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