15 November 2013

Rebuilding a piece of history

Dry stone walls fall down all the time. They can be knocked by livestock or falling trees, disturbed by moving vehicles or damaged by people leaning on them. These structures are often hundreds of years old; standing through many historical events and witnessing the lives of people we find inspirational today. When these walls fall down, it often falls to the rangers to get them built back up again so they can continue to serve their original purpose as boundaries, to maintain the iconic image of the Lake District and to keep this traditional skill alive.

So it was with great excitement when the call came through to say a wall in Beatrix Potter’s back garden had come down and we were the team to be given the honour of rebuilding it. How often do you get called in to repair the scenery that appears in such a renowned children’s book?

From The Tale of Tom Kitten by Beatrix Potter (Frederick Warne and Co, 1907). You can just about see the wall we were to rebuild heading up the lane in front of Jemima Puddleduck. In a later photo you can see the lane as it looks today.
It turned out the job was going to take longer than expected, once we took down the wall to a structurally sound level the gap was almost 4 metres wide from an original gap of maybe 1 metre. This wall has probably stood since Beatrix Potter lived in Castle Cottage, if not before, only now succumbing to many years of people leaning on the wall to take photos of the home that she shared with William Heelis after their marriage.

Adding the last of the cams on top of the completed section. The stretch without all the moss on it is the bit we rebuilt.

This wall in particular fell down mostly through natural wear and tear. It was bowing in odd places, suffering the cumulative damage from hawthorn tree roots, users of the track, weathering and many freezing winters. This wall is also taller than most of the dry stone walls in the South Lakes area. Beatrix was a very private lady. We speculated that she had the walls built so high to allow her to keep her privacy. Beatrix is said to have run out of a fire door she had built at the back of the cottage when she saw someone approaching the house she had no desire to speak to at that time. We were doing our bit to maintain the privacy for the residents living there today.

Although it is hard to see, you can just about make out the ranger in red working on the wall... helping to keep the lane just like it was in Beatrix Potter's day 
 We spent 3 full days there as a team of 3, rebuilding the wall and chatting to the many visitors to the area on their way for a jaunt up to Moss Eccles Tarn. Many shared with us their stories from their visit to Hill Top and their reasons for visiting the area. Visitors come from all corners of the globe to enjoy the landscape that inspired the stories and work of this inspirational woman. I, for one, felt very proud to be rebuilding this piece of history and maintaining the view for future visitors to the area.