Tag Archives: novel
June 19, 2017

A quartet of very different Lake District books

Four special Lake District Books Cumbria

“I’m coming to the Lake District on holiday. What book would you recommend?” Well, that really depends on what kind of book you’re looking for. There are so many Lake District books: traditional guide books, walking books, novels, biographies, photography books, children’s books … Here are four of my favourites.

Lake District Books

I Never Knew that about the Lake District - Christopher WinnI never knew that about the Lake District by Christopher Winn

Did you know that Fletcher Christian, he of Mutiny on the Bounty, was born in Cockermouth? Or that the ‘Yellow Earl‘, past owner of Lowther Castle, was the only man other than Winston Churchill to have a Cuban cigar named after him (the Lonsdale Cigar)? Well, if you read ‘I never knew that about the Lake District‘ you’ll find out hundreds of fascinating snippets and facts about the area. The book is divided up into geographical sections ie The Central Lakes, The Lakeland Coast, Windermere, so it covers Cumbria, not just the Lake District National Park. Charming illustrations by Mai Osawa add to the this delightful book’s appeal. It would make a great gift for a fan of the lakes; I was given it as a birthday present and regularly dip into it. Note to the author: the 201o edition could do with updating as a few things have changed eg many more local breweries and visitor attractions now.

More about I never knew that about the Lake District and other books by Christopher Winn


Dances with the Daffodils - Matthew ConnollyDances with the Daffodils by Matthew Connolly 

I chose this book from a host of books by local authors laid out on our tables at the Cumbria Family Business Awards 2017. (Well done to the organisers for an original way to support Cumbrian writers.) Author Matthew Connolly explained how the novel was inspired by the story behind one of the most famous English poems, William Wordsworth’s Daffodils. The poet’s sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, wrote an entry in her diary on April 15th 1802 referring to a walk she and her brother took beside Ullswater where they saw daffodils that ‘tossed and reeled and danced’ in the wind. In the book, Luke, who’s returning to the area after 20 years of travelling, visits the lake and sees a ‘thin, gypsy-tanned woman … hopping along the lane like a chaffinch,‘ admiring the daffodils, beside ‘… a tall and ugly mantis of a creature.’ (William). Luke is immediately attracted to Dorothy, ‘as she knelt among the daffodils like some pagan goddess.’ I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant love story, especially seeing Dorothy in a different light, as a feisty young woman, torn between her love for her brother and another. It’s also a love story to south Lakeland, its local culture and heritage, which the author clearly knows well.

More on Dances with Daffodils here

Photographer's guide to Lake District by Ellen BownessThe Photographer’s Guide to The Lake District by Ellen Bowness

‘The Lake District is a beautiful part of the UK and it’s jam-packed with photogenic locations, from lakes and fells to waterfalls and caves.’ The opening to this gem of a book says it all; here is a comprehensive guide to the best places to get the perfect photo of the top sights in the Lakes. Local Ellen Bowness is a self-confessed travel photography addict who shares her professional knowledge of the area so the rest of us can find the perfect location. The book includes directions, maps, parking and satnav information as well advice on the best time of year to visit. Many popular sites feature, including Cat Bells overlooking Derwentwater, Grasmere and Castle Rigg Stone Circle, but also lesser known gems like Innominate Tarn,a favourite of Lakeland walker Alfred Wainwright and Ritson’s Force at Wasdale Head. One for photographers of all levels from beginner to expert.

More on The Photographer’s Guide to the Lake District here

Small island by little train - Chris ArnotSmall Island by Little Train – a narrow-gauge adventure by Chris Arnot

OK, this book is not only about the Lake District; it’s a journey round the nation’s narrow-gauge railways, but it has a very interesting chapter about one of this area’s most popular tourist attractions. In a chapter entitled ‘Return Ticket to Red Squirrels’ author Chris Arnot travels on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Light Railway. which runs through some of the most beautiful scenery in England. He also meets some of the enthusiasts who run L’al Ratty, as it’s known locally. He talks with Peter Van Zellar, who sums up the appeal of this country railway. “You are conscious of being part of the scenery but, beyond the track, that scenery changes every day. You might see a buzzard one minute and a herd of red deer the next.” The author shares some local history and has a humorous style reminiscent of Bill Bryson and his Notes from a Small Island, on which this book is vaguely modelled.

