The first weekend in May I was caught in a snow storm on Scarth Gap on the way up Haystacks. On the second Sunday we had to turn back towards Hopegill Head as it was too windy to stand up and by the last week we were basking in glorious sunshine and temperatures in the high twenties! What a month!
In May there are lambs everywhere and they provide much entertainment with their vertical take offs and the way they charge round in little gangs looking for high spots! There’s always the odd adventurous ones, of course, who find their way through the fence or over the wall and then can’t find their way back and bleat pitifully for their mothers to rescue them.
On the bird front, I heard the first cuckoo in the woods on May 3rd, and since then I’ve heard them most days; they are very vocal this year! The blackbirds have successfully raised young in their nest in the clematis in the courtyard, both house martin boxes are occupied and the swallows are trying to rebuild the nest that collapsed last year over Buttermere Cottage’s window. No-one yet has claimed the nest by Loweswater although several have looked! The woodpeckers have been very much in evidence on the feeders and I am looking forward to seeing the young very shortly. I’m beginning to sound like Springwatch!
With the extra fine weather and the long days (it scarcely seems to be getting dark at present) Judy and I decided to do some classic walks. We had beautiful days walking the Kentmere and Coledale Horseshoes and as it had not rained for a while we took the rare opportunity to walk Armboth Fell, renowned for its wetness! We went from Great Wood by Derwentwater, up onto Walla Crag and continued all the way up to Ullscarf and then came back, with dry feet, via Watendlath which is always a favourite place for me as I worked there many years ago when I was a student. It was a wonderful walk in the sun with particularly good views on the way back down towards Derwentwater. It will also be remembered as the day we rescued a Herdwick out of a bog pool – quite a feat!!
What an amazing mix of weather we’ve had over the past few weeks, days of glorious warm sunshine followed by snow and frosts, with the odd patch of very low cloud and rain thrown in for good measure!
The good weather was a bonus for me as it brought the opportunity to finish my Wainwrights! I hadn’t started off intending to walk them, just the fells I could see from the house (16 from the front, including Grasmoor, Great Gable, Haystacks, the High Stile ridge and Melbreak.) Having done these, I thought it was a pity not to do the rest of the Western and North Western Fells and then just kept going! I had five Wainwrights left at the end of November but as they were all some distance away, high and with long walk ins, requiring clear weather and longer days, they had to wait. Not to waste the opportunity of such superb walking weather, Judy and I polished them off at the end of March, ending on Dow Crag in deepest Coniston! I enjoyed walking them and it’s satisfying to look at the fells and to think I have been on the top of them all! It has also joined things up and I have got a much stronger feeling of the structure of the Lake District.
Some days just seem to be wild life days! The other Sunday, I was sat having my breakfast, looking out of the window and saw a greater spotted woodpecker on the nuts, a squirrel digging in the lawn and a weasel running across the front of the garden! I then went for a walk with my friend, Hil, over High Rigg to St John’s in the Vale and Tewet Tarn, ending up for tea and freshly baked scones at the tea room at Low Bridge End Farm: a red squirrel was running backwards and forwards along the wall and a nuthatch was busy feeding upside down on the feeder. And then, on our way back to the cars, we saw a kingfisher flash along the river – what a day!
Today, I have been having some work done on the trees along the front by the road to keep them safe and hopefully prolong their lives: I thought I would include this picture!
Two weeks ago, most places were deserted, Keswick was empty and the roads were quiet, then suddenly last week, it all came to life again, car parks were busy, Keswick was buzzing, Luchini’s van was back on Whinlatter and lots of people were out and about – it was half-term and the start of the new season! The weather was kind and people were able to walk at all levels although it was said to be very windy on the tops, strange as it was not noticeably windy in the valleys.
