World Heritage Sky Ride whizzes through Grasmere11 November 2015
Richard Ingham, Lake District Skyride Coordinator tells us about his recent World Heritage ride through Grasmere
As a Lancashire lad I was brought up to know that a trip to the 'Lakes' was a special treat, somewhere to visit only when the forecast gave the thumbs up – spring, summer, autumn or winter. And that’s how it’s remained with me even when my job brought me to Cumbria and I got to know the National Park much more intimately.
But recently, something happened that put my understanding on a new level altogether. As a National Park volunteer, I thought I knew about the World Heritage bid, but when I was asked if I would join a Sky Ride (a guided cycle ride) and explain the bid to the group as we pedalled and paused along the new Grasmere Trail, I realised I didn’t know much at all. But after a briefing from World Heritage bid coordinator, John Hodgson, it all slotted into place.
He explained how the landscape and culture we see today is the end product of many processes over millennia. Geology and glaciation most certainly, but also the wave of invaders and settlers and their farming methods and unique breeds such as herdwicks, the fell common land above the intake walls and “hefted” flocks which have an inbuilt ability not to stray.
Then came the Romantic period of writers and intellectuals like Wordsworth, Thomas de Quincey and Coleridge who took inspiration from the landscape and local heritage. Their ability to articulate their surroundings through writing and poetry had the effect of putting the Lake District on an altogether new level in the psyche of the Victorian era.
Then came the potential threat associated with industrialisation in Northern England and the need of the new townsfolk to escape for two weeks each year. The Romanticists had to act, first to do battle with Manchester Corporation over the Thirlmere reservoir proposal and over the threat to extend the railway from Windermere to Ambleside and even Grasmere to bring visitors. The latter with success. Not so the former.
Out of these battles the conservation movement was born - Canon Rawnsley (of Crosthwaite and Wray churches), a friend of William Wordsworth, was instrumental in forming the National Trust. Into the twentieth century the threats to the heritage did not stop and new organisations grew to do battle –such as Friends of the Lake District in the 1930’s to fight the flooding of Mardale.
Post war saw the creation of the Lake District National Park Authority with conservation at its core. But the threats kept coming – the alignment of the M6 planned in the late 1960’s for example. This was a “light bulb moment” for me – the way the unique glaciated landscape influenced the farming practice to develop into a unique heritage. But this might have been lost if it wasn’t for the Romanticists to promote their appreciation across the world which evolved into the conservation movement so necessary to fight the continual threats.
As we rode along I realised how the new trail goes right through the epicentre of all the cultural heritage – including Wordsworth’s many residences. Let’s hope that the improved access helps others to similarly appreciate what we have inherited.