Summer programme complete

Despite the bad weather over most of the last 6 weeks, we’ve succeeded in completing a number of smaller jobs, which needed doing after the big work of re-roofing and painting the exterior was completed in March. This has included planting a number of new shrubs and flowers after the cold winter; oiling garden furniture and painting the weather battered railings on the belvedere decking.

For several years we have watched as the coping stones on the top of the left front garden wall have slipped further downhill and earth has dropped into the road. Now the containing wall has been rebuilt by Rob and looks set good for another twenty five years. (See photo above).

One advantage here is that the front of the wall has now been pushed back towards the house about four inches. It may not sound much, but it gives that little bit more to the road width when people are parked outside The Larches. Lorries and waste removal vehicles will find it that much easier to reach the top of the ravine road.

Two years ago I promised myself I would cut back every year the high ferns on the steep bank above the large ground floor back bedroom. I failed last year but this June I managed to avoid the rain to get the work done – and before Midsummer Day. It helps to bring more light into the house and gives a better view of wildlife and birds.

Although we have not seen the red squirrels in the garden for several weeks, there have been recent sightings 100 metres down the road and in the copse opposite the house, where the footpath leads down to Thornthwaite Church.

Big Society’s at Seldom Seen

“There is no such thing as society”, Prime Minister Thatcher informed us back in a 1987 article for Woman’s Own. Now there’s been a change of tack in Tory thinking and everyone is trying to understand what Prime Minister Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ actually means.

Less regulation? More street parties? Less public services? More self help? No national forests? More competition in the NHS? Less weight watching? Smaller populations in prisons and psychiatric hospitals? There’s no end to the list.

When you come to think about it, well …. it’s just embarrassing! No wonder thirty learned professors, who are panel members of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, plan to resign because of their Chairman’s decision (Guardian, 19 June) to make the ‘Big Society’ a subject for serious research and grants.

The Government plans shortly to announce what the Big Society really means in its White Paper on Public Services Reform. I’ m not expecting any great revelations.

However we know the Coalition Government is introducing cuts to public services on an unprecedented scale at every level. These will affect all of us, however hard councils, voluntary bodies and others try to introduce efficiencies.

Back on the ground in Seldom Seen last week it all seemed suddenly clear. The arrival of the Big Society means I must now give up all hope of the water gully on the steep ravine road above The Larches ever being cleared by the Council. It was a prospect I’d quietly nursed since the November 2009 floods.

The Government’s answer to our local community’s problem is simple. If a job needs doing, do it yourself! Which is why in the photo below, I’m at the end of a hard day’s work with a scythe and hoe having cleared thick undergrowth, earth and a blocked pipe to keep rainwater from flooding down the road. Tough luck though if you are too old or infirm to do this or have kids to look after.

Does it matter? Well in winter’s freezing conditions the road outside The Larches is like a steep ice rink, which can easily land you with a broken arm or ankle. You need a hospital? Simple. Just get on your bike!

Managing our energy usage

We’ve committed ourselves to reducing energy usage at The Larches wherever possible as part of our Green Charter. This has included getting advice from Cumbria Rural Enterprise Agency’s Advice Service, ensuring we have maximum roof insulation and fitting double glazing throughout two years ago. Old houses however will always be more difficult to make energy efficient than newly built houses.

Our strategy has involved careful monitoring of fuel use on a regular basis, particularly over the last 12 months. In this way we’ve been able to identify issues more quickly, as when a guest inadvertently turned up a frost stat – for using when the house is empty – thinking that this was the way to warm the room!

The chart above shows the impact of all this over the last four years. The figures are for each year ending 5th April. Since occupation of the cottage varies between 200 and 250 days through the year, a simple record of total energy consumed would not yield useful comparative data.

Instead the chart is based on total energy usage or kilowhat hours (kWh) over the full year divided by the number of occupied days. This gives a higher figure than would be produced if the property was occupied for 365 days, because the energy consumed includes that used during the unoccupied 115-165 days.

Using these figures we can show that energy usage over the four years has decreased by 31% from 163 kWhs to 112 kWhs, with the largest reductions coming in gas. Obviously the results will vary from year to year depending upon the severity of the weather and extent of winter usage.

Daily fuel costs have for example varied over this last year from £1.65 in mid summer to £11.00 in the coldest period over the New Year, when the temperature was permanently sub zero and Derwentwater froze over hard for a period of about 10 days (see photo opposite).

Generally however we think that there are no marked differences in these variables over the four years, so the downward trend is good and encouraging. Thanks to our guests who have been helping us to conserve energy and to Mandy and Courtney for a great job recording the meter readings so carefully.

‘Savage Grandeur’ exhibition

The road south from Keswick. Blencathra is in the distance. Painting by John Laporte.

There’s a fascinating exhibition at the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere, which is well worth visiting before it closes on June 21st. “Savage Grandeur and Noblest Thoughts: Discovering the Lake District 1750-1820″ has a collection of over 100 paintings, engravings, books, maps and other material from the period when the Lake District was first being discovered as an area of grand romantic scenery.

This was a time of revolution in Europe. Travelling at home was more attractive than journeying through unknown lands on the continent. It’s a feeling we can understand now, as people hesitate to visit countries like Egypt and Syria while the ‘Arab Spring’ is bringing change and turmoil to much of North Africa and the Middle East.

All of the exhibits are from the Wordsworth Trust’s own material. They may for that reason have a bias towards the interests of the donors of material, rather than providing a balanced picture of how the Lake District was represented at the time, but this is a small objection.

The material is particularly strong for the northern lakes and has some marvellous paintings of Borrowdale, Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite.

Skiddaw, Blencathra and Keswick are well represented as well as Grasmere and the Langdales. The influence of Thomas West’s Guide to the Lakes, published in 1778 is also evident in the choice of several of the subjects depicted.

An excellent catalogue for the exhibition (189 pages) with illustrations of all the material and an index is available at a reduced price of £15. It’s worth getting even if you can’t make the exhibition itself.