Monday, 19 September 2016

Finding Maggy

Maggy's Lonning
Maggy's Lonning, Loweswater

Finding Maggy

Maggy's Lonning at Loweswater has not quite lost its character despite it being a tarmacked road. It is a single track road (NY 13587 21016) that leads to the impossibly-small car park by Loweswater and I've always had a soft spot for it. Perhaps it's the loneliness in the north-western corner of the Lake District that gives it its appeal or perhaps it's the name. Who was Maggy and why was the lonning named after her? And there's also a packhorse bridge nearby called Maggy's Bridge (even OS mark it as such) so she appears to have been at one time a famous or well-loved person in the valley. I did once ask the farmer who Maggy was but he said no-one knew. Well, thanks to the astonishing work of the British Newspaper Archives, I've now found out something about her.

The British Newspaper Archives are slowly but surely scanning in 400 years of newspaper archives into digital format, making the easily accessible and, more importantly, searchable. I've used it many times and was randomly surfing one morning when a search for lonning came up with a note about Maggy's Lonning at Loweswater. It was in The Cumberland Pacquet for 1833:

VILLAGE FAME - A clever and worthy old lady, sister to the eldest of the three venerable men named in the preceding paragraph (ie John Mirehouse, of Miresike, who died aged 102) and who died at the good old age of 98 years, although never the owner of a foot of land has had the honour of having her name perpetuated in her native vale (Loweswater) in Maggy's Lonning (lane or road), Maggy's Bridge, Maggy's Gate, Maggy's House, Maggy's Garden and her 'flowers grown wild' and even the very birds in Maggy's Robin and various anecdotes of Maggy's sayings and doings. Poor Maggy! her garden no longer smiles, and her house now lies in ruins.

The preceding paragraph talked about the Mirehouse family which "furnishes such instances of longevity as are rarely to be met with". In particular it spoke of Maggy's brother, John Mirehouse, who died in 1807 at the age of 102. A further Google search revealed that The Literary Panorama (Published 1808) told how on his 100th birthday he "received a very numerous party of his neighbours ("all his juniors") seated in a new oak chair, and cloathed in a new coat, which, he pleasantly observed, might, with care taken, serve his life-time."

But what more of Maggy? The tantalising paragraph indicates she was indeed well loved and something of a village character but sadly not much more. Research in this age of Google can almost be too easy but a family tree on and references in Google Books revealed she had been born on St Valentine's Day 1714 in Loweswater and later married to become Margaret Longmire. She died in 93rd year (ie 1807) on Tuesday, July 14th  according to The Athanaeum Vol 2 (published 1807) at Thrushbank, Loweswater. But the Pacquet said she lived to be 98. Further research may resolve that mystery although the burial records kindly put online by the Lorton & Derwent Fells Local History Society does not include her.

So for now, we can at least revive the identity of Maggy as Maggy Longmire (nee Mirehouse) who was born on February 14th, 1714 and died in 1807 or 1813. And at least we still have her lonning - and bridge.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Ghosts for Sale

The Tannery Boggle

IT was the day that The Whitehaven News (in Cumbria, UK) advertised Six Live Ghosts for sale. And it wasn’t even April Fool’s Day. October 20, 1932 was even a bit early for Halloween. Yet there it was: “Miscellaneous. For Sale, Six Live Ghosts. – Apply, Tannery, Egremont.”

The ‘explanation’ elsewhere in the paper asks more questions than it answers but reports on a most remarkable sighting of a boggle by multiple witnesses. It’s a tale worthy of Scooby Doo but the Whitehaven News reporter seemed convinced from the outset that it was nothing but a hoax. The News’s Egremont correspondent reported: “An old tannery at Beck Green which has been in disuse for many years has been the centre of great activity since last weekend. Men, women and children armed with crude but effective weapons have been engaged in a new pastime or ‘ghost-laying’.”

It seems rumours of a ghost in the building had spread through Egremont resulting in crowds of people keeping watch from the old black bridge. Among them was the Egremont correspondent who received this statement from former Sergeant Rose: “What I am going to tell you is the truth. On Thursday evening, between half-past ten and eleven o’clock, four young men came to the garage opposite in an exhausted condition. One of them was my son. He was trembling like a leaf and when I asked him what was the matter he gasped out he had seen a ghost down at the old tannery. I went to investigate and, keeping watch, I saw something rise up from the ground and float towards the tannery.”

Sadly our correspondent gives no more details of that sighting but the policeman returned the following night with his wife, son and other witnesses. And astonishingly the ghost once again made an appearance – this time bringing a fellow spectre with it.

