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 https://foodawards.lancashirelife.co.uk/nominate

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.

The magic mountain

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.

Most of the Mathilde walks so far have been low level, but we want to take you up a mountain, a rather special mountain that looks much grander than its modest height, and whose ascent will give you a real sense of achievement.

The outline of Helm Crag may well be the best known of all the Lakeland fells, from one angle, a lion and lamb, from another a Wurlitzer organ being played by a woman.

Helm Crag, painted by William Heaton Cooper: After sunset, Grasmere

 

In fact when you reach the summit you’ll see that there are two “lions”, each with a lamb, guarding each end of the summit ridge, as the guidebook writer Wainwright says “as though set there by architectural design”. The whole summit is a weird and fantastical place to visit, especially in mist.

 

It’s a small fell, just 1299 ft, but its sides are steep and craggy, and it looks like a majestic solo mountain from below. Once up there you realise it’s merely the end of a ridge enclosing Far Easedale

The path is clear all the way, but it’s steep and rocky, and we would never advise that anyone should go out onto the fells without a map and compass….if nothing else, the identification of the hills all around will only add to your enjoyment. Take extra layers too, especially waterproofs, ready for possible wind and rain.

No one summed up the appreciation of walking into the hills better than William Heaton Cooper. In the Introduction to his book,  The Hills of Lakeland he wrote:

“Man….lives on the lower ground where his food and shelter are easier to obtain, but his eyes stray often to the hills, till they become linked up in his mind with the thought of freedom and salvation from the difficult business of living in a world where other men and women live. Alone, on them, he can lose himself in astonishment at the purpose and reason behind the interplay of sky and water and rock, things which obey completely the laws that govern them. He has escaped from himself for a time and is refreshed with the comfort of being no longer a lonely child, but at one with his surroundings.”

From the village, take the road at the side of Mathilde’s, until you reach the entrance to the Lancrigg Hotel, through whose grounds lies a public path to the foot  of the mountain. The magic begins here, among the trees, the autumn berries, the tiny rocky outcrops with their inscriptions….including, in Latin, the Dorothy Wordsworth Memorial, which marks the spot where she would sit and write the words her brother was dictating to her while he walked nearby.

Look out for a tiny wooden door that some wizard has carved at the foot of a tree.

The path has been re-routed in recent years because of erosion to the original route. It winds rockily through trees, then stumps of trees, and then climbs above the trees to take you to a fascinating summit.

It’s a three-mile round trip from Grasmere, but allow 2 to 3 hours for the walk, longer if you decide to continue along the ridge to Gibson Knott and a descent via Far Easedale…for which you WILL need a map, and the advice of Wainwright in the Central Fells.

Far Easedale

 

Photos by Eve Duca

 

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
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).