Friday, 30 November 2012

There's money in them there hills!!

If you take the walk from Grasmere village to Alcock Tarn, via Brackenfell Woods, you will notice old metal water pipes laid into the ground.  Likewise, the route from Bowness to Post Knott via Helm Road has seats built into the wall at intervals (see piccy below). And at the far end of the walk around Stock Ghyll Park in Ambleside, there is an old turnstile leading from the park, back on to the road.

Like the old milestones that can still be seen on country roads or the ornate water fountains that decorate the kerb sides of some of the region's older villages, these relics are symbols of a bygone age. Placed there for a long forgotten purpose, they lie unused. Put simply, once they had outgrown their purpose, no one bothered to take them away again.

In the case of milestones and water fountains their original use is obvious. But why water pipes in Brackenfell Woods? There are no houses up there, nothing needing to be plumbed in. And what of the turnstiles at Stock Ghyll Park? Or the seats on the path to Post Knott? And why is there an old abandoned station, in the woods close to Windermere ferry? The answer has much to do with the entrepreneurial spirit of the Victorians, and their ingenuity in stage managing nature in order to turn a profit.

In the mid 19th Century the railways came to the Lake District. The region already had a fledgling tourism industry, but with the new transport link came  mass tourism, and at first the sudden influx of  visitors took the locals by surprise. For the best part of fifty years the tourism industry had evolved slowly. Fishermen had become pleasure boat operators, albeit on a one to one basis. Before the arrival of the railway it was possible to hire a rowing boat and guide for the day. The guide was a local man, and he did all the rowing whilst imparting a certain amount of folk lore to his charges, who were no doubt as entertained by his stories as they were with the scenery. That was fine when the flow of tourists was but a trickle, but when the railway arrived and the region suddenly became flooded with day trippers the locals realised that to cash in they needed to think big.

The problem was that tourist attractions as we know them today simply didn't exist. Apart from the ale houses and coffee shops of the towns, the only real attraction for people to see was the scenery, and that was free. This situation did not last for long. The entrepreneurial spirit of the local population rose to the surface, and they began to think of new ways of showing visitors the scenery, and making a lot of money in the process.

In Windermere, or rather on Windermere, pleasure boats were built and launched, and there was plenty of skulduggery afoot as rival operators fought to entice visitors onto their new paddle steamers for the cruise down the lake. Consequently, it was not long before Bowness had a new, unplanned, attraction on it's shore line - the burned out hull of one of the boats.

Meanwhile, over at Grasmere, a different and considerably less cut-throat approach was being taken. Rather than finding a way of charging people to merely look at the scenery, the idea was to create a whole new scenic wonderland, complete with streams, waterfalls, and a small tarn. There was a pathway around the site, with viewpoints at intervals so that paying customers would feel that they were getting value for money by being able to see Grasmere neatly framed between the trees. That scenic wonderland was Brackenfell Woods, and if you walk up through the woods today you'll notice how nice and wide the path is. Wide enough for a horse and carriage, in fact.

The thing about the Victorians was that they were not content with just charging a flat entrance fee. As with other Victorian institutions, such as the railways and the theatre, you could pay the standard fare, or you could enjoy a bit of luxury by paying a premium. This was not simply a way for the attraction operator to make a bit of extra money. It reflected the class laden attitudes of Victorian society. Social status determined whether you travelled first class, in the warm and dry, or third class, outside in all weathers. So whilst the working classes paid sixpence to walk around the woods, the wealthy paid twice that and enjoyed a carriage ride up to the small, artificial tarn that not only provided a pleasing view of Loughrigg, all neatly framed between well positioned trees, but also doubled as a header tank for the system of artificial streams that ran through the woods.

The path up to Post Knott in Bowness was also built with the carriage rider in mind, as were the seats set into the walls. The modern visitor may be forgiven for thinking that these seats were provided for those walking up the slope to stop and rest before they got to the top, which just shows how wrong modern visitors can be. The seats were for those riding in the carriages. They were positioned at intervals and the carriage would stop on the ascent for the passengers to get out so that they could sit on the seats to enjoy the views. Clearly they were not expected to do anything so common as turn their heads to look out of the window!

Throughout the region there are relics of Victorian ingenuity. Claife Station, on the shores of Windermere, has never seen a train. It commanded fine views over Windermere, and still does, as the above  picture of the Windermere Lake Cruises "steamer" shows. That picture was taken from one of windows, not in Victorian times, but in 2005.  Claife Station was built by the owners of the Ferry Hotel as a luxury viewing station. It had coloured windows to reflect the seasons of the year, and even had a kitchen and dining room. It was possibly one of the region's first wedding venues, and certainly a profitable venture for it's owners.

Stock Ghyll Park in Ambleside had turnstiles for those entering the park to pay at, and also turnstiles at the exit. Since the exit was closer to the waterfalls, which was the park's star attraction, those turnstiles were designed to stop people entering. They only turned one way, in order to let people out. Once out they had to pay to get back in again.

These are just a few of the relics of the Victorian tourism industry that can be seen around the region. Each has a tale to tell of the inventiveness and ingenuity of the pioneers of the Lake District tourism industry.

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