Helen Rose’s Ourdoor Diary: English Lakes, Coniston
The Lake District, also known as the Lakes or Lakeland, is a mountainous region in North West England. A popular holiday destination, it is famous for its lakes, forests and mountains (or fells), and its associations with William Wordsworth and other Lake Poets and also with Beatrix Potter. The Bearsden and Milngavie Ramblers The Bearsden and Milngavie Ramblers arranged a long weekend to Coniston through HF Holidays – a company specialising in walking holidays.
The trip had been postponed for the last two years due to the Covid Pandemic and finally happened this year. A bus took us from Milngavie to Coniston to stay at the Monk Coniston House, a journey of around five hours including a long stop for lunch on the way. It was a lovely time of year for the trip with the bluebells in full bloom.
Herdwick sheep are synonymous with the Lake District. They are born black, but as they grow their heads turn white and finally the body becomes grey. The Herdwick sheep are a distinctive feature of the Lake District landscape. They have been dotted around the hilltops for centuries and the breed’s survival was helped by the author and illustrator Beatrix Potter. There are slate mines in the Lake District so the colour of the sheep is complementary to the landscape.
Monk Coniston and Beatrix Potter
Monk Coniston is a historic Gothic-style property set in eight acres of grounds on the shores of Coniston Water. There is a walled garden, beds with mature flowering shrubs and a collection of rare trees which are maintained by the National Trust. From the house and grounds there are magnificent lake and mountain views to enjoy on land which was once owned by Beatrix Potter.
In 1930, she purchased the 4,000 acre Monk Coniston Estate, including Tarn Hows, to prevent it being developed or broken up. When she died in 1943, Beatrix Potter left the estate of land to the National Trust, including 14 farms, cottages and many local areas of beauty including Tarn Hows. Helen Beatrix Potter was an English writer, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist. She is best known for her children’s books featuring animals, such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit published in 1902 and it was an immediate success. It was followed the next year by The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and the Tailor of Gloucester. The National Trust leased Monk Coniston to HF Holidays a long time ago.
While it is true that Beatrix Potter is most often associated with the Lake District, many of her childhood summers were spent in Dunkeld in Scotland. There is a museum there dedicated to her work.
The first day walk was a circular to Tarn Hows from Monk Coniston House. Tarn means a small mountain lake. We walked up through the forest on a good path to Tarn Hows which is a manmade lake. The lake is very picturesque with small wooded island dotted around in the centre. We walked around the lake and after a lunch shared with some greedy ducks we left the lake.
We descended to a gorge on a very tricky rocky path down past waterfalls. The path was difficult to negotiate in places but we managed it.
We reached a good path and spotted a tree trunk with many coins pushed in to it. The tradition of ‘Wish trees’ where coins are pressed into the bark of trees dates back hundreds of years in Britain and is believed to have originated in a superstition that the offering to nature would help to cure an illness.
After the walk we had time to follow the bridleway in to Coniston Village alongside Coniston Water. I am impressed by the use of the local slate in the Lake District. We passed a house with crow step gables made from slate looking like little steps going up the side of the pitched roof. Pedestrians and horse riders have priority in England over cyclists on bridleways.
Donald Malcolm Campbell was a British speed record breaker who broke eight absolute world speed records on water and on land in the 1950s and 1960s. He remains the only person to set both world land and water speed records in the same year. He regularly used Coniston Water and sadly he died there in 1967 when trying to break a speed record.
HF Holidays provide evening entertainment and we had a game of Skittles in a.an adjacent outhouse built of slate with a wooden bowling alley. It was great fun and a lovely end to an interesting day.
On the second day the walk started from Grasmere where there was the opportunity to visit the Wordsworth graves. William Wordsworth was an English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication Lyrical Ballads. The world-renowned poet and his wife Mary had five children, two of whom died in infancy. But John, born in 1803, lived to the age of 72, was married four times (after three of his wives died) and was a vicar, latterly at Brigham Church between Keswick and Cockermouth. Dove Cottage is a house on the edge of Grasmere. It is best known as the home of the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy Wordsworth where they spent over eight years of “plain living, but high thinking” from 1799. During this period, William wrote much of the poetry for which he is remembered today, including I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. The Cottage is now a museum and I have previously visited it.
We walked by the river from Grasmere to Grasmere Tarn on rough paths.
We left the Tarn and walked up to Rydal Cave. It is man made from from a slate quarry and located on the slopes of Loughrigg Fell above Rydal Water. It has long been disused and entry is over handy stepping stones along which you can plot your way into the cave. It was then down a stony path to Rydal Church in continuous drizzle. Dora was Wordsworth favourite child and the field at the side of the church is in her name.
The church is St Mary’s, Rydal. The church was built by Lady le Fleming of Rydal Hall in 1824. William Wordsworth was a churchwarden here around 10 years later. The intimate chapel with a luminous stained glass east window has been treasured ever since. We stopped in the church for a late lunch to escape the rain.
Rydal Mount was built by the Fleming family in the 15th century and was the home of William Wordsworth from 1813 to 1850. https://www.rydalmount.co.uk/. The house now belongs to the descendants of the poet and has changed little since Wordsworth and his family came to live here. It was a pleasant walk through the grounds to Ambleside where the coach picked us up to return to Monk Coniston. A very interesting day despite the rain!
That evening, HF Holidays put on a quiz for us which was very entertaining and we relaxed before the journey home the following morning.
Thanks to Fiona and Moira for organising the weekend. Their hard work is much appreciated.
Coming attraction. Ballater and Royal Deeside
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