Sunday, 30 October 2016

Alcock Tarn, or 'A fellwalkers guide to Victorian plumbing'

June 2016. Referendum day to be precise. A near perfect day weather wise, and as it turned out the ideal day for shooting a video of the walk from Grasmere up to Alcock Tarn. The views are so good on this walk that a clear day with sunshine and fluffy white clouds is essential.  But this shoot has an added bonus. I have a couple of production assistants (first class, unpaid) to help me out. My good friend Nicola and her son Michael. Nicola is a bright and busy single mum who loves to get out on the Lake District fells whenever she can. Michael has a very enquiring mind, and is developing an interest in history, as well as all things artistic, including videography. It was a chance for them to experience a very different day on the fells, and to also see what goes on behind the scenes on one of my video shoots.
Alcock Tarn, on the western side of Heron Pike, overlooking Grasmere in the English Lake District
Alcock Tarn
 Alcock Tarn is on the western side of Heron Pike, overlooking Grasmere. On the face of it it's a nice walk through the woods and then up the fell side to a pretty little mountain tarn. But things are not all they seem. This is not just a scenic walk, and believe me, it is very scenic, it is also a stroll through the world of Victorian plumbing, and one of the very best examples of hidden history in the Lake District. So it makes not only the perfect subject for a ten minute video, but also was ideal for a fell walking enthusiast and her history loving son.  This is the story of our day. The pictures are low resolution stills from the finished video. If you want to see that, scroll down to the bottom.
St Oswalds church in the village of Grasmere in the Lake District
St Oswald's Church Grasmere
We started from the church in Grasmere, close to Wordsworth's Grave, and headed out towards his old house at Dove Cottage. Once there we headed up the old road towards White Moss Common before turning left to follow the path up to Brackenfell Woods. Up to that point the walk had been at a normal pace, with a couple of short stops to take establishing shots. We soon reached the seat just before the entrance to the woods, and the first major stop for filming, a piece to camera about the plush 18th and 19th century villas visible on the other side of Grasmere. It was at this point that the benefit of having a production assistant really paid dividends. Normally, I work alone, so have to spend time setting up the shot and ensuring all the camera settings are as they need to be. But not today.

With script in hand, Nicola took to her new role as though she'd been doing it all her life, whilst Michael put himself in charge of the camera. I'd already done the settings, so all he had to do was actually push the red button. Even so, saying the word "action" gave him a feeling of being in control.

The entrance to Brackenfell Woods, Grasmere
Heading into Brackenfell Woods
With this first filming stop complete and the footage checked, it was time to head up into Brackenfell Woods. This route is along a wide sweeping path which follows the line of an old pack horse route, but that is not the reason it is so wide. Pack horse routes were narrow, often little more than the width of the horse and pack. Similar in fact, to a normal footpath today. This path is considerably more substantial, and was clearly constructed for much wider traffic. The answer to the question of why it is so wide is very simple. What is now Brackenfell Woods was, in Victorian times, a landscaped garden, complete with woodland trails, waterfalls, artificial streams and, to facilitate ease of access, a wide carriageway leading to the top of the garden. This allowed the owners to convey their guests to the top of the garden by carriage from where they could stroll back down, admiring the various features as they went.
The remains of an ornamental pond in Brackenfell Woods, Grasmere
The remains of an ornamental pond, dating from the days when Brackenfell woods was a garden.
After two aborted attempts to tell the story of the woods direct to camera, one because other people walked past, and the second because I totally fluffed my lines, we reached a point where there is a seat overlooking a view of Grasmere, from where I was to do another short piece to camera. Unfortunately there were two people sitting on the seat about to start lunch.

It is amazing how accommodating other walkers can be when you have a camera on a tripod and a production assistant with a script in hand. Had I been on an ordinary walk and requested that this couple give up their seat for a few minutes, they might have been, quite rightly, a little annoyed. But on spying the camera they were only too pleased to make way, standing a short distance away to watch proceedings. Unfortunately, after going to all that trouble, the shot did not make it into the final video. Their lunch was disturbed for nothing.

