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1. Men, not mice’

The Lonsdales
11th (Service) Battalion Border Regiment
The Great War

With kind permission of Cumbria Magazine. Published November 2014.

The memory of his cough is still lucid. As a child I was terrified my grandfather could die at any moment through the violent paroxysms, as each breath appeared to be his last. He was amongst 200,000 men to suffer from the effects of being gassed and the cough was one of two souvenirs he brought back from Nieuport on the Somme, where he served with the East Lancashire Regiment. The other was a brass artillery shell, which I treasure. It was inscribed and beautifully embellished with a nail and stone by a German prisoner.

At the outbreak of war Field Marshal Earl Kitchener had a brilliantly innovative idea that ultimately back-fired. In the face of overwhelming German numerical supremacy, and the withdrawal of the French Fifth Army, he needed to encourage 100,000 volunteers to enlist through local recruitment drives instead of conscripting personnel. To this end he created 350 service battalions some of which were given the name Pals by Lord Derby, thus ensuring that desperately-needed personnel was drawn from those of a patriotic mindset who were willing to fight to their death for their country by joining workmates, friends and relatives. In doing so not only did they encourage each other to volunteer their services, they faced the enemy shoulder to shoulder. After all it would be “all over by Christmas”.

In September 1914 the 5th Earl of Lonsdale, Hugh Lowther, otherwise known as the Yellow Earl, raised his own Pals battalion, the Lonsdales. His marketing poster ‘Are you a man or a mouse’ in the Lonsdale colours caused a great deal of controversy, but had the desired effect because by March 1915 1350 men had eagerly enlisted. They were drawn mainly from all corners of Cumberland and Westmorland and after initial training at Carlisle Racecourse, with further preparations in the Midlands, Yorkshire and Hampshire, they left for France on 23rd November 1915. Previously Lord Lonsdale had been a friend of the Kaiser and even entertained him at Lowther Castle.

Hugh Lowther was a law unto himself, having personally designed and funded hodden grey uniforms for the men, made by Remaynes of Wigton. He also fashioned an unusual silver badge incorporating the dragon from his Lonsdale family crest. This was sanctioned but because the uniform colour was similar to that of the German army the Lonsdales were forced to wear standard khaki “like everyone else”.

Colonel Percy Wilfred Machell of Crackenthorpe Hall had considerable soldiering experience, including action in the Sudan, but despite having retired at the age of fifty two he accepted Lord Lonsdale’s invitation to lead the battalion on the Western Front where he was highly regarded and revered as a brilliant leader.

After months of trench warfare, in appalling conditions, a series of attacks began which were known as the Battle of the Somme, covering a distance of fifteen miles and lasting from July 1st to November 18th 1916. That first day a total of 20,000 men were killed and 37,000 wounded. It had begun full of hope when the men left their overnight cover on the edge of Authuille Wood for the “big push” which they believed would wipe out the Germans. Orders were to walk, not run, towards the enemy’s trenches as it was believed they would be empty through a week-long campaign that would have wiped them out. In truth their opponents’ trenches were not only heavily manned but they were also protected by impenetrable barbed wire. Consequently soldiers ran into a devastating hail of bullets which resulted in a carnage that is considered the worst disaster in the history of the British Army.

Around 800 Lonsdale officers and men had crossed No Man’s Land but within an
hour 516 of them were either killed, injured or missing. One such case was
that of Thomas Hartness of Skelton road ends, who had enlisted under age at fifteen. He was the first to follow Lt Col Machell “over the top” but both were killed, as witnessed by Thomas’s brother Richard who died of his wounds
a few weeks later.

Many of the Lonsdales killed on the first day are buried at the Lonsdale Cemetery, Authuille, but more are named on the massive Thiepval Memorial in rural Picardy, which commemorates 73,000 soldiers of the British Empire who have no known graves.

The Lonsdales fought in many Western Front battles, and also with East Lancashire regiments at Nieuport, as my grandfather did. Finally, in June 1918, they were disbanded and absorbed into other units which fought on the Somme. ‘They served together as Pals but also died together as Pals leaving smaller communities devastated,’ Tony Goddard, Assistant Curator of Cumbria Museum of Life, Carlisle tells me. Factories, farms, quarries, mines, societies - all felt the tragic loss of men who were closely connected at home, work and play. The King’s colour, awarded to the battalion at Carlisle Castle, is displayed above the war memorial in the isolated church of St Michael, Lowther, where a service was held on the 9th September 1922 and attended by all the Lonsdale survivors.

Similarly there are many reminders of WW1 that are worth seeking out in the Cumbrian countryside. All Saints’ Church at Watermillock, hiding not far from Ullswater, and the upper and lower bridges at Aira Force, have separate plaques dedicated to a the battalion’s honorary secretary Lieutenant Gerald Spring Rice, and his brother Cecil. Gerald was killed 27th May 1916 and buried at Authuille. His brother was connected with the war in two ways. He was British Ambassador to the United States from 1912-1918 (during which he was the future President Roosevelt’s best man) and he is often credited
with encouraging America to support us in WW1. He also wrote the lyrics
for the poignant and tear-jerking hymn I vow to thee my country, which was set to music by Gustav Holst.

