Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Home of John Ruskin

Perhaps it was appropriate that we visited Brantwood on an relentlessly gloomy day. It began hopefully as we grew closer to the house. Across the lake we could see a rainbow lighting the village of Coniston. Rainbows generally come and then fade within moments but this one remained all day, hanging in the air as if posing for a painting.

Morning in Spring, with north-east Wind, at Vevey -John Ruskin
Ruskin didn't wait for still and sunny weather in which to paint:

It is not possible to find a landscape, which if painted precisely as it is, will not make an impressive picture. No one knows, till he has tried, what strange beauty and subtle composition is prepared to his hand by Nature.     John Ruskin - Modern Painters (1843-1860)

And the mantra of all who live in the Lake District:

'There is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.'

In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.
John Ruskin - Modern Painters (1843-1860)

In every person who comes near you look for what is good and strong, honor that; try to imitate it, and your faults will drop off like dead leaves when their time comes.
John Ruskin

To learn more from or about John Ruskin:

Thursday, 20 September 2012

A Walk From Grasmere to Rydal and another Utopian Idea

Dotted around Britain there are large country houses converted into Youth Hostels. According to Hostelling International:

The founder of the youth hostel movement was a German teacher, Richard Schirrmann. He was a believer in learning by direct observation and often took his classes on excursions and hiking trips. The hiking trips could last several days, and Schirrmann and his pupils would find accommodation in farm buildings.
On one of these excursions, on 26 August 1909, the group was caught in a thunderstorm. They finally found shelter in a school building in the Bröl Valley. The headmaster let them use a classroom and a farmer gave them some straw to sleep on and some milk for their evening meal. The storm raged the whole night. While the boys slept, Schirrmann lay awake. That was when he had an idea…

 Only an hour or so's drive North of Liverpool and we can stay in the midst of the 'fells' or mountains of the Lake District. Here are some of the grounds of our new home (for as long as we choose to stay).

But, as beautiful as the hostel and gardens are, the greater beauty calls us. We climb from the tamed lawns of Grasmere up a steep but carefully laid stone path into the blue-topped hills above. It is still early morning and long shadows show up the hills like actors on a stage.

The Herdwick sheep are not quite ready for visitors.

I watch nervously as some of our party head for what looks like the edges of solid ground

only to see that new platforms lie safely beyond.

We skim the top of the crags and look down towards Dove Cottage, Wordsworth's first home which was  ‘crammed edge full’ with his family and guests and then follow across a ridge to Rydal Mount where he spent his final years. Past Rydal Mount is a huge stately home called Rydal Hall on the grounds of which gushes a slender mill stream overlooked by a terrace cafe. We stop for a lunch of soup, paninis and cappucinos and then press on, downwards this time, to Rydal Water.
William Wordsworth helped to choose the site of chapel of St Mary in Rydal, where originally an orchard stood. 

There are caves mentioned on our map and we climb the other side of the valley to investigate. We didn't expect anything as dramatic as these. At first we thought we saw bats but then realised the 'Scooby-Doo' squeaks were those of swallows. This is 'Swallows and Amazons' country after all.

Rydal Cave where swallows swoop

Cosseted again by the homely shores of Grasmere, we visit the tiniest of shops (I am taking this photograph with my back against the farthest wall) for the gingerbread Wordsworth was said to have yearned for.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


 There are not many books where I look forward to their release date but I always check the shelves of Waterstones to see if any new translation of Tove Jansson's has been published. She is one of my favourite written-word companions and I miss her original and homely voice between books. In my virtual book world of teachers and she is one of the most important, alongside Ruskin and Proust.

 'Art in Nature' is a collection of short stories. originally titled 'Dollhouse' in Swedish. 'Art in Nature' proposes a simple idea. Why not pin a parcel to your wall instead of a painting? Then the mystery of the contents and your imagination can be the work of art.

 A caretaker of a summer exhibition stubbles across a middle-aged couple who are unwittingly trespassing in the grounds of his gallery, grilling sausages by the lake. They are quarrelling over a parcel. Inside is a silk-screen they have just bought but they cannot agree whether it is abstract or not, and if it is, what the subject might be. The caretaker having spent many hours contemplating the exhibition suddenly recalls some conceptual art - picture packages also displayed in the exhibition. He suggests that neither will be disappointed with their purchase if they hang it still fully wrapped onto their wall.

'Maybe you should just imagine what's inside, and then imagine different things...You just need to make the wrapping a little prettier, use more string, you know, fishing line or shoemaker's thread...It's the mystery that's important, somehow very important.'

 Part of the mystery must be that someone else has done the wrapping I feel. Here I have left three items still in their wrappers. Perhaps I will be brave enough to resist opening wrapped art if it comes my way and hang it as it is on our walls.