The Saviour of Ullswater – an important anniversary


By Miles MacInnes

8th February 2022 marks 60 years since Norman, Lord Birkett QC’s eloquent speech to the House of Lords (widely regarded as one of the finest parliamentary speeches of modern times) scuppered plans by Manchester Corporation Waterworks to extract water from Ullswater, which would have effectively turned it into a reservoir.

William Norman Birkett, 1st Baron Birkett by Elliott & Fry, bromide print, 1951. Purchased, 1996Photographs Collection NPG x86371 ©National Portrait Gallery.

In the early 1960’s with very little warning and almost no consultation, the Corporation declared its intention to bolster its water supplies by pumping water from the lake – arguably the finest in  Lake District, described by Birkett as ‘so small, so lovely, so vulnerable’.

The Ullswater Preservation Society sprang into action and a true David vs Goliath battle followed – the good folk of the Ullswater valley massed against the mighty Manchester Corporation.    At that time there wasn’t the conservation lobby that there now is, so it was down to the local residents and lovers of the Lake District to stand up and fight, actively supported by local MPs Willie Whitelaw (Penrith & the Border) and Willie Vane (Westmorland, later Lord Inglewood).  Labour MP Ted Short (later Lord Glenamara of Glenridding) also gave his support. A nationwide petition was quickly launched and achieved half a million signatures in just a few weeks – a remarkable achievement remembering that there was no social media, internet or emails.

Manchester promoted a Bill which was debated in the House of Lords on 8 February 1962.  Lord Birkett submitted a motion to delete from the Bill the clauses relating to Ullswater.  Amongst others who supported him were the Earl of Lonsdale and Bishop Bloomer of Carlisle. However, it was Birkett’s eloquence which carried the day – the motion was approved by a hefty majority of almost 50%. The leader of the House, Lord Hailsham (who actually supported the bill on behalf of the government) praised ‘his deeply felt and highly eloquent speech’.

Tragically, Lord Birkett collapsed and died only two days after his triumph. Although widely regarded as ‘one of the most prominent liberal barristers in the first half of the 20th century’, he is chiefly remembered for his skilful advocacy in what was to be his final public act.

However, the battle was not over; only a week after the debate, Manchester declared – ‘They can stop gloating down at Ullswater, for we need that water and intend to get it’.  In 1965 they promoted another Water Order, this time with ‘watered down’ proposals, notably the omission of a weir at Pooley Bridge (which would have raised the label of the lake); furthermore, extraction was to be restricted to high water levels.

These proposals were also vigorously opposed and resulted in a 19 day Public Enquiry – the Order was subsequently approved but subject to the limited extraction rights.  Today, many visitors are unaware of the intake point in Gale Bay on the east shore of the lake and the underground pumping station at the Parkfoot caravan park, pumping the water by a tunnel driven through the fell to the Haweswater reservoir.

Norman Birkett’s achievement is commemorated by a plaque near the steamer pier house in Pooley Bridge; another on the lakeside Kalepot Cragg between Howtown and Patterdale; the naming of Birkett Fell overlooking the western shore of the lake and the noted annual Birkett Trophy – a ‘must do’ sailing regatta.

Birkett Memorial at Kalepot Cragg © Gordon Lightburn

100th Anniversary of Patterdale WI

by Anne Clarke

Patterdale WI is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It was founded as a branch of the Westmorland Federation of Women’s Institutes in October 1921 by Miss May Spence and artist, Ann Macbeth. 

Since then there have been 11 Presidents, the longest-serving by far being Margaret Boothryod who currently holds the office and has done so for the last 40 years. Margaret joined the WI when she and her husband Joe came to run the YHA Hostel in Patterdale in 1972 and, despite catering daily for up to 84 people she became an active member of the WI, serving as Secretary from 1975 until her election as President in 1981.

Joan Wear, born, raised and still living in the centre of Glenridding is the group’s longest-serving member, having joined in 1959.  Joan is the go-to person for questions about the history of the Dale and its families. 

WI 100th anniversary celebration, Margaret Boothroyd cutting the cake and Joan Wear raising a glass. ©Cumberland & Westmorland Herald/Fred Wilson

Patterdale WI meets monthly in Glenridding Village Hall for a varied programme of talks and demonstrations. The group also has a monthly programme of walks and, in previous years, members have also undertaken long distance walks, including Hadrian’s Wall and St. Cuthbert’s Way. Ann Burrell, the current Treasurer, is the inspiration behind the walks programme. 

