A Wet Week in the Lakes

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.

A walk in the Duddon Valley

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.

Sunny Bank Chapel was our home for the week. Situated on the quiet western shores of Coniston Water, it has its own land stretching down to the lake.
The chapel’s baptismal pool had much more water in it than it did last year

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:

Frith Hall was built as a hunting lodge in the early 17th century. Later, it became an inn used by travellers on the pack horse trail to Millom and was somewhere that runaway couples came to in order to get married – in 1730 seventeen marriages were recorded there
Frith Hall ruins and the more modern barn built behind it, set in its Duddon Valley landscape
The River Duddon at Ulpha
We saw a lot of small coppers on this walk

Our second proper walk took us up into the beautiful mountains behind Coniston:

Autumnal colours everywhere
The gigantic pudding stone in front of the Old Man of Coniston
Our lunch stop at Levers Water

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.

This discarded rock scattered around a mine entrance was incredibly dense and heavy. We were tired after just getting ourselves up to this point and it is difficult to imagine how the miners in the 19th century did that and then spent a full day toiling down the mines
Looking down into Coppermine Valley
This building was built in 1830 in Coppermine Valley as the mine manager’s house. It was then acquired by the YHA in 1931 and became a youth hostel. I stayed there once myself as a teenager in the 70s. Although it still remains a YHA building, it is now only available to hire for exclusive use

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.

The information board at the entrance to Humphrey Head

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.

The tip of Humphrey Head where it is said that the last wolf in England was killed in 1390
Limestone is a very obvious feature of Humphrey Head
We think it is very windy at home, but our trees don’t look like this
There were a few migrating wheatears there

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:

The amazing dropwort, a plant of dry limestone pasture
The dropwort in its context amongst the anthills

It was not until our last morning that it was dry and calm enough to go out on a canoe adventure:

Going down to the canoe through Sunny Bank’s fields

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?

The bench is now in the water

We had a very enjoyable paddle to Peel Island, over towards the far side of the lake.

Hauled out on Peel Island

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:

Returning to the chapel for coffee and some dry clothes

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.

The topiary gardens at Levens Hall. The first recorded ha-ha in Britain is also here

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:

In the lobby of the Sizergh estate church

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.

The Townend bank barn showing its ramp up to the first 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.

All the furniture at Townend is as it was when the Trust acquired the house. This is the quirky kitchen. The glass vase was filled with water to magnify the light of a candle when doing detailed work such as embroidery

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:

Water gushing into Ullswater at Glenridding

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.

The River Eamont was in spate after the storm
The keep at Brougham (pronounced Broom) Castle.

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.

There used to be four standing stones in the centre but now there is just one
Using the dramatic filter on my camera seems to help with archaeological sites

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.

It is thought that there would originally have been 70 daughters, although there are now 59, only 27 of which are still standing
Long Meg standing to one side, watching over her daughters

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:

4 thoughts on “A Wet Week in the Lakes

  1. You certainly made the most of your week despite of the weather. Though I do have a caravan in the North Lakes ( not that far from Penrith) there are still so many places we haven’t explored yet, such as The Duddon Valley, Humphrey Head and Leven’s Hall. So thanks for posting about them.
    When you do manage to use the badger hide, I’m sure you will love it. Though on my visit lots of rats made their appearances before the badgers! X

    1. I do envy you your caravan in The Lakes and I’m sure I’d persuade Dave to do something similar if we lived closer. But we are just so far away – on the way there we left at 8am and didn’t arrive until 7pm – that’s 11 hours! And that seemed to be just normal heavy Friday traffic and a few lane closures on the M6. It was a bit better on the way home – still 8.5 hours though. So it’s an effort to get up there but well worth it all the same.

      1. Wow! 11 hours is a fair trek. It’s always nice to visit a completely different part of the country though. Cumbria is lovely and definitely the trip. Typical lakes weather though hey. X

Leave a Reply