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Well, I'm back from my annual spiritual retreat/rejuvenation session in the Lake District.

Do I feel refreshed?  Er, no.  Do I feel rejuvenated?  Absolutely not. 

This is nothing to do with the Lakes. Or with the Lancrigg Vegetarian Country House Hotel, which was its usual self. The food was awesome, the hospitality wonderful, the scenery (when it could actually be seen!) spectacular.

But alas, the nasty, pernicious horrid little bug I went down with last week has lingered, and my style has been well and truly cramped.  I managed to stagger around my usual 10 mile circuit which runs Grasmere-Ambleside-Rydal-Grasmere - you will note, however, that if it hadn't been for the massive brick of Victoria sponge which adorned my plate at the Rattle Gill cafe in Ambleside, I'd have opted for the bus.  Every time the gradient went up, I wheezed and puffed and wound up collapsing into paroxyms of coughing.  So much so, that the Coffin Route shall henceforth be known as the 'Coughin' Route' - though there were times when I wondered if I'd end up in a coffin myself before the end.

And then there was the carol concert at Allan Bank...

The weather was pretty dire, but the rain stopped for one day out of the four, and this morning, we actually saw the sun! 

All things considered, we had a lovely break, and I'd much rather have felt ill in the Lake District than felt ill at home. The only source of major disappointment came in the form of the Grasmere Chocolate Studio.  We visited them on Thursday evening, bought some yummy chocolates, and pledged to return over the weekend to buy new stocks once the next batch of handmade goodies came in. We were assured that they'd be open on Saturday, but to my dismay, the place was locked shut (with the mail waiting there to be picked up) all the way through Saturday and right through into Sunday.  My 'raspberry ripple' and 'very berry' chocolates which I'd requested were there on the shelf, waiting to be purchased (and eaten!) and there they must remain, because I'm home now.

Ah, the perils of frequenting the small business.  What's more perturbing is the possibility that they're closed because of family illness or disaster - fingers crossed that they'll be back to normal in February when we next return, because they're a damned good chocolatiers and they're usually really hard workers staying open all hours. All was not lost - we popped into Rheged on the way home and discovered another chocolatier which provided sufficient decent chocolates to fill the void.  And some fudge for J's Christmas present, too.  So at least that's the last of my Christmas shopping sorted.

Though we still need to get some sprouts from somewhere. And chestnuts. And veggie bacon...
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Another Work in Progress now, courtesy of the National Trust in Grasmere....

I introduced you previously to the grand old house at Allanbank, which though remaining in limbo after a house fire, looks certain to be fully restored.  And yes, I will be making a return visit (or five!) over the next few years, just to see how things progress there,

In addition to the house itself, the National Trust have taken on the grounds of Allanbank, and there are a few interesting bits and bobs scattered round the place which are worthy of further attention, and which will no doubt be restored in due course.

There are a few designed landscape features including the remains of a walled garden, plus a little outbuilding called 'The Chapel'. Its original use is unknown: it probably started out as a summerhouse or even a service building, and it may even have had its origins in Wordsworth's time, but in later life it was modified and turned into a very tiny cinema, with a projection booth still in situ at one end (sadly not pictured here).

I commented earlier how my work has made me accustomed to structures in a far worse state than Allanbank, and this probably sums up the kind of place that I end up hanging out in these days.  You will note, however, that the roof has already been made wind and water tight, which is more than can be said for most of the buildings I wind up surveying! 

Even this one act of repairing the roof will have helped secure this building's future enormously, though presumably this was a prerequisite of letting the public inside. No PPE was required for visitors, which unnerved me a bit, I must say.  Like wearing a crash hat while I'm horse-riding, venturing into dilapidated buildings with safety helmet and steel toe-capped boots has become second nature to me....


The reason for its popular name is self-evident. As well as a suite of 'Gothick' type windows, it has this fetching plaque of Saint George slaying the dragon kicking about the place:-


Where this was originally located, I haven't a clue. Over the fireplace, perhaps??

It's also copiously furnished with stained glass, which has, unfortunately seen better days:-


But the National Trust are on the case, I'm sure, and who knows?  Some day, there might once again be film showings!
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And in case you're wondering what we were doing before we went climbing up to Alcock Tarn, then here's the answer...

Once again, we did the tourist thing, this time visiting a National Trust property.  As you can well imagine, the area around Grasmere is stuffed full of National Trust properties, usually connected in some way with William Wordsworth.  And - I fear to report once more - we never seem to get around to visiting any of them. 

Allanbank is a recent acquisition, and it makes a refreshing change from the day-to-day fare I stumble across in my line of work, providing us with that very rare thing, an architectural story with a happy ending.

Like most of the National Trust properties in the area, Allanbank has Wordsworth connections. William and Dorothea Wordsworth lived here at one point, and I can certainly see why.  I'm sure all my writing friends would agree that if there was ever a place where you're guaranteed to find inspiration in your surroundings, this is it.