The WI also plays a crucial role as guardian of the cultural heritage and history of the Dale. In 1957, Elizabeth A. Little, created the Chronicles of Patterdale, a collection of stories, information and pictures gathered from people in the Dale. The Chronicles of Patterdale was written for Patterdale WI as their entry in the “Village Histories” competition organised by the Cumberland Federation of Women’s Institutes in that year. It won first place, was published in 1961 and reprinted several times since. It makes fascinating reading. and is the basis for a number of articles in the Ullswater Heritage Knowledge Bank.

In 1981, the year of Patterdale WI’s Diamond Jubilee, Marjorie Ives wrote a wonderful booklet about their founder Ann Macbeth, based on conversations with folk in the Dale as well as Ann’s younger sister Sheila Macbeth Mitchell who was 93 at the time. Ann Macbeth was born in Bolton, Lancashire in 1875. Unusually for the time, Ann was allowed to attend Glasgow School of Art (she had two uncles in Glasgow to keep an eye on her). She went on to become Head of Embroidery at Glasgow and to lecture across the country as well as write books on wide range of subject including lace, leatherwork, children’s crafts and teaching needlework. Some of Ann Macbeth’s work hangs in Patterdale Church.

Congratulations to Patterdale WI for reaching 100 and sincere thanks for your contributions to the Heritage Knowledge Bank!

Kayaking the Ullswater Water Way

Tim Clarke (October 2021)

I am the lucky owner of a Dagger Kayak and a Canadian canoe. They’re housed at Glenridding Sailing club. For a long time COVID rules prevented me from making regular forays onto Ullswater – indeed I was advised NOT to go out to avoid others risking their lives trying to save me if I capsized.

Now however, relative freedom has returned. In the last few days I’ve spent several idyllic hours following Ullswater’s magnificent shoreline, tracking an imaginary Ullswater Water Way.  Instead of walking the Ullswater Way, I’ve been paddling the Ullswater Water Way. 

On the stretch from Glenridding to Glencoyne you can almost communicate directly with the walkers, as you can on the opposite side of the lake between Silver Point and Side farm. On several occasions I found people looking at me, even photographing me, as I looked at them. You can even see from the lake some of the Ullswater Way installations, such as treefold:north in Glencoyne Park.

The watery world is of course very different from the terrestrial world.  At the junction between the two, the shore, nature can be full of surprises. The gliding, almost silent movement of the kayak, across the lake surface can bring rich rewards to the watchful observer. I have yet to see otters, or water voles, but I’m sure it can only be a matter of time.

A walker on the Ullswater Way will not have the chance to float gently amongst large flocks of barnacle geese, to track the movements of graceful swans, to observe a grey heron standing sentinel-like on the reed beds, to watch cormorants hanging out their wings to dry, to marvel at grebes diving for small fish, and look in wonder at goosanders searching, head-lowered beneath the water surface, for their prey. 

On one occasion, heading up Goldrill beck, I saw a bird skimming rapidly across the water towards me. My heart missed a beat – could it be an elusive kingfisher?  But, as it got closer, I realised it was a dipper heading directly towards me, at the last minute sweeping past above my head – a special moment nonetheless.

From the lake, I often gaze in wonderment at the extraordinary ability of some trees on the shoreline to cling precariously to overhanging rocks. How can their roots take the weight? 

Others have branches stretched out across the water surface, snagging bits of vegetation as the water level rises after heavy rains.

At this time of the year, the colour of the leaves can be spellbinding. I unconsciously wonder why some leaves on the same branch have turned red, and others have not. 

Last week, whilst looking at a fallen tree trunk and its branches resting in the water, l suddenly saw a movement. I held the kayak stationary in the water, jammed between two rocks jutting above the lake surface. It was a red squirrel. It had come down to the water’s edge to drink. Its head was stretched out, tongue lapping up the water, just 2 metres away from me. I tried unobtrusively to get my phone out of the dry bag sandwiched between my legs in the kayak, to capture the moment. But I was too late. The squirrel didn’t want to hang about. Its thirst quenched, it scampered up a fallen tree trunk and disappeared into the bushes. I’d never seen a red squirrel on the lake shore before, and sadly I had no record to prove the sighting to Doubting Thomases.  

