Gardening Magazine

Cuckoo

By David Marsden @anxiousgardener

Once Upon a Time – in early May of last year – I spent a week in The Lake District with Jim and his parents. I started writing a post about our trip several months ago but grew increasingly distracted as Covid settled amongst us and my world shifted. Like you, I’m still pretty distracted but here, finally, are some photos from that now confusingly distant time.

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As beautiful as it is, Bobbin Mill doesn’t flaunt. Rather, it crouches out of sight, hidden in a deep rocky gully. Like a tight-hugged secret.

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It was only after we had picked up the keys in Hawkshead, driven toward Coniston, turned off the road, opened a gate, drove through the gate, shut the gate, and bumped slowly along a farm track toward a second gate, that we first glimpsed the house, peeping through trees.

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What looks like a single storey on approach reveals itself from the back to be a massive four-storey building; or is it five? Whatever, it’s big and grew bigger still when, on the third day and straight from a spiffing children’s book, we found a key to the lower extension with even more rooms to explore.

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It’s called Bobbin Mill because what could be a better name. And also because it once made, amongst other things, bobbins for the textile industry. This tranquil gorge was once a bustling factory: carts trundling to, carts trundling fro, the thrum of machinery, workers scurrying about laughing, shouting, cursing. I found all of that very hard to imagine amongst the birdsong – apart from the cursing that is. Jim and his parents are a potty-mouthed clan.

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The original mill burnt down but was rebuilt in the C19th. They placed it against the swift water of Thurs Ghyll to power the water-wheel, of course, which in turn powered the bobbin making machinery. Now, let’s move on before you test my bobbin-making know-how any further.

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That massive, once derelict but now renovated, iron wheel no longer turns. One can’t have everything in life.

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There is no TV here, no Wifi nor mobile coverage: just books to read, maps to study, bird-feeders to watch, wild garlic to bruise and sniff, an acre or so of woodland to explore,

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and a swing to swing on. In the evenings, we chatted and gazed into the wood burner, responsibly sipping self-supplied wine. And sometimes not very responsibly.

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It was also a week of bluebells. The grounds of the mill were laced with bluebells, trickling out under the trees; and through which badgers had made enticing paths leading to nothing in particular. We followed them anyhow.

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As well as a badger set in the garden (we saw no badgers), there are otters in the ghyll (we saw no otters), the hooting of tawny owls (we saw no owls) and, for the first time in a couple of years, I heard cuckoos. We saw no cuckoos either but I did take a short film of the mill with cuckoo soundtrack.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Can this post get any better?”

Anyhow, we didn’t come all this way to just not see the creatures of Bobbin Mill.

CuckooStickle Ghyll

Jim and I had steep rocky paths to sweat up and mountain tops on which to pant and man-spread.

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To kick-off, we decided to revisit the Langdale Pikes – the first Lakeland mountains we had climbed together. We took the swift but steep track by Stickle Ghyll from the New Dungeon Ghyll car-park – and if it was a tough first day, regular middle-aged-man stops made it easier.

CuckooThe great slab of Pavey Ark above Stickle Tarn

Even if the sheer physicality of the Langdales isn’t enough to prod you up a summit then their marvellous, Scandi names ought: Pike o’ Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Thorn Crag, Loft Crag and Pavey Ark. The latter was our target and a butch peak neither of us had climbed before.

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From near the tarn, it’s one long ascent – straight up there.

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Pavey Ark isn’t a giant. It’s only 700m but with nothing higher between us and, on the horizon, Lake Windermere the view was glorious after that sweaty, muttering effort.

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I climbed a neighbouring Pike, Harrison Stickle, on my 21st birthday and my favorite Lakeland mountain, Helvellyn, on my 20th. If I can, I still like to spend my November birthday amongst these mountains. It suits me.

CuckooGreat Langdale

Perhaps those early birthdays help to explain why I love the Lakes more than any other part of England, though I wonder whether Cumbria would enthral me quite so much if I had spent those two significant birthdays in Watford or Wapping.

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After Pavey, Jim and I climbed Harrison Stickle too and then descended, slow and achy, happy and hungry, to pick up the car (after a pint at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, of course).

CuckooThe foolishly renamed Leather, Rag and Putty Street, Hawkshead.

As Jim’s parents spent their days at the Mill or pottering about Coniston, Hawkshead and Ambleside, we walked mostly.

