Last week I had another away-day when I visited Fountains Abbey near Ripon in North Yorkshire. The Abbey was founded in the 12th century by Cistercian monks. At the height of its power, it owned extensive lands including Borrowdale. Four hundred years after its foundation, it was stripped of its land and powers by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Its subsequent decline left us with the stunning remains that are now a World Heritage site.
The Abbey is a now a National Trust property that is very different from Borrowdale in many ways. What it does share with Borrowdale is the enormous number of people who visit and the on-going project of how to maintain accessibility whilst protecting the site. As usual, for me, there is always something to learn from visiting other places. I must be honest and admit that, although I’m really pleased that the Trust owns places like Fountains Abbey, my heart’s in the mountains. It was great to be back in Borrowdale.
My return was to a very wet Borrowdale! The lakes and rivers here do have an enormous capacity but, at this time of year, we can have days of heavy rain falling on already water-logged ground. The lake level then rises too quickly for the rivers to accommodate the increased discharge and we have some flooding, especially of the paths around the lake shore. Where the flooding will occur depends to some extent on wind direction as it is the waves that do the most damage. So, we’ll be out soon looking for the repairs that need doing.
Fortunately for my regular volunteers, we had a dry job to do. One of the legacies of slate mining in Borrowdale is a cave that was adopted as home in the early 1900s by a remarkable character named Millican Dalton. He had been living and working in London but he gave it all up to spend 50 years developing a sustainable way of living in this cave. The cave is now often used for overnight camping. Some years ago, the Trust had a geo-technical survey carried out in the cave. The recommendation was that we observe a clear-floor policy. If we keep the floor clear of loose stone, we will be able to see if there has been any fall from the roof of the cave. The survey found that the roof is sound but we should still check regularly for any falls. The Trust wants to keep the cave open but needs to know that it is safe to do so. Many campers like to gather stone and arrange it almost like a nest. So, at regular intervals, we need to clear the floor again. And that was a dry job that we could do during some pretty wet weather!