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!

Paris Belvedere @ centre stage

It’s exactly two years since we spent a long weekend with our family in Paris, walking the streets, enjoying early morning crepes, visiting galleries and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I’d decided in advance though that we must visit the the city’s Belvedere, built just after the 1867 Great Exhibition in Paris.

After a few enquiries we got some positive directions. It was in the North East of the City in the 19th arrondissement and easily accessible by the metro and a short walk. It was located we discovered as the centre and crowning point of Le Parc de Buttes Chaumont, a jewel of a place with a lake, cliffs, gardens, grassy slopes and people enjoying the sun and feeding the birds. It could be paradise!

Imagine then our surprise to read this last week that the network of jihadists responsible for the horrific killings of journalists at Charlie Hebdo and of police and shoppers at a Jewish supermarket trained here in this beautiful spot and now were being described as the Buttes-Chaumont cell (Financial Times Weekend, 10 January 2015).

For the record the Belvedere, curiously described in the Guardian (13 January 2015) as a ‘faux Roman temple’, was erected in 1869, exactly the same year as New York’s Belvedere was built in Central Park. Some cultural rivalry is surely evident here!

The site of the park was originally a quarry opened up for the construction of the 1867 Exhibition (See engraving of the original site) and the Belvedere stands in a central position on the rock, high above the surrounding lake. From its lofty position it has a magnificent view towards the centre of Paris, with the Sacre Coeur evident in the distance (See picture below)

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 (, 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.

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!