CuckooConiston Fells

We spent a day on the Coniston Fells with an ascent of The Old Man followed by a fine ridge walk to Swirl How – on a similar walk to Day 2 of my Cumbria Way adventure.

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And we also re-walked the western arm of my favorite Cumbrian horseshoe – the Kentmere Round. This is a magnificent, high-level walk in the eastern national park and because it isn’t so very easy to reach, Kentmere tends to be quieter than some of the other great Lakeland horseshoes, like Fairfield or Coledale. And like the Langdales, the four main peaks on this side of the horseshoe have good and solid and rugged names: Yoke, Ill Bell, Froswick and Thornthwaite Crag.

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If you need to drive to the tiny village of Kentmere and park, set off early as there’s only space for half a dozen cars.

CuckooThe approach to the Kentmere Round from Troutbeck

Or do as we did and set out on the longer approach from Troutbeck.

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I often hear people say that Lakeland is far too busy, far too crowded. But it needn’t be. Not if you plan ahead and not if, like anywhere else, you pick your time and avoid busier days and honeypots. On the Kentmere Round, we met what? Half a dozen people? During a six-hour walk.

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And this wasn’t a sleety day in December or a sodden February afternoon but an early May, fine-day Thursday.

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Personally, I wouldn’t go near the Lake District in July or August or on a Bank Holiday. I prefer the company of my partner – and the occasional Herdwick – to the madding crowd.

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On a take-it-easy day, we followed the low-level Cumbria Way between Coniston and Langdale (the official route that I’d omitted in 2014),

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giving us a removed view of the Langdale Pikes, with good old Harrison Stickle centre,

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and a visit to Colwith Force. You may have seen the famous falls at Skelwith but, and here’s a whispered tip, Colwith, a mile or two further along the River Brathay, is more impressive and less visited.

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On a rest day from walking, all four of us drove to the National Trust property of Townend – a sturdily beautiful 400-year-old farmhouse. Built by George Brown in 1626 it remained in his family until 1943 and, like Bobbin, has barely changed in decades.

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It’s a fascinating house to explore and while away an hour – but you’ll need to take my word for it. I took no internal photos – wasn’t in the mood, I guess. (At the time of writing, Townend House is closed due to Covid, the virus that keeps on giving).

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Though early in the season, the garden was pretty too.

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I wandered about the vegetables and herbs, and stopped to read an information slate:

Onion – Ffor to stop the flux.

Take an Onion, and roast it till it be tender and bruise it and lapp it in Linnen Cloth and put it betwixt the Clefts of the Buttocks joyneing to ye firmement and let the party sit thereon as hot as may be suffered.”

I don’t know about you but I’d rather have the flux than let anyone near my firmament with a hot roasted onion.

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But enough of my firmament. Let’s return to bluebells. I’d never visited the Lakes at this time of year and it wasn’t by design that our trip coincided with peak bluebell.

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Wherever we walked, wherever we drove, we saw swathes of blue,

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even on that unlikely bluebell habitat, open fell side.

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It was astonishing how good they were last year.

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I hadn’t thought that the Lake District could be more stunning than when I first saw it in November 1982.

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Right up to the moment

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when I saw it doing its bluebell thing.

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I had planned on a couple of nights at Bobbin in June 2020 on our way to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland but obviously, that holiday was Covid-cancelled. We don’t plan on returning to that hidden valley anytime soon. That little valley filled with flower, birdsong and thunderous stream.

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The Mill isn’t the most comfortable of holiday cottages: the sofas are lumpy, as are the bed mattresses; there’s only the one indoor loo, on the top floor up a poorly lit stone spiral staircase; it’s cold except for the living room when the wood burner is roaring; the spray from the ghyll makes the outside slate paving lethally slippery; and the kitchen is fairly basic. Neither was the house sparkling clean.

But none of that mattered. All four of us fell in love with Bobbin. Arrival was a homecoming and leaving a sadness. We agreed that it was the best holiday cottage we’d stayed in. And just so long as the owners don’t refurbish it, we will go back.

I did intend to post a link to the house but actually, I don’t think I can. I seem to be hugging this tight-hugged secret closer than I’d imagined. Sorry. But it’s not much of a secret really. Bobbin Mill isn’t very difficult to track down – if you want to find it.

I recommend early May when the bluebells are out and the cuckoos calling.


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