Grevel Lindop

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


In Ambleside a few days ago to give a lecture, I decided to spend the afternoon walking up to Stockghyll Force, the lovely small waterfalls in the woods uphill behind Ambleside. The weather had been rainy so the Force was full and quite spectacular.

Stockghyll has always been a favourite of mine, and especially so because Keats wrote about it so wonderfully. He came here with his friend Brown, when they were on their walking tour to Scotland in 1818. In a  letter to his brother Tom, Keats wrote:

“The different falls have as different characters; the first darting down the slate-rock like an arrow; the second spreading out like a fan – the third dashed into a mist  –  and the one on the other side of the rock a sort of mixture of all these. We afterwards moved away a space, and saw nearly the whole more mild, streaming silverly through the trees. What astonishes me more than any thing is the tone, the coloring, the slate, the stone, the moss, the rock-weed; or, if I may so say, the intellect, the countenance of such places. The space, the magnitude of mountains and waterfalls are well imagined before one sees them; but this countenance or intellectual tone must surpass every imagination and defy any remembrance. I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write more than ever…”

What I had not realised until I revisited the passage is that Keats described this as ‘The first waterfall I ever saw’! He had been to the country around London before, and to Sussex, previously, but not travelled widely; and had never previously visited mountainous country. So Stockghyll Force was his ‘first waterfall’.

And I love the way the passage shows Keats feeling that the landscape is alive, that it speaks to him and has a consciousness: ‘the intellect, the countenance of such places’.

And the sense that the place, and nature itself as manifested here, will enable him to ‘learn poetry’. Coming from Keats, that is deeply impressive.

If you visit the Stockghyll yourself, you can see how your impressions of the falls compare with Keats’s. Their different ‘characters’: arrow…fan…mist…or however you see them for yourself. Keats is teaching us how to look!

Walking back from the main falls along the bank, I noticed a point where a smaller beck came out to join the main one, from under a mysterious archway in the rocks:

So I climbed up into the ‘tunnel’, fascinated to see where it would lead, even at the cost of getting some water in one of my boots. And guess what? Turned out the beck was just passing under the path I’d previously climbed, and I’d walked over the top of it half an hour before without noticing. Never mind, I had the excitement of seemingly exploring that mysterious tunnel into apparently mysterious unknown territory!

When you’re out for a walk, everything can be an adventure.

Save Ennerdale from this Nuclear Dump Madness

ennerdale-9836b[1]Most of my posts about the Lakes have been celebratory. This one isn’t. We are facing a risk that a huge dump for nuclear waste will be created in the Lake District, specifically in and under Ennerdale, the quietest and one of the most beautiful valleys in the Lakes.

The plan is to dig a vast underground cavern in which massive quantities of lethal waste will be stored, which will remain immensely dangerous for the next million years or so. Even the plans put forward by those in favour show that the foothills of Great Gable and Scafell will be permanently scarred by construction and maintenance buildings.

Other counties have already turned down the idea of becoming the world’s nuclear dustbin. The nuclear industry hopes that the lack of jobs in Cumbria will persude the local authorities to give in.

But Bill Jefferson, Chair of the Lake District National Park authority, warns of ‘potentially disastrous effects’ on both landscape and tourism.
He said: “Tourism brings in far more than Sellafield [nuclear processing complex] ever would, and let’s face it, there are going to be more than enough jobs in dealing with the clear-up and improvement of above-ground storage which is happening there.
“We have 15 million people coming to the park every year, and the prospect of having the world’s largest nuclear waste dump could make that considerably fewer.”
On 30 January, three Cumbrian councils will decide whether to agree a full preliminary planning proposal for an underground storage facility four times larger than the vast Sellafield complex from where the waste will be transported.

This lunatic scheme needs to be stopped now for everyone’s sake and for the sake of the future. What you can do at once is to sign the petition at

We need signatures, and we need them right now. It will take about a minute.

And if you are able to be in the Lakes, please join the protest walk at Ennerdale on Saturday 26 January. The organisers say:

“Ennerdale Protest Walk – 12:00hrs Saturday 26th January 2013
We have organised a protest walk in Ennerdale on Saturday 26th January 2013.
This is the potential route that heavy lorries and site equipment could take through the Ennerdale valley. The walk will start at Bowness Knott Carpark and continue beside the lake and end at the River Liza Delta just below Ennerdale Fell. This would be the anticipated site for the temporary Drilling HQ if seismic testing is to be carried out in MRWS Stage 5.
The closing sequences of the movie 28 Days Later (2002), directed by Danny Boyle, were filmed around the Ennerdale area and people will remember the message laid on the grass and viewed from above. We have arranged for the walk to be photographed from the air, weather permitting. It is our intention to recreate the final scene and provide footage and stills for use by the media.
The proposed walk will be a gentle stroll of 1.5miles each way and is easy enough for families and walkers of all ability. Please make sure all your friends, family, colleagues and anyone else who will listen comes along and supports this protest. We need as many people as possible to create media interest.”

