Understanding Ullswater Evening Talk byPete Barron, Glenridding Common Land Manager, John Muir Trust
The John Muir Trust was established in 1983 to ‘Protect and enhance wild land for the benefit of both people and wildlife’. In 2017 they were awarded a 3 year lease on Glenridding Common which includes the summit of Helvellyn plus Swirral and Striding Edges.
In his talk, Pete Barron highlighted the achievements of the last two years, describing the range of tasks they have undertaken and the way in which the local community has been involved.
33% of all Commons in England are in Cumbria. A key aspect here is that Glenridding Common is a working landscape: two local farmers graze their sheep on this section of the Fells.
Achievements by JMT in the last two years include:
A winter conditions monitoring system from near the summit of Helvellyn that provides hourly temperature data to help winter climbers assess conditions before attempting a climb. The climactic conditions and the craggy terrain of Helvellyn provide a niche habitat for unusual plants, including three extremely rare alpine species (downy willow, alpine saxifrage and alpine meadow grass). These are vulnerable to damage by crampons and ice axes when the ground is not frozen solid.
Connecting and engaging with young people and sharing knowledge of wild sites with them.
Mitigating the effects of human footfall and especially of large events – e.g. the JMT can warn event organisers where the rare plants are along a planned route for e.g. fell-running
Re-seeding the summit of Helvellyn. Twenty six tons of stone (removed from cairns) have been scattered to discourage walkers from straying from the path and the area has been re-seeded with a mix of grasses. The vegetation has already recovered significantly.
Local residents are supporting the JMT’s programme to increase the population of rare alpine plants on the Helvellyn range. Willow grown from cuttings and a range of alpine plants grown from seed have been cared for by local residents before being planted out on the rock face of the Helvellyn coves by JMT and Natural England.
Other rare species on the site that are being protected and encouraged are:
Dwarf Willow and Greenside Juniper which is in danger of disease and needs constant surveillance.
The Schelley fish in Red Tarn is an ice age relic and needs protecting. Red Tarn also contains England’s highest (in altitude) population of sticklebacks.
The Ring ouzel (mountain blackbird) is a declining species and needs monitoring. There are four pairs here at present. Other rare birdlife includes snow buntings in winter.
Mountain Ringlet, the only true Mountain Butterfly, can be seen on the wing on Raise in July
Other priorities and achievements include:
The leats (water management system) from the old Glenridding mine are part of industrial archaeology and need maintenance too
Education is very important aspect. MICCI (Moorland Indications of Climate Change Initiative)has supported local schools, including Patterdale school, helping to collect data such as water levels and peat depth.
It was a perfect day to walk the 7.5 mile (13 km) Lowther Castle Loop – the latest addition to the Ullswater Way. From Lowther Castle, the circular route follows the banks of the Lowther river, through the hamlet of Helton and then up to Askham Fell with its panoramic views, before returning through the charming village of Askham.
The route is clearly marked with the distinctive yellow logo of the Ullswater Way Lowther Castle Loop and clearly described in the new edition of the Ullswater Way Guide.
From Lowther Castle car park, the walk begins by following the castle walls before entering woodland and descending to follow the meandering River Lowther. Woodland gives way to more open deer park and just before Crookwath bridge the path approaches the riverbank – a perfect spot to pause a while, enjoy the views and, if you are lucky as we were, see a kingfisher fly past.
After crossing the bridge the route continues through hay meadows to the charming village of Helton. A short climb out of the village leads to the vast expanse of Askham Fell.
The prominent Cop Stone is the first hint that Askham Fell is rich in ancient history. The track from the Cop Stone across the fell passes a series of burial cairns and stone circles, suggesting the area was of special importance to our Bronze and Iron Age ancestors.
The fell is also home to sheep and fell ponies.
After about a mile, the Lowther Loop takes a sharp right turn off the main track to head downhill towards Askham but it is definitely worth walking on a short distance to see the wonderful views over Ullswater and the Helvellyn range. Then return to the junction and take the sign to Lowther Castle.
The route descends from the fell into the picturesque village of Askham, with its Punchbowl Inn, Queen’s Head Inn, Village shop and Askham Hall cafe, before crossing the River Lowther and climbing through woodland back to Lowther Castle and the promise of a delicious homemade scone at the Castle cafe.