Here's a view of Allanbank in its wider landscape context, with Seat Sandal and Stone Arthur in the background. It lies near the path to Silver Howe, and until a few years ago it was in private ownership:-


It's not an easy building to decipher, as the exterior is rendered and there's no clear differentiation of building styles over much of its extent. This part of the building is Georgian  - Wordsworth wasn't too impressed with it at all at first, describing it in words similar to Prince Charles's renowned 'Monstrous Carbuncle' speech.  He must've mellowed as time passed, if eventually he was willing to move in.

Long after Wordsworth's time, the building was extended substantially - as usual, in a building of this quality, a buildings archaeologist has been consulted during the renovation process and they've taken the opportunity to investigate the structure and map its changes as the works have progressed.


Now here's the tragic bit. I mentioned earlier that the building was being renovated and that it was originally in private ownership. It was during this period - in the late 90s, I believe - that a fire broke out in the attic. Thankfully, a member of the family was in residence at the time, and they raised the alarm.

The damage was locally signfiicant ( note the blackened plaster and the charred doors prominently displayed on the landing) but was not sufficient to merit the loss of the building, which is now in the process of being renovated, and - perhaps unusually, the National Trust have opened it to the public at this early stage.  The end result is that the curious visitor can come in and see a house in a dilapidated, run-down state:-


This is, of course, familiar to me.  Most of the places I wind up visiting in the line of duty are in an even worse state that this, but the general impression is pretty much the same. Only this sanitised version is minus the sagging ceilings, broken lath-and-plaster work and the odd big squelchy fruiting body of dry rot. Oh, and the smell.  Let's not forget the smell.  Of dank abandonment and squalor, and the occasional dead pigeon/bat or whatever.

Thankfully, most of the architectural  features survived the blaze (note the soot blackening the walls and ceiling!), and many of them appear to be contemporary with the time of the Wordsworths:-




While most of the house is characterised by typical understated Georgian elegance, here and there you can find traces of over-the-top Victorian extravagence.  This arch is a case in point, which, combined with a florid cornice and elaborate ceiling rose, suggests that a major revamp took place here later in the nineteenth century:-


The building being in a raw, unfinished state, the National Trust have seized the opportunity to use it as a large scale, mass participation art installation. Visitors are invited to share their thoughts by writing on various boards or even on the bare walls in places (sorry, I just couldn't do that.  It just felt wrong, wrong, WRONG!!!).  And more often than not, the responses are along similiar lines. Visitors marvel at seeing a building stripped of its soft furnishings and decor, with some of them even asking that it be left this way permanently.

I disagree, of course. To me, this building cries out for deliverance. It's distressed, forlorn, and anxious to be dragged up from this miserable state of neglect and despair.  I suspect that the National Trust share my sentiments, and that sooner rather than later, this splendid old house will find itself restored to something approaching its former glory.

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There are two classic short walks from Grasmere village which most folk who holiday in the Lakes have done at one time or another.  The first takes you to Easdale Tarn, with the second being the walk to Alcock Tarn.

We've been holidaying in Grasmere since 2000 or thereabouts, and  - shock, horror!! - this is the first time we've ever been to Alcock Tarn. It's rather intense as short walks go, so it was way down the list in the old days when I was a fledgling walker, and these days, well...  We're always trying to do summits, so Alcock Tarn has remained sadly neglected on our itinerary.

But last weekend being very wet, we found an ample opportunity to go exploring on Monday afternoon, when, after a very soggy morning, things began to dry up and we had a few hours to actually DO something!

So Alcock Tarn it was.  We had ulterior motives, because the Alcock Tarn route allows access onto Heron Pike, which is one of the peaks in the Fairfield Horseshoe, so in a way this was a reconnaissance trip for more ambitious walks to be undertaken in the future.

It's a very short walk of one and a quarter miles. What they don't tell you on the signposts is that it's an intense one and a quarter miles which goes UP pretty much along the entire route. The path begins in woodland, with scenes reminiscent of Tolkein:-


From quite early on, you start to gain a bit of height, and the views are excellent. Here's Helm Crag, with Steel Fell to the right:-


Here's our destination, a little tarn which nestles up at quite a high level. The pointed peak to the rear is Great Rigg, which was the objective of our February walk this year. The disturbance in the water was caused by a very single-minded duck who was swimming purposefully along...


Here's a better view of Great Rigg and the shoulder which leads down to Stone Arthur. The brooding bulk of Helvellyn can be seen in the background:-


And a better view of Helm Crag in its wider context, bathed in sunlight this time. Sour Milk Gill, the stream which flanks the path to Easdale Tarn, can be seen as a bright white strip above the trees which lie to the left of Helm Crag:-


Being intrepid, we declined to travel back the way we came. Instead, we followed the path as it carried on beyond the tarn. I was hoping I'd get some indication of where we should cut off for Heron Pike, but nothing seemed to jump out at me, unfortunately...
As I'd suspected, the path carried us down the opposite side of the ame burn that we'd followed in our February walk to Great Rigg/Stone Arthur.  Here's the 19th century aqueduct, which forms part of the big water transportation systerm which carries drinking water from Thirlmere to Manchester and which I think I featured (from a greater distance) in a February post:-


Even though it didn't include a summit, this was a very pleasant walk which took us up to a fairly high level (with all the advantages this brings as far as views are concerned!) and which improved our knowledge and understanding of the walking routes around Grasmere.

