You definitely have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth when you holiday in the Lake District. Perhaps the wet and windy times only serve to make those magical good days all the more precious, but that’s something that is difficult to keep in mind when you are subjected to day after day of rain.
We certainly had a lot of tempestuous weather last week when we returned to Sunny Bank Chapel on the western shore of Coniston Water. Instead of the walking and canoeing that we had planned, we visited historic houses and museums instead – and there are thankfully quite a few of these in the Lake District. It was still an interesting and enjoyable holiday – just not the one that we had anticipated.
The week’s weather was so awful that we only managed two proper walks. The first was in the remote Duddon Valley which took us past the romantic ruins of Frith Hall:
Our second proper walk took us up into the beautiful mountains behind Coniston:
As we climbed, we noticed several sizeable areas on the flanks of the mountain where many sticks had been planted into the ground. More sticks were being taken down by quad bike to a group of people at work:
Stacks of thousands of sticks were still awaiting placement:
The quad bike driver told us that each stick marks where a tree is to be planted this autumn. In a few years time this part of the mountain should look very different – and with a much enhanced biodiversity and water-retaining capability as a result.
The Coniston mountains bear the scars of hundreds of years of copper mining, although all this industry ceased in the early 20th century.
One day we were able to make the most of a dry weather window and visit Humphrey Head, a limestone finger of land that sticks out into Morecambe Bay and is famed for its rare calcareous-loving plant life.
It is said that this is where the last wolf in England was killed in 1390. The wolf came down from the Coniston fells just to the north where it had been killing the sheep, and attacked a child in nearby Cark. The country folk chased it to the very end of Humphrey Head where it was killed with pikes as it hid amongst the rocks. I have such a clear picture of this whole event in my head that I feel emotional about it even though it was seven hundred years ago.
It wasn’t the right time of year to see the rare plants for which Humphrey Head is famed in botanical circles. We did, however, see this plant that we had never seen before:
It was not until our last morning that it was dry and calm enough to go out on a canoe adventure:
We were a bit shocked to see that the lake was about a metre higher than it had been when we arrived at the beginning of the week. How much rain had fallen to raise the level of such a large lake by a metre?
We had a very enjoyable paddle to Peel Island, over towards the far side of the lake.
On the way back there was a beautiful rainbow over the Coniston mountains…
…and it had begun to rain once more as we returned to the Sunny Bank boat house:
On a day that was forecast to have heavy rain throughout, we visited Levens Hall. This is an Elizabethan house built around a 13th Century Pele Tower, but what interested me was that it has the oldest topiary gardens in the world dating back to the 1690s.
On another day we had a walk around the gardens and estate of Sizergh Castle, now owned by the National Trust.
I love a vegetable garden:
The National Collections of four different types of fern are held at Sizergh:
The ferns were a dominant feature in the gardens:
I had no idea that there were so many different varieties of hart’s tongue fern:
As we walked around the estate, we saw this ram with a harness strapped to him that holds a coloured crayon. The ewes will be marked by the crayon as he mates with them so that the farmer knows which ones are yet to be done:
I see that it was Marrow Day yesterday at Underbarrow Village near Sizergh. I hope everyone enjoyed themselves and that it stayed dry:
It’s heart-warming to see that Cumbria Wildlife Trust is valuing the potential of churchyards with its Wildlife in Sacred Places project:
To fill another poor weather day we visited Townend in Troutbeck. This farm was owned by the Browne family for four hundred years before it passed to the National Trust in 1948.
We came across several of these traditional bank barns in the Lake District. Built on a slope, a ramp leads up to the first floor on one side. On the other side of the barn, where the land is lower, animals have access into the ground floor.
Townend was incredibly atmospheric, especially on such a dark, wet day. The smell of woodsmoke and the lighting kept low as if the house were still candlelit helped the imagination conjure up how life must have been.
One evening we had hired the badger-watching hide at RSPB Naddle Farm at Haweswater and we decided to get ourselves over the Kirkstone Pass and spend the day in the Penrith area, within easy reach of Haweswater for our scheduled 7pm arrival at the hide.
There had been a tremendous storm the day before and water was dramatically tumbling off the mountains:
We stopped at Brougham Castle, a 13th century castle built by the English to guard the old border with Scotland and now owned by English Heritage.
We also visited the impressive Mayburgh Henge but I’m afraid my photos just don’t do it justice. It is like an amphitheatre with a diameter of a hundred metres and with walls up to five metres high, built from millions of boulders from the nearby river. Thought to be about 4,500 years old, its significance to prehistoric people is not properly understood but, even today when it is slap bang next to the M6 motorway, it has a very special feel to it.
Long Meg and her daughters is another prehistoric wonder near Penrith and is the third widest stone circle in England with a diameter of 100 metres. Long Meg herself stands outside the circle and is made of local red sandstone whereas her daughters are granitic.
We had spent a very entertaining day exploring historic wonders around Penrith but we got a call from the RSPB telling us that access to the badger-watching hide was impossible after the storm of the night before. This was disappointing but we will try again and hope that for our next Lake District holiday we are a bit luckier with the weather.
Another earlier post about the Lake District – in a much drier September: