Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (3) – Two Peters…

(Continued from Part two)

Everything was quiet…

Several hours after I began swinging the sledgehammer, there was finally peace from the destruction. I pulled up a wooden box and sat on it, wiping the congealed sweat from my forehead onto my arm.

The Lucky Bag ‘number square’ idea from the last post seems to have caught the imagination, so I’ve updated it, below, to reflect the actual dimensions of the Saltpetre – or ‘Salty Pete’ as we have come to know it.

(Above: The ‘Lucky Bag’ map of the Saltpetre was getting greener. The motorbike and lawnmower normally take up squares 20 and 9, but they were parked on the gravel drive, leaving squares 2 and 15 from which to swing the mighty sledgehammer)

My wooden box/seat was located at 2.

I was sitting, gazing at three mountains of shattered and fragmented red pegboard, broken spars of ancient wood, and the surprisingly intact skeleton of an old wall cupboard. This pile of re-organised carbon took up squares 1, 14 and 11.

Hearing the temporary cessation of the apocalypse, Bernie had taken pity and brought me a large mug of steaming tea. I sipped it gratefully and looked around at the remains of Peter’s Pride…

“Wow,” she said, leaving hastily, before the tall red pile could begin sliding towards her.

(Above: The Wharf just after we bought it, in the spring of 2010. Phone cameras have come a long way, since!)

Peter’s Pride: I had better explain… We bought ‘The Wharf’, as the property is named, in December 2009, during one of the coldest winters on record. On December 23rd, we literally slid along the pavements in Kendal to collect the keys from the seller’s estate agents, keen to, at least, take possession of what would be our new home – once we had thrown our life savings into rebuilding it.

I clearly remember coming back to open our own front door for the first time. The property was a 1960s single storey bungalow with a large plot of land, the plot running along the line of the old Preston-Kendal canal. The canal had been drained in 1958, but the waterway had been unused for decades before that. A man named Peter and his wife had built the house, and brought up their children there. Their son, Richard, still lives in a cottage next door, gifted, by his mother, to him and his wife before, sadly widowed, she moved south to live with her daughter in Cheshire.

The Wharf was left to its own devices, eventually being bought by an ‘investor’ and becoming a rental cottage. It was overgrown, run-down and had a poor bathroom. The place soon got a bad name in the holiday trade market.

On the Sunday when we deliberately got ourselves lost in the car and inched down the tiny lane with the ‘For Sale by Auction’ sign, we found a very dilapidated house on a large and potentially beautiful plot of Lakeland soil, just outside Kendal. The house was behind a huge stockade fence and unoccupied.

As we approached in the car, a man came out of the adjacent cottage, looking a little hostile. We didn’t know him, but it was Peter’s son, Richard. Seeing we were genuinely interested he spent a few minutes telling us the history of the place. He was eager to have someone ‘real’ take over the property that had been so important in his life. Ironically, the house had failed to sell that very weekend. A local builder had been interested but wasn’t prepared to pay the ‘Investor’s’ asking price. For the sake of about ten thousand pounds, the deal had fallen through. Later, we found that the ‘Investor’ had money problems…

(Above: The Wharf in the spring of 2010, just before work began on its partial demolition and re-making)

The run-down ‘Wharf’ had potential, but you had to have a lot of imagination to see what it could become. Bernie and I got back in the car for a chat. After a long discussion lasting six minutes, we decided it was our big chance to have our own ‘Grand Designs’… On the following morning, we made an offer, subject to survey… and waited.

Several weeks later, the deal was done. It was two days before Christmas when we entered our new house. It was freezing – the heating had failed – something it did all the time, according to the holiday lettings company. We made some tea with the supplies we had brought and explored, with that lovely feeling that we finally had a Lakeland home – no matter how much needed doing to it!

We didn’t need to stay, as we still had Bernie’s house in Chorley to go back to. But we wanted to have good look round what would one day be our dream home. As darkness was falling, we managed to reset the boiler before we left, wishing our new home-to-be a happy Christmas.

