Update from Andy the Swan Man

by Andy Butcher, the Swan Man

The Right Food

Too often this year I have had to ask people not to feed bread to the ducks and swans. Once someone arrived with three loaves of cheap white bread – that would have been disastrous. Although bread was traditionally fed to ducks and swans, for many years now it has been accepted that it has no food value for them and can potentially cause health problems, particularly in young birds. What I feed is Floating Swan and Duck Food and I have found it to be the best thing. It is a mixture of natural grains and seeds in a floating pellet form. Nothing gets wasted and nothing gets into the lake that should not be there.  Other foods are recommended like peas, lettuce and grains but the problem is that none of these float. As a result they can have a detrimental effect on the lake and may attract vermin.

My general advice to anyone thinking of casually feeding the swans and ducks is…Don’t! Just enjoy looking at them. There is plenty of natural food around for our wild birds. I do it because they want me to and I know how much they need and when to stop. It also enables me to check on their health. When they finish with me I want them to feed naturally from the lake.  

Currently there are huge concerns about Avian Flu all over the UK and beyond. All I can do is try to keep our birds as healthy as possible

And then there were 8 then 12 then 27

Over time the Glencoyne Bay team increased to 12. The new swans were quite happy to come near me and before long, all became friends too. All except a little female, I called Ingrid… She seemed unhappy with how comfortable the others were with me and tried to lure some of them away…then she also joined in. When 4 paddled away and left her, much to my surprise, Ingrid jumped on the paddleboard beside me. She did this every day until disappearing again. Another significant character I called Vic also disappeared, there is always a boss and Vic was definitely boss. He could be quite aggressive with the others but never with me.

In November 2021 we had two storms that caused some damage to trees around the Lake and my swans all disappeared. I presumed they had found shelter. What followed was a period of calm which enabled me to paddleboard round the Lake to see if I could find them. I found some but they seemed happy enough without me. At that point I thought this was the end of the story. I carried on with my early morning litter picking and paddleboarding, then after four days a lone swan came in to see me…followed by another 17! This really took me by surprise, as it included cygnets I had never seen before. Some bonded with me straight away, others were a little nervous at first but before long, all were taking from my hand.

In the months that followed, others came along and, to my surprise, after months of being away, Ingrid came back and so did Vic. I recognised them straight away. Ingrid jumped on the paddleboard as before and during the Summer of 2022, she has become the star of the group, quite unique in character. 

For much of the Summer of 2022 I have had 27 swans with me. In June/July/August they go through the moult when they renew all their feathers. At first it’s quite a shock to see the big flight feathers go and I have a large collection of them at home. Each swan has around 25,000 feathers so inevitably you will see smaller feathers around the lake. They do disappear in time. During the moult the swans are unable to fly and so have to paddle in to see me and they also eat more as they need extra energy to rebuild those feathers, more so I’ve found than in the winter. With the weather being fine and dry a lot of the time, it has sometimes been a very difficult Summer. The area where we meet has become increasingly popular and sadly some of our visitors do not respect the area or the wildlife. At times I’ve collected several bin bags of rubbish each day and there is never nothing. Particularly trying has been the obsession with lighting fires and barbecues. This leaves a terrible mess and often I’ve found them still smouldering with the obvious dangers to the land and the birds and animals who live here. Why people need to bring so much food for a day trip is beyond me and if they have to cook, then a small camping stove is clean and much more efficient.

At the time of writing this update, we are now into Autumn and visitor numbers have returned to normal. I do meet some lovely people, interested in the swans, and I am always pleased to share the story with them and answer questions. Now they are flying again, the swans sometimes move away into small groups or pairs when they leave me. At other times they wait for me first thing in the morning. Some still paddle in but it’s a real thrill to see them fly in. Ingrid and Vic disappeared again for a while as did some of the others but a regular 16 or so remained. The good thing about this is it shows they are not relying on me and I regard what I feed as a supplement to their natural diet. They choose whether they want it or not and at all times I want them to remain wild and free. Ingrid and Vic returned and with them have arrived 4 beautiful cygnets. They were immediately comfortable with me and currently I can have up to 29 coming in to see me.

