Monday, 30 April 2012

Zzzz - time for bed!

So – you've come to the end of your tour of the Lake District – and now you need somewhere to have a good night’s sleep – zzzzz

As in many areas which cater for visitors and tourists, there’s a huge range of places to rest your head. You name it, you can find it!

From 5 star hotels, with swimming pools and spas

To bivouacking in the woods or on the fells

In between those two extremes, there are many other alternatives, and all within a very small area. You can stay in a hotel or guest house in one of the towns or villages, or you can choose a farmhouse out in the country. You can opt for having your meals provided for you, or you can self-cater. There are hundreds of cottages and converted barns which are available for families and small groups, and the Youth Hostels Association also has over a dozen properties in the Lake District, offering budget accommodation for individuals, groups and families.

You can hire a caravan, buy one on a site there, or take your own. Many’s the time I’ve been stuck behind a convey of caravans on the road between Windermere and Ambleside, or on the even narrower road to Hawkshead!

And, of course, there’s camping, which again ranges from the basic to the luxurious. Evidently the luxurious style is now known as glamping i.e. glamorous camping, and some site have luxury yurts where you can stay. But even the basic is much less basic than it used to be, with all the modern equipment available, and, of course, most sites now have flush toilets and showers.  

Those of you who have followed my A-Z know that we had a family caravan near Hawkshead for over 30 years. When we first went there in the 60’s, there were just 2 vans in our field. Later that was increased to 5. There were no ‘mod cons’ – no electricity so all cooking, heating and lighting were provided by a large canister of calor gas. No water either – we had to cross 2 fields to collect water in large plastic containers from an outside tap near the farmhouse. And no mains sewerage. There were a couple of flush toilets in a farm outbuilding, and we had a chemical toilet in a small wooden hut near our caravan – not ideal if you wanted to go in the middle of the night when it was pouring with rain! And I won’t even start to describe the worst job of all, which was emptying that toilet after lifting a manhole cover over a cesspit! Gradually things changed – we got electricity, so no more struggling to light the gas mantles, and we could also have a fridge – sheer luxury. We got water too, with a tap only a few yards from the caravan. No mains sewerage though – we still had to empty that damned toilet! Now, 20 years on, everything has changed. There are now 5 luxury lodges in ‘our’ field – and I bet they don’t have to empty their toilets down a manhole!

So - we reach the end of this year's A-Z April Blogging Challenge, and I'd like to thank everyone who has left comments for me. A special thank you, too, to all my friends from the Facebook GBE2 and Writers' Post groups, for your support. I love you guys!
I'm delighted that so many of you have enjoyed my tour around the Lake District.  As a result, I've decided to extend the tour, although not a daily basis! But I'll take a different letter each week, and tell you more about North West England in general. I think I'll make it my 'Thursday Tour'. Hope you'll join me!

Also, now that you know more about the Lake District, you might enjoy my two novels which are set there: Fragrance of Violets, available from Whiskey Creek Press and Amazon, and Changing the Future, which will be released on May 15th. 

Last, but definitely not least, very many thanks to Arlee Bird and all the A-Z team for setting up this annual challenge. It's been a intense month, but I've really enjoyed it! 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Six Sentence Sunday

Six more from my contemporary romance 'Fragrance of Violets', continued from last week. Abbey surprised Jack in their Paris hotel room by appearing in a see-through baby-doll outfit which he proceeded to remove.

As Jack bent his head to kiss one of her nipples, Abbey gasped and her back arched involuntarily. He put his arms round her quickly to stop her from falling backwards and then continued his tongue’s exploration of her hard nipple. Shafts of exquisite pleasure shot through her and she tightened her grip on his shoulders, let her head go back and closed her eyes, surrendering to the thrilling arousal of all her senses.

She was startled when he suddenly broke away, then smiled as he picked her up and carried her to the bed. 

“I’ve fantasised about this, about you carrying me to bed.”

“I’ve fantasised about a damn sight more than this,” he replied with a sudden chuckle.

'Fragrance of Violets' is available from Whiskey Creek Press and Amazon.

Thank you for all your comments about Abbey and Jack during the past few weeks. Next week, I shall be introducing some excerpts from my May release, 'Changing the Future'.

More Six Sentence Sunday excerpts here:

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Yummy Lakeland Food

The traditional food of the Lake District area comes from its farming background – lamb, pork, beef and dairy products. The moors, mountains and lakes provide wild game, duck, deer, and grouse. The lakes and sea give herring, trout and salmon.

Perhaps the most famous Cumbrian product is Cumberland sausage – pork meat seasoned with spices and herbs. The sausage comes coiled like a rope and is sometimes sold by length.

Cumberland ham is traditionally dry-cured: first salted and rubbed with brown sugar, cured for about a month, then washed, dried and hung for another couple of months to mature. Chemical additives and preservatives are never used.

Cumberland sauce, a traditional sauce served with ham or lamb, is made from the juices of an orange and lemon, together with redcurrant jelly, mustard, port and ginger.

Shepherds Pie is traditionally made with lamb, to which mushrooms, carrots, pureed tomatoes and spices may be added. Once cooked the mixture is topped with cooked, mashed potato which is then browned in  the oven.
Cumberland Tattie Pot is a kind of stew. Lamb is mixed with swede and black pudding and is then layered with sliced potatoes.

Cumberland rum butter is another favourite. The butter is mixed with brown sugar, nutmeg and rum. An old tradition attached to this is that the butter was served with oatcakes to celebrate a baby’s birth, after which the guests would leave coins in the butter bowl, supposedly to ensure prosperity for the new baby.
I already mentioned Grasmere Gingerbread in my G post. Another famous Lake District 'sweet' product is Kendal Mint Cake, which isn't 'cake', but a mint-based candy bar containing glucose. According to legend, its original development is said to have been a mistake. In 1869 Joseph Wiper was trying to make a clear mint bar at his small factory in Kendal but was distracted from stirring the mixture and found it had become cloudy instead of clear.
Today’s Kendal Mint Cake is produced mainly by two companies, Quiggin’s which is the oldest surviving mint cake company and Romney’s which bought Wiper’s company in 1987. The exact recipe is kept secret but basically it’s made from sugar, glucose, water and peppermint oil boiled together and continuously stirred. It’s poured in moulds and allowed to set then broken into individual bars. Because of its energy-giving glucose, it's popular with climbers and mountaineers, and was used by Edmund Hillary and his team on the first successful ascent of Everest in 1953.

Damsons, grown in the Lyth Valley, south of Windermere, are used for making and flavouring tarts and pies, and also to produce Westmorland plum chutney, not to mention damson wine and gin.

