Stepping back in time

THE village has been so quiet this spring, no tourists, very few cars on the road. Like every other business in Grasmere, we had to close the studio and gallery when the country went into lockdown. The pace of life slowed down right away. It gave us all more time to think, and it made me wonder if this was what life was like in Grasmere in my grandfather’s time.

My grandfather was the artist William Heaton Cooper and he bought the land opposite the village green in 1937 to build the studio where we are based today. (The original studio had been established by his father, Alfred Heaton Cooper, who was also a landscape artist.)

William Heaton Cooper

Back in the 1940s when he was painting scenes of Rydal water there would have been no crowds swimming from the beach, and while he was out on Loughrigg there would have been very few fellwalkers on the paths. In fact, Loughrigg was where he went to “play out”, as he recalled in his book, The Hills of Lakeland:

“For many years my father had a small hut just below the summit where we would go and camp for days on end, living like savages, cooking on a trench oven, swimming in the tarns and falling off rocks – the very best holiday education for youngsters. We would sleep out on the dry turf in the heat of summer and wake up with dew on our faces.”

Grasmere boathouse and Loughrigg by William Heaton Cooper

So with the schools closed, my children – Alfie and Ophelia – have been learning at home. They’ve been doing lessons set for them by their teachers at Grasmere school, but they’ve also had time to learn outside. They’ve learned about the flowers and the birds around them. They found a nest of baby owls at the side of a footpath. They’ve seen baby blue tits, and yellow meadow ants. And they’ve not only been swimming in Loughrigg tarn, but they’ve also been doing their own experiments there, testing to see how deep it is, using nets to identify damselfly nymphs and water fleas and tadpoles.

Alfie and Ophelia (family names, after my great grandfather, and after William’s wife, my grandmother Ophelia Gordon Bell) wrote articles about these things in their own newspaper, the Loughrigg Times. Great-grandfather William would be delighted!

We know how lucky we are to be living here, even though our business is closed. It was good to enjoy the beautiful spring, which we often miss because we’re so busy. We know it’s been a time of great sadness that has affected us all, but we didn’t want the children to feel anxious so we tried to concentrate on the positives and use the time to be creative.

We’ve been very grateful here that you stayed away, to avoid further strain on our local medical services, and our local mountain rescue team, but now we’re ready to welcome you all back. We’ll be open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10-4, initially, both the studio and Mathildes café. It will be great to see you! And if you can’t get here yet, you can always visit our online shop or give us a call.

Becky Heaton Cooper

On the first day of Christmas….

Our first ever art market was held here in the archive gallery…on the first weekend of the Christmas season. And it was judged to be a great success by our exhibiting artists and by the many visitors who came along to buy Christmas presents which are truly unique.

Over three days, the gallery was filled with stalls run by some of the top artists and designers in Cumbria who had brought their work to exhibit and to sell. There were painters and potters, designers in wood and glass and fabric, representing the very best of our local talent, and we have a gallery of photos here to remind you.

In Mathildes’ cafe we served a seasonal, Scandinavian style brunch, along with our famous home made cakes, pastries, coffee and hot chocolate, mulled wine and hot fruit punch. And we were graced by a visit from singer/songwriter Amy Grace who performed a few sets for us on the Saturday, while Sunday’s music came from the Theatre Voices ensemble.

Ava Grace

As one of our visitors told us: “It’s fabulous! And even going on a motorbike to stop impulsive purchases didn’t work!” So we do plan to make this an annual event. Thank you all for coming along and joining in the art spirit of Christmas.

We’re hitting the headlines!

Grasmere has been hitting the headlines recently with our studio at the heart of the village’s cultural identity.

The October edition of the glossy and gorgeous This England magazine focused on this part of the Lake District anticipating the 250th anniversary of Wordsworth’s birth next year.

A six-page feature showed how it’s possible to get around here without a car, the London-based writer travelling north by train and then using buses – and boats – to get around.

And it wasn’t all about Wordsworth, with our Studio and Mathilde’s café featured in the main story, and the ‘where to eat’ factbox.

The writer says: “Wordsworth wasn’t the only one inspired by the beauty of Grasmere. The celebrated Lake District landscape painter William Heaton Cooper established the Heaton Cooper Studio here in 1938 to show his paintings and prints as well as the sculptures by his wife, Ophelia Gordon Bell.

“Today you can wander round the studio, galleries and shop, soaking up William’s paintings and those of his father, Alfred, or take tea in Mathilde’s café which is named after William’s mother.”

Our thanks to Cumbria Tourism for arranging this press visit.

