Step in to History
I made a discovery or two this weekend. Did you know that you don’t need to pay for a Guided Walk by a Lake District warden? Until yesterday I did not even know you could go on such a walk. Last week was, apparently, National Parks Week. I found out from the Ordnance Survey Facebook page and discovered the Events and Guided Walks page from the Lake District National Park site. How I had missed it before I don’t know.
So, yesterday I met Graham, a volunteer warden from Durham and a number of others for a guided walk to Greenside and Keppel Cove. In fact we were rather ‘top heavy’ with as many Chiefs as Indians. There were two rangers, a trainee ranger and, for the Parks Week special, a local historian, Warren Alison. The Indians comprised myself, a teacher from Sweden, who had planned her week’s holiday using the Parks Website and travelling by public transport. Then a couple from Wales joined and the final participant being my dog – a great bonus as most other groups or guided walks I have seen do not allow dogs. Graham did explain that it was at the discretion of the lead warden to accept them, and if you turn up with an unruly dog you may be advised it would not be an appropriate walk.
We set off from the Tourist information centre at Glenridding in lovely warm sunshine up the valley towards Greenside Lead Mines. This was my first surprise, I didn’t realise that it was a lead mine, I am ashamed to say that my local history is so bad I presumed it was a slate mine. Warren was a ‘mine’ of information (groan, sorry) and we stopped frequently to learn about the remains of the once industrial landscape which surrounded us.
Water was crucial to the success of the mines and there is a legacy of hydroelectric power dating back to the mid 1800s. No, not a mistake, as far back as that! The church and school in the valley were the first in the country to have electricity thanks to the mine owners.
All the buildings in the valley owe their existence to the mine, from cottages to gunpowder stores, once pilfered as a quick way of fishing. Even beyond the main mine area and slag, the ascent to Greenside has been sculpted by underground activity. Valleys have been scraped flat and vegetation is absent where heavy metals remain, still turning the ground blue. Our lunch stop was in a sheltered dip where a mine shaft had collapsed and more dramatic decay scared the hillside above.
All around the detritus of industry remains. Wooden sleepers and metal lay in a disparate scrapyard. Many of the walls and pathways are the remains of water courses used to channel the water needed for processing or power. Wooden chutes were built on flattened platforms and local rumour is that children used to ride down the hillside on makeshift rafts.
The path we took up the Raise is the remains of a chimney which helped to circulate the air for the miners. It looks no different from any other path, protected from wear, with a stone covering.
On the way down we went down to Keppel Cove, the remains of a natural tarn which burst its banks in 1927 causing havoc and destruction in the 30 minutes it took to empty in to the valley below. The remains of the replacement manmade dam are still in place, though this also burst four years later.
The route we took is here. As well as the history the scenery was naturally stunning with Glenridding being the start of the classic Helvellyn walk along Striding Edge. Graham, the guide, was knowledgeable, not only giving me advice on other walks in the area but adding to my limited knowledge of the alpine flowers. I learned that there are tiny insect eating plants on the fell side and one, butterwort, used to sour milk to create a yoghurt type drink. The somewhat haphazard summer weather resulted in catching sunburn on my shoulders and having rain soaked waterproofs within a few hours. But what a great day. Walking combined with learning. A knowledgeable guide, so no need to worry about consulting the map and all for free.
I would recommend anyone to use this great service and also, though the walk is free, to donate to the parks at the end. This is not a tip,it does not go to the guide but into the till at the information centre to help maintain the fells.
More pictures here
Park and start at the Ulswater Information Centre, Glenridding, NY384 170 – if you have no change for machines, pay in shop.
Cicerone has Glenridding walks here. Buy books and other things here.