Just before driving off, I said to Bernie that I wanted to stick my head into the old outbuilding. We had no idea, at that time, of its importance in the village’s industrial history. It wasn’t a listed building; we could have just knocked it down… but something said, “No…. wait and see.”

(Above: The Saltpetre, as it looked in the spring after we bought the plot. A sad and neglected outbuilding with a leaking roof, no driveway and a jammed door!)

The old door was rusted and hanging off. I managed to prise it open and stuck my head in. It looked to be full of rubbish, but when I peered into the gloom, I could see that all the rubbish on the left side of the building was a faded red colour.

There was no power, so I had to switch on my phone light to take another look. As my eyes got used to the gloom, I could see what looked like a string of cubicles made of red pegboard and hung together with an assortment of cast-off timbers. Months later, I was to find out that Peter – the father of the man next door, who had sadly died five years prior, was a keen radio-ham. The ‘cubicles’ were his radio-shacks, and had been connected to a complex arial system. Each of the huts had a specialised function, but they had fallen into disuse a long time ago. Even his son, Richard, had no idea what they did.

(Above: the entire length of the left wall, and the first square around the corner, had been freed up by the destruction of the ‘radio-shacks’. Now we could begin the work of reconstruction and organisation)

At that point none of this was known. I knew that, whatever the red cubicles were, I would one day have to knock them down. Now, ten years later and sitting on my wooden box, sipping tea, I looked with satisfaction at what the necessary destruction had wrought. The entire length of the radio-huts had been reduced to rubble, and there was an emotional feeling that the ghost of the second Peter had been finally ‘freed’ from the place.

There would be a bonfire that evening. The shattered bits of the old radio shacks would burn brightly in the canal basin. Later, in the smoke-kissed morning, I would have the luxury of the entire left wall to begin my ‘organic reorganisation’ of Salty Pete. Even at this stage, I could feel the place beginning to breathe… though it was still laughing at me. “There’s only so much you can do with a hammer, little man,” it seemed to say.

Giant hammers, I mused–thinking of my boyhood love of the Norse tales–are mighty things. But they are not the only tools in the box…

To be continued…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, Part Two, This is Part Three.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (2) – ‘If I had a hammer..’

“If I had a hammer…” The words rang out in my head. Peter, Paul and Mary giving it their all with one of the most memorable protest songs of the 1960’s. Now, I did have a hammer – a rather big one – and I was striding up the garden path towards an unsuspecting ‘Saltpetre’ with a hefty degree of intent…

(Above: Oh, yes, do I have a hammer!)

Bernie’s words rang in my ears… “Well, how about not spending any money at all?” The challenge, designed to inject some humour and purpose into the Covid-19 lockdown period, had been accepted over one too many white wines the previous evening in the amber light of the sunset.

I was about to begin the work… but where to begin?

The problem was one of space… To deal with the jam-packed interior of an old and dank stone building (built in 1820 as a gunpowder store for the canal that used to be half our garden) required working space… and that was precisely the problem: there was no space left, inside. Aside, that is, from the tailored holes that remained when you wheeled out either the lawnmower or my motorcycle.

(Above: The ‘Saltpetre” – a former gunpowder store from 1820, known in those times as an ‘Expense Magazine’. It had seen me fail, before. But this time I had intent…. and a big hammer… A kind of High Noon, but it was ten in the morning)

When it comes to tidying, I have what Bernie calls an ‘organic method’. You would have to study her facial expression when she says this to understand the subtlety of the remark. She will approach a similar task with a mental fork-lift truck, wearing battle fatigues and brandishing a couple of litres of bleach wired to the end of a long mop… But me, I prefer to get close and personal and work around the space I’m in.

I don’t mind getting down and dirty… the dark and dubiously-speckled detritus washing off my body in the shower at the end of such a day is all the testimonial I need that it has, indeed, been well spent.

When it comes to working within a confined space, I’ve developed a nimble and strength-inducing set of arm movements that simulate an octopus. In fact, when armed with one of my favourite drills, I can guarantee that…

But we’ll get to drills later. Drills rule, drills are killer-diller old school tech modernised with freedom-bestowing, long-life batteries.

