Drawing 54: Blencathra from St. John’s Vale

Direction of view: N                      

Notes: This view needs to be taken in the morning, or the foreground will be in shadow.  From St John’s in the Vale church, take the Sosgill Bridge footpath, then ascend the fellside on the right to find the viewpoint.

This scene also appears in Lakeland Mountain Drawings (58), and on page 147 of Memoirs of a Fellwanderer.  The latter is a copy of the sketch; the former, as usual, is a new drawing.  Interestingly, the prominent tree on the left is taller, and proportionately slimmer and more gaunt in the mountain drawing than in the sketch.

Comments: I first took this picture on slide film in 1978, probably on 25th August, after an ascent of Brae Fell with Peter Messenger: see Drawing 30.  A second visit was made on 28th September 1980, also with Peter, on a day of beautiful blue sky and sunshine, when we climbed High Rigg after securing this sketch, and also 222 of St John’s Vale.

This location was on the first foray of my project to take digital images of the sketches, which began in 2012.  With lovely weather, I thought I would get out for a walk on 14th January 2012, and renew my skills of hunting down AW’s viewpoints, as well as visiting a few places I haven’t been to for a while.  What follows is a brief essay on the fascinations and frustrations of the game….

I parked near Thirlmere dam (not in the £7 for 4+ hours car park, which was empty, but in the free parking 50 yards down the road, which was nearly full!), and set off north across Shoulthwaite Moss, on paths I’d never walked before.  Crossing the Naddle valley, a lovely bridleway with glorious views to Skiddaw led me to the foot of Brown Beck.  Never been up there before either, and there’s not much to it in truth, but a nice little waterfall in a mini ravine at the top.  Then a hands in pockets stroll across to the cairn on High Rigg – first visit for over 10 years.

Proceeding in a north-easterly direction, as the Police would say, I found myself looking down on a wonderful view of Bridge Farm, backed by Blencathra.  This is clearly the farm in Wainwright’s drawing 54, and the view just looked great.  AW’s viewpoint was clearly much further down the hill; his diagram shows it as near the church.   With the sky cloudless there was no hurry, and I stopped for a coffee and sandwich (ham and marmalade – my favourite!).  Then I descended to St John’s in the Vale church (see sketch 30).

With sketch 30 in the bag, it was time to take that oh-so-perfect version of drawing 54.  A bridleway leads away from the church bound for Sosgill Bridge; that looked promising.  Down I went; Bridge Farm appeared again in more or less the right position, but there was a problem.  Wainwright’s drawing features a very prominent larch tree, but there was none here.  Perhaps it has blown down years ago?  Then round a slight corner, and lo and behold – a solitary larch!  Not only that, but its shape is virtually unchanged from what AW illustrated.  That just feels so satisfying.  Now I have to get it in the right position, so up the fellside a bit.  I got to the right area, and then suddenly realised: the foreground, which was in glorious sun when I first saw it from above, was now in shadow!  The last sunlight was vanishing from the farm buildings as I fumbled with the camera case and got the photo!  For an account of the rest of this day, see Drawing 3.

The photograph from which this sketch was drawn is in the County Archives at Kendal, reference WDAW/4/1/1/2/8.  This is reproduced as image 4 (c) The estate of A. Wainwright.  How did Wainwright draw the detail of Blencathra from such a hazy image?  Perhaps he used a different photo for that?  Elsewhere (cf. Kendal in the Nineteenth Century), AW suggests that a pen and ink drawing may be clearer than a photo in some cases.