Wednesday 29 June 2016

What we owe the small hamlet of Seathwaite (and two other important claims' to fame)

The small hamlet of Seathwaite is located in a remote area at the head of the English Lake District's Borrowdale Valley.  It may only consist of a  a few cottages and farm buildings, but it has some rather impressive claims' to fame.

Seathwaite, looking west.  The first graphite mines were located at the top of Newhouse Gill seen here back centre of photograph.  By Antiquary (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.
To begin with, it was on the fells above Seathwaite that the first natural deposit of graphite (aka pencil 'lead') was discovered some time prior to 1555.  Local farmers in the area used this resource as a way of marking sheep so shepherds could tell who owned them as they grazed on common land high up on the open fells. The graphite in the area, which was pure and solid, was then mined on a commercial basis. Extracted graphite was eventually used in production of the worlds first pencils.  Whilst graphite is still the main ingredient in pencil 'lead' to this day, this material is now also used in the production of the same batteries which power our mobile phones, tablets and laptops.   Although the mining of graphite in Seathwaite ceased towards the end of the 19th century, it's worth remembering the remote Lakeland location where this important material came from originally.

Seathwaite's next claim to fame is it's position in relation to Scafell Pike, England's highest mountain.  The hamlet is a popular starting point for fell walkers setting out to reach this fell via the two Borrowdale to Scafell pike routes.  As a result what was once a quiet corner of the Lake District is now a thriving hub of activity since fell walking gained in popularity during the 20th century. The first of these Scafell Pike routes reaches the summit via Grains Gill and Esk Hause; the second, crosses Stockley Bridge and follows the old packhorse path as it heads towards Wasdale, before turning off onto the Corridor Route.

Stockley Bridge, Seathwaite. Located just south of Seathwaite, the old packhorse route crosses here on it way to Wasdale.  Fell walkers ascending Scafell Pike leave the packhorse route at Sty Head to follow the Corridor Route towards the summit.  Photograph by Mick Knapton.
View of Scafell Pike (back centre).  The Corridor Route traverses the side of Broad Crag  (back left) before ascending to the summit from the col behind Lingmel Crag (mid centre).  Photograph by Ann Bowker.
And finally, having it's very own weather station where rainfall is recorded for the met office, Seathwaite has the somewhat dubious honour of officially being England's wettest inhabited spot.  This fact was mentioned by Julia Bradbury in her 2007 TV series of Wainwright Walks.  Such high rainfall, does however, contribute to the areas natural beauty, and is perhaps one reason why Alfred Wainwight, author of the famous pictorial guides, described an area known as the Jaws of Borrowdale (a little further down the valley) as the nicest square mile in the Lake District.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Bridge House (Why build a house over a river?)

Photograph of Bridge House by Rob Bendall.

If you happen to be passing through Ambleside this summer, you might like to check out this fascinating property built over the Stock Ghyll watercourse.  It is located located on Rydal Road (A591) to the north of the town, just as you are leaving for Grasmere and Keswick.

It was built in the 17th century by the Braithwaite family who were  influential in the Ambleside area at that time. The obvious question you may be wondering is why build a house over a river? It seems a rather difficult feat of engineering for the time and must have presented the architect and builders with numerous issues! The  National Trust, who now own the property, tell us that it was originally used by the family to access their lands on the other side of Stock Ghyll and also to store apples from their orchard.  This doesn't really explain why it was necessary for them to build a house of a river though!  

Things start to make a little more sense in light of certain allegations often made in relation to this property. That is, by building the house on a bridge over a watercourse, the owners could avoid paying land tax.  As such, Bridge House could be a 17th century form of tax avoidance, an issue which seems to have been as relevant then as it is today!  

The property also has a rich history having since been used as a counting house for the mills of Rattle Ghyll, a coblers, and a chair makers. The property was bought and restored in the 1920's by local people, one of whom was William Heelis better known as the husband of Beatrix Potter.  The property then passsed into the ownership of the National Trust who currently use it as an information centre.  

Bridge House has also featured in many paintings by artists such as Turner and Lewis Pinhorn Wood. The paining below was done by the latter in 1918 when the property was used as a cobblers.

View of the Cobbler's shop on the bridge by Lewis Pinhorn Wood.

Monday 13 June 2016

Cumbria and the Lake District

Most people are aware that the Lake District is located in the county of Cumbria.  However, not as many people know that the Lake District and Cumbria have quite different boundaries.  The Lake District is a national park and covers a smaller area within the wider county.  
The county of Cumbria highlighted in red.
Boundaries of the Lake District in green.

If you look at the maps above you will see that Cumbria stretches from Barrow-in-Furness and the peninsulas in the south, right up to the Scottish Border in the North.  It also covers the whole of the Irish Sea coastline in the west, and the M6 corridor to the east. The Lake District, on the other hand, does not include these areas, so the Cumbrian towns of Barrow, Ulverston, Workington, Whitehaven, Cockermouth, Kendle, Penrith and Carlisle fall outside the national park boundaries.

Cumbria also hosts the north western end of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  Anybody who has driven up the M6 past the Kendal junction towards Penrith, couldn't fail to notice the impressive Howgill Fells looming up on the right hand side of the motorway. These fall within the boundaries of both Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales, but not the Lake District itself.

The Howgill Fells as seen from the M6.

Thursday 9 June 2016

Great North Swim

 Friday 10th June to Sunday 12th June 2016

Photo's taken from the Great North Swim website -

This weekend Lake Windermere hosts the annual Great North Swim.  It is a massive event taking place over 3 days with around 10,000 swimmer taking part.  There are various races of different distances - the longest being the 10k marathon swim, which is a new event introduced this year.  Entrants are expected to complete this race in around 4 hours! Other distances include the 1/2 mile, 1 mile, 2 mile, and 5k swims. 

Another new event introduced this year is the team relay.  This is three laps of the half mile course, with each participant swimming a full 1/2 lap before returning back down the home straight in front of the crowds to the transition area.

The event is based at the Low Wood Bay hotel located on the shores of Lake Windermere.  Due to the large scale nature of the event, there is likely to be significant travel congestion in the surrounding area.  This is worth bearing in mind if you were thinking of travelling on the A590/A591 between the M6 and Ambleside over the weekend.  If you are not taking part or spectating, it may be best to avoid the area.

Good luck to all the swimmers taking part!  Hope you all have a great day!