Theatre gets Arts grant rise

The good news this week is that Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake will get a 22% increase in its Arts Council grant in the year 2012-2013. In 2011-2012 however it will receive a 6% cut, bringing a total of £479,808 plus £70,000 for special projects. The promise of £600,000 and more for the three following years is a welcome boost, but the next 12 months will require tough decisions. Details can be found in today’s Times and Star.

The increase represents welcome support for a theatre that has developed a diverse and engaging programme over the years, which is both popular and experimental. It has also been at the centre of successful partnerships which have brought superb literary, outdoors, music and jazz festivals to the town.

The theatre has attracted people from a wide catchment area; we have commonly found ourselves sitting beside people at performances who have come for the weekend from as far as Yorkshire, Manchester, Glasgow and Tyneside.

The downside for the arts generally after this week’s news is that Keswick’s theatre is only one of two institutions that have had increases in grant agreed. Many have had budgets slashed or terminated, leaving a rich and inventive cultural world struggling to survive. Details of the wider picture can be found in the Guardian’s “Arts Council England funding cuts” story (31 March).

New roof for The Larches

P1020106 Over the last five weeks The Larches has been surrounded by a girdle of scaffolding.   We’ve known we really needed to have the house re-roofed for over a year. Trying to hold many of the lower slates in place proved impractical. The result was leaking from the gutters especially at the back and the danger of slates falling in high winds.

A new year’s resolution got us finally to move! And when the roof was stripped the rotten soffits and some defective joists proved how right we were. 

It’s been interesting to pull back the curtain of time to get a glimpse of how the house was built over 125 years ago and to see how roofing techniques while modified, still retain much of the traditional practice. Perhaps the biggest difference comes with the weather and wind proofing. 

The old roof was sealed throughout by parging. This is a method of coating the batons and the undersides of the tiles with parget – a mortar of lime and horsehair. Nowadays this has been replaced with a much simpler and quicker method, where a breathable membrane sheet is secured under the batons and the slates are nailed to the batons.       

Fortunately the original Borrowdale slates (about 10 mm thick) were strong and of good quality, as Frank the roofer had predicted, and the majority could be resized and reused without breakage. In this way the vernacular style of a graduated roof can be retained with the largest slates being used at the bottom and the smallest (and shortest) ones covering the top rows of the roof. Replacement ones are primarily for the bottom rows.

Since modern slates are almost invariably thinner (to reduce costs), second hand Borrowdale slates, suitable for environmentally sensitive areas and similar to the ones we have, are hard to come by and now sell at a premium price of £3,000 a ton.

The photos below show the back roof ready for the slates, the roofers working up the rows from the bottom, the look of the completed roof after a chimney has been removed and finally the filled lorry after the scaffolders have spent a morning dangling acrobatically from poles as they dismantled the scaffold and boards. It’s been fascinating to walk all round the house at roof level to see the work, but now we’re glad to be back to normal.

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Time for the Derwent’s turn

P1000886 It’s played some nasty tricks in its time and we can’t forget the chaos caused by its flooding of Cockermouth and Workington in November 2009. But Cumbria’s River Derwent, a delight of the northern lakes, must be one of the least recognised features of the region, given its importance in creating the landscape of the area and bringing fresh waters for fish, tourism and ospreys.

Granted it has its own Derwentwater, but I seem to be one of the few people who deliberately talks about the Derwent Valley and the Derwent marshes which we look out across from the Belvedere at The Larches.

Starting its journey below Great End and above Sprinkling Tarn as Grains Gill, this crystal clear flow of water turns into the River Derwent below Rosthwaite, but immediately becomes immersed in and sidelined by Borrowdale as it winds through the wild crags and oak woods past Grange to Derwentwater.

P1010988 It is one of the longest rivers in Cumbria, but sidles through the countryside so quietly that few people can tell exactly how it gets past Keswick or pin down its route from Bassenthwaite through to Cockermouth and finally to the sea at Workington.

The photos above show firstly an osprey’s eye view from Dodd Wood of the river as it winds its way down to Bassenthwaite, with the magnificent encircling of the Derwent Valley by the mountains to the west. The second is a winter view from near Falcon Crags of the Derwent Valley to the south of Derwentwater with Dalehead and the Derwent Fells behind.

I hope this blog will make a few people explore the River Derwent more positively. We are  pleased to show below this lovely little 19th century painting we acquired years ago from a church hall on Tyneside, which was about to be demolished. Entitled “On the River Derwent”, it was painted about 1870 by Harry Williams, a Liverpool artist, specialising In landscapes. He had no doubt about the role of the River Derwent in creating this Cumbrian landscape but used a little artistic license to ramp up the wildness of the surrounding hills! If you can find and take a photo of the same scene, I will make sure we put it on the website.

Williams painting of Derwent                  

Belvedere’s extensive view

Yesterday i climbed Blencathra via Scales Fell on a dull day, bringing a few flakes of snow and then thick cloud on the summit path, which restricted views of these magnificent fells.  A great route with a few patches of snow still around, but at 2800 feet it was freezing cold when you stopped.

Today it was time inside for some preparation work for decorating. But venturing out in the afternoon to repair a broken railing above the midsummer bank, I was soon warm and climbed up to the Belvedere. What a view (see the photo below) from the Skiddaw range to the north as far as Clough Head to the east at the start of the Helvellyn range. What a way to start the month of March!


The pattern of clouds and sun on the multi coloured fells have their counterpoint in the blue and white patchwork of the sky, as it races to the east. But what I hadn’t realized so clearly was that some recent thinning of trees further down the hamlet has opened up from the Belvedere a much wider view of the Skiddaw range, with Ullock Pike now clearly visible from the deck. A comparison of the two photos below shows the difference. The first was taken last November and the second today.

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