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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Beatrix Potter

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter, mycologist, writer and Lakeland farmer. For those who want a brief introduction to her life, here's a section from the 2016 Dymond Guide to the Lake District and Cumbria.....

If it wasn’t for Beatrix Potter’s parents changing their holiday habit of visiting Scotland, her tales might have had an entirely different setting. But in 1882, after years of summer holidays in Perthshire, the Potters rented Wray Castle near Ambleside. At Wray the vicar was Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley who left a lasting impression on the 16 year old girl with his views on countryside conservation. He later became one of the founders of the National Trust.

Even though she was a farmer for 30 years of her life, it is the children’s books which Potter produced over a much shorter time which made her famous.

Born in London to a wealthy barrister and his wife, she was encouraged from an early age to draw and paint. Through the study and observation of plants and animals came her great ability as an illustrator, particularly of fungi and natural history. She continued to join her parents on holidays in her thirties, many of them in the Lake District. In 1896 the family went to Near Sawrey for the first time, a place she became smitten with. Nine years later she purchased Hill Top Farm (pic).

Her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, had originated in 1893 in an illustrated letter to a young boy. The eventual publisher was Frederick Warne whose son, Norman, was engaged to Potter for a short time before his premature death in 1905. Hill Top Farm provided the backdrop for several of her books and for famous characters like Tom Kitten and Jemima Puddle-Duck. But it was also the catalyst for a new life as a farmer. She increased the livestock at Hill Top, bought another farm at Sawrey in 1909 and then four years later married local solicitor William Heelis.

The couple didn’t live at Hill Top but Potter kept it on and in 1924 bought a third farm at Troutbeck near Windermere. For the next 19 years this was her major interest: only four of her ‘small’ books were written after her marriage. Elected chairman of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association, she died before she could take up the post, bequeathing about 4,000 acres (1,619 ha) of the Lake District and 15 farms to the National Trust (pic).

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Spring Fling

Whoever thought of the name Spring Fling for ‘Scotland’s premier art and craft open studios event’ deserves a medal. So much joy is conveyed by two simple words, so much is on view during the three days of this late May event.

Set up in 2003, Spring Fling takes place in south west Scotland, showcasing the work of about 100 artists and makers: painters, potters, printmakers, sculptors, photographers, furniture makers, jewellery designers, glass artists and more. All this in lovely, unspoilt - and for many people, undiscovered - countryside. There’s plenty of wonderful coastline too.

As usual, the well-designed and informative Spring Fling programme drops through the post several weeks beforehand which gives us plenty of time to decide on a route through Dumfries and Galloway and which of the studios to visit. We normally make an initial beeline for Kircudbright, because there’s a cluster of studios in and around the small harbour town, and then take it from there.

I admit we’ve got our favourites scattered across the region, those we annually pop in to see. There’s Trevor Leat (willow sculptures, pic), for instance, Morag Macpherson (textiles, pic), and Clare Dawdry (potter/ceramist). But over the years we’ve also discovered the work of architectural blacksmith Adam Booth, glass artist Amanda Simmons, and this year Lizzie Farey (willow artist), painter Heather M Nisbet, jeweller Kathryn King and Jennie Ashmore who makes beautiful collages from leaves and flowers she collects in the countryside (pic).

In Cumbria in a couple of months time (September 10-25) there’s a similar event called C-Art which, like Spring Fling, gives people the opportunity to meet artists and makers in their studios and talk to them about their creations. It’s a great way to buy original work from the many talented individuals who paint and print, design and make in this part of the world. And you get to explore some pretty nice countryside at the same time.

Thursday, 02 June 2016

Cumbrian Art: Picturing Places

There are only three days to go, so if you haven’t already seen Cumbrian Art: Picturing Places head quickly to Tullie House in Carlisle for this excellent exhibition. It’s a show of some 100 paintings (and photographs), all from the museum and art gallery’s own collection and many of them not seen from year to year because they’re stored in the archives.

Anyone connected with Carlisle will love the first part of the show because there are 300 years of different city views, a number painted by the likes of Sam Bough and Thomas Bushby. You can see why Cumbria’s capital was such a popular place to paint, given its castle, cathedral, city walls and the vista across the River Eden from the north.

The other half of the exhibition sees a gear change in terms of time and space, exploring artists’ response to the Lake District and west Cumbria, many from the last 50/60 years. Favourites? They include former Turner Prize winner, Keith Tyson’s hugely evocative Nature Painting, Conrad Atkinson’s atmospheric Workington Steelworks, Julian Cooper’s epic Honister Crag, photographs by Fay Godwin and paintings by Sheila Fell, Winifred Nicholson and Martin Greenland (pictured). The exhibition runs until June 5.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

BBC Radio 2 in Dent village

I can’t remember the first time I went to Dent but I do recall having a similar reaction to Jeremy Vine when he broadcast his BBC Radio 2 show from here yesterday. ‘It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,’ he told some tourists as he did a dash round the village. Once in Yorkshire, now in Cumbria (but still in the Yorkshire Dales), Dent is not just memorable for its setting, five miles from Sedbergh, but also for a sense that time seems scarcely to have touched its small stone cottages and cobbled streets.

You certainly feel that history at the Dent Village Heritage Centre which is cram full of artefacts relating to the life and work of centuries of Dentdale folk. One of those people was the geologist Adam Sedgwick, born here in 1785. He’s commemorated in a large piece of Shap granite, rather than Dent marble, the locally quarried, fossiliferous limestone. There’s another memorial to him in St Andrew’s Church where the lovely kneeling cushions were made by members of the congregation.

Four miles away is Dent station, the highest mainline station in England and a remote stop on one of Britain’s most scenic railway routes, the Settle to Carlisle line. You can get on and off here but the actual buildings are privately owned and used for holiday accommodation. Slightly closer to the village is Dent Brewery whose hillside location knocked me for six when I paid a visit here in the early days.

Savour its beers at the George and Dragon, the brewery’s tap house in Dent, or simply head for the Dentdale Music and Beer Festival on June 24-26. ‘It’s absolutely beautiful here, beautiful.’ I stopped counting the number of times Jeremy Vine used the word.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Ullswater Daff Fest

Ullswater looked so enchanting early one morning last year that I had to stop the car, get out and savour the views across the water to the fells beyond. The place I’d parked wasn’t too far from the spot where William and Dorothy Wordsworth spotted a ‘long belt’ of daffodils in 1802 as they made their way from the Pooley Bridge home of anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson to their own home at Dove Cottage, Grasmere. The sight of these daffodils - they ‘tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind,’ wrote Dorothy - was the inspiration for Wordsworth’s most famous poem Daffodils, written two years later and published in 1807.

Starting on Easter Monday (28th), a two week festival - Ullswater Daff Fest - will celebrate daffodils, Wordsworth and the beauty of Lakeland’s second largest stretch of water. Considering the terrible weather here in December and January celebrations probably can’t come quickly enough. And there’s more news. In the next few weeks a 20/22 mile route around the lake called the Ullswater Way will be launched, making use of quieter roads and existing public rights of way.

If you don’t fancy the full mileage to start with, try taking one of the vessels belonging to Ullswater Steamers from Glenridding to Howtown and then doing the three hour return journey on foot.

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