Those I have known longest will be three next year and three of the original 6 are still with me regularly. Two who joined this year had significant damage to their basal knobs but I’m pleased to say they have healed nicely and I have become very close to these two. I also helped out ducklings in their early stages. This is a little dangerous as Mallard ducks are very greedy. Generally they do well out of what the swans drop but I’ve found if I leave the ducklings to survive on their own, the survival rate can be shockingly low. If I help them out, I can honestly report 100% survival into adulthood but it means I have had some very cheeky companions this year, vying with the swans for my attention.

What will happen over the Winter is unknown and unpredictable and next year I expect more will pair up and think about leaving. However, the cygnets from last year are still with me and who knows, perhaps some new ones will come along and join in with those who have recently arrived. People tell me they have never seen swans in such numbers on the lake and that is really satisfying, as it’s a good indication that the lake is healthy. It remains a journey of discovery for me and I still don’t know where it will take me but as long as I remain able, I will do my best for them and for the area in which they live.

by Andy Butcher

Tranquil morning kayaking on the Ullswater Water Way

by Tim Clarke (August 2022)

I had been out on my Daggar kayak over the previous few days. It had been hot and sultry. Ullswater’s beaches were packed with people, paddle-boards, dinghies, and beach barbecues. Earlier in the Summer the visitors had left a trail of litter. 

The temperature was lower this morning. There was scarcely any wind. The lake surface was like a mill pond. I pushed my blue kayak from the shore of the Glenridding Sailing Club. It was early Monday morning, few people were around.

On this trip I was wanting to survey the beaches for litter and signs of fire. I also wanted to make comparisons with my adventures on the ‘Ullswater Water Way’, set out in my blog from October 2021

I hugged the shore past the Inn on the Lake and Glenridding House Hotel. There were enchanting reflections of the mountains on the lake. I always follow the shoreline – it’s safer, less exposed to currents and waves, and has a very special flora and fauna. 

I soon realised, as I paddled past the beaches, that there seems to be an almost insatiable desire to do two things when confronted with your ‘own’ beach: build a fire, and build rock pontoons into the lake to create your own water ‘nest’. Time and again I came cross this curious behaviour as my kayak skimmed quietly along the shore-line. 

One fire-place seemed to have been converted into a small rock monument. A curious yellow wagtail seemingly stood guard, before losing courage and flying off. I found a simpler version of this in Blowick Bay.

As I turned a corner I slammed on the brakes – a mother duck was directly in front of me, fussing over 6 small ducklings grazing the weed off the rocks.  A dinghy with an outboard motor bounced noisily past me, oblivious to both me and the ducklings, shattering our moment of tranquility.

Barely had I and the ducks recovered from this shock when I heard  behind me the roar of two jet fighters, banking into the leg of the lake and accelerating off towards Pooley Bridge (see the article by Nigel Wharmby who lives in Glenridding and has been in charge of these training runs for decades.

They were soon past, and I could return to my meanderings along the shore-line. I left the mother and her ducklings, and kayaked past Falling Rocks, a notorious and dangerous stretch of the A592. FOUW and others have been campaigning tirelessly to connect the ‘loose’ ends of the Ullswater Way either side of Falling rocks so walkers would avoid any physical danger from oncoming cars and buses. But our pleas for a small investment in a path continue to fall on deaf ears. Personally, I think it is scandalous. An investment of as little as £4/walker would be enough to potentially save lives and prevent life-changing injuries. 

In Mossdale Bay, Air Squadron cadets were out in force, ‘messing’ about in boats. I paddled on, enjoying the flowers that were scattered along the shoreline, and looking at oak and other trees clinging for dear life to the rock faces.