Few families in the country appear to have escaped the effects of WW1 and in almost every town and village are reminders. Inside the church at Greystoke a brass memorial plaque lists 16 men of the parish, two of whom served with the Lonsdales - Thomas B Parker killed in action July 1st 1916 and Thomas Dent who died on the 10th. On the approach to the church the bridge has a plaque “In memory of all those who from this village served in the Great War 1914-1918”.

In 1989 Penrith postman Colin Bardgett took a sentimental journey to France with the late Tom Milburn of Cockermouth who had served with the 8th Battalion of the Border Regiment. It was the first time Tom had returned to the Somme since 1918 and it gave him the chance to visit Oubigny cemetery
where his brother was buried. “I was so moved,” says Colin, “when I
visited the Lonsdale Cemetery near Authuille Wood and read the headstones with familiar names, including a soldier with my own surname of Bardgett. It was then I decided to write a tribute to the Lonsdales.” Colin’s book The Lonsdale Battalion 1914-1918 is now out of print, but is available on loan from public libraries. However, Colin is planning to expand its content by writing a second book in due course.

Earlier this year I attended the launch at Penrith Library of Home Thoughts and Foreign Fields, a fascinating book compiled by Ian Forrest of Greystoke as part of the Penrith Remembers programme which honoured men and women of Cumbria who served in the Great War. It involved Ian's editing of treasured original material and personal accounts that had never previously been published. An exciting but touching find for the book regards eight surviving letters written by Isabella Slee of Calthwaite to her husband Donald who was serving in the Border Regiment’s Second Battalion in France, and who died 25th February 1917 of pneumonia. Ian's first job was to transcribe the letters and return them to the family as he was anxious about
such a valuable primary source coming to harm in his care. “These letters
betrayed a gnawing anxiety about Donald’s position, and a naivety about just what he would have been experiencing in the trenches,” says Ian. "Isabella’s words were quickly etched in my memory, as they still are.”

The Lonsdale War Diaries can be downloaded from the National Archives’ website for a small fee. Reference WO 95/2403/1

Home Thoughts and Foreign Fields is available for a minimum donation of £3 plus £2.50 postage and packing from Ian Forrest, The Pelican, Church Street, Greystoke, Penrith CA110TW. Chequest made payable to "Penrith Remembers".


2. The Sage of Chelsea

Published in The London Magazine
October/November 2014

A smoke and a talk with Thomas Carlyle

The only known surviving diaries of a Victorian regional newspaper editor were penned by my great great uncle Anthony Hewitson who owned the Preston Chronicle in Lancashire. There are seventeen in number which span the years 1865 until his death in 1912 and they paint a colourful picture of what was going on in his house, up his street, in Preston, and elsewhere. In addition he found time to write twenty books, including the History of Preston.

At the age of thirty one Anthony had earned sufficient money to buy the Chronicle through honing his craft on newspapers from Kendal to the Midlands, along with regular freelance work stretching back to his teenage days when, as an apprentice compositor and typesetter on the Lancaster Gazette, he became correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. What he brought to the Chronicle was a literary flair superior to that of other local journalists and a fondness for introducing his readers to famous personalities like Thomas Carlyle who was a leading philosopher, essayist, and satirical writer with controversial views on social issues. Arguably Carlyle was also the first person to achieve celebrity status.

The following diary entries are previously unpublished:

2nd October 1872
Today we met Major and Mrs German of Sevenoaks, whom my wife had accompanied to Charing Cross. We subsequently visited two silversmiths’ establishments and selected sundry articles for presentation in Preston to Major and Mrs German. Then we had dinner at Nicholl’s Restaurant, Regent Street. Later on I, my wife, Ambler and Andrew went to Chelsea. I proceeded to Cheyne Row to see Thomas Carlyle, the author. He had laid down so I agreed to call the next day. We all then went to see the Shakers in Little College Street.

3rd October 1872
Collecting an account or two. In afternoon to South Kensington Museum – a splendid place. Then I walked to Mr Carlyle’s in Cheyne Row and had a chat and a smoke with him. He is a fine, grisly, determined old man. On leaving went to International Exhibition where I met my wife, Ambler and Andrew. We passed through Horticultural Gardens then into Albert Hall and then went to inspect Albert Memorial opposite. At night wife and I walked down Strand and Fleet Street into Farrington Street making sundry purchases of toys etc for our children.

Thomas Carlyle was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire in 1795, attending Edinburgh University at the age of fourteen and becoming a mathematics teacher. In 1826 he married the intellectual Jane Baillie Welsh. They settled at Craigenputtock, a remote farm to the north. Despite its location Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist who championed individualism, crossed the Atlantic to track down Thomas.

