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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

BBC Radio 2 in Dent village

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

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

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

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

‘Come up and see the view,’ exhorted the sign at the end of the lane leading up to Linthwaite House Hotel. And what a view it was (and is): Windermere stretching away below, the Lakeland fells stretching away in the distance. But that wasn’t the only thing that made a visit here such a pleasurable experience. Great service and comfort, great food and wine and a lovely ‘unstuffy’ atmosphere became Linthwaite’s trademark as hands-on owner Mike Bevans turned the hotel, over 25 years, into one of the best country house hotels in the north of England.

So the news that he’s selling up and moving on will come as a big shock - and great sadness - to many, many guests and to the Lakeland hotel industry. He was a complete notch, relaxed hospitality in every sinew of his six foot, four inch frame. On a personal level he’s always been a tremendous supporter of the Dymond Guides, so I thank him very much for that as well. I wish him and his wife all the very best for a new future in the south and I wish the new owners of the hotel, the Leeu Collection all the very best too.

Saturday, 02 April 2016

Kirklinton Hall

You only have to flick through Gavin Stamp’s excellent book Lost Victorian Britain to see how cavalier we’ve been with our built heritage. And that’s just the 19th century. Thousands of 17th and 18th century buildings have gone the same way, so thank goodness for people like Christopher and Ilona Boyle. Without them Kirklinton Hall near Carlisle might just be a pile of stones.

As it is there’s no roof, no windows and few interior walls and floors. But within three years Christopher, chairman of the Georgian Group, hopes to have the 1680s building wind and water proof. ‘Then I can relax and concentrate on its historic interiors,’ he says.

Yesterday Kirklinton opened for the new season and except for Saturdays - when it’s closed for events - the ruins and 14 acres of grounds are open every day until late September. We had coffee and cakes in the old carriage house (with woodburning stove, second hand books for sale and a leaf hunt for children) and then wandered through the walled garden with its nuttery, raspberry canes, quince grove and ancient peach trees.

The nice thing about Kirklinton is its peace and quiet, its chequered history, and the sense that something special is about to take place. Once real restoration starts we - the visitors - will be able to watch the stonemasons, carpenters and other craftsmen at work. As the project may last for 15/20 years there will be plenty of opportunities to do so.

Deadline for Kirklinton Hall’s fairy tale writing competition is April 30. Check website for details. Also see Mallsgate Hall for Christopher’s organic beef and lamb boxes.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Ullswater Daff Fest

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

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

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

Friday, 18 March 2016

A perfect Lakeland day (part 2)

From Cockermouth we made our way down the lovely Vale of Lorton, beckoned on by the fells of Whiteside and Grasmoor. It was quite a surprise - and a nice one - to see so many cars parked at Lanthwaite Wood near Crummock Water (pictured). Even better news at Buttermere village where we could barely find a parking spot. By then we’d dropped off more guide books at the Kirkstile Inn near Loweswater, haven for walkers, heaven for beer drinkers. I thought the carpet of croci in the churchyard next door made for a pretty picture.

At Buttermere we turned east for the Newlands Valley, stopping at Newlands Hause for a short climb up towards Ard Crags. Not to the top but high enough to appreciate the smashing views all around. One or two other people had the same idea.

And so on to Keswick, also badly hit by the December floods but also recovering. Booths store is re-opening on Monday (21st) and there’s another opening too, this one at Easter. It’s the new café at Theatre by the Lake where you’ll be able to sip your tea or coffee, and drink in the views of Derwentwater at the same time. Now that will be theatre of a different kind.

Daffodil Day in Cockermouth is on April 2.

Friday, 18 March 2016

A perfect Lakeland day (part 1)

We could have been gridlocked on the M25 or squeezed into a London tube but fortunately we were driving across the Uldale Fells to Bassenthwaite Lake. If we needed a reminder of Lakeland’s beauty, yesterday offered a perfect one. In the distance, Skiddaw had a ring of cloud around its summit like a necklace, the morning itself holding the promise of bright blue sky and warm spring sunshine. It was ideal for a drive around the Lake District, taking photographs and delivering copies of the Dymond Guide.

First stop was the Lakes Distillery at the north end of Bassenthwaite Lake, one of only a handful of English distilleries. I love the entrance gates here, made by architectural blacksmith Alan Dawson whose work I first came across some years ago at Princes Square in Glasgow. Everything smacks of quality at the distillery, including the bistro, the converted farm buildings and the shop which took delivery of 22 books. It was nicely decorated for Easter as well.

We took a back road to Cockermouth where I dropped off a few more guides at The New Bookshop. The business is in temporary premises (probably until summer) because its usual lovely shop and café on Main Street was hit by the floods of late last year. As it was in late 2009. It’s stories like this which make you realise the importance of visitors returning to Cumbria - in droves.

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