One week-end family seemed to have dined out on bananas. One was submerged, another placed ceremoniously on a rock and left to rot. An empty beer bottle was floating nearby, waiting to be broken into shards in the next storm. A blue bag of litter had been dumped, with little thought to the consequences. I wonder what makes people have so little respect for nature and for other visitors. I make a virtual bow to all those individuals who volunteer to clear up other people’s mess.

I marvelled at a ‘brave’ oak seedling that had settled near the shore, its leaves bursting with energy and life.   

Every now and again the consequences of storms earlier in the year were all too evident. Trees uprooted, their shallow roots not strong enough to withstand the winds. Already I could see the fallen uprooted trees being clothed in mosses and lichens, the endless ecological cycle of decay and re-growth.    

I continued on to Glencoyne Bay, increasingly used by overnight campers. It is here that Andy, the ‘Swan Man’, arrives at 05.00 a.m. every day, 24/7, parks his car, and offloads his paddleboard and kit. His first task, every morning, without fail, is to litter pick. His average yield is 3 to 4 large black plastic bags per day, sometimes up to 8!  The stories he can tell….

Of course, his pride and joy is the family of Mute swans that he looks after every day. Every time I paddle this way I stop and natter with him. This morning it was for 30 mins. Nothing takes place on the lake which he doesn’t know about – whether it’s the Ullswater monster taking Greylag geese – probably an otter – or the tragic death in the last week of a paddleboarder who wasn’t wearing a life vest. It took the police 4 days to find him using sonar detectors underwater. 

Andy has a magical relationship with ‘his’ swans, about 25 of them, as well as many ducks. His favourite seems to be ‘Ingrid’, who climbs onto his board and gently nibbles his neck and ears. Every time I go out I look for swans at ‘my’ end of the lake – Glenridding – today I found only a couple (near the Electric Eel boat house).

After a great chat I paddled perpendicularly across the middle of the lake to Silver Bay, passing Norfolk Island on my right, with a backdrop of Birk Fell – hoping to see peregrines which my wife Anne had heard a couple of weeks before. But no luck.

I was slightly worried about what I may find in the bay – on a previous visit I found an abandoned portaloo on the beach, which ultimately had to be picked up by the LDNPA. But I needn’t have been. It was pristine! I was very pleased. Silver Point and Silver Crag are very popular stopping points on the Ullswater Way, with a track from the Way leading down to the beach. 

A speed boat, going probably three times the official allowed speed limit on the lake, threw up a great bow wave which I bobbed over. Two swimmers in the water, wearing swim hats and pulling iridescent buoys, looked a bit surprised. But, like me, they focused their attention on the MV Western Belle that passed in front of us. I passed between the small islet of Lingy Holm and the shore, looking out for the ubiquitous stone fires and private rock harbours on the beaches. Alders, birches and oaks hung precipitously from the rock faces. The water beneath the kayak was full of vegetation, including pondweeds attached to the stony bottom, long fronds waving with the current. 

I continued southwards. I forever marvel at the ingenuity of plants to find tiny cracks in the rock surfaces, enough apparently to settle and thrive. At various points along the shoreline fallen trees were rotting, and becoming colonised by other plants and animals. New Scots Pine seedlings were taking root – part of the continuous renewable process.

I always enjoy taking a small turn around Purse point into the ‘hidden’ Blowick bay, a haven in a storm. It’s quite shallow with grass beds below the water. The remnants of fire-places and rock pontoons were everywhere. A tree trunk used to make a fire was charred. From the smell it must have been used for a fire in the last few days. I came across two symbolic stones, one placed on the top of the other, a more basic structure than the one I had found on the beaches near Stybarrow Crag, but doubtless fulfilling the same purpose – a statement that ‘I was here’. 

A family of walkers was visible from the shoreline, walking in what I would consider to be the ‘wrong’ direction. Surely the best direction to take on this ‘classic’ part of the Ullswater Way is from Howtown to Glenridding? Not the reverse. This was Wainright’s view and who am I to disagree? 

