Living in the Lake District you do quite often get slightly fed up with the weather. Ok we all say “well you wouldn’t have the lakes if you didn’t have the rain” but sometimes it would be nice to wake up, pull back the curtains and see the sun shining!.
Grasmere Rushbearing is one such day. So much work goes into the preparation for this traditional Lakeland event that it’s fingers crossed all round for fine weather.
So guess what ? yet again this year it was raining. For the past few days the little tractor had been chugging backwards and forwards to the church full of rushes from the lake side. Everyone carried on getting ready, with more than a few glimpses towards the sky.
Then as so often happens, right at the last minute, the skies cleared.
There were still a few spectators balancing umbrellas but there was nothing like the torrential downpour that had started the day.
The great thing about Rushbearing is that everyone takes part. Taffy Thomas who is the current Storyteller Laureate had just finished doing an event in the storytellers garden and was watching the procession while clutching that other Grasmere tradition Grasmere gingerbread!
With being a busy tourist village, during the summer months it’s a case of heads down and on with work, but on this day we all come out and celebrate. Being in the tourist industry we tend to do a reverse hibernation. Don’t see anyone in the summer as so busy working, then come winter we all appear and have time to catch up.
One new adidtion to Rushbearing was spotted in the National Trust Information Centre. They have produced a greetings card and postcard of the Rushbearing painting by Frank Bramley RA which although purchased by public subscription by the villagers of Grasmere is in the care of National Trust.
Frank Bramley married Katherine Graham from Huntingstile Grasmere in 1891, hence his link with the village. He was a member of the Newlyn School of Artists. Newlyn was a small fishing village in Cornwall where the light was considered particularly good for painting outdoors. He started the Rushbearing painting in about 1900 and it took him four years to complete. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1905. The painting is seldom seen, however I do hear that there may be plans to let the public view it during next year’s Rushbearing.
The Rushbearing procession winds it’s way round the village with a brief stop at Moss Parrock before heading back to St. Oswald’s Church. I don’t think many people realise just how heavy some of these bearings can be.
It is great to see such an ancient tradition being celebrated each year and to see the younger children enjoying themselves as much as their parents and grandparents did in the past. For more information about the history of Rushbearing please see the post I did earlier in this blog.
A busy day, but still a beautiful evening despite light fading fast. Ok it’s a bit of a cheat but a quick drive up Red Bank road from Grasmere towards Elterwater takes you to a very conveniently placed pull in just before High Close YHA.
From there it’s just a quick walk across Loughrigg Fell to get some great views of Grasmere. Sometimes it’s nice just to get out for half an hour of fresh air.
The sun was setting and some of the Vale of Grasmere was already in darkness, other bits of the fell highlighted by the last rays of the sun. As I was walking along I was reminded of a couple I met who had been visiting during the Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001. The village was more or less deserted, no one was travelling to the countryside, and if they were then the fells were out of bounds.
I had asked them how they were enjoying their holiday, expecting the usual complaint about not being able to go out walking. To my surprise they said they were having the best time ever!. When I spoke to them further they said that every time they visited the Lake District they felt guilty if they didn’t go out walking every day. On this visit they couldn’t so were having a lovely time just pottering about the villages, stopping for a cup of tea and taking in the views around them.
In a way it’s a bit like that when you live here. You feel you really should get out in the evening and make the most of the day. It took me a long time to realise that you don’t have to plan a major expedition to make the most of where you live. There is nothing wrong with “cheating” a bit and driving somewhere and just having a short walk.
Taking half an hour out just to sit with a flask of coffee and watch the sun go down is good for the soul. Major walks can wait for another day.
We live in a beautiful part of the country, the main thing is to appreciate it!
One of the highlights of the Grasmere calendar is the world famous Grasmere Sports.
Set in a natural amphitheatre the surroundings for Grasmere sports are awe inspiring and the fells provide an ideal setting for fell racing and hound trails.
Earliest photos of the sports are by William Baldry who was also the village schoolmaster. He became the official photographer for the sports committee in 1872 and remained so for 20years. This is all the more amazing when you realise the first known photograph of the Lake District was taken by a customs officer, John Marsden in 1852 only 20 years before.