Although I was largely alone in my own silent world, heading intuitively for quiet, hidden havens of peace, every now and again my reveries were disturbed by other users of the Water Way. There’s been a boom in paddle boarding this year, with dogs often taken as passengers. The area around the southern end of Ullswater is a paradise for youth and school groups, with excited yellow-helmeted kids loving the adventure and excitement. The shore opposite Cherry Holme has wonderful rock outcrops for jumping off, and ropes have been hung from the overhanging boughs above to tempt those thinking they are agile and strong enough to swing above the water.

So far my Ullswater Water Way safaris have been limited to the southern tip of Ullswater. It’s time I think to explore the shoreline further afield. Only the fittest manage to do the entire circuit of the Ullswater Way in one go. Maybe I will wait until next year before trying to do the whole of the Water Way in one go. Until then, I’ll try it out in sections, eager to discover what each part of the lakeshore has to offer.

Launch of the Ullswater Heritage Knowledge Bank and Website, 29th September 2021

By Tim Clarke (Chair of Friends of the Ullswater Way)

‘Designed by our Community, created by our Community, managed by our Community, for our Community’

How fitting that the launch of FOUW’s pioneering living archive of the culture and natural heritage of Ullswater should take place on the lake itself, celebrated on Ullswater Steamers’ iconic MV Raven. She has been plying the length and breadth of Ullswater since her launch on Ullswater on 11th July 1889, an astonishing 132 years ago. She looks today as elegant and beautiful as the day she was launched all that time ago. 

She and her sister MV Lady of the Lake symbolise so much about Ullswater’s heritage, true custodians of the glory and beauty of Ullswater that still radiates today.

© Steven Barber

And what good fortune that the rain and storms that preceded the launch calmed down, allowing the skipper Billy to treat all 85 guests, to a wonderful, if bracing, autumnal cruise past Glencoyne and Gowbarrow. The sandwiches and canapés provided by the Inn on the Lake were eagerly consumed, accompanied by prosecco and sparkling elderflower cordial. Smiles all around.

For some it was their first trip on the steamer since the COVID pandemic broke out, an opportunity to re-connect with old friends and make new ones. For others, it was an opportunity to mingle, to share stories between communities from all shores of the lake, of all ages – the under 5s to the over 90s. 

Most of the guests had contributed articles or photos to the Knowledge Bank: memories of magic moments – a family bonfire on the frozen lake in 1963, or Wordsworth’s journeyings around the lake, or the life of farming and mining communities two hundred years, or indeed the origin of the Ullswater Valley itself some 500 million years ago and the impact of successive glaciations over the millenia.

The event started in the Ullswater Steamers’ pier house at Glenridding. Guests had time to browse the new FOUW Pop-Up exhibition describing the content of the Knowledge Bank. Each of the 6 roll-up panels, financed from a grant from the Lake District Foundation, tells a thematic story of what can be found in the Heritage Knowledge Bank’s treasure trove of stories.

© Steven Barber

Then, as the sun’s shadow bathed Place Fell on the opposite side of the lake, Peter Hensman, the CEO of Lake District Estates who own Ullswater Steamers, welcomed the guests on board, with skipper Billy at his side. After a brief photo op of some of the key individuals who created the bank, the guests were treated to some short presentations on the deck.

© Steven Barber

Anne Clarke, who has been the key figure in weaving the 200 plus articles from the communities around the lake into an attractive, user-friendly website, set out the vision behind the concept and the excitement of the last year in piecing the complex, multi-dimensional jigsaw together. She made a plea for more Ullswater Heritage ‘Ambassadors’ to spread the word about the website,, and come forward with their own contributions.  

She was followed by Danny Teasdale, the founder of  Ullswater Catchment Management CIC who champions sustainable farming, conservation and natural flood management in the valley. You can find a video of his work in the Knowledge Bank. 

Danny Teasdale © Steven Barber

And then, Andy Butcher, aka the ‘Ullswater Swan Man’, who has made a unique personal connection with a group of 13 mute swans from his paddleboard in Glencoyne bay, sharing their company for over 6 hours every morning seven days a week. His story and magnificent pictures are also in the Knowledge Bank.

© Steven Barber

Finally, to the inauguration itself. Lord Richard Inglewood, the Patron of FOUW, had fully intended to be there with his wife Lady Cressida as guests of honour to perform this role. But sadly, a day before the event, COVID struck, and he had to decline at the last minute. Although he was ultimately unable to attend in person he has been an ardent supporter of the project.  In words read by Tim Clarke, Chair of FOUW on his behalf he commented:

I am very sorry not to be able to be with you this evening, but Cressida, my wife, has just tested positive for COVID, and while I have tested negative Tim and I have agreed it is best to be careful. 