And so on past a hanging cord, designed to challenge any passer-by to try a Tarzan-style swing on the rope. Then several metres further a well-known rock promontory, 3 metres off the lake surface, tempting youngsters to show off their prowess. I had been here three days ago watching a horde of kids taking turns to leap off the rock, noses held firmly, to stop the sudden inrush of water. Some, noisily girded on by their friends, suddenly find that their courage abandons them. They turn back sheepishly to the grassy knoll, leaving the next jump to a friend, not quite sure how they will live with their fear. I marvelled at the power of the natural forces that had somehow split the rock into massive blocks as if fashioned by a stonemason.

The shore past here is usually the place where I see Oystercatchers, Cormorants, Grebes, Greylag geese – 60 at a recent count, Barnacle geese – a similar number. But I couldn’t find a single one. Just a solitary gull and a pied wagtail. Further on I normally find a heron majestically rising out of the reed beds at the southern end of the lake near Side Farm, but alas, no sighting. 

The waters here leading up Goldrill beck are very shallow at the moment. Great care is needed not to get stranded.

At this point I turn towards Glenridding, with the backdrop of Birkhouse Moor on one side, and Glenridding Dodd on the other.  At the week-end Jenkins Field and St Patricks Boatyard were crawling with people. This time only a few people were about. 

The weather had started to turn, the surface of the water was getting choppy – it was time to head back to base, past Cherry Holm and the Ullswater Steamer pier to the Sailing club. It was 12.30 and was busier than when I had set out.

I was disappointed not to have seen more birds, nor small mammals – in October I had seen a red squirrel at the water’s edge, drinking from the lake. But the sheer tranquillity of this form of lake transport takes some beating.  

As for waste and respect for nature, it was a mixed bag. I feared worse, but in many areas, I was very impressed. As ever it always seems to be a few ‘bad eggs’ that are the real culprits. How to deal with this remains a challenging question.   But hats off to everyone who ‘does their bit’ to keep England’s most beautiful lake in pristine condition. Such a privilege to live in this paradise.

by Tim Clarke

Greenside Mine – 70th Anniversary of 1952 Accident

On 7th July 1952, four men were killed in a tragic accident at Glenridding mine. This year, a short memorial of the accident was part of Morning Worship at St. Patrick’s Church, Patterdale, on Sunday 9th July. A short account of the accident was written and read by Warren Allison. Warren has kindly agreed that his account, below, can be included in the Ullswater Heritage Knowledge Bank.

The graves of three of the men killed in a tragic accident at Greenside Mine on 7th July 1952.
Photo courtesy of Warren Allison.

Background

Greenside Lead Mine in Patterdale Parish was one of the world’s most famous mines and had an incalculable impact on this parish and its people for 140 years. No one knows when mining started but from around 1822 to 1962 it ran continuously except for nine months in 1935 when it was placed on a care and maintenance basis. 

During its working life it directly employed 300 men including hundreds in the support services. It built 52 cottages in Glenridding and at Seldom Seen as well as other houses in the dale. It supported the church (the communion plate and cup are made with Silver from the mine, and the church is reputedly the first church in the United Kingdom to have had electricity, all because of the mine), as in the early 1890s it became the first metal mine in the UK to have an underground electric locomotive and electric winding machinery powered by hydro electricity. The mines also helped with building the school.  And of course, there are the steamers, which were once used to transport the lead from Glenridding.

In the late 1950’s the mine was chosen to carry out non-nuclear tests which proved that underground nuclear explosions can be hidden and the results meant that America and Russia didn’t sign a test ban treaty, so it has its place in world history. When the mine closed it had a huge detrimental impact on the parish including depopulation shown by the school numbers which in the 1950s were over 100 and went down to less than 20 afterwards, with many houses becoming holiday homes.

The 1952 Accident

Adapted from “Grey Gold”, the definitive history of the mine, by Samuel Murphy

Some terms you will find in the text:

  • Winze.  A shaft.
  • Kibble:   A large metal bucket shaped container which lowered men under the ground.

The four men who died were:

  • Leo Mulryan (aged 40)
  • Richard Mallinson (aged 34)
  • Johnny Miller (aged 29)
  • George Gibson (aged 35)

Richard, Johnny and George died trying to rescue Leo.  This is their story.