He said: “I left the others near the Black Bridge and secreted myself in the ruins. I looked towards the top of a small hill on the road past the tannery and suddenly I was aware of what looked like a white mist rising from the ground. It gradually assumed the shape of a human body about five feet seven inches in height. There was no head and no sign of feet. Gradually the thing, whatever it was, floated down the road until it was opposite the cart entrance to the tannery. It slowly turned towards the entrance and then I made out a similar figure by its side. I called out for the rest of the party and my wife, son and two ladies came up. What they saw terrorised them. The thing had floated up the step against which carts used to back for loading and was standing in the doorway. It paused a moment and then vanished inside. The women were terrified and ran. Presently the husband of one came and we entered the building together. We lighted a candle and looked round the room but saw nothing. There was no sign of footsteps on the dust of the floor.”

The following night – a Saturday – word had spread about the Tannery boggle and more than a hundred spectators turned up. But they seemed determined to send the apparition back to its supernatural home and were armed with sticks and stones. But the ghost, which hitherto had appeared with the regularity of Hamlet’s father, failed to appear.

Mr Rose described the ghost in more detail to the Whitehaven News: “It was certainly nothing human. I particularly watched the place where its feet should have been to see how it walked, but there were no feet; it simply floated along the ground. I have been in the jungles of India and in the desert. I have seen strange sights and heard strange noises but never before have I experienced anything like this. What I have told you is the truth: the nine people whom I have mentioned by name will bear me out in that.”

At one point Mr Rose and his son had thrown stones at the ghost as it stood in the doorway but the stones passed straight through the figure. And another witness was later discovered who had seen the ghost a few days before but had been too scared to say anything. Yet despite the expert testimony of Mr Rose and the other witnesses, The Whitehaven News decided it must be a hoax, a practical joke. This seems largely based on the placing of the advert in that week’s For Sale section offering six live ghosts for sale. It’s not known who placed the advert or why.

Today the tannery ruins can still be seen but neither hide nor hair has been seen of the boggle.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Beating the Bounds

SATURDAY, August 27 2016 will see the people of Caldbeck walk the boundaries of their parish – a tradition held every 21 years.
Why only every 21 years is anyone's guess. Such 'beatings of the bounds' are normally held annually although there are probably only a few dozen parishes in England that continue the tradition. And Wigton must be one of the last in Cumbria.
North of the border the tradition is more commonly continued as Common Riding or Riding the Marches and an echo of this can be found at Egremont each September when 'Riding the Boundary' sees horse riders process from the sports field to the town centre and back (ie not around the town's boundary!).
Such traditions were usually held at Rogationtide (so that's roughly just after the fifth Sunday after Easter) and had a very clear purpose. The people of the village would walk the boundary ensuring everyone knew precisely where it was and hopefully boundary disputes could be avoided. In some parishes the procession would literally go through someone's house and out a rear window if the house was unfortunate enough to lie across the boundary!
To help 'mark' the boundary specific stones or trees would be used but a more traditional way of ensuring young people remembered might be to give them the 'bumps' at important spots or even hold them upside down and (gently) bump their head on the ground. In 1871, a perambulation in Beckermet impressed the route on their youngsters by throwing pennies into the beck which formed the boundary and allowing them to scramble after the coins. At other spots songs were sung, sports were held or tobacco distributed. The Beckermet tradition died out at the turn of the 20th Century but was revived in 2003 as a charity fundraising venture by West Lakeland Rotary and Inner Wheel.
The only other revival of a boundary tradition that springs to mind is fell-runner Joss Naylor's beating of the Wasdale boundary in 2012 to mark the Queen's Jubilee. It's a route that stretched for 35 miles with an ascent of 11,000ft so it's probably safe to say it won't be repeated by others any time soon.
* Details have not yet been released of the Caldbeck boundary walk on August 27 but will be announced on Patterdale also holds an annual parish walk; this year it is on Saturday, July 2. See

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The thrush's anvil

The thrush on his anvil
The thrush on his anvil. Picture: Derek Parker
I DON'T want to go all Alfred Hitchcock on you but it seems birds have long had the ability to adapt twigs, stones and other objects into tools. A couple of years ago a video of rooks using tools did the rounds on social media. They were pictured dropping stones into a tube of water to release food and even bending a piece of wire to make a hook. They may not be ready to topple man from the top of the food chain but it's a surprising insight into creatures we may assume are, well, bird-brained. Around the world birds have been seen fishing (by dropping objects onto a river to attract fish) and using twigs to hook or tease out insects from tree bark but there are also English birds who are not shy to show off their engineering skills.

