Atlantic Salmon Spawning Again In River Lyvennet

Children fishwatching in the River Lyvennet, Cumbria

Fish watchers on the banks of the Lyvennet river, Maulds Meaburn may now see Atlantic Salmon.

Local children designed the information signs beside Maulds Meaburn’s Salmon ladder at the Lyvennet Weir, and today’s news release from The Environment Agency (8th December 2014) will be greeted with excitement by young and old in the Eden Valley, Cumbria.

These Lyvennet trout, now share their river with Atlantic Salmon again.

These Lyvennet trout, now share their river with Atlantic Salmon again.

According to the release, over 20 Atlantic Salmon spawning sites or redds as they are known, were documented this week along the stretch of river that was improved by Eden Rivers Trust (ERT) earlier this year in a joint project to naturalise the course of the Lyvennet river.

This highly ambitious groundwork project restored straightened parts of the Lyvennet and Howe Beck back to a natural meandering state, for benefits to people and wildlife (See related article). The project is already reaping great success with over 20 salmon redds seen this week in the restored reach of the Lyvennet river at Maulds Meaburn.

The Atlantic Salmon had completed one of the most iconic migrations in the natural world, they travelled to the rich feeding grounds of Iceland and Greenland, before journeying some 3000 km home to the becks of their birth to become parents themselves!

The Lyvennet river channel was originally straightened for land management purposes and the increased energy in the river water leads to the river removing the smaller gravels necessary to support spawning. Furthermore, the lack of bends, associated scour and natural features, prevented the formation of vital pool and riffle habitats for a range of wildlife to thrive.

Reinstating the river back to its natural state has brought multiple benefits, including creating larger, diverse habitats for plants and animals to flourish. More natural, meandering rivers also help alleviate flood risk by slowing the flow of the river, and reducing bottle necks. This can delay both the height and timing of flood flows, benefiting communities downstream, without increasing flood risk upstream.

The Lyvennet scheme is part of a wider Cumbrian River Restoration Strategy that is tasked with restoring rivers back to a more natural condition, made possible by a partnership between the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Rivers Trusts across the county.
It is part of an ambitious package of significant restoration projects being delivered in the UK right now which all deliver improvements for ecology, habitat and local residents.

Charles Lowther, landowner at Barnskew and Meaburn Hall at Maulds Meaburn, said:

“Hopefully this scheme along with the other excellent work Eden Rivers Trust is doing will help reverse the trend of decline in spawning salmon in the river Eden.
“It has been amazing to see the river Lyvennet transformed in such a short space of time and to have evidence of spawning so soon after the restoration is fantastic news and confirmation that this improvement in habitat has measurable results.  We, the community in the area, are very proud of what ERT have achieved and wish to thank them very much.”

Simon Johnson, Director Eden Rivers Trust, said,

“The welcome return of spawning salmon to this section of restored river is wonderful news. Key to the success of the project has been the close co-operation and support we have received from farmers, landowners and partners.
However, we should remember that Eden salmon populations are in a state of decline. This project is part of ERT’s Saving Eden Strategy which will help to conserve this iconic species for future generations”.

Ben Bayliss, Environment Agency Programme Manager, said:

“It is fantastic news that following our river restoration project, already Atlantic Salmon have been recorded in the reach building redds.
However, while improving the river environment will help to improve salmon stocks, it is not enough on its own and we need to work together with anglers so we can review measures that would increase the number of salmon surviving to spawn.”

In early 2015, ERT will be organising a community tour of the restored reach of the Lyvennet including an opportunity to plant riverside trees. See for future announcements!



Mysteries of Home Smoking Unveiled at Kendal Festival of Food 2014

Smoky Jo and George demonstrating the art of home smoking at Cumbria Food Festival 2014

Simply Smoking Food. Smoky Jo (right) and George (left) demonstrating the art of home smoking at Cumbria Food Festival 2014

On Sunday Kendal was looking very fine in bright sunshine and delicious aromas wafted about the many street stalls of Kendal Festival of Food 2014. We were some of the happy visitors who thronged the stalls after attending a presentation on food smoking by Smoky Jo in The Shakespeare Centre. It was our first time and in retrospect, I wish we’d gone on Saturday too because there was so much to see and taste.

What drew us was the food preparation demonstration but we stayed on to enjoy browsing the fantastic street stalls that offered an amazing range of tempting fare including biscuits, cheeses, breads and pastries, chocolates, fine coffee, preserves, pickles and meats.

It was great seeing people enjoying the warm sunshine and festival atmosphere.