Had I been with you I would have been really pleased to have been the first person formally to access the Heritage Knowledge Bank, which is a worthy contemporary successor to the famous historic guides to the Lake District. As a direct descendant of the great John Murray, the celebrated Nineteenth Century publisher who amongst other things ‘invented’ the famous ‘Murray Guides’, I am very conscious of the role such things play in the enjoyment and appreciation of places like Ullswater. 

I know that a lot of hard work and effort has been put into this project which I am sure will be rewarded by the added pleasure and understanding of both locals and visitors will get from this wonderful lake. 

We certainly hope that local schools and young people will be important users – and contributors to – the knowledge bank. At the end of the day they are the people who will care for and mould the future landscape and communities in the Valley.  I solemnly declare the Ullswater Heritage Knowledge Bank and Website OPEN!

On cue, MV Raven’s siren burst into sound and glasses were raised. 

The Heritage bank had sprung to life! 

After a few words of thanks from Tim to all those that had contributed to the project, skipper Billy gently opened up the engines and MV Raven serenely left the pier for her one hour cruise, gliding effortlessly through Ullswater’s placid waters.

Conversation bubbled, distant friendships renewed, that famous cliched ‘community spirit’ was there for all to see.

After an hour MV Raven was moored to the pier again, and the guests wended their way home. One guest remarked: ’it will be a brilliant resource for years to come.’ And another: ‘it adds another dimension to an already great valley’.

An epic celebration, on an epic boat on an epic lake. 

Lost Words on the Ullswater Way

Ullswater Evening (Zoom) Talk by Jamie Normington, Education Officer of Cumbria Wildlife Trust

It was the eve before our second lockdown. The US elections were hanging in the balance. Many of us were feeling anxious, perhaps even fearful, of what the future might bring. 

Jamie Normington had been due to talk about “The Lost Words on the Ullswater Way”  back in April at Watermillock Village Hall but the first lockdown put pay to this. Instead there were 50 of us, some from as far away as Canada, gathered virtually for what was to be a truly magical experience. To set the scene Jamie played us the Lost Words Spell Song Blessing.

To begin his talk Jamie introduced us to our first lost word, conker, showing us an image of a young girl who clearly didn’t know how to play conkers and probably, like too many young people of today, doesn’t even know the word conker.   In contrast we saw the beaming smile of highly skilled, 88-year-old John Riley, a Chelsea Pensioner who was conker champion at 85. He has probably played conkers every autumn since being a young lad – conker is a very familiar word to him.

Together with bluebell, otter, fern and kingfisher, conker was one of 50 nature words removed from the Junior Oxford Dictionary when it was revised in 2017.  These are words that we use to describe what we see and come to value when we spend time exploring the outdoors. They were replaced by words such as ‘broadband’ and ’email’.

Illustrator Jackie Morris was deeply concerned to see our connection to the natural world fading in this way. She shared her concerns with writer Robert Macfarlane and together they have created a magical book, ‘The Lost Words – A Spell Book’ which aims to conjure back these lost words. 

Cover of ‘The Lost Words’ by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

The book begins…

“Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed – fading away like water on stone. The words were those that children used to name the natural world around them: acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker – gone! Fern, heather, kingfisher, otter, raven, willow, wren … all of them gone! The words were becoming lost: no longer vivid in children’s voices, no longer alive in their stories.”

Jamie showed us the book, explaining that each of the lost words is first introduced by its absence – hiding on a page of scattered letters. Turn the page to find the word – starling for example – elevated to a gold icon, title for the spell that follows, and beautifully illustrated on the opposite page.  Turn again and see starlings in their habitat, gathering on the telegraph wires before taking to the skies in thousands to form a murmuration.

Illustration by Jackie Morris for ‘The Lost Words’

Jamie described to us his first sighting of a murmuration, shared with his friend Pete, who unlike Jamie, had been wise enough to wear a hat. After wheeling and diving in the skies above them, an estimated quarter of a million starlings settled down for the night in a small conifer plantation close to where Jamie and Pete were standing.

