A tale of two houses (part 2): Sizergh Castle

Sizergh Castle isn’t really a castle at all. Although it has a large defensive tower dating from the 13th century, a potent symbol of the power of the Strickland family throughout the Medieval period, it is really just a grand country house. Prominent parts of the house date from the Elizabethan, including the dark wood panelled interiors, and Georgian-eras.

The house is set in a large country park, the first, dramatic, sight of the building comes as you walk across the park from the south. The long walk through the grounds, passing some lovely old trees, gives you some idea of the former wealth of the family that lived here.

SIzergh Castle from the south, Cumbria, England

SIzergh Castle from the south, Cumbria, England

Sizergh Castle entrance, Cumbria, England

Sizergh Castle entrance, Cumbria, England

Much history is bound up in Sizergh Castle, including the political and religious turmoil of the 17th and 18th centuries. Until the end of the 18th century, the Strickland family were deeply involved in the events of English history. Despite having a central role in this turmoil, they managed to retain ownership of Sizergh Castle until the 20th century. The family ‘gave’ the house to the National Trust in 1950, but negotiated a pretty good deal. They continue to live there and public access is restricted to four hours per day, five days per week.

The Strickland family arrived in England as part of the Norman Conquest, and were granted land in Cumbria. Sizergh Castle came into their hands through marriage. Thomas Strickland came to prominence during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, carrying the flag of St. George (a great honour apparently). More importantly, Strickland brought with him a complement of archers. The Bowmen of Kendal were instrumental in the English victory against overwhelming French odds.

SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Window, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Window, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

The Strickland family chose the wrong side in the 15th century War of the Roses, but it didn’t harm their standing. More damaging for the family was their religion. Staunch Catholic supporters of the Stuart monarchy, in the 1640s Sir Robert Strickland backed Charles I against Parliament. Sir Robert’s son, Thomas, fought at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642 and was finally captured by Parliamentarians in 1644. While suffering financial penalties for their Royalist sympathies, Sizergh Castle remained in their possession.

It was inevitable that the Strickland’s would be drawn into further conflict when, in 1685, James II inherited the English throne from his brother Charles II. James was suspected (rightly) of being a secret Catholic, and was frequently at odds with the Protestant Parliament. His attempts to create religious freedoms for Catholics, and the birth of a Catholic heir in 1688, caused Parliament to act.

Sizergh Castle entrance, Cumbria, England

Sizergh Castle entrance, Cumbria, England

Medieval baquet hall, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Medieval baquet hall, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Cabinet, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Cabinet, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Portrait of Mary Matthews, the great, great grandmother of the current head of the family SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Portrait of Mary Matthews, the great, great grandmother of the current head of the family SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Elephant clock, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Elephant clock, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Four poster bed, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Four poster bed, Sizergh Castle, Cumbria, England

James II was replaced by the Protestant, William of Orange. James went into exile in France, all-the-while plotting to return and reclaim the throne. The Strickland family fled abroad to join him.

James’ invasion of Ireland in 1688 ended in defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, something still celebrated by Northern Ireland’s Protestant fundamentalists. This finished his ambitions to reclaim the English throne, and condemned him and his supporters to permanent exile. While remaining loyal to the Jacobite Stuarts, some members of the Strickland family returned to England, and Sizergh Castle, in 1699 – others continued to live in France as part of the exiled Stuart court.

The 'hot wall', SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

The ‘hot wall’, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Heraldic shield, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Heraldic shield, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

The final Stuart or Jacobite Rebellion in 1745 saw Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, invade England with an army of Scots Highlanders. Francis Strickland was one of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s seven companions when he sailed from France in 1745 to raise support in Scotland. This group is known as The Seven Men of Moidart.

Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army passed Sizergh Castle on their triumphant march south, and again on their disastrous retreat north towards final defeat at the Battle of Culloden. There is no evidence that Bonnie Prince Charlie or Francis Strickland visited Sizergh but the castle’s inhabitants must have been following events anxiously. Jacobite ambitions were crushed by the defeat at Culloden, although the Strickland family remained Jacobite supporters throughout the rest of the 18th century. There are portraits of the Stuarts dotted around the building.

SIzergh Castle from the south, Cumbria, England

SIzergh Castle from the south, Cumbria, England

Once you’ve tired of Sizergh Castle’s history, the gardens offer a welcome break from being patronised by the National Trust staff working in the building. I was told three times that I needed to be careful not to damage anything with my very small bag. Three times seems a little excessive, especially when delivered in a tone that would have been offensive had it been used on a dog.