Despite being hard work, it was pretty straightforward and very rewarding. If you ever find yourself in Grasmere, and you fancy an introduction to fell walking, it's an ideal place to start!
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So... What do you do in the Lake District if it's too wet for walking???

The answer is, of course, to do all the usual tourist things that we always mean to do and never get around to.

Ever since we started visiting the Lakes, J has always said, "We should take a trip on the Ullswater Steamers'. We never have, of course, until last Sunday, when our boots were soaked through from Saturday's walk, and the weather was, um, well, terrible.

So terrible, in fact, that this was the view across Ullswater.  It's meant to be a majestic scene, with the imposing peaks of Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon Pike in the background.  There's no sign of any of these peaks in this image - the pointy peak at the right-hand side is Catstycam, which sits just in front of Helvellyn, so you can see how lousy the conditions were:-


But the steamer trip was fun.  There are four boats in all, the oldest one built in the 1870s, the youngest in the 1940s.  This is the Motor Yacht Raven, built in the 1890s and the boat we sailed on in a return trip from Pooley Bridge to Glenridding:-


It's a lovely area, and one we should explore more often.  There look to be some very nice walks round there, and the views are - when the weather clears- spectacular.  Here's a view from Pooley Bridge:-


And this is what the view should have been like all along!  In the afternoon, the weather cleared, and this is what we saw.  The big chunky mountain in the background is Helvellyn:-

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It's official.  The British Summer has been a complete wash-out.

Our weekend in the Lakes was very wet indeed. So wet, in fact, that we didn't actually get out onto the tops. Though we did try....  In fact, I don't think we've had it this wet in the Lake District since December 2009, and we've been there a few times since then, believe me!

The target of the holiday was Ullscarf via the Wythburn (pronounced Wy-burn) valley.  Ullscarf itself isn't given a very good write-up by Wainwright, his description, in The Central Fells, is as follows:-

'Of the Lakeland Fells over 2,000 feet Ullscarf will generally be adjudged the most central, and it is a pity that Nature has not endowed it with a distinctive superstructure worthy of the honour. If only the crags extended a thousand feet higher, and if only the summit took the shape of a Matterhorn! Instead of which, the top of the fell is the dullest imaginable. The most central, perhaps, but not, alas, a very distinguished pivot!'

Unfortunately, I can't prove or disprove Wainwright's analysis of the summit in question. The weather forecast for Saturday didn't seem too bad, and when we set out, 'showers & sunny spells' seemed to be the order of the day:-


We followed the Wythburn Valley, along a delightful (though rather marshy!) route which proved to be virtually deserted:-


The path skirted this dramatic waterfall:-


And after that, the terrain flattened out into a geographer's paradise, full of moraines and a wide morass called, appropriately enough, 'The Bog'.  (Or, as Wainwright puts it, 'The Bog' (with a capital T & B deservedly)').

The big flat summit to the right with its sloping approach is Ullscarf.  We got just beyond the conical mound in the middle of the picture, and by then the 'showers' had become so heavy and prolonged that we were wet through and getting a bit cold. I was willing to plod onwards, but J, in a spectacular display of what I can only describe as 'anti-Spartanism', declared that 'there's no shame in turning back and tackling the summit another day. The shame lies in getting carted off the hill by the mountain rescue'.  With about another hour and a half to the summit, I reluctantly conceded, and the retreat was sounded.


On the way down, we passed this lovely boulder:-


And by the time we descended back to the road, the weather really was closing in. Here's the view towards the lower slopes of Helvellyn during the return journey:-

The right decision was made, I suppose. What's the point of scaling a summit if the views at the top are vague to negligible??  At the very least, it was a good reconnaissance trip, and it's certainly a route I'll want to try again in the future!
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Poor old Nethermost Pike.  It's earned itself the reputation of being the unloved little sibling of its more celebrated neighbour, Helvellyn.  Wainwright sums it up nicely as follows:-

'Thousands of people cross the flat top of Nethermost Pike every year, and thousands more toil up its western slope.  Yet their diaries record "climbed Helvellyn today." For Helvellyn is the great magnet that draws the crowds to Nethermost Pike: the latter is climbed incidentally, almost unknowingly, only because it is an obstacle in the route to its bigger neighbour.  The grassy west slope trodden by the multitudes is of little interest, but the fell should not be judged accordingly: it is made of sterner stuff. From the east, Nethermost Pike is magnificent, hardly less so than Helvellyn and seeming more so because of its impressive surroundings.' (The Central Fells, Nethermost Pike 2)

Last summer, when we scaled Dollywaggon Pike, we struck out for Nethermost Pike and missed it.  We made up for this omission last Saturday.  The summit itself is fascinating: covered with shattered pieces of rock that make it look like it's surmounted by an enormous cairn (it isn't...).