In 1834 the couple moved to London for Thomas to pursue his literary career, where they paid £35 a year rent for 5 (now 24) Cheyne Row, Chelsea, and where he would live for almost half a century. His list of important books includes The French Revolution (1837) which was a massive success. Amazingly his original manuscript, the first of three ultimate volumes, was given to John Stuart Mill for checking and his maid, mistaking it for rubbish, burned it.

As his star rose Thomas and Jane’s Chelsea home became the hub of literary life where they entertained a circle of famous A-list thinkers who were in tune with his innovative ideas, which had a profound effect on his own generation and the next. There was unstinting admiration and hero worship from friends like Mill, Dickens, Tennyson, the Brownings, Ruskin, Leigh Hunt and Darwin. Even Chopin played their piano. There was also a fan club of strong-minded women who left their mark on society, notably George Eliot and Harriet Martineau.

Their crowd was part of the Victorian tsunami of social, political, religious and scientific change, with Thomas and Jane at the helm. Because of their popularity amongst revolutionary and radical thinkers, feminists, and foreign settlers they were increasingly sought out to the point where queues must have stretched from their front door to the Thames. William Holman Hunt, painter of the pre-Raphaellite Brotherhood, revered Carlyle of whom he said “from his genius pure and simple [he] won worship of such a degree that it was treason at the time to limit the adoration offered at his shrine.”

The couple often received a bad press because of their fiery marriage and whilst there seems to have been frequent antagonism between these two finely-tuned individuals, evidence suggests they were fond of, and desperately needed, each other. Jane was such an accomplished and clever woman it is likely that in our day she would have been a success in her own right and when she died in 1866 Thomas was devastated.

Although Carlyle’s writings are no longer fashionable there is a lasting interest in the amazing number of surviving letters that were written between them, and to others. Thomas’s reputation of greatness lingers - evidenced by the magnificent statue of him in Cheyne Walk and the existence of the London Library of which he was the chief instigator. Campaigning in Parliament for the building of the National Portrait Gallery, Philip Henry Stanhope used Carlyle’s arguments to achieve his objectives and high above the main entrance, on the left, is a small bust of Carlyle.

In addition to the diary entries Anthony’s visit to Carlyle is described in detail in his book Places and Faces. He explains that when he pulled the bell of 5 Cheyne Row on the 3rd October 1872 he was let in by the housekeeper (who would have been Mrs Sarah Warren). It was twenty minutes before his hero appeared, for which he was grateful, as it gave him time to calm down and take in the surroundings which were “serious, plain and primitively substantial, no superficial or aesthetic arrangement of furniture for the sake of show and effect.” Ultimately Thomas strode purposefully into the room “tall, powerfully built, aged but erect” and said “’Well sir, is there anything I can do for you?’”

The two men had much in common. Both were stonemasons’ sons, authors, radical thinkers, and religious dissenters. Interestingly their wives were strong women too. In Anthony’s case his wife Margaret was instrumental in his business, despite rearing seven children, and this included making journeys to London to buy such items as greetings cards. She also hired and fired even more servants than did Jane.

Anthony carried two chairs into the garden where he and Thomas sat facing each other in a cloud of tobacco from their churchwarden pipes. Thomas, who was wearing his famous ancient dressing gown and hat, was a heavy smoker, and had pre-stoked pipes hidden in the cracks of the garden walls. He spoke in a friendly manner, covering a variety of philosophies. “They were hopeful in tone; but he appeared to have a conviction that England’s trials, if not sufferings, would be great. In the House of Commons, he said, there was too much talk – too much talk of what he called ‘jannering’ or ‘jabbering’ – too many men in it whose primary objective was business and self,” wrote Anthony.

Eight years on the Preston Chronicle revealed: “Thomas Carlyle died on Saturday morning [5th February 1881] at his home in Cheyne Row, Chelsea, where for some days he had been lying in a state of hopeless prostration.”

On the 10th Anthony travelled to Ecclefechan with the Mayor of Preston, after which there was a lengthy and fascinating account in the Preston Chronicle. His diary entry says:

Thursday 10th February 1881
Met Alderman J Hibbert (Mayor of Preston). Proceeded to Ecclefechan. On getting to Carlisle overtook funeral party and rode with one of the undertakers forward. Funeral at about 12.35 in U[nited] P[resbyterian] Churchyard. No ceremony – not a word said or sung by anybody. Mr J A Froude, Mr Lecky and Professor Tyndall amongst those present.

The Carlyles’ home, opened as a literary shrine in 1895, was given to the National Trust in 1936. I pulled the same bell that the Carlyles’ friends and Uncle Anthony used all those years ago and the door was opened by a volunteer who gave me a warm welcome. She opened it for me again on departure, when I was bid a pleasant goodbye. This is one of the touches custodian Linda Skippings and her staff thoughtfully provide so that it feels more like you are visiting friends than a museum. It adds to the intimacy of a property that is lovingly cared for and has a Sleeping Beauty quality of a time stood still, where nothing seems to have been touched or altered since it fell asleep in 1881. I should not have been surprised if Jane and Thomas had walked into the room. They didn’t, so I went into the delightful peaceful garden where Thomas and Anthony had spent that hour together, but I passed on searching for hidden pipes.