Topiary garden, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Topiary garden, SIzergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Sizergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Sizergh Castle, Cumbria, England

Luckily I didn’t encounter any further Trust staff in the gardens and could enjoy them unmolested…and, to be fair, the gardens are quite lovely.

A tale of two houses (part 1): Levens Hall

In the southern part of Cumbria, there are two outstanding country houses: Levens Hall and Sizergh Castle. Both have extraordinary histories, both are Medieval in origin and both are still inhabited by owners who can date their family’s history to the early history of the house. Not only that, they are little more than a couple of miles apart, making it possible to visit both during the same day.

Levens Hall seen from the topiary garden, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall seen from the topiary garden, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall and sundial in the Herb Garden, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall and sundial in the Herb Garden, Levens, Cumbria, England

I arrived at Levens Hall after walking through the adjoining deer park, which was designed and laid out between 1694 – 1710 by landscape designer Guillaume Beaumont. The renowned Frenchman was also gardener to King James II. The park is lovely, but it is Beaumont’s work in the gardens of Levens Hall that is truly remarkable – as much for the fact of their survival into the 21st century, as for their beauty. Levens Hall has the oldest topiary garden in the world. Its fabulous, frivolous and fun.

Topiary at Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Topiary at Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall seen from the topiary garden, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall seen from the topiary garden, Levens, Cumbria, England

Topiary at Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Topiary at Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall topiary garden, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall topiary garden, Levens, Cumbria, England

Topiary at Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Topiary at Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

The topiary garden is the ‘must see’ attraction at Levens Hall, but the other ten acres of gardens are beautiful as well. The gardens take you from one environment (orchard, herb garden, willow labyrinth) into another simply by turning a corner, or walking through an archway. The Ha Ha (a ditch creating an uninterrupted view across the countryside, and not a popular catch phrase from a Simpson’s character), is one of the oldest in the country.

Looking toward the Beech Circle, Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Looking toward the Beech Circle, Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

The Ha Ha, Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

The Ha Ha, Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

The Herb Garden, Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

The Herb Garden, Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

The Hall itself dates from the 12th century, when a Peel Tower was built by the original owner, Norman de Hieland, founder of the de Redman family. The de Redman’s owned the Hall for over three hundred years. In the 16th century the house passed into the hands of the Bellingham family, who are largely responsible for the magnificent Elizabethan house you see today.

In 1689 the house was purchased by Colonel James Grahme, courtier to James II, after which the ownership of the estate goes a bit Brideshead Revisited. The next 324-years saw a bemusing sequence of births, deaths, marriages, inheritances and name changes largely involving the Howard family (Earls of Berkshire and Suffolk).

Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Window of Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Window of Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Having survived more political and social upheavals than you can shake a stick at, Levens Hall is still in the hands of the same family, the Bagots – that is if you consider a distant branch of a large, extended family to be the same family. This continuity, combined with good fortune and some far sighted individuals, has ensured the house has retained much of its physical history intact.

The exterior speaks for itself, but the interior has wonderful items adorning Elizabethan-era rooms. You can’t take photographs inside, but there are fireplaces with superb carved wooden mantels; exquisitely painted Spanish leather panels on the walls of the dining room; Gillow mahogany furniture illuminates the bedrooms. Remarkably, numerous items belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte, including a saddle used in his Egyptian campaign, fill the house. All the Napoleonic souvenirs are thanks to a niece of the Duke of Wellington who married into the family.

Fountain Garden at Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Fountain Garden at Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

As I entered a room a young child asked a question to a member of the staff which caught my attention. “Are there any ghosts?” Apparently there are quite a few, including a ghost dog known to chase visitors up the stairs.

Further investigation resulted in the tale of the Grey Lady (they’re always grey and ladies). She is said to have placed a curse on the family: no male heir would be born until the River Kent stopped flowing and a white fawn was born. True to form, no male heirs were born until 1896 when the River Kent froze and a fawn was born. Spooky! So spooky, that the bizarre TV programme Most Haunted recorded an episode at Levens Hall. They discovered some ‘disturbing’ activity, but that may have been the £12.50 entrance fee.

Levens Hall and sundial in the Herb Garden, Levens, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall and sundial in the Herb Garden, Levens, Cumbria, England

The Topiary Garden at Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

The Topiary Garden at Levens Hall, Levens, Cumbria, England

All-in-all, Levens Hall is a remarkable place, and I greatly enjoyed wandering the gardens and trying not to break anything valuable inside the house.