At the same time, The Waitrose Good Food Guide has been here in the Lakes and recommends: “For a taste of the Cumbrian food revolution, take your walking boots and appetite to Grasmere in the Lake District where you can enjoy everything from tea and cake to fine dining.”

Echoing our feelings entirely, their feature says: You have only to walk up lovely little Loughrigg to know what William Wordsworth meant when he called Grasmere and its surroundings ‘the loveliest spot that man hath ever found’. Crack open that flask of tea, unwrap your sandwiches and fill up on the view: look down at the village and lake with its familiar backdrop of the Lion and the Lamb (or Helm Crag, to be more prosaic); look beyond to higher fells, Fairfield rolling smoothly in one direction, the unmistakable outline of the craggy Langdale Pikes in another, the Coniston fells further west.

“Grasmere probably has a lot more to offer foodwise than in the days when Wordsworth was wandering these parts. The village sits at the heart of a region whose food has catapulted to recognition in recent years thanks to superlative local ingredients being championed energetically by creative chefs for whom time and place – seasonality and locality – are non-negotiable.”

Aquavit-cured salmon with potato flatbreads and poached duck egg

And then, specifically, the magazine adds: “Don’t miss Mathilde’s Café at the Heaton Cooper Studio with its first-rate Scandinavian food – meatballs, pickles, dill, potatoes, gravadlax, rye bread – and find out about the Norwegian girl who stole the Lakeland landscape artist Alfred Heaton Cooper’s heart in the late 19th century.”

And thanks to our own local magazine Lancashire Life you can have your own say, and help us win an award which we believe our staff really deserve. You can vote for Mathilde’s in the outstanding customer service category, here

We think we have a great team here, and hope you will support them. Thank you!





The quest for a king’s crown

Mathilde walks

A series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today we go in search of a legend, to find the resting place of a mythical king’s crown, and to see the slopes where an acclaimed Lakeland sculptor learned to ski. We are walking to Grisedale Tarn.

There are several Grisedales (or Grizedale) in the Lakes, meaning valley of the wild boar, but none so majestic as the tarn at the head of this valley, a tarn which lies at almost 2000ft up in the mountains, and is one of Lakeland’s deepest.

Grisedale Tarn by W Heaton Cooper

Our walk is from Grasmere, where you might have had breakfast at Mathildes; a strong recommendation, for while this walk doesn’t reach any mountain summits, it is nevertheless a substantial mountain climb. The start is about half a mile north of the village, just beyond the Travellers’ Rest inn on the main road to Keswick, and there’s a big parking area on the left just before the inn is reached.

Head north around the bend from the inn, then take the path on the right signposted to Patterdale. This climbs between stone walls to a wooden gate, and then the path itself becomes more stony until a second gate is reached. Here cross the beck, by stepping stones or footbridge, and walk straight on ahead; don’t turn right to cross the second wooden bridge.

Tongue Ghyll will be down on your right, with the massif arm of the Fairfield horseshoe, Great Rigg, rising above it. The bulky fell on your left is Seat Sandal. It’s a stiff climb at first, but pleasant and grassy underfoot. Eventually you reach rockier territory, and a few ups and downs before you get to Hause Moss.

You might want to call this the Valley of False Hope. Expectation is that the tarn will be here in this depression but no, it’s a flat reedy plateau, probably the dry bed of an old tarn. There’s some more climbing to do yet before you pass through a gap in a low stone wall and suddenly there is the magnificent and kingly Grisedale Tarn.

There’s nothing pretty about this view. It has a savage beauty, with mountain slopes dropping directly into its deep waters. And here you have options. You can continue on the pass and head down Grisedale itself into Patterdale. You could climb the zig-zag path to the north onto the deliciously-named Dollywaggon Pike and the Helvellyn ridge. You could head north east onto St Sunday Crag, east up Fairfield, or west onto Seat Sandal.

Or you could search for the crown of King Dunmail. It’s why we called this tarn majestic, for legend tells us that when Dunmail, the King of Cumbria, was killed in battle (a cairn on Dunmail Raise is said to mark the spot) his soldiers carried his crown up here into the hills and threw it into the tarn.

William Heaton Cooper, the second generation of the artistic dynasty, loved this place. He said that “being half Norwegian and half English, I find that many semi conscious ties of heredity bind me…to Grisedale, one of the most lovely of Lakeland valleys to walk down”.

In The Tarns of Lakeland he wrote: “The tarn is one of the windiest of them all, for it has wide open windows to the south, the west and the north east. A strong north-easter will sometimes blow the powdered snow from the area of the tarn right over the col into the head of Tongue Gill, providing the skier with magnificent runs off Fairfield.”

