The Charterhouse

I was lucky enough to go on a visit to the Charterhouse last week. It was our annual staff training day – we tend to go to interesting and/or historical lumps of architecture, and this was a wonderful place to explore.

The Charterhouse opened to the public in January 2017, but its history goes back to the 14th century. The story is diverse and fascinating, and the fabric of the buildings themselves is very special. It’s a cliche, but it walking around the place absolutely feels like stepping back in time. If you can visit, I highly recommend taking a tour as the guide we had was knowledgeable and very engaging. We had a wonderful day.


Flashbacks: Croatia summer 2015

I cannot believe it will have been two years since M and I visited Croatia at the end of July.

I’ve been enjoying Luke Bather’s recent Instagram posts of some (film) shots he took on a recent trip to Croatia – he captures elements of the light and the building materials in a way that makes it feel like just yesterday that we visited. But it’s basically two years ago now, and that makes me long to visit again.

Some brief highlights below, and the whole album is on Flickr.

Postcards from the Lake District: a recap


Over the past fortnight I’ve been sending some postcards from a recent trip to the Lake District. If you’ve already seen some of them, I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. In case you missed any of the posts, they’re collected below, along with some photographs from the trip.

The full set of photographs can be seen here.

Thanks for looking. Meanwhile, I’m off to Cornwall for a few days…

Postcards from the Lake District: Dacre


Having found my little excursion to Barton to be a great success, I was confident that another side trip to Dacre would be worthwhile.

My main route back to Penrith was along a direct road to the north-east, pointing like a finger from Ullswater’s northern end. The turn-off for Barton had been to the east, with the Dacre leg to the west. The contour lines on the map around Dacre were slightly off-putting, but by now I’d decided that any side-trip was both manageable and worthwhile, especially with time to spare.

As with the jaunt to Barton, as soon as I turned off the main road towards Dacre, all was quiet and remote. I passed a sleepy farmhouse or two, but little else until I found myself looking down a rather steep hill. I paused at this point, with the incline giving me only one initial concern: coming back up the same way. But by now I was committed to Dacre, and I knew I’d regret not paying the village a visit. With that, I set off again, determined to enjoy the whizz downhill despite the sting in its tail.

The bottom of the hill brought me to a modest, attractive stone-built bridge which took the road curving over Dacre Beck. Once over the bridge, it was a short spin up a slight incline to Dacre itself. I pressed on, looking around the various cottages and other buildings until I found my destination: the tower of St Andrew’s Church.

I parked up my bicycle near the gate, and entered the churchyard to have a closer look. It’s a pretty church, dating back to the 12th century, set in a churchyard on multiple levels which hug the natural contours. Sheep graze in adjacent fields and, as usual, I seemed to have the place to myself.

While the church was rather attractive, it was a little unremarkable, so having given the building a circuit, I was heading back to my bike when I glanced back to take a photograph. As I lifted the viewfinder to my eye, I was startled by the sudden sound of the bells striking one o’clock. Even more startled as the clock on the tower said it was only five to…


Having snapped the church, I made for the gate again. This time I noticed that perhaps I wasn’t alone after all. Besides a couple of squirrels I’d seen scampering about, I noticed one or two stone columns, each one about the height of a child, looking very old and weather-worn. I didn’t know what to make of them at the time, but I could discern that they were some sort of crude animal.

Much later I read about these figures: they are the infamous ‘Dacre bears’ – or possibly lions – which stand, the four of them, at each corner of the original churchyard. They’re thought to be medieval, are of red sandstone, and are Grade II listed – but that’s about all that is known of them for sure.

As I left the churchyard, it turned out that the bears were not the only treat Dacre had hidden in plain sight. I sat for a minute on a bench marking the coronation of the Queen under a large tree. Studying the map, I noticed the word castle, in the Ordnance Survey’s own stylised font.

As usual, this was enough to pique my interest, so I scoffed some flapjack and headed off to look for it. I started down a farm track which specified no cycling. I got off and pushed, deciding I’d give it a minute or two to see if this castle materialised before turning back.

I soon encountered a ewe with two lambs sat lazily in the middle of the track. I edged closer and allowed them to get up slowly and saunter over to a patch of shade. To my right, suddenly, was a very large building. Dacre Castle! At 2-3 storeys high and roughly cubic in shape, it’s admittedly not the vast size one would expect from a castle, but it has all the box-ticking features: (empty) moat; towers/turrets; crenellations.

