We Capture the Castle

Whenever possible, Best Beloved and I wander down unknown lanes and chase whatever has caught our fancy. It’s our version of a gallivant.

So, when the outline of a castle beckons along a much travelled route…

Close to the intersection of the A66 and the A685, is the village of Church Brough.

And on the edge of the village is a picturesque ruin.

When the Normans conquered the non-mountainous bits of Cumbria around 1092, they built a defensive tower at Brough.

They chose a high spot,  one already bearing the earthworks and remains of a far older Roman fortification, Verteris. (One of a series along the main Roman road from York to Carlisle.)

A few generations later, thick curtain walls and a strong stone keep were added.

Later still, luxurious residential digs were built, altered, and rebuilt.

The site commands a far-reaching view.

Brough Castle is now managed by English Heritage. They don’t charge an entry fee, which is a pleasant surprise.

Entry is via a path crossing a field dotted with sheep, and then through a simple turnstile.

When you look back through the gatehouse, all is peace and rural beauty. It certainly hasn’t always been this way.

The current stone keep was built more than 800 years ago, replacing another that was destroyed in a siege – courtesy of some fiery Scots.

Even in ruins, it is imposing.

Fire, violence, and time have done much damage.

That it can stand so tall whilst bearing massive wounds is a testament to those who built the tower’s walls.

From our cosseted modern life, it is difficult to image the strife that would have caused such a building to be built.

And not just the one building – successive fortresses.

From the inside looking out, toward the west.

It’s a good place for a quick visit.

No day out is complete without a bite to eat.  Again, this place delivers.

Independently owned, Brough Castle Farm (Ice Cream Parlour and Tearoom), has all the savouries or sweets you might need to sustain your exploration. And it is accessible directly from the castle.

BB and I ate sandwiches and then partook of some delicious Butter Pecan Ice Cream. (A flavour that reminds me of my Pa. One of his favourites.)

Altogether, an atmospheric and inexpensive place to enjoy a bit of a wander.


Herdy Girl


Focusing on…


Beautiful, exhausting, endearing, numbing, wonderous, uncertain, inspiring, ugly, finite.

And so much more.

We can walk in the midst of loveliness, and forget to enjoy it. Not see it. Or not even bother to walk.

How foolish. Wasteful even.

One Herdy Girl, and a faithful, happy dog – just taking a brisk morning walk.

Refocusing, recalculating, recalibrating.

I remember my dad teaching me that when riding a bicycle, we tend to drive toward where we’re focusing.  Same with a life.

This Herdy Girl needed nudging, needed to stop navel-gazing, needed to mind where she was steering.

As paraphrased by E. Peterson, “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

My focus today? Gratefulness, companionship, faith, health.

What have you been focusing on?


Herdy Girl

An Unfriendly American Invasion

On the 23rd of April, 1778, American revolutionaries took their fight to the western coast of Britain. An audacious move.

It would have been a cold, dark evening when John Paul Jones and thirty of his men rowed into Whitehaven harbour.

Our recent visit couldn’t have been more different, with a summer sunset painting the port in soft watercolours.

Most of Whitehaven’s piers, tongues, and quays were already standing 239 years ago, and their weathered stones give the impression of age and solid steadfastness.

John Paul Jones, ‘Father of the American Navy’ was very familiar with Whitehaven and may well have walked these very routes, since it was his home port for the first season of his sailing career.  He knew the fortifications, the pattern of days, and where the watchtowers were.

In 1778, Whitehaven was the third largest port in all of England. Only London and Bristol exceeded it in size and capacity.

There were as many as 400 British merchant ships anchored there on the day American revolutionaries landed.

Their plan was to disable the port’s cannon and, while the tide was low, set fire to the ships, perhaps engulfing the town’s vast warehouses of coal, rum, sugar and tobacco.

The invaders would have shimmed up walls and across decks, feeling the effects of adrenaline, anxiety, hard physical work, and the need to go unnoticed.

Half the sailors, sent for extra fuel for the fires, were distracted by the delights of a pub and stayed for hours. (Fancy that.)  And one sailor abandoned his mates, to alert the townspeople because he didn’t want to “destroy poor people’s property.”

In spite of these things, the Americans did manage to burn one large and important ship, the Thompson,  a fine new vessel filled with coal.

Jones and his men rowed hastily to their ship, the USS Ranger, while the people of Whitehaven rushed to douse the fire before it spread beyond the Thompson.

