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 This may be the Lake District, but the fact is that walking directions can quickly become out of date.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.