Quartered oak – a love affair

I acquired this particular piece of quarter cut oak timber about 40 years ago from a joiner’s shop in Brixton. I knew it was something special from the start but had no idea what I would use it for. About 40 inches long, it was covered in dust and dirt and has lived in the cellar, waiting for its turn to be called.

For years I’ve kept an eye on it but knew that it was much too good for just another cellar shelf for storing boxes or jars. And it had one potential defect – a curved split about six inches long, which would always be very obvious, whatever I used it for. A few years ago I planed the top of it with care and found a lovely surface – but again put it away, waiting for inspiration.

As happens so often, the idea dawned on me when not expected. We were up on Tyneside a couple of years ago visiting friends and walked down to The Biscuit Factory (www.thebiscuitfactory.com/), Britain’s largest arts, crafts and design gallery, where a curved walnut hall table caught my eye. It was its two shapely black steel legs which excited me most. I took a couple of photos and let the idea mature.

I soon realized however that the curving of the top was the solution to the existing split and could be extended along the length of the piece to make a new hall table at The Larches. By then I knew too that the long steel legs would be out of place. I needed an elegant solution and not a couple of L-shaped grey brackets!

A visit to see Martin our local blacksmith came up with just the answer – a D-shaped metal support under the shelf with a Δ-shaped support welded at right angles to it for fixing to the wall. A call to a local joiner friend with a heavyweight bandsaw and router got the cutting and shaping job done in half an hour.

Now that it’s in place, sanded and oiled you can see just how beautiful is this near 100 year old quarter sawn oak shelf with its light flecking, rippling across the surface from end to end. Rarely available now, because it’s too expensive to cut in this way, quartered oak became popular at the end of the 19th century. It was typically used in the Arts and Crafts movement and fits perfectly in to The Larches style.

A gift of flowers

A special thanks to a recent guest, Pauline for a delightful display of blue and white flowers, which were left for us early last month after her family’s stay at The Larches.

We will find a place where they can be kept. They are beautifully made and very much appreciated.

It is always nice to find items, which have been left for us by visitors. These have included a pencil drawing by a young child and a striking view of Skiddaw from the breakfast terrace by an American visitor, Nina.

Climate change – invest now!

The reports just 17 days ago about the devastating mudslide and loss to date of 30 lives in the USA at the village of Oso in Washington State made international headlines. Locally this remains a major story, with some asking why sensors were not, as a precaution, put in place in advance to monitor water levels on this slide prone slope as is done in Switzerland. (Seattle Times 7 April 2014). Others point out that there has been a history of mudslides in the vicinity and warnings were given of the dangers. Click on the bar below for a timeline of five satellite pictures showing landslides there since 2002.
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It has reminded us it was just 21 months ago that Thornthwaite’s Seldom Seen hamlet and The Larches were inundated with a flow of water, mud and debris from the Whinlatter forest after heavy rainfall over a 24 hour period.

These phenomena are not of course new. They’ve happened before and all over the world. And in the scale of things the problems here in Cumbria were not that serious. But they provide evidence – like the reports that last year was the wettest in Britain since records were kept – that we are experiencing here as well as elsewhere the effects of climate change.

It’s important to emphasise however that these adverse effects can be mitigated – a point that was stressed last week by Dr Chris Field, Chair of the IPCC when discussing the implications of their new report

The problems require practical action and ‘ambitious investment’; and this can actually save money. What’s now being spent at Oso to make it safe to continue the search and rescue effort is costing much more than would have been needed for the advance installation of water saturation monitors.

Here in Thornthwaite we have had useful meetings with the Forestry Commission (FC) and others and it’s good to report that work has been done to address some of the problems in the area, which were identified with the FC representatives in the first weeks after the flooding.

As the photo (top) shows, a substantial hard wood planting programme to stabilise the ground has been carried out in the area, close to Comb Beck where a substantial landslide had blocked the public footpath up the beck.

In addition the FC has recognised our criticisms of the initial culverting of the forestry road above The Larches. The single pipe being laid under the road to drain water was simply blocking up with small stones brought down with the water.

Instead two large five feet deep brick chambers with square metal grills have now been built with 15 feet long ‘feeder’ pipes to collect the water run-off and with two feet wide diameter pipes under the road to distribute the water onto the SE slopes and down to Comb Beck. See photo, with arrow indicating grill.

So far this has done the trick and in heavy rain!

After the rainstorms


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This year has been the wettest we’ve had for years and Cumbria has taken its fair share of the rain. But this last month we’ve been up at The Larches several times and had some good sunny days and wonderful views. Why do so many people stay away from the Lakes at this time of the year and wait for the summer!

The photo above shows off the magnificent view we had from the Belevedere deck to the north east in the early morning. It’s hard to beat The Larches for this view of the Derwent Valley, showing – from left to right – Ullock Pike, Skiddaw, Blencathra, Latrigg and Clough Head. If you walk a few yards to the north to the seat on our High Point crag, you’re able to see Great Dodd too on the Helvellyn range.

From April onwards you’ll have a good chance of having this view with warm sun over a breakfast of coffee and croissant on the Belvedere deck!

The picture below is from one of my favourite local walks in the Keswick area. It’s taken during the late afternoon near the dilapidated shepherd’s cottage on the wide expanse below Blaeberry Fell. There’s a quietness here with only the wind and an occasional cry of the kestrel. The view is of Blaeberry Fell’s northern point, Great Dodd (mostly in cloud) and Clough Head (again) to the left.

Get up there if you can. Take the A591 road out of Keswick towards Thirlmere, which climbs steeply and then turns to the east on a long curve. Then take the turn off to the right to Castlerigg, which comes shortly. You can extend the walk to Ashness Bridge and Watendlath if you want.
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On opening a new door

It lasted we think about 130 years, but in the end there was no choice. It had to go. I’d been planing the side of the front door to The Larches two or three times a year to prevent it getting jammed in its frame, but each time the tenon joints would drop a little, the wood would swell with the damp and I was back to square one. I realised this must have been going on for decades with previous owners too.

We wanted to have a new one similar to the original 19th century one, but we made one important change to the specification. The top two fielded panels were to be replaced with two double glazed ones.

As the day approached for the fitting, I wondered a little about our decision. Would it look out of place, too modern for the traditional lakeland style of the house? I needn’t have worried.

It took Joe – who made the door – and his apprentice mate from Thomas Armstrong’s Joinery Department well into the afternoon to get it finally fitted, but from the moment it was first offered up in its frame to check for sizing, I knew we had a winner.

As the photo shows, the new door has suddenly opened up the front corridor into a warm wide lobby, dazzling with light when the sun is shining, showing off its attendant rooms like a proud owner!

And when you open and shut the door, it’s the joy that comes from a high quality car door or piece of furniture! Stainless steel hinges with brass washers, a slight hesitation as the door’s bottom brushes reach the aluminium lintel and then a discreet click. The 5 lever key rotates quietly with purpose. No worries now and good for another century!