Apart from records of horse racing in the early 17th Century first records of sports in Grasmere occur in 1852. These took place on the Moss. Next records are 1865 where in conjunction with the annual sheep fair they were held on Hudson’s Field which is near the Wordsworth Hotel (formerly the Rothay Hotel). The sports then moved to Pavement End to a field still known as “the old sports field”. Next Broadgate meadow was used and finally in 1919 the “shed field” which is the current home of the sports was used for the first time.
The arrival of “Lordy” the late Earl of Lonsdale, a great sportsman and keen wrestler was a real spectacle. The Earl’s house party would travel from Lowther Estate in a fleet of bright yellow and black Rolls Royce across to Ullswater, over Kirkstone Pass and on to the sports field parking near the grandstand. It was a great social occasion as well as a sporting event. Nowadays it is not just Westmorland folk who come to enjoy the event but people from all over the world, some to watch, some to compete.
Grasmere folk optimistically say the weather is “allus fine for sports” however come rain or shine it still carries on.
The highlight of Grasmere Sports has to be the Senior Guide Race. This is an event that has to be seen to be believed. From the sports field across the road, up Brackenfell to the summit of Butter Crags and back down in 12mins. 21.6 seconds. No wonder Joss Naylor tried to urge the organisers of the 2012 Olympics to include it. When the first runner appears back in the field the band play “Hail the conquering hero”, well deserved.
The Guide race was first introduced in 1868. The current record was set by Fred Reeves in 1978 and Rob Jebb came very close in 2008 missing it by 10 seconds. The atmosphere in the sports field was electric. Anyone who beats the record will get £500 pounds from Pete Bland but so far his money is safe.
One can only have total respect for these athletes. I have never been able to make my mind up whether it is best to watch from the field where a swarm of little ants thunder up the fell, or at the top to cheer everyone on.
Another popular event is the Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling. From time immemorial Grasmere lads had “wrestling bouts” annually after the Rushbearing.
To start the competitors must “tek hod” by linking their fingers together behind the back of their opponent. The match is decided by the best of three falls.
In former times the winners were awarded leather belts which were greatly prized possessions. Now the prizes are cups and cash payments. One condition of entry as a wrestler is the correct “fit-up” – “a plush seat-piece” and a white vest. Some of the costumes are highly embroidered and one of the most amusing things are seeing the judges inspecting embroidered bottoms to award the prize for neatest costume!.
More recently called Grasmere Sports and Show to appeal to a wider audience, the sporting events will always be at the heart of it.This year children’s races for 5-10year olds are being re-introduced after a lapse of nearly 10 years and the organisers are always looking for something new to thrill the crowds with. Mountain Biking was introduced in 1995 and is a popular event. Hound Trails, Dog shows, Paragliding, have all been seen at the show. This year there is to be (weather permitting) a display by the RAF Falcon’s Team and Mountain Rescue demonstration with a Sea King Helicopter. Stalls with all manner of goods, Craft tents, Grasmere Sports has it all. And of course you can get a hand stamp and leave the field anytime to explore Grasmere Village.
My father in law is now well into his 90’s however he was telling me the other day about travelling to Grasmere Sports from Barrow in Furness when he was a toddler. It is his earliest memory, he describes travelling in a pearly white coach with a canvas roof. It had been raining heavily and with a childs curiousity he poked the roof and water flooded over the sides soaking everyone!. And yes he will be visiting the show again this year, probably one of the few who can remember seeing so many.
Grasmere Sports 2011 will be on Sunday 28th August
I had never heard of Rushbearing until I moved to the Ambleside area many years ago. My first introduction was when my son was young and I was informed that it was traditional to take part in the rushbearing parade with a decorated pram, oh and the best place to collect rushes very early in the morning was at Waterhead on the shores of Windermere Lake. It was a sharp but enjoyable learning curve, and my introduction to a very historic tradition.
Ambleside and Grasmere Rushbearing vary slightly but the general concept has remained the same for many centuries. It is a relic from the days when churches and other buildings had earthen floors. Rushes were collected from beside the lake and strewn on the floor for cleanliness and warmth. The custom is no longer needed as Grasmere church has now had a flagged floor since 1841, but has been preserved as a village festival. It is the one thing that all villagers take part in from the youngest to the oldest.
Even the teenagers take part with pride. It may be the allure of Rushbearing sports and Gingerbread afterwards but even the boys hold the decorated floral bearings high.
The two uses for the reeds and rushes show two different strands in the festival history.Firstly, carrying floral decorations in a procession had it’s origins in either the Roman pageant in honour of the Goddess Flora, or in even older Celtic summer rituals. Secondly the aforementioned more practical reason of carpeting the church floor.