While wandering beyond Surprise View (which overlooks Derwentwater, near Keswick), I took a slight detour to look at a red squirrel feeding station. I'm not sure who operates this feeder and it's certainly not flagged up on any websites or tourist information leaflets but it's an easy spot to photograph those elusive red squirrels. However on this occasion I was there at the wrong time (squirrels go for a siesta between midday and 4pm). I was, however, able to watch the coal tits and great tits swooping on the feeder for scraps left over from the squirrels' morning feed and among them was the nuthatch. With its highly improbably black eye mask it looks like a reject from the new Batman v Superman movie. It's this distinctive black band which quickly differentiates it from that other tree-hugger, the treecreeper. The nuthatch is thankfully now a common sight in Cumbria so it's a surprise to many people to learn that it's only in the last 20 years the nuthatch has moved north to colonise our county. He's a welcome immigrant.

It should be no surprise to see the nuthatch keeping company with squirrels; they have much in common. Just like the squirrel, the nuthatch will 'bury' food – usually in tree crevices or under stones – to retrieve at a later date. But it's their engineering prowess I am reminded to note: given a particularly big nut or seed, the nuthatch will push it into a piece of bark using it as a vice to hold it steady while the bird pecks it into smaller bits.

But our most prolific workman is the thrush. And even if you're never fortunate enough to see this master craftsman at work you are likely to stumble across what is known as "the thrush's anvil". The thrush has discovered how to extract a snail from its protective shell by smashing the unfortunate mollusc against a stone (the anvil). You'll often hear the thrush at work before you see him and keep an eye out while walking for these stone anvils - they're easy to spot with the dozens of broken snail shells lying around it.

Web links offers an overview of birds and their habits gives a glossary of the language of the landscape

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Low Lonning, Gosforth

A walk down Low Lonning, Gosforth

Hall Bolton Bridge at Low Lonning, near Gosforth
LOW Lonning, near Gosforth is just one of the many lonnings (country lanes) that can be found in West Cumbria. A lonning is a dialect term for a very specific type of path. In the ages before rail and road, people needed to know the difference between a narrow sloping path (a rake), a trod (a path used by miners), a wath (a sand crossing across an estuary), a drovers route, a corpse road, a lonning or many other types. Many Cumbrians instinctively know what a lonning is - one of the prettier paths. It may have originated as a path to a 'loan' by a farm (the quiet place where cows were milked and villagers could buy milk, cheese or other farm produce). Very few are identified as such on maps or finger-posts (I've come across probably just half a dozen) but villagers all know where they are and what they are called. The names are glorious: Wine Lonning, Love Lonning, Fat Lonning, Thin Lonning and Squeezed Gut Lonning are just a few. You'll find others on my lonning map.

Low Lonning at Gosforth was featured on Secret Britain in March 2016 and is indeed one of the nicer ones in this part of the world. Since Google Maps show it in the wrong place, this blog gives its correct location.

Name: Low Lonning, Gosforth (now usually shown as Low Lane on maps)
Grid reference: NY093040 - NY086028
Post code: CA20 1AS (the village centre)
Parking: Free car park in village centre - please put money in the honesty box!
Toilets: In the car park
Refreshments: Various pubs and cafes in Gosforth
Other attractions nearby: Guards Lonning, Bleng Lonning, Gosforth church with its famous Anglo Saxon cross; Gosforth holy well (near the church); Britain's favourite view at Wasdale; Eskdale and the La'al Ratty steam train.

Description: It is not easy to park at either end of this lonning so it's safer to park in the village and walk (it is probably about an hour and a quarter round route). Head out of the village on the Eskdale road (a country lane so remember to walk single file facing oncoming traffic). Cross over the large Rowend bridge. The first footpath on the left is the start of Low Lonning. This is an ancient path that was once the main route from Wasdale to the coast (not least for the smugglers!). The earliest map showing it is 1774 and later maps indicate its start and finish in slightly different places. The first part is a driveway to Hall Bolton and is sometimes shown as Toft Lane; once you are beyond that you are in the lonning proper. It crosses an impressive stone bridge over the River Bleng which reflects its golden age as a major trade route in West Cumbria. It's an ideal place to stop for some 'bait' (a dialect term for lunch!). From the bridge the lonning rises slightly through an avenue of trees.
The path up from the bridge
To your left is another footpath (the one wrongly identified on Google earth as Low Lonning). Ignore that and carry on. The path levels off and during a break in the hedges you will catch glimpses of the Wastwater screes - steep, plunging rock faces that dip into Wastwater.
The views to Wasdale and the Wastwater Screes
The lonning contines and rather disconcertingly, you will walk past a house and farm buildings. Don't worry! You're on a public path. Eventually the lonning dips down and you finish up at the main Wasdale Road.
The lonning towards the Wasdale Road end
Like most lonnings, this one is about half a mile long. Once on the Wasdale Road turn left and head back to Gosforth. The second path on your right will be Guards Lonning (one of the few lonnings actually signposted). This is one of our longest (probably about two miles) but is an 'industrial' lonning these days used for forest traffic. It is to be frank, one of the dullest lonnings apart from its astonishing views across to Wasdale. But don't let me stop you walking down it! You'll return to Gosforth via the hamlet of Wellington. The road is surprisingly wide because it was once going to be a road across the fells. Initial work included the widening of this road but the plans were eventually dropped.

