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!

Changing Times

Walk round the centre of one of our big cities these days, and if you haven’t been there for a year or two, you’re sure of a surprise.

Take Manchester, Cumbria’s nearest big city. Whole urban areas there have been prized open, smashed and then rebuilt. The Spinning Fields area running down to the River Irwell has now risen phoenix like as a glitzy new office and shopping zone, with adjacent Law Courts.

Near Victoria Station, the old Coop Century Building has been demolished and replaced by a futuristic gherkin shaped structure below Red Bank; and on Oxford Road the demolition of the BBC site has left a huge gaping hole as the broadcaster has moved to Salford and ‘Media City’ (See photo of the author opposite) on the site of the old Manchester Ship Canal docks.

I was reflecting on this just recently as I found a watercolour (below) my sister, Penny had done of The Larches from the Ravine Road, looking NE across the Seldom Seen hamlet with Skiddaw in the background. Painted exactly 25 years ago, the scene is now scarcely changed.

Of course rural areas don’t need the infrastructure and capital investment of cities with large populations, but it would be wrong to think nothing is happening to the economy of rural areas

While Seldom Seen and Thornthwaite have not physically changed all that much, the use made of buildings has altered. The Swan local pub beside Powter How has been turned into apartments, as have Thornthwaite Grange and Ladstocks, along the lane south from The Larches.

Sheep farming subsidies are being reduced and Increasingly in Cumbria, farming alone does not provide a living for a family. Commonly people have to hold down two jobs and offer B&B to make ends meet.

Looked at In the longer term it’s possible to see even bigger changes. Children no longer attend the School House opposite us and the Old Sawmill was long ago turned into six separate dwellings. A 1938 Kelly’s Directory of Cumberland shows too a much more stratified society 75 years ago, with a local land owning gentry and a ‘lord of the manor’, together with mining, more varied local industry and more diverse occupations.

The cobbler has gone now as has the miner, the bleacher, the dairyman, the game keeper and the mole catcher. Despite the size of our local Whinlatter forest, even the forester is becoming an endangered occupation, as mechanisation and funding cuts reduce regular full time jobs. The one clear area of growth has been that of teleworkers, who can use the internet to exchange digital material with colleagues or clients anywhere in the world. What will things look like in another 25 years time?

The Larches is on the map


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I know that I am more enthusiastic about new technologies than many, but it is hard to resist some of what’s on offer, especially when it’s free!

Google may have come in for some stick recently over non payment of taxes and for anti competitive practices, but few would argue that its programmes and projects are of no interest. I have mentioned Google Maps, Google Books, Google Analytics and Google ngrams in these blogs over the years.

Now it’s time to mention Google Earth, which allows us to access high quality, high resolution images of anywhere in the world. The example above shows The Larches and our Belvedere from the air; and can help anyone coming to The Larches first time to find the house.

All you need to do with Google Earth is type in the words ‘Lakeland Belvedere’ and the software will search and focus in on The Larches and our Lakeland Belvedere (with the red flag and A), high above the roofs of Seldom Seen and Thornthwaite. This image above is very helpful if you’re new to the area and want to check the exact route to the house. It shows the turn left opposite the lane to the church and the way the road bends up to the left.

Below is a second image, which shows Thornthwaite on a smaller scale and the relationship of our house with Bassenthwaite, the A66 and Lord’s Seat mountain to the north. It gives you an idea too of walks you can do directly from the house to Braithwaite or across the Derwent Valley to Little Crosthwaite or up Comb Beck into the Whinlatter Forest.