Grevel Lindop

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

SAVE GRASMERE: please sign this petition!

We’re all appalled to hear that there are plans to put 10 hi-tech houseboats, with all the attendant infrastructure, noise and disruption, on the lake at Grasmere.

The plans are motivated purely by profit, and are the brainchild of the Lowther Estate, one of the largest and wealthiest landowners in the Lake District.

A petition to stop this greedy and ugly plan is already gathering signatures: please sign it now! – https://www.change.org/p/lowther-castle-and-gardens-houseboats-off-grasmere-save-our-lakes

The extraordinary idea – it’s hard to believe it’s not a nightmare – is to put no less than TEN large powered residential craft permanently onto the lake. Grasmere is one of the smaller lakes, and has always been particularly tranquil. You can hire a rowing boat there for a few hours, and you can fish or swim. But these large crowded permanent powered boats would change the character of the lake and the whole area very much for the worse.

The writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg has written to the press that the plan would ‘rip the heart out’ of the peace and beauty of Grasmere. ‘Should the estate get permission then I would argue that the Lake District could and should lose its status as a World Heritage Site’. The boats – to be used by well-heeled holidaymakers – would, he says, ‘end up as 24-hour music-throbbing discos’. They would also require all the support structures – access roads, charging terminals and many other things – which would destroy the tranquil margins of the lake.

The National Trust are firmly opposed to the plan but they need support as the legal position is unclear

UNESCO World Heritage status depends on the Lake District continuing as a living and working landscape but also preserving its environmental and aesthetic character as a traditional landscape. Its literary heritage has also to be preserved, and the plans would have a seriously negative impact on Town End, the lakeside part of Grasmere village where William and Dorothy Wordsworth lived after 1799.

Claims that opposition to the plans are ‘snobbery’ are totally misguided. For a start, the plans are hatched by Lakeland’s wealthiest private landowner purely for private gain. Secondly, it is important that the diverse character of the various lakes be preserved. Windermere already has a ferry, a year-round steamer service, pleasure boats and houseboats. Many of these features are also present on Derwentwater and Ullswater. That’s where this kind of plan belongs. The smaller and quieter lakes need to keep their separate and varied character, not be pressed into service as noisy, expensive playgrounds.

Grasmere has come into the line of fire simply because it belongs to the Lowther Estate. No doubt their accountants see it as an ‘asset’ that isn’t being properly ‘exploited’. If that attitude had prevailed in the past, we wouldn’t have the National Parks.

So please sign the petition, tell your friends, send them the link, and do all you can to oppose this unpleasant plan!

https://www.change.org/p/lowther-castle-and-gardens-houseboats-off-grasmere-save-our-lakes

Linda Ryle’s Paintings

DSC03019

A visitor admires ‘Show Me the Moon’ (for the book cover, scroll down & look right!)

DSC03024

Roman and Egyptian art and artefacts inspire elements in some of the paintings

Coming face to face with Linda Ryle’s painting ‘Show Me the Moon’ a few days ago was a shock: I’ve been so used to seeing it as a 13 by 17 cm cover image on my book Luna Park that I’d forgotten quite how big it really is. Meeting it again in this new exhibition at the Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere, was a pleasant surprise.

The painting – even more fascinating at its full size, naturally – draws you in hypnotically, with its affectionate yet slightly eerie rapport between woman and cat, and the tiny glimpse of the new moon in a limpid, radiant sky.

The sense of mystery, of magical meanings only half-revealed, is typical of Linda Ryle’s work (she’s also know by her married name as Linda Cooper), and this retrospective exhibition, Time Regained: 1975 – 2016 reveals these qualities as connecting elements running through some quite diverse work.

DSC03021

Linda Ryle in conversation at the opening

There are landscapes, figure paintings (with animals) , still lifes – often incorporating ancient Egyptian or Roman sculpture and other artefacts – and most recently detailed, almost trompe-l’oeil studies of little corners of domestic interiors: a spice cupboard; a flight of old, deeply-worn stone steps; a crucible burning with fierce flame and backed by black smoke.

DSC03023

Hand-painted belts – sought after by ’70s celebs in the King’s Road

There’s even a display of the wonderfully vivid and imaginative belts, hand-painted with animal forms, which Linda supplied to a King’s Road fashion boutique in the 1970s, and which were acquired by (amongst others) Elton John, Bianca Jagger and Britt Eklund.

 

What connects all of these works, along with a love of detail and an evocative use of colour, is a sense of symbolism, of contemplative and often disquieting meaning hidden within each image. It’sa world not unlike that of Leonora Carrington, who similarly loved to blend pagan imagery with encounters of animals and humans who had a more than normal rapport with one another. I’m inclined to think Linda deserves a place in the rich but elusive category of female surrealists, though the subtlety of her work is far from the simply bizarre or aggressively disruptive effects we might associate with mainstream (usually male) surrealism. Linda Ryle has a deep interest in Jungian psychology, and her work was exhibited last year at the Association of Jungian Analysts in London.