Into the enchanted forest…watch out for fairy snares!

Hollywood would have us believe that fairies are mischievous but kindly creatures – think Tinker Bell, the fairy dust-sprinkling brat of the Peter Pan films. The reality is somewhat different. These wee magical creatures should be avoided at all costs. They are malicious, devious beasties who’ll try to bamboozle and trick you, and then lure you into one of their snares.

Fairies kidnap babies and leave ‘changelings’ in their place. When I see a small child wearing fairy wings in the street, all I see is fairy propaganda at work. Under no circumstance should you wander unsuspecting into the realm of the fairies, and definitely avoid eating their food. These winged willow-the-wisps are a menace, but, for reasons known only to themselves, fairies don’t like iron. Carry iron with you at all times.

The Limestone Link through Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

The Limestone Link through Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

The Fairy Steps, Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

The Fairy Steps, Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

The Fairy Steps, Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

The Fairy Steps, Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

Having just survived a close encounter with fairies while walking in Underlaid Wood, close to Beetham in Cumbria, its ‘fairy’ easy to see how belief in the small folk could take possession of a person’s mind. The narrow woodland tracks cross a landscape of wind and rain sculpted limestone. Its a magical place, with a soundtrack of eerie, creaking trees to accompany your walk. Surely, fairies live in these enchanted woods?

Of course they do, they even have their own staircase, ‘The Fairy Steps’. What further evidence is needed?

Limestone, Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

Limestone, Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

The Fairy Steps, Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

The Fairy Steps, Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

Limestone, Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

Limestone, Underlaid Wood, Cumbria, England

Of course, fairies aren’t really real. That’s what I keep telling myself, and anyone who claims otherwise requires a one way ticket to the psychiatrist. They may be folk tales, grown out of pre-Christian beliefs and traditions, but the idea of the fairy has had a powerful influence on the Western European mind for centuries…and for centuries people have believed them to be real creatures influencing human existence. A bit like the Djinn in Arabic culture.

I had my fairy encounter while on a walk to Arnside, where the River Kent reaches Morcambe Bay and the Irish Sea. The day started fine, but by the time I reached Arnside it was raining. Three hours later it was still raining. As the Eurythmics sang, ‘There’s nothing like an English summer’.

The Limestone Link route to Arnside, Cumbria, England

The Limestone Link route to Arnside, Cumbria, England

The Limestone Link route to Arnside, Cumbria, England

The Limestone Link route to Arnside, Cumbria, England

The estuary at Arnside is famous for its railway viaduct, and for being one of the most dangerous bits of sand anywhere in England. The estuary is deceptive, people die here every year. Quicksands will swallow a person whole; deep water channels are hazardous; most dangerous of all, the ‘Arnside Bore’. Not some old bloke in the pub, but a tide that arrives with the speed and power of a steam train at full speed. You don’t want to be on the sand during the Bore.

Arnside viaduct, Cumbria, England

Arnside viaduct, Cumbria, England

Arnside sands, Cumbria, England

Arnside sands, Cumbria, England

Arnside sands with viaduct, Cumbria, England

Arnside sands with viaduct, Cumbria, England

I reached Arnside via the village of Beetham, home to the 14th century Beetham Hall. This fortified country house appears to be slowly crumbling, but it is still a powerful reminder of the history of this region…and Beetham Hall has seen some history. On the wrong side of the War of the Roses the owners lost the Hall and their lands to the crown. On the wrong side during the English Civil War, its Royalist defenders found themselves under siege from Thomas Fairfax’s Roundheads. Serious damage was inflicted on the building, it hasn’t recovered since.

Beetham Hall, Beetham, Cumbria, England

Beetham Hall, Beetham, Cumbria, England

Beetham Hall, Beetham, Cumbria, England

Beetham Hall, Beetham, Cumbria, England

Beetham itself is a pretty little village, with a cluster of old buildings, including St. Michael and All Angels Church, parts of which are 12th century. The original chapel was dedicated to the largely forgotten St. Lioba. She was born into a nobel Saxon family, and was destined for Holy Orders from an early age – she was related to St. Boniface, which no doubt helped her career. Boniface made it his life’s work to covert Germany to Christianity (where he met a sticky end, presumably at the hands of an affronted pagan).