An excellent day’s walk, full of variety and with stunning views. Definitely one to repeat!
Now is the time to share Dorothy Wordsworth’s excitement at an early sighting of our native daffodils along the shores of Ullswater.
In her journal entry for 15th April 1801, she describes how they ‘tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever dancing, ever changing.’
‘They grew among mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones, as on a pillow for weariness’.
Another line from that journal entry: ‘I never saw daffodils so beautiful’ is inscribed in the bar of the ‘Dorothy Gate’ situated just outside the Aira Force Tea Room.
The Tea Room is now open from 10.30 am – 4 pm and the Ullswater Steamers are running a mid-season timetable from Glenridding, Howtown and Pooley Bridge.
And pause to think: Dorothy Wordsworth’s entry for this sighting was 15th April – ours is March 11th …
The recently-opened Dalemain Loop is a 5 mile (8 km) circular route connecting with the Ullswater Way at Pooley Bridge. It leads the walker along the banks of the River Eamont, through open pasturelands, to the imposing Dalemain mansion and on to the historic village of Dacre before returning to Pooley Bridge around the base of Dunmallard Hill.
The Dalemain loop provides walkers with an opportunity to explore these historic pasturelands and parklands and imagine the lives of those who have lived and worked here over hundreds of years. Be sure to allow time to linger at Dalemain and visit the house, which is mainly Elizabethan but has a beautiful Georgian facade. Stroll through the gardens and taste the wonderful home cooking served in the Medieval Hall. In February you may be lucky enough to coincide with the World Marmalade Festival which takes place at Dalemain each year.
As you approach the village of Dacre pause for a while to admire the imposing 14th century Dacre Castle.
Be sure to visit Dacre’s church, with its four stone bears in the churchyard, and perhaps call in for refreshment at the Horse & Farrier Inn.
Some may wish to begin the route at Dalemain, arriving at Pooley Bridge in time for a cruise on the Ullswater Steamers before continuing the loop back to Dalemain.
The route is clearly signposted and you can download a Map of the Dalemain Loop from the Lake District National Park website.
The Dalemain Loop is included in the Ullswater Way Official Guide, available for £4.99 at local retail outlets. £1 from each sale helps the National Park keep the Ullswater Way in good repair.
During this year’s Ullswater Outdoor Fest, the Friends of the Ullswater Way organised a series of five talks on the history and heritage of the valley. The third was by Geoff Cowell on the Formation of the Lake District Landscape. Geoff is a Voluntary Ranger for the National Park. He leads Guided Walks, many in the Ullswater Valley, and is involved with the Archaeology Network.
Have you ever thought how the Lake District Landscape came to be as we know it today? How were the mountains, lakes and valleys formed? When did humans first settle in Cumbria and how has Homo sapiens changed the landscape? Geoff Cowell’s fascinating talk took us on a journey through time, from volcanic eruptions 500 million years ago to ice sheets and glaciers 20,000 years ago and finally to our Neolithic ancestors who began to change the Lake District landscape 6000 years ago, clearing the forests for agriculture, using the green rock of the Langdales to craft axeheads, and constructing stone circles and other structures that we can still see today. After Geoff’s inspiring talk I for one will be looking at our landscape through much more curious eyes – looking beyond its beauty for clues about its past.
A land carved from rock
Our journey began 500 million years ago with the first big surprise. A map of the time shows England and Wales close to the South Pole on the landmass of Avalonia and nowhere near Scotland and Northern Ireland. These were part of Laurentia and lay close to the equator. However, in the next 100 million years all this was to change as movements in the earth’s tectonic plates brought the landmasses together to form the supercontinent Pangea. The Iapetus Ocean became narrower and narrower as the plates came together, volcanoes erupted as one plate pushed under the other and rocks near the plate boundaries were folded and uplifted to form mountains.