Not long after discovering ‘The Lost Words – a Spell Book’, Jamie was due to take a sabbatical and wanted to challenge himself by completing the Coast to Coast long distance walk. As he walked he would explore what the lost words meant to him and also to those he met along the way. He would wonder about the interconnectedness of the natural world and reflect on his own connections to nature.  

Following advice and inspiration from friends, he also decided to use the walk to raise money for charity – firstly to buy copies of ‘The Lost Words’ for primary schools in Cumbria and secondly to support children with autism.

It was June when Jamie set off from St Bees, spare boots, three pairs of his favourite socks and a copy of ‘The Lost Words’ in his backpack. By the time he reached Grasmere he had holes in all his socks and a huge blister but, after a few purchases in Keswick he was all set to tackle Helvellyn. On the way up Jamie, struggling with a borrowed walking stick that seemed to be broken, met a man coming down. He asked if the man could fix his stick. Sadly, he couldn’t and became angry. However, when Jamie showed him ‘The Lost Words’ his mood changed – or at least it did until he came to dandelion, at which point he said, “I bloody hate dandelions”. Jamie reminded him that dandelions are bumblebees’ breakfast, providing food early in the year when the queens emerge from hibernation. He still wasn’t impressed, even when a bumblebee landed on the page. Jamie had discovered that even those who love nature often dislike particular plants or animals.

Illustration by Jackie Morris for ‘The Lost Words’

As Jamie continues his journey he introduces us to others he meets along the way

On the top of Helvellyn, he met a boy called Reuben and his parents. Reuben had “a face like thunder”. His classmates were on a school trip to Ambleside but it was decided that Reuben, who is autistic, might have been overwhelmed by the Ambleside experience so he had been asked what he would like to do instead. He had chosen to run up Helvellyn with his parents. Jamie took ‘The Lost Words’ from his backpack and asked Reuben if he would like to look at it. Immersed in the book, Reuben’s look softened. He chose otter as his favourite word.  As the family headed off, Reuben came over to Jamie and offered him a jaffa cake. The lost words had helped Reuben, who sometimes struggles to connect with people, to make a connection with Jamie.

Reuben and his mum Ann-Marie on Helvellyn summit – picture by Rob Bushby

Otters, Jamie reminded us, are a triumph of conservation success. They have now returned to all the water courses in the Ullswater Valley, following efforts by landowners and others to improve the health and water quality of the rivers and streams. He mentioned the dedication of Steve Hewitt, from the Tullie House Museum, who has walked the shores of Ullswater collecting otter spraint and analysing it to look for unusual fish scales – those of the schelly, which rises from the depths to the surface just once a year to breed.

On Helvellyn Jamie was walking with Rob, who used to work for the John Muir Trust. Rob had suggested they walk over Striding Edge and take a photo of Jamie reading ‘The Lost Words’ with the impressive view of Striding Edge behind him. As they prepared for the photo a group of fellow walkers soon gathered around them, intrigued to see what was going on. Jamie talked to them about the book and asked them to choose which spell he should read. They picked Bluebell, a difficult choice for Jamie who had promised his wife he would never again read bluebell aloud because it had made her so sad. Clearly the spells work their magic in different ways for different people.

Jamie reading Bluebell on Striding Edge – picture by Rob Bushby

Jamie spent that night at Greenside Youth Hostel in Glenridding and the following morning walked, via Lanty’s Tarn, to Patterdale school to talk to the pupils. By chance, one of the children had a birthday that day. Jamie asked what he had been given for his birthday present and the very confident little boy said “a knife”. Somewhat surprised, Jamie asked what kind of knife and the little boy replied, “a whittling knife”. He likes to whittle animals and people. He also told Jamie he was a survival expert. Here was someone who probably knew many of the lost words.

Walking on to Angle Tarn, Jamie met Isaac, who works for the John Muir Trust, and was previously an apprentice with the Cumbria Wildlife Trust. He chose skylarks as his favourite lost word. 

Isaac from John Muir Trust at Angle Tarn

A little further on he came across Steve and Beth Pipe, who turned out to be writers and ambassadors for the outdoors with strong feelings of connection to the natural world. They chose dandelion as their lost word. They also asked Jamie to help them with a secret royal visit that was due to happen a few days later. Prince William and Kate were due to visit Ullswater and Beth and Steve were organising a part of their visit. They asked Jamie to help engage the Patterdale School children who were to accompany the royal couple on a walk onto the fells behind the school.  After the visit, which took place a few days later, Prince William said he would write to the publishers of the Oxford Junior Dictionary about the lost words. Both he and Kate feel strongly that it is important for all of us to have a connection to nature.  