Here are the views that were just reward for our effort. They were spectacular: at 2920', Nethermost Pike is a respectable mountain in its own right.  There's an awful lot of foreground, I'm afraid, because I was too feart to go venturing close to the chasm.  Okay, the wind was blowing away from the long drop, but still....

This is the view towards Helvellyn, showing Striding Edge in its wider context with the beautifully named 'Catstycam' visible beyond:-

The view below is almost a dead ringer for one of Wainwright's illustrations, and according to the Man Himself, we are looking down Grisedale towards Place Fell with Ullswater just visible in the distance:-

Another view of Grisedale now, with St Sunday Crag to the right:-

One last view of the descent now, showing a wider view of the central fells, with Steel Fell, Gibson Knott and Helm Crag in the middle distance, and the outline of Harrison Stickle visible to the right:-

 And that was that.  I'm already planning the next onslaught on the Lake District fells, even though I've already exceeded my annual target of three Wainwrights.  If we wind up doing the Fairfield Horseshoe this summer, I'll have managed to tick off nine Wainwrights in a year, which would be pretty good going, I think! 
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To my second post on Helvellyn now, and a guide to the summit.  The pictures aren't too impressive, because it was far too blowy on the top to try and venture too close to the edge.  But this'll give you some idea of what it was like.

The classic approach to Helvellyn is via Striding Edge, the route which claimed the unfortunate Mr Gough, and which still claims the unwary or unlucky traveller to this day.  If you look closely, you can see the little stream of figures, tramping their way along this narrow ridge...

Here's another view of Striding Edge, as seen from the summit:-

The other classic route to the summit is via Swirral Edge, equally dramatic, but considerably less terrifying!  In fact, it looks so inviting that this knitted, woolly walker almost feels inclined to tackle it some time:-

Here's a monument I found upon the summit.  It wasn't, I'm afraid, commemorating Mr Gough: instead, it was acknowledging the moment when someone landed an aeroplane on the mountain, then promptly took off again....

Looking away from the summit, we can see the rocky bluffs that represent the eastern faces of Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike.  Dollywaggon Pike was the objective of our walk last July, and it was to Nethermost Pike that we were heading following our ascent of Helvellyn on Saturday:-

 And that's where we'll be going tomorrow... 
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I've been in awe of Helvellyn ever since I started walking in the Lake District.  By Scottish standards, it's not a BIG mountain, though at 3118 feet, it easily falls into our Munro category.  It is, however, the third highest mountain in England, and it's not exactly a pussy-cat.  It claims victims on a semi-frequent basis, and should not be approached lightly, particularly in winter.

I came across one of its more celebrated victims in a fascinating book called The Unfortunate Tourist of Helvellyn.'  I've mentioned him before: Mr Charles Gough, who fell to his death one April day in 1805 and whose shattered corpse was only found a few months later.  His faithful dog was allegedly found by his body, and being an artist, he was carrying his tinted Claude glasses when he plunged to his death, perhaps from the infamous Striding Edge...

As I scaled Helvellyn on Saturday, I thought of Mr Gough, who is commemorated by a monument on the summit.  There were certain parallels between myself and Mr Gough. though instead of a faithful dog, I had a soft tiger in my daysack (he's climbed three Wainwrights now, which is quite impressive, for a cuddly toy!), and I was also carrying a modern equivalent of the Claude glasses, my digital camera. 

It was here, I hoped, that the similarities would end.  Though one of my aims for the day was to visit his monument, so I could pay my respects in person.

This is what Alfred Wainwright had to say about Helvellyn:-

'Legend and poetry, a lovely name and a lofty altitude combine to encompass Helvellyn in an aura of romance; and thousands of pilgrims, aided by its easy accessibility, are attracted to its summit every year....  There is some quality about Helvellyn which endears it in the memory of most people who have stood on its breezy top; although it can be a grim place indeed on a wild night, it is, as a rule, a very friendly giant.  If it did not inspire affection would its devotees return to it so often?' (A Pictorial Guide to the Eastern Fells, Book One: The Central Fells)

I can't really disagree with Wainwright's description, though on the day we climbed it, Helvellyn's summit was not exactly 'breezy'.  J's description - 'tempestuous' - was somewhat closer to the mark, though you'd never believe it from the photographs...

We climbed the mountain from Wythburn, on the western side.  Wainwright describes it as 'one of the most popular ways up Helvellyn', but things have changed since Wainwright's day.  On a marvellous May morning, the route was almost deserted: we met about a dozen folk during our walk.  Striding Edge, by contrast, the 'unusual' and undoubtedly spectacular route recommended by Wainwright himself, was like a conveyor belt, with an endless queue of walkers trailing along it.

