Normally our Lake District visits involve walking, walking and more walking, oh, and a bit of photography! Our latest trip was different in a number of ways. Firstly we stayed for two weeks rather than one. Secondly, for the first week anyway, we were going to be tourists. We would do things and visit places we would never get the chance to during a week long visit, when our time would be limited and dedicated to walking. Nothing wrong in that but, there is so much more to the Lakes than walking up mountains, as we have discovered. This blog will show some of those other places.
Lowther Castle is a ruined country house near Penrith with extensive grounds and gardens, which is what attracted us. It is classed as a “fully managed ruin” which probably means it is looked after to prevent it getting any worse. In estate agent speak, “it needs work, lots of work!” Most of it doesn’t even have a roof.
A note on the castle’s history. Records suggest that there was a settlement on this site from around 1150 but there has been a grand hall of one form or another here owned by the Lowther family since the 1500’s, In the late 17th century the hall was rebuilt as a “castellated mansion” and was only designated a “castle” in around 1814. It has connections with the poet William Wordsworth who stayed there on many occasions and wrote a poem about it.
The castle stayed in the Lowther family until its closure in 1937 as the then incumbent had essentially, run out of money! During WW2 it was taken over by the Royal Tank Regiment and used for tank development. It was handed back to the family in 1954 but they could not afford to run it, so, to avoid enormous Death Duties the owner took the decision to strip the castle, remove the roof and knock down a few walls to create a ruin. The grounds became part of a farm and was planted with spruce trees.
Left: Us at Lowther Castle; Right: Lyn testing another swing
More recently, a great deal of funding has been provided from various sources. Some of the gardens were restored and they were re-opened to the public in 2011. The shell of the castle has been saved and further garden restoration has taken place with more work still to come. Some of the area is still overgrown but we came across the rose garden, which has a wonderful sculpture as its centrepiece. Sadly, many of the roses were still in bud and had yet to flower. We had a lovely relaxing day and concluded that the castle was well worth the visit.
A selection of the wild flowers in the garden at Lowther Castle
One of Cumbria’s favourite sons is poet William Wordsworth. He lived in a number of properties in the Lake District including one at Rydal Mount, located just beyond Grasmere. He was here from 1813 until his death in 1850. The house is now owned by his direct descendants and is open to the public as a museum dedicated to the poet, and to writers in general. We did not look round the house as a party of noisy school children had beaten us to it, but wandered around the extensive gardens, following the many paths enjoying the peace and tranquility and soaking up the atmosphere. I am not a fan of poetry, but I can see how Wordsworth was inspired by this place.
Being close to Rydal Water and Loughrigg Fell, we found a short (ish) circular walk which took in both. The weather was bit overcast but it was a thoroughly enjoyable route and we saw plenty of wildlife, including Red Kites and deer.
In all our visits to the Lake District we have never explored the South Western area. This week was an opportunity to correct that. We headed down to Ravenglass to meet the Eskdale Narrow Gauge Railway on a rattly, tiny steam train journey to Dalegarth, deep in Eskdale.
Known as Lal’ Ratty the railway opened in 1875 to ferry Iron Ore, mined in the hills and mountains above the village of Boot, down to the coast for onward shipment. This railway also carried passengers. Over the next 90 years the railway endured a chequered history, quarrying operations finally ending in 1946 and the railway continuing as a passenger only service until 1960 when it was threatened with closure. Enthusiasts, together with two prominent local businessmen bought the Railway Company and set about developing the “Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway Preservation Company”. After a difficult start the company prospered, and investment saw new engines and rolling stock introduced. The railway is now a big tourist attraction bringing visitors to Eskdale for the train ride and for walkers who use the link to gain access to the routes in Eskdale.
The ride from Ravenglass to Dalegarth lasted about an hour and we were fortunate to have an open carriage which was ideal on a warm sunny day. The little steam engine at the head of the train pulled us along at a very sedate 15mph and we were able to get some lovely views across the valley.
We had found a short walk from Dalegarth so after testing the coffee and cake at Dalegarth Station Cafe (they both passed!) we set off back down the road to find our path up to the top of Hollinghead Bank and Blea Tarn. Our route took us across Eskdale Moor before descending into Miterdale.
Once in Miterdale we headed up a track, crossing a stream before climbing back on to the moor at White Moss and following a narrow often missing path into Boot and on to Dalegarth. We got back in time for me to enjoy an ice cream before embarking on our journey back to Ravenglass on the last train of the day.
The walk and train ride gave us some outstanding views of the local area and we thoroughly enjoyed visiting Eskdale. We will be back.
Our last day before walking took over from sight-seeing dawned damp and cloudy. Whilst the south of England basked in hot sunny days Cumbria was overcast. We headed down to another garden, this one not far from the M6 junction with Penrith.
Dalemain is a large country house about 5 miles south of Penrith. It has been in the same family since 1679 and apart from updates in around 1748 the building has remained structurally unaltered since then. However, over the years the gardens have undergone many changes, reflecting different fashions in gardening. Among the attractions is a topiary dragon, grown out of box plants. After an enjoyable coffee in the cobbled courtyard of the house we set out to explore the extensive gardens.
From Dalemain we made our way the short distance to Pooley Bridge a village which lies at the northern end of Ullswater. It is one of the stops on the route of the Ullswater Steamers which ply their trade around the lake.
Pooley Bridge was noted for the old bridge which was built across the River Eamont in 1764 and survived until 6 Dec 2015 when it was swept away in a heavy flood caused by Storm Desmond which also caused severe damage all over the Lake District. The new bridge was finally opened in 2020.
We enjoyed a short walk along the east bank of Ullswater but worsening weather forced us back to the car and home.
In Part 2 of the blog, we join up with our walking group but still find time for some tourist stuff, and a first for us in the lakes, a bike ride!