Banner Image: Dancing Round the May Pole, from Chronicles of Patterdale, with thanks to Patterdale WI

Miles MacInnes remembers the Big Freeze

My memory of 1962/3 is that the big freeze started on Boxing Day and lasted into March.

We were living on the shore of the lake at Beauthorn in Watermillock and I remember venturing further and further out into the bay as the ice thickened. Finally on the day I was to return to school I persuaded my parents to let me and one other skate across the lake to Sharrow Bay.

We roped up (which might have been a mistake as one would have pulled the other in if the ice failed), and my father watched from the shore with a ladder which he could push out to rescue us if need be. My mother hid in the kitchen.

I remember feeling distinctly anxious in the middle with the ice cracking all round us although I gathered later that this was a good sign of strong ice.

We made it to the other side to be greeted by Muriel, Dowager Countess of Lonsdale who was feeding the ducks and tried to persuade us not to return, but having made it over it seemed safe to return the way we came and so we did.

I then took the train back to school - my father rang the press and Border TV sent a crew to film an imposter masquerading as me.

My parents ran a small school, cramming pupils for Common Entrance exams, and they all thoroughly enjoyed the next few weeks, skating and venturing out onto the ice - they were only snowed in once. My father read in the Church register of a 'marvellous greate frost' in the 16th century when bonfires were lit, shooting matches held and pots of ale drunk, so he recreated this (apart from the shooting) to some success - apparently the bonfire only melted a few inches of ice and was frozen over the next morning.

Cars were driven on the ice at Pooley Bridge and my sister Gay came back from Keele university to ride her horse on the frozen lake.

Suddenly it all melted one night with very noisy cracking of ice and floes washed up on the shore the next day.

By Miles MacIness

Cutting from the Herald 2nd March 1963. Courtesy of Miles MacInnes

Village life 100 years ago

Thanks to Alan Rich for sharing this account by a local villager of her everyday life as a child in the valley 100 years ago

"The Penrith, Keswick and Cockermouth railway was near my home in Newbiggin, and on Sunday morning as there were no trains, my brother and I would scramble up the bank to meet our good friend the Station Master, who took us for a long walk by the line. We gathered wild Marguerites, otherwise Dog Daisies, which were plentiful, to take home, and fill the vases. Goats were also a feature of the railway banks, they were gathered there during the day, as they belonged to the railway workers who tethered them on the railway embankments to graze.

Another feature was heaps of stones by the roadside and seeing the stone breakers at work. This was quite a skilled craft, the stones were cobbles of smooth granite, found in the rivers and becks of Cumbria, and broke into small pieces ready for resurfacing the roads. Each section of the road was maintained by a roadman. I remember Jonah Pears, an interesting venerable old gentleman with snow white hair and beard, whom I often stopped to chat to on my way to school. He was so pleasant and cheerful to talk to, with many wise sayings. He would be sitting by a heap of stones, hard at work breaking them to be ready for road repairing.

There was much excitement in the village when the Romany Gipsies came and encamped in the green lanes or lonnins, as they are known in Cumbria. I would see them on my lonely walks, and thought their Caravans were so picturesque. I was certainly never afraid of them. They always seemed very busy, preparing their wares to sell to the villagers. They made clothes pegs and baskets, also whistles, skipping ropes, tops to spin and wooden hoops for the children. In the Autumn would come the tinkers to mend one’s pans and kettles, and to sharpen knives and scissors. Men from France too would come with fine big onions to sell. We always bought enough to last us through the winter months."

Transcribed by Dr A.J. Rich from a 1994 document written by Mary Potter who was aged 6 in 1905.

Myles Martindale Fox Oliver explains the 'Martindale' in his name

Martindale has an otherworldly atmosphere which belies its proximity as the crow flies to one of England’s main north-south traffic arteries over at Shap (not to mention the Roman Road up on busy High Street!). Even in the Lake District it is hard to find such a tranquil spot, far from the crowds of visitors on the west shore of Ullswater.

The best way to approach it is by the historic steamer from Glenridding or Pooley Bridge to Howtown, for this immediately transports you back in time – by at least 100 years – and both young and old can effortlessly explore the dead-end dale on foot. Once across the picturesque one-arched bridge and above the tree line, the serpentine bends would do credit to the nearby Kirkstone Pass, yet the walker simply saunters up them thanks to the spectacular views opening up all around and traffic is seldom encountered.

First stop is St. Peter’s Church, where my great grandfather on my mother’s side of the family, Rev. Richard James Lord Fox, was the Anglican vicar from 1896 until 1904; he came up here from Cheshire soon after the church had been consecrated in 1892. Where did all his parishioners live, I often wonder, for еven considering the abandoned buildings (such as the former primary school) there are precious few dwellings in the vicinity.

Further along the valley, and the highlight of any tour for me, is St. Martin’s Church (aka Martindale Old Church, founded in AD 1220). At the rear of the churchyard stands an ancient yew tree (estimated to be over 1300 years old); it is so solid that, even if the church doors were bolted, the hiker could find cover from any Lakeland storm (such as the violent one said to have blown the church roof away in 1882) under its sturdy boughs. Churches were often built at sites where hitherto meetings had been held under the shelter of what were deemed sacred yew trees. It doesn’t surprise me that the oldest tree in England is claimed to be a yew, or that William Wordsworth was inspired to write a poem by the Borrowdale Yews (“Yew Trees”, 1803):

This solitary Tree! – a living thing

Produced too slowly ever to decay’

My grandmother Muriel Lucy Fox spent 8 happy years of her childhood in Martindale Vicarage. In 1931, as a 7-year old girl, my mother had been taken back to the vicarage by Muriel and when I was born in 1953, remembering how her own mother had been so delighted to tell her about those childhood years in this place, my mother evidently decided to give me two middle names in memory of that felicitous piece of family history and thus pass them on for posterity.

Myles Martindale Fox Oliver, 2021

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