And now to the walk...

We began at Wythburn Church, which undoubtedly merits a closer look, so I'll have to try and explore it again at a later date:-

Helvellyn is a spectacular mountain, but ehe views aren't as fine on the western flanks.  In fact, the mountain itself is a featureless bulky mass, as if it crouches down with its back to Thirlmere, Grasmere and Wythburn.  But as we climbed higher, we got spectacular views of Thirlmere and the western fells:-

I even stumbled across some archaeology: in the picture below, the pile of stones represents the footings of a rectangular bothy or hut:-

The first part of the climb was very steep, but eventually, it levelled out into this winding path (buffeted by the most horrible winds, which, of course, cannot be depicted pictorially...):-

And in the background, we see Steel Fell to the left, which was a target of our walk in February 2010, and which looks almost miniscule from this height.  Beyond Steel Fell, we can see the outlines of Harrison Stickle and High Raise.
And at last, we could see the summit.  Which deserves a post in its own right, so I'll be continuing the tale tomorrow!

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Well, a couple of days, actually, but let's not split hairs...

I'm back now, and I'm so glad we made the most of weather and decanted ourselves down to the Lakes for the weekend.  Our destination was the Lancrigg Vegetarian Country House Hotel, where the food was at its usual scrumptious standard, and the views were absolutely breathtaking.

I've featured similar photographs before, but the scenes have usually featured mist, snow, leafless trees and bleak mountains covered with dead bracken.  These days, we visit so often in the off-season that I've almost forgotten how wonderful the Lake District is in summer, when the sun's out and it's not raining:-

So yes, we bagged our fells.  We scaled Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike, as planned, and pictures will follow.  It looks idyllic, but reality was ever so slightly different, as I shall explain in due course:-

And look!  Colourful rhododendrons!  In bloom!!!

Now that's something you don't see in midwinter...

Apologies for fans of Lastours.  I shall be pausing in my French tour to take you on a virtual hillwalk, because Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike are definitely worth a detour.  But tonight I'm going out to the Writers' Group, so I'm signing off now.
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My apologies, because last night I entirely failed to find the photograph which showed the Gateway to Oblivion in all its glory!

So here it is!  Just the place to conveniently 'lose' any unwelcome guests!!

And because I'm too tired to do a real post, I thought I'd include a view of the road to Hardknott.  I'm not sure if this is the infamous Hardknott Pass - it may in fact be Wrynose, but I'd just like to note that certain crazy cyclists actually pass this way on the Sportive From Hell  - the Fred Whitton.  J was meaning to ride it one year, but didn't get around to booking his place (it sells out really quickly) and in the end I think he was quite relieved to escape this licensed masochism.

We saw a couple of cyclists on our visit to Hardknott, and they all did really well.  I don't know if their secret was compact chainsets or triple chain-rings, but...  They looked almost comfortable!  Which made me feel a bit embarrassed, because when I took my old standard Campag 58-42 (I think!) out round the Langdales, I was off and walking at the first bend!

Yeah, I don't think I was ever destined to be a real cyclist.  I'm just too much of a coward...
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I'm going to be out on site for the rest of the week, so I doubt I'll be posting.  Today was hectic enough in itself - I was called out to the weir for one last day of recording, since the water levels have at last dropped low enough to make the repairs feasible.  I also managed to fit in the finishing touches to the Thomas Telford paper...

But in the calm before the storm, I thought I'd pay one last visit to the Roman fort at Hardknott.

A close-up of the rampart, first of all, which has a very peculiar feature.  There's a line of slates between the lower seven courses, and the two/three above.  Now, normally I'd assume this marked a line of restoration - conscientious restorers always leave some clue to those who follow on after them so that the next generation can differentiate the modern work from the original.  But the way in which this line of slates follows a logical pattern that matches the topography makes me wonder if it is indeed an original feature...

The levels of survival at this particular fort are so good that even the watchtowers, or angle turrets, survive to a height of six or seven courses.  Again, it has all the hallmarks of a Roman structure, with nicely squared ashlar used throughout:-

And it also bears another hallmark of Roman design and build in that the layout of the fort was obviously developed centrally, without any attempt to take nuances of location and topography into account.  Fans of Hadrian's Wall will recollect several fortlets and milecastles which feature Gateways to Oblivion, and Hardknott Fort is another of these sites.  The rear gate opens out onto a gentle slope:-

Which then leads on, if you venture too far, to a drop onto nothingness:-

It's not very apparent in this photograph, because I didn't want to go too close to the edge!  But it's a perfect way of getting rid of a troublesome local chieftain!  Invite him (or her!  Lets not forget Boudicca and Cartimandua...) to a party at the commendant's house, get him/her very drunk (Iron Age nobility are very fond of a good booze-up!) then cleverly show them out through the back door. 
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They say an army marches on its stomach, and the Roman army was no exception.  Trying to garrison an Empire with outposts in weird and wonderful out-of-the-way places like Hardknott fort [or to give it its Latin name, Mediobogdum, which seems like an appropriate name for this miserable dump teetering on the edge of the civilised world. This is, of course, purely from a Roman point of view...] meant that maintaining a reliable supply chain was vital.
Grain would have been transported by ship then offloaded at a harbour site on the west coast.  From there, it was moved by road to the fort itself, where it would be stored on-site in granary buildings. 

