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Thursday, 15 December 2016

St Herbert and Squirrels

On our last full day in the Lake District we went to Derwentwater which was both mercifully flat, relatively speaking, and highly atmospheric.

In the foreground is St Herbert’s Island. It’s named after St Herbert a very close friend of St. Cuthbert.  According to Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People,  Herbert visited Cuthbert yearly for spiritual sustenance. On his last visit St Cuthbert told him ‘Brother Herbert, tell to now all that you have need to ask or speak, for never shall we see one another again in this world. For I know that the time of my decease is at hand.’ 

Then Herbert fell weeping at his feet and begged that St Cuthbert would obtain the grace that they might both be admitted to praise God in heaven at the same time. And St Cuthbert prayed and then made answer. “Rise, by brother, weep not, but rejoice that the mercy of God has granted our desire.” And indeed Herbert, returning to his hermitage, fell ill of a long sickness, and purified of his imperfections, passed to God on the very March 20th 687 on which St Cuthbert died on Holy Island.

For the less ecclesiastically minded, St Herbert's island is also the inspiration behind one of Beatrice Potter's illustrations in Squirrel Nutkin. There, it is referred to as Owl Island. 

And it is likely that St Herbert would have roasted them over a low fire

Friday, 9 December 2016


Lake Bassenthwaite, where we stayed, is reputedly the resting place of King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur. The legend may have inspired Lord Tennyson who wrote Morte d’Arthur and Idylls of the King, whilst staying at Mirehouse, overlooking the lake.

The place that really took our breath away was Castlerigg – literally for it is a two-mile walk from Keswick, the latter part up a long and very steep hill. Overlooking the stone circle is Bencathra, reputedly where King Arthur and his knights sleep. Something very easy to believe for those that way inclined. Coleridge was one so inclined, describing Castlerigg as a ‘Druidical circle (where) the mountains stand one behind the other, in orderly array as if evoked by and attentive to the assembly of white-vested wizards.’

Mrs Radcliffe
 According to one of her biographers she was ‘exquisitely proportioned…. especially her eyes, eyebrows and mouth.' It was rumoured she died insane because of her writing though it was more likely she died of a brain haemorrhage.

The founder of Gothic horror, Mrs Radcliffe, held nothing back. ‘Whether our judgment was influenced by the authority of a Druid’s choice, or that the place itself commanded the opinion, we thought this situation the most severely grand of any hitherto passed. There is, perhaps, not a single object in the scene that interrupts the solemn tone of feeling impressed by its general character of profound solitude, greatness and awful wildness…such seclusion and sublimity were indeed well suited to the dark and wild mystery of the Druids.’

Tosh of course since Castlerigg predated the Druids by a thousand years or more.

Built approx 3,200 years ago in the Neolithic/early Bronze Age, the largest of the 38 stones is 16 tons. I hope for the sake of those Neolithic builders the stones were close to hand. The thought of them dragging it up that bloody big hill brings me out in a sweat.

Some argue its purpose was essentially astronomical, others that it was a thriving market place for an early axe industry. Now it's a place of peace and knocks Stonehenge into a cocked hat.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Graves, lakes and Agatha Christie

I am sick of graves. We had the opportunity of seeing William Wordsworth’s grave recently, and I thought, what’s the point? Seen one, you’ve seen them all. I mean, I’ve seen King John’s grave, that of St Thomas Beckett. I’ve seen George Washington’s grave, Benjamin Disraeli’s grave, the Duke of Marlbrough’s grave, my old headmaster’s grave. After a bit it becomes something akin to stamp collecting. William Wordsworth was, I’m afraid, one stamp to far. My tongue was dry, the stamp book full.

Apart from that, the Lake District was beautiful. Avoid the honeypots selling fudge and cream teas. Start climbing the hills.

We stayed at the Pheasant Inn on Lake Bassenthwaite, the most northern of the lakes. The Pheasant is well worth going to. 

Our last visit was thirty-four years ago—you don’t rush these things—and when I say it had barely changed in thirty years that is very much a compliment. The food is magnificent, (my stomach is an important part of who I am) and we were blessed by two excellent waiters from Lyon—a young couple, who added much to the meal. Whenever I chose something from the menu, he’d murmur ‘perfect’. You have no idea how good that made me feel— eating and passing an exam at the same time.

But the best part of the Pheasant, apart from a beautifully stocked bar, are the two lounges, a log fire in both. The armchairs and couches are faded and comfortable. You sink into them and drift off imagining all sorts of things. I imagined, for example, that I was in ‘Agatha Christie world.’ (A bit like ‘Westworld’ but more genteel) Everyone there looked like Agatha Christie characters. Presumably we did too. Sobering thought. I mean it’s all very well speculating as to who will be killed on any given night, but what if on one night it’s you? At least there’d be no bill to be paid.

Fortunately or unfortunately we lived to pay the bill and nobody died whilst we were there. Maybe the murderer was holding back until we had gone.