(Above: the drill, the mighty, finger-lickin’ drill… stay tuned)

Ok, later then… I say (in the now) to the sequence-loving muse on my shoulder as I type. I’m all right now… Back in the story, I unlock Salty Pete, as we have come to know it. Later in the story it will come to have another name, earned in the battle of the drills… Ok, I know, I know…

(Above: Salty Pete leers down at us. “Oh yeah?” it seems to say…)

The newly funded door swings up and in. Don’t let it fool you: what’s inside isn’t related to such efficiency. The dark interior sneers at us. “Oh, yeah,” it seems to say. Clearly, we’ve been here, before. But never with a hammer this big. You’ll note I’ve switched to the present tense. I’m taking you with me… kindly buckle up! Those of delicate sensibilities better leave now, I drawl, nodding at the side door and sounding Welsh rather than Texan. It’s the fault of Tommy Lee Jones, always wanted to be able to do his voice at moments like this… Never works, but you’ve got to keep trying…

(Above: the Saltpetre’s side door. “Last chance to leave,” says Tommy Lee Jones)

The only accessible space is occupied by the lawnmower and the motorbike. So, as two of the most precious objects in here, we wheel them carefully, backwards, to stand on the garden path, where they will be safe from everything but Cumbria’s dubious climate. Later in the project, the supportive neighbour who’s so adept at DIY he’s just fitted a galvanised roof on his shed, confesses that he knew ‘something was up’ when I did this. One object ‘on the lawn’ he could understand; two meant business…

The effect is electric. Even sneering Salty Pete is considering his options. It’s the hammer in the right hand… Great track here (Jackson Browne) about how the ‘hammer shapes the hand’. It’s dark work, but somebody’s got to do it…

(Above: The ‘Lucky Bag’ number square – undoubtedly toxic and one of a nastiest devices ever inflicted on children. Source Pinterest)

Your childhood may well have been later than mine, but one of the little toys we used to be able to get for sixpence was a ‘Lucky Bag’. Apart from dodgy sweets, they sometimes contained a plastic square of numbers or letters that you needed to slide into new positions to make, say, a chosen word or to allow a line to add to a specific total. It was an intensely frustrating experience, because the initial state of the square had only one blank. Play with it in your head and you’ll see the problem.

We’ve just created two squares… Two squares of space makes all the difference in the world. No wonder Salty Pete has fallen silent.

I pick up the huge sledgehammer and brace my legs across both squares. “I’m comin’ for ya!” Tommy Lee Jones says. It’s getting better… at least it’s not Welsh this time.

We swing the mighty hammer. No going back now… The colossal head arcs, neatly, through the old and dusty air… towards a tall target selected in the dying light of the previous day.

They’re not laughing now, as the comedian Bob Monkhouse used to say…

To be continued…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, this is Part Two

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (1)

I am not a tidy person. My wife, Bernie, is much better than I am but even she admits that, as a couple, we have to work at it.

At the bottom of our garden is a large stone building called ‘The Saltpetre’. Built around 1820, this ‘expense magazine’ (and no, I haven’t just made that up) used to house gunpowder awaiting transportation the following morning via the canal that was once next to it. I’ve mentioned it before, but this post is nothing to do with the history of the village… other than the legacy of caring for something that old.

(Above: The ‘Saltpetre” – a former gunpowder store from 1820, known in those times as an ‘Expense Magazine’. Photo taken from what was the canal bed before we wove it into the garden)

The ‘Salty Pete’ as we’ve come to know it, is not a particularly pleasant place to inhabit. The old stone walls are unrendered and it’s cold and draughty in winter. If you wanted a classy man-cave, you wouldn’t start here.

(Above: the old walls are as originally constructed)

The floor still comprises the original cobbles, which are impossible to sweep clean. They are also the reason there isn’t a truly level surface in the whole edifice.

(Above: the Saltpetre’s old cobbled floor from 1820)

My study in the house is much more hospitable… but you can’t drill, saw and sing Meatloaf to yourself in a study. And, somewhere in the old ‘shed’ near the back wall, was a set of power tools my father bought me for assorted birthdays and Christmases… He used to sell them in what had been a converted fruit and veg shop, driven out of business by Morrison’s supermarket opening across the road. So there was some buried sentimental treasure in the dark stone interior of the Saltpetre… which may feature later in our story.