There were some beautiful days at the beginning of February, snow on the tops of the fells, clear blue skies and very little wind. In the west we have had virtually no snow on the ground and the snow on the fells has all been above about 1500 – 2000 ft. One can’t let these good days pass by so on one of them Judy, her husband, John, and I did a shortened Coledale Horseshoe – Grisedale Pike, Eel Crag, Sail and Outerside; we were walking in snow on the tops under blue skies, a good to be alive day!
On the way down, we came through Braithwaite, passing what is now the Keswick Orthodox Church (was the old Methodist Chapel) where there is a very interesting sculpture of a flock of birds symbolising ‘freedom, free expression and openness.’ It is there for a while before being transferred to Grizedale Forest.
The beginning of the year is always busy with work on the Cottages, getting them ready again for visitors arriving. This year all the major work is being concentrated on one cottage, Crummock, which is currently having a new heating system installed, being redecorated and having new carpets throughout. I am also busy restoring Foulsyke to one dwelling: several people have asked if I am going to let the House but it will remain my somewhat extended home.
I always seem to be commenting on how lovely the snowdrops are at this time of year: they have been beautiful and there are lots of them on banks and in hedgerows as well as gardens. The Thackthwaite road is particularly good which reminds me of something else, Thackthwaite has now got a village sign!
PS Sunday 26 February: Whilst taking Wattie for his morning walk in the woods behind Foulsyke, I saw the first frogspawn in the watery ditch alongside the path!
If you look carefully, there are several snowdrops flowering, tucked in sheltered hedges or banks: this is at least ten days earlier than usual. I expect it is the mild weather we have been having for the past month or so or at least the lack of a cold spell. The weather seems to have been either wet, and/or windy since well before Christmas although there have been some lovely days and there was some snow in December.
Last Thursday was beautiful, although extremely wet underfoot, and Judy and I caught up with each on our first walk of the year. We went over Walla Crag from Ashness Bridge, then headed for the Stone Circle and returned via the Keswick Railway line – an interesting and varied route!
On the Cottages front, I had my annual Visit Britain inspection at the end of November and retained my Five Star with Gold award status in all three cottages which I was extremely pleased about. We also maintained our record of 100% for cleanliness which I regard as very important. The inspector said I had three beautiful cottages – very pleasing!
There have been big changes at Foulsyke recently. Carol and John, who lived in part of the House and used to run the Cottages, decided to move to Wiltshire and I took over their share of the House in December– exciting but quite a responsibility! I am signing off with one of John’s photos of an impressive sunrise taken just before they left. We will miss them.
The autumn colours are at their best in early November and looking from the window or the garden, the woods and the fell sides almost glow at times, particularly late in the afternoon as the sun is setting. It has been quieter since half term and with the shorter days feels as though the end of the season is close. I am fully booked until the middle of the month and then have a break until Christmas. The weather recently has been quite acceptable which was particularly nice for families on their October week break but it generally has not excelled itself for the past few months, although there have been some glorious days. There has been a band of cloud and rain sitting firmly over the North West but most visitors have been very philosophical about it and it has seldom rained all day! There has been a lot of positive thinking eg. that the Lake District wouldn’t be so beautiful and green if it weren’t for the rain etc! I met a fellow walker during a particularly wet weekend who had spend the day enthusiastically photographing waterfalls as his group’s planned walk had been cancelled because the weather was too bad! There have been some amazing and surprising rainbows: I saw one from Seat Sandal a couple of weeks ago and saw the first snow on the same walk on Dollywaggon Pike!
The buzzards and kestrels are quite close by at present. I often see a buzzard in the wood behind the house when I take the dog out in a morning and there was a kestrel in the garden recently. The fieldfares have arrived and are flittering about everywhere in noisy flocks. I try to see if there are any redwings amongst them but they move about so quickly it is difficult to tell. I went down to Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve during the week and saw the starlings gathering at dusk to give a spectacular aerobatic display: it was incredible to watch, there must have been thousands of them wheeling and weaving around overhead.