St. Michael and All Angels Church, Beetham, Cumbria, England

St. Michael and All Angels Church, Beetham, Cumbria, England

St. Michael and All Angels Church, Beetham, Cumbria, England

St. Michael and All Angels Church, Beetham, Cumbria, England

The Wheatsheaf pub, Beetham, Cumbria, England

The Wheatsheaf pub, Beetham, Cumbria, England

St. Michael and All Angels Church, Beetham, Cumbria, England

St. Michael and All Angels Church, Beetham, Cumbria, England

St. Lioba accompanied Boniface on his missionary trips. It was while pestering Germans that she is credited with saving a village from a terrible a storm, one of several miracles allegedly achieved through prayer. Beetham parish church doesn’t have an association with her anymore, but up the hill from the church is a shrine containing a statue of her ringing a bell.

Shrine to St. Lioba, Beetham, Cumbria, England

Shrine to St. Lioba, Beetham, Cumbria, England

Shrine to St. Lioba, Beetham, Cumbria, England

Shrine to St. Lioba, Beetham, Cumbria, England

Getting closer to Arnside the Limestone Link route I was following passed by the 14th century Hazelslack Tower. A Peel Tower that was constructed to protect people from attacks by Scots raiders and Border Reivers. The tower fell into disrepair in the 17th century, coinciding with an end to Border Reiver activity.

Hazelslack Tower, Limestone Link, Cumbria, England

Hazelslack Tower, Limestone Link, Cumbria, England

From here it was only a couple of miles to Arnside. On a good day, you can look out over Arnside Sands and see the hills of the Lake District in the distance. Unfortunately, the clouds had gotten progressively bigger and darker on my journey and now, in Arnside, the heavens opened. Only another six miles to go…as the Eurythmics sang, ‘Here come the rain again’. I blame the fairies.

Kendal, The Auld Grey Town

It may come as a surprise – it certainly came as one to me – but the term ‘black market’ is a Cumbrian invention.

Today, ‘black market’ is the trade in illegal goods. Several centuries ago in Cumbria it was the same, except it referred to the region’s most valuable mining commodity: graphite, known as ‘black lead’. It was the trade in illicit ‘black lead’ that gave rise to the term ‘black market’. Who knew?

Rifleman's pub, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Rifleman’s pub, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kendal, Cumbria, England

I know this little-known fact because I visited the Abbot Hall Museum in Kendal, which had a whole display on the mining industry in Cumbria. Its a small museum dedicated to the history of local life, but it has some genuinely fascinating displays. I didn’t realise how intensive mining was in the region from the sixteenth century onwards.

Nor did I realise that Cumbria was a major producer of bobbins to the cotton mills of Lancashire. The word ‘bobbin’ sounds ludicrous, but they were an integral part of the manufacture of cotton cloth. At it’s peak, in the mid-nineteenth century, the cotton industry supported sixty-four bobbin mills in Cumbria and employed thousands of people. This sort of information is why you should visit your local museum. Although you have to read the heritage plaques to discover that Kendal is host to the largest church in Cumbria…

Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria, England

Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria, England

Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria, England

Kendal Parish Church, Cumbria, England

Monument to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Monument to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal is the largest town in southern Cumbria, it serves as the tourist gateway to the Lake District National Park. Its nickname, The Auld Grey Town, comes from the grey colour of the local limestone used in most buildings – although I always thought it was a reference to the grey skies and constant rain that seemed to accompany my childhood.

Stone stairway, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Stone stairway, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Chimneys in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Chimneys in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Strolling around Kendal requires effort – the town is built on hills – but it’s worth it to suddenly find yourself in a small seventeenth century alleyway; or going under an arch to the gardens of a former hospital built 1606; or standing in Colin Croft, one of the few surviving ‘yards’ preserving a unique architectural heritage in Kendal. Legend has it that they were constructed with narrow entrances to defend against Scottish attacks, but that’s a myth. They housed various industries and workshops, the reason for their unique design remains a mystery. Kendal also has a castle.

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Castle was the home of the Parr family, and it was Catherine Parr who became Queen of England as Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. I’d say that makes Catherine Kendal’s most famous former resident. Sadly by the mid-sixteenth century the castle was already in bad repair and was abandoned shortly afterwards. Things haven’t improved since – only a few sections of the walls and buildings remain, but the site of the castle is still impressive, on top of a steep hill with panoramic views over the town.