Disclosure: I was sent this book by publishers The AA for review. It fits very nicely within into the Quirky Travel niche.

More on Small Island by Little Train here.

I hope you have enjoyed this review of some Quirky Travel Lake District Books. What’s you favourite book about where you live? Please leave your thoughts and any recommendations in the Comment Box below 🙂

November 21, 2015

In search of Elizabeth Gaskell and the real ‘Cranford’

The opening lines of ‘Cranford‘ by Elizabeth Gaskell

“In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad.”

Elizabeth Gaskell in Knutsford

Elizabeth Gaskell Home Knutsford - zoedawes

Heathwaite House – Elizabeth Gaskell’s home in Knutsford

Standing outside an elegant double-fronted house on a rainy day in Cheshire, Caroline, our expert guide, explained how Elizabeth Stevenson (1810-1865) came to Knutsford as a baby in 1811 after the death of her mother. She lived with her Aunt Lumb until she went to school in Stratford, then stayed in London and around the country before returning to the town and marrying William Gaskell. Together they went to Manchester where he was the minister of Cross Street Unitarian Chapel.

King Street Knutsford Cheshire

King Street

I have been to Knutsford, not far from Chester, a number of times but had no idea that Elizabeth Gaskell had based her well-known novel, Cranford (pub. 1851) on this attractive little town, as well as Hollingford in ‘Wives and Daughters’. I was on a day out with a group of friends from our local Book Club to find out more about Elizabeth Gaskell and her connections to the North West. Caroline told us that many of the characters in Cranford were based on people she knew and some of the buildings still standing feature in her novels.

Miss Matty's house Cranford Knutsford - zoedawes

Miss Matty’s house

A blue plaque outside WH Smith’s states: This property built in the reign of George I is reputed to have been the fictional home of Miss Matty’, the principal character in Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford and was also the home of Miss Elizabeth Harker upon whom Mrs Gaskell based her Cranford character ‘Betty Barker’. Caroline informed us that actually it was probably the property next door …  Miss Matty was played with great wit and panache by the glorious Dame Judi Dench in the BBC TV adaptation of Cranford.

Royal George Hotel and dragon Knutsford

Royal George Hotel

We saw the old Assembly Rooms, sadly not open to the public, the Royal George and Angel Hotel, all with connections to the author and her stories. Most impressive was the Gaskell Memorial Tower and King’s Coffee House, designed by glove merchant Richard Harding Watt from Manchester. Influenced by the Continent and inspired by Italian architecture, Watt’s tower is remiscent of those in San Gimignano, and is dedicated to the town’s most famous resident.

Gaskell Memorial Tower & King's Coffee House Knutsford - zoedawes

Gaskell Memorial Tower & King’s Coffee House

This Grade II listed building features a copper bas relief and bust of the author, along with the titles of all her novels and a sign: This plaque was placed here on the occasion of Mrs Gaskell’s 150th birth anniversary, Sep 29th 1960 and to record that this tower was erected to the memory of Mrs Gaskell by Mr RH Watt in March 1907.

Bust of Mrs Gaskell- Memorial Tower Knutsford- zoedawes

Mrs Gaskell bust

We ended our tour at the 17th c Knutsford Heritage Centre, hidden in an alley through the pretty May Day Gate and past the giant Green Man sculpture. Knutsford May Day is a major annual event and ‘Jack in the Green’ always appears in the front of the May Day Procession. As well as leaflets on The Cranford Trail and an excellent Official Guide to Knutsford, the Heritage Centre has an exhibition of local artefacts, costumes and and items relating to the area’s history, which goes back to the Domesday Book in 1086. Did you know the town is named after King Canute (Cnut the Great), who apparently forded the River Lily here?

Knutsford Heritage Centre and Green Man sculpture - zoedawes

Knutsford Heritage Centre and Green Man sculpture

We didn’t have time to see the Knutsford Millenium Tapestry; we’ll have to return another day to see it and have another look round this charming home to Elizabeth Gaskell’s Amazons.

The Cranford Amazons - BBC TV series

The Cranford ‘Amazons’ – BBC TV series

If you’re a Mrs Gaskell fan you must also visit the Elizabeth Gaskell House Manchester, where you can learn about her life as a married woman and successful author.

More about Cheshire: Shopping and a dash of history in Chester