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

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!





What happened to our river Rothay: a new exhibition

An exhibition which records the violent impact of Storm Desmond on the Lake District landscape will open here next month.

Indeterminate Land is a collection of photos by Chris Routledge showing the impact of the storm’s aftermath on the Rothay river valley near Rydal.

It will open at the Heaton Cooper Studio archive gallery on October 10.

The photos, in black and white, illustrate the “many strange and beautiful changes” that took place after the storm in December 2015 which smashed rainfall records and caused widespread flooding in Cumbria.

Chris, who has a house near the river, began photographing a short section of the Rothay during the storm, and in the months that followed, and the exhibition will include around 30 pieces of work looking at changes made to the landscape by the storm, and severe flooding.

The project, he says, explores our relationship with the landscape, and the subtle ways in which it changes at the edge of what we see.

“Working with various approaches to image making, including pinhole photography, I also tried to explore the feelings of shock, and to some extent trauma, that followed from the storm, and to think about how the much-mythologised landscape of the Romantic poets and painters manages to defy myth making.”

A freelance writer as well as photographer, Chris has worked on many different kinds of non-fiction writing projects, including blogs, books and journalism. He describes himself as a serial shed builder, rides a tandem, and is a regular podcaster at the Ormskirk Baron beer reviews blog.

In 2017 Chris organised If Not Duffers, a marathon reading of Swallows and Amazons, which took place on the shore of Coniston Water in the English Lake District, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Arthur Ransome’s death.

He is currently organising a similar reading of Ransome’s Pigeon Post, to be staged at Coniston Coppermines at the end of September.

The artist Julian Cooper, who is curating the exhibition here, said: “This new book and exhibition is a deep and closely observed study of the stretch of the river Rothay as it passes through Rydal. These quietly powerful black and white photos show the fragility and resilience of this Romantic landscape during and after the floods of Storm Desmond in 2015.”

Indeterminate Land will run from Oct 10 to November 3. The limited edition book of the same title will be published and can be pre-ordered here

Photo by C.E. Routledge


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.


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