There are many different kinds of bread traditional to the Lake District. Every village seeming to have its own variation. Tea bread is like a fruit loaf to which tea (as a liquid not as leaves!) has been added  and Hawkshead Whig Bread is traditionally flavoured with caraway seeds. Nothing to do with any political parties, but evidently each Norse settlement prayed to its own God, known as a Wigg or Whig, and made special offerings. The Christian church adopted this custom, with the ‘whigs’ being baked around Easter time. The whig bun was said to have been one of Wordsworth’s favourite.

And finally a 'shout-out' to Maria and Mark at Hawkshead Relish - I'll come up to see you sometime soon! And if anyone's in Hawkshead, do call in at their shop in the square for a wide range of yummy relishes, chutneys and preserves.

Friday, 27 April 2012

X-treme Sports

Okay, so give me a break. I couldn't track down any xylophones in the Lake District, and although there may be Xerox machines and X-rays, I doubt I could write a blog about them. I don't think Cumbrians are xenophobic to strangers either (even though someone who may have lived there for 30 or more years may still be considered an 'off-comer' i.e. non-native).

I hope it's not cheating, but I decided on X-treme sports because the Lake District is, of course, a paradise for outdoor pursuits of many kinds. The less intrepid (and those of us who are not as young as we were!) may prefer a gentle hike on the lower fells, or a walk in the forest or along the shores of one of the lakes. In my younger days, I did do some fell-climbing – albeit on well-marked paths.

However, there are also opportunities for more X-treme pursuits (none of which I have ever done, I hasten to add).

Rock-climbing, of course is popular and there are plenty of crags to tempt the most daring – and those with a head for heights. This is probably the most famous rock-climb in the Lake District – Napes Needle on Great Gable. Gives me vertigo just looking at it!

There’s also Gorge Scrambling, where participants make their way along the hidden mountain streams of Lakeland, jump into deep pools and climb up (or down) waterfalls with the help of ropes. It’s challenging – and often very wet! Canyoning is the opposite of Gorge Scrambling. In this case, people follow the water downwards, through pools, down chutes and sometimes involving abseiling down vertical drops.

If you prefer an aerial view of the landscape, you can try paragliding, maybe starting off as a ‘passenger’ with an experienced  instructor before venturing into the air on your own, first from gentle slopes and the from higher hills. There’s also skydiving, again harnessed to an instructor for your first dive, but there are courses available for those who want to become experience skydivers. Not for the faint-hearted!

Back on the ground again, there is off-road driving, with opportunities for everyone from beginners to advanced, in specially adapted land rovers. Mountain biking and quad-biking are also available, over terrain ranging from easy to difficult.

Me? I prefer to sit with my large ice cream on the shores of Coniston or on the terrace of a pub in Langdale and watch others take part in these kinds of sports!

Thursday, 26 April 2012


W, of course, has to bring us to Windermere, England’s largest lake, over eleven miles long and just less than a mile wide at its widest part. It’s what is called a ribbon lake, formed when two Ice Age glaciers melted. The moraine from the glaciers formed a barrier at the southern end of the valley which then filled with water.

The name is thought to originate from ‘Vinandr’s Mere’, from the old Norse name Vinandr and ‘mere’, the Norse word for lake. Until the 19th century, it was still known as Winander Mere.

The village of Windermere is about twenty minutes’ walk from the lake and only started to grow in the 19th century when a branch railway line was extended from near Kendal, much to the chagrin of Wordsworth who vehemently opposed the advent of the railway.

He even wrote a sonnet about it, concluding with:
Plead for thy peace, thou beautiful romance
Of nature; and, if human hearts be dead,
Speak, passing winds; ye torrents, with your strong
And constant voice, protest against the wrong.

Despite much opposition, the railway was built, and the village which started to grow up around the railway station was originally called Birthwaite, after a nearby farm, but then changed to Windermere. The station is still there, but the original station building is now a grocery store.

The only town which actually stands on the shores of Windermere is Bowness-on-Windermere, which is a mecca for tourists. Sadly, many people think they have been to ‘the Lakes’; when all they’ve been to is this over-commercialised and frequently over-crowded small town!

Boating, of course, is a popular sport on the lake. However, about 5 years ago, a speed limit of 12 m.p.h. was introduced, effectively ending power-boats and water ski-ing on the lake. The arguments in favour of this were based on environmental and safety grounds, the latter being supported by yacht owners. The opponents claimed there was no other lake in England available for power -boats and other ‘fast’ water sports. Also there has been a knock-on effect for local business, since the number of lake-users has dropped dramatically since the limit was introduced.

Windermere has a fleet of pleasure cruisers which ply the lake from one end to the other. Three of the original boats, the Tern (1891), Teal(1936) and Swan (1938) are still used, although their original steam engines have now been converted to diesel.

There is also a small car ferry which crosses the lake from east to west (and vice versa). We sometimes used this to reach Hawkshead, although it was always a toss-up between the queues waiting for the ferry and the traffic jams between Windermere and Ambleside in the tourist season. The ferry, operated by an underwater cable, carries 18 cars, and takes about ten minutes.
There has been a ferry service here for about 500 years. Originally it was simply a rowing boat, of course. One spooky story is about the ‘Crier of Claife’. Claife Heights is a small wooded hill on the west bank of Windermere. Evidently, on a stormy night in the fifteenth century, the ferryman heard a call from the west side of the lake and rowed across. He returned alone, terrified and unable to speak, and became so ill that he died a few days later. For years afterwards no ferryman would take the ferry out after dark and it was said that the eerie cry of 'Boat' was often heard during subsequent storms. The 'ghost' was supposedly exorcised by a monk from Furness Abbey but even today there are some who will not venture into Claife Woods at night.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Villages and Visitors

When I was writing my novel ‘Fragrance of Violets’, set in a Lake District village, I had to explain to one of my (American) beta-readers that an English village is not a town. Possibly the nearest American equivalent is a ‘township’.

Geneally speaking, an English village is a small and compact settlement of houses which, in the past, has been based on agriculture, mining, quarrying or fishing. I used to think it was size that distinguished a hamlet from a village, but evidently the difference is that a village has an Anglican church whereas a hamlet doesn't. A typical village (in the past) also had a pub or inn, a few shops catering to local needs, and a blacksmith.

The main difference between a village and a town is that a village’s administrative system is the ‘parish council’ which is the lowest tier of local government, below town (or borough), city and county councils.

In the UK, there still tends to be an idealised image of the village, which is seen as being a haven away from the bustle of modern life, and is represented as quiet and harmonious, if sometimes a little inward-looking. Families lived in the same village for generations, and everyone knew everybody else.

The reality today is somewhat different in many areas today, but especially in the Lake District which is a popular tourist area. The small roads became inadequate to cope with the influx of traffic, so extra roads (and large car-parks) have been built in what are known as the ‘honeypots’, the places which attract the most visitors. These have become commercialised and the shops cater for tourist requirements (souvenirs etc) rather more than simply meeting local needs.  

