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.
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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!
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Himalayan danger zones

Lindsay and I have just got back from working on a two week long teacher training and computer support programme for schools in the Helambu area of Nepal. We’d anticipated difficulties in travel and coordinating activities in this mountainous Himalayan area, where roads are poor, minor landslides are common and children can have to walk up to 5 hours daily to attend school.

We hadn’t though expected to be confronted so directly with the power of nature. First was the massive avalanche on the Khumbu icefall, 60 miles to the east of us, burying 16 Sherpa guides the day before our arrival. This has thrown up huge questions about safety on the shrinking glaciers, about the role and remuneration of the Sherpas and about the commercialisation of climbing Everest.

Then came the horrific mudslide last week at Aab Bareek in the remote north of Afghanistan, which buried over 300 people and left hundreds of families without food or shelter. For a detailed account of this see the BBC 4 May website article, with a short video sequence from David Loyn. The Guardian article of 3 May reported that the mudflow was so fast that no one had a chance of survival.

If you are looking to make a contribution to a supporting fund for the families at Aab Bareek, you can contact Dr Ramazan Bashardost, a 2009 Afghan presidential candidate and former Minister of Planning, whose Foundation has set up an account with the Afghanistan International Bank. Details can be found here.

Diary of Lakeland events

I try to keep up to date with events, activities and festivals in the Keswick area and more widely in the Lake District and Cumbria, but it is easy to miss something.

This last week however I have come across a great resource, a website which covers the whole of the area. You can search the Wordsworthcountry website by 36 different towns from Alston to Workington. Below we include a snapshot of Keswick for the May to July 2014 period.


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Sleepless in Seattle

We’ve been spending the last week in Seattle with our family and grandson, Finlay and as usual have been delighted by the facilities and beauty of the city. Not least are the views to be seen from the house where we are staying in the Queen Anne area. The I 5 Freeway shown In the dawn photo below, from our experience is never still whatever time you look out from our deck. Seattle never sleeps!

In the foreground is part of Lake Union, from where the small sea planes take off. But the shock this time was the brilliant display of the Cascade Mountains with the sun rising in the east. We’ve never before seen it so clear. We need to get out for some walking there when we are next here.