And here, it seems, is where his wife, the sculptor Ophelia Gordon Bell, “gained her first experiences of ski-running on a pair of skis we had made the night before from two ash planks.”

William also recalled that he swam in Grisedale Tarn in summer after walking over Fairfield and Helvellyn. If you’re inspired to do likewise, take the greatest care.

The walk back to Grasmere follows the other side of Tongue Ghyll, taking the left path at the bifurcation (a good word beloved by the guidebook writer Wainwright). It’s been improved in recent years with steps to ease the erosion, and brings you eventually to the bridge at the sheepfold and little reservoir building.

This route is only about 4.5 miles round trip from the main road, but the climb alone will take a strong walker an hour and a half, so allow three hours in all. And maybe take a spare bag in case you find that crown and want to carry it back!

Then it’s down to Mathilde’s where you have most certainly earned lunch or afternoon tea. Or even both.

Mountaineering history in Grasmere

Historic moment: Mrs Sue Morton, the grand-daughter of mountaineer E.O. Shebbeare, who has loaned the photos for the Mountain of Destiny exhibition at Grasmere’s Heaton Cooper Studio, with Dr Jonathan Westaway, research fellow at the University of Central Lancashire, who has curated the exhibition.

Mrs Sue Morton and Jonathan
 Photo: Emily Johnston

The exhibition, which runs until the end of the year, illustrates the story of an attempt on Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain, by a German team 90 years ago.


A walk from the shores of Swan Lake

Mathilde walks

A series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Elterwater, and the Langdale Pikes, by William Heaton Cooper

A lovely village with a lovely small lake of the same name, and that name means Swan Lake. We’re talking about Elterwater, one of the prettiest places in the whole of the Lake District, even if you’re not likely to see any swans now.

It holds a special place in our family heritage, loved by both Alfred and William Heaton Cooper. Alfred would take all four children with him when he went painting there, and William recalled: “I remember going to Elterwater Common because my father sat there for hours and hours and we knew that we were free to just enjoy ourselves, and we footled round exploring the little streams and pools, and finding creatures, water beetles and things….We were never allowed to interrupt father to show him the things we had found. He would forget all about us – absolutely right of course!”*

Our walk today starts at the village and is a circular tour with a stop for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea at Mathilde’s in Grasmere at the halfway stage. Elterwater is a delight, a picture postcard village dominated by the famous Britannia Inn, but also the home of our favourite independent hostel, if you and your family are looking for great budget accommodation.

You can park free in a small quarry by turning north at the crossroads, and from here, walk a little way up the steep and winding road, past the Wayside Pulpit, before cutting up to your left on a well trodden path that leads past the High Close electricity switch station….it looks like a sheepfold from a distance.

The path is quite steep, and when we last went up here, it was a mini-stream after the torrential rainfall of Storm Callum. Otherwise, just a couple of days later, all was calm and bright; the Lake District is a very forgiving landscape.

Head towards a gate in a wall from where you will have a wonderful view of Stone Arthur, Great Rigg and Seat Sandal, the fells across the valley. Don’t go through the gate but follow the path that hugs the wall, to a kissing gate; go through that and follow the path that contours downwards to a gate in a barbed wire fence.

Almost immediately, there’s a sharp left turn down a grassy path which brings you to the road at the 25% gradient sign. But don’t use the road; take a very sharp turn left on a signed footpath which leads into Red Bank wood.

Red Bank Wood

The path meanders through beautiful woodland, past a small wooden bench with a gorgeous view across the lake below you. Eventually you go through a metal gate and bear right downhill, first on a stony track which becomes a tarmac lane at a house called Hunting Stile. This meets the main road down which you will walk to the village centre in time for coffee, cake or lunch at Mathilde’s.

The return starts back up this same hill, Red Bank Road, and it’s possible just to retrace your steps. But a lovely alternative goes via the arboretum at High Close; even so, take the footpath back through Red Bank wood rather than walking all the way on the road.

You’ll return to the road at the gradient warning sign. Shortly after, the road forks, and immediately beyond the lower fork is a footpath on your right into the arboretum grounds. This is a stunning 11 acre estate full of trees and shrubs imported from all over the world.

Originally planted in 1866 by Edward Wheatley-Balme, a Yorkshire merchant and philanthropist, High Close was designed in the fashion of the day using many of the recently discovered ‘exotic’ conifers and evergreen shrubs coming into Britain from America.

The exposed location of the garden meant that some of the larger trees were lost in winter storms of 1973 and 1983, but there are still many fine specimens including Douglas firs, sitka spruce and redwoods.