House prices were pushed up by ‘off-comers’ wanting to buy holiday homes, making them too expensive for the local people. In some places, nearly half the houses are holiday homes, bought either for personal use or for letting out. Many of these lie empty all winter. In an attempt to reverse this trend, some property is now restricted to ‘local occupancy’ meaning it can only be sold to people who are employed or about to be employed in the local area, or who have lived locally for over 3 years.

At the same time, however, it's accepted that tourism is the lifeblood of the Lake District, now that the old industries of the area have died out. The National Park Authority’s aim is to promote sustainable tourism i.e. to minimise the negative aspects and retain the advantages of tourism, while at the same time protecting the environment and people’s quality of life. (Incidentally, Jack and Abbey, my hero and heroine, find a way to reconcile their earlier, different views about this  in ‘Fragrance of Violets’.)
The main Visitor Centre for the Lake District National Park is at Brockhole, between Windermere and Ambleside. It opened in 1969 and is set in 30 acres of terraced gardens leading down to the shores of the lake and with superb views of the Lakeland fells.

The house was built in the late 19th century by a wealthy Manchester merchant, who employed local landscape gardener Thomas Mawson to lay out the formal gardens, and landscape the rest of the 25 acres to provide stunning view of the lake and fells.

In the house, there are exhibitions about the Lake District, with film and slide shows and a wide variety of events is held every year. These include Easter treasure hunts, bird and animal recognition activities, water activities, musical concerts, and family fun days. For children there’s an adventure playground and climbing wall; for their parents, there are picnic tables and a cafĂ©.

There are also Tourist Information Centres in most of the Lake District towns, including Ambleside, Bowness, Coniston, Grasmere, Hawkshead, Kendal, and Windermere, which provide a wealth of information of places to go, things to do, guidebooks and maps, transport, accommodation, and special events.

Our ‘local’ Tourist Information Office in Hawkshead was an Aladdin’s Cave of information, and I still have many books, maps and leaflets I obtained there. The office used to be near the main car park, and was always our first stop when we went into the village. The main reason was that the weather forecast information was always pinned up on the noticeboard outside the office.

We didn’t need to be told when it was pouring with rain though!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Slightly outside the boundary of the Lake District National Park, but still in Cumbria, Ulverston is a small market town in the centre of the Furness peninsula. It received its market charter in 1280, an event celebrated every year with its Charter Festival. When a canal was constructed in 1796, ships from Ulverston carried Lakeland copper and slate around the world. The canal is the world’s shortest, widest and deepest canal, just a mile and a half from the town to the sea.

The town's main claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Arthur Stanley Jefferson who, after changing his surname, became famous as one half of the Laurel and Hardy duo – ‘That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into, Stanley!” The world’s only Laurel and Hardy Museum is in Ulverston. It contains an amazing collection of memorabilia, collected by Bill Cubin, a one-time mayor of the town. These include letters, photos and personal items. There is also a small cinema, showing films and documentaries all day. The Museum is still owned and run by Cubin’s daughter and grandsons.

Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born in Ulverston in 1890. His parents were very involved in the theatre and he spent a lot of his childhood living with his grandmother. His stage career began at Glasgow Metropole Theatre where his father was the manager. In 1910 he joined Fred Karno’s troupe of actors and at one time was Charlie Chaplin’s understudy. In 1916 he went to America where he appeared in several short comedy films. By this time he’d changed his name to Stan Laurel. He met Oliver Hardy briefly in 1920 when they appeared together in a comedy film ‘The Lucky Dog’ but it wasn’t until 1927 that he and Hardy teamed up as a comedy duo. The rest, as they say, is history.

Another local resident was George Fox, the founder of the Quaker Movement, who lived at Swarthmoor Hall, near Ulverston, in the latter half of the 17th century. For a time, the Hall was the centre of the movement and in 1691, Fox bought some land near the hall and built a meeting house there, which still exists today.

One visitor to Swathmoor was William Penn, who founded the Quaker Community in Pennsylvania in the 1680's.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Tarn Hows

And so we come to the final week of the A-Z Blogging Challenge!

Only a short distance from our caravan, Tarn Hows, a small lake, was a favourite place to visit at any time of the year.

It originally consisted of 3 much smaller lakes, which were merged into one by the creation of a small dam in the 19th century. Originally the area was common grazing land, but came into the possession of the Marshall family of Coniston after an enclosure act in 1862. James Marshall, who was a member of Parliament, had spruce, larch and pine planted around the tarn.

By the end of the 19th century, the area was already well known. H.S. Cowper, a local archivist, said in 1899 that Tarn Hows was ‘beloved by skaters in winter and picnic parties in summer’.

In 1930 the Marshall family sold much of their land to Beatrix Potter, who in turn bequeathed it to the National Trust, which is still responsible for this ‘beauty spot.’

In the summer, it’s frequently very busy with tourists, but we’ve been there when there’s been hardly anyone else around. On one occasion the grass slope leading down to the tarn was so damp that I think we all slipped, slithered and fell at least a dozen times.

My daughters used to love splashing about and swimming in the tarn, and we’ve tramped through the woods around the tarn many times. There’s now a good wide path but in the early days it was simply a stony track. At the southern end of the tarn, the water drains down Tom Gill with some pretty waterfalls.

The National Trust gradually improved car parking facilities, and I was glad to see they finally (about 3 years ago) erected a small building providing public toilets, which was the only thing the area lacked, especially if we wanted to stay there for the whole of a summer afternoon!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Six Sentence Sunday

Six more from my contemporary romance 'Fragrance of Violets', continued from last week when Abbey surprised Jack in their Paris hotel room by appearing in a see-through baby-doll outfit.

Their kiss deepened as his hands moved down her back, then round her hips and slowly upwards again. 

Her head went back and a small moan escaped her throat as she surrendered to the delicious feel of his hands through the silky baby-doll top.

“Not sure I can undo this clasp,” he muttered. 

She loved his frown of concentration as he fumbled slightly with the fastening, but once he’d managed to open it he slid the flimsy top off her shoulders until it fell to the floor. All the time he was looking down at her breasts. 

“God, you’re beautiful,” he breathed.

'Fragrance of Violets' is available from Whiskey Creek Press and Amazon.

If you'd like to find out more about the Lake District, where most of this contemporary romance of forgiveness and renewed love is set, do look back at my A-Z Blog Challenge posts for April.

More Six Sentence Sundays here:

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Sheep - sturdy but sometimes silly

I mulled over what to choose for S – maybe Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in the Lake District, or Stone Circles, of which there are several examples, or even Steamboats and Sailing. But then the obvious S hit me in the face (though not literally, fortunately) –Sheep.

