Tag Archives: Cumbria

Appleby serves up a tasty slice of history

  • Looking across the River Eden at the Sands in Appl

    Looking across the River Eden at the Sands in Appleby. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

  • I told you it would rain: advice to a Brougham Hal

    I told you it would rain: advice to a Brougham Hall apprentice. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

  • A walk around Haweswater

    A walk around Haweswater. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

  • Last train of the day passes a trackside crane at

    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.

Horse fair

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.

Red squirrels

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.

 

 

Coniston and Stratford: honest shops forge an unexpected link

Coniston Institute; self-improvement a speciality

Coniston Institute: self-improvement a speciality. Photographs: Paul Nettleton

There can hardly be two places in England as different as Coniston in the Lake District and Stratford in east London.

One is a village nestling beneath the Old Man peak, squeezed between a ring of Cumbrian fells and Coniston Water; the other has been an industrial suburb of the capital, and is now entering a post-industrial future after hosting the London 2012 Olympics on a brownfield site by the River Lea.

Coniston has lost its copper mines, though there’s still a working slate quarry, while Stratford no longer has a railway works though it remains an important hub.

Yet there is a link, with a nod to that industrial heritage, through art, crafts and architecture.

Walk north along Yewdale Road from the bridge across Church Beck and on the left is the Coniston Institute, which was opened in 1878 after energetic fundraising by John Ruskin, who lived across the lake at Brantwood. It was a new home for the lifelong learning promoted from its foundation in 1852 by the Coniston Mechanics Institute and Literary Society.

In extended premises at the rear of the institute is a museum devoted to Ruskin with exhibits also relating to the copper mines and slate, local geology, lace, farming and Donald Campbell. The museum’s website has some great Coniston links to explore.

There’s a public library and function rooms for hire. And since 2012  there has also been the Honest Shop, stocking local produce and craft. It’s this which provides the link to Stratford.

The use value of art

You can’t go far in this part of Cumbria without coming across the activities and influence of Grizedale Arts, which emphasises the use value of art, and promotes the functions of art and artists in practical and effective roles, as a central tenet of wider culture and society”. 

Grizedale Arts has been working with residents on the renovation and development of the institute. Archtitect Liam Gillick has designed a new self-service library and An Endless Supply, a design studio and run by Harry Blackett and Robin Kirkham, was commissioned to design the interior of the shop “a defibrillator-in-disguise for the UK economy”. There’s a touch of these austere times about the interior.

Goods on display at the Honest Shop in Coniston

Goods on display at the Honest Shop in Coniston

As their website explains, the shop is unstaffed and customers pay for what they take in the honesty box (Grizedale Arts confess that: “Typically for a haven of visitor experience tranquility, the money tin was stolen on day two.”) Profits go to the sellers and are ploughed back into the upkeep of Coniston Institute.

The shop was featured on the BBC’s Countryfile programme. John Craven bought an apricot loaf. We plumped for eccles cakes and a carrot cake with orange frosting.

About 280 miles away (more if you take a scenic route across the Pennines) in London, there’s not yet so much choice at the Honesty Stall situated at the gates to Abbey Gardens in Bakers Row, Stratford, a step away from Abbey Road station on the Docklands Light Railway, where a sign helpfully redirects tourists and Beatles fans looking for a certain zebra crossing to the other Abbey Road in St John’s Wood.

It’s only a stone’s throw from Stratford and West Ham on the London Underground and national rail.

There are railway cottages across the road, and the remains of others within the grounds of this open access community garden (visitors welcome from dawn to dusk when the gates are open). Long before the coming of the railway and the nearby India rubber works and other heavy industry, there had been a 12th century Cistercian abbey on the site, complete with kitchen garden and a gatehouse here.

Public realm

The Friends of Abbey Gardens has been working to reverse years of neglect since 2006. It initiated work on the garden, which has been designed by artists Nina Pope and Karen Guthrie of Somewhere, a multi-disciplinary, non-profit creative company.

The site had to be cleared of contaminated soil before planting for food could begin. Arsenic, lead and benzoapyrene were among the chemicals found in a survey.

Now there’s a sign on a brick wall that asks What will the harvest be? The answer is whatever the regular gardeners agree and there are thousands of wonderful photos on Flickr capturing the activity at the gardens. And some of what’s grown is also sold on the mobile Honesty Stall designed for Abbey Gardens by Andreas Lang.

