Friday, 18 July 2014

A Tale To Remember


Lovely Derwenthead Cottage: Once the cafe at Seathwaite


This blog post will be a bit of a ramble, in both meanings of that phrase. I wanted to try to tell a true story about events one stormy night, seventy two years ago in the beautiful English Lake District in September 1942.  It was not a tale of great national or international importance, but was one which affected ordinary people who were living, holidaying or serving their country in the Lake District at this time. It is, therefore, a story that I believe is worth preserving, but a relatively recent and, to me, unwelcome change means that it may now be forgotten.

It will also, however, trigger my reflections on a number of things. I set these out for no reason other than self-indulgence, in that over the last few years I have become interested by the very act of writing.  And, like the not very talented amateur artist or musician, I can still get pleasure from my limited abilities, even more so if I think that people actually read what I have penned. It has taken many years for this interest to surface, as any love I had of it was crushed by the sarcasm and low marks I received from a diabolical English teacher who taught me to O Level all those years ago when I was in a grammar school in Shrewsbury. When I ultimately got the highest possible grades in the externally marked Literature and Language examinations he informed me that I had done well because of the constant pressure he had put me under.  He didn’t understand the oft quoted remark to trainee teachers that children need to be praised at least four times for every single criticism if they are to blossom.

The Langdale Pikes from Glaramara

In the Easter immediately before those English O Level exams, I made my first proper visit to the Lakes on what was known as ‘Arduous Training’ with the school Combined Cadet Force. I think it fair to say that my life has, to a very significant extent, been shaped by that trip in 1973. Indeed, I wrote about this on my first ever post on this blog, called Love at First Sight.  During that week a group of us went on a three day backpack in the fells, camping one night at Seathwaite Farm, having walked across the hills from, I think, Great Langdale.

At Seathwaite we visited the café that until recently was housed in one of the cottages. And on the wall was an old framed newspaper article, which I stood and read.  It was written in 1945 by someone who went under the pseudonym ‘Glaramara’.  If you do not know the area, I should say that Glaramara is the name of a lovely mountain near Seathwaite.  It told about the events of 4 September 1942.

The summit of Glaramara, looking towards Keswick and Derwent Water
On this night in 1942, 'Glaramara' was staying at Seathwaite Farm.  A terrible storm raged outside as he and his companions had dinner.  They noticed a party of three young men heading passed into the hills, who they assumed were either very brave or very foolish.  Soon after four more men went passed, and then more, and they realised that a mountain rescue was underway.  The police arrived and confirmed that there had been a climbing accident on the Ennerdale face of Great Gable.  Whilst 'Glaramara' and his companions swapped climbing tales, Mrs Edmondson, the farmer’s wife, began to make hot drinks and food, and prepared blankets for the rescuers and injured climbers.

By now it was 10 o’clock at night, and the noise of an aircraft flying low overhead, circling, and dropping flares could be heard.  Soon after, they saw the torch lights of the resuers returning. They brought with them three injured climbers. One was a Cambridge professor who had fallen fifty feet.  His fall had pulled his wife off her stance and she had fractured her leg. Their third companion had managed to hold them both on the rope from his belay point and whilst he, too, was injured, he had managed to get down to Wasdale to raise the alarm.

High House Tarn on Glaramara
This was not the end of the night’s drama. The ambulance which had arrived at the Farmhouse would not re-start, and another had to be sent for, not coming until one in the morning.  All the while, the storm was raging, and first aid was being administered to the injured, whilst forty rescuers crowded in the farmhouse out of the storm.  Then news arrived that a bomber had crashed and a search party had to be organised to look for it and for any survivors. Later, it emerged that the plane had come down near Rosthwaite, and all the crew had lost their lives.



The party remaining in the farmhouse got to bed in the early hours to be woken soon after six by noises downstairs. Sour Milk Ghyll had broken its banks, and the farmhouse was now badly flooded. The rest of the day was spent clearing up the devastation of this dramatic night. The newspaper article showed spectacular photographs of the flooding across the valley; and if you go to Seathwaite to this day you can still see the boulders and stones that have littered the valley floor since that night.