A number of paths lead through the trees; a lower path will take you through Low Wood, a higher one close to the YHA hostel at High Close. All bring you back on the winding road back down to Elterwater.


*Jane Renouf: Alfred Heaton Cooper, Painter of Landscape

There and back again

Mathilde walks

A series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are many wonderful circular and horseshoe walks in the Lake District, but no disgrace in going out and back the same way. The route covered might be the same, but turning around is to head into an entirely new world, with views that are completely different.

And nowhere in the Lakes illustrates this better than on the charming and atmospheric climb to Easedale Tarn. This dramatic sheet of water lies in a glacial corrie, overshadowed by higher fells but well worth a pilgrimage of its own.

The way up is dominated by the striking white gash of Sour Milk Gill cutting through the hillside; the return offers a panorama of exquisite loveliness, the valley dropping below Helm Crag to the vale and village of Grasmere.

It was a particular favourite of William Heaton Cooper who wrote that “the tarn and its combe look best on days of hazy sunshine, when the atmosphere can give a feeling of distance to the surrounding crags that, on a clear day, seem to enclose and almost overpower this mountain corrie.”


The tarn itself is shaped rather like a figure 8, and William describes it in detail: ““Besides the numerous bogs that drain into it, the tarn has four inlet streams, the main one coming down from below the great bands of rock that form the south wall of High Raise…this is the stream in the foreground of my painting.”

It’s now favoured by adventure swimmers who are sometimes seen heading up the valley for a sunrise dip, but in William’s time there were many fish in the tarn: “The standing rock at the end of a promontory is a distinctive feature, where sometimes a cormorant will settle between its meals of trout, perch or eels.

“How did the fish get there….? As a boy I remember seeing Fred Gould, the postmaster at Waterhead, going along on his tall green bicycle that carried, in its frame, a canvas bag in which were canisters full of baby trout.”*

To get to this fabled tarn, walk up the narrow road at the side of the Heaton Cooper Studio, past the youth hostels until you reach a signpost (just before the Lancrigg Hotel). Cross two stone bridges and then take the meticulously engineered path, through a gate and over another, wide, stone bridge, then take the left fork. The beck, and eventually the waterfall, will be on your right.

The route climbs gently at first, with only a few steeper sections, and a sense of mounting anticipation as several plateaus prove to be dry, before finally reaching the tarn itself. Those with a thirst for further adventure can climb on, to Tarn Crag or Sergeant Man. Otherwise, it’s time to turn round and see that other world of the return journey.

There IS another path on the opposite side of the waterfall, reached by some stepping stones at the end of the tarn, and it does lead back to the valley eventually, but it can be very muddy and boggy in places. Go ahead, if you don’t mind wet feet, or just turn round and retrace your steps, enjoying the outline of the high fells and, in particular, an unusual view of the “lion and lamb” rocks on the summit of Helm Crag.

The walk is about 9k from the centre of Grasmere, and will take between two and three hours, depending on how many times you stop to take photos. A perfect morning followed by lunch at Mathildes, of course.

* William Heaton Cooper, The Tarns of Lakeland

Easedale Tarn by William Heaton Cooper



Through the enchanted wood to Alcock Tarn


Mathilde walks

A series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Small is beautiful, and while the Lake District boasts the longest and deepest waters in the country, there are some exquisitely beautiful tiny tarns hidden in the hills.

One that was a particular favourite of William Heaton Cooper is Alcock Tarn, reached by a short but steep climb out of Grasmere village on one of the most enchanting routes you will ever walk. It takes you to a small sheet of water, held onto a shelf by glacial debris, which was dammed at the end of the 19th century by a Mr Alcock, who stocked it with brown and rainbow trout.

Alcock Tarn by William Heaton Cooper

And WH Cooper enjoyed it for more than just the fish and the views. He wrote, in The Tarns of Lakeland: “After a few days of hard frost without wind this tarn, being shallow and above the thousand foot level, gives some of the earliest skating of the winter in a very pleasant setting.”

So how to get there? Leave the village along Stock Lane and cross the main road at the roundabout by Dove Cottage. Walk up the back road behind the cottage. Ignore the first footpath sign on the left, go 100 yards further to much more prominent junction and large signpost, with White Moss and Ambleside to the right, and Alcock Tarn up left. (No through road for motor vehicles after half a mile). After that you’ll find series of signposts; take the one pointing left to Alcock Tarn.

We advise: this is a long mile and a quarter! Allow a good hour for the ascent, if you want to take advantage of the views.

A lovely shingle path heads up through the woodland after going through the gate at Brackenfell. Early autumn sees wonderful colours, and you will be able to see more of the lake below as the leaves fall. Pass a small pond on right, then the path gets steeper and rougher; this is definitely not a pushchair friendly route. But anyone with reasonable fitness and stout shoes will manage happily.

