Looking across the River Eden at the Sands in Appleby. Photograph: Paul Nettleton
I told you it would rain: advice to a Brougham Hall apprentice. Photograph: Paul Nettleton
A walk around Haweswater. Photograph: Paul Nettleton
Last train of the day passes a trackside crane at Ormside. Photograph: Paul Nettleton
The street names of Appleby-in-Westmorland say it all really. Battlebarrow, Doomgate, Shaw’s Wiend, Castle View Road are all names that conjure up the Medieval past. The Sands, Bridge Street and Mill Hill remind you that this is a place where the River Eden is crossed or has been harnessed to power human industry.
The A66 bypasses the town, for stretches built on the course of a Roman road. Then there’s the station on the Settle to Carlisle railway line, one of the few in the town it serves as the Victorian entrepreneurs and their engineers were more intent on driving an alternative route to Scotland than serving the farmers of the Pennines and the Eden Valley.
This piece could turn in to a ‘what we did on our holidays’ bore, but I’ll just try to give you just a taste that might tempt you to tarry a while in a town that rightly claims to be the ideal base for a touring holiday – whether by car or, increasingly likely, bicycle or on foot. Sustainable tourism is a growth industry here.
The county town that lost its status with the creation of Cumbria in 1974 is perhaps best known for the annual shenanigans of the travellers’ horse fair, but once that’s over each June it settles in to serving the tastes of rather more middle class visitors.
So there’s original art at the Courtyard Gallery half way uphill on the delightful Boroughgate, with a good number of the paintings or ceramics reminding you of the deserved reputation of Cumbria College of Art and Design (now the University of Cumbria’s arts faculty), or yummy Eden Valley Organic Brie made at the Appleby Creamery and sold at the Appleby Bakery alongside their own bread, cakes and pies. Cafes, pubs and hotels serve locally sourced food and beer with pride.
The riverside walks are clearly a “good thing” to counter the calories. Or head out of town to follow geological trails in the Pennines or take a road less travelled than many in the Lake District, and walk around Haweswater. We saw two crows chasing off a bird of prey big enough to have been England’s only golden eagle, a lone male whose mate has died. There were also deer and rabbits in the woodland and red squirrels in the garden of the Haweswater Hotel (yours in all its Art Deco glory for £1,195,000). Two-thirds of the way into a walk around the reservoir that was created in the flooded Mardale valley, a pint of lager and a scone have never tasted so good.
Nature is softening the lines of the reservoir but water company signs warn of dangerous currents, pumping machinery and chemicals. The villages of Measand and Mardale Green, and with them one of author and fell walker Alfred Wainwright’s favourite views, were sacrificed to supply water to Manchester.
Lady Anne Clifford
Worth mentioning is Brougham Hall, where restoration today of a house linked to Lady Anne Clifford, is a vehicle for transmitting old craft skills to young apprentices. It’s strange to enter the grounds, then discover modern housing has been built on part of the site.
In the 17th century, the daugher of the Earl of Cumberland began the restoration of her father’s estates, including castles from Skipton in Yorkshire north to the nearby Brougham Castle. Her remarkable life is being celebrated all month in the Eden Valley.
Then, close to the M6 at Penrith, there’s the Rheged centre. Those historical place names again, this one apparently borrowing from one of the kingdoms of the old north.
It’s the singular creation of the Dunning family, the farmers who changed the face of the British motorway service station when they opened Tebay services on the M6 in 1972. Sarah Dunning, daughter of John and Barbara Dunning, now runs Westmorland Ltd, the company they set up.
We arrived before the Art of Wallace and Gromit, the summer’s headline attraction, opened at what looks from the glass doorway like an arts centre cum shopping mall buried in a hillside but unfolds under a glass roof with waterfalls and rock outside the windows into something much more attractive that celebrates regional produce and the great outdoors, hosts exhibitions and theatre and shows films on a giant 3D screen. There are three cafes so it never feels too crowded.
Rheged is handy for those days when the heavens open, which they too often do in Cumbria. But even then, the views that unfold when the clouds roll back can take the breath away, as one day just south of Great Orton where Kennedys Chocolates, working in the former village school, prove that the art of the chocolatier is not confined to Belgium or France. Not too far away from here is Churchmouse Cheeses at Kirkby Lonsdale, for more variety of cheesy comestibles and excellent wine.
We stayed, final plug, in a barn conversion located along a single track road leading past an Eco House that featured in Grand Designs and is, like Rheged, buried in the landscape. So unobtrusively, in fact, that we missed it at first as we watched for red squirrels and rabbits and admired the profusion of wild flowers in the hedgerows, dry stone walls and verges.
When we visited there was a steady procession of trucks carrying material along the road (10mph limit past the few houses) to rebuild an embankment that had given way, south of the Helm Tunnel, on the Settle to Carlisle line. From the rear window of the barn we missed the weekly steam train that sets the pulse of railway enthusiasts beating, but the more prosaic two or four car diesel units that provide the regular service were a reminder of the survival of the line against all attempts to close it down.
The barn is called Sycamore Cottage, at The Heights, Ormside, and we booked through absolute-escapes.com. Thanks Mrs Braithwaite.