The main entrance for nearly 100 years was the lowest tunnel to surface known as the Lucy Tongue Level or Lucy located at the main site just above Glenridding Beck. The mine workings below it were 1420 feet below (320 feet below sea level) and the furthest were nearly two miles away. It was on the fateful day of the 7th July 1952 that four men were killed in a tragic accident in the mine – the most in one go.

At 8.00am on the 7th July 1952, 36 miners gathered for the morning shift at the Lucy Level entrance on a bright summer’s day. The men rode along the Lucy Level in the mine wagons and although some noticed an unusual smell as they went deeper into the mine it was put down to some creosoting which had been done over the weekend. 

Unusually for some reason the underground power supply had been left on over the weekend. 

The men entered the cages and went down to the 90 fathom level where the smell was stronger, then a few yards to Murray’s shaft. The loco driver and the hoist man took up their duties and soon the men were descending Murray’s shaft where they separated to go to their various places of work.

It was at the bottom of Murray’s shaft on the 175 fathom level that some of the men began to feel ill. One of the miners said: “It was a sickly smell and first caught me in the stomach. Then my knees began to give out and I had a violent pain behind both eyes, Then I passed out”.

The gas was not due to blasting, but to a fire in the woodwork of North shaft at the far Northern end of the mine. Over the weekend the timbering above the 200 fathom level station had been set ablaze and a section of the burnt timber lagging eventually collapsed, allowing rock to spill into the shaft. 

The compressed air line which took air down the North Shaft had been broken by the rock fall and when the compressor at Warsop’s crosscut was started up, the blast of air from the fractured pipe fanned the flames into an inferno and blew the gases from the fire down the shaft. The gases then flowed along other levels to Murray’s shaft and into the rest of the mine.  The men at this stage knew nothing about all of this.

So as the men were making their way into the mine the lower levels were gradually filling with smoke and more insidiously with an invisible cloud of gas: mainly carbon dioxide which will suffocate a miner and some carbon monoxide which destroys the ability of blood to carry oxygen.

As men began to collapse at the 175 fathom station some realised that they were in danger and dragged their unconscious comrades with them and back to Smiths shaft where the alarm was given and the cage was lowered to bring the men back up, assisted by men from the morning shift of surface workers, who had raced into the mine to help as soon as the alarm was given.  These miners eventually staggered into the fresh air.

The mine manager, Cyril Conner, finding that a number of men were unaccounted for, telephoned the Mine’s Rescue organisation at Whitehaven asking them to send a rescue team over. However, as Whitehaven was over two hours away he and another group of surface workers climbed into the wagons behind the Lucy loco and set off into the mine to find the missing men.

At the 940 winze which was a major shaft Leo Mulyran had jumped into the kibble and William Murray used the air hoist to lower him the 150 feet down the shaft to his workplace.  As soon as he had got out of the kibble he became ill. 

Another group of miners had begun to feel the effects of the fumes in the north end of the mine and were retreating along the 175 fathom level past the 940 winze when they found Mulryan in trouble. One of these miners later said “We could hear Leo Mulryan moaning down the winze and Dick Mallinson said he would go and get him. The other two of us were not sure we could make it to the top and we carried on. I passed out coming up one of the shafts in the cage”   

Mallinson set off down the ladderway and on reaching the bottom shouted up to Murray that Mulryan was in a bad way and he was ‘feeling queer’ and was coming back up. He managed to get part way back up before collapsing. Other men retreating picked up Murray at the head of the 940 winze on their way back to Murray’s shaft.

Meanwhile surface workers George Gibson 35 years old, Eddie Pool 22 years old and Johnny Miller 29 years old who had started in with Cyril Conner, the mine manager had raced ahead of the main party. On reaching the head of the 940 winze they peered down and saw Dick Mallinson slumped on a ledge partway down the ladderway and thought they could hear Leo Mulryan moaning at the bottom.  