View over Kendal from Kendal Castle, Cumbria, England

View over Kendal from Kendal Castle, Cumbria, England

Catherine Parr, however, isn’t the most famous thing to come from Kendal. If you were to ask people today what Kendal was famous for, they’d probably say Kendal Mint Cake – the teeth rotting bars of peppermint infused sugar made famous as the snack of choice when Edmund Hillary climbed Everest in 1953.

Kendal Mint Cake, Cumbria, England

Kendal Mint Cake, Cumbria, England

A closer look at Kendal’s coat-of-arms gives a clue to the origins of the town’s greatest claim to fame. Teasels and bale hooks, both important tools of the wool trade, are represented on the coat-of-arms. The town motto reads “Cloth is my bread” because Kendal was famous for producing a hard-wearing woollen cloth known as ‘Kendal Green’.

‘Kendal Green’ was worn by Kendalian archers who played a critical role at the Battles of Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War between the feuding French nobility who ruled both France and England. ‘Kendal Green’ is also mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV because it was traditional for foresters to wear it – and is probably why Errol Flynn wore green (including those fabulous tights) when playing Robin Hood.

Photograph of a sheep farmer and sheep, Abbott Hall Museum, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Photograph of a sheep farmer and sheep, Abbot Hall Museum, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Wool trade-related street sign, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Wool trade-related street sign, Kendal, Cumbria, England

More infamously, ‘Kendal Green’ formed one side of the triangular Trans-Atlantic slave trade: cloth from Kendal was bartered for slaves on the coast of Africa, who were then exchanged for sugar and tobacco produced by slaves in the Americas, which were shipped back to Kendal via the ports at Lancaster and Whitehaven. Alongside other exotic commodities from the Caribbean, these two products became the raw materials of two major Kendal industries – tobacco manufactured into snuff, and sugar to make Kendal Mint Cake. Even in sleepy little Kendal, its impossible to escape Britain’s role in the slave trade.

Entrance to Collin Croft, a unique architectural feature in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Entrance to Collin Croft, a unique architectural feature in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Collin Croft, a unique architectural feature in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Collin Croft, a unique architectural feature in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Plaque and postbox dedicated to Postman Pat, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Plaque and postbox dedicated to Postman Pat, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Postman Pat is a Kendalian, Kendal, Cumbria

Postman Pat is a Kendalian, Kendal, Cumbria

The River Kent bisects Kendal as it flows towards Morcambe Bay and the Irish Sea. Thanks to the unnaturally high rainfall in the hills surrounding Kendal, the river historically flooded vast areas of the town. As a child I remember seeing the water burst the banks of the river but, thanks to a river widening scheme, that is now a thing of the past.

The River Kent in Kendal, Cumbria, England

The River Kent in Kendal, Cumbria, England

Bridge over the River Kent, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Bridge over the River Kent, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Nineteenth century engineering en route to the Auld Grey Town

The Lancaster Canal is today a gentle reminder of the Industrial Revolution that erupted in Britain between the 1780s and 1830s, and which changed the landscape of this island forever.

Work on the canal started in 1794 and wasn’t completed until 1826, by which time the canal stretched from Preston in Lancashire to Kendal in Cumbria. Later still the canal was extended to the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, connecting Kendal, and all-points south, with the giant industrial cities of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and one of the world’s busiest ports at Liverpool. Although by this time the death-knell of the canal had been sounded by the construction of the first intercity railway in 1830.

The Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

The Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

As you walk its historic towpath today, passing through rolling countryside on the way to Kendal, its hard to imagine that this magnificent engineering feat was brought about by the rise of the industrial cities of Northern England. My destination, Kendal, is known as the Auld Grey Town thanks to its buildings being constructed from limestone – although it could equally refer to the terrible weather – was the most northerly point of the canal.

The Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

The Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Kendal was a centre of cloth manufacture, as well as shoe and tobacco production, but the canal also linked several gunpowder works to the outside world. The gunpowder works in this part of the country were for mining rather than military use, and were still in existence in the 1930s. Kendal also provided the reason for the Lancaster Canal to remain commercially viable – until 1944 coal was delivered to Kendal Gas Works on the canal.

When I reached the small hamlet of Crooklands, I diverted off the canal to visit the Church of St. Partick which sits in splendid isolation on top of a hill and can be seen from miles away. Its a picturesque spot with commanding views (albeit of the M6 to the south), and is the final resting place of several generations of my family.