Theatre by the Lake in Keswick is now coming to the end of their long summer season. It has been excellent: there are six plays, three in the Main House and three in the Studio and the programme is arranged in such a way that anyone visiting for a week would have the opportunity to go to all of the plays. Most of the actors are in three of the plays: I think it must be quite a feat to move constantly between plays. I think my favourites this year have been Michael Frayn’s ‘Noises Off’ in the Main House which was performed very slickly and was hilarious and the ‘Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me’ in the Studio which was about three hostages in Lebanon in the 1980s, based on Brian Keenan’s book ‘An Evil Cradling.’I have now joined the Theatre’s Ambassadors scheme so if you are coming to stay next year I am able to give you vouchers for £2 reduction on the price of tickets at most productions!
At the beginning of the year I thought writing a monthly post would be no problem at all. However here I am at the beginning of October not having written anything for nearly two months – time seems to pass so quickly sometimes.
We have just been enjoying a few balmy days of Indian summer, which was wonderful, even the wind was warm. However, the autumn colours seem to have come early and also quite suddenly in the past couple of weeks and the leaves are being blown around and are piling up in the courtyard. The swallows and house martins have left and we are starting to see the geese flying overhead in formation as they migrate. While I am thinking about birds, I now often see wrens in the local hedgerows when I take the dog out. Also I saw some sandpipers when walking down on Crummock shore: my bird recognition is not expert but I’m pretty sure that’s what they were.
One of the reasons I am a little late with this post is that I have had a couple of trips away. I spent a week in August with family and friends at the Bungalow in Martindale. It is a remote shooting lodge which has no electricity and interesting plumbing owned by the Dalemain Estate! We had a great time (although the general level of maintenance and cleanliness of the property left much to be desired.) It was lovely to walk (or cycle for some of the party) on the far eastern fells without a long drive home at the end of the day. I do not wish to use my website as a platform to be negative or critical of other places but I will say that the absolute low point of the week was our evening at Sharrow Bay and I would not recommend anyone to go there at the present time – very sad.
Guests who have stayed in the past months may have seen me donning cycle shorts and hat and heading off down the road on my bike (which I had not ridden for over ten years!) This was in preparation for the C2C from Whitehaven to Sunderland via Foulsyke, although I really should call it the Home2Home as I was brought up in Sunderland. It is a very interesting and well put together route with lots of excellent off road sections. Pity about the tail end of Hurricane Katya on our first full day but we had a great time and crossed the Pennines in glorious sunshine and even got up Hartside without getting off our bikes!
The highlight of the valley in September is the annual Loweswater Show. We were lucky to have a lovely sunny day and if you want to get a flavour of the event, visit Roger and Ann Hiley’s website.
I think I have probably written enough for now and I will end by saying how amazing the heather has been this year, giving the fells a wonderful purple glow in late August and early September.
The house is looking very bright and pristine at present as it has just had its five yearly repaint and can now be seen even more clearly from the surrounding fells! The front garden is looking very colourful and the summer planting in the pots in the courtyard is making a nice show: inevitably there are a few rogue sunflowers appearing but I tend to leave them where possible as they make me smile.
Last weekend it was Margaret, my sister’s, birthday and in keeping with a long tradition going back to our childhood, she spent it here in the Lake District. The weather was good and we had some lovely walks with an obligatory post walk ice-cream at Buttermere.
No, Margaret is not eating two ice-creams, she has mine as well as it is difficult to take a photo and hold an ice-cream cone at the same time.
For Margaret’s celebratory meal, we went to Overwater Hall at Ireby, which I have wanted to go to for a while but needed an occasion to do so. We had a super evening: the setting was impressive, we felt very well looked after and the food was delicious. I’m going to have to think of another reason to visit.
We also went to see the ospreys at Bassenthwaite. The volunteers at the viewing stations are always so helpful and enthusiastic and we had excellent views of the parent birds and their two chicks, perching on the nest and nearby trees and watched one having a bathe in the lake.