A bench on the right commemorates the life of someone with the initials NAH, but the view is obscured by newer tall larches. But as you climb, you can see the shapely summit of Helm Crag, another favourite subject of the Heaton Cooper artists. A second bench above the trees gives a magnificent view down across the lake…and shows the sprawling extent of the village of Grasmere.

The last time we were there, we entered the mist before we reached the tarn, and so it came as a surprise, appearing suddenly, flanked by ghostly crags; the tarn is hidden behind Grey Crag until the last moment. A man from Manchester, reliving his childhood, had taken off his boots and was paddling in the shallows. “We used to swim in there 50 years ago,” his friend said.

On the way back you’ll notice the green swathe path dropping steeply down to the valley. It’s the route of the Butter Crags fell race at the annual Grasmere Sports. Don’t be tempted; it’s on private land. But there is an alternative path down once you reach the yellow and white arrow signs; take the white track on the permissive path which brings you out further north on the main road.


Take the road back into the village for well-deserved lunch or afternoon tea at Mathilde’s, at the Heaton Cooper Studio opposite the village green. The café, shop and gallery are open every day from 9am, and along with coffee, cakes, soup, salads and Scandinavian-style open sandwiches, you can find fine-art prints of the views you had along the way.

A walk to make everyone happy

 Mathilde Walks: The first in a series of walks that give you the chance to stop for coffee, cake, lunch or brunch at Mathilde’s at the Heaton Cooper Studio, the Lake District’s centre for mountain art. All the walks are free to everyone, connecting visitors with the natural surroundings of our unique landscape in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. And every walk connects to a painting by one of the Heaton Cooper artists. Today: Grasmere, by William Heaton Cooper

SOMETIMES you have to use a bit of persuasion when planning a walk. It’s not just reluctant children, but diffident adults too, who present the excuses: It’s too hot, it’s too far, it’s too cold, it’s too steep, I’m hungry.

So here’s a walk that deals with every possible excuse. If the weather is hot, there’s a lot of shade under the trees. It’s not far, but you get some of the best views in the whole of Lakeland. If it’s cold, this one presents no dangers even if there’s snow on the ground. Steep? There’s  just a couple of tiny uphills, and apart from a few manageable steps it’s good going for pushchairs.

Throw in a perfect beach where you can swim, paddle or skim stones and your team will be racing on ahead. And as for being hungry? Wait and see what’s in store along the way.

This walk starts at the White Moss car park on the A591 between Rydal and Grasmere, grid ref. NY 351065. Follow the path through the wood to the River Rothay but stay on the north side, rather than crossing the bridge, with its industrial-style accessible design built onto old stone foundations, functional rather than beautiful.

Walk along with the river on your left, passing through three gates, and a short, winding uphill stretch, (take the left fork at a bifurcation in the path) before crossing the new wooden footbridge. No one used the word bifurcation until Wainwright wrote his guidebooks, we think.

Once over the bridge, turn right to pass the weir that marks the boundary between Grasmere and Rydal, then follow the Grasmere lake shore through Penny Rock Wood and its delightful beach. Why Penny Rock? The story goes that when the road to Grasmere was first being built, workers had to blast out the rock on the corner by the lake, and the cost of this added a penny to everyone’s rates.

The trees, many of them splendid old specimens, fringe the lake shore and rise into Deerbolts Wood, though you’d have to make the walk very early in the morning  to see any deer or red squirrels. Concentrate instead on the view ahead, Helm Crag in the distance or, close by, a dilapidated old stone boathouse with a lichen-covered slate roof. There’s also a wonderful hollow tree where generations of children have played.

The path opens out, with sheep in a field on the left, then climbs briefly to meet the road from where it’s only a short walk down into Grasmere village. Spot the Victorian letterbox set into the wall of a cottage on your right. After passing the boat-landings, the road takes a sharp right turn, and then shortly you’ll turn left at Tweedies hotel to head for your coffee break.

Mathilde’s is at the Heaton Cooper Studio opposite the village green. The café, shop and gallery are open every day from 9am, and along with coffee, cakes, soup, salads and Scandinavian-style open sandwiches, you can find fine-art prints of the views you had along the way. In fact, if you do too much shopping (is there such a thing?) or too much eating, it’s possible to catch the bus back to White Moss, from the stop just across the road.

Otherwise there are two options: go back the way you came along the lake shore, or walk through the village and across the main road to take a quiet back road behind Dove Cottage. Even with this alternative, the total walk won’t be more than 10k (6 miles).