Planning the Belvedere

IMG_2007Climb to the top of the garden now and it’s not hard to see why the belvedere was built. It’s the view over the roof tops! But back in the 1990s when the seed of the idea for the belvedere was first sown, it wasn’t so obvious.

Pulling yourself up the fellside then through the bracken and thick brushwood revealed little until one final effort was made. By shinning up one of the taller trees, you could rise above the dense foliage. Once you were there, dominating the Derwent Valley and Keswick was Skiddaw. It hit you like a hammer blow.

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We were in thrall to this magnificent mountain. It has entranced others before us like the poet Coleridge who wrote in 1803 (“As late on Skiddaw mount I lay supine, Midway th’ ascent …“). But making that great view accessible depended on time and money, both of which were in short supply; and it needed careful planning, to ensure that what we built was thermally efficient and fitted in with the locality and terrain.

johncook-SCoMDesigning the belvedere
Once we had decided in 2005 on a plan for the garden, we needed to work up in tandem the idea for the top platform and the ‘shed’ (our original shorthand description).

Options were discussed with John, an architect friend over a 12 month period and after several versions, we settled upon a final design. We had been influenced in this by seeing other structures, which we liked. These were:

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  • A small rock-hewn shrine with sloping roof on the top of Mulcahén, Spain’s highest mountain (3,482 metres) in Andalusia in the south of the country
  • A 2004 RIBA award-winning RSPB observatory for bird watching at Dungeness, Kent, with rubber cladding and a wide glass frontage to the marshes (below).

RSPB Dungeness viewing site.

Gaining planning permission
The plan for the Belvedere was to have a sloping sedum roof (Photo below), cedar shingle cladding for the walls and three 2 metre high glazed panels facing Skiddaw, which would fold back against the wall to provide access to the cantilevered viewing platform outside.

The design of the belvedere ensured that it would be a highly energy efficient and green building. The Western Red Cedar shingles from North America used for cladding have a long life and a natural resistance to decay and moisture.

IMG_1852Thick insulation panels on the walls and ceiling, double glazed folding doors and windows and a thick sedum roof create a space kept warm with just a small electrical heater even in very cold weather; and the roof itself is maintenance free – apart from occasional weeding – drought resistant and alive with beautiful small flowers in summer.

In October 2006 we discussed our ideas for the Belvedere and its positioning with the Lake District National Park planners who advised us to submit a formal planning application. This was finally approved in August 2007. The LDNP staff members were helpful and liked the design of the belvedere and its integration with the fellside garden.

Remember if you are planning a project like this – even a small one – that views are sought from the public and other bodies. There can be delays before you receive approval.

Staging the work
Lakeland Stonecraft agreed in the autumn to erect the three front 6”x 6” piles and a rear concrete slab as weather conditions permitted. Strong foundations were critical for the 28° slope and required digging holes over a metre deep into the rocky slope before concreting in the timbers (Photos below).

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By February these were completed and we were ready for the construction of the decking and belvedere. Stanley’s Joiners agreed to start the work in early May 2008 and the weather was brilliant!

Building the belvedere
The Belvedere nuts and bolts sub-section provides a detailed picture of what building a small belvedere involves. It will be of great help to anyone planning and costing a similar job. The work was done over a period of four months and had to take account of emergency jobs and other projects that the builders were already undertaking.

If you just want a quick view of how the Belvedere arrived on what had been a clear fellside, look at the six snapshots below. If you click on the image a larger image will appear. This may tempt you to read more about the detailed construction of the building!

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Below are a further set of six early morning and evening views from the Belvedere deck looking towards Skiddaw and the Derwent marshes. The last two photos show the foot of Dodd Wood and then the whole mountain, lit up in the evening sun. The ospreys nest is high up in Dodd Wood and almost directly in line with the white painted farm beside the road.

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