Cockermouth Midsummer Festival: Lake District self catering accommodation nearby

Cockermouth Midsummer Festival: Lake District eco-friendly, deluxe self catering cottage nearby.  The Cockermouth Midsummer festival is set to run from 17-26 June 2011, with a launch by the award winning writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie (Adventures on the High Teas; Pies and Prejudice: Cider with Roadies).  The Times described him as a “national treasure”.  He is very witty and funny, if you like Bill Bryson style humour.

Other acts include an Irish international rock’n’roll comedy outfit (yes, that is what you read) called Dead Cat Bounce (yes, that is the name, I am not making it up) and the legendary Snake Davis Band.

You can download a leaflet from the festival website, or pick one up from Cockermouth tourist information office where you can also get the town trail and the flood trail (which is fascinating).  Cockermouth has recovered amazingly well.  The Main Street looks beautiful. The last few shops are reopened now.  I was in Percy House Gallery last week which is looking great.  The New Bookshop has gone for it, and opened a cafe at the back, with upstairs seating, an outdoor terrace, exquisite teas in real china pots and gorgeous home made cakes.

The weather in recent weeks has been beautiful.  All the mayflower is out in the hedgerows, lambs are still gambolling in the fields, meadowsweet scents the air…nice.

To check availability at Low Hall Lake District Country Cottage click here.

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Nature notes

Nature notes from Low Hall Lake District country cottage, which is a real wildlife haven just now.

It is just a week before Easter, and spring is here.  Last weekend we saw a hare run across the cottage lawn, following the stream boundary, out at the back.  We have had hares on the far field for several years now, but not seen one come in so close before.  They are larger and much more muscular than rabbits, and their colouring is quite beautiful.  The hare population declined by about 80% over the last hundred years, with changes in farming practice, and in some parts of the UK they are a rare sight, so it is great to have an enclave here for them.  They can reach speeds of up to 45mph, apparently.  Thats my excuse for not getting a photo, but you can find pictures here.

This morning we had breakfast outdoors in the sunshine.  My resident bird expert witnessed a large bird which he thinks was a sparrowhawk whizz by his head, at great speed, closely missing his left ear, as it zoomed towards some unsuspecting breakfast of its own.  He has just knocked on the office window, to tell me he has just seen the first swallow.  So thats it-great weather forcast, first swallows, Easter bunnies madly knitting chocolate, Easter lambs bouncing across grassy meadows, and we might even risk an outdoor supper later.

Three times, this week, I have seen a grey heron, which is sitting on the stream, just beyond the parking area for Low Hall Cottage.  As I open the door, it rises, lazily flapping its great wings and flying off along the length of the stream towards Abbey gate.

Our guests from last week recorded seeing a red squirrel on their last day here, so we expect to have more sightings over these coming weeks.  Alan Titchmarsh describes them as a “gentle and curious creature” and Prince Charles as “one of the most utterly charming British native mammals”.  Again, it is a joy to know they are flourishing here. 

There is a lot in the newspapers this weekend about happiness, wellbeing, and the concept of human flourishing.  Apparently, one of the most important associations with human happiness is the absence of “mind wandering”; engaging in the “here and now” experience, whether an activity or a human interaction; being “in the flow”.  I find these moments of encounter with the natural world, and wild creatures are a great source of happiness and wellbeing.  

Daffodils Low Hall

The daffodils are still flowering everywhere.  The primroses are all out, lining the steps in the cottage woodland garden.


Over on the field the cowslips are in flower.  They spread every year, so we transplant a few each year to other parts of the garden. 

Cowslips at Low Hall

The speedwell is flowering and all the blackthorn is covered with white blossom…it will be the hawthorn next.

Blackthorn in blossom at Low Hall

You will note I am rather better at taking photgraphs of flowers, than of hares or sparrowhawks.  This is because flowers stay still, while hares and sparrowhawks move somewhat speedily.  (up to 45mph if you have been paying attention)

Full moon rising Low Hall

Talking of things that move speedily, we have just been outside, watching the full moon rise over Low Fell and Fellbarrow.  It came up so swiftly, you could almost feel the earth turning.  One minute it was a small rim, then a half moon, then almost up.

