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Anyone who has picked up a copy of the Dymond Guide to the Lake District and Cumbria in the last year or so will have seen the many lovely images in the book, taken by Simon Crouch. Very sadly, Simon died last weekend so I’d like to pay tribute to a special friend, a great photographer and an exceptional TV cameraman. I knew him for half of his life, and worked with him, on and off, for many of those years. His smile, his enthusiasm, his laughter made every minute in his presence a joy. Born in Torquay in 1944, he was at first a photographer at Westland Helicopters in Yeovil, before joining Television Wales and the West (TWW) as a film processor. He later moved to Southern Television in Southampton where as an assistant cameraman, he worked on the famous television series Out of Town with Jack Hargreaves. In 1968 he joined Border Television in Cumbria, his home county for the rest of his life.
He was the producer/director on Melvyn Bragg’s Land Of series that Border TV made for Channel 4 in the 1980s (Land of the Lakes/Borders/Eastern Borders, Mann) and was at the heart of many other productions that Border produced in that golden decade. Latterly, as a freelance he filmed Band Aid 20’s Do They Know it’s Christmas in 2004, Virgin Records 21st birthday celebrations with Elton John and three series of Channel 4’s music programme The White Room. He worked with Paul McCartney, U2, the Stone Roses (the famous Fools Gold video, filmed in Lanzarote), Meatloaf, Sting, Brian Johnson (AC/DC), Jools Holland and Nigel Kennedy. He took tea with Jerry Lee Lewis at his home in Mississippi and came to the rescue of a model at one of Stella McCartney’s Paris fashion shows, mending her catwalk handbag with a piece of camera gaffer tape. None of this turned his head. He was modest and unassuming in the extreme. And when the time came to park the TV camera, he was just as enthusiastic - and gifted - with his Leica, taking photographs in his beloved Lake District for himself and for Dymond Guides. How lucky I was to know him and to have his work grace my guide books.

Sadly I don’t get to shop in London’s Fortnum and Mason that often but when I do I get a certain kick out of seeing Cumbrian food on the shelves of this famous Piccadilly store. Two things in the past few years have tickled me even more. One was seeing the work here of Cumbrian ceramicist Paul Scott in An Exhibition of British Craft in 2010; the other was spotting a wonderful show of marmalades, made by Cumbrian producer Wild and Fruitful. The prominent display was down to its double gold success at the World's Original Marmalade Awards and Festival which had been held only a few days before at Dalemain historic home near Ullswater in the Lake District. And now is the time of the year when entries are again being sought, the 14 categories this year including ones for hairdressers and ‘world marmalade’. Valentine’s Day is the deadline for entries. Whether or not you like marmalade, you can see how this event captures the imagination. Newspapers love it - expect to read plenty of column inches before the big weekend in March (19 and 20), Dalemain and Ullswater get a boost in visitor numbers at a quieter time of the year and double gold award winners see their marmalade sold at Fortnum’s (a major sponsor) for the whole of the following year. Charity benefits as well, with more than £200,000 going to hospice work in Cumbria and much further afield over the last 12 years. So let’s hear it for the orange, lemon and lime, for marmalade, Dalemain and marmalade makers. It wouldn’t be March without them.

What a strange co-incidence it’s been this week, with Michael Portillo popping up to present BBC2’s Great British Railway Journeys, the first of eight episodes of the ITV drama Jericho shown last night and the announcement today that one of the world’s most famous steam locomotives, The Flying Scotsman, is ready to meet its public after ten years of restoration work. There’s a link between all three. In an earlier life Michael Portillo was the Transport Minister who in 1989 saved the Settle to Carlisle line from closure, the greatest achievement, he always says, of his political career. His announcement came after eight years of campaigning by the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line, Ribblehead Viaduct one its great landmarks, steam specials one of the great attractions (both pictured). It was the construction of the 72 mile route in the 1870s which was the inspiration for Jericho, in particular the life and hardship of the thousands of navvies who helped to build the line. As for The Flying Scotsman, the public can see the engine this and next weekend on the East Lancashire Railway and then on Saturday, January 23, as it travels along the Settle-Carlisle line (details on www.railwaytouring.net), with a stop in Carlisle. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of enthusiasts and photographers will be out to welcome the locomotive, but in all the fanfare of publicity spare a thought for the subjects of Jericho, those who lived and died in the construction of a railway line across some of the wildest and most beautiful landscapes in England.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Lowther Castle and Askham Hall

Whenever I go past Lowther Castle near Penrith, I think...what a great restoration job this would make. Abandoned in the 1930s, it’s now a skeletal monument to a glorious past, only the gardens now being restored in a huge project. But think of the stonemasons, the carpenters, gilders, painters and architectural blacksmiths who could turn it back to the kind of place that Kaiser Wilhelm visited in the 1890s. Think of the visitors who would love to watch such craftsmen at work. Then think of the cost and forget the idea. In leaving the castle, the Lowther family headed down the road to Askham Hall, now a 15 bedroom hotel run by Charles Lowther, youngest son of the 7th Earl of Lonsdale, and his wife Juno. The couple had already picked up some form at the George and Dragon at Clifton before they started on Askham Hall. And what a job they’ve done here. The Daily Telegraph reckons it’s ‘one of the most romantic hotels in the UK’, The Independent called it one of ‘Britain’s best country house hotels’ and the 2016 Good Hotel Guide has it as Editor’s Choice (Country House Hotels). What those publications don’t mention is that there’s a Dymond Guide to the Lake District and Cumbria in every bedroom, 15 new copies delivered this morning.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Cumbrian food and drink

If you want to support Cumbria this Christmas after the floods, why not buy something that’s made in the county. If locally produced food or drink is on the last minute list, you’re completely spoilt for choice, with a big range at Cranstons Cumbrian Food Hall at Penrith, taste at Rheged near Penrith, the Westmorland farm shops at Tebay Services on the M6 and Low Sizergh Barn Farm Shop (pictured) near Kendal. Don't forget there are more than 25 small breweries in Cumbria, heaps of local butchers and then specialist shops like Grasmere Gingerbread, Cartmel Cheeses, The Toffee Shop at Penrith and Hawkshead Relish. Wishing you a very happy - and tasty - Christmas and New Year.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Lanercost

Not a million miles from Brampton - and next drop for the new guide - is an enchanting little spot called Lanercost. It doesn't look like the capital of England but for a few months over the winter of 1306-1307, this was where Edward I effectively governed the country from. The king was holed up at the 12th century priory with ill health, yet still planning another campaign against the Scots. The coffee and cakes you can get in the Lanercost Tea Room might have done him the power of good; certainly the cheer in the shop would have raised his Christmas spirits.

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