Wherever you go in Lakeland, you’ll see sheep—hundreds of them. After a short visit to the Lake District, a young American friend of my daughter said, “I’ve never seen so many sheep in my whole life.”

Many's the time I've had to slam the brakes on when a stray sheep had wandered into the road, and then stood there, staring at me and my car as if to say, "I'll move away when I feel like it." And, of course, there were the other times when the farmer was moving a flock from one field to another and you crawl along behind them, while the sheepdog tries to round up the strays which have decided to stop and graze on the roadside verges. At times like that, there's no point thinking you're going to get somewhere quickly, because you can't!

Herdwick sheep are indigenous to the Lake District. The name comes from the Old Norse word herdvyck, meaning sheep pasture and it’s probable that the Herdwick ancestors were brought to the area by the Vikings in the 10th century.

It’s said that 99% of all Herdwick sheep are farmed in the Lake District and that 95% of them live within 14 miles of Coniston in the southern Lakes. This makes them vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, and it’s estimated that 25% were lost in the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001.

They’re known for their robustness and their ability to live on forage. They spend the winters on the fells, and usually stay within their own grazing area, due to their territorial tendencies. In the past, some sheep farms were granted fell rights, allowing them to use common grazing land. This led to the enclosing of the lower fells with dry stone walls, marking off one’s farmer’s land from another’s.

Herdwicks are reared for both meat and wool. They produce strongly flavoured lamb and mutton, and their wool, coarse and grey, is often used for carpets.

Sheep-farmers use their own counting system which derive from Celtic times. This varies from place to place, especially in Cumbria, Yorkshire and Derbyshire. There’s even a slight difference between the North and South Lakes. Back in the sixties, I heard an old farmer using this system of counting, but I’m not sure how prevalent it is now, with many old traditions dying out.
Here are some of the numbers:
1 = yan
2 = tan
3 = teddera
4 = meddera
5 = pimp
6 = settera
7 = lettera
8 = hovera
9 = dovera
10 = dick
Numbers 11-14 add the yan, tan etc to dick, 15 = bumfit, and 16-19 add the yan, tan etc to bumfit. Finally 20 = jiggot.
That’s as far as the numbering went. To count a larger number of sheep, a shepherd would move his finger to another notch on his stick or drop a pebble in his pocket for each 20 of the count.

In spring, our farmer used to keep the newborn lambs with their mothers in the field where we had our caravan. One morning we were woken up to the sound of frantic bleating, coming from UNDER the caravan. We investigated and found that one of the lambs had somehow managed to get through the fence surrounding the caravans, and couldn't find its way out again. We managed to persuade it to go back through the gate into the field, where it rejoined its mother who had been baa-ing loudly. In sheep talk, I'm sure she was saying 'I TOLD you not to go near that fence ...'

Friday, 20 April 2012

Romantic Rydal

Rydal is a small village, a cluster of houses, church and hotel, mid-way between Ambleside and Grasmere.
Despite its apparent insignificance, it has important links to English Romance Literature. The Romantics favoured natural, emotional and personal themes in contrast to the Enlightenment Era which promoted science, reason and intellectual philosophy.
William Wordsworth, one of the main Romantic poets, lived at Rydal Mount from 1813 to 1850. He designed the garden there and he often said that the garden was as much his ‘office’ as the spacious ‘writing room’ in the house. On the high side of the garden, away from the main house, but overlooking both Windermere and Grasmere, he built a small hut equipped with just a small bench. He spent most of his writing time here. The house has remained in the possession of the Wordsworth family until the present day, and has been open to the public since 1970.
Dr. Thomas Arnold, the famous innovative headmaster of Rugby School, had a summer house at Fox Howe, and his son, the poet Matthew Arnold, was a frequent visitor and also a friend of Wordsworth.

Nab Cottage, on the shores of Rydal Water, once belonged to the poets Thomas de Quincey and Hartley Coleridge, again both friends of Wordsworth. It is now a guest house.
Rydal Hall is an imposing building, dating back to the late 16th century, with extensive renovations in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its gardens were designed by Thomas Mawson in 1911 and are a perfect example of Edwardian style, with Italianate terracing, herbaceous border and lawns, together with informal woodland gardens and a summerhouse overlooking the Rydal Falls. The Hall now belongs to Carlisle Diocese and is used as a Christian retreat.

St Mary’s Church at Rydal was built by the Fleming family who owned Rydal Hall. Wordsworth and his family, and also the Arnold family, all worshipped here and their pews are now marked by plaques. In 1847, after his daughter Dora died, Wordsworth bought the field between the church and his home at Rydal Mount and dedicated it to her. He and his wife planted hundreds of daffodil bulbs here, and ‘Dora’s Field’, as it is still known, looks beautiful at this time of year.

Rydal Water, a small lake near the village, only about a kilometre long, is owned partly by the National Trust and partly by Rydal Hall. On its southern side are Rydal Caves, part of a disused slate mine. Inside one of the caves is a small lake, complete with goldfish which were placed here years ago and whose descendants still survive.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Quaint and Quirky Customs

Lakeland has a variety of ancient customs. Some are practised elsewhere in the UK, others are specifically linked to the area.

This custom dates back to the time when churches had earthen floors which were covered in rushes. Each year the old rushes were cleared out and new ones laid down. Of course, nowadays that isn’t necessary since church floors started to be flagged with stone by the 19th century. However, ‘Rushbearing’ processions are still held in several places in North West England, including Ambleside and Grasmere. Rushes are made into crosses and other designs, or carried as sprays by children. In Grasmere, six school girls are chosen to carry a linen sheet decorated with rushes. The procession through the town is led by the clergy and culminates in a service at the church.

Fell running
No-one knows when this tradition started, but it was taking place at Grasmere Sports as early as 1850. Contestants run up a hillside to a flag at the top and then back down again. The winner is, of course, greeted with cheers and applause. Fell races take place in different parts of the Lake District. Borrowdale’s 17-mile race is probably one of the most challenging. Gramere’s race is part of the annual sports in the village, held every August. The runners set off from the sports field and climb to the top of  Butter Cragand back, a distance of 1.5 miles to a height of about 900 feet. The fastest runner can complete the fell-run (and back again) in just over 12 minutes (makes me feel exhausted just thinking about it!).

Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling
This style of wrestling is said to have evolved from the Viking invaders. The wrestlers begin by standing chest to chest, arms around each other, with their chin on the opponent’s right shoulder. When the umpire gives the signal to start, each tries to unbalance the other with various kinds of throws knows as ‘hipes’ or ‘buttocks.’ If any part of the wrestler touches the floor (apart from his feet), he loses. Wrestlers wear a traditional costume consisting of long johns, with trunks, and an embroidered vest.

