Kids-friendly @The Larches

In response to some comments from guests staying at The Larches, we’ve made a few changes, which make the cottage more attractive to families with children.

We know from experience that kids aged eight years upwards love to run around the garden, exploring the terraces, chasing up steps, checking out the Belvedere and more. To add to this we have now created a small climbing wall out of the natural bedrock of the garden. In this way youngsters can practice some easy manoeuvres on a rock face.

The wall is above the large stoop stone and leads directly up to the wrought iron garden seat at the top of the garden. Parents should make their own judgments about the suitability of the climbing wall for their children and we suggest that the children are initially accompanied by an adult. The picture above shows a nine year old leading the way to the top with her younger brother at the bottom.

Turning to the inside of the cottage, there are two flights of stairs, separated by a small landing. This provides access firstly to the back door of the cottage and secondly to the upper floor, where the sitting room and kitchen are located.

We’ve now installed a gate at the top of the carpeted stairs, which can be folded back against the balustrade, when it’s not needed. There is a similar downstairs gate, when you want to restrict access to the stairs. This gate is kept in the downstairs toilet below the stairs as it cannot be folded back. It is easy to fit but we find this is less well used, because the living space of the cottage – as opposed to the sleeping space – is primarily on the top floor. The photo above shows the top gate in position.

We have referred elsewhere to some of the attractions for children in the immediate Keswick area like The Lake District Wildlife park at Bassenthwaite and the cycling, walking and zip-line facilities at the Whinlatter Forest centre in the woods above the Larches. In addition to these we highly recommend the small railway journey up and down the valley at Ravenglass. It’s about an hour’s journey by car from The Larches but a great day out for any child (and adult) with an interest in trains. Check the train times before you go.

Skiddaw’s scarlet tops

Though the hamlet of Seldom Seen is hidden away from the A66 and the casual walker, The Larches itself provides a wonderful viewing point of the surrounding mountains, especially if you climb up the steps to the top of the garden.

Over this last weekend, I had arrived back at the house late in the afternoon. Dusk was approaching and I glimpsed a flush of sunset colour to the north from the first floor sitting room. This merits a quick climb up to the Belvedere I thought, grabbing my camera on the way.

What a sight across the marshes of Skiddaw’s top from the Belvedere deck! I had never seen the likes of this before. The picture below tells it all. It’s worth a visit to The Larches for this alone!

Hebrides get last mile www access

We’ve been back on Mull at the beginning of the month to join friends for a week’s break on this wonderful wild island. The weather was great, the sun shone and gentle winds encouraged lazy days and relaxation. Even a rain soaked walk up Loch Ba provided us with some stunning views of white tipped sea eagles with their 6 feet wide wingspan.

We can never resist a visit to Tobermory with its shops, distillery and ‘Fish Cafe’ restaurant, voted the finest in Scotland. What we’d not anticipated though was participating in a historic moment in the country’s quest for digital recognition on the world wide web.

As we walked down the sea front, out from the low waters of the harbour and onto the muddy strand came a wading figure in thigh length boots, white helmet and dark grey waterproofs. He was making for a large JCB digger surrounded by a crowd of technicians, where a recently excavated narrow channel could be seen revealing a 50 mm cable.

“What’s all this for?” I asked a French engineer talking vigorously with a colleague involved on the project. “There’s a multi national team working on this and we’re just reaching the end of a big project. Once the cable out there is joined up with this one on Mull, the fibre link to the whole of the Hebrides islands will be completed.” More details of the project can be found here.

This is great for those who live and work on these remote western islands of Scotland and will mean that subscribers can easily be provided with internet speeds of 100 Mbs. I had heard the new SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon talking about this project at an IT conference in Edinburgh two years ago and never thought I would be a witness to its final completion!

Can it help to revive the fortunes of such far flung communities, where the long term trend has been of moving back to the mainland? Islanders, planners and politicians will be watching the impact of this major project with interest and bated breath.

A stoop stones story

Ok so what’s so interesting about the two pictures below? Just a couple of stones and a pretty young Nepali girl? What’s the story?

One cold January morning five years ago I remember carrying the large stoop stone on the left of the picture up the bank at The Larches with four other friends to where we planned to erect it beside the breakfast terrace. I had found it in a neighbouring farmer’s field and the owner kindly allowed me to take it for our garden.

It fascinated me because of its age and construction. Made of a huge piece of Lakeland slate, it weighed well over 2 cwt and had six beautifully crafted square holes. This stoop stone, one of a pair, was designed – in the days before hinged gates – for holding cattle in enclosed fields and keeping other animals out. It was probably 200 to 300 years old. It became evident from my research that similar ones could be found in Cumbria, but otherwise they were not widely known or found.

The stoop stone system allows a farmer to place bars in the holes at either side of the opening and remove them again when access was required. One of the stoop stones has square holes to prevent rotation of the pole and the other has round ones to facilitate opening and shutting of the gateway.

I had definitely not thought that this kind of stoop stone gate was found outside the UK, until last month, when I walked through a narrow cobbled pathway in a small village in Nepal near Pokhara. On the track that was leading up towards the Annapurna Sanctuary I was approached by this young girl, who was happy to be photographed beside this lovely old three holed stoop stone.

Is this an example of quite independent technological development in two different countries, or adoption of a practice as a result of travellers or others spreading information and promoting the idea? If you can tell me of other countries, where you’ve seen similar old stoop stones, I’d be really interested! Better still, send me a photo of it!

Laptops for Nepali schools

We’ve recently returned from a fascinating visit to Nepal, where we were bringing some laptops from America via Manchester. These had been supplied by the internet travel company, Orbitz Worldwide. The aim is to support schools in the mountainous Helambu area, which are keen to encourage their students to learn computer and IT skills. This Kids on the Grid project is supported by the Helambu Education and Livelihood Project (HELP), which is backed by a UK based charity, The Mondo Challenge Foundation.
It’s 21 years since we last visited the area, when our daughter Chloe was a volunteer teacher there and important developments have taken place. The construction of rough roads mean that we didn’t need to trek for 10 hours to reach one particular school, but travel to the different schools by jeep still remained slow with the road in places, turning into deep mud or made simply of rough stone and rocks. The photo above shows well the mountainous terrain in which the schools are set.

HELP and the schools have made great strides in building 78 new classrooms over the last three years and these improvements have certainly helped to push up attendance at the schools. Jimmy Lama, Director of HELP is keen to use the laptops to introduce the children to the new world of technology and the Internet.

This is no easy task since the 25 schools can be far apart and are at heights of up to 2,500 meters. For effective Internet connections, they need satellite technology (very expensive) or line of sight connected antennae (expensive). Our report on our visit, which included 2 days of teacher training, highlighted the need for staff themselves to develop more computer skills and this is now being planned.

The photos below show the presentation of computers to staff at one of the schools, with some of the children looking on; and a woman with her young child beside one of the new classrooms at another school which we visited. By the time her daughter is 7, we hope she’ll be able to make a start on finding out what a computer can do!