Entries extracted from the diaries of Anthony Hewitson, held at Lancashire Archives, Preston. Reference DP512. Published with permission.

Republished by kind permission of The London Magazine


3: After the Tanner ‘op

Reprinted by kind permission of Down Your Way
Published July 2014

My first weekending trip to Ingleton was in November 1955 on a bike, with my friend Betty, back when the village was a buzzword for it’s Saturday night dance. Heavy and relentless rain followed us all the way to Rathmell, from where we descended to flooded lanes along which we pedalled under water that reached our knees.

Having clocked into the Youth Hostel, and recovered from our ordeal, we headed for the Wheatsheaf Inn which was packed so that we’d to sit on the windowsills with our feet dangling over the shoulders of those below. The pub pianist had such a degree of versatility that he encouraged the entire clientele to sing along in mass karaoke fashion until they were thoroughly hoarse. Afterwards we trooped over the road to the Saturday night dance which was held in the Literary Institute. The function was known far and wide as the Tanner ‘op because the entry fee was sixpence, which we dropped into a pudding basin on a card table half way up the stairs as we headed for the top floor.

The music to which we danced was provided enthusiastically by two local men and a lady whose name, if I recall correctly, was Edie Newbolt. Their sound, seeing they played half a note behind each other on piano, accordion and drums, was unique and on the slower numbers their style created a sleazy beat in the genre of The Stripper. This wonderful music was imprinted on my mental hard disk for all time so that I can recall it now far easier than I can remember what I ate for lunch yesterday. That particular night, having got caught by the warden when I was climbing in through the drying room window at midnight, I was banned from Greta Tower Hostel for ever. And so was Betty, even though she had been in her bunk, bonding with an army blanket and a mug of cocoa, since 10.30 pm.

Accommodation at Ingleton came in all forms. After our banishment from the Youth Hostile we tried most of the guest houses but our very favourite overnight stop became Hollin Tree House on Laundry Lane, which had been established in 1903. In the fifties the owners wouldn’t allow both males and females to sleep in the house simultaneously. The lads were housed in wooden huts in the garden from where they would throw pebbles at our bedroom windows to attract attention. But that’s as far as it went. Going outside and being discovered by the owners was not an option. Half a century on, in 2005, Betty and I took a nostalgic journey and returned to the hospitality of Hollin Tree House where we stayed with Margaret and John Wane who had taken over in 1985. Gone were the wooden huts and sadly there wasn’t a pebble to be heard.

On Sunday mornings in the 1950s the village emptied as everyone pursued their various interests and I would pedal off to explore with a camera my dad had acquired by saving coupons from the John Bull magazine – a Kodak Six-20 Brownie C box camera, which I still possess. It was during these meanderings that I found a secret hollow called Chapel-le-Dale a few miles north east on the B6255 in the direction of Ribblehead. This tiny backwater includes the diminutive St Leonard’s church. Measuring only 48’ x 20’, it is one of the smallest in the county. In Victorian times the graveyard was extended to accommodate a communal grave in which are the remains of more than 200 men, women and children who perished during the building of the Settle-Carlisle railway in the navvies’ shanty towns at Ribblehead and Batty Moss. Inside the church, which I consider a shrine to their memory, is a Dent fossilised marble tablet commemorating the men and at the Millennium a stone post was erected in the graveyard. This has a small plaque which finally acknowledged the women and children too.

Otherwise there are individual graves of two men associated with the Settle-Carlisle line who died tragically. James Mather, landlord of the Welcome Home pub at Batty Wife Hole, was killed whilst bravely trying to control a bolting horse. The other is that of Job Hirst, railway sub-contractor for the viaduct, also of Batty Wife Hole, who was attacked and robbed by thieves as he returned from Ingleton with his horse and trap whilst carrying staff wages.

The Midland Railway Company’s ambitious scheme to link England with Scotland via the Roof of England created a 72-mile feat of railway engineering like no other in Britain. At Ais Gill, on the slopes of Wild Boar Fell, the line reaches 1169 feet which is the highest point of any British railway. Just north of this is Dent station – the highest one in Britain, and over four inconvenient miles from the village for which it was named. The railway, which was planned by the highly-experienced engineer John Crossley, passes through the wildest and most breathtaking scenery imaginable. Built between 1869-1876, 6000 navvies with nothing more than pick axes, shovels and brute force constructed twenty viaducts. The largest of these is at Ribblehead - a magnificent structure standing 104 feet tall, 440 yards long, and boasting 24 arches. In order to create fourteen tunnels the navvies burrowed and blasted through the hills with dynamite and only candles to light their way. The longest tunnel is under Blea Moor. It is 2629 yards in length and 500 feet below ground.