My wife and I enjoy smoked food as a treat. The smoking process doesn’t overpower the flavours of food, it translates and elevates them. While smoked bacon, ham, sausage and salmon were the gateway to smoked foods for me, beyond this portal awaits a whole culinary world of variety with plenty of options for vegetarians. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like smoked food, but through Smoky Jo’s presentation I gained a whole new appreciation of what goes into preparing good smoked food. It takes 10 hours to properly smoke 500 gms of a good hard cheese, like cheddar!

We learned this and more besides from Smoky Jo’s demonstration at this year’s Kendal Food Festival. In a short hour, Jo Hamson gave us a surprisingly comprehensive and entertaining taste of the art of food smoking, or should I say the alchemy, for it certainly feels like an experimental quest to develop the food that you personally like. Her enthusiasm is very infectious. She explained that there’s great scope for preparing full meals such as briskets, salmon and trout, and snack foods and ingredients such as cheeses and nuts. After introducing the principles of hot and cold smoking and discussing the equipment with us, she set up a table-top hot smoker (a Cameron) and showed us a cold smoking box that prepares food at less than 25 degrees Celsius, ideal for cheeses. There was a handy video-feed to a large screen that showed what was happening on the counter top.

Jo with the eco-smoking box. Yes, really, you can smoke food with this box and a cold smoker coil.

Jo with the eco-smoking box. Yes, surprisingly you can smoke food with this box and a cold smoker coil.

While in hot smoking, the food is both smoked and cooked through, in cold smoking the food is impregnated with smoky flavour but remains raw to be eaten as is (such as cheese or fruit), or later cooked conventionally such as your brisket.  Jo explained that cold smoking produces stronger flavours that are retained in later oven or skillet cooking. She then explored the variety of foods that tend to smoke well, giving relevant details and tips on timing for the various delicacies. People smoke a very wide range of foods! They even smoke salt, flour and water for use in dishes.  She discussed the ins and outs of brining food in preparation for smoking and the flavouring of the smoke and of the food itself. There are various stages in the preparations where you can happily experiment to fine-tune the results to suit your palate, the brine marinade phase is a good example, though not to be used with pre-processed meat.

Jo’s presentation was very information-rich but not bewilderingly technical, and I found it full of surprises.   There was some amusing repartee between Smoky Jo and Smoky George about certain experimental foods that they personally favoured. Smoked bananas! Smoked wine? Those who like it, like it well!

people sampling examples of smoked cheese, olives, trout and salmon

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the food samples were snapped up!

It was useful to hear the types of wood and other materials such as peat, tea, herbs and rice that can be used, and the types of fuel to avoid – no resinous or pithy woods are suitable and tea-bag tea is inferior to the leaf.  The volumes required are quite modest, a handful of Oak dust served very well in the example of hot smoked salmon that Jo prepared before us. The salmon was brined.

After her presentation she and George laid out a selection of smoked food and invited the audience to come up and try it. It was delicious and went down well. We enjoyed their smoked olives, almonds, cashews, cheddar cheese, trout and salmon.

Jo convinced me that home food smoking is both within most people’s capabilities and most people’s means and that it is worth trying ourselves. We bought their book Smoking Food At Home With Smoky Jo to investigate further.

Jo and George run popular 1 day and weekend residential  food smoking courses at Castlehowe, Cumbria and have won accolades in the media and featured on TV.

Shap Chippy serves their great smoked sausage, ‘The Smoky Jo’.

There’s lots of other great smoked food in Cumbria too of course,  notably cheeses and trout and of course you don’t have to smoke your own food to enjoy it.

I’m pleased to see that in Penrith, not far from the Alhambra Cinema, a new shop called Smoked In The Lakes, dedicated to smoked food has opened recently, my wife and I found their sandwiches to be superb. Their smoked cashews are out of this world too.

I’m very pleased to have seen Jo’s presentation because it helped me understand the processes behind smoked food.

The food stalls were really nicely presented, this stall of Gingerbread from Grasmere being a great example

The food stalls were really nicely presented, this stall of  Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread from Grasmere being a great example

After the presentation we were ready for some lunch. The food stalls were really impressive.

Peter Gott wrapping the best pork pie I have ever tasted. He farms rare breed pigs and wild boar at Sillfield farm, just 3 miles or so from Kendal.

Peter Gott wrapping the best pork pie I have ever tasted. He farms rare breed pigs and wild boar at Sillfield farm, just 3 miles or so from Kendal.

