Tag: Lake District

A taste of spring in Cumbria’s Lyth Valley


* It’s Damson Day this weekend. The annual festival takes place at Low Farm in the Lyth Valley this Saturday. I can’t make it this year but I can offer a story from a previous trip – first published in the Independent.

Spring has come to Cumbria’s Lythe Valley. The rural enclave between Kendal and Windermere is transformed for a fortnight each year by an explosion of snow-white damson blossom.

I’ve timed my visit perfectly. In a field outside the village of Crosthwaite on a crisp spring morning, the blossom cascades around me the first flakes of winter. Daffodils and primroses add splashes of colour. Beyond the farm lies Underbarrow, verdant and alive, while Kentmere sports a heavy frost on the tops of its fells.

“It’s like a snowstorm,” says John Holmes, Vice Chairman of the Westmorland Damson Association. “Short lived, but glorious.”

Local folklore suggests either the Romans first brought damsons to the valley from Damascus in 200AD, or monks coming to establish Furness Abbey from Ireland in 12th century.

Either way, the hardy, plum-like fruit took to the tough conditions of the Lakeland fells and the first ever records of damsons sold at Kendal market date from 1780.

Today some 100 acres of the valley are under orchard, producing 20 tones of damsons each year during the September harvest. Westmorland damsons have, say locals, a distinct, nuttier flavour.

The damson orchards fell into decline after the Second World War, but the Westmorland Damson Association revived traditional cultivation in 1996, establishing the Damson Day festival soon after.

The annual event is, I find, part community fair, part country show. At the festival showground at Low Farm I peruse the damson-inspired goodies from local producers, chutneys, beers and even gin, before following a damson walk through the orchards.

Later that evening at Crosthwaite’s Punch Bowl Inn (pictured above), I tuck into a damson-themed dinner of slow-roast pork with black pudding and damson puree, followed by a damson soufflé, washed down with a damson gin.

“I like the tartness and the versatility of the damson for cooking,” says Head Chef Scott Fairweather, recently voted Cumbria Young Chef of the Year. “They’re ideal for pork and game, plus preserving as jams and chutneys.”

I knew nothing about damsons until my stay in the Lythe Valley. But, from this day on, I will always think of damsons as the true taste of spring.

David Atkinson is the author of Cumbria with Kids


Westmorland Damson Association

Punch Bowl Inn

Cumbria Tourism

On the trail of the Romantics in Cumbria


I was back in Cumbria last week. It’s always a pleasure to return to the region I got to know so well during research for my Footprint guide.

It was early spring and, on the banks of Ullswater, the first daffodils were starting to bloom.

A man goes all gooey over daffs in the North Lakes, especially when the assignment is about the Lake Poets who started the Romantic movement.

Cumbria Tourism offered this suggestion of verse to inspire my journey:

I heard a thousand blended notes,

While in a grove I sate reclined,

In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts

Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link

The human soul that through me ran;

And much it grieved my heart to think

What man has made of man – Lines Written in Early Spring by William Wordsworth

The lives of the poets – Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey – converge at Greta Hall (pictured above) near Keswick, where I spent the night reading Romantic poetry in a carved Chinese opium bed.

I also spend some time just walking around Ullswater to soak up the ambiance that inspired the famous eulogy to daffodils first published in 1804.

The walk took me up towards Aria Force, the waterfall on National Trust land. Watch some video from Aria Force here.

I was writing for the iPad travel magazine, TVRL; the story is due out shortly – check back here for updates.


Go Lakes

Greta Hall

Story of the day: Family holidays in the Lake District

02-Central-Maya, Derwentwater

A heart-warming tale of father-daughter bonding to end the week.

I spent a lot of time around the Lakes a few years back while researching my Footprint guide and I took my little girl along on some of those research trips – well, it was a family travel guide.

I’m due back in the Lakes in a couple of weeks to research a long-form journalism piece on the theme of the Romantics, but more of that shortly.

Meanwhile, here’s an extract from this story in the Independent:

There’s another reason to love the Lakes – its capacity for reinvention.

On my return I found it both reassuringly familiar and exotically different to the place I knew as a seven-year-old schoolboy.

Maybe that’s the key to its enduring success. The Lake District moves with the times, winning over new generations each year, yet the natural beauty of the landscape remains drop-your-ice-cream spectacular.

Read the full story, A Trip Back in Time.

What’s your favourite memory of the Lake District?

Post your comments below.