The workers and their families lived in wooden huts in shanty towns all along the line but with 2000 of them based in hutments at Batty Wife Hole and nearby Ribblehead. The exposed bleak landscape and unsavoury living conditions were exacerbated by pernicious weather – all of which added to the difficulties in coping with serious illnesses, accidents, contagious diseases such as smallpox, drunken violence and the odd murder.

2013 was the 50th anniversary of Dr Beeching starting to wield his proverbial axe on lines that were no longer profitable, resulting in a serious decimation of the rail network. By the 1970s there was little other than freight being carried on the Settle-Carlisle and British Rail began closing passenger services until only Appleby remained open between either extremity. Adding to the threat of closure was the belief that £6 million would be needed to rebuild Ribblehead Viaduct which was in danger of collapsing – although in the final analysis the structure merely needed repairing.

During the 1970s I was involved with the Yorkshire Dales National Park in helping to lead guided walks from such isolated stations as Garsdale and Dent. In a major effort to keep the line open Colin Speakman (Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Society) who was a National Park Officer, and a fervent campaigner for the line, chartered Dales Rail trains which dropped off hikers at stations along the way, thus allowing a stay of execution for the line. In addition, a campaign against closure was started in 1981 by the newly-formed Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line which was supported by various other organisations and individuals. On the 11th April 1989, after 22,265 people and a dog named Ruswarp had signed (and paw-printed) a petition, Transport Minister Michael Portillo turned down the application by British Rail to close the line and signed the reprieval of this major landmark in our national heritage - a feat of which he is justifiably proud. On Friday 11th April this year another noteworthy event occurred in the railway’s history when Michael Portillo and forty of the original campaigners were amongst 600 passengers who travelled on the route to Carlisle in celebration of the reprieval’s twenty fifth anniversary.

The Settle-Carlisle was built through endurance and deprivation by men whose families also suffered terrible hardship in order that future generations could benefit from the facility. But for their endeavours, and those who fought for its reprieval along the way, this historical monument, which is considered one of the world’s most scenic railways, would be nothing more than a memory.


4: Holehird Gardens Lakeland’s Secret Paradise

Reprinted by kind permission of Cumbria magazine
Published April 2014

Maggie B Dickinson

Since discovering the beauty of Holehird I have been torn between keeping this hidden gem under wraps and sharing its location. Perched high above Windermere, a mile along the Patterdale road, it is approached by an extensive drive that terminates in a gardeners’ version of Fairyland. It is open from dawn to dusk every day of the year and entry is by donation.

Electronic gates part silently, not unlike stage curtains opening to reveal a new and dramatic production, for as each season progresses the gardens are transformed from one exquisite scene to another and the vista changes so frequently that the gardens hold surprises all year round. This is a garden primarily for gardeners but Holehird also appeals to artists, photographers and lovers of peace and tranquillity because, apart from the flora and wild life, there are stunning views stretching from the Langdales to the Coniston range and over the watery expanse of Windermere. It is a place for the mind, body and soul.

John Lingard bought the estate in 1854, commissioning Joseph Crowther, the architect of Manchester Cathedral, to design the original part of the current Mansion. From those early days a succession of owners put their stamp onto the building and developed a horticultural paradise that was once tended by seventeen full time gardeners.

Beatrix Potter’s parents knew a thing or two about awe-inspiring holiday rentals. They were fond of taking lengthy summer breaks in the Lake District and in 1889 and 1895 hired Holehird Mansion from Robert Macmillan Dunlop, whose late father John created the Walled Garden. In his day it was used mainly for growing fruit and vegetables with peaches, melons and vines protected in glasshouses. Holehird was on the market at the time of the Potters’ second visit and Beatrix showed potential buyers round. A collection of her original artwork done at Holehird is on display at the Armitt Museum in Ambleside.

In 1897 William Grimble Groves, a Lancashire brewer and noteworthy philanthropist bought Holehird. He became Vice President of the Lake District Preservation Society, President of the Lake District Horticultural Society, supported Salford Lads’ Club and founded a rest home for nurses. It was he who commissioned Thomas Mawson, a local horticulturalist who would later achieve international fame, to create glasshouses in which the family’s large and enviable collection of orchids was kept. In 1945 his son Aldmerman Henry Leigh Groves, gifted in trust, several farms, cottages and 550 acres - as well as Holehird Mansion and surrounding 20 acres - to Westmorland County Council. The condition was that the whole estate and the Mansion must be used for the “better health, educational and recreational welfare services in the county”.

By this stage the gardens were desperate for attention but it was not until 1961 that the Mansion was leased (by the Council’s successor Cumbria County Council) to the Leonard Cheshire Foundation which was unable to provide the complement of staff required for the upkeep of the grounds. Their maintenance was also beyond the means of the Trust but fortunately the Lakeland Horticultural Society (LHS) came to the rescue in 1969, when it started the lengthy process of taming a wilderness.