Work in progress at Abbey Gardens, Stratford, east London

Work in progress at Abbey Gardens, Stratford

One afternoon this week, with a touch of spring finally in the air, preparation and planting in the raised beds and greenhouse with guidance from gardening club leader Hamish Liddle came to a halt while a dunnock sang his heart out from an ivy branch shooting above the wall, attracting a second bird – a possible partner or rival was unclear.

Lang is a key link between Coniston and Stratford through the International Village Shop, a network of trading places for locally rooted goods. A founder of Public Works, he trained at Central St Martins school of art and at the Architectural Association, London. As with Grizedale Arts, Public Works “projects address the question how the public realm is shaped by its various users.

 This spring and summer, both projects are well worth a visit. Don’t forget to put your money in the honesty box.

Cumbria Day: Rory Stewart and the let’s work together ethic

A train crossing the Ribblehead Viaduct on the Carlisle to Settle line. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

A train crossing the Ribblehead Viaduct on the Carlisle to Settle line. Photograph: Paul Nettleton

Politicians have a job on their hands to win back the trust of voters after the expenses scandal.

Chris Huhne’s conviction for persuading his wife to claim she was at the wheel when his car was caught speeding on the M11 didn’t help.

Then there are the Lib Dem and police inquiries into allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by Lord Rennard, that are said to have blighted the political careers of some promising female candidates.

And I’ve watched with some horror, but also some understanding of the frustrations of electors, the growing protest vote for Ukip, a party defined like the National Front and BNP by what it hates and fears rather than what it cherishes and supports.

So it was with genuine pleasure that I read on Rory Stewart’s blog about Cumbria Day at Westminster in which all six of the county’s MPs recently put party difference to one side to support a showcase for local businesses.

These ranged from Cranstons, purveyors of fine food and meat since 1914 (that’s the Cumberland sausage and pies sorted) through a trio of small breweries (Ulverston, Hard Knott and Coniston to wash them down) to the Lake District Cheese Company, Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company, New Balance Trainers and Stobart Air. Tourism, a key local industry, was also well represented.

Stewart, who is Conservative MP for Penrith and The Border, said: “It has been a wonderful opportunity for all MPs to work together on a cross-party basis for a county we all love. It has put Cumbria, its products and our beautiful landscape in a much-needed spotlight.”

His belief that there should be more cross-party work was echoed by the other MPs, representing a part of Britain where the Boundary Commission recently defied common sense and geography in its proposal to cut the number of constituencies.

The attention – and even the prime minister popped in – was much needed because one of the first acts of the Coalition was to wind up the North West Development Agency in the public spending cuts and snatch away vital funding for projects such as the £100m Barrow marina village, now being kept on life support by £3.25m of capital spending from the borough council.

The government’s meager replacement appears to be £900,000 from the Big Lottery and Eric Pickles’ Department for Communities and Local Government under the Coastal Communities Fund grant scheme.

I sense on my visits north that there’s a growing belief that if you want something done, you’d better do it yourself, if only because the siren voice of London mayor Boris Johnson is heard more loudly at Westminster.

Faster, faster broadband

Stewart’s support for trying to make something of the Big Society in the Eden Valley and in particular his campaigning for rural high speed broadband have found echoes in Arkholme, to the south in Lancashire, where residents are laying their own fibre network rather than wait for BT’s engineers.

In Rails in the Fells (Peco, 1973), David Jenkinson writes about the Settle and Carlisle Railway, then under threat of closure after escaping the axe in 1963 under the Beeching Plan. He points to the irony of the entrepreneurial Midland Railway providing a local service as an accident of building a through route to Scotland, while its state-owned successor sought to justify closure despite the hardships it threatened to bring rural communities with little alternative public transport.

Today, Cumbria’s people and MPs share a can-do attitude that puts the government and BT to shame for past failure to invest in today’s equivalent of the Victorian railways. Remember all that talk of the information superhighway and its power to transform the economy.

Now, even the Connecting Cumbria project will justify its success when:

    •  At least 90% of properties in Cumbria have access to a connection of at least 25 megabits per second by 2015;
  • Where a 25mbps connection is not available, access to an internet connection of at least 2Mbps.

Hardly ambitious by, say, South Korean standards, where the average peak connection is a reported 48.8Mbps. You can see why Cumbria’s MPs feel the need to work together to have the county’s voice heard in the corridors of power.