Picture Credit: Kensington Palace

On to Haweswater and then to Jamie’s home county of Yorkshire and the heather moorlands where he grew up. He describes heather moorlands as an abused habitat, citing crimes against hen harriers, the shooting of hares in Scotland and the excessive burning carried out for grouse shooting. Sadly, on his walk, he came across an illegal trap on the grouse moors. The traps are intended to catch stoats and weasels (weasel is a lost word) but this one was missing its protective mesh so larger animals could be caught too.  Jamie kicked the trap to trigger it, to ensure that it could not catch anything that day.  But he was angry and kicked it so hard that it broke. Realising he had committed a crime, he took the broken trap with him, committing another crime. However, he later spoke to the wildlife police about what he had done and they were understanding.

Trap – set illegally (without proper restriction) in 2019. New 2020 laws have now made this particular Fenn mechanism illegal.

Through his walk Jamie raised enough funds to provide copies of ‘The Lost Words’ to 300 schools and organisations in Cumbria. As a result Cumbria has gone gold on the map created by Harry Whinney ‘Gorsebush’ to show where ‘The Lost Words’ books are already working their magic. Northumberland has now turned gold too. Jamie also made a donation to support autistic children, after learning that his 8-year-old nephew, who is autistic, had just had his school support withdrawn. 

Map by Harry Whinney ‘Gorsebush’

Perhaps even more important are the ripples Jamie is causing as he shares his experiences and, through his stories, illustrates the power of the lost words to connect people with nature and with each other. 

“So let these spells ring far and wide; speak their words and seek their art, let the wild world into your eyes, your voice, your heart.” (from, ‘The Lost Spells’, the latest book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris)

Cover of ‘The Lost Spells’ by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

You can follow the rest of Jamie’s journey on his blog.

For free resources based on ‘The Lost Words’ go to

by Anne Clarke

Nature-Friendly Farming

Ullswater Evening (Zoom) Talk by Danny Teasdale

Danny Teasdale founded Ullswater Catchment Management CIC in the aftermath of Storm Desmond. His aim is to improve flood resilience throughout the catchment area in a way that creates habitats for wildlife, improves soil quality and is a win win for farmers and the environment.

At his talk, via Zoom, on 1stOctober, Danny described a range of projects, explaining the actions he has taken, the reasoning behind them, and the benefits for natural flood management and nature recovery.

He began in the Grisedale Valley where, together with a group of volunteers, he has planted, 1500 trees. Once established these trees will hold back the water when the river is in spate so reduce the flow rate downstream. The farmer concerned was happy to have the trees because the land involved was always wet and boggy and he had lost a number of sheep there. It was, as Danny emphasised, “the right thing in the right place”.

Tree planting in Grisedale Valley

In Patterdale Storm Desmond created a number of landslips that impacted houses below them so, to stabilise the higher slopes, an upland tree planting project took place on Place Fell. Danny worked with the residents to plant a variety of native hardwoods, including rowan.

Tree planting on Place Fell

Upstream of Glenridding Storm Desmond deposited large amounts of gravel that changed the course of some sections of the river.  Working with the Environment Agency, and the farmer concerned, a flood relief channel was dug. It is only 400-500m long but, at times of high rainfall, it takes pressure off the main channel and slows the flow to the village below. 

Flood relief channel in Glenridding beck

Danny recognises that farming and conservation are often thought to be at loggerheads but, sitting in the middle he can see the issues from both sides and look for solutions where everyone benefits. He believes it is crucial to foster better understanding of both perspectives and to demonstrate that working together can be a win for both.

Improving soil quality is a good example of a win win situation. Farmers have more grass and more usable fields. The community gains because better quality soils hold more water and release it at a slower rate. For every 1% extra organic matter, soil can hold 20,000 more gallons per acre. In addition, good soil leads to more carbon sequestration. So Danny hopes to encourage soil improvement widely throughout the catchment area. 

Regenerative agriculture or mob grazing is another of Danny’s favoured techniques. It replicates how grasslands and natural grazing patterns have evolved in tandem. It basically allows the grass to have rest periods. Stock is grazed at increased density but only for a short period, 4-6 days, before being moved on. During its rest period, the grass roots grow longer so they can pull nutrients from deeper in the soil. This removes the need for artificial fertiliser. Ideally the stock eat a third, leave a third alone and trample a third into the soil. The trampled third acts in the same way as adding compost.  Danny described being amazed by the clouds of insects that rise up from the grass when the stock are eventually moved back into an area that has had time to rest. And, of course, with the insects come birds that feed on them. 