Pace Egging
The word ‘Pace’ comes from the Latin ‘Pacha’ meaning Easter, and pace-egging was an Easter custom in North West England. The Page-Eggers were a group of performers who toured the local villages performing the Pace Egging Play, which usually involved St. George, a battle, and another individual called Old Tosspot. All the performers wear decorated costumes, and Tosspot (and often other characters too) would blacken their faces with soot. Tosspot’s job was to collect gifts from the crowd. In the past, these would usually be eggs, but nowadays it’s more likely to be money. At the end of the play, the Pace Eggers were usually treated to free beer at the local pub, hence their traditional song:
Here's one or two Jolly Boys, all of one mind
We've come a Pace-Egging, and hope you'll prove kind
We hope you'll prove kind with your eggs and strong beer
And we'll come no more nigh you until next year.

A ‘gurn’ is a distorted facial expression, and ‘gurning’ contests are a rural English tradition, notably at the Egremont Crab Fair in the northern part of the Lake District where the World Championship takes place. Contestants frame their faces through a horse collar, known as ‘gurnin’ through a braffin’. Evidently, the best ‘gurners’ have no teeth, since this provides greater room to move the jaw upwards. The winner is the person who gets the loudest applause from the audience.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

A Plethora of Pubs

There are dozens (hundreds?) of pubs in the Lake District, catering to the needs of tourists and day-trippers, hikers and climbers, not forgetting the local population, of course.
The one with perhaps the most interesting name is The Drunken Duck which, like many Lakeland inns, has oak floors and old beams. The legend about the name is that the landlady of the inn found ducks lying stretched out in the road and concluded they were dead, so she began to pluck and prepare them for dinner. However, down in the cellar a barrel had slipped its hoops and beer had drained from the floor into the duck’s feeding ditch. The ducks took full advantage but awoke to find themselves plucked and halfway to the oven. Full of remorse for the rough treatment, the landlady knitted the ducks waistcoats of Hawkshead yarn until their feathers grew back again.

Another pub with an unusual name is The Mortal Man, in the village of Troutbeck, between Ambleside and Windermere. Its name comes from a sign painted for the landlord in the 18th century by a painter called Julius Caesar Ibbetson. One legend is that the remains of a local man may be buried under the pub; but it’s equally possible that the ‘mortal man’ is the drunkard, drinking himself to death!
A newer pub, Wainwrights’ Inn at Chapel Stile in Langdale is part of the Langdale Estate of timeshare wooden  lodges. If its apostrophe is in the correct place, the name refers to the makers of the wooden carts (or ‘wains’) which were used to transport slate in the local quarries, and not, as many people think, to Alfred Wainwright, the author of many Lakeland guide books.

The Three Shires Inn, a traditional slate inn in the Little Langdale Valley, was built in 1872 near the meeting point of the old counties of Westmorland, Lancashire and Cumberland (now part of the county of Cumbria).

My favourite village of Hawkshead has four pubs. The oldest, the Red Lion, was a 15th century coaching inn. The archway through which coaches drove into the stabling yard still exists, as do the medieval carved figures under the eaves.

Another pub, dating from Tudor times (16th century) is the King’s Arms, which is in the main square, and there are two 17th century inns, the Sun Inn and the Queen’s Head.

The latter, a black and white half-timbered pub, is a familiar sight to all visitors to Hawkshead as it stands in the main street, where the road narrows. Inside it is cosy and welcoming, with slate floors, oak beams, and wood panelling. One interesting curio in the pub, now kept in a glass case, is a huge shoe, known as Haaksid's Girt Clog. It was specially made for John Waterson, the local molecatcher, who contracted a form of elephantiasis that greatly enlarged his left foot. The shoe measures 20 inches long and 16 inches wide.

This is just a ‘taster’ of the many pubs in Lakeland, and no, I haven’t been in them all - yet!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Orrest Head - what a view!

This small hill, only 784 feet, is above the town of Windermere, but, despite it's small height, it's thought by many to be the very best viewpoint over the lake. The only explanation of the name I've been able to find is that Orrest comes from the Norse word 'orrusta' meaning battle, so maybe two warring Viking tribes had a battle here back in the tenth century.

It is a fairly short climb from near Windermere Railway Station – and there are plenty of benches at the top where you can sit and admire the wonderful view.

On a clear day, there is a 360 degree view, from the Yorkshire fells in the east to the Langdale Valley in the west. Even Morecambe Bay can be seen clearly to the south.

Near the end of the climb is a metal gate known as a ‘kissing gate’. The name is said to derive from the fact that the straight part of the gate has to touch (or ‘kiss’) each side of the curved part of the gate in order for a person to go through. The legend has arisen that the first person through the gate can demand a kiss in return from the second person before allowing them through the gate.

In the past, Orrest Head was a popular walk for day-trippers from the Lancashire mill-towns, because of its proximity to the railway station. In 1930 it was the first ‘climb' that Alfred Wainwright did on his visit to Lakeland from his home town of Blackburn. Later he said “God was in his heaven that day, and I a humble worshipper.” He fell in love with the view of the lake, and this gave him his lifelong love of the fells which led eventually to him producing his guide books. These contain hundreds of walks and climbs, all hand-written in his neat writing, and accompanied by his own pen-and-ink drawings.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Names - Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norse

Starting another week with the A-Z blogging challenge, and now we're onto the second half of the alphabet.

The names of many Lake District places, mountains, valleys and lakes come from ancient languages.

The oldest probably come from the pre-Roman Celtic language, which is related to Welsh and Cornish, mixed with influences from southern Scotland. This led to words such as stickle (meaning steep place, from the Celtic skikill), and crag (meaning rock, from the Welsh ‘craic’). These words are very common in the Langdale area, with Harrison Stickle, Pike O’Stickle, Gimmer Crag and Loft Crag.

From the Anglo-Saxon times (about 700 – 900 AD) come words like ‘tun’ meaning farmstead or village, and ‘mere’, the word for lake. So we have Coniston (meaning King’s town – not sure who the king was!), and Windermere (Winander’s Lake). Incidentally, although many people refer to Windermere as ‘Lake Windermere’ and Grasmere as 'Lake Grasmere', this is technically wrong, since the ‘mere’ suffix indicates a lake, but this seems to be done to distinguish the lakes from the small towns which have the same name.

A lot of Lake District names are derived from Old Norse. The Norsemen arrived around 925AD, and gradually settled in the area. Maybe it reminded them of their Scandinavian homeland, with its mountains, valleys and lakes.

There are many names which still retain the Norse influence e.g:
Beck – steam  - from bekkr Dale – valley - from dalr
Force – waterfall - from fors
Fell – a large mountain - from fjallr
Ghyll – ravine - from gill
Howe – hill - from haugr
Holme – isalnd - from holmr
Pike – peak - from pic
Side or Seat – shieling/dwelling or mountain pasture - from saetr
Tarn – small lake - from tjorn
Thwaite – forest clearing - from thveit

These words were often linked with the Norse chieftain who established a settlement in the area. For example, the name Hawkshead derives from the Norseman 'Haukr' who had a dwelling or 'saetr' in this place. Its medieval name  was Howksete, which was sometimes spelt as Haaksid - hence the modern name.