And this is one of the granaries.  Or so it's believed, and it looks like a reasonable interpretation.  The low wall running down the centre of the building would have supported a raised floor, indication that the structure was built with the intention of allowing air to circulate:-

This is good indication that the building would have functioned as a granary - the circulation of air within the building was vital to keeping grain dry and free from mould.

And the exterior of the building shows just what a robust structure it was, with substantial buttresses helping to support the walls and prevent them bowing outwards:-

Once again, restoration has been minimal, demonstrating just how well preserved these Roman remains are, given their antiquity...
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Once again, I've had a busy morning.  I've now planted up all my mini-plugs, and I'm pressed for space already.  If the sweet peas arrive this week (which they might!!) I'm sunk!

I've also sown some nasturtium seeds - 18 African Queen mixed, and 18 Jewel mixed.  I shall give you information on the results as they happen... 

I've been delaying my return to Hardknott Roman fort for some time, so I thought I'd go back there today.  A closer view of the fort now, showing the layout of the buildings.  Roman forts tend to be very formulaic in their layout, following a similar plan from north Africa to Caledonia.  Located in the centre is the Headquarters Building, the principia, with granaries and officers' quarters in close proximity.

This view across the fort looks across the principia, which would have housed the standard, the strongroom in which the wages for the troops were kept, and various altars (including, no doubt, one dedicated to the Emperor).  It formed the central focus of the fort, the building which visitors to the fort would find themselves approaching as they entered the main gate:-

This is another view of the prinicipia, showing the internal subdivision of the structure.  Lying beyond it is the commendant's house - the common rank-and-file soldiers would have been housed in timber-framed structures which haven't left such obvious traces in the landscape:-

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'And now...  Let's go and visit the mystery site.  Which isn't that mysterious any more, as keen-eyed readers will have spotted by now that it was indeed Hardknott Roman Fort.

There's no guide book.  It's one of these isolated little sites that gets basic maintenance from English Heritage, which includes being issued with a couple of information boards and nothing more.  So I've had to go hunting further information on the internet, and I've found it, courtesy of the 'VisitCumbria' website, from which I've quoted the passage cited below:-

'The Roman Fort, one of the loneliest outposts of the Roman Empire, built between AD120 and AD138 is on a spectacular site overlooking the pass which forms part of the Roman road from Ravenglass to Ambleside and Brougham at Penrith. The walls surrounded granaries, barracks, and a commandant's house. The baths, with a sequence of three rooms can be seen outside the main walls. An area of flattened ground is believed to be a parade area.'

VisitCumbria goes to great pains to tell us of the 'spectacular site'.  What it fails to hammer home on the hapless reader is the spectacular nature of the remains themselves.  It's a fantastic site, up there with anything you can find on Hadrian's Wall.

The site can just be seen in the centre of the picture - the line of walling anaking around the summit of a low, flattish hillock.  It's incredibly well-preserved, the enclosing rampart standing to almost 2m in height.

A closer view now, with the ramparts silhouetted on the horizon:-

And now, here's a view of the ramparts.  I'll feature them in detail tomorrow, because they're worth a closer look.  There are practical reasons underlying the site's fantastic levels of preservation: it's located at the back of beyond, which means that its fabric has remained safe throughout the centuries from the predations of local landowners.

And as for the road...  Only the Romans would have created a road over a route as insane as Hardknott Pass,  I'll have to post a photo at some point, though no photograph can possibly do the experience of driving along it justice. The VisitCumbria website described it as thrilling and exciting,but that's not the words I would choose. Hair-raising, utterly mad and downright scary was closer to the mark. But it was worth it to see that fort! 

As Obelix would say...  These Romans are crazy!!  And you haven't even seen the view out of the back door yet..

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Some gratuitous photographs of the fells now, before I leave Grasmere....

Obviously, we had plenty of photo opportunities in the course of our walk.  Here's a suitably bleak view across the later reaches of Stone Arthur towards Gibson Knott, Calf Crag and (I think!) Ullscarf in the background:

A similar view, but this time with an interesting tree in the foreground:-

And lastly, a piece of nineteenth century industrial archaeology.  Wainwright would no doubt describe it as an eyesore, because I don't think he had much time for industrial archaeology, but naturally I spotted it and went "ooh!  Look!!  A nineteenth century aqueduct!"