The geological history of the Lake District is written in the rocks below our feet. Rocks formed 500 million years ago came from muddy seafloor sediments compacted and then uplifted as the landmasses collided. They form the Skiddaw Slates. Volcanic rocks were formed from the ash and lava produced as volcanoes erupted. These are very hard and resistant to erosion and have given rise to some of our highest craggiest mountains, for example Helvellyn. The Lake District also has limestone rocks originating from the sediments of the tropical Iapetus Ocean and sandstone formed about 250 million years ago when Cumbria was situated where the Sahara is today. Later earth movements have shifted, folded and uplifted all these different rocks to form the mountainous landscape we know today. Ice sheets and melt waters have then eroded and sculpted it further.
A land sculpted by water
For the last 2.6 million years the Earth’s climate has fluctuated between hot and cold periods. In cold periods ice sheets and glaciers have covered the Lake District, spreading out in a radial drainage pattern that has given rise to the pattern of lakes we see today. They seem to form the spokes of a wheel with the hub more or less at Dunmail Raise.
The most recent glaciation lasted from 26,000 to 10,000 years ago. As the glaciers slowly retreated they carved the valleys and created the lakes, tarns and other landscape features we see today.
Geoff went on to explain how some familiar landscape features are created. Corries, horseshoe in shape, are found near mountain summits where glaciers begin. Snow collects in a hollow, and as more and more falls it is compressed into glacier ice. As the glacier begins to move it erodes the hollow making it bigger and deeper. Rocks plucked from the back wall of the corrie are deposited on its edge to form a lip so when the ice melts a circular lake is often formed. Red Tarn on Helvellyn is an example.
Knife edge ridges such as Helvellyn’s Striding Edge are also glacial features. They are called arêtes and are formed when 2 neighbouring corries run back to back. As the glaciers on either side each erode their side of the ridge, the edge becomes steeper and the ridge narrower.
The valley floors are also sculpted by the retreating glaciers. Glaciers cut U-shaped valleys with a flat floor and steep sides. Soft rocks are eroded more readily than hard ones, cutting deeper troughs that become ribbon lakes once the glacier has retreated. Ullswater is just one of the Lake District’s ribbon lakes.
If a glacier hits an outcrop of very hard rock it will flow over and around it, leaving a rock mount smoothed by abrasion from the glacier and often with a jagged face on the lee side due to ‘plucking’. These are called roches moutonnée.
As glaciers move, they gather debris from the floor and sides of the valley and as they melt they drop this debris to form moraines. Lateral moraines are at the side of the valley and terminal moraines, sometimes called drumlins are at the end.
Just like rivers, glaciers often have tributaries – smaller glaciers that join the main one. As the main glacier erodes deeper into the valley, the tributary is left higher up the steep sides of the glacier and, as the ice melts its U-shaped valley is left ‘hanging’ above the main one, often with a waterfall tumbling over its edge. Glencoyne is an example of such a hanging valley, caused by a glacier along Ullswater cutting across the one coming down Glencoyne.
A landscape modified by humans
In the third part of his talk, Geoff introduced Homo sapiens. The first evidence of humans in Cumbria is from Kirkhead Hill above Morecombe Bay where Palaeolithic flints, estimated to be 11,000 yrs old, have been found.
In the Mesolithic, the climate became warmer and wetter and, as a result, by 6,000 years ago the Cumbrian landscape was covered in deciduous forest, home to deer, elk, auric and smaller mammals. Because of the dense forest inland, our Mesolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors probably kept mainly to the coast, near estuaries where rivers provided a constant supply of fresh water. Flint-chipping sites have been found at Eskmeals and at Walney and evidence of wooden raft-like structures suggest semi-permanent or permanent settlements. There is also evidence of charcoal burning and small-scale forest clearance. This is the first evidence of humans changing the appearance of the landscape.
It is from the Neolithic, 6,500 – 4,350 years ago, that we have more visible evidence of human activity in the form of stone circles, cairns and axes. The axe factory on Pike O Stickle in the Langdales is the most significant Neolithic find in Cumbria. Axeheads fashioned from its green volcanic rock can be found all over Britain and it seems they were used not only as weapons but also for ritualistic purposes.