I love good pies and when I saw these Wild Pork Pies for sale I just had to try one. It was a fantastic treat. That’s my dream pastry to filling ratio there. The meat was delicious, perfectly seasoned and very succulent. Trade was brisk so there wasn’t much time for a chat then and there, but I learned from the Sillfield Farm website that Peter Gott and his wife Christine are famous for their free-range farmed food. Chefs regularly visit their farm as part of their training. The Gotts have been farming at Sillfield Farm, Gatebeck, for 20 yrs , rear their wild boar on 16 acres of woodland and have gained a well-deserved reputation for excellence, having won awards and featured on TV as exemplars of fine, fresh free-range farm produce. When I said how much I enjoyed his pies he said  “I’m glad you like them. As I tell the Chefs, nine tenths of good cheffing is good shopping and that relies on good rearing.”

No wonder they visit Sillfield Farm to learn about that!

The best pork pie I have ever tasted. Savoury lean wild boar with lots of jelly, evenly  dispersed and lovely crisp crust from Sillfield Farm.

Savoury lean wild boar with lots of jelly, evenly dispersed, and lovely crisp golden crust from Sillfield Farm.

I found Kendal Festival of Food 2014  a very impressive event and thoroughly recommend it.

Treasures Of Cumbria – a new online cultural resource

What do you treasure in Cumbria? Treasures of Cumbria is a new online cultural resource launched in January 2014 by The Cumbria Museum Consortium. It is, in a sense, an extra-mural extension of the museums into cyber-space – a website serving as a public archive of the Cumbrian things, places, memories, people, songs, poetry, recipes and traditions that people think are special, worth sharing and preserving.  Even the soundscapes, such as the sound of  a water wheel turning at Little Salkeld Mill and interesting memories recounted, such as The Mysterious Fire of Morecambe Bay are treasures that people value and that deserve preservation. They have meaning and lasting value.

A classical example of a Cumbrian treasure preserved for the county on this system is the wonderful Roman cavalry sports helmet that was found recently at Crosby Garrett, and displayed at Tullie House before leaving Cumbria forever.

How many more treasures are out there to be revealed? This is going to be a very interesting and valuable resource.

Enabling technologies

The digital revolution enables people to enjoy and share the things that they value in multi-media format – images, text, video and audio recordings. Treasures of Cumbria is a remarkable project that harnesses the recent developments in consumer-level digital equipment and information technology in a highly accessible way. The content management system is free to use and accessible to people of all ages and walks of life. It is likely to be highly useful to communities that wish to celebrate their distinctive qualities. A key thing to remember is that we must respect Copyright law and not copy material from existing publications whose copyright has not expired. There is some guidance on that on the website. Contributors retain copyright for their contributions but allow CMC copyright for them too.

Tullie House Staff Introduce Treasures of Cumbria at Lyvennet Activity Group Lunch Club

Proof came that there’s no age limit to the digital revolution on Thursday, February 6th, as staff from Carlisle’s Tullie House Museum visited The Lyvennet Activity Group’s Lunch Club (LAG) at The Butchers Arms Community Pub and explained the Treasures of Cumbria project after a nice sociable lunch. The staff demonstrated use of the website on their iPad tablets, and on lap-top computer equipment kindly provided to LAG by Cumbria Community Foundation‘s  Health and Well-being Community Fund administered by Action For Communities in Cumbria (ACT).

Treasures of Cumbria website being introduced to members of The Lyvennet Activity Group at the Lunch Club at The Butchers Arms Crosby Ravensworth. Staff from Carlisle's Tullie House demonstrated use of the website on iPads.

Treasures of Cumbria website being introduced to members of The Lyvennet Activity Group at the Lunch Club at The Butchers Arms Crosby Ravensworth. Mary Ferguson and Maria Staff from Carlisle’s Tullie House, Maria and Mary demonstrate use of the website on iPads.

The staff explained that we can use the system to celebrate the things that we treasure here and make them known to others by registering as a contributor and uploading photographs and information about each treasure.

As anyone who knows Cumbria knows very well – we do have a lot of treasures around here; the physical include those that are primarily natural, our fells, valleys, rivers, lakes, fields and forests, to things cultural: our glorious monuments ancient to modern, our many stone circles, castles, Churches  and superb Cathedral and our traditions and memories.

The new website has been launched but will be subject to improvements over time as and when the need becomes apparent. The address is:

  1. To publish your treasures you need to register with the system, the process of registration is very easy.
  2. Then you enter your profile information,
  3. Click on the “Add a Treasure” button and upload your media and related information for the treasure.

An important feature on the site is the map that shows people where the treasures are in the County.

There are various ways you can browse for treasures. You can use the map to discover them or search by contributor or view the treasures in order of popularity and date added to the system.