We’ve lived here for 10 years, and each year another layer of our stuff has been pushed into this cavernous storage space. I did have the decency to fund a new roof and door, and at the same time took advantage of somebody else’s building skills to have an interior loft installed, thereby increasing the already vast storage capabilities for yet more stuff…

Year on year, as it filled, the task of cleaning it out ballooned in my consciousness, as things do when put off for a decade…

Then came March’s virus lockdown… But that wasn’t an immediate problem, as there was a list of ‘unperformed other jobs’ that were actually much easier – like power washing the flags around the house. That took two days. Then we had the major task of tidying up the study (me) and the next door room (Bernie) that looks out, via a tiny balcony, over the garden, and which we always planned to use for a morning coffee on bright summer days… That took two weeks, but both rooms looked wonderful when we’d finished…. Which had the unfortunate consequence of giving us an appetite for getting things done. Hmmm, dangerous that!

An assortment of sweaty garden jobs in the hot sun followed, but finally, there was nothing left of the list but the Saltpetre. Bernie assured me that I would at least have a true man-cave at the end of the job. I saw through this shallow ploy, of course..

Desperately seeking reasons not to begin, I clutched at “But it will cost a fortune!” She just smiled at me – with that inmate skill that women have – and said, “Well, let’s make it a double challenge: don’t spend any money at all…”

She watched the cogs work… I do like challenges.

The day was ending. We had been successful in our work in the garden and opened a bottle of New Zealand white wine. We sat at the garden table, watching the sun descend behind the ash trees and discussing the feasibility of doing ‘Salty Pete’ at zero cost.

An hour and a bottle later, with Bernie agreeing to lead the charge by sorting out the gardening tools, we agreed that it would be fun to try.

It must have been the wine…

To be continued…

The Joyous Photograph

(Above: the first of four simple photographic techniques for making local walks very special…)

From a photographic perspective, we live in a wonderful age. Even the most humble of today’s mobile phones boasts a decent camera. Used within their limitations, we can achieve an amazing record of our days – even locally to our homes – with the use of a few simple techniques.

My wife and I, plus our cat and dog, are lucky to live in the countryside, just south of Kendal, in Cumbria. Like everyone else we are ‘locked down’ except for buying food and exercising our Collie dog. The emergence of the spring has been a welcome respite, and has enabled a wider choice of photographic opportunities.

In my experience, taking photographs is a deeply therapeutic activity. It gets you out of the house, and makes you focus on something very positive. For the shots I’ve used in this blog my criteria were:

1. To walk only a short distance from home. A typical morning dog walk takes us about two hours and sees us less than two miles away, as we meander and the collie gets lots of ball-chucking.

2. To photograph only objects that are commonplace. The essence of this kind of challenge is to find something special in the ordinary.

3. To use only my mobile phone to take the shots, leaving cameras with more sophisticated lenses at home. Generally this means that the emphasis will be on the close-up shot, but, as we shall see, there can be exceptions.

The opening shot, above, is at the farthest point of our walk. The path along the old canal bank takes a sharp left and dives down into a field with sheep. This removes the middle ground and opens up the perspective available. A few seconds spent exploring the composition through the viewfinder can reveal a pleasing mix of foreground and distant background – in this case, a faded view of the Lakeland hills to the north-west, contrasting with the old limestone and aged wood of the fence.

(Above: Sedgwick House – once a gunpowder mangate’s mansion)

The second image, above, is of Sedgwick House, in the middle of the village. Once the palatial home of a local gunpowder magnate, the gothic-style mansion has seen many roles; including army base and children’s home. Following a recent building conversion, Sedgwick House is now divided into luxury apartments.

I’ve photographed it many times, but today was the first time I’ve seen the light so perfectly balanced between the dappled area beneath the trees and the brighter approach to the building. The two tall trees should have interfered with the shot but, due to their helping frame the light effects, they have actually enhanced it.