Historians speculate that this attack on British soil fanned the fears of the British public and may have contributed to England’s losing the American colonies.

John Paul Jones became an infamous pirate and bogeyman to the British, and a brave American hero to the colonists. Such was the power of media and rumour even then.

Jones was formally pardoned by the Commissioners of the Harbour of Whitehaven on the 27th of June, 1999. Today, you’ll find a variety of pleasure craft and a few fishing vessels sheltering in the harbour.

I’ve yet to meet one American who was taught the story of John Paul Jones’ attack on Whitehaven. I’d never heard it until I moved to Cumbria myself. Curious.

So many lessons to learn from stories like this one. Not least of which is that you shouldn’t stay too long in the pub!


Herdy Girl


Over the Hause

Having eaten a delicious dinner, and cake for dessert, Best Beloved and I thought that walking a couple of miles might be a good idea. Especially since the evening was a lovely one.

We headed up the road toward Buttermere, with Crummock Water to our right and the petite valley called Rannerdale to our left.  Where the narrow road meets the rocky face of the fell, we climb up, up, up Rannerdale Hause.

‘A Dictionary of Lake District Place Names’ by Diana Whaley says that, “Hause comes from Old Norse hals meaning ‘a neck of land.”  And so it is, as Rannerdale Hause stretches forth toward Crummock Water from knobbly Rannerdale Knotts.

Walking up Rannerdale Hause takes you not-quite-halfway to the peak of Rannerdale Knotts.  (Can you spot the Herdwick in the photo?)

It still amazes me that we get to live here.

I was so busy enjoying the views that I didn’t realize that BB had moved ahead!

Once you get to the top of the Hause, the walk is easy.  Not what I would call ‘accessible’, though.

Even in the height of summer, evenings are fairly quiet. Keep your eyes peeled for the occasional herdy friend.

And don’t forget to turn around once in a while.  You wouldn’t want to miss something like the sun skimming the top of Melbreak.

Which meant its light travelled right along Crummock Water toward Buttermere.  It was lovely and warm, and the midges weren’t too bad.

We made it down to the road.

I enjoyed the contrast between the dark trunks of these tall pines and the sun-kissed field in front of Wood House.

BB had found a spot to sit and think.

I found my own spot to do just the same.

Then I put away my phone camera and spent the walk back home holding hands with BB and soaking in the evening.

Time to just ‘be’ for a while.


Herdy Girl

Birthplace of a Poet

The Wordsworth House and Garden, a National Trust property near the centre of Cockermouth, is one of my favourite spots to while away a couple of hours.

The National Trust presents the house as it was in about 1770, when William Wordsworth was born there as the second of five children.

William Wordsworth is best known for I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, a poem often memorized in classrooms across the world:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

I had garden and house almost to myself on Tuesday morning.

It’s an impressive Georgian house that stands aloof from the busy main street, all sash windows, formal garden, and solid portico.

The dining room was designed and decorated to impress. As it does, even now.

Beautiful, especially with sunlight streaming in those large windows.

There’s an approachable elegance to this house.

Jane Austen was a contemporary of Wordsworth. Can you envision her characters in these rooms?

Even as a modern day visitor, the kitchen’s crackling open fire draws you into the heart of the home. The scent is inviting too: warm spices and fresh herbs, woodsmoke and baked goods.

On every visit, there’s a tasty treat to sample. Often you’ll be offered gingerbread, oatcakes, or rum butter. Delicious.

The family’s bedrooms, though less ornamented, still enjoy the good proportions and natural light that fills this house.

Viewed through the windows along the back of the house, the enticing garden promises to be special.

And it delivers.  Such a magical feel on this summer’s day.

This garden is a lesson in restrained abundance, its carefully laid out beds filled with fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.  New plants, like the Verbena bonariensis above (introduced in 1726), began flooding into Europe during this time period. Exciting stuff!

I could totally bore you with photos of this garden, but I will restrain myself.

You do need to see the view toward the house from the terrace above the River Cocker, though.

Today, this stately Georgian house is peopled by knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff and volunteers. In the kitchen, in the garden, at the harpsichord, in the shop and in the café – these folk bring a moment in history back to life and welcome you to enjoy it.

Their sense of humour is also appreciated.

A delightful place to visit.


