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.
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.
|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 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..