Beginning in a small way, with an overgrown rockery of two acres, and an orchard’s grassy slopes, the LHS has gradually taken on the management and development of 17 acres during a period of almost 45 years. Work on the Walled Garden began in 1980 with the clearing of defunct glasshouses and the repair of walls and paths. The next decade saw the Hydrangea Walk take shape, in addition to a further five acres in the area of the Mansion being taken on board. A Woodland Walk was instigated and restoration was carried out to the Gunnera Pool and Cascades, which are a particularly enthralling feature of the site. In 2009 the management of the Tarn and Woodland became the responsibility of the LHS and this is managed as a wildlife area.

Holehird is considered unique in Britain as every aspect of maintaining, developing and promoting the gardens, officially running a Meteorlogical Office Weather Station, and administrating the organisation, is done solely by loyal and dedicated volunteers of the LHS. Maggie Mees, its Publicity Officer, says: ‘Holehird Gardens depends for its existence on the support of two wonderful groups of people – firstly our visitors, many of whom return year after year, and who contribute to the upkeep of the garden through their generous donations, and secondly the members of the LHS who between them have an astonishing range of knowledge and skills which allows us to show visitors how it is possible to have an interesting garden and get the best out of plants in the challenging conditions for gardening in Lakeland.’

Considerable thought and planning has gone into experimenting with plants that can tolerate and survive a northern climate with a high rainfall of 71” at 500’ above sea level. This has not been without setbacks and there has been occasional havoc caused by adverse weather, badgers and deer. It was extreme weather conditions that led to the Lancashire Horticultural Society’s decision to relinquish National Collection status for the Holehird Hydrangeas and to concentrate on those varieties which thrive in local climatic conditions.

Paths lead in all directions, taking in trees, shrubs, herbaceous borders, a tarn, streams, lawns and much more. Several hours can go unnoticed, especially with a picnic in hand, for there are seats in idyllic locations. For those who can access the higher reaches of the grounds the views are eye-watering, but there is level access to the sheltered walled garden from the car park – the floral centrepiece of Holehird – for those who cannot. Here, seating overlooks island beds and herbaceous borders punctuated with feature trees, flowers and shrubs with delicious scents wafting by. Also near the car park is the Dale Panorama. From its seat, and the slate legend feature, the mountains can be viewed and identified.

On a glorious day last autumn I met relatives - Pam from Huddersfield and Anne from Leyland - who were spending a holiday in Ambleside. I have yet to discover anyone visiting the gardens for the first time and these ladies were no exception. They have been fans of Holehird for almost twenty years and appreciate the fact that it isn’t commercialised.

“I’m particularly fond of the herbaceous borders,” says Pam, “and find it useful that there are identification labels alongside plants. As a keen gardener it gives me ideas for introducing new species to my own garden.”

Anne nods in agreement. “My favourite is the walled garden. It’s a magical and secret place, reminding me of childhood literature. It has been a pleasure to observe how the gardens have developed over the years, with an increase in size and very imaginative layouts.”

There are three National Collections at Holehird: Astilbe, Polystichum Ferns and Meconopsis. In the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant Finder list 80% of the named blue perennial species of the latter can be found at Holehird. Credit is given for the first Meconopsis seeds planted here to the famous Yorkshire botanist Reginald Farrer of Clapham, who brought them back from the Northern China after a two-year expedition taken 1914-1916. This was sponsored by the Groves and other families who shared the seeds brought back.

Accompanying Farrer was William Purdom, who spent most of his childhood at Brathay Hall Lodge and trained at Kew Gardens. A seat commemorating him is in the Upper Garden Purdom Bed in which are displayed plants he introduced to cultivation.

The Society Secretary Alan Oatway tells me ‘Farrer was, of course, hugely influential in stimulating the enthusiasm for Rock Gardening, and Holehird's extensive Rock Garden and other areas for growing alpines stem from that.’

Alan, who is also organiser of the Alpine Garden Society Show held in Kendal each March, adds: ‘It is a great privilege to work on a wonderful Rock Garden of such heritage, and to share my enthusiasm with other like-minded volunteers. We learn so much from each other, and the positive feedback from our visitors gives us great pleasure.’


5: Lost in Dacre

I’m partial to motoring off piste, given the time to discover a new backwater and its secrets, and to this end I headed south off the A66 recently whilst motoring from Keswick towards Penrith. Getting lost in Cumbria never fazes me because I can always fall back on the four Lake District Ordnance Survey maps I carry in the car that are 1:25,000 scale, or two and a half inches to the mile in old money.

Not far from the honeypot of Pooley Bridge I came to rest in the charming village of Dacre, which was bathed in sunshine and peace. “Think Dacre; think castle and bears” came to mind, since these two facts were the sum total of my subconscious knowledge on Dacre. Such dalliances often reveal secrets and mysteries and my foray to Dacre proved the point for it gave me a fascinating glimpse into the past and present, and all of it worth a detour by those with a curious disposition, raging thirst or hunger pangs.