Gate on the path up to Alcock Tarn, a National Trust owned area of land at Grasmere in the English Lake District
This gate is a bit misleading. The tarn is still some way off.
It was late morning by the time we had finished filming on the path and woodland, and as we proceeded to climb the fell carrying the camera and tripod in the heat of the day up the steep slope was beginning to take it's toll. Michael decided that his mother and I were just too slow, and raced on ahead, leaving us to struggle on behind. We arrived at Grey Crag to find him sitting smugly on the stone viewpoint admiring the view. There was another filming stop here. Not to show the views from Grey Crag, which are very good by the way, but for me to make a confession on camera. You see, I've been telling tourists little fibs for some while now. It was time to come clean. Progress was then halted by the laughter that followed as Nicola and Michael could hardly believe what I had just come out with.
Alcock Tarn on the western side of Heron Pike, overlooking Grasmere in the Lake District
Alcock Tarn, which was formerly known as Buttercrags Tarn
Lunch was taken at Alcock Tarn. Not only was it a chance to enjoy a break, but also a paddle. I may take my video making seriously, but it is also a day out with friends, and there is a certain amount of fun to be had. So having fought against a bracing wind to deliver the story of how this tarn is not all it seems, and having made the occasional error necessitating at least 4 takes, it was time to relax and enjoy the sunshine. All good things come to an end however, and the time to leave came too soon. The second half of the video, and arguably the most demanding, remained to be made.

Leaving Alcock Tarn
Having assistance has great advantages. The shot of me leaving the tarn, taken from one of it's many viewpoints, would not really have been possible had I been working on my own. The time taken to set up such a shot, as well as executing it, would make it prohibitive. But with Nicola and Michael keen to add their input the shot was captured in less than 10 minutes.

Heading off down the northern edge of the fell, a steep and rocky slope.
We didn't return by the outward route. This is a circular walk, and although the descent is steep, and rocky in parts, it is very scenic, with stunning views north west up Easedale and towards Steel Fell.
Thirlmere to Manchester Aqueduct
At the bottom of the slope is the Thirlmere to Manchester aqueduct, the longest gravity-fed aqueduct in the country. It supplies water to the city of Manchester from Thirlmere, which is just 3 miles north of here. It has a fascinating history, yet most people pass by without paying it any attention. Telling the story of the Aqueduct was to make an interesting final segment to the video, but first we had to get down to it. The normal way would be to follow the path to the bottom of the fell, cross the bridge, then turn right to follow the stream up to where the Aqueduct crosses it. But there is no bridge, it having been washed away by the winter floods. With a camera and tripod to carry, I didn't want to get down to the bottom of the fell only to find no way across. So the decision was made to make our way down through the bracken, which thankfully had yet to reach full height. Poor Nicola was not really dressed for hacking her way through 5 feet high foliage, so Michael led the way, and loved it.
The top of the Aqueduct turns out to be about a foot deep in rubble from the December flooding
First job when we got to the aqueduct was a check for ticks. Nicola was wearing shorts, and as we were unlikely to go through any more bracken it seemed like a good idea. It turned out to be a good decision as Nicola had one on her leg. Luckily, it had not sunk its jaws into her, so brushing it off was easy. We also found that she had a nasty case of greenfly! It all added to the fun of the day, but as you all know, it could have been different. Ticks are nasty little creatures and if they burrow into your skin and start to feed on your blood there can be bad health consequences as they can carry Lyme Disease. It is always worth a quick check when you've been through high bracken.

The Aqueduct crossing Greenhead Gill
Telling the story of the Aqueduct and it's construction took longer than I envisaged, mainly because it was a complicated script that contained facts and figures that needed to be delivered correctly. Not only that but I also had a sound problem as the nearby stream was fast flowing and the noise from it threatened to drown out my voice. So I took double shots. One set with pieces to camera, and another set without me in them, or with me just looking at the Aqueduct or into the stream, the idea being that if the pieces to camera were not usable, I would have enough footage to accompany a voice over. Nicola was excellent at this point, ensuring that I got the words right and prompting me when necessary. Michael, meanwhile, continued to make an excellent cameraman.

Time for a paddle
With all footage in the can, it was time for a break, a drink, and another paddle. I always think that on a hot day on the Lakeland fells, a towel and a clean pair of socks is a good thing to pack. The feeling of cool water on the feet is as refreshing as any drink. We sat reviewing some of the footage we had taken, although in truth we had checked it at the time of shooting, but it was a nice way to re-live what had been a lovely day.
The riverside walk in Grasmere
From the bottom of Greenhead Gill we enjoyed a nice stroll back to the main road, then across the fields to Grasmere. I'd decided to finish not by road, but with a walk along the river back to the church yard via the daffodil garden, which turned out to be delightful. Just 4 days later, the video was published on You Tube. Another benefit of having an assistant with me was that I was able to organise the walk and filming in order of shot, which made editing so much easier. Some nice jaunty music rounded the video off nicely, and I have to admit that I was very pleased with the result. What do you think? Have a look at the finished production below and let me know if you like it.