Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Cumbrian Lonnings

ALL Cumbrians instinctively know what a lonning is. It’s a dialect word shared with our friends in the North East (although they tend to spell it “lonnen”).
The Lakeland Dialect Society defines a lonning as a lane, and when many lonnings were “upgraded” to roads in the 19th century they were often re-named lanes. Hence Rosemary Lonning in Whitehaven became Rosemary Lane.
There are tens of thousands of books detailing walks and footpaths in Cumbria but amazingly there isn’t one specifically on lonnings. So I donned my boots to explore this Cumbrian phenomenon.
It soon became clear that “lane” is not sufficient as a definition. Some lonnings are barely tracks in the landscape while others are wide enough for tractors and 4x4s. At first I thought “a route between A and B” might be a more encompassing definition, but some lonnings don’t go anywhere. Brownrigg Lonning, for example, beside St Bees’ railway station, is a delightful lonning but it’s a dead end. So perhaps a more accurate definition is “a route between A and Not-A”.
Lonnings can be divided into two categories: Fat and Thin. And at Maryport you’ll find one of each running almost in parallel. They start opposite Netherhall School. Fat Lonning is ‘fat’ enough for cars to drive up and down while Thin Lonning (its real name is Pigeonwell Lonning) is barely wide enough for one person. It makes for a lovely walk to go down Fat Lonning, turn south along the coast path, past the Roman museum and then return via Thin Lonning.
Since every green lane can be a lonning there must be thousands of them throughout Cumbria, but there are many which have specific names – and they are as rich and varied as the lonnings themselves. In Cumbria we have Thieves Lonning, Guards Lonning, Billy Watson’s Lonning, Tin Barn Lonning, Gipsy Lonning, Johnnie Bulldog Lonning and even a Ha Ha Lonning.
Mackenzie’s Lonning was so named because it was used by mineworkers going to pits owned by a Mr Mackenzie. It featured on the letters page of The Whitehaven News a few months ago and is perhaps what most people dream a lonning should be like: a sunken lane with long green tunnels of willow, bramble and ferns with a soft “pavement” of soil. It’s just one of the many woodland tracks to be found south of Cleator Moor.
It’s a ‘thin’ lonning more akin to Dorset’s Holloways and – as much as the romantics would like – it’s not typical of a Cumbrian lonning. Lovers Lonning at St Bees is perhaps more typical. Historical records show it has existed for at least 150 years but its route and even its name has changed over that period. Today it starts nowhere in particular and goes nowhere in particular – which does at least mean it’s untroubled by much in the way of pedestrian traffic.
It runs from the B5345 Egremont Road (which was itself once a lonning – Quot Yat Lonning – before being upgraded to a road) to the Nethertown Road. The route then seems to follow the old corpse road before turning down to Seamill Lane.
On either side of the lonning are dykes (hedges). Like most lonnings there are remnants of dry stone walls buried deep beneath the bramble and honeysuckle. These dykes are so tumbled-down they no longer serve any purpose. Sheep will happily jump over them, wander down the lonning then jump over to the next field. The only purpose now of the dykes is a haven for wildlife. Sparrows, greenfinches and wrens are among your companions down Lovers Lonning.
Maps rarely mention lonnings by name and rarer still are any signposts using their names. The best way to track them down is to ask long-time residents. However, you will find Low Lonning, near Gosforth, on Google Earth. It’s also on estate maps going back to the 18th century. And its age is apparent as soon as you walk down it. Park in Gosforth and walk up Leagate Brow on the Wasdale Road. You’ll find the start of Low Lonning marked as a public footpath on the right hand side. 
At first it looks disappointing but the mundane farm track ends a few yards on and a stile takes you into the lonning proper. Like Lovers’ Lonning, the route may be little used by humans these days but it is teeming with flora and fauna. It might also be called blackite lonning, for the dykes are weighed down with bramble.
What really makes Low Lonning stand out though are the occasional breaks in the side of the lonning which reveal stunning views to Wasdale and its iconic screes. And once you get to the end there’s a delightful walk past Hall Senna bridge to the Eskdale Road; then turn right back to Gosforth.
There are no statistics available but lonnings are probably an endangered species. A historic building dating back 200 or 300 years would almost certainly be listed but not so footpaths. 
People drive everywhere so they are little used now. Farmers and landowners chip away at the edges to widen them for farm vehicles. Or lonnings are ‘upgraded’ to bridleways, then by-roads and finally have Tarmac, pavements and street lighting.
There is a ray of hope. And it comes in the form of Wardle’s Lonning at Lowca. This country path to Distington was upgraded in the past to a B-road. But in 2009 the Distington bypass cut the road in half so it’s now a dead end, and Mother Nature is busy reclaiming it. Grass is beginning to poke through the Tarmac and one day it may return to being a ‘proper’ lonning. One that will definitely go from A to Not-A.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Mapping out a theatrical treat

Review of Cartographers by Theatre by the Lake, Keswick.

KESWICK has a very good 700-seat theatre complete with roof. But why use that when you perform in nearby Cockshott Woods? In the pouring rain.
There was a purpose to this madness. Cartographers is a new play – written by Cumbrians Ian Hill and Kim Moore along with Lindsay Roden and Joe Ward Munrow – which focused on the subject of maps.
Around 50 hardy souls braved the cold and rain to walk round the wood. At various intervals there were ‘playlets’ look at different  aspects of cartography: a World War II evacuee drawing the streets of Newcastle on the ground to remind him of home; a middle-aged couple out walking as a therapy for the personal crisis they were facing and so forth.
The performers were the professional team from Keswick’s summer season and director was associate director Stefan Escreet.
Maps continue to have an appeal to artists and these writers delight in exploring the magic and mystery of them. “This is a map for getting lost” declares one of the characters while another contemplates the gaps between locations on the map. Others consider drawing a map of every birds’ nest or every spot where they have been happy – or sad.
The audience were forced to consider just what the purpose of a map should be. Should it  simply tell you where you are or can it be a map of where your life is going? Such mystical meanderings were given an extra dash of magic courtesy of singers and musicians who performed throughout the wood. Indeed, even the shouting of children from nearby Derwentwater seemed to be part of the performance.
Despite four writers being involved, each of the scenes beautifully merged with one another – each echoing the others. It was an enchanting piece of walking theatre which, at its climax, left the audience in the middle of this charming wood.
But how to get back to Keswick town centre? Now, if only we’d brought a map....

- Alan Cleaver