Full moon risen Low Hall

There was a few moments when it gave the illusion of being suspended in front of the mountains, then it was a full circle up in the sky.

  I got wet feet running across the grass to catch the photographs.  I can still see it, straight out of the office window, where I am drying my feet by the log fire.  If you double click on the photograph, to see the enlargement, the moon looks almost as though it is surrounded by a rim of fire. 
 It dosn’t get better than this.
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sunshine, showers, sheep and flowers

The weather has been very changeable.  After strong winds and heavy rain, everything looks washed new, bright and fresh. The sunshine today was so warm and full of spring, I found myself outside with the camera again.  All the daffodils are out on the banks of Little Sandy Beck, as it flows through the garden of Low Hall Cottage.

  The sun was warm on my back.  Each year, there is a  magic to these first days of warm sun on my back, a burst of hope mixed with a dollop of wellbeing…the sun has a sort of sneaky sparkle to it as all that colour begins to creep back into the landscape.  A different quality to the winter sunlight.  (the photograph below was taken at Low Hall Cottage two weeks ago)

Some of the daffodils still had raindrops on them, so as the sunbeams caught them they dazzled like tiny lights-not easy to catch on the camera, but magical in real life.

The stream was in spate after the rain, adding extra sparkle and sound effects.  I find something deeply soothing about the sound of running water.

Then…..yes…..not only sunshine, not only streamsounds, not only jewel like dewdrops sparkling on golden headed stems, but sheep, with their newborn lambs on the field next door.

Yes, this is the view.  Today.  2nd April 2011.  At Low Hall.

And yes, there are some days worth getting out of bed for, whoever you are, and whatever else the world holds……

PS The periwinkles, primroses and pansies are all in flower.  The cowslips are almost out.  The sun is still shining.

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Daffodil Breaks at Low Hall Cottage

Enjoy the daffodils at Low Hall this spring.

The weeks beginning 18th March, 25 March and 1st April are available at just £390. 

That’s £65 per person for a party of six, for a weeks holiday in the spring in the beautiful English Lake District.

Check here for details and availability.

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First daffodils at Low Hall

The first daffodils at Low Hall opened fully on 9 March 2011.  This  photograph was taken this afternoon, just opposite Low Hall Cottage.

First daffodils at Low Hall

They will be the first of many.  The daffodils that line the drive are ready to flower.

There are other glimpses of spring.  The light, though changeable is very clear and beautiful, and early in the morning. With the mist still on the mountains it gives a sense of a mysterious, mythical  landscape, layer upon layer of pale gold.  A great start to the working day! The patterns of light and shade are wonderful for taking atmospheric photographs.

View from Low Hall Cottage parking area

Walking down the drive last week, we caught the sunset which was beautiful.  Life dosn’t get better than this.

Sunset at Low Hall

   Sunset is the best time to see barn owls, I am told by my resident expert advisor.  We did not see one on this occasion (probably heard our footsteps and conversation and made a quick getaway), but we have had numerous sightings over recent weeks.

Talking of twilight animals, there is also what looks like a new badger set just beyond the wall at the far end of Low Hall Cottage garden.  One of these evenings we may go down through the woods to watch for these shy creatures.

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Lake District Events diary 2011

Events, markets and festivals over 2011, near Low Hall Cottage, a beautiful, historic, 4-star, eco-friendly cottage in the English Lake District.  I will keep adding to this list as I come across things, so do visit again.

10-13 February Keswick Film festival.  Gone for this year…plan for next year!

12-13 February Worlds Original Marmalade Competition, Dalemain Estate, near Penrith…eyeball and argue about the results, and bookmark your place for 2012!

4-13 March Words by the Water Cumbrian Literature Festival featuring well known writers…see below

2 April Cockermouth Made in Cumbria Farmers Market 9.30-2pm Market Place. Local produce, crafts, speciality meats, sausages, baking.