I’ve tried to explain some of these names when I’ve used them in earlier posts, but hope this list clarifies any I might not have explained! I must admit the origin of modern place names fascinates me!  

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Six Sentence Sunday

Six more from my contemporary romance 'Fragrance of Violets'.

Abbey has joined Jack in Paris, but he thinks she's still uncertain about their relationship. While she's in the bathroom getting changed, he tells himself he'll have to take thing slowly - until Abbey appears in a more-than-sex red baby-doll outfit.

“You like?” she asked teasingly.

“Like is an understatement.”

He stood up, started towards her, then stopped, letting his gaze travel the whole length of her. “Jeez, Abbey, I don’t know what to say – “

“Then don’t say anything. Just kiss me and take me to bed.”

'Fragrance of Violets' is available from Whiskey Creek Press and Amazon.
If you'd like to find out more about the Lake District, where most of this contemporary romance of forgiveness and renewed love is set, do look back at my A-Z Blog Challenge posts for April.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Museums - or what to do when it rains!

Many people think the Lake District simply has its lakes, valleys and mountains, souvenir shops, hotels and pubs, but in fact there are several interesting museums in the area - ideal for those rainy days!

The town of Kendal boasts several museums, including one illustrating ‘Lakeland Life and Industry’ which is an excellent introduction to the Lake District National Park. It has period farmhouse rooms and workshops showing how Lakeland people lived and worked, and also a recreation of the study of Arthur Ransome, the author of the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ children’s stories.
Another museum in Kendal is dedicated to Lakeland’s natural history and archaeology, and in the Quaker Meeting House, there is the 'Quaker Tapestry' - 77 panels of tapestry, each illustrating some aspect of Quaker history.

Near to Windermere is the Steamboat Museum which has a large collection of Victorian and Edwardian steamboats, dating from about 1850 to 1910. There’s also a boat (called Dolly) which is said to be the oldest mechanically propelled boat in the world, with its original engine still in working order. The museum also has Beatrix Potter’s rowing boat. Originally privately owned, the museum was taken over by the Lakeland Arts Trust and is currently being restored and rehoused in new buildings.

Two museums are dedicated to Beatrix Potter: Hill Top, the 17th century farmhouse where she once lived which displays some of her pictures, and also her furniture and some personal possessions, and the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead, in the building which was previously the office of the local lawyer, William Heelis, who became her husbands. His office has been reconstructed and other rooms display some of her drawings for her children’s books.

Just outside Grasmere is Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum. The cottage, once the home of Wordsworth, displays some of his personal belongings together with contemporary furnishings. The garden has been restored to the half-wild state that the poet loved, and an adjacent barn is a museum with various artefacts relating to Wordsworth’s life and times.

In Coniston, there is a museum originally commemorating the life of John Ruskin, with various exhibits linked to his life. The museum has been extended to include other aspects of life in and around Coniston, including the copper mines, farming and other local industries. Brantwood, Ruskin’s former home overlooking Coniston Water, is also filled with many of his former possessions. The house also has beautiful gardens overlooking the lake.

So when it's raining in Lakeland (which it does fairly frequently!), there are still many interesting places to visit - even though you might get soaked running from the car park!

Friday, 13 April 2012


The Langdale Valley is my favourite area of Lakeland. Who could fail to be impressed by the magnificent Langdale Pikes? This used to be our first view of them as I drove north from Windermere to Ambleside. Near the head of the lake, the trees and shrubs at the side of the road ended, to give us this view across to Langdale.

Driving up the valley , our first stop was usually at Skelwith Bridge where there used to be a very nice tea shop, and also a shop selling local slate items. We used to drool over the beautiful slate fireplaces but alas, not at their prices. Meantime, my daughters and their friends, of course, spent hours playing on the rocks in the river.

From there it was a short walk through the slate works and along a path through the woods to Skelwith Force. In normal weather, the 15 foot waterfall is impressive; in full flood, it is awesome!

Continuing up the valley, the next full view of the Pikes came when we reached Elterwater Common.
Then we were heading into the valley, through the small village of Chapel Stile, and along the  valley road to the foot of the Pikes.

The two Pikes, Harrison Stickle (2,415ft) and Pike O’Stickle (2,326ft) look very different once you reach them. Pike O’Stickle is famous as the site of a New Stone Age axe ‘factory’ as many stone axe heads have been found there. My father was very proud of a stone he once discovered there which he was sure was a stone axe. It looked like any other stone to me!

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been to the top of Harrison Stickle. The first part of the climb was by the side of a tumbling beck (stream) called Stickle Ghyll. This led up to Stickle Tarn, a small lake beneath the rocky cliff called Pavey Ark.

It’s possible to reach the summit of Harrison Stickle by traversing Pavey Ark via a gully called Jack’s Rake, but that route was too steep for me! Instead we went up the slope to the plateau between the two pikes, and from there it was only a short distance to the summit of either of them. From the summit there was an amazing view, not just of the wide expanse of the Langdale Valley, but of all the other mountains which surround it.

The route back to the valley was a path down the southern side of Harrison Stickle. On one occasion, I took a wrong turn somewhere, and ended up, along with my two daughters and their friends, scrambling down rocks to the point at which I was starting to panic (slight understatement!). When we reached a sheer drop, I was sure we were stranded, unable to get up or down, and I had visions of the mountain rescue helicopter having to rescue us! I can still feel the enormous sense of relief I experienced when the end of a narrow ridge led us back to the main flank of the mountain and from there to the path we should have been using!

Another route into Langdale takes you directly down from Blea Tarn to the head of the valley via a very steep road, with hair pin bends. By the time you get to the bottom (having been in low gear the whole way), a sign warns you to ‘test your brakes’. In the days of drum brakes, you could smell the heat from your brakes as you came down that road!

Beautiful area, and a lot of amazing memories of many, many times in the Langdale Valley.

Oh, and did I mention the pub at the foot of the Langdale Pikes? One of my favourites!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Kendal - Gateway to the Lakes

Although Kendal is ‘officially’ south of the Lake District, I’m including it here because it’s known as the ‘Gateway to the Lakes’ as it’s only about 10 miles from Windermere.

It’s a small town, with the River Kent running through the middle, and has a population of about 28,000. It boasts a good selection of shops, restaurants and pubs, and a large Arts Centre (offering cinema, theatre, concerts and exhibitions). It also has the remains of two castles, dating from the 11th and 12th centuries, as well as Cumbria’s largest parish church, Holy Trinity, which is mainly from the 18th century, although the original church was built in the 13th century. The present church, with its five aisles, is only a few feet narrower than York Minster.