Tullie House and Art Gallery Trust in Carlisle is the lead partner and accountable body for the partnership which includes  Lakeland Arts in Kendal and Bowness and the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere. This Consortium is funded by Arts Council England ( through their Renaissance Major Grants Programme.  

The CMC partners own website addresses written out are: , and

To conclude I quote the important message from the new website that hopefully will encourage you to record your treasures large and small:

          A treasure is something that’s meaningful to you.

Circles in stone part II: Gamelands Circle near Orton.

One of Cumbria’s largest stone circles and also one of the most accessible can be found just about a mile from Orton Village and is reached from a turn-off to the right on the road to Sunbiggin.

Gamelands Stone circle with the wild Howgills in the background.

Gamelands Stone circle with the wild Howgills in the background.

Though there isn’t much song and dance made of it, Gamelands is a whopper and well worth seeing. Over 100 ft in diameter and with 40 stones still remaining, most of the distinctive pink Shap granite, it is thought to be Neolithic in age, but mesolithic stone tools have been found in the area and Tom Clare’s observation that this site was associated with a nearby spring would make the site strongly appealing to the hunter-gatherers. See Megalithic Portal for more information and photos of Gamelands.

All the stones are fallen, but some are still 1 meter tall in repose.  The circle is overlooked by the Castle Folds settlement on the lovely limestone escarpment and though it is on the Coast-to-coast route this fine walking country attracts walkers for the many shorter walks too. The limestone pavement and sweeping views make walking in this area very rewarding.

Recently, local residents have gathered to express their view that the Orton Valley should remain free of wind turbines. Rory Stewart MP for Penrith and The Border, EDC Councillor and Tebay Parish Chair Adrian Todd and Orton  Parish Chair have supported the conservation efforts (Read More Here)

The Orton area has much to recommend it, whether you are interested in walking in the fine countryside or shopping for nice local produce including super cheese, poultry, pork and beef, vegetables, baked goods and Kennedys Fine Chocolates, I think you’ll agree it has a lot of charm.

The Orton Farmer’s Market is held monthly on the second Saturday.

Orton Farmers Market is popular with residents and visitors.

Orton Farmers Market is popular with residents and visitors.

Swallows and Amazons Forever! Keswick’s Theatre By The Lake

By Charles Paxton

We saw a superb production of Swallows and Amazons Forever at Keswicks’ Theatre By The Lake yesterday evening. It was well cast and great fun for the whole family.

We loved the rendition of the story and the music :

  • the acting talent – all characters faithful to the original story and suitably vivacious
  • clever use of innovative props
  • the music and sound effects ( all but one produced live by the performers)
  • the scenery
  • the lighting effects (lake ripples very effective)
Scene fom Keswick's Theatre by the lake's performance of Swallows and Amazons

Brilliant use of stage space and innovative props and special effects lighting combined with great acting and musical talent made for a fantastic and memorable performance.

My nephews greatly enjoyed the ice cream in the interval and agreed that the charcoal burners were very nicely portrayed.

All round it is a high quality production and it was great to see it performed in the heart of Lakeland.

Great fun, definitely worth seeing!

Up Front Theatre Presents The Pied Piper Of Hamelin

Magical performance of The Pied Piper of Hamelin at The Upfront Gallery Puppet Theatre

Magical performance of The Pied Piper of Hamelin at The Upfront Gallery Puppet Theatre

Yesterday we greatly enjoyed a family trip to see The Pied Piper Of Hamelin at The Upfront Gallery in Unthank, near Hutton-In-The-Forest. It’s traditional to see a show at Christmas time and everything about this one in the new 128 seat theatre at The Upfront Gallery was very good. I was stunned by the high-end  production value and I hardly saw any strings until the performance was over and there was a fun ‘meet the puppets’ session. The sets and puppets were fantastic and very vibrant – these were based closely on designs from Michael Morpurgo’s book, the voicing was excellent and the music was delightfully evocative.

It’s perfect for families. My nephews particularly loved the donkey and the dynamic action of the rats, which are very spritely and amusing! The Upfront performers were brilliant, I thought, I was surprised that  just five of them emerged when they took their bows.

Very talented rod and string puppeteers of the Upfront Gallery in Unthank taking their bows.

Very talented rod and string puppeteers of the Upfront Gallery in Unthank taking their bows.