Scorning the obvious danger, Gibson and Miller set off down the ladders leaving Pool to operate the air hoist which they intended to use to bring the men out in the kibble. Miller carried Mallinson to the bottom of the winze and the two men managed to get one of the unconscious miners into the kibble and shouted up for Pool to bring him up. 

Unfortunately so much air was being rapidly lost from the broken air pipe that the winch was inoperable.  Pool began to slide into unconsciousness and moments later Tom Hodgson, Adam Cooper, Walter Burnett and Cyril Conner arrived. Tom Hodgson and Walter Burnett picked Pool up and carried him out.  Adam Cooper left to collect the gas masks and was eventually followed by Cyril Conner who realised that “If I stay here, I’ll be no use to anyone’.

Arriving back at Murray’s shaft there was a fresh pocket of air where the men had gathered and there was a quick conference and Douglas Hodgson and Gordon Hamilton volunteered to go down the 175 fathom level and disconnect the air line so the escaping air would blow the gas back down the level and supply some fresh air to the trapped men.

On the 175 fathom level the deadly gas was flowing too strongly and Hodgson was soon overcome and was put into the cage by two other stricken men. Unfortunately Hodgson’s feet were left protruding from the cage and as it came up to the 90 fathom level were crushed between the cage floor and landing stage slicing through the bone and leaving both of his feet dangling from his legs by flaps of skin.

Just before noon five rescue team arrived from West Cumberland, but Greenside was a deep mine in the heart of the mountain, reached only by a single very long tunnel making it very dangerous to attempt a rescue. Nevertheless Walter Kirk and Richard Glaister from the Winscales Rescue station in Cumberland donned oxygen masks and were taken back into the mine by the loco. At the collar of Smiths shaft they met Conner and the other eighteen men, but a gas test showed the presence of carbon monoxide and the unprotected men were ordered to get out. 

The depth of the mine and lack of any form of controlled ventilation meant that the rescuers could neither establish fresh air stations, nor go the entire way to the 940 winze and back using oxygen masks because the oxygen supply was insufficient.  The leader of the West Houghton team explained “The hoists are tricky to operate except by skilled men. The mine hoist men are eager to go in to assist, but they have never been instructed in the use of breathing equipment and might get into difficulties and possibly endanger further lives” 

All that day the fire raged on in North shaft and the gas increased inexorably and by 10.00pm that Monday night the carbon monoxide concentration at the Lucy Level had reached such a level that the rescue workers were driven from the mine.  The agonising decision was finally made that the four men – Leo Mulryan, Richard Mallinson, Johnny Miller and George Gibson – must be dead and the mine was closed until such time that the gas had cleared sufficiently for the bodies to be brought out.

On Wednesday the 16th July, nine days after the accident, the gas had dispersed sufficiently for the bodies to be recovered. 

This dreadful accident, the worst ever at Greenside, shocked the whole community, but the incredible bravery of the men who risked and lost their lives in trying to save their comrades was something of which they could all be proud.  Official recognition came early the following year when George Gibson, Richard Mallinson and Johnny Miller were posthumously awarded the Edward Medal by the Queen. Cyril Conner was awarded the MBE and Walter Burnett the BEM.  Walter Kirk and Richard Glaister were awarded the Queen’s Commendation for bravery.  Incredibly the surgeons who attended Douglas Hodgson managed to sew his feet back on and pin the shattered bones so that although lame he was able to walk again.The exact cause of the fire remains a mystery.

For more information about the Glenridding Mine, and the lives of the mine workers, explore the Ullswater Heritage Knowledge Bank section on Greenside Mine Glenridding.

The Saviour of Ullswater – an important anniversary

“GO AWAY. COME AGAIN ANOTHER DAY IF YOU WISH.”

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, www.ullswaterheritage.org, 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. https://200milesofskylarks.wordpress.com/

For free resources based on ‘The Lost Words’ go to https://www.johnmuirtrust.org/initiatives/the-lost-words

by Anne Clarke