Herdy Girl

Ragnarok in a Cumbrian churchyard

‘The Doom of the gods’ is not something you expect when you visit a village church. St. Mary’s in Gosforth has many of the normal requisites: church bells, stained glass, tombstones, and more.

It also has some very unusual and rather special things.

Chief among these is a fourteen and a half foot tall ancient cross. This slender sandstone wonder has been standing here since between 920 and 950 AD. That makes it the oldest and tallest Viking cross in England.

Amazing, isn’t it? That it is still standing in this small churchyard, that you can still see the carvings on the weathered stone, that it isn’t in a museum somewhere.

You can touch it, feel the grains of blushing sand and wonder who carved it, and what stories it could tell.

Nearby is the base of what was, presumably, another similar cross. Remnants within the church, and old records, tell that there may have been as many as four such crosses of a similar style and size.

The cross starts off with a cylindrical stylized tree base thought to represent Yggdrasil, ancient Scandinavia’s mythical ‘Tree of Life’.  It is carved with dragons, Loki, Thor, beasts and monsters. Oh my.

Yet it is undeniably a cross, and it also carries carvings of Christ’s crucifixion.

We can only wonder and surmise what this and the other bits and pieces mean. The Vikings quickly converted to Christianity as they settled the west coast of Cumbria.

Could the cross(es) have been used to explain the story of Christ in terms that the new inhabitants understood?

There has been some sort of Christian place of worship on this site since the 8th century.  That’s near enough to 1,300 years!

The current church building is late Victorian, 1897 AD, if the front edifice is correct.

The Victorians are known for preserving ancient sites or buildings; they destroyed quite a bit with their ‘improvements’ up and down the country.  They did preserve some of the ancient stonework from the previous Norman (12th century) church, most notably the sandstone arches throughout.

You might think it unremarkable, and not explore further.

Don’t make that mistake. There are other treasures.

There are two splendid ‘hogback’ stones. Unique to northern Britain and thought to be shaped like Viking boat-shaped houses. Historians and archaeologists generally agree that hogback stones served as grave markers.

There are further smaller treasures dotted throughout St. Mary’s.  You’ll have to visit yourself to see them.

There’s so much to see, learn, enjoy in Cumbria. Hope you enjoyed this Viking history teasel, I mean teaser.  (I’m a silly Herdy Girl, sometimes.)


Herdy Girl



Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside…

A sunny, warm day off. What’s a soul to do?

Gather the family and head to the coast.  As we’d not been there in a while, we headed down to Seascale via the scenic Cold Fell route.

We arrived to this view from the car park.

Standing on the path, I looked to my left.

And then to the right.

Best Beloved and the dogs wasted no time at all; they put feet to sand first.  As usual, I lag behind, admiring wildflowers and snapping photographs.

There’s a dip in the ‘pier’.  When the tide is high, the paler portion is under water.

Walking south along the beach, you can see Black Combe in the distance.

BB and the dogs have been playing a joyous game of fetch on the packed sand. (And through the rock pools.)

A very happy spaniel.  Is it just me, or is she smiling?

And this fella, this westie, he is in his element.

What a backdrop for this beach walk.  Zoom in on the photo below and you’ll see the Scafel Pike, the highest mountain in England at 3,209 feet / 978m.

On a much smaller scale, a factoid: in the south-west of England, rocks covered with seaweed are called ore-stones. I wonder if there is a Cumbrian term for them?

The tide began to turn, and the dog’s were due for a drink. Time to walk back to Seascale.

We indulge in an ice cream cone from Mawson’s Ice Cream Parlour.

Happily, they’ve placed a bowl of fresh water outside for the dogs .  BB and I take turns going inside for our treats.

Mawson’s always have imaginative flavours. Among the Snickers, Honeycomb Crunch, and Strawberry Cheesecake, we find Unicorn.  Thank you, Internet.

I chose Panacotta & Forest Fruits. It was a good choice – gentle dairy sweetness balanced with sharp berries. BB had a double scoop, both the Panacotta & Forest Fruits and some Strawberry Cheesecake.

My cone crumbled a bit, but it was delicious.

Song filled drive to the coast – check. Relaxing sound of waves and fresh coastal breezes – check. Sandy and wet game of fetch – check.  Ice cream eaten on a bench in the sunshine – check.

Memories made.

Goals met, we jumped into the car and started the journey home.

What are your favourite beach memories?


Herdy Girl