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!

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.