29 April  The Royal Wedding.  Low Hall Cottage  has a great TV.

7 May Cockermouth Made in Cumbria Farmers Market 9.30-2pm Market Place. Local produce, crafts, speciality meats, sausages, baking.

7-8 May Bassenthwaite assymetric regatta

12-15 May Keswick Jazz Festival  Further information below….

14-22 May is the Cumbria Fishing Festival  Many events, for beginners as well as experienced fisher-people.

18-22 May 2011 Keswick Mountain festival is a festival of outdoor adventure.  Events include sporting events such as fell running or a mass swim in nearby Derwentwater; an adventure base where you can try “tasters” of exciting new activities, and inspirational speakers, including Ray Mears, the survival and bushcraft expert who features on ITV’s “Ray Mears Wild Britain” and Sir Chris Bonnington.

27-28 May is Ireby music festival billed as “the most intimate of music festivals”

3-4 June Keswick beer festival  “The Biggest Beer Festival in the North -170 Real Ales plus bottled beers and ciders”. 

3-4 June Bassenthwaite Festival.  Classical music festival “a feast for the soul”with events at the beautiful St Begas church, in a spectacular location  overlooking Bassenthwaite

4 June Cockermouth Made in Cumbria Farmers Market 9.30-2pm Market Place. Local produce, crafts, speciality meats, sausages, baking.

Saturday 11 June “Fell Gather” Celebrating Cumbrian farming, food and rural life  Mitchells Lakeland Livestock Centre  Cockermouth

17-26 June Cockermouth Midsummer Festival  Events in and around Cockermouth

19 June  Cumbria Life and Dalemain Garden festival  “one one of the North West’s most beautiful gardens . Many trade stands, talks & demonstrations”.  Great roses.

24-25 June Woolfest celebrating wool and natural fibres with visitors from around the nation and overseas coming to Cockermouth to share their yarns.

2 July The Ten Peaks challenge.  Only 10 peaks, 73 km and over 5,600 metres of ascent to run non stop-maybe pre-order some takaway to be delivered alongside your celebration bottle of wine as you recover at Low Hall Lake District Country Cottage

2 July An alternative to the Ten Peaks challenge is Cockermouth Made in Cumbria Farmers Market 9.30-2pm Market Place. Local produce, crafts, speciality meats, sausages, baking.

1-2 July Skylark cruises  Sail with the RSPB across Ullswater to hear the skylarks sing.  (Other birds included, free of charge)

8-10 July Food and Craft fair  Dalemain House, near Penrith

22-25 July Cockrock  ‘Imagine a place where age, sex, race, colour of your skin, religion, politics and even wealth count for nothing then imagine a place surrounded by natural beauty where music is played in its most raw and pure form, by artists who just want to perform . If you can do this it may be that you have just imagined CockRock , as we were in the beginning and as we will be in the end……’ Cockermouths own music festival, non profit, raising funds for the “Pride of Cumbria Air Ambulance and Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team.  Held at Wellington farm, between Low Hall Cottage  and Cockermouth.

24 July The Cumberand Show is held at Rickerby Park, in Carlisle

29-31 July is the thirteenth Maryport Blues Festival drawing blues fans together from all over the UK

30 July Cockermouth Agricultural Show  Large traditional country show, with events and interest for the whole family.

30 July -7 August Bassenthwaite regatta

29 July-14 August is the Lake District International Summer Music festival The festival belives in “The power of music to inspire and change lives” and events are held in a range of Lake District venues

6 August Cockermouth Made in Cumbria Farmers Market 9.30-2pm Market Place. Local produce, crafts, speciality meats, sausages, baking.

3 September Cockermouth Made in Cumbria Farmers Market 9.30-2pm Market Place. Local produce, crafts, speciality meats, sausages, baking.