(Above: the ‘skewed bridge’ in the centre of the village – this once carried the full weight of the canal across the main road)

The third shot is of the ‘skewed’ aquaduct in the centre of Sedgwick. What is now known as the ‘Lancaster’ canal once ran all the way into Kendal. The canal-carrying bridge was built using advanced stonemason techniques that allowed the shape to be bent. This avoided having to reshape the road into a ‘z’ bend. The photo deliberately emphasises the skewed right arm of the structure, thereby demonstrating its length. The tiny view into the continuing main street is a visual surprise in something so massive and dense.

(Above: the final shot – nature bursts out in the very special hue of spring green)

The final photo is simply a tree bursting with the unique green hue of the spring. It’s impossible not to feel joy in its presence – especially after such a long and muddy winter. Always look for the dappled light at the base of the tree – it’s a joyous as the green on a lovely day like this.

Four simple techniques and sample shots. Anyone can take such photos, and come back home feeling something deliberate and mindful was achieved in the daily exercise walk. In addition, the air is clear and beautiful, given that there is so little traffic on the roads. Get your camera out and take advantage while it lasts… It will give you a record to discuss with your grandchildren, if nothing else!

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Circles around Sedgwick (2 – recovered) – a canal of our own

(Above: our garden, larger than most in the village because its right half was the bed of the Preston-Kendal canal. The large stones forming the boundary between the two were part of the old wharf)

Continued from Part One…

(Note: republished from my Mac laptop as the latest version of WP on the iPhone 11 Pro has crashed itself, repeatedly, and appears to have taken the original post with it… I’ve had to recreate this from a (mercifully) still open window that allowed a cut and past of the whole thing… Apologies to those whose links arrived at nothing!)

We have a somewhat unique connection to the history of our tiny village of Sedgwick, near Kendal and on the edge of the English Lake District. The village of only 350 residents has neither shop, nor pub nor church. But its location, four miles south of Kendal is an ideal basis for Lakeland life and also gives easy access to the M6 motorway – a mere fifteen minutes away.

The village has no shop, no pub, no church and about 350 residents. But it’s a gently attractive place to live…

Our home is one of the few properties which still bear the imprint of the old canal which ran from Preston to Kendal in the early years of the 19th century. Our neighbour, Richard – who has lived here all his life – remembers being allowed to stand on the deck of the maintenance barge as the water was finally drained from this stretch of the canal in 1958. The maintenance boat is buried on our side of the property, some ten feet below the lawn (see photo above) that now abuts the large stones that were the original wharf – the ‘dock’ – for Sedgwick’s interaction with the canal… and the canal, or rather, the reason the canal came here, is what created Sedgwick.

In the sixty years from 1770 to 1830 canals were the height of innovation. They helped fuel the industrial revolution. Each one required an act of parliament for its creation. They, plus the long barges that floated on them, were very important forms of transport, known as ‘navigations’, which gave the name ‘navvies’ to the labourers who dug them out by hand from Britain’s rugged landscapes.

Their reign was brief. Britain’s growing network of railways meant that the slow transport by inland boat was made obsolete within thirty years of the canal’s height of success.

Sedgwick has few claims to fame. One is the former canal; but a far more important reason is how and why the canal ever ran through this tiny place at all…

Let’s tell it as a bit of a mystery – by way of a walking tour and easy reading.

(Above: from the top lawn the extent of the old canal is apparent. As the stones indicate, it was wider here to provide a docking wharf and a turning point for the larger boats returning to Lancaster or Preston (and on to the sea))

We have a large garden. It’s taken us ten years to transform it from the run-down wilderness we inherited when we decided to blow most of our savings designing and having built a home on the edge of the Lake District.

(Above: How the old canal bed looked when we bought it!)

At the end of garden, on the south side, is a stone outbuilding known locally as the ‘Saltpetre’. It’s quite well known in the village and forms a key part of the industrial history of the place. A sign on the canal path about a hundred metres away describes it. It was built in 1830!

(Above: ‘The Saltpetre’ is a large stone outbuilding at the south end of our garden. As its name implies, it played an important role in Sedgwick’s link with the manufacture of gunpowder – its only industry!)