It was noon and I prioritised because I’d come to rest opposite the Horse and Farrier. Pubs like this are becoming unique, considering the diminutive village is off the beaten track and local hostelries in busier locations are closing at a frightening rate. It’s a mid-18th century Grade II listed building, open every day from noon, with a blazing fire set in an old iron range, and a genuine welcome from Susi who keeps an excellent choice of hand-pulled real ales. Customers are left in no doubt that she loves her pub and takes a pride in serving her customers.

The place oozes with character and genuine home-from-home warmth. It’s an unpretentious pub without fancy trappings and is noticeably devoid of bleeping laptops or folk avidly texting. That day there was an interesting mix of locals, cyclists, hikers and tourists who unwound and chatted round the fire or at the bar in a relaxed atmosphere.

Susi, who was already working independently in the catering trade, took over the pub with her partner in May 2009, although she is the licensee. Supporting her is Fran, as well as Susi’s little terrier Levi who sits on a stool near the bar welcoming canine customers. Behind the scenes is chef Rob who has been at the Horse and Farrier four years. All the food is homemade and sensibly priced, with the most popular dishes being home-made pies.

In days gone by there would have been more locals enjoying a pint but, like many country villages, a high percentage of the cottages are either second homes or let out for holidays. Typical of the change is the former village school, which was built in 1839 and is next to the Horse and Farrier. It is now a holiday cottage, but a hundred years ago it had eleven pupils in one classroom that was heated by an open fire. They were taught by Mrs Tibbs who would have provided kindling and coal out of her salary, this being the status quo at the time.

At the opposite end of the village Dacre Castle stands proud and safe, although in 1317 its predecessor was razed to the ground by Scottish invaders. The present building, whose moat has partially survived, is likely to originate from 1354 when Margaret de Dacre was granted a licence to build a castle chapel. The castle walls are eight feet thick and built of local red sandstone, with crenellated parapets and four square towers. Over the door is the Dacre family crest. Strictly speaking it’s a pele tower - one of several local castle and pele fortifications. When danger was threatened by border raiders these structures protected not only the owners but also local people who would take advantage of its shelter too. From the castle a footpath leads the couple of miles to Dalemain.

Dacre Castle remained in the family until the death of Lord Dacre, Earl of Sussex, who had married an illegitimate daughter of Charles II. It then passed into the hands of a local noteworthy Sir Christopher Musgrave in 1715. He died twenty years later whilst visiting Colonel Rawsthorne in Penwortham, Lancashire where he is buried in the ancient parish church of St Mary. His daughter Julia married Edward Hasell of Dalemain and it was to this son-in-law that Sir Christopher eventually passed extensive lands at Ullswater, Haweswater and the Caldbeck area, along with Dacre Castle, all of which have remained with the Hasell family ever since.

A thousand years ago, according to St Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History” published in 731, a monastery stood ‘near the river Dacore from which it received its name’. One of the brethren, who had the tongue-twisting name of Thrythred, was supposed to possess a lock of St Cuthbert’s hair which was credited with curing the blindness of a young Dacre monk. Archaeological excavations which took place in the 1980s confirmed there was indeed a monastic building where St Andrew’s church now stands, including stones of Roman origin. A cemetery was also uncovered with several hundred remains judged to be earlier than the tenth century.

St Andrew’s, built in the 12th century, has a wealth of interesting features which include two carved cross shafts dating from the 9th and 10th centuries and of either Anglo-Saxon or Viking origin, as the latter raided the site about 875. There is a red sandstone 14th century knight and Dacre tomb. Was he Margaret de Dacre’s husband?

Another treasure is a rare padlock on the south door which is inscribed 1671 and is still in use with its original key. It is one of several padlocks made by Dent of Kirkby Stephen for Lady Anne Clifford, High Sheriff of Westmorland. This formidable woman travelled regularly on horseback between her castles from Skipton to Brougham. The padlocks bore the initials A P, for Anne Countess of Pembroke, her title through her first marriage. The padlocks were given to friends and vicars so that she was able to gain access to accommodation or for prayer in their absence.

A gorgeous stained glass window was installed in memory of Viscount Willie Whitelaw (1918-1999) who was a parishioner and is buried in the graveyard. He was a former Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in Margaret Thatcher’s government .

There are several Hasell memorials which include a chancel window engraved by Sir Laurence Whistler (brother of James Whistler who famously painted their mother). This was dedicated to the memory of Sylvia Mary McCosh of Dalemain through whose instrumentations a new organ was installed in 2001.

And finally, to the famous Dacre Bears: if indeed they are bears. The four mysterious sculptures stand in the graveyard beyond each corner of the church. All are different and the weathering of the stones gives the impression that they are of great age. Are they from monastic times, Viking hogback sculptures, or from Anglo Saxon times?

They are said to tell a tale. One bear appears to be resting its head on a pillar and sleeping, another looks to have an animal on its back. The third one is trying to dislodge it and the fourth is obviously suffering from gross indigestion. Maybe it has eaten the animal or had too much porage. Oddly, Goldilocks is nowhere to be seen.

It’s fascinating to speculate on who created these child-size creatures, the reasons for their existence, and when they became part of the village. Any suggestions?