4 September 2011 Loweswater show a traditional country show in a beautiful location

17 September is the world famous Egremont Crab Fair, featuring the World Gurning Championship.   Going back to 1267, this is one of the oldest fairs in the world.  Gurning, for non-experts involves pulling a grotesque facial expression, with your head stuck through a horse bridle.  The origins of this custom are, not surprisingly, unknown.  The Fair itself has a Royal Charter from Henry III in 1267, still held by the British Museum in London.  Go for it….try gurning…..someone has to win.

18 September Borrowdale Shepherds Meet and Show

 23-24 September A Taste of Cumbria. “The Norths of Englands largest multivenue dining event”.  Cumbrian food, Cumbrian Chefs, Cumbrian cookery, Cumbrian entertainment, all in the streets of a Georgian gem town, Cockermouth.  Last years event was outstanding.

1 October Cockermouth Made in Cumbria Farmers Market 9.30-2pm Market Place. Local produce, crafts, speciality meats, sausages, baking.

1-2 October Postman Pat and Jess the Cat at the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.  Real Steam Locomotives

3rd Saturday in October is the Buttermere Shepherds meet and show, one of the loveliest small shows in England, held in a breathtakingly beautiful setting, in the Buttermere valley.

5 November Cockermouth Made in Cumbria Farmers Market 9.30-2pm Market Place. Local produce, crafts, speciality meats, sausages, baking.

5 November Guy Fawkes or Bonfire night.  Cockermouth fireworks display happens on the evening of the nearest Sunday to 5th November, often making a memorable display across the river, with the castle in the background

November 2011  The Worlds Biggest Liar Competition at the Santon Bridge, Eskdale.  Sponsored by Cockermouth’s Jennings Brewery, who happen to brew a beer called the “Worlds Biggest Liar“….yes this is true….no it is not me practising for the competition in November.

Late November  Cockermouth Christmas Lights Switch-on.  An excuse for a big street party, with entertainment, stalls, and the switch on of Cockermouth Illuminations “Reputedly one of the best displays in England” (town website).  Judge for yourself.  The lights stay on until 5th January.  Combined with Cockermouths setting, below the NorthWestern Fells which may be snowcapped this time of year, the “Window dressing” competition, where the individual shops compete for the most “Christmassy” window, and the abundance of unique small shops and galleries selling handcrafted or unusual gifts this is a great town for the sort of Christmas shopping experience that brings back the spirit of Christmas.

3 December Cockermouth Made in Cumbria Farmers Market 9.30-2pm Market Place. Local produce, crafts, speciality meats, sausages, baking.

Sunday 5th December Keswick traditional Christmas market.  Decorated stalls, entertainment, colourful lights.

6-8 December Spirit of Christmas cruise and lunch.  Enjoy mulled wine, cruising on Ullswater, followed by Christmas Lunch at Dalemain House stately Home

December weekends and days before Christmas Santa’s special trains run on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway

18 December Santa Cruises  Meet Santa, Sammy Squirrell, the Happy Elf and his musical bell orchestra, on a cruise on Ullswater.  Beats mince pies in a shopping mall any day.

And for all you star gazers, future planners, dreamers of 2012 and what it holds, here are some ideas:

23-26 February 2012 is Keswick Film Festival 2012. Never mind the Oscars, skip the BAFTA’s for once and get yourself to the beautiful English Lake district and the friendly Keswick film festival….hold your breath for the winners of the Osprey awards…the audience awards…..and some great films …mark your diary now.  (and check out the Keswick Film Club showings too……)

5 May 2012 is the next Cockermouth Georgian Fair.  See Cockermouth recreate its Georgian history, take the historic town trail, tour the castle, race in a sedan, have a great day out.

Why not enjoy these events while having a relaxing stay in the beautiful surroundings of Low Hall Country Cottage in the English Lake District.

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sunshine and sheep

It is the end of February, and after a wet and windy day yesterday, today the sun shone all day, here at Low Hall holiday cottage.

Here are some photographs from the garden, taken around 2pm today.

The first primroses are out, making a bright splash of colour near the stream.

