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.

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