 In the past, Kendal was an important centre of trade, particularly for wool. The town’s motto Pannus mihi panis meaning ‘Wool is my bread’ indicates this link to the wool trade. There was also a large shoe factory here until ‘K Shoes’ ceased to trade about ten years ago. Kendal’s most famous export today is ‘Kendal Mint Cake’ – the high energy bars used, not just by Lake District walkers and climbers, but even by Everest explorers.

Most of the house are built of local stone and some are whitewashed. There used to be about 150 ‘yards’ in Kendal, often named after the owner of the most important house at the top of the yard. The yards used to run down towards the river where there were weaving and dyeing workshops.

The oldest surviving inn, dating from 1654, is the Fleece Inn, originally called the Golden Fleece, and another reminder of Kendal’s link to the woollen industry. It’s a timber-framed building and the first floor juts out above the ground floor and is supported by pillars.

The oldest inhabited building is the town is the Castle Dairy which dates from the early part of the 14th century and was originally a farmhouse. Upstairs, one of the bedrooms has the smallest window in the town. You can just make it out in this photo (at the side of the chimney). The floor in what is now the south west wing is said to be part of a Roman road which ran along the River Kent.
One of the most famous residents of Kendal was Alfred Wainwright, Borough Treasurer of the town for many years, who wrote and illustrated many guidebooks to the Lake District in his own inimitable style. My old copies of these are VERY well-worn!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Just Reminiscing

J had me stumped for a while. The only place in the South Lakes beginning with J that I could think of was Jack’s Rake, a steep gully climb traversing Pavey Ark in Langdale. However, as I’ve never done this climb, it would be cheating to pretend I had!

Instead, I decided I’d ‘just reminisce’ about some of my memories of our caravan years that don’t fit into any of my other A-Z categories.

Our caravan stood with 4 others in a field belonging to a farm just outside Hawkshead village. From the road, you couldn’t see it at all, as the ground rose in a small incline from the gate , and the caravan was in a dip at the far end of the field. The small incline caused huge problems at times. If the weather was (or had been) wet, then the ground was muddy, of course. The trick was to turn in through the gate (a sharp turn from the road) then put your foot down to reach the top of the incline without getting stuck. Sometimes I managed it, and breathed a sigh of relief, but it didn’t always work. Several times, the car wheels spun relentlessly, churning up and flinging mud in all directions. Then it was a case of having to ask the farmer to drag us out of the mud with his tractor!
A few feet from the back of the caravan, there was a steep drop down to a small steam (known as a ‘beck’ in Lakeland). My daughters used to spend hours playing among the stones in the beck, paddling and trying to build dams (unsuccessfully) – what is it about kids and water? When the water was low, it provided a gently soothing sound at night when we were sleeping; when it was high, it sounded more like an old steam train going right past the caravan window.

The same view of the beck, this time in full flood
The caravan was under some old beech trees. The sap from these necessitated frequent cleaning of the sides and top of the van. When it rained (as it does frequently in the Lake District), we didn’t get the gentle pitter-patter of the rain on the roof of the van. Instead, the leaves dripped water on to it, in a very uneven pattern – ‘plop… plip, plop, plip …plop, plop..’ etc. Definitely not conducive to falling asleep easily!
Just a short walk (or an even shorter drive) up the lane from our field brought us to the start of a pathway leading up to a small fell (only 800ft) called Latterbarrow. At the top is a very large obelisque, but its main claim to fame is the wonderful view of Windermere. I’ve lost count of the number of times we went to the top – once was with a group of about 12 Girl Guides, another was at about ten o’clock on a beautiful June evening, when it was still partly light and we watched all the lights come on in the houses and hotels around the lake. Magic!

I could go on with many other memories - the late night cooking sessions, the frogs we bought on each visit (pottery ones!), the card and board games we played (Sorry, Uno and Newmarket were our favourites), the domino games with the 'locals' at the Queen's Head pub in the village, squelching through mud and basking in sunshine, and the clear night skies with millions of stars (and sometimes we could even see the Milky Way),

But enough for now. I’m smiling as I remember all the fun we had up there, in all seasons and all weather. Happy days!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Interesting Islands

Several of the Lakeland lakes have islands. As I’m concentrating on the southern half of the area, here’s a brief look at the islands in Windermere, Grasmere and Coniston Water.
Windermere is the largest lake, about ten miles long, and it has eighteen islands. The largest of these is Belle Isle which is about two-thirds of a mile long. It was originally known as Long Holme and it’s said that the governor of the Roman fort at Ambleside had a villa on the island. In the 18th century, the wealthy Curwen family bought the island and it was re-named Belle Isle after their daughter Isabella. In 1774, they built ‘Belle Island House’, which was unusual as it was a circular shape, with 3 floors and a portico with 4 pillars. Wordsworth was pretty disparaging about it, saying it looked like a tea canister in a shop window! Isabella’s descendants lived on the island until 1993, and it is still privately owned.

The other islands on Windermere are much smaller, and are all called ‘holme’ from the Norse word ‘holm’ (meaning island). Maiden Holme is the smallest, consisting of a single tree!

Grasmere has only one lake, known simply (and fairly unimaginatively) as ‘The Island’. Evidently Wordsworth used to row across to this island and one of his sonnets is about the tranquillity he found here.
The largest island on Coniston Water is Peel Island, which is owned by the National Trust. This is thought to be the fictional Wild Cat Island where the children camped in the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome. This photo shows their 'secret harbour'. The other two Coniston islands are Oak Island and Fir Island, although the latter only deserves the name island when the water is very high and cuts it off from the shore.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Hawkshead - my Home from Home

 I shall have to exercise severe restraint with this post, since this village is my favourite of all the Lake District villages. It’s also the one I know best so I could write reams about it. My parents bought a caravan on a farm on the outskirts of the village in the 1960’s, and I used to go up there regularly for over 30 years.

Thought you might like to see this photo of my new caravan going on site in the 80’s. As you can imagine, I was holding my breath and hoping it wouldn’t go too far and crash over the 10 foot drop into the rocky stream under the trees!