And tomorrow I'll be featuring Hardknott Roman fort, which for the very dozy and inattentive, was the subject of my earlier 'Guess the site' feature... 

Great Rigg

Feb. 28th, 2012 06:53 pm
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Up another 900 feet now, to the summit of Great Rigg, which at 2513 feet in height falls into my 'Great Big Bruiser' category of fell - in Scots terms, it's a Corbett!

If someone had told me a year ago that I'd have made the decision to hike up a 2500 foot summit in February, I'd probably have scoffed and said 'don't be daft!'  But this woolly walker seems to be getting a bit more intrepid in her old age, and somehow a six mile round trip to Great Rigg and back seemed quite do-able.

Here's a view of the summit, seen from just beyond the summit of Stone Arthur:-

Like yesterday's peak, Stone Arthur, it's not really a very popular fell for walkers.  Not on its own, anyway.  Instead, it's most often visited as part of the 'Fairfield Horseshoe', a ridge walk which takes in a grand total of eight summits, and which gets its name from Great Rigg's better known neighbour, Fairfield. 

If we hadn't pencilled in Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike for our summer walk, I'd be tempted by the Fairfield Horseshoe, because it looks like a lovely walk.  I'm not sure I'd have wanted to walk the Horseshoe on that particular day, because I'm far too knitted to have contemplated a big long exposed ridge walk when the wind was that strong!  Summer 2013 seems like a much better bet...

Here's a taster, looking down from the summit of Great Rigg along the ridge towards Heron Pike, with Lake Windermere to the left:-

Here's another view from the summit of Great Rigg, looking between the summits of Seat Sandal and Dollywaggon Pike towards the ominous bulk of Helvellyn:-


And another view of the scene I featured yesterday, but this time seen from a higher elevation.  Easdale Tarn can be seen beyond the ridge running between Helm Crag and Gibson Knott, with the summit of Harrison Stickle visible (to the eagle-eyed) above the tarn:-

And lastly, a final view of Lake Windermere, with the sea visible as a bright silver band in the difference :-

Ah, yes.  It was a classic fell walk indeed.  And now I have to wait until July until the next one....
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Stone Arthur doesn't get much of a write up in Alfred Wainwright's A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells.  In fact, in a minimalist account which reminds me a little of Ford Prefect's edited summary of the Planet Earth which is quoted in that eminent tome, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy (e.g. 'Mostly Harmless...'), its qualities can be summarised in one small paragraph:-

'Without its prominent tor of steep rock, Stone Arthur would probably never have been given a name for it is merely the abrupt end of a spur of Great Rigg although it has the appearance of a seperate fell when seen from Grasmere.  The outcrop occurs where the gradual decline of the spur becomes pronounced and here are the short walls of rock, like a ruined castle, that give Stone Arthur its one touch of distinction.' (Wainwright, 1955).

At 1652 ft OD, it's modest in size.  This makes it an ideal destination for a winter walk, and an equally perfect destination for novice fell-baggers who've cut their teeth on Loughrigg Fell, Silver Howe and Helm Crag, and feel the urge to conquer something a wee bit more imposing.

I've been fascinated with this fell ever since I  first started visiting the Lakes in 2000 or thereabouts.  Its name - Stone Arthur - appeals to the romantic side of me, and most of all, seen from a distance, it reminds me of Weathertop.  It's that little crown of rock on the summit that does it - here's the view from Grasmere, with the rocky tor at the summit just visible in silhouette:-

To reach it from Grasmere, the intrepid walker is required to - gulp! - cross the road!  This is why it's taken me so long to visit Stone Arthur - until last summer, I'd stuck to the fells immediately overlooking Grasmere, but now I increasingly find myself wandering further afield.

There's a brief stretch up a picturesque lane before the real climb begins:-

It's quite a tough slog to the summit, which isn't even that easy to find.  It's quite prominent from various locations on the ascent, as pictured below, but the higher you go, the more tricky it is to discern the actual summit from the rocky outcrops that litter the shoulder of Great Rigg.

In the end, we wound up overshooting the summit the first time, heading on up the slope to take in the summit of Great Rigg before coming back down the hill again and taking in Stone Arthur on the descent.  It was no day to loiter on the summits, unfortunately: Stone Arthur in particular was battered and buffeted by a strong, cold wind that seemed worse at low level than it did when we were on the higher peak.  I assume Helvellyn's massive bulk was providing Great Rigg with some degree of shelter...

Anyway, the view was, as ever, spectacular, all shifting patterns of light and shade, with the muted colours of winter looking particularly beautiful.  Here's a view over to Helm Crag and Gibson Knott (December's destinations), with Easdale Tarn and Sergeant Man (last February's destination) seen in the middle distance. According to AW (and I'm not going to argue with him, because he knows what he's talking about much more than I do on regarding such matters!), the peaks beyond are Bowfell and Scafell Pike.