Help Save Rose Castle for the Nation!

Rose Castle: A Gem of the Northern Lakes

Rose Castle is a gem of northern Cumbria – a beautiful house centring on a pele tower built in the 1340s and once the palace of the Bishops of Carlisle. It belongs to the Church. But there is now a threat that within about one week it will be sold to the highest bidder with no arrangements for public access and little protection for its future. Yet there is a plan to take care of its financial liabilities and allow public access to this beautiful and tranquil place.

Please read the information below and sign the petition at NOW before it is too late.

I first discovered Rose Castle when I was researching my Literary Guide to the Lake District: Coleridge and the Wordsworths went there on their way to Scotland in 1803 and Coleridge wrote in his notebook:

“We are delighted with Rose Castle, the thickset green Fence to the garden, the two walls, the lower making a terrace / the House, the Orchard crowding round it – The Chestnuts – the masses of Ivy over the gateway, from one great root. This stands on the other side of the wall to my left as I face the gateway – Go in, the ivy over the Coach-House, belonging to the same mass – the horns of the dark old mulberry Tree among it – the Swallows & their Shadows on the Castle-House walls – the green shaven Bank, like the roof of a House between the main Building & the Castle, properly so called / the great Nets on this castle, to cover the fruit Trees – all, all perfect – Cottage Comfort & ancestral Dignity!” – Coleridge, Notebooks, 1427.

Here is what my friend Philippa Harrison has written about the house and its peril:

Only one building represents the unique history of the establishment of a Border between Scotland and the North West of England, Rose Castle, created for the Bishopric of Carlisle to administer the “lands which were Scottish”, before Cumbria finally became English a hundred years later than the rest of the country. Also the preeminent English castle in the medieval Scottish wars and reiver skirmishes in the North West, Rose is the only remaining monument to our turbulent border history there. Its retention, with public accessabilty and as an educational resource, is vital for the maintenance of any sort of national historical perspective.

Although today Rose, its land and gardens, have a wonderful, indeed exceptional, sense of serenity and calm, it mirrors the development of national and dynastic struggle, architectural taste and the role of the Church in England since the Norman Conquest. Now the castle mainly reflects the Gothic Revival style, its chapel well recognised as an outstanding example. But there remain the pele towers and the crenellations of the fourteenth century when Rose was burnt three times within twenty-five years only to rise again each time, phoenix-like, to become a symbol of triumph over adversity. Later besieged, taken and burnt in the Civil War, Rose was rebuilt by the Cumbrian people yet again while secular castles were abandoned and left wasted.

In this sense Rose belongs to its people, a people easily ignored by the distant centres of governance. Since Rose was decommissioned as the Bishop’s see-house , it has been made clear to the Church Commissioners that there is a local plan for removing all financial liabilities for the castle from them if they so wish, a plan which will preserve the spiritual, historic and educational value of Rose for future generations. To achieve it, everyone needs to work together. However within ten days the Church Commissioners appear to be intending to recommend that Rose goes under the hammer with no stipulations about public accessibility, educational use, use of the chapel or the great public rooms.

This situation is of paramount importance for the North of England, a travesty of natural justice and a betrayal of eight centuries of care from the bishops of Carlisle and the Cumbrian people.

Only public protest about disposal without any guarantee of the preservation of a unique resource for the public good has any chance of affecting the outcome. A petition at has been hastily set up. Every press comment about the importance of Rose for the national heritage will count.

The Bishop of Carlisle has written that he very much hopes “ that a really worthwhile use for Rose can be found”. Amen.

Maryport LitFest Icon Is a True Venus After All!

Can't find any image of the lady herself: this is just a collection of altars in the Museum

As I’ll be speaking and reading poems at this year’s Maryport Literary festival, I’m delighted to bring you the following news item:

“The Venus Stone, focal point of this year’s innovative literary Festival in Maryport at the end of November, has just undergone a historical facelift. It seems she may be a true Venus after all!