 

Strikingly, to me the most powerful works were the most recent. The meticulous representations of details of her eighteenth-century house in Cockermouth, such as a staircase leading down into a cellar, are extraordinarily suggestive: the apparently ordinary becoming a powerful symbol of something psychologically profound and (I think) more than a little disturbing. These are beautiful images; but don’t be surprised if you feel the hairs on your neck rising a little. In Linda’s work, the everyday becomes the slightly uncanny. It’s a remarkable achievement.

DSC03025

A glimpse of some of the quiet but intense and deeply suggestive later work

Time Regained: an exhibition of past and present work by the painter Linda Ryle runs at the Heaton Cooper Studio, Grasmere, from July 14 until the end of October. Details from 015394 35280.

Grasmere with David Morrell and De Quincey

Just back from Grasmere, where the Wordsworth Trust hosted an evening with thriller-writer David Morrell. David (who created the character of JohnRambo in his first novel, aptly titled First Blood, the basis of the Sylvester Stallone movie franchise) recently published Murder as a Fine Art, a serial-killer thriller set in Victorian London, with Thomas De Quincey – the famous ‘Opium-Eater’ – as action hero and detective.

DavidMorrellDeQAndAme

With David Morrell and De Quincey and his family (pastel by James Archer) – and a big thankyou to Ali S. Karim for the photo

 

We had great fun presenting an evening ‘in conversation’ between biographer and novelist at the Wordsworth Trust’s Jerwood Centre, just a few yards from Dove Cottage where De Quincey lived and wrote for so many years in the 1820s and ’30s.

We were also able to spend a day exploring Grasmere and its surroundings. We walked around both lakes – Grasmere and Rydal Water – by way of Loughrigg Terrace, Rydal Cavern, Rydal Mount and the Coffin Path.

And the next day David and his wife Donna were able to walk up the fell opposite the village to see the view De Quincey might have had when he first tried to visit Wordsworth in 1806 – walking up from Coniston and gazing across the lake at Dove Cottage, but finding himself too shy to come any closer!

photo

Andrew Forster of the Wordsworth Trust also gave us a special tour of Dove Cottage and a viewing of De Quincey and Wordsworth manuscripts at the Jerwood Centre.

To find out more about David Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art, click on the panel below.

And for David Morrell’s personal website, click on this link:

http://davidmorrell.net/

Alfred Heaton Cooper: A Painter’s Journey

Just back from Grasmere, where Amanda and I went for the opening of the exhibition ‘Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929): A Painter’s Journey’ at the Heaton Cooper Studio.

Julian Cooper: behind him, W. Heaton Cooper's watercolour of the Hardanger Falls

Julian Cooper: behind him, W. Heaton Cooper’s watercolour of the Hardanger Falls

A. Heaton Cooper was a fine painter in both watercolour (where his work has something in common with  Turner and Ruskin) and in oils (where he approaches Post-Impressionism). He had a wonderful sense of colour and light, and was devoted to the landscapes of both Norway and the Lake District. But he was also an excellent, lively and tender portrayer of people.

He came from a poor background in Bolton, and made his own way and supported his family entirely by his own work. And he was the found of the Heaton Cooper dynasty – including his son W. Heaton Cooper, who illustrated so many classic books about the Lakes and whose watercolour landscapes are still hugely popular (though a bit bland for my taste) and grandson Julian Cooper, the adventurous and innovative painter of mountain forms and textures in Cumbria, the Himalayas, the Andes and elsewhere.

Some of the many sketchbooks and photographs on display

Some of the many sketchbooks and photographs on display

 

‘A Painter’s Journey’, mounted to mark Alfred’s 150th birthday, is a splendid show: one wall is full of his Lakeland work, the other of his Norwegian paintings, and there are fascinating displays of sketchbooks and photographs. The sketchbooks are a particular delight, offering spontaneous drawings of people and turn-of-the-century landscapes, including a wonderful, graphic and rapidly-sketched panorama of a charcoal-burners’ camp in the Westmoreland woods.

 

We met lots of old friends there: not only Julian and his wife, painter Linda Ryle, but also Angela Locke, the Cumbrian poet and novelist with whom I’m setting up Lakeland Writing Retreats, where from next May we’ll be offering creative writing courses in the Lakes. It was good to see novelist Chris Burns there too. Altogether a very happy occasion, and the next day we managed to get a good walk up to Easedale Tarn in cool but pleasant weather.

With poet and novelist Angela Locke: together we are setting up Lakeland Writing Retreats

With poet and novelist Angela Locke: together we are setting up Lakeland Writing Retreats

 

If you can get to Grasmere before 3 November, when the exhibition closes, do go and see it. It’s a very intimate and inspiring display of work by an underrated artist who is also an important part of Lakeland history.

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.