If you enjoy charming entertainment I heartily recommend you to see this show while you can. All Tickets £8:00 Performances: Dec. 31st at 2pm only Dec. 24, 28, 29, 30 & 31st at 1pm & 3:30pm Jan. 2nd & 3rd at 1pm & 3:30pm

The art gallery is worth seeing too and the food in the cafe is delicious and very reasonably priced offering tasty tray bakes, snacks and full meals.

Call the Upfront Gallery, Coffee Shop and Puppet Theatre Enquiries Telephone number for booking or more info 017684 84538

Or see  their website for more details

Eden District Council’s Chairman’s Carol Service at St. Andrew’s Church

St. Andrew's Church, Penrith

St. Andrew’s Church, Penrith

The Eden District Council’s Chairman’s Carol Service this evening at St. Andrew’s Church Penrith was led by Reverend David Sargent and held in Aid of Councillor John Thompson’s chosen charity, Eden Carers, a valuable support organisation for the many people, of various ages and circumstances, young through to elderly who are caring for someone.

The beautiful Church was filled with people from the Eden Valley and beyond and the service celebrated the first Christmas as the coming of light in the context of its difficult and dangerous times and celebrated the fortitude and nobility of people who are caring. We thought the Vicar’s prayers were very good.

There were fine readings by Councillors John Thompson and Gordon Nicholson and The High Sheriff of Cumbria, Mrs. Dianna Matthews, an amusing light reading from Julie Barrett, and the address was by The Bishop of Penrith, Rt Reverend Robert Freeman.

The music was excellent throughout with superb performances from Penrith’s Band, songs by the Lazonby and Beaconside School Choirs and Ullswater Community College Choir and  solo performances by Joan Gordon, Helen Southernwood and Emily Richardson.

It was a very uplifting service. The congregation and participants were served  refreshments afterwards in St. Andrew’s cafe.

Circles in stone part 1. The Cumbrian Sculpture Valley at High Head

High Head Sculpture Valley

High Head Sculpture Valley, much to discover

We have recently learned that though the Stone Circle will still be accessible after December 21st, you should endeavour to make your visit before December 21st because the visitors’ centre and cafe will be closed after that. Call 016974 73552 to place your reservations for Christmas dinner.

High Head Sundial by Brian Cowper

The Sculptor’s Hands, High Head Sundial by Brian Cowper

sundialWe found High Head Sculpture Valley to be a delightful sun trap with a distinctly wild feel to it. Ive beck runs through it, feeding the wetland section and providing home to Otters, Water rats, Kingfishers and other wildlife, the sculptures are situated amongst the abundant foliage, and open spaces linked by paths, bull-rushes, willows and other trees in a pleasant naturalistic integration.  If you came upon the haunting vision of a faun with Pan-pipes beside the island stilt-house, it wouldn’t seem entirely out of place. Sculptural works by Jonathan Stamper abound, be sure to bring your camera, denizens of this Eden include a glass snake and brilliant giant butterfly.

Certainly, if you enjoy sculpture, particularly of the outdoor variety, then consider making a visit to High Head, for there is much to see here for visitors of all ages, there’s a children’s narrative in sculpture and good play area for children with a charming hollow tree and swing set, so it is family friendly. It is worth taking time over the exploration. After exploring the sculptures you can then refresh yourselves with good farmhouse cooking and browse the artwork within. That is what we did.

The first sculpture greets you at the entrance and just beside the parking lot there are more, they feed down past the visitor centre with its gallery,  cafe and Spa and into the wooded valley and beyond, after a short walk through pasture to the crest of a hill a handsome stone circle emerges within a grove of native deciduous trees. There is a sense of surprise and discovery about your encounters with these artworks, one moment you aren’t aware of them, the next, they are in your world and you in theirs.

Stunning iron butterfly sculpture at High Head Sculpture Valley

Here’s a glorious iron butterfly. In the garden of Eden, baby …

I came to hear of High Head while researching prehistoric sites in Cumbria for an ANA Wingspan in-flight magazine article. In the course of visiting some of Cumbria’s amazingly rich prehistoric heritage it struck me as clearly impossible to ask the Neolithic and Bronze Age sculptors why they were erecting stone circles where they did and what moved them to do it, so I was very keen to talk with the contemporary  Prehistoric Artist, Brian Cowper about Cumbria’s Stone Circles. He is in a better position than most to help us understand stone circle constructions because he has made a thorough study of them both here and abroad, and has been commissioned to design and build circles for both the public and private sectors.

Brian loves neolithic sites and they inspire much of his work, which is very good. Formerly a lecturer in sculpture at University College Of  St Martin, Lancaster, Brian has a thorough grounding in shaping his medium, stone.