Primroses 26 February Low Hall Cottage

The snowdrops are still very beautiful.

snowdrops and stream Low Hall Holiday Cottage

and the very first daffodils are just beginning to open.

First daffodils begin to open at Low Hall Lake District country cottageBuds are beginning to emerge everywhere.

As I left Low Hall this afternoon to drive into Cockermouth, one of our neighbours was herding his sheep in the traditional way, using highly trained dogs, who answer to a series of whistles and calls to keep the sheep together and guide them to their new grazing.  This next photograph was taken this afternoon on the lane that leads to the driveway into Low Hall Lake District Cottage.

Traditional Cumbria scene near Low Hall

Cockermouth remains an important centre for traditional sheep farming and upland sheep farming.  The agricultural market is a a major centre for the sale of rams (or “tups” as they are known in Cumbria).  The traditional Cumbrian breed is the Herdwick.  The name is thought to originate from the old Norse “herd-vik” meaning sheep farm.  Other local breeds are the Swaledale, and in the South of the county, rough fell sheep.

For those of you who underestimated the overall intelligence of our woolly friends, please note from the above that each of these breeds has already established its own website and the sheepy versions of Facebook and Twitter can only be a few “Baaaa’s” away.  (GROAN)

If you are more interested in purchasing sheepy produce than in the sheep themselves, there is a large selection of knitwear to purchase year round from Cockermouths own “Sheep and Wool Centre”, (latterly renamed as “The Shepherds Hotel”) which gave its name to the “Sheep and Wool Centre roundabout”, as you enter Cockermouth from the A66.  You pass it if you are travelling between Low Hall Holiday Cottage and Cockermouth and it does pretty good, well priced bacon butties, bacon and eggs and other traditional English breakfast produce if you don’t want to cook.

For all you knitters, each year, Cockermouth hosts “Woolfest” (the original and best); a large national festival celebrating wool and other natural yarns, that brings together knitters, as well as other craftspeople from all over the nation (and beyond).  The dates for 2011 are 24th and 25th June at Mitchell’s Lakeland Livestock Centre, Cockermouth, Cumbria CA13 0QQ.  The Friday evening there is a supper and spin-in.  

And for all you  sheep shearers out there in July, Mitchells Lakeland Livestock Market host “Lakeland Shears”, an international sheep shearing competition.  The year I went to watch, there were shearers from Australia, New Zealand, all over the British Isles.  It is a very lively and competitive event.

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Owls again and the night sky

Driving home this evening, and halfway along our drive, on the fencepost on the right hand side, stood the barn owl.  I stopped the car; he was about three foot or less away from me, and slowly turned his head towards me, illuminated by the car headlights.  We seemed to look at each other for an age (it was probably only 30 seconds or so), then he spread his wings and swooped away over the field. 

Do not assume from this description that I am an expert on owl gender assignment.  I use he but it could have equally been a she.  I understand from more knowledgable mortals than myself (my husband for example) that sexing owls is extremely difficult.  Awesome sight, whatever.

There is a big debate going on in the UK press right now about tourism and British Summer time.  The argument seems to be that if the country moved to European Standard time, tourism would be enhanced because of the longer hours of daylight in the evenings.  I think I would miss sights like this in the evenings, or watching the moon as it changes from a silvery crescent to a full circle of light.  I would miss the stars in the evenings.  We have almost no light pollution at Low Hall Cottage.  Over the last week, the evenings have been clear and very dark, so the stars are so bright that when you have been outside for a few minutes, you almost feel you could touch them.  To begin with, maybe just a few are visible: Sirius, the Dog Star, the Plough, Orion, the Seven Sisters.  Then more and more pinpoints of light emerge , the white streak of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, constellations of the Zodiac, planets like Jupiter and Saturn.  When there are meteor showers, we sometimes lie down in the dark on the grass, just watching the shooting stars flying across the sky.  It beats worrying about the global financial collapse or watching the television news.   Try the “Astronomy Picture of the Day” provided by NASA.  If you want to know more about the Cumbrian sky, one of Cockermouths sons, (now relocated to Kendal), and  longstanding friend, Stuart Atkinson has a great blog called “Cumbrian Sky“.  Cockermouth Astronomical Society  is very active and runs some great skywatching events.  Very occasionally, we get to see the Northern lights from Cockermouth, and recent bursts of activity from the sun make this more likely at the moment.  If you want to rate your chances, Lancaster University provides an aurora watch.

