Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

Crags, Caves and Squirrels

Castle Crag is full of caves and chasms

Back to the Lakes last week to give a talk to a group of Swiss students, mostly MA students studying English Romanticism. After a great day touring Dove Cottage and walking up Sour Milk Gill to Easedale Tarn I stayed on and went for a scramble around the slopes of Castle Crag near Keswick.

Slate cavern hewn at the base of Castle Crag

The Crag doesn’t look huge from the Grange-Seatoller path but it’s really a ridge, much larger and more intricate than it looks, full of gulleys, crags, fissures and caves. Its slopes on the east side are thickly forested and you can disappear in there for hours and get happily lost. You can spend hours and days exploring its mysteries. I took a long time trying to locate Millican Dalton’s cave but didn’t succeed. I’ve tried and failed before. If anyone out there can give me precise directions to find it, please get in touch.

Red squirrel explores dense pine forest around the Crag

I spent a while meditating in a grassy natural balcony half way up one of the crags and became aware of rapid zig-zaggy movements in a nearby tree. Turning gently that way I soon saw a pair of red squirrels chasing each other madly in a pine tree, tearing in spiral paths up and down the trunk. Managed to ease the camera out and when they finally tired of the game one of them ambled over towards me. This was about its closest point.

Helm Crag from a How Foot bedroom

Amanda came up and joined me for the weekend, which we spent at How Foot Lodge in Grasmere. They gave us a room with a wonderful foliage-fringed window looking straight out to Helm Crag. They told me they have an unusual number of free rooms this year owing to the World Cup so now’s your chance to make a booking on impulse at this lovely and relatively inexpensive hotel: www.howfoot.co.uk

Bluebells cover the lower slopes of Loughrigg Fell

The weather was kind and we had a few great walks, including the circuit around Grasmere and Rydal Water. Sheets of bluebells were still floating their intense colour on the slopes of Loughrigg, making a wonderful contrast with the dead russet of the bracken.

No, it isn't a Julian Cooper painting: the rock contemplates its own face in the water

At the Rydal Cavern I disregarded the National Trust’s warning notice (what are the odds, really, of a chunk of rock dropping from the roof exactly at the moment I’m standing directly underneath?) to go into this, one of my favourite spaces, and contemplate the mirrorimage of the hewn rock in the still floodwater. Of course I advise you not to do this, and if you go in there it’s at your own risk. Don’t sue me if you get flattened.

Cumbria Blue Badge Guides: A Surprise at the Swinside Inn

I spent Monday and Tuesday this week up in the Lakes for a reason I couldn’t have guessed in a million years.

The Swinside Inn: traditional Newlands pub with great food

I’d had an email, totally unexpected, to say that the Cumbria Blue Badge Guides were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the founding of their Association in the Swinside Inn, at Newlands near Keswick, where the organisation was originally set up. They were going to have a plaque to commemorate the occasion and they wanted me to unveil it!

What's the collective noun for a set of Blue Badgers?

I found this pretty hard to believe because I don’t see myself as the sort of person who goes around unveiling plaques. But it wasn’t a hoax. It turned out that the Guides (and no, they’re not Girl Guides, they’re the accredited tourist guides who take people on all kinds of tours, big and small, around the towns, villages, historic sites and mountains of Cumbria) have been using my Literary Guide to the Lake District as a resource, year in and year out. So they’d decided to invite me to do the business.

A clean slate. Plenty of space for the next 20 years

I met the Guides and their friends and partners, led by Nicky Godfrey-Evans, at the Swinside Inn around 6 pm. After drinks and talk, and a photo session outside the Inn, we got the plaque unveiled. It’s a fine slab of Cumberland slate, engraved with the ‘Blue Badge’ design and details of the date and the Association it commemorates.

I quickly found that the Guides are a remarkable group of people, from all sorts of backgrounds. Their training is rigorous and they’re all enthusiasts for Cumbria (and other parts of the North-West) with their own special interests and expertise. They take on everything from demanding fell walks to coach tours and (as you’d expect in the Lakes) every one is a strong and genial personality. So the bar was buzzing with energy, ideas and laughter.

What you see when you wake up

The Swinside Inn is under new management and George and Judy treated us to a superb meal – absolutely first rate traditional Cumbrian food with a good range of choice. I stayed resolutely mainstream and I couldn’t have done better. The steak-and-ale pie was quite definitely the best I have ever tasted – tender, beautifully cooked and full of flavour; and the sticky toffee pudding (I had it with ice cream) was utterly delicious, and a satisfyingly huge helping as well.

I stayed overnight and was greeted with a fabulous view up the Newlands Valley towards Causey Pike in golden morning sunshine. Fabulous.

Seathwaite Farm, heading for Grains Gill

With the weather so good I wasn’t going to stay in the valley, so I went up to Seathwaite and walked up Grains Gill, then climed Scafell Pike. The air on the summit was icy but the rain and cloud held off and there was the whole of the Lake District, the Solway and the west coast with the Isle of Man on the horizon: everything misty green, gold and purple under a radiant blue sky.

Stockley Bridge, towards Seathwaite

If you’re walking in Newlands, do check out the Swinside Inn. And let’s hope for lots more fresh, sunny days like that as spring turns into summer.

It was a lesirely drive home, not least because some sheep were being moved from field to field at Lodore. They got
Looking back from Grains Gill

away from the dog and spilled all along the road, up side paths and into other people’s fields. One driver (not me) got out to stand and watch. Finally the shepherd came down with his dog. Unabashed, he took one look at the motorist and remarked, pointing at the other side of the road, ‘If ye’d've stood theer, ye’d've done sum gud.’ Quintessential Cumbrian remark!

Pedestrians made it a leisurely journey home