Axe sculpture by Brian Cowper

Axe sculpture by Brian Cowper

His Sun dial for High Head is sculpted of polished limestone and is the result of meticulous calculations and set up with strict observance to ensure that the sun shines through in just the right place at one specific time of two days, noon on the equinoxes.  But don’t wait until then to visit, because the interaction of these sculptures with their seasonal surroundings is worth seeing.

Brian has  designed and erected a stone circle for the owners at High Head and was kind enough to show us this work and to lend us some good reading material to help my wife and I better understand Cumbria’s prehistoric art and architecture.

The High Head Circle like many Cumbrian Stone Circles: Long Meg and her daughters, Knipe Scar, Iron Hill and Castlerigg    are aligned to the mighty saddlebacked fell, Blencathra.

The High Head Circle like many Cumbrian Stone Circles: Long Meg and her daughters, Knipe Scar, Iron Hill and Castlerigg are aligned to the mighty saddlebacked fell, Blencathra.

The High Head Circle is of red sandstone and has cardinal and astronomical alignment.

The High Head Circle is of red sandstone and has landscape and astronomical alignment. Like the Gamelands circle, near Orton, it is aligned  to the rising of the Moon, but some stones have other, private, significance in their own right.

Brian was kind enough to discuss issues that had been puzzling us and clarify some common confusions. He says that one commonly held misconception is that they needed vast numbers of people to move and erect the stones. Yes, they were determined and their action was coordinated, but stone was their medium too.

We asked him why, in his opinion, early Britons had built these structures where they did and what they might have been for. Brian clarified from the outset that though Birkrigg,  Castlerigg and other circles have been attributed to Druids, these structures have nothing whatsoever to do with them. These sites pre-date the Druidicism vilified by the Romans  by thousands of years. He thinks that the structures and their sites are intimately linked with the surrounding landscape and cosmos, and that the  sites are usually within view of significant landscape features and/or other sites.  He drew our attention to the sense of surprise, discovery and succession that is characteristic of coming upon them and stressed that this was an intentional factor both in their siting and creation. Even when you are looking for them and have the best guidebook (Robert W.E. Farrah’s A Guide To The Stone Circles Of Cumbria ), your realisation of their presence tends to be surprising. It’s a true, deep seated, visceral reaction to them that William Wordsworth captured in his poem when Long Meg and her Daughters took him by surprise.

“A weight of awe not easy to be borne  

Fell suddenly upon my spirit – cast,”

These ancient architects were concious of cardinal points and astronomical cycles and factored these orientations into their site construction in many cases. Not just within the construction of each site, one stone in relation to another, but also the site as a whole in relation to other sites and to key landscape features. The alignments of sites with each other have been well documented. Ley lines, such as the Belinus line have been plotted on maps, they don’t just follow obvious transit routes such as the Lune and Lowther valley, but also traverse steep rises, fells and dales. Gamelands and Gaythorne monuments seem aligned with Appleby.

These days we have come to associate straight roads with the discipline of the Romans, but straight routes would have been very important to pedestrian hunter gatherers who would be very fit and would prefer to climb a steep slope directly, on all fours for stretches if need be, rather than zigzag to reduce the angle of ascent.

Brian feels certain that stone circles were civilization centres, important focal points around which all kinds of activities would take place including but not limited to barter trade in polished stone axes and other items, there would also likely have been social and religious rites, actions of law and of celebration,  education and information exchange and magic, these sites would likely have been important for respite and healing, the scientific centres too. They were usually sited near water that would have enabled protracted stays. They were made to powerfully assist their hardy makers survive and prosper in their tough world.

This conforms to information we gleaned from a lecture by Archaeologist Tom Clare and his excellent book ( Prehistoric Monuments of The Lake District ) that the earliest circles don’t seem to have been used for burials originally, that seems to have been a later bronze age introduction. Professor Clare stressed how little material has been found in excavations  within stone circles. It seems that people didn’t originally discard items and bodies within these sacred spaces.

Brian Cowper's stone circle at High Head.

Brian Cowper’s stone circle at High Head  seen here under feather cloud, represents a continuance of a Cumbrian tradition that spans 6 milennia and despite considerable archaeological study retains most of its mystery.

We returned to the visitors’ centre for a pleasant lunch in their cafe. High Head’ s Cafe serves a variety of freshly prepared light lunches and delicious home made cakes (ingredients locally sourced when possible). The staff are very amiable and there’s a shop with a good range of art work,  Made In Cumbria products and nice children’s clothes. High Head also has two holiday cottages available for rent and a health spa. It’s a fine example of farm diversification.

