates that the small stream there will flow away from the lake towards the sea, but it doesn't. Loweswater is unique in that the water from the lake flows towards the centre of the Lake District as opposed to away from it. Crummock Water is lower than Loweswater, and the water from Loweswater flows into Crummock.

Backtracking is something I'm not keen on, but on this walk there is far greater reward in going back for a quarter of a mile rather than carrying on along the path that skirts Burnbank Fell. On the way back Holme Beck is crossed for the second time. This is the view looking downstream as it heads down the slope towards the lake. I shall meet it again shortly.

I've turned left into the woods and followed a narrow track down to a junction with a much wider track, then turned left, to follow the wide track down the slope, athletically hurdling this fallen tree on the way, as you do.

It is not long before this beautiful little waterfall appears on the left. Before getting to it there is little indication of it's existence. It is the aforementioned Holme Beck, cascading down through the woodland. The falls are called Holme Force.

The lower pool of Holme Force. It is not big, but it is beautiful, and a real treat to enjoy towards the end of the walk.

Getting to Holme Force from the main track through the woods is not easy. The track it is on, although wide, runs higher up in the woodland, and not used regularly. To add to the navigation problems, there is no sign to the falls. These two trees are all that mark the start of the path from the main track through the forest.
A fine view to end the day. The car is about 250 yards away, and the sun has come out. It is been a super walk, in weather that was better than forecast.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

A little Winter wander on Lingmoor

Lingmoor, in Langdale, draws me back time after time. So when looking for a fell walk to fill a few hours on a cold and showery Saturday in February with two good friends, it was an obvious choice. Overnight snow on the fell tops added to the splendour of the scenery, whilst the heavy shower cloud hung menacingly over the central fells, giving them a mean and moody look.

We started in Elterwater, at the National Trust car park, and headed towards the quarries via the river. This first half mile is very pleasant, and helps to get the muscles nicely warm before the main climb starts. From across the quarry the Langdale Pikes were bathed in sunshine, capped with a light dusting of snow, and surrounded by menacing looking cloud, all adding to the atmosphere of the day. Despite it being Saturday, the quarries were not silent, winning the slate is clearly not a Monday to Friday 9 - 5 job.

From the quarries it is a 1/2 a mile walk along first a bridleway, and then an old quarry track, to reach the old quarry spoil heap overlooking the village of Chapel Stile. I've been here many times before, of course, but what was different about today was the backdrop. Despite heavy cloud all around, there was a bright clearing of blue sky and the sun was glinting on the snow covered mountains of the Fairfield Horseshoe. The Blue Sky did not last.

From the spoil heap, we then headed up the quarry track as it skirts the fell, before turning sharp left to follow the path up the fell to a green gate with a built in stile.

From the gate, we turned right to follow the line of the wall. This wall runs close to the top of the fell, and the path follows it for most of that distance. Behind us, as we climb, the views of Windermere are superb, even on a day such as this.

Half way to the top we are hit by a sharp rain shower. Hail, rain, and strong winds blow in from over Wetherlam. It gives us an exhilarating ten minutes, and the added bonus of this rainbow.  It is not a common view on the fells.
 With the rain quickly clearing through, we are treated to superb views across the fell towards Crinkle Crags, Pike O Bliscoe and Bowfell, all of which were shrouded in cloud.
 Meanwhile, looking north over Great Langdale we can clearly see Pavey Ark and the flat looking top of Harrison Stickle. The occasional gap in the cloud throwing sunlight on one area of fell, whilst others remain in dark shade.

The summit of Lingmoor is Brown Howe, so called because it is clad in a mixture of bracken and heather which for much of the year gives it a brown appearance.  It also has this stunning view of the Langdale Pikes

Still at the summit, this superb view down Great Langdale to Chapel Stile can be seen. Seat Sandal, Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike are in the distance, while the summit of Helvellyn is covered in cloud.

Our route back is via the flank of the fell, passing by the old quarries that dot this region. From the top we drop down the steep slope, following the line of an old wall, that has been supplemented at the top by a wire fence, to this stile over the wall.  From here there is a fine view up Mickleden, with the Band visible to the left, and the summit of Bowfell shrouded in cloud.

We could cross the stile to drop down towards Blea Tarn, but that is for another day. Instead, we turn left, along a barely visible yet boggy path, towards an abandoned quarry, a great lunch stop.

From the quarry we continue along the flank of the fell, passing by other quarry workings. There are several small workings on the side of the fell, with abandoned buildings and spoil heaps the only sign of their existence. In the background, the summit of Wetherlam enjoys a brief interlude from the cloud, before being shrouded in mist again.
 Another abandoned quarry working on the fell side. The small quarrymans hut has what appears to be a chimney at one end, with a gap for a small fire beneath. I cannot have been the best work in bad weather.

As we continue along the fell side, dropping gradually as we go, the views to the south over Little Langdale are superb, with Little Langdale Tarn prominent in the valley below.

The path drops down the fell side, towards a wide track that will lead us back to Elterwater. It is quite steep in parts, and rocky and wet underfoot. A certain amount of erosion control work has been undertaken otherwise it would be considerably worse.
 Looking across the valley bottom, towards Wetherlam, with Little Langdale Tarn looking dark and foreboding. The water in this tarn always has a grey look to it, even on sunny days. I'm lead to believe that this is due to the local geology. A dull day like today does not help though.

A friendly Herdwick greets us at the bottom. Apart from a couple of sheep on the road to the quarries at the start of the walk, this was the only farm animal that we encountered all day. However, we did see numerous birds, including Buzzards and a very cheeky robin. Trouble is, I was too slow to get a picture of them.