St. Patrick's Church, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick’s Church, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

Incomplete memory, St. Patrick's Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

Incomplete memory, St. Patrick’s Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick's Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick’s Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick's Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick’s Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick's Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

St. Patrick’s Church cemetery, Crooklands, Cumbria, England

Back on the canal again I headed north towards Kendal. The construction of this canal was special, it is one of Britain’s few ‘contour canals’. The canal follows the natural line of the landscape and consequently has very few locks going up and down hills. It means the canal is flat, making for easy walking. You can see contour construction in operation as you walk the route, although, sadly, the final section of the canal has been drained because of leakage.

What it lacks in locks is made up for by a tunnel at the village of Hincaster: at 378 yards its the longest tunnel on the Lancaster Canal. Like the rest of this northern section of the canal, the tunnel was opened in 1819 at the height of the Industrial Revolution.

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Hincaster Tunnel, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

There isn’t a towpath through the tunnel – the boats were either punted through or men would lay on their backs on the roof of the boat and ‘walk’ it through. There is a route over the top of the tunnel which was used by the horses which normally towed the boats. Walking over it today you also pass under the west coast railway line – these two forms of transport follow the same route.

After passing over the tunnel its possible to divert through a lovely country park, sliced in two by the River Kent on its way to the Irish Sea. Levens Park was completed in 1710 and is part of Levens Hall. It has a wonderful avenue of oak trees, many dating back to this period and on a good day you’ll spot deer and goats with huge horns in the park, although I didn’t see a single one. Levens Hall dates from the mid-fourteenth century, but much of the present building is from the reign of Elisabeth I.

A lost glove made into an offensive gesture, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

A lost glove made into an offensive gesture, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

A lost mitten can't make an offensive gesture, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

A lost mitten can’t make an offensive gesture, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

Avenue of ancient oaks, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

Avenue of ancient oaks, Levens Park, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall, Cumbria, England

Levens Hall, Cumbria, England

Levens Park, Cumbria, England

Levens Park, Cumbria, England

Once through Levens Park you can either rejoin the route of the canal or take a slightly longer route to Kendal which follows the River Kent. The weather was nice so I chose to do the latter.

Bridge over the River Kent, Cumbria, England

Bridge over the River Kent, Cumbria, England

On the banks of the River Kent, Cumbria, England

On the banks of the River Kent, Cumbria, England

Fungi on the River Kent, Cumbria, England

Fungi on the River Kent, Cumbria, England

Bridge over the River Kent, Cumbria, England

Bridge over the River Kent, Cumbria, England

After nearly five hours of walking I finally reached Kendal to be greeted by its Coat of Arms next to Nether Bridge, which dates back to the fourteenth century. The three span bridge was completed in 1772 and widened in 1908, but still retains the 1772 elements. More on the Auld Grey Town soon…

Nether Bridge, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Nether Bridge, Kendal, Cumbria, England

Kendal Town Coat-of-Arms, Cumbria, England

Kendal Town Coat-of-Arms, Cumbria, England

The Devil’s Bridge, Ruskin’s View and the Vale of Lune

Legend tells us that in the fourteenth century the good people of Kirkby Lonsdale wanted to build a bridge across the River Lune. They didn’t have the means to build it, so the Devil appeared to a local woman and promised to build the bridge for them. In return, the Devil wanted possession of the first soul to cross the bridge.

The town folk agree to the Devil’s terms and overnight the Devil built the bridge. The following morning the woman came to the bridge and, outwitting the Devil, threw bread onto it for her dog to chase. The dog crosses the bridge and the Devil has to accept its soul instead of a human soul.

This legend isn’t unique, there are many similar folk tales across Europe. When I was at school in Kirkby Lonsdale an alternative version of the tale told of how a local farmer drove a herd of sheep over the bridge. In this predominately sheep farming community, this version seems more appropriate, and fits with the tradition of the canny, or even cunning, farmer.

The Devil's Bridge over the River Lune, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

The Devil’s Bridge over the River Lune, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

To reach Kirkby Lonsdale I walked over Holme Park Fell and Hutton Roof Crags, two beautiful areas of protected landscape. The weather wasn’t great, with regular showers, but the forecast was for sun and by the time I reached Kirkby Lonsdale it had broken through the clouds.