Friendly service and good food at High Head's cafe

Friendly service and good food at High Head’s tearoom

The cafe at High Head Sculpture Valley

High Head Sculpture Valley has indoor and al fresco dining.

More stone circles to come in my next article.

High Head is open everyday except Wednesdays from November to December 21st 10.30 to 16.00

Call 016974 73552 for further information and see

Roadside dining reaches new heights at The Bridge Bistro, Kirkby Thore

Light trails from trucks and cars blaze past  The Bridge Bistro, one of Cumbria's most elegant dining and drinking venues.

Light trails from trucks and cars blaze past The Bridge Bistro, one of Cumbria’s most elegant dining and drinking venues.

Located on the A66 gateway to the Lake District near Penrith, stylish bistro café The Bridge sets a new benchmark in roadside cuisine by serving affordable foodie fare.

How many times have you passed through Kirkby Thore on Cumbria’s A66 and have hardly been aware of the fact?  We always knew Kirkby Thore was there of course, most of us have driven through it numerous times on the way to somewhere else. The road bends, signs are there and we slowed down for the place and passed on through rejoicing. It was that sort of place, but …. it is no longer unremarkable, far otherwise.

elegant interior design at The Bridge Bistro

Elegant interior design. Calming, suave, warm and bright, our visit to The Bridge Bistro was uplifting.

Now a very elegant Bistro has put Kirkby Thore squarely on the map of really nice places to eat! It’s called The Bridge Bistro, and not only is it beside the bridge, on the Penrith side, but it bridges worlds by elevating roadside dining to new heights.

Yes, after today’s experience I’d even say that I think its worth detouring large distances for Kirkby Thore now, certainly planning an eating stop there for A66 travellers and here’s why, first in a nutshell for those  who are busy, but do read on for the full account if you can.

The nutshell version

  • A nice range of meals and drinks variously priced for different pockets
  • Great quality food
  • Substantial portions
  • Stylish and comfortable
  • Warm, friendly staff
  • Clean as a whistle
  • Long opening hours, at time of writing Mon – Thurs from 9 am to 10 pm, Fri – Sat 9 am to 11 pm, Sun 12pm – 6 pm.

More detail

Imagine that a husband and wife team decided to do a very good job of designing a stylish cafe cum bar cum restaurant (Bistro), using the best materials, with tasteful consideration of your comfort and aesthetic satisfaction in mind at every stage of the process, no expense spared by the looks of things and then went ahead and realised the dream. They then staffed it with nice people who want you to enjoy fresh food cooked well, and then they resisted the temptation to charge you the moon to eat there.  That’s exactly what happened. Matthew and Louise Reay have produced a really good restaurant. Matthew grew up  in nearby Culgaith, worked in London for a number of years where he met Louise and the couple moved north in 2006 to start their family. As keen travellers, they felt there was a gap in the market for good quality, reasonably priced food available on the road. They have now filled that niche, and how!

Friendly staff behind the bar at The Bridge Bistro, Kirkby Thore

Shapely bar  and  a warm welcome and fine eating await travellers on the A66 at The Bridge.

Louise Reay beside the hand painted silk wallpaper.

Louise Reay beside the hand painted silk wallpaper.

Hand-painted silk wallpapers, wood-panelling, bespoke lighting and a handmade bar shape the venue’s contemporary, elegant setting, with a glazed, gable end lending a bright, welcoming feel.

The Bridge is owned by husband-and-wife team Matthew and Louise Reay.

Matt says “Eating out in Cumbria is fairly limited – there is either fine dining or the local pub. The Bridge offers an outstanding mid-range alternative in a unique dining environment and as our Trip Advisor reviews show, we’re proving popular with locals and tourists alike. Having just been open for six months, we’re honoured to be included in next year’s Michelin guide.”

When we eat out we want it to be worthwhile. Today’s lunch was a fine experience from start to finish.

Pretty lady enjoying fine filter coffee at The Bridge Bistro in Kirkby Thore

Great uplift! Freshly brewed coffee in refreshingly elegant surroundings at The Bridge Bistro

Gujons of Plaice in light. crispy tenpura beer batter on a bed of french beans, peas and rocket, with chips, Tartar sauce and the best mushy peas that I've ever tasted!

Goujons of Plaice in light. crispy tempura beer batter on a bed of French beans, peas and rocket, with chips, Tartar sauce and the best mushy peas that I’ve ever tasted!

Here’s that dish viewed again from the side, because I want to share the visual appeal and I’m showing off my new camera. Today’s special at The Bridge Bistro.

Today's special at The Bridge Bistro.