In checking my terminology, I stumbled upon something that sounds rather like a steampunk James Bond that I’d never heard of before:



Dacre Castle is now a private home so, short of taking too many photographs of someone’s house, I was happy enough to have merely found the thing after seeing it on a map. I’d have easily missed it. Satisfied, I pushed off, back through Dacre, down the road to the old bridge, and back up the steep hill I’d whizzed down earlier.

This, of course, brought my bicycle and I back onto the main road for Penrith, and I was left with fewer and fewer options for procrastinating and prolonging the end of my journey home.

The country house of Dalemain stood alongside the road, but I’d seemingly chosen the only day/afternoon/hour of the week that it’s closed to shoot past. Unfortunately-named Stainton had only an alpaca centre(!) to distract me, but I was able to resist its charms.

I paused by the village hall at the only bench I could find to stop and catch up on my journal. From there it was just a brief zip under the dual carriageway which had irked me on my way out of Penrith earlier in the week, and then I suddenly found myself on familiar roads, meaning I was just a mile or so from my destination.

As I got settled under the awning of Penrith station and opened up my Guardian, I heard the first few drops of rain falling – the showers that had been threatening my ride ever since Barton. I’d managed to avoid them all morning, and now all I had to do was sit and wait for my train home, my mind filled with memories of a lovely few days exploring the Lakes.

Postcards from the Lake District: St Michael’s Church, Barton


Knowing I’d be making the return journey to Penrith, I wanted to come back via an alternative route – as much to vary the scenery as to try and stay on as level ground as possible.

My route from Penrith to Glenridding had taken me via a dual carriageway and down, then up, a valley. I wanted to avoid the dual carriageway on the way back, and I studied the contour lines on the map a little more closely this time too.

I found that I could follow Ullswater to Pooley Bridge, then zip up a pretty direct road towards Penrith, taking a little excursion under the dual carriageway at Stainton, then back the way I’d come before. I also knew that I had something like five hours to kill this time, so I wanted to find some places to visit along the way. There’s nothing worse than the last day of your holiday simply turning into the journey home. Why not steal another half day’s exploring?


Having checked the map for possible places to stop off, I noticed little Barton, above. How could I resist tracking down this tiny settlement with its own church? Lately I’ve discovered I have a bit of a thing for old churches in little villages. I like to locate them on a map, cycle to them, and take photographs of them. And here was the perfect opportunity for me to go and find another.

I left Glenridding and followed the lakeside route along the length of Ullswater, and made good progress. Although I was repeating some of my route from the previous days, I was doing it this time with fully loaded pannier bags, so progress was slower, but still smooth. It helped that I knew when to expect the low rises in the road surface, and how long I had between them.

Having reached the head of the lake, I took a right-hand fork through Pooley Bridge, which seemed like a pretty little place to stop. A small village centre with more than its fair share of cafes and other places to refresh oneself. I also noticed it was very popular with cyclists – some whizzing through to other destinations, others pulling in for a bit of cake.

My destination was just beyond Pooley Bridge, but I still stopped for an hour or so to update my journal before pushing on towards Barton. It wasn’t long before I realised what a brilliant decision this excursion had been. The roads were quiet, mostly flat, and the scenery was just lovely. Farms scattered around, and the odd pretty little house just off the road.

I was even more impressed when I found the turn-off to the church. Slightly cheapened by a modern sign proclaiming the building’s 12th century history, but the view down the lane was of a sturdy, low building of dark stone set amid a copse of trees not yet fully in leaf. St Michael’s Church stood alone in this sparsely-populated landscape, the trees having formed a ring around it as if in defence of something quite special.

Riding down the lane, the wind had dropped and I was very much alone – save for two beautiful horses loitering mischievously in the field that bounded the road. I nodded a greeting their way.

I parked up, leaning my bike against the stone wall of the churchyard. I had the place to myself, and I felt a bit of a thrill that the intriguing-looking feature on the map, above, had transpired to be just as idyllic in real life as I’d hoped.

Passing through the ornate lychgate, I enjoyed the cold weight of the heavy, iron gate latch in my hands. The churchyard was just perfect, and the church itself sat low, almost modestly, among the stone memorials. I spent some time wandering around the yard, observing the building from various angles, before heading back towards my bike.The sky was clouding over, and a breeze picking up, but the visit had been well worth it.

Something clicked in my head as I rode away from St Michael’s – this excursion had confirmed for me the value in scanning the map for interesting features and landmarks and setting out to find them. I’d long since known this, of course. But there was something so pure and unsullied about this particular experience that really cemented the worth in doing such a thing.

I left Barton – I hadn’t actually even seen Barton, if indeed there is a Barton beyond the church – and rode back towards Pooley Bridge. I had time on my side, and although my ultimate destination was the railway station at Penrith, I had one final stop to make on my way back…