The weather, like everywhere else, has been very mixed over the past month but there have been very few days which have been unremittingly bad and there have also been some glorious days. Judy and I try to take advantage of these when we can and on one such day we headed off to Seathwaite at 8am to get an early start on Esk Pike and Great End. We have a reputation with our families that whenever we go walking on the fells we can’t resist a ‘while we are here ….’ Well, on this particular day, Scafell Pike looked so inviting as we sat and ate our lunch on the top of Great End, that we did the ultimate add on! It was a day to remember.
The other week I travelled further afield to meet with a friend the other side of Penrith. We met to walk to St Ninian’s Church which is situated just off the A66 in a field on a sweeping bend of the River Eamont. It is said to be one of the oldest Christian sites in Cumbria and is a beautiful rather special little church. We then went on to Lowther Castle and Gardens. The gardens were abandoned seventy years ago and are now starting to undergo a major reconstruction. It is fascinating to see it at the beginning of the work which is going to take 20-25 years to complete and I think it will be interesting to make regular visits to see how the renovations are progressing as the gardens are truly lost with only traces of their former life remaining.
Finally, a little update on the hedgerows to finish: it has been an excellent year for meadowsweet and the harebells are looking very pretty as well – two of my favourite flowers. I also thought I would add a picture I took early one morning by the gate.
You may be forgiven for wondering if you are on the wrong website but I thought this was a lovely picture of my three children, Clare, Paul and Ian, taken at Paul’s wedding at the end of May. It was late on in the evening and they were sitting on the floor together after a dance!
After a dry April and early May, the main feature of the weather has been both its variability and unpredictability. It has been very unsettled not just from day to day but from one part of the day to another and also from one valley to another. Trying to second guess days that might be good for walking on the fells has been quite tricky and in the end one has to be very philosophical and say, some you win, some you lose. My walking friend, Judy, and I certainly won a glorious day over in Eskdale the other week but seriously lost on St Sunday Crag this week; we got extremely wet and were paddling down tracks that had turned to streams whilst we gather the sun shone on Loweswater!
Last week, we had a lovely walk round the Coniston fells. As we were going up Wetherlam some Herdwicks took exception to Wattie and four of them decided to gang up on him and then were joined by two friends!
Thinking of Herdwicks, it was Woolfest at Cockermouth a couple of weeks ago and Margaret and I went along on the Friday. We had never been before and it was quite an amazing experience with lines and lines of stalls and displays of all things woollen including sheep! There were workshops and demonstrations of felting, weaving, spinning, knitting and many other crafts and lots of very colourful people.
Meanwhile back at home, the birds have been providing much interest and entertainment. The wagtails in the clematis fledged and were practising their tail wagging in the courtyard – much over balancing to start off! The swallows in the courtyard also fledged and collapsed the nest in the process. Last year’s swallow nest by Loweswater archway was taken over by house martins who built it up further and it now has three noisy chicks in it. There have been so many baby blue and great tits, all looking somewhat fluffy and scruffy learning to feed on the nuts. Our new house martin boxes under the guttering at the front of the house have been very successful, both are occupied and on one we have a family in the box and also a nest between the top of the box and the eaves. There has also been a young punky woodpecker on the nuts together with a parent.
Around the valley the hay and silage is being cut and the roads are full of tractors and various farm machinery. The sheep are starting to look a bit shorn and the Herdwick lambs are developing white patterns on their faces, some looking very much like pairs of glasses! The flowers along the verges have been lovely and the oxe-eye daisies have been particularly good. Foxgloves are making unexpected purple patches on the lower fellsides. The scent of honeysuckle in the hedges is very strong and my absolute favourite is now appearing – the meadowsweet, it is such a pretty flower and the smell is so evocative.