Signpost on Holme Park Fell, Cumbria, England

Signpost on Holme Park Fell, Cumbria, England

The view from Hutton Roof Crags, Cumbria, England

The view from Hutton Roof Crags, Cumbria, England

Scarecrow, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Scarecrow, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Foxgloves and gate, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Foxgloves and gate, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Traditional stile, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Traditional stile, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Kirkby Lonsdale is an historic market town with Roman origins. Mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086, it gained market town status by Royal Charter in 1227. By then several cross-country packhorse routes converged here as a strategic crossing point on the River Lune. The current St. Mary’s Church dates from Norman times, but is built on an earlier church. Queen Elizabeth School, founded during the reign of Elizabeth I, dates from 1588.

Houses, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Houses, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

St. Mary's Church, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

St. Mary’s Church, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

A walk through St. Mary’s churchyard brings you to an impressive viewpoint over the Lune Valley known as Ruskin’s View, after the famous Victorian art critic. John Ruskin is credited with standing in this spot and proclaiming it the “finest view in England, and therefore the world”. No patriotic chauvinism there then.

Signpost, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Signpost, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Ruskin's View, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Ruskin’s View, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

River Lune, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

River Lune, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

From Kirkby Lonsdale its possible to walk down the Lune Valley, all the way to the coast at Lancaster. I set off along this route, at some point crossing from Cumbria into Lancashire, until I reached the lovely village of Arkholme-in-Cawood. From here it is possible to take footpaths back to Burton-in-Kendal.

River Lune near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

River Lune near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Water Lilies, Lune Valley, Cumbria, England

Water Lilies, Lune Valley, Cumbria, England

Weathervane, Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Weathervane, Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Farm land near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Farm land near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Of course the English countryside isn’t without its dangers. Those chocolate box pictures can give a false image of the perils that await the unwary. At this time of year there are a lot of young cows in the fields. Generally this is fine, but on occasions can be hazardous to life.

As I crossed a field with young bullocks I saw the herd mentality at work: skittish and excited, they charged towards me. Like this bullocks can easily trample a person to death, so I was delighted to be chased by the group of idiot cattle below – the one on the left definitely has a satanic look in its eyes.

Bullocks near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Bullocks near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Flower meadow near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Flower meadow near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Farm land near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Farm land near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Farm estate building near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Farm estate building near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

I was born the county of Westmorland. A few years after my birth the Government abolished Westmorland and combined it with the county of Cumberland (famous for its curly sausages), to create Cumbria. However, you can still see some of the old Westmorland road signs dotted around.

I always felt irritated that Westmorland had been abolished. Yet, the name ‘Cumbria’ dates back to more ancient times in the history of the British Isles. It comes from pre-Roman Celtic tribes that inhabited this part of the Isles and who spoke Cumbric, a language closely related to Old Welsh. Cumbria is an corruption of the Welsh word, Cymru. This whole area was the heartland of the old Celtic kingdom of Rheged prior to the Roman invasion.

Seems like a good replacement after all….this history is covered brilliantly in Norman Davies’ excellent The Isles: A History.

Old county road sign near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Old county road sign near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

A walk in the country, Farleton Knott and the village of Burton-in-Kendal

The part of Cumbria south of Kendal may not be as famous as its illustrious neighbour to the north, the Lake District National Park, but it still offers beautiful countryside and some lovely walks. The only problem is the weather: it rains a lot…I mean a lot. It doesn’t really matter what time of year, you should always expect rain.

There have been a couple of good (i.e. only light rain) days since I’ve been here, and luckily I’ve been able to go walking. In an ironic twist, I even got sunburnt on my walk up Farleton Knott.

The Lancaster Canal and Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

The Lancaster Canal and Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

What I find most interesting in this predominately rural landscape, is the evidence of historical industries which used to thrive here. One sign of this is the Lancaster Canal – itself cutting edge technology when it was constructed in 1819 – which slices through this area between Lancaster and Kendal. Lancaster was an important port linking this isolated region to the world and the canal was a nineteenth century superhighway.

While today this peaceful landscape gives few hints of its history, the route of the canal was largely dictated by the need to connect centres of industry, including the important gunpowder industry. Strolling the towpath is to take a walk through history – a history that linked this region to countries which once formed part of the British Empire.

The mill pond at Holme Mills, site of a nineteenth century jute mill, Cumbria, England

The mill pond at Holme Mills, site of a nineteenth century jute mill, Cumbria, England

A swan on the Lancaster Canal near Home, Cumbria, England

A swan on the Lancaster Canal near Home, Cumbria, England

Canal Bridge on the Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Canal Bridge on the Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Starting on the canal close to the village of Holme, you soon arrive at Holme Mills which, in the nineteenth century, was home to a jute mill. Jute, an important natural fibre, was brought from India via the port at Lancaster and manufactured into hessian sacking. In a typical colonial trade-triangle, the sacking was then shipped back to the colonies to be sold.