Historic gunpowder (also known as ‘black powder’ to distinguish it from modern smokeless powder) is the earliest known means of creating a chemical explosion. We associate gunpowder with war and aggression, but far more of it is used in mining, quarrying and other peaceful endeavours. The canals, themselves, were created by the use of gunpowder to blast away rocks that would have prevented the straight lines necessary to create the economic route.

Gunpowder was made from a mixture of sulphur, charcoal and potassium nitrate. The latter was known as saltpetre – pronounced ‘salt-peter’. The sulphur and charcoal are fuels for the core ‘burning’ reaction, while the saltpetre injects a literally explosive reaction of rapidly expanding oxygen, catalysing the ordinary burning into something entirely different…

No saltpetre, no bang…

Saltpetre is known, historically, as the ‘white mother of gunpowder’. We will explore its relationship to Sedgwick and the strange naming of our outbuilding in the next post.

(Above: The side view of the Saltpetre, with the steep slope down to what would have been the canal bed)

The interior of our Saltpetre building is still floored in the original limestone ‘cobbles’ once used throughout Cumbria.

(Above: Limestone ‘cobbles’ form the floor of the ‘Saltpetre’)

For now, let’s climb out of the old canal bed, through the gate and up onto the original canal path – still in use as a footpath and right of way. The immediate area is heavy with trees which follow the steep bank down to the adjoining farmland.

About a hundred metres along the canal path we get to the old bridge that is the centre of Sedgwick. The bridge is an aqueduct – designed to carry water over a roadway. Its strength is demonstrated by the fact that it’s still here, and still carries the bed of the long-drained canal through the centre of the village. A special national authority still exists to protect and maintain such structures.

(Above: the steep and irregular stone steps lead down to crossroads which marks the centre of Sedgwick)

The bridge is of the ‘skewed’ type. This allowed the existing track or roadway to operate directly beneath the ‘bending’ stone bridge. Without this design, the road would have needed alteration to become a ‘z’ shape.

(Above: Sedgwick’s Skewed bridge allowed the road to pass directly beneath the aquaduct)

The other side of the skewed bridge allows descent via a pedestrian slope. The village hall is directly ahead at the base of this pedestrian slope.

From here, continuing on the canal path, we walk southwards for a few hundred metres until we come to the edge of the village.

(Above: The old canal path is intact, and provides the basis for many local walks)

Eventually, after another five minutes’ walking, we come to one of our most iconic and mysterious structures: a ‘bridge to nowhere’ that crosses a canal that is no longer there. In this view you can see what happened to the canal along most of its length; it was sold off and filled in to create agricultural fields – as it was with the piece that is now our garden.

(Above: one of the many ‘bridges to nowhere’ as we call them!)

At this point, we can look down the slope to see a very different face of Sedgwick. There, set in its own grounds, is the largest building for miles around. Its present name is Sedgwick House, but originally it was named Wakefield House. ‘Wakefield’ was the family name of a man whose industry was to transform the landscape of Sedgwick; and connect it with the beating heart of the rest of industrial Britain.

(Above: Sedgwick House… but it didn’t start off that way)

(To be continued… )

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Circles around Sedgwick (1)

It’s a Viking word, Sedgwick. It dates from the time when the Lake District was part of the Danelaw, the half of England under the rule of the Norsemen, and means ‘place by the river’. The river in question is the Kent, which flows from Kentmere lake through Kendal on its way to the estuary at nearby Arnside, then out as a major channel into the expanse of Morecambe Bay.

Sedgwick, our home village, lies on the edge of the Lake District. For now, due to the Covid19 crisis, we are, like millions of others, confined to our homes – apart from essential trips out for food, medicines, or to help vulnerable people. Our incarceration is compounded by our choosing to bring my mother – who is ninety and has (moderate) vascular dementia – to live with us for the duration of the ‘lockdown’ period, rather than leaving her alone in the family home town of Bolton, Lancashire.

Three people, two dogs (we have a five-year old Collie and my mother has her aged Pomeranian with her) and an exotic looking cat… It’s a challenging mix.