At this time henges and stone circles, such as Cockpit on Moor Divock, were created across Cumbria. We find the first evidence of agriculture – seeds of emmer and einkhorn wheats and also of barley. We also find querns, stones on which the grain was ground into flour, and marks made by the ard, a type of plough. As agriculture increased people settled more permanently but, without fertilisers, the yields fell over time and they were forced to move on, clearing more areas of forest. Their sharp polished stone axes felled trees faster than flint and the surrounding undergrowth was burnt. Their grazing animals prevented the forest from regenerating on the old fields so the forests began to disappear.
The Bronze Age was centred on Crete and the trade expanded across continental Europe to reach Britain about 4,000 years ago. At this time warmer climates meant that people could settle on higher ground. Agriculture meant there was more food available and, once manure was used as fertiliser and fields were left fallow to recover, longer-term settlements were possible. At this time we see the first evidence of permanent boundaries marking land holdings.
By the Iron Age, 2,800 years ago, human impact on the landscape was increasing still further. The landscape was more open and probably more organised, with woodlands managed and a lot of forest cleared to create fields and provide wood for construction. The harvest was stored to use throughout the year. There was mining for iron ore but probably on a very small scale. There are signs at Hartsop of a settlement that is Iron Age to Roman.
So, by the time we reach the Iron Age, humans have already had a significant impact on the landscape through forest clearance and by creating enclosures, settlements and monuments.
Inspired by Geoff, when I next walk the Ullswater Way I will try to imagine the valley at different times in its history – when glaciers were carving out the valleys, or when, as the climate warmed and rainfall increased, the area was covered in dense forest. I will try to imagine how life might have been during Neolithic or Iron Age times.
During this year’s Ullswater Outdoor Fest, the Friends of the Ullswater Way organised a series of five talks on the history and heritage of the valley. The second was by Kate Sharpe from Durham University on prehistoric Rock Art in the Lake District.
Twenty years ago almost nothing was known about rock art in the Lake District fells but, as Kate Sharpe’s talk revealed, it seems that the more we look the more we find. Carved into stones and boulders, we find mysterious circular hollows known as ‘cups’, perhaps together with rings, grooves and other shapes. So when were these designs created? By whom? And for what purpose? Kate’s talk, illustrated by stunning images of rock art throughout the area, guided us step by step towards an understanding of what we know so far about Rock Art in the Lake District and highlighted the big questions that she and others are still striving to answer.
Kate first gave an overview of what we currently know about British Rock Art, using a map to illustrate that the majority of Britain’s 7000 known rock art sites are in Scotland and northern England. However, she emphasized that only a few areas have been thoroughly documented, an example being Northumberland and Durham where local communities have been in involved in the recording process. She also explained the different types of rock art, distinguishing for example between designs found on bedrock and boulders, those found on megalithic structures such as standing stones, and those on portable stones, such as cup-marked cobbles. All this rock art has been dated to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, from about 4000 to 1500 BC.
When Kate began working on Cumbrian Rock Art, about 20 years ago, the markings on Long Meg and the Standing Stones of Shap were well known but almost nothing had been recorded from the central Lake District. However, not soon after, a local resident of Patterdale who had seen cup marks whilst on holiday in Italy, realized that there were similar designs on the rocks in his garden. Subsequently similar marks were found in other locations in Patterdale and beyond.
The more people have looked for rock art, the more has been found – at Loweswater, Buttermere, Langdale, Grasmere, Grange in Borrowdale, Thirlmere, Rydal, Ambleside – 35 sites to date. As Kate plotted these sites on a map, she began to see a pattern emerging which might help explain the purpose behind the enigmatic designs.
Kate realized that all the Lake District rock art sites are close to the head or tail of lakes, on or just above the valley floor of valleys linking the lowlands to the mountains. Perhaps our Neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors moved seasonally in and out of valleys or between valleys, following their herds, or making regular journeys to key sites such as the axe factory known to have existed in Langdale. Perhaps the valleys provided useful site-lines, perhaps lake margins were easier to move along than the higher fells, perhaps cargo and people were moved by boats on the lakes.
So were the cup-marked stones used for way-marking? Or did they perhaps mark a meeting place? Or maybe they had a commemorative or ritual purpose – a place, for example, where the solstice could be observed. If you would like read more about Kate’s work please see the attached article. You can also follow the unfolding story of Britain’s Rock Art on http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/era/ and as you are out and about in the fells please keep your eyes peeled for new discoveries.