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Friday, 18 March 2016

A perfect Lakeland day (part 2)

From Cockermouth we made our way down the lovely Vale of Lorton, beckoned on by the fells of Whiteside and Grasmoor. It was quite a surprise - and a nice one - to see so many cars parked at Lanthwaite Wood near Crummock Water (pictured). Even better news at Buttermere village where we could barely find a parking spot. By then we’d dropped off more guide books at the Kirkstile Inn near Loweswater, haven for walkers, heaven for beer drinkers. I thought the carpet of croci in the churchyard next door made for a pretty picture.

At Buttermere we turned east for the Newlands Valley, stopping at Newlands Hause for a short climb up towards Ard Crags. Not to the top but high enough to appreciate the smashing views all around. One or two other people had the same idea.

And so on to Keswick, also badly hit by the December floods but also recovering. Booths store is re-opening on Monday (21st) and there’s another opening too, this one at Easter. It’s the new café at Theatre by the Lake where you’ll be able to sip your tea or coffee, and drink in the views of Derwentwater at the same time. Now that will be theatre of a different kind.

Daffodil Day in Cockermouth is on April 2.

Friday, 18 March 2016

A perfect Lakeland day (part 1)

We could have been gridlocked on the M25 or squeezed into a London tube but fortunately we were driving across the Uldale Fells to Bassenthwaite Lake. If we needed a reminder of Lakeland’s beauty, yesterday offered a perfect one. In the distance, Skiddaw had a ring of cloud around its summit like a necklace, the morning itself holding the promise of bright blue sky and warm spring sunshine. It was ideal for a drive around the Lake District, taking photographs and delivering copies of the Dymond Guide.

First stop was the Lakes Distillery at the north end of Bassenthwaite Lake, one of only a handful of English distilleries. I love the entrance gates here, made by architectural blacksmith Alan Dawson whose work I first came across some years ago at Princes Square in Glasgow. Everything smacks of quality at the distillery, including the bistro, the converted farm buildings and the shop which took delivery of 22 books. It was nicely decorated for Easter as well.

We took a back road to Cockermouth where I dropped off a few more guides at The New Bookshop. The business is in temporary premises (probably until summer) because its usual lovely shop and café on Main Street was hit by the floods of late last year. As it was in late 2009. It’s stories like this which make you realise the importance of visitors returning to Cumbria - in droves.

We’ll be hearing even more about Hillary Clinton over the next few months as she aims to become the first woman president of the United States. One small detail that probably won’t be mentioned, however, is her Lake District connection: how in 1973 - as Hillary Rodham - she turned down Bill Clinton’s first proposal of marriage on the shores of Ennerdale Water (pictured). The couple had met three years earlier at Yale Law School and were then taking a holiday in Britain.

If Hillary Clinton does win the presidency she’ll be one of a small number of American presidents with a connection to Cumbria. George Washington’s paternal grandmother, Mildred Warner, is buried in the grounds of St Nicholas Church, Whitehaven - a plaque commemorates her - while two children from her first marriage to Lawrence Washington, John and Augustine (father of George Washington), went to Appleby Grammar School. This all stems from the fact that after Lawrence’s death, Mildred married George Gale, a tobacco importer from Whitehaven (pictured). He was in America at the time of their marriage in 1700 but quickly brought her back to west Cumberland. After Mildred’s death in 1701, George Gale sent her two boys to school in Appleby. Some 80 years later, sandstone flags from St Bees near Whitehaven were laid at George Washington’s home of Mount Vernon in Virginia.

Another US president with strong connections to Cumberland was Woodrow Wilson whose mother, Janet Woodrow, was born in Carlisle (pictured) in 1826. She later moved to America with her family, marrying Joseph Ruggles Wilson. Woodrow Wilson visited Cumberland and the Lake District four times before becoming president in 1913 and then again in December, 1918 while attending the Paris peace conference.

Finally....presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, both of whom had surnames associated with the Border Reivers, the riding and raiding families who turned the border lands into one of the most lawless places in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016


For weeks and weeks through late November, December and January it seemed as if Cumbria would never see the sun again. But in the last few days the skies have cleared, the rain's stopped, the days are brighter and we’re all reminded again what a beautiful county it is. With Easter only a month away the message that #cumbriaisopen can’t be overstated; visitors are welcome everywhere.

Even before Easter in March there are plenty of things to do. The Words by the Water literary festival in Keswick (4-13), the World Health Innovation Summit in Carlisle (10-11), the Northern Beer Festival in Kendal (11-13), Kendal Festival of Food (12-13), Bowness Bay Blues Weekend (18-20), the World’s Original Marmalade Awards and Festival at Dalemain near Ullswater (19-20) and the Easter International Market in Carlisle (24-28) are just some of them.

The Discover Carlisle website certainly speaks for everyone in Cumbria when it says: ‘We are still welcoming visitors with open arms and a friendly smile. Events go ahead. Our shops still trade. Our food and drink establishments still serve. Our attractions still offer a fantastic range of things to see and do. Our accommodation providers still provide a warm and cosy bed to rest your head’. All that and some of the best scenery in Britain.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Harris Tweed: From the Land

Design, craftsmanship, community, heritage and landscape. All things close to my heart and all subjects embraced by a beautiful and moving new exhibition at Rheged near Penrith. Harris Tweed: From the Land is the culmination of ten years work by fine art photographer Ian Lawson, ‘capturing the essence of the place we call home’, the chairman of the Harris Tweed Authority, Norman Macdonald, told those at last night’s exhibition launch. Home is Harris, Lewis and their 35 or so associated islands in the Outer Hebrides, ‘some of the most remote parts of Europe’. Remoteness didn’t stop 24 islanders making their way to Cumbria to celebrate Ian Lawson’s talent and sensitivity, his photographs complemented by a display of bags and jackets, all marked with the ‘oldest, continuous trademark in the UK’ (since 1906). Bags, clothes and furniture can also be seen in Rheged’s new Harris Tweed shop where Ian’s photographic book Harris Tweed: From the Land is also sold. Opening the show last night, Patrick Grant, creative director of Norton & Sons in Savile Row, and judge on the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee, enthused over the way Ian had ‘paired the cloth with the landscape’ in numerous photographs (see pictures). The Outer Hebrides, he said, were ‘one of the most beautiful places on earth’. Having seen the exhibition, heard the words, smelt the sea and felt the cloth, I’m checking the ferry times already.

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