I collect postcards of Grasmere Rushbearing and this one shows how little the ceremony has changed over the years.
While personal bearings tend to be made early in the morning, the larger bearings are a real labour of love and take several days to work on. This year will prove a particular trial as we have had an extremely warm and dry summer. Rushes are easiest to work when they are not so dry and therefore more pliable. The first bearing in the procession is the Gold Cross. This is made from at least 400 blooms.
Other bearings are simply “set off” with flowers. Originally it was taboo to use anything other than wild flowers, but gradually over the years cultivated flowers have appeared. They make the rushbearings look brighter and with so many wild flower species threatened it makes sense.
The procession starts at the village school in Stock Lane and winds it’s way round the village to the village green where there is a short service and singing.
Many of the bearings are traditional emblems that appear year after year. Moses in the bullrushes, St. Oswalds hand, with the message “May this hand never perish”, and the serpent (satan), and hoops, (symbols of eternity). The one I like just says “Peace” and was introduced after the First World War.
A maypole for the younger children to parade with, makes a lovely spectacle. (aren’t policemen getting younger all the time!”.
The thing that makes Grasmere Rushbearing unique are the Rushbearing Maidens. Usually chosen from the older girls in school, six are chosen to carry a hand woven linen sheet, trimmed with rushes, as the focal point of the procession.
After processing round the village, bearers, led by the clergy, choir, rushbearing maidens with their sheet, the banner of St Oswald and the band playing what is known as “Jimmy Dawson’s March” the procession arrives at St Oswald’s church for a short service. Three Rushbearing hymns are sung. “The hymn for St Oswald”, “The hymn for the Rushbearers” and “The hymn for the Rushbearing” by Canon Rawnsley one of the founders of the National Trust.
In Grasmere Village Hall there is a beautiful painting of the Rushbearing by Frank Bramley,R.A. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1913. The painting is in the care of the National Trust and sadly out of sight most of the time behind wooden shutters for security. Every individual in the painting sat for their portrait. Mr Bramley lived at Tongue Ghyll in Grasmere for many years. There is a tablet in his memory in the Church above the belfry door.
Like these people taking photos, hopefully one day, you too might experience this wonderful piece of living history, unique to Grasmere Village. And a final word. Yes some of these bearings are extremely heavy!.
Grasmere Rushbearing is on the 16th July 2011
One of the best things about living in the Lake District is that if you wake up early and it’s a nice day, you can fit in a walk before work.
It is often repeated that there is only one lake in the Lake District, so saying I went for a walk round Grasmere Lake would be wrong. As the name suggests it is a Mere. When the poet Gray visited Grasmere as one of the earliest tourists in 1769 he described it as “One of the sweetest landscapes that art ever attempted to imitate…”
The mist was rising off the water when I arrived and there was not a sound other than the birds and sheep. Even the traffic on the main road hadn’t started yet. Species of birds ever-present on Grasmere include Black Headed Gull, Coot, Mallard, Mute Swan and Canada Geese. Many attempts have been made over the year to cull the Geese around Grasmere and Rydal Water, because they compete with sheep for grazing, but they continue to flourish.
Several spellings of Grasmere can be found through the years. Gressimer,Grysmyre,Gressmere but the probable origin is Grisemere meaning “Lake of swine” . One of the early uses of the forest was the herding and pannage of pigs. Hard to believe such a stunning setting could be named after pigs!.
I had approached the weir from “Penny Rock” a sharp corner on the road which opens out into a view the length of the lake, on the road from Ambleside to Grasmere. The turnpike road through Grasmere was made about 1770 although the road by Penny rock was not made until 1831. Having to blast through the rocks at this point was so expensive that it added a penny on to the rates, hence the name Penny rock.
The hillside at the moment is tinged blue with all the bluebells, a wonderful sight.
The reflections on the lake were beautiful this morning, I just missed a heron flying past in this shot, will have to be quicker off the mark in future.
Some facts about Grasmere Lake. The lake is 1540 metres long, 640 metres wide and at it’s deepest 21 metres.
The view above is looking in the direction of Deerbolts Wood and Silver Howe. Roe deer as the name suggests frequent the area. When they see you they head off up the fellside in leaps and bounds revealing their pale rump patches.
Time was marching on, so work was calling, but what a lovely start to the day. Priceless.