Yes, it was as good as it looks.  My wife enjoyed the Mushroom Risotto very much.

The Bridge Bistro serve a rich Mushroom Risotto with light, crispy battered cauliflower florets for texture. Locally harvested forest mushrooms impart deep, complex flavour. Delicious!

The Bridge Bistro serve a rich Mushroom Risotto with light, crispy battered cauliflower florets for texture. Locally harvested forest mushrooms impart deep, complex flavour. Delicious!

The Bridge Bistro is full of light and beside the expansive front window I encountered the French Electronica band Kwoon, pausing en route to Glasgow as part of their European tour having played in London and Hull. Parisians know Bistro dining, it’s in their blood  and these guys declared their meal to be very good. Sandy Lavallart, the composer, pictured in striped top, declared that it exceeded his expectations of English food, especially from a roadside restaurant. Spot on! I must say the same.  I wish them best of luck with their tour.

Parisian Electronica band Kwoon taking time out on their European tour.

Parisian Electronica band Kwoon taking time out on their European tour.

During a quiet spell, we chatted with the Chef, Paul Mckinnon who uses local, fresh produce to create a varied menu, ranging from simple sandwiches in artisan bread to classic French and Italian dishes. Originally from Gateshead, Paul spent eight years working under Tyneside’s Michelin-starred chef Terry Laybourne at his ’21 Queen Street’ restaurant in Newcastle and at Newcastle United FC.

There is a map theme running through the menus and decor that befits the roadside Bistro

There is a map theme running through the menus and decor that befits the roadside Bistro

Paul says “Freshness of the ingredients is really important in our menu. You’re not eating things from plastic bags here. Take your Plaice for example, it came in on the boat last night, early this morning, and is cooked today. We’ll be offering game soon, pigeon, widgeon, pheasants and grouse.”  Son of a gamekeeper, Paul is skilled in venery, knowing the proper preparation and cuts of game. He is training up local lads in the culinary arts and is pleased with their development so far. The A66 is a major, arterial thoroughfare, with motorists, bikers and truck drivers travelling to and from Scotland, Yorkshire and the northeast.

He says at The Bridge there’s a fine balance in providing a variety of good quality food to suit people who need to eat quickly and be on with their journey and also in serving those who wish to linger and relish a protracted dining experience. He’s passionate about his art and I feel sure that The Bridge will continue to successfully achieve that balance.

Chef, Paul McKinnon explaining how fresh, often locally, sourced ingredients are brought together for outstanding dishes.

Chef, Paul McKinnon explaining how fresh, often locally, sourced ingredients are brought together for nourishing and tasty dishes. Apples and plums, forest mushrooms and fine meat as examples.

East Cumbria’s Eden Valley offers a great deal for visitors including  lovely landscapes, traditional towns, pretty villages, castles, stately homes, prehistoric heritage sites and nature reserves  including Lowther Castle, Acorn Bank, Lakeland Bird of Prey Centre , Lacy’s Caves and Appleby Golf Club.  Now there is fine roadside dining on the A66!

Appleby Golf Club - impressive views  £25 Green Fee

Appleby Golf Club – impressive views of  Pennine Fells and  Eden Valley

The Bridge serves breakfast/brunch, lunch and dinner with a sizable kids’ menu, pricing from £5-20 per person.

Check out the menus, correct at time of writing:

BFast & Kids sample Evening Sample Menu The Bridge Christmas 2013 Weekday Sample Menu

Opening times: Mon thru Thurs 10am–9pm; Fri – Sat 10am–11pm; Sun midday–6pm.

The Bridge, Kirkby Thore Bridge, Penrith, Cumbria CA10 1UZ

Tel: 01768 362766 /

Text and photos Charles Paxton of

The opinions expressed here are genuine and the author received no financial inducement to write this review.

Cumbria Community Messaging short-listed for Technology4Good Award – please vote for CCM

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Cumbria Neighbourhood Watch Association is a charitable organisation who work with Cumbria Police and their partners to help prevent and detect crime in local communities. They are the driving force behind Cumbria Community Messaging – the means by which you get those important community safety messages.

Cumbria Neighbourhood Watch Association has been short-listed for a prestigious national award for their work on that system. You can help boost their chances of getting an award by voting for the Peoples Award – click here and give them your e mail address; vote for Cumbria Community Messaging; and finally tell them that you heard about the award through Cumbria Community Messaging – it’ll only take a minute of your time, but it will mean a world of difference to Cumbria Neighbourhood Watch Association and the volunteers who work hard on your behalf to make this system what it is today.

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