6: The Easy Six

Published April 2014 and republished here by kind permission of Down Your Way April 2014

Located hard by the Yorkshire border, before it got whisked away to pastures new, Nelson Clarion Cycling Club invariably headed beyond the county signs at Blacko or Foulridge early on Sunday mornings in pursuit of the Yorkshire Dales. Frequently we pedalled to its limestone country, where the grass really was greener.

One weekend I’d overslept, wakening sluggishly with rock and roll rhythms still pounding in my ears, and a clock whose fingers confirmed I’d missed both A and B runs. The only options were to stay at home, ride solo, or accompany the Easy Six. The latter was a group of retired men whose title, if memory serves me correctly, was coined from a section of the football pools. Despite their advanced years, these respected senior citizens travelled as far as the younger members, but slower, and with an added interest. Their aim in life was to seek out oddities and curiosities and I was hooked, right from that initial journey in their company. Because I really admired the Easy Six, and revelled in our discoveries, the thirst for finding unusual and little-known features has never left me.

Travelling via Bank Newton and Gargrave we followed quiet lanes to the lovely old church of St Michael the Archangel at Kirkby Malham where a sign now points to ‘The Watery Grave’. Tourist books on the Dales, and the money to buy books of any description, were thin on the ground in 1953. We normally borrowed reading material from libraries and sought knowledge from local people about what we might find in their locality.

Late in the 19th century Helen Harrison was buried next to a tiny stream in Kirkby Malham churchyard. Her husband Colonel John Frederick Harrison had been a sea captain and, because water had separated them during their lives, she decreed it should do so in death. This sentiment prompted their grave be constructed so that it straddled the stream as it emerged from under a dry stone wall. Unfortunately, when John died ten years later, the gravedigger found solid rock on the opposite side to Helen and her husband was buried above her.

The Easy Six’s list of backwaters always led to enchantment, and invariably we had the discoveries all to ourselves. We shared stunning viewpoints, lonely stone circles like the ones at Bordley and Beckermonds, dreamy waterfalls and geological surprises. I had no idea in those days about the national importance of the Norber Erratics near Austwick. The last Ice Age had left these Silurian Sandstone boulders on top of a younger porous limestone pavement that is now considerably eroded, so that the boulders appear to balance precariously on stumps. The extent of this pavement at Moughton Scar, which dwarfs the one at Malham Cove, is awesomely lunar-like and vast.

Apart from the Druidical standing stones and altar at Bordley, the whole area around Malham is rich in unique geological features such as the magnificent Gordale Scar and Malham Cove, both of which have always attracted hordes of tourists. On odd occasions we ventured along Mastiles Lane on our bikes, in the footsteps of monks and then pursued Malham Moor for evidence of earlier dwellers. There are plenty of reminders of the Bronze Age and Iron Age Brigantes who settled on this high ground, especially around Combe Scar where there are sheltered hut circles off the beaten track.

High on the list of weird sights, near the banks of the River Wharfe, was the Valley of Desolation near Bolton Abbey. In those days its contorted trees, the result of violent storms, were sinister in appearance, but the scene was tempered by an idyllic waterfall nearby called Posforth Ghyll. Above this we would eat our picnic lunches surrounded by bracken, next to the beck that rushed over the famous grouse moors from Simon’s Seat to form the falls.

Whilst many club cyclists patronised a wide choice of watering holes in Settle, the Easy Six would ride a little further to the village of Stainforth and a cottage next to the stepping stones. We never saw the wife who busied herself in the kitchen, producing an aroma of cooking that made our noses twitch and mouths water. At a large table next to the crackling log fire her husband, who always wore plus fours, served us with home-made nourishing soups whose dregs we mopped up with chunks of home-baked bread and farm-churned butter, rounded off with bowls of real chips cooked to a crisp in lard. Nearby was the lovely and secluded Catrigg Force, in countryside that inspired the great composer Sir Edward Elgar during holiday periods with his friend of over 50 years – Dr Buck of Giggleswick, who had a practice in Settle.

North of Kettlewell the group introduced me to a rarity. Along the road to Starbotton we stood next to a five-barred gate on the left side of the road and shouted over the valley in a westerly direction – towards Old Cote Moor beyond the Wharfe. As if by boomerang our words echoed back as clear as crystal.

I haven’t returned to that particular spot for over half a century. I’m not even certain of its exact position, but even if I’ve to test-drive every single gate I’ll pursue the quest in summer. I will shout only two words and as the echo comes back I’ll stand silently for a minute or two in remembrance of the Easy Six for it was a great pleasure and privilege to have known them. They left me with a legacy that I have never taken for granted; one that’s sent me on fantastic journeys, along which have been carved priceless and lasting memories.

The echo was easy to find again. Proceed from Kettlewell towards Starbotton. Just beyond the school is a ‘Kettlewell’ road sign followed by a wooden seat. Cross the road from the seat and shout beyond the River Wharfe to the hills.

Maggie B Dickinson Cards, Writing & Photography