Regenerative Farming

An important aspect of Danny’s work are the farmers steering group meetings that he runs, together with his wife Maddy. These are opportunities for discussion and the sharing of ideas, as well as hearing from invited speakers. Natural England has asked Danny and Maddy to formalise this facilitation group. 

Danny’s work has been supported by the community and beyond, not only through volunteers but also through crowd-funding. He recognised James Rebank’s support, helping to spread the word through his sizeable social media network. The website allows those who give to see what their money has funded. It provides a pot that can be used to raise matching funds.

Danny is also happy to work with anyone who is heading in a similar direction. For example, with the charity Another Way, he organised the planting, on poor farmland, of 1700 trees, 1300 of which are oak. Together with hazel and shrubs, the trees were planted in a way that should see them grow into a natural oak woodland with all the biodiversity that will bring. 

Another of Danny’s favourite projects – perhaps his number one – is the re-wiggling of a beck in Matterdale. The beck was moved 200 years ago but it wasn’t working for nature or for farming or flood mitigation because it was 5 feet higher than natural floodplain. As a result, after heavy rain, stagnant water would simply lie on the land for up to 3 weeks. With support from the Environment Agency, the beck’s course was cut back to its lowest point, and made more sinuous and meandering.

Re-wiggling a beck in Matterdale

This slowed the flow which, in turn, allowed it to hold smaller gravel suitable for trout and salmon to spawn in. After heavy rain, water spills out onto the flood plain and is stored there, hence slowing the flow downstream. Within a few days, through natural drainage, it is back in grazing condition.

Slide to compare the flood plain just after heavy rain and three days later

Danny believes the Countryside stewardship scheme ‘Making Space for Water’ should be encouraged widely. At a cost of £640 per hectare per year for 20 years, it provides much greater value for money than the installation of expensive flood defence infrastructure downstream. The upland water storage can complement downstream hard engineering works, but is a hard scheme for farmers to enter into as it is a higher tier option only. 

Danny is also a great fan of re-creating wetland ponds and scrapes, so many of which have been lost through drainage or filled in naturally. “Wildlife is crying out for them”, he says. “Once you make them, insects and wading birds come back really fast. The ponds and scrapes team with frogs and these feeds otters. You get herons, curlews, lapwings”. And, generally, wet places on the farm are not productive so there is no loss to the farmer.

Danny also highlighted the importance of joining up the pockets of excellent but fragmented habitat that exist throughout the catchment area. Since WW2 well over 50% of hedges have been lost and with them an important means of connecting habitat pockets. If we re-connect habitats through field-edge hedges we create a motorway running through for insects and other animals. Hedges also reduce floodwater runoff, provide shelter for stock, build soil organic matter and contribute to carbon sequestration. Again, a multiple win solution.

In conclusion Danny emphasized that there is no such thing as cheap food. Food that is cheap to buy from the supermarket has costs for animal welfare, the environment and global warming.  He urged us all to buy local, buy British and eat produce that is in season.

Nature-friendly farming could, he said, be the solution to many of our current issues – we just need to support it.

All photos are by Danny Teasdale

Cumbria’s Fell Ponies

by Jane Firth

As you walk the Ullswater Way, you may be lucky enough to come across some of Cumbria’s fell ponies. They were once widely used as working ponies, taking wool to market, pulling ploughs and working in the mines but there are now only about 6500 fell ponies left worldwide and they are classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.  You may spot them high up on the fells above Ullswater where they are being used for ‘conservation grazing’ because they eat and trample in very different ways from sheep.

The ancestor of the Cumbrian Fell pony (and the Dales pony) is believed to be the now-extinct Galloway. They are thought to have originated on the England/Scotland border before the Romans arrived.

The Vikings used Fell ponies to plough, pull sledges, as pack animals and to ride. The working animals were kept in the villages and the breeding stock lived up on the fells.

From the 11th Century, fell ponies were used to carry fleeces, woollen goods, cheese, meat preserves and metal ores long distances. By the 13th Century this practice had evolved into pack trains, with the front pony wearing bells so that the others could follow it in poor weather. In the winter of 1492-3, when fine wool was one of Britains largest exports, 11 Kendal traders made 14 journeys to Southampton carrying cloth. These pack pony trains continued into the 20th Century. 