Always interpreted as a representation of a ‘lady of the night’, the Venus was thought to be hanging about outside the fort gateway, with more than literature on her mind, and was possibly a sign for a brothel in the fort. However, new insights into the greater significance of the Venus Stone have recently come to light.

The figure next to the gateway is probably a true statue of Venus standing in a substantial temple dedicated to her, says stone expert Dr. Peter Hill. Dr Hill, in a Review of the collections at the Museum, has pointed out that the sculpture itself is of high-quality workmanship with the gateway shown with pillared arches. The temple has finely carved columns with capitals supporting an arch.

The stone itself would have been part of a major gateway within the fort. The gateway, the only contemporary representation of a gateway to a Roman fort, is the pattern used for reconstructions on Roman sites and films.

Archaeologist Lindsay Allason-Jones has further interpreted the sculpture as representing Venus in her role as a protector of men, but this year’s LitFest, the third to be based around a stone in the Roman collection, will be exploring every aspect of the Goddess of Love!”
Maryport LitFest
25-28th November
Read all about it at
or contact Jane Laskey at the Museum on 01900 816168

Julian Cooper at Brantwood: Carrara Marble, Cumbrian Slate

While we’re all buried in snow, let’s catch up on some of the things I’ve wanted to write about while my internet connection has been down!

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Brantwood, home of John Ruskin

First place definitely goes to ‘Mother Lode’, the magnificent exhibition of landscape paintings by Julian Cooper, currently showing at Brantwood, Ruskin’s house overlooking Coniston Water in Cumbria. No chance of getting there through the snow at present, but I’d very strongly recommend a visit once the roads are clear.

Julian Cooper is probably Britain’s most original and accomplished landscape painter. His particular interest is in mountains and rock surfaces (naturally enough, since he’s a keen climber), and over recent years he has developed increasingly brilliant and intense techniques for painting the patterns, textures and – if I can put it like this – the meanings of rock, the way it communicates itself to the hand, the eye and the memory.

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Exhibition opening: Cooper with Amanda (left) and Cumbrian poet and novelist Angela Locke (right)

From open-air painting in the high Andes, he moved on in the 1990s to superb semi-abstract and highly-textured paintings of the Himalayas, often focusing not on the summits and profiles of mountains (which have been endlessly explored by previous artists) but rather on rock and snow faces, their textures, patterning and forms.

He’s now taken this a step further, to paint industrially-worked rockfaces which are literally the interface between man and nature. The Brantwood exhibition shows paintings from two such arenas: Cumbrian slate quarries from the Langdale and Coniston areas, and the Carrara marble quarries – the historic quarries from which Michelangelo took his marble and which are now quarried on a terrifyingly industrial scale.

Admiring 'Fantiscritti Portal', one of the most remarkable Carrara paintings

Admiring 'Fantiscritti Portal', one of the most remarkable Carrara paintings

Julian’s paintings are exhilarating and massively impressive. No one has ever painted rock like this before: the huge clefts and portals of vast stained marble surfaces, dwarfing tiny, insect-like industrial plant; the angled, many-coloured slate blocks, with angular light from a cave-mouth dripping over them. Julian’s work can look like realism, but compare it to any photograph and you see a miraculous added depth, an extra dimension of radiant experience. Looking at ‘Sawyers Wood’for example I can feel my own lifetime’s experience of scrambling around in and on such places, somehow embodied and singing out from the canvas.

Adventurously, some paintings are spotlit in a darkened room, which suits them perfectly. Cooper silhouetted here against 'Sawyer's Wood'

Adventurously, some paintings are spotlit in a darkened room, which suits them perfectly. Cooper silhouetted here against 'Sawyer's Wood'

The rock in these pictures speaks to us in its own strange language and asks us what we’re making of it – sensuously, industrially, envrionmentally. It has an ominous and seductive beauty.

This is a whole new take on landscape and if you love the Lakes, or nature, or painting, you should go over to Brantwood as soon as the snow clears and enjoy some of the best landscape painting of our time. Not to mention Brantwood’s excellent restaurant, and the fascinating memorabilia of Ruskin himself, the great Victorian artist, social activist, prophet of climate change and a deep thinker about the interconnections between geology and art.

The exhibition has been arranged in collaboration with Michael Richardson, director of Art Space Gallery, London, who represent Julian Cooper and where the exhibition can be seen during September, 2010. For further details contact [email protected] or visit

Brantwood sunset

Brantwood sunset