Another similar view now, with Helm Crag more centrally framed and the outcrop which rings the summit of Stone Arthur more prominently featured:-

And now I've visited it in person, I'm now even more convinced that this must be Weathertop! I can just imagine Nazgul swarming over the rocks in the dead of night, and Aragorn fighting them off with a heroically-wielded firebrand!!

All in all, it was a lovely destination.  It's one I'd recommend to anyone, whether they're an accomplished fell-walker or a novice recently converted to the noble art of Wainwright-bagging, and it's one which I hope I can return to in the future.  Hopefully when the elements aren't quite so malevolent as they were last Friday!!

And tomorrow I'll introduce you to Great Rigg!!
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Back to reality, I'm afraid.  This morning, I was enjoying watching the antics of red squirrels and nuthatches whilst eating breakfast, and now I've returned!

We got up in the fells on Friday, but even though we succeeded in scaling Great Rigg and Stone Arthur, I managed to get a blister.  So the following day, my antics were somewhat curtailed.  I'm a bit disappointed: my trusty Brashers have served me well over many walks in the five years that I've had them, and this is the first time I've been blighted with a blister.

But there were other things to do.  As a result of my enforced rest I at last managed to get another one of the thousand things I want to accomplish before I die ticked off, by visiting a site that I've been meaning to see ever since I started visiting the Lakes twelve or more years ago.

Photos of the fell walk will of course be forthcoming, but in the mean time, I'm going to set you a little quiz.  I'm going to post you two photos of the monument we visited, and I'm going to pose you four questions:

1) (For two points!): What's the date of the monument?  Just a rough characterisation, nothing more than that...

2) (For two points): What type of monument does it represent?

3) (For three points): What exactly was the purpose of the building in the second photo, bearing in mind it's part of the same site?

4) (For three points)):  What's the name of the site??


And I'll give you an extra ten points if you say, "Oh!  I've been there!" in such a way that I'll actually believe you!

There's no prize for the winner, just a round of virtual applause.  And in case you're scratching your heads in utter bewilderment, there are a few clues which should narrow down any potential contenders.  Long term followers of the blog who've been paying attention to my posts should be able to make a calculated guess for at least a couple of the questions, too!

Answers will be posted in a couple of days, after the fell walking posts have been completed.

Helm Crag

Dec. 24th, 2011 02:09 pm
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Back to the Lake District now, and a visit to that most iconic of fells, Helm Crag.

Helm Crag is synonymous with Grasmere, a looming presence which overlooks the town.  It's famous for its rock formations: 'The Lion and the Lamb' are a familiar sight to visitors, so much so that Wainwright lamented over the fact that Helm Crag now often gets called 'The Lion and The Lamb' by visitors unfamiliar with its true identity...  Helm Crag sounds much more majestic and imposing, conjuring up images of Helm's Deep...

Like Gibson Knott, it's very modest in height, standing at a mere 1299 feet. A perfect goal for a winter's walk, and an ideal introduction to fell walking, if you ever fancy trying your hand at it.  It was one of the first summits I ventured onto - Silver Howe was my first, and Helm Crag the second - but it was way back in 2003 or 2004 that I last visited it in person.

We were well due a return trip, and I must admit that wandering along the ridge path that day, I felt like I was in the presence of an old friend.

Here's an unusual view of Helm Crag, seen from the path that travels along the ridge to Gibson Knott and Calf Crag:-

A Lion and a Lamb can just be glimpsed - Wainwright suggests that there are two lions, and two lambs, one at either end of the summit.  These rock formations do, however, have alternative names...

Like the 'Howitzer', shown below, with the dramatic backdrop of Steel Fell to the rear:-

At the other end of the ridge is another rock formation, which forms  the classic 'Lion and the Lamb' group that gives the summit its alternative name :-

I'm not sure if this is the case, but I think it's this particular formation, and not the Howitzer, that's also known as 'The Old Woman Playing the Organ'. 

We lunched that day hunkered down between some boulders on the summit.  This was the view, looking out towards the snow-covered heights of Helvellyn and Nethermost Pike (to the right) and Steel Fell (to the left).  Wainwright's description of the summit mentions a 'strange depression' strewn with boulders - I guess we found it, because I couldn't describe the bleak area in the foreground any better:-

The path back down the mountain was steep (not half so unpleasantly steep as the descent from Dollywagon!!) but Wainwright recommended it for the return route - most people ascend Helm Crag and return via the Borrowdale bridle path.  Wainwright was quite right in his advice - the view over Grasmere towards Loughrigg Fell was breathtaking.

I must be getting more accomplished at fell-walking.  When I first tackled Helm Crag, it seemed like a pinnacle of achievement.  This last trip was a pleasant walk with a wee bit of extra effort from time to time - I'm amazed it's taken me seven or eight years to go back there.

A lovely summit, and just the place to be on a midwinter's afternoon.

And now I'd better go - I've got a Christmas tree to decorate and some presents to wrap.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 
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