I hope you enjoy Low Lonning and that it will encourage you to explore other lonnings. Apart from my Google map, you will find more lonnings detailed in our book, The Lonnings of Cumbria available from Amazon. And I'm always glad to hear about other lonnings that you know about. Email me on

A gate on which to rest a while!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Writing paper guidelines

ONE of those mild frustrations for those who still hand-write letters is buying a writing pad and then finding there is no guideline sheet included. It's hard enough trying to keep handwriting neat without also having to worry that you are writing in straight lines and leaving the correct leading (spacing) between lines. But when I bought some of Basildon Bond's delightful Three Candlesticks writing paper I assumed that they would, of course, have pdfs of the guidelines on their website for just such an emergency. The pad I bought from the sorry looking display at WHSmith was wrapped in plastic and it was only when I got home that I found the guidelines had been left out. A search of their website revealed no one in the organisation had yet had the bright idea of putting pdfs of guidelines up on the web for their customers so instead I had to spend a few minutes with QuarkXpress to create them. I dropped a line to Basildon Bond with my pdf suggestion. So far they've not taken it up. They did send me a complimentary pack (with guidelines) which was nice of them but the covering note explained that they were no longer including guidelines in their writing pads. I was gobsmacked. Why not? Did they think

  1. Everyone could now write in perfect straight lines
  2. They could save money by not including the guidelines
  3. No one handwrites letters any more so why bother
So for those equally frustrated handwriting lovers, I've attached the pdfs here. Enjoy.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Living on the edge of the world

Judith Wildwood outside her Braystones home
JUDITH Wildwood has a unique perspective on the world - which is not surprising as she lives on its edge.

She is one of a few dozen people who live on the beach at Braystones in West Cumbria  in wooden single-storey homes that started life over 150 years ago as huts for men working on the railway. Their location tucked into the side of the railway - but on the same side as the sea - makes them some of the most precarious homes in Britain. The tide will generally lash against small, fragile walls in front of the houses - and during a storm the wooden structures take the full blast.

"I am incredibly lucky to live here," says Judith - which on the calm, bright, sunny day I visited her is easy to appreciate. The blue and white home looks out on the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man and what must be jaw-dropping sunsets.

"The summers are absolutely breathtaking," Judith said but added: "In the winter though you cannot remember what the summer was like."

Some of the recent guests to Judith's home have been Barney, Clodagh, Frank, Henry and Imogen - all storms with a particularly vicious sting in the tale. And Judith has no doubt that these storms are getting worse as global warming takes hold. Warmer winters, stronger winds and higher tides are all taking their toll. On the day I visited Judith the 'beach road' - it is barely a track with a few stones in front of it - had just been put back thanks to a man with a digger.

"You can see how much has vanished in the last 50 years," said Judith who has watched bigger and higher tides claim more and more of the beach.

So how do you survive on the edge of the world? Some of the homes do have electricity -some of them having set up generators or turbines for that purpose. Lighting is usually by gas cannisters or paraffin. Heating is by an open fire or gas. There is a telephone and some even have access to the internet. For those who want it - though it's hard to see why when you have one of the planet's greatest views out of your lounge window - there is even a TV signal or you can erect a satellite dish. And yes, they do pay council tax - though it's hard to see they get a fair deal  for the facilites on offer. There is waste collection and the postman finds his or her way up the beach (a letter simply addressed to The Blue and White House on the beach at Braystones will find its way to Judith).  Tesco will even deliver food to your door (the nearest shop is in Egremont) but the van sometimes need a hand getting off the beach. But other firms promising "national delivery" are not usually adept enough to find their way across the railway crossing and onto the beach road. After six months Judith gave up waiting for the delivery van with a new bath to find this 'lost' part of Britain. It's a stark existence and in winter some of the residents will retreat inland but for those who make it through another winter it's a reason to celebrate and be thankful. While storm and flood  coverage by the press has concentrated on the likes of Carlisle, Cockermouth and Keswick the forgotten world of Braystones has largely been overlooked. Perhaps the reporters just couldn't find it.

There is a wonderful archive of stories and pictures about the huts at Braystones at It's not clear who has put this wonderful resource together but it's well worth a look.

Homes at Braystones in West Cumbria