At this time of year the canal is overgrown with plants and the hedgerows are full of beautiful wild flowers, adding a splash of colour to my walk.

Foxglove, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Foxglove, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Red clover, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Red clover, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Wildflowers, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Wildflowers, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Scotch thistle, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Scotch thistle, Lancaster Canal, Cumbria, England

Leaving the canal behind, I headed up Farleton Knott. The weather had cleared up and the climb provided tremendous views over the surrounding countryside. The higher you climb the more the landscape changes, the pasture land beneath the Knott gives way to a more rugged landscape and, finally, to a magnificent limestone pavement. The top of Farleton Knott is an exposed place with a harsh beauty, but it is somewhere that draws me back time-and-again.

Old signpost to Farleton, Cumbria, England

Old signpost to Farleton, Cumbria, England

Limestone paving and tree, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Limestone paving and tree, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Limestone cairn on the top of Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Limestone cairn on the top of Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Limestone wall on the top of Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Limestone wall on the top of Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Limestone paving, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Limestone paving, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Limestone paving, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Limestone paving, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

The Knott is classed as ‘open country’ and people can wander wherever they choose, whether there is a public footpath or not. This is a new concept in England, the legislation creating this type of access only arrived in 2001. Regardless, this land is still farmed, as it has been for centuries, as sheep farms, with the hardy Herdwick being the sheep of choice.

Problems between farmers and general public are fairly rare, but with a significant increase in population over the last twenty years, and far more people using the land for leisure, they are not unheard of – as the handmade signs seem to indicate.

Herdwick sheep, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Herdwick sheep, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Farmer's sign, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Farmer’s sign, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Farmer's sign, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Farmer’s sign, Farleton Knott, Cumbria, England

Coming off the fells I descended towards the village of Burton-in-Kendal. I’d heard that, amidst the wholesale destruction of the country pub in rural Britain, there was a pub, The King’s Arms, in the village that had bucked the trend. Not only that, a rumour was abroad indicating that they served traditional regional ales. After all that walking I figured I’d earned a pint, possibly two.

En route to the pub I also passed by the village church. Dedicated to St. James, the church dates from the seventeenth century and is a pleasant place to stroll around for a few minutes. Typically it wasn’t open – open churches get all their valuables stolen these days.

Route to Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Route to Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

St. James' church, Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

St. James’ church, Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Sign outside The King's Arms pub, Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Sign outside The King’s Arms pub, Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Real ales in The King's Arms pub, Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Real ales in The King’s Arms pub, Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Weird and wonderful Bogota, a walking tour

There is so much street life in Bogota that at times it feels a bit overwhelming. The old colonial district of La Candelaria and the business district that stretches around it are fascinating places to walk: there are street performers doing some truly odd acts, loads of interesting street art, endless street vendors selling just about everything you can imagine and a sea of people going about their business.

The street life both defines Bogota and defies the all to common stereotypes of the city as a drug-fuelled, crime-filled, danger zone. I love it and I hope these photos give a clue as to why…

Street art, Bogota, Colombia

Street art, Bogota, Colombia

Street art, Bogota, Colombia

Street art, Bogota, Colombia

Building, Bogota, Colombia

Building, Bogota, Colombia

Musicians, Bogota, Colombia

Musicians, Bogota, Colombia

Restaurant in La Candelaria, Bogota, Colombia

Restaurant in La Candelaria, Bogota, Colombia

Protester in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Protester in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Sculpture, Bogota, Colombia

Sculpture, Bogota, Colombia

Stall selling sweats and phone calls, Bogota, Colombia

Stall selling sweats and phone calls, Bogota, Colombia

Food stall, Bogota, Colombia

Food stall, Bogota, Colombia

Street performers, Bogota, Colombia

Street performers, Bogota, Colombia

Protest in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Protest in Plaza Bolivar, Bogota, Colombia

Puppeteer, Bogota, Colombia

Puppeteer, Bogota, Colombia

Coconut seller, Bogota, Colombia

Coconut seller, Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia

Plant pot street art, Bogota, Colombia

Plant pot street art, Bogota, Colombia

Car as corner shop, Bogota, Colombia

Car as corner shop, Bogota, Colombia

Street art, Bogota, Colombia

Street art, Bogota, Colombia

Religious window, Bogota, Colombia

Religious window, Bogota, Colombia