Spring definitely arrived in April, suddenly everything was green and the lanes narrowed as Jack in the hedge and the cow parsley suddenly shot up. The swallows returned and some are now nesting over Buttermere where the hayloft was once accessed and others are noisily considering the archway by Loweswater. The clematis in the courtyard is an apartment block with wagtails and blackbirds nesting at different levels. Last year, I had a swallow who decided that the bird he most wanted to impress was the one he could see reflected in my front door window. He perched on the window panes singing such a beautiful song every day that I came to recognise it. The other day I was out gardening and I thought I heard his unmistakable song again, and when I went to look, there he was back on my window panes! It was lovely to see him but it seems a bit sad that he went all the way to Africa only to return to his reflection! I hope he will soon find a bird who is more responsive!
I heard the first cuckoo in Lanthwaite Woods on Easter Sunday (April 24th) and it was whilst I was sitting in the garden listening, that a chaffinch came and landed on my head on its way to the feeder – never had that happen before! And whilst I am still thinking about birds, the ospreys are back at Bassenthwaite and have been seen over Crummock on a couple of occasions – great excitement.
April was dry and quite sunny and the Rannerdale bluebells started to flower very early: they were making quite a show by the end of the month and smelled gorgeous.
I always think it is interesting the way flowers vary each year. This year the snowdrops were lovely and lasted for a long time but the daffodils seemed to be very short-lived. The primroses have lasted well and there was a good show in the woods behind Foulsyke. What has been really superb this year are the violets, lots of them in the hedges and woods and even on the open fells.
All the lovely weather has of course been excellent for walking and with the longer days you can go for longer walks! My friend Judy and I did the Kentmere Horseshoe the other week: it was a splendid walk, a bit hazy but still very beautiful. As it has been so dry it was also a good opportunity to do some of the boggier fells so Ullscarf was conquered with dry boots!
Finally I would like to include two beautiful pictures of ‘the view’ taken by my neighbour, John Thompson, who many of you will know.
As I write, lambing is getting underway in the valley. There have been several lambs around for a few weeks in Lorton and over towards Workington and now new arrivals are gradually creeping closer to home. When I went down to Crummock recently there was a little gang down towards the pump house who were practising their vertical take-offs – they look so funny, you can’t help laughing at them.
There were some beautiful days in March and spells when it was so dry I had to water the tubs in the courtyard! The containers are all looking very good with lots of spring bulbs adding a splash of colour. I had a week earmarked to have Crummock Cottage’s sitting area repaved and fortunately we were able get it done without any delays from the weather: trying to create a ‘random’ pattern of slabs in a sheepfold shaped area was a bit mind bending but it is looking very smart and will make a lovely area for relaxing outside.
At the beginning of the month it was the annual Words by the Water Festival in Keswick. I always enjoy going to events there and Margaret (my sister) joined me for the week. We went to a wide range of events, all very enjoyable, including Martin Wainwright, the Northern editor of the Guardian talking about ’True North,’ Keith Richardson launching his book , ’Jak’s Yak’, on Cumbrian trees and Val Corbett sharing some beautiful photos from her book ‘Winter Landscapes’ and her forthcoming book on rain – should be interesting ! The audiences at these events are very participatory, adding comments and information or even correcting speakers!
It was also a very sad week as we heard of the tragic death of Mark Weir, the owner of Honister Slate Mines. He will be a great loss: every community needs people like him and we will miss his small green Gazelle in the skies above us.
One of the visitors we had staying a few weeks ago was from Australia. He was on holiday in the UK and was spending a few days here with his family. They didn’t have the greatest of weathers but he took some very atmospheric photos which are on his website www.jimmisnaps.com
One of the real pleasures of the Lake District out of season is that you can go to places that tend to get very busy and hardly see a soul. Clare, my daughter, was with me for a week recently and we went to Beatrix Potter’s house, Hilltop, very small, very lived in, quite ‘girly’ in an old fashioned way – altogether delightful! We then went for a walk round Tarn Howes and picnicked in the sunshine with a backdrop of that iconic view: there was scarcely anyone else around!
Finally, thank you to everyone who has who contacted me to say how much they like the new website!