Fell Ponies were used as pit ponies where seams were deep enough. They were also used above ground in collieries for moving machinery. They transported copper, iron and lead ores from mines to smelting work in the north west and they carried iron and lead long distances across the north of England to Newcastle and returned with coal.

The ponies also carried dairy products from the farms above the pits into towns. Even after the arrival of canals and railways pack ponies remained essential for reaching remote communities. They were used to deliver mail to rural areas and are still used for carrying grouse panniers and stags down from the moors.

Today, Fell Ponies are being used again as driving ponies. They have a great deal of stamina and are very sure-footed, even on rough or marshy ground. Most recently, they have started to be used to carry footpath repair equipment to remote areas of the Lake District. Fix the Fells, a charity whose rangers and volunteers maintain the Lake District trails, have used them to carry fleeces to a high trail in the Langdales. Here the wool will be placed on a boggy area before trail materials are  laid on top so the trail will float on the bog rather than sinking in to it. See a video about the project here.

Fell ponies are usually a very dark brown or black with only very small amounts of white, such as a star on their forehead. However, every so often you see white (grey) ones. We know that the Cistercian monks at Furness Abbey traditionally rode white ponies. When Furness abbey fell victim to the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537, the ponies were released to the wild and merged with the wild Cumbrian Fell ponies. It is thought that this explains the grey fell ponies we see in the Lakes today. There are some on the fells above Aira Force.

Fell ponies are increasingly valued for their role in conservation grazing on the fells. They help increase biodiversity, for example by controlling the spread of gorse and trampling the area to create open ground where seeds can germinate. 

However, there is concern that fell ponies may lose their ability to survive year-round on the fells if future Stewardship Schemes result in them being removed from the fells for a number of months each winter. Foals born and raised on the fells are hardy enough to survive the Lake District winters and, like Herdwick sheep, they become hefted to their home area, learning the terrain from their mothers.  There are worries that these traits will be lost if the ponies have to be brought off the fells each winter.

The Fell Pony has been a part of the Ullswater Valley’s history since Roman times.  They have helped shape our landscape and been an integral part of our cultural heritage, invaluable in the past for transporting both agricultural produce and mined materials. Today their role has changed, being increasingly valued for outdoor sports such as riding and trekking and recognised as important agents in conservation grazing of the fells. 

When you next see a fell pony, why not take a moment to remember their rich cultural heritage and the role they have played in shaping our landscape.

All photographs by Jane Firth

For more information

Fell Pony Heritage Trust

Rare Breeds Survival Trust 

Pleased to welcome you back

Thanks to everyone who has stayed at home during the last few months. We are pleased that we are now able to welcome visitors back to the Ullswater Valley but to protect our countryside and those who live and work here we need everyone to follow some simple guidelines.

Countryside Code

Respect other people

  • Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
  • Park carefully – don’t park anywhere outside a car park space.
  • Leave gates and property as you find them
  • Follow paths but give way to others when it’s narrow

Protect the Natural Environment

  • Leave no trace – take all your litter home
  • Don’t have BBQs or fires
  • Dog poo – bag it and bin it
  • Keep dogs under control

Enjoy the Outdoors

  • Plan ahead, check what facilities are open
  • Follow advice and local signs and obey social distancing measures

Useful Links for Planning your Visit

Lake District National Park car park and toilet information: This site lists the main car parks in the valley and whether they have toilet facilities. It tells you how you will need to pay and how busy the car park is likely to be.

Ullswater Steamers: Check here for the Steamer timetable and to book your tickets online.

National Trust: Check here for information on opening times, facilities, car park charges.

Lowther Castle and Gardens: Information about which areas and facilities are open.

Dalemain Mansion and Historic Gardens: Information about which areas and facilities are open.

Stagecoach Bus 508: Timetable for the 508, which goes from Penrith Station to Patterdale.

Arragon Cycles: For information on bike hire.


Summer on the Ullswater Way

As you make your plans why not take a look at Summer on the Ullswater Way – a series of photos, most from previous summers, of the Ullswater Valley during the summer months.

Heritage Trail Leaflet

You may also like to download the Friends of the Ullswater Way Heritage Trail Leaflet which has a map of the Ullswater Way with the heritage installations marked on it.

Heritage Trail Leaflet

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