In the 60's, one could still drive into the centre of the village, and usually find a parking spot in the main square. The shops were traditional local shops, post office, newsagent. grocery, even a Co-op store. Over the years, that all changed in response to the needs (demands?) of tourists. The narrow streets couldn’t cope with the increasing traffic, so a bypass was built, and also a large car park on the edge of the village. More and more shops opened, again to cater to the tourists – souvenir shops and clothing stores. By the 90’s the village had become a tourist mecca, with buses dropping them off in droves and cars fighting for a place in the car park.
The centre of the village has, however, remained unchanged (apart from the crowds!). It’s very picturesque (hence its popularity) with whitewashed houses, small courtyards and squares, archways and alleyways, and cobbled streets.
The church, on its hill overlooking the village, was first built in about 1300 and later enlarged. William Wordsworth described it as  “the snow-white lady” as its walls used to be whitewashed. Inside, it still has the wall paintings of Bible texts, dating from the 17th century.
Just below the church is the old Grammar School founded in the 16th century by the son of a local family, Edwin Sandys, who became Archbishop of York. Wordsworth attended this school which is now a museum and his name can be seen carved into one of the desks.
The cottage where he lodged while at school is still there, as is the aptly named ‘Pillar House’ with its outside staircase. Fancy having to go outside and up the stairs to go to bed when it was freezing cold or pouring with rain!
One narrow street, now known as Wordsworth Street, was once called Leather, Rag and Putty Street, indicating the occupations of the tradespeople who once lived there.
The village was granted a market charter in 1608 and the 17th century Market Hall still dominates one side of the market square. The arched windows on the ground floor used to be open arches, known as Shambles, where butchers would come to sell meat products on market day.

I’ve seen Hawkshead in all seasons and all weathers, and although I don’t get up there very often these days, it still holds a special place in my heart, as well as many happy memories. It's one of the reasons I set my romance novel 'Fragrance of Violets' in a small Lakeland village which, although 'imaginary', DOES resemble Hawkshead in some aspects!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Six Sentence Sunday

I was going to have a break from Six Sentence Sunday for the duration of the April A-Z Challenge. However, after a concentrated week of blogging, I decided I'd probably get withdrawal symptoms if I didn't blog on Sunday (the day of rest for the A-Z bloggers).

So here's another six from my recent release Fragrance of Violets. Abbey has joined Jack for a weekend in Paris but he knows she's still uncertain about their relationship. While she's in the bedroom getting changed, he convinces himself he'll have to take things slowly with her. But he's in for a surprise.

“So how do I look?”

Her voice broke into his thoughts and he looked round, then did a double-take at her. 

She stood in the doorway, her hand reaching up the doorframe as she stood in the most provocative, seductive pose that exceeded even his wildest fantasy.

She’d let her hair loose so that it cascaded past her shoulders in a delightfully unruly mass. Her red chiffon jacket only partly covered her beautiful breasts and, fastened with just one clasp underneath them, offered a tantalising glimpse of the g-string below.

“Wow!” was all he could say.

'Fragrance of Violets' is available from Whiskey Creek Press and Amazon. If you'd like to find out more about the Lake District, where most of this contemporary romance of forgiveness and renewed love is set, do look back at my A-Z posts for this first week of April.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Grasmere and Gingerbread

Grasmere is a village in the heart of the Lake District, lying to the north of the lake which shares its name.

Its most famous literary connection is the poet William Wordsworth, who lived here from 1799 to 1808, first with his sister Dorothy and then with his wife Mary. His home, Dove Cottage, used to be an inn called the Dove and Olive, and many of its features date from this time – white-washed walls, flagstone floors and dark wood panelling. Today it is open to the public and attracts about 70,000 visitors each year, who can see some of the original furniture, and family possessions and portraits.

Wordsworth and his wife Mary are both buried in Grasmere churchyard.

In August the Grasmere Sports are held in the village, an event which dates back to 1852. Events include local traditional sports such as Cumberland wrestling, fell running and hound trailing. Another popular event is the Rushbearing Ceremony, a reminder of the days before the church floor was flagged, and new rushes had to laid on the floor. I'll tell you more about these events in a later post.

Overlooking the village, on the south side of Dunmail Raise (the high pass linking the southern Lakes with the northern area) is a small mountain known officially as Helm Crag, but often referred to as ‘The Lion and the Lamb’ because of two outcrops of rock on its summit. Can you see them?

Grasmere is also famous for its gingerbread, which was originally made by Sarah Nelson, who in the early 19th century became a proficient cook in the homes of the local gentry. About 1850 she and her husband bought a small cottage in one corner of the churchyard, and Sarah made gingerbread to sell to both local people and to visitors.

The same cottage is now a shop which still sells the genuine Grasmere Gingerbread (and it’s delicious!). The original recipe is a secret and is now kept in a bank vault.

Friday, 6 April 2012


Part of the southern Lake District consists of an area called ‘Furness’. It’s basically a wide peninsula, the southern part of which (Low Furness) juts out into the Irish Sea and forms the western edge of Morecambe Bay. The northerly part (High Furness), not actually part of the peninsula, is within the Lake District National Park.

The name itself is interesting. One source says it comes from the Norse word ‘Fudames’ meaning Fudi’s headland. Evidently, the Old Norse ‘fud’ refers to the female sex organ, so Fudi was probably a nickname. Enough said!  I think there are other possible origins of the name, but this one was by far the most interesting!
In contrast, the area was dominated in the Middle Ages by the monks of Furness Abbey, who owned much of the land. The Abbey, near Barrow-in-Furness, the largest town in the area, dates back to 1123 and was one of the most powerful Cistercian Abbey in the country as it owned huge tracts of land in the Furness area. It was destroyed when the abbeys were dissolved by Henry VIII in 1537, but the ruins are still a major tourist attraction. It’s also reputed to be haunted by three different ghosts, a monk who was brutally murdered, a young girl mourning the loss of her lover at sea, and a headless monk on horseback (I didn't see any of these on my visit there!)

In High Furness, just outside the village of Hawkshead, is a small building, thought to be be early 15th century, which was part of a large farm belonging to Furness Abbey. It was originally on the east side of a quadrangle, consisting of a gatehouse with a courtroom above it where the local manorial court was held in the Middle Ages, possibly presided over by the abbot of Furness Abbey.

My caravan was in the field on the other side of the trees on the far right of this photo, and I have to admit we took this old building totally for granted. At one time, it was becoming very dilapidated, but it then received some funding for restoration work. I featured it in my latest novel, 'Fragrance of Violets' as the medieval gatehouse the villagers had to raise the funds to restore.

Furness also has a fifteen square mile forest south of Hawkshead, called Grizedale Forest. It's an area of mixed woodland, with several small hills and lakes. Managed by the Forestry Commission, it's a popular place for tourists, with waymarked footpaths, mountain biking, an aerial assault course, a 16 bed hostel, and a visitor centre. It also has a Sculpture Trail, with about 90 sculptures, usually made from natural materials. This one, called Lady of the Water, is very tempting on a hot day!

The area of Furness was mainly a farming and fishing area until the discovery of iron ore, which became one of the main industries of Low Furness in the 19th century. This later gave way to shipbuilding at Barrow-in-Furness. The docks there were one of the largest in the UK and the Royal Navy’s first submarines were built there. The decline of the shipbuilding industry mean that the whole area became more dependent on tourism.