So… how to (a) stay sane, and, (b) make best use of this enforced grounding?

The lower part of our garden a hollowed-out basin as its used to be a section of the long-defunct Preston-Kendal canal.

Doing the garden is one possibility. We have a large and challenging garden due to half of it being a residual hollow resembling the bed of a canal… which is just what it is. The celebrated Lancaster canal, which connects Preston and Tewitfield, used to extend all the way to Kendal, ferrying coal from the south and gunpowder (amongst other things) back to Preston, and via the docks there, out to sea and the world… Our house is directly on the line of that route and the (long gone) wharf here played an important part in the history of the village.

(Above: the old canal holds many surprises. It will form the starting point for many of the walks to follow, as will the occasional ‘bridge to nowhere’)

More on that, later… Sedgwick is only famous for two things, so it’s nice to be connected with one of them… (and, obliquely, both!)

(Above: The entire village of Sedgwick, set in its classic glacial ‘Basket of Eggs’ topography (technically – Drumlins)

The canal north of Tewitfield was drained of water in the 1950s and our garden is one of many plots that were sold off to the owners of adjacent land. We moved here in 2010 and inherited a sunken wilderness which has taken many years to bring into harmony with the rest of the plot. The far side of the garden rises to the level of the old canal path, which, although our land, is still a public right of way and footpath. When we’re gardening – which is often in the warmer months – we often get walkers stopping to chat. We spent most of our savings transforming the decaying 1960s property and are happy to suspend the garden work and take a few minutes to chat to those passing.

Cumbria is next to Scotland so the weather is similarly chilly and wet. But the verdant green countryside is the result. Currently, the unseasonal north wind is trying to exterminate us with arctic conditions, and mum can only take so much of the cold, though she hates being ‘cooped up in the house’, so gardening is only a partial solution. We used to take her out for drives, but non-essential motoring is now out of the question, so… it’s walking. Despite her age, she still walks a few miles every day at home. It makes sense to carry that on, keeping her healthy and exercising the dogs at the same time.

(Above: Mum at ninety, with Sammy the Pomeranian dog – inseparable companions)

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know I take a lot of photographs. Many of them find their way here, when they are appropriate to the writing. In this time of reduced mobility, I thought it might be fun to describe and illustrate some of the local walks we take.

I’ve called this series ‘Circles around Sedgwick‘ because that’s just what they will be: circular walks from our home that last, typically, 3-4 hours. We take along a flask of tea and a biscuit or two. The cafes are all closed, of course, and those with outdoor tables seem to have stored them away. I can understand the logic (reduced social meetings) but the result is that we usually end up – at the farthest point of the walk – huddled against some stone wall, hiding from the wind and sipping tea.

(Above: The black arrow shows the location of the tiny village of Sedgwick. The dark shaded area to the left of Kendal is the Lake District National Park)

Where is Sedgwick? It’s a small village a twenty minute drive due south of Kendal. Kendal is the major gateway town to the Lake District, though the fast A590/591 dual carriageway re-routed the majority of the traffic past the town and on to Windermere or along the coast to Ulverston and Barrow in Furness. If you were visiting the northern lakes of Ullswater or the popular twin-laked town of Keswick, you’d stay on the northern M6 motorway and exit at the Penrith junction.

We are therefore in what is known as the ‘South Lakes’, and that is what you’ll see on the sign at Junction 36 as you leave the M6. At the moment, you’ll find the A590 looks, unusually, like this:

The mighty A590, which conveys millions of visitors each year to the Lake District – now virtually empty.

Sedgwick is a small village. It has a farm shop, no pubs (the nearest is a thirty-minute walk away), and no cafes. It does have an excellent cricket club, which will serve you a pint on a Friday night, if you’re a member. The nearest church is a twenty-minute walk over the hill to the even smaller hamlet of Crosscrake.

The old canal – what’s left of it – will form the starting point to many of these local walks. We’ll encounter some of its history, and the reason for the presence of the largest house for miles around…

(Above: small village, mysterious mansion…)

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.