The events of this night fascinated me as a sixteen year old as I read them on the café wall. And that article stayed with me, because I made a point of always stopping at the café on my walks through Seathwaite over the next 30 years. I bored all my companions making them read it, or wait for me whilst I read it again, after finishing our cups of tea and cake. On one visit they had some reproductions of the article for sale, and I purchased one, but put it away in a cupboard when I got home.  Then on a stop at the café a few years ago I was horrified to see new décor, and new pictures, and the old story on the wall was gone.  I asked the lady behind the counter about it. She was new and had no idea what I was talking about. It felt like part of my own history had been destroyed.


The café at Seathwaite closed down soon after. It is now a holiday cottage, which presumably brings greater financial returns. The last time I went through the farmstead refreshments were being half-heartedly sold from a stone hut. I walked on by and headed for the cheerier offerings in Keswick. But I did get that poster out of the cupboard, and it is now framed and hangs on the wall of a passageway in my cottage. I doubt anyone except me ever reads it, or even notices it there. But it reminds me of those days when I was young and I first discovered my love for the fells. And I smile sadly to myself and remember.



I am sorry about the poor quality of this photograph and for the reflection of the flash

19 comments:

  1. Sadly another tale of Greed 1 v Heritage 0 ��
    If I am ever up and see your cottage, I promise to read it.
    We had a wonderful Mural in our old Church 11th Century that had been plastered over.
    Luckily some was recovered..

    Carry on with your fine writing sir....

    I am now off to become totally depressed by the cricket, on top of the sore throat and cough I have inherited from Lucy.. ��

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    1. Strepsils, washed down with Talisker and no more cricket will sort you out, Andrew.

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  2. I see the same loss of history happen at some of the old Inns as they get stripped and made to resemble carbon copies of a Wetherspoons. The stories and local legends dissapear from the walls and within a generation are lost for good.

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    1. Don't get me started on Wetherspoons, John. Did you mention to me you wanted to do the Ridgeway? If so read Phil Lambert's latest blog post. I think it's Doodlecat.com or summat like that. Google will find it.

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  3. Good Lord!
    That dragged me back to being a fifteen year old lad again! I remember reading that self same story in the cafe. and promising to NEVER EVER camp at Seathwaite!
    And sure enough, floods revisited for the OMM a few years back.
    Such a shame that the cafe has gone - I've been going there for forty years.
    A lovely piece, David.

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    1. Thank you Alan. Strangely the last time I camped there is as mentioned above, 1973. In fact I'm not certain they have camping anymore. Used to be in the field on the right just as you got to the farmyard.

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  4. Excellent piece of nostalgia, David. John S will be pleased to know that the wall of the Newfield Inn at the "other" Seathwaite still has its framed cuttings from 1904 when the landlord shot some uppity customers.

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    1. Whilst I sometimes think I know the Lakes, Phil, I have never been to the other Seathwaite. I'm not going to that pub, though, unless I can be assured that the landlord from 1904 is no longer around. Can never be too careful.

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  5. Great tale that. I have visited that cafe on several occasions but never saw it. I am not always that observant:)

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    1. Hi Mark. I think I used to notice far more then than now. The excitement of youth, when everthing is young and fresh I suppose.

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  6. I remember them both well. Shame that they have now both gone. The cafe certainly did well so there is probably a good reason why it stopped. I will find out.

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    1. Let me know, AlanR, if you are successful. As I said, I guess it is all down to money and potential for profit. I assumed that the cottage is owned by the National Trust, but perhaps not.

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  7. Thanks for sharing such a great story and bringing it to life with your excellent writing.

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    1. That's very kind, Graeme. I enjoyed writing it.

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  8. A well written, lovely story. Always look forward to reading your work David

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