And if you want to know what is visible in the night sky above Low Hall self catering cottage, in the beautiful English Lake District, right now, click here.

The moon at Low Hall

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Spring is just around the corner

After all the wind and rain, the sun has come out today, and here at Low Hall, there are carpets of snowdrops everywhere.  Six mallards rose from the pond as I opened the garden gate, which was a very beautiful sight.  Daffodils are coming up everywhere, and some of the early flowering ones are already in bud.  They look like they will be opening over the next couple of weeks.  The sheep in the neighbouring fields will be lambing soon, so the archetypal Lake District spring is literally on our doorstep. 
Late February and March, through until the end of April are usually the best times to treat yourself to a spring daffodil break at Low Hall, the Lake District self catering country cottage just five minutes drive from William Wordsworths birthplace and childhood home, in the “gem town” of Cockermouth.  Easter is usually gorgeous (and sells out), but around Easter is quieter, and you can still enjoy the  lambs frolicking in the fields, the mountains and lakes, the daffodils, and the sense of new life emerging everywhere.   Amongst the wide range of books in the cottage for your enjoyment are poetry books, including Wordsworth.  Many are familiar with the first lines of  his poem “Daffodils”

“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.”

 This is your chance to  attempt to memorise some of the lesser known verses if you are so moved.

“Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”

There are plenty of alternatives to memorising poetry.  I was in Schills of Station Street yesterday, which is running  monthly “in shop” wine tastings.  Prince Charles visited the town last week, to admire the recovery of local businesses following the devastating fllods of November 2009.  Almost all the businesses are back, and the town looks very beautiful, with all the old Georgian shop fronts.  He also visited a red squirrel conservation project, at Hutton in the Forest, near Penrith.  We usually have two or three red squirrels at Low Hall, and we have put up squirrel feeders to encourage more.  All our squirrels are of high enough IQ to ignore the special squirrel food in the squirrel feeders and go for the nuts and seeds in the squirrel proof bird feeders instead.  The squirrels pantry tearoom, at Oakhurst Garden centre, a few minutes drive away can provide additional information (it also does very good home baked bread, made in a flowerpot, and usually has an open fire in the cooler weather to cosy up to). 

Our other wildlife is similarly feisty and characterful.  The wild bees resolutely ignored the hand made wild bee house we were given two Christmases ago, preferring a hole in the wall.  The Lady birds have turned up their spots at the Ladybird house, despite a very cute lady bird painted on it, and me smearing it with copious quantities of Lady bird attractant.  For some reason, they prefer to crawl over natural foliage instead.  The doves fly straight over the dovecote to nest in various nearby trees. 

A few nights ago, a barn owl flew across, right in front of the car, as we were turning into the drive.  Awesome.

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Keswick Jazz Festival

Jennings and Jazz combine at the Keswick Jazz Festival, which hosts 124 jazz events this year, in 16 different venues, providing a mecca for jazz musicians and enthusiasts from all over the world.  Music and mountains are an idyllic combination.. The festival runs from 9-13 May 2011, and there is even a “jazz bus” to transport you around the venues.

May and June are often good times of the year for weather at Low Hall Cottage .  The carpets of bluebells open in the woods, and you can sit outside eating your supper, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to a different kind of music, from the birds and the sound of the stream.  The cottage garden is beautiful this time of year.

If you want to venture further afield, borrow the picnic equipment we provide, drive out to the “Hidden Valley” of Rannerdale,  and walk up to see the legendary Rannerdale Bluebells.  You can find the location here.  They are at their best in May and early June.

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