Secretary of State Expands Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks

Limestone pavement on Orton Scar is to be added to the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Photo and copyright C.Paxton.

Limestone pavement on Orton Scar is part of the beautiful Cumbrian countryside that will be enjoined with the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Photo and copyright C . Paxton.

The Secretary of State has decided to approve extensions to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks. This follows a long and thorough investigation process launched in 2012 that included public consultations by surveys and public meetings into the desirability of the areas that were under consideration for selection by Natural England to be designated National Park status. Together the LDNP and YDNP form a huge protected area that covers much of the best countryside of the ancient British Kingdom of Brigantia.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park boundary has expanded by about 25%, adding some delightful parts of Cumbria that were formerly assigned to old Westmorland. Indeed some of the most beautiful places in YDNP are Cumbrian. These new Westmorland additions are landscapes of wild beauty in the case of the upland limestone moorland of Crosby Ravensworth Fell, Great Asby and Orton Scar. Here ravens soar over prehistoric cairn circles such as the White Hag,  and stone circles such as Gamelands and Oddendale, and funerary Cairn circle mounds like Penhurrock where bones of abnormal size were said to have been unearthed. These moors are reputedly haunted by a headless horseman on Gaythorne Plain.

I’ll be adding more pictures to this page in weeks to come that will hopefully convey some of this area’s charming qualities.  http://westmorlandfells.com/westmorlandcharm.html

Where the newly added Dales are concerned, they are rich in old world, ‘Hobbity’ appeal – Orton with its lovely village shop and chocolate factory, Crosby Ravensworth with the winding Llyvennet river, where King Urien of Rheged supposedly best loved to unwind and The Butchers Arms Community Pub.  Maulds Meaburn with its delightful riparian village green dotted with lambs.

Though not within the National Park itself, the Market Town of Appleby-in-Westmorland, is well worth a visit too.

Not only are these additions very delightful landscapes in their own right, many also contain sites of great antiquity and other cultural treasures and have been rightly identified as having superb recreational value.

You can read the letters from the Right Honourable Elizabeth Truss MP Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs here

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-parks-extensions-to-the-lake-district-and-yorkshire-dales-parks

and view the maps here

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/lake-district-and-yorkshire-dales-national-parks-boundary-changes-confirmed

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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 www.highheadsculpturevalley.co.uk

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 / www.thebridgebistro.co.uk

Text and photos Charles Paxton of www.thewebcat.biz

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

In Praise of Eden Rivers Trust and Partners for Crayfish Conservation, Cherish Eden, Riparian Fisheries Planning, Flood Alleviation and More!

Native White-Clawed Crayfish Ede

Eden Rivers Trust Winter Newsletter edition 26 from www.edenriverstrust.org.uk

Eden Rivers Trust Winter Newsletter edition 26 from http://www.edenriverstrust.org.uk

The Winter edition of The Eden Rivers Trust Newsletter is out now and it relates how Eden Rivers Trust staff and local volunteers are engaging with important projects that protect riparian habitat, its wildlife and community interests in the Eden Valley’s river catchment area,  clicking the image on the left will download their latest newsletter. Since its establishment in 1996, ERT has completed 200 projects to improve the condition of the river for its wildlife and for people’s enjoyment.

The ERT’s Winter Newsletter announces the great news that a £473,618 Defra grant will empower them to further improve the condition of rivers in the Eden River catchment and so improve the prospects for our native white-clawed crayfish, sadly threatened and declining across the UK and Western Europe. ERT is working effectively with a range of volunteers and key partner organisations on the front lines of river conservation to protect the river system in our internationally recognised Special Area of Conservation.

The new grant follows the ERT’s successful completion of a SITA Trust conservation project in the Appleby area.

According to an ERT press release issued today (17th Dec), Eden Rivers Trust staff in partnership with The SITA Trust and volunteers of varied ages and walks of life, have just completed a three year, £138,000 conservation project, working in two Cumbrian rivers, the Hoff and Helm Becks near Appleby, for the benefit of native crayfish and other wildlife and all who appreciate them.

Achievements in this project include:

  • 8329 m of riverside fencing established to protect the banks from farm animals;
  • 5350 trees have been planted along rivers to stabilise river banks and provide food and hiding places for wildlife;
  • 214 sites were surveyed for native crayfish, with the help of 77 volunteers;
  • 5 crayfish survey training days held, attended by 61 volunteers;
  • 3871 people have been told about the plight of native crayfish in Cumbria by the Trust attending 40 events and giving 56 talks to local groups;
  • 2 Cumbria University undergraduates completed their conservation projects on crayfish and received a First Class mark for them.

Volunteering for rivers and their wildlife

The Trust expressed their profound gratitude to all the volunteers for their time and effort, and to all the land owners for allowing surveys to take place. Volunteers engaged in the project have have ranged from retired people interested in the river, to local anglers and staff from businesses such as Ullswater Steamer Company, Barclays Bank and the Outward Bound Trust  to pupils from QEGS Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Penrith and students from Cumbria University and other universities.

Joanne Backshall, Conservation Officer with Eden Rivers Trust, said, “This amazing creature is threatened with extinction.  Improving the rivers in the county for crayfish will benefit not only this endangered species but all the wildlife associated with rivers.  Healthy, attractive rivers are also of benefit to people in providing clean water supplies and creating beautiful landscapes for locals and visitors to enjoy.  We are grateful to SITA Trust for their financial support for this very valuable conservation project.”

The Hoff and Helm Becks project has been funded by SITA Trust, an organisation which supports worthy environmental and social projects improving vital public recreation facilities such as village halls, community centres, sport, green spaces and play areas, through the Landfill Communities Fund. The LCF has donated over £1 billion to date and powerfully helped the nation.  The LCF distributes funds donated by the recycling and resource management company SITA UK, as of writing the SITA Trust have donated over £92 million, helping 3000 projects through the fund!

Jools Granville of SITA Trust said, “This has been an amazing project with some serious benefits and we are so proud to be a partner in it. We have been humbled by the hard work and dedication of Eden Rivers Trust and the many volunteers, landowners and members of the public who have come together to work towards a more sustainable future for this fantastic and seriously endangered species. Cumbria is such an important location for these crayfish and it’s vital that the good work already undertaken is built upon in the future. ”

The ERT Winter Newsletter tells us that this is precisely what will happen and more besides! Here’s a glimpse of the content:

  • Water Friendly Farming  The Trust is working with farmers to benefit farms and the environment, acting as a buffer between farmers and legislation in partnerships for water quality (To date the ERT has worked with about 200 farms)
  • Miles of progress in battle against invasive species The Trust is battling against powerful invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam, Japanese Knotweed and the poisonous Giant Hogweed to protect our local species and prevent degradation of habitat. The useful work around Ullswater features in this edition.
  • Adapting Land use for Flood Alleviation Increasingly important work in collaboration with Newton Rigg College to slow water run-off into the rivers helping to reduce flooding by introducing a variety of techniques. (To date the ERT has planted 200 farms)
  • Cherish Eden Initial support of over £100,000 in Heritage Lottery Funding has been won in the first phase, spearheading  a potentially larger project.
  • Eden charity bike ride A fundraising team including local residents rode the entire length of the Eden to raise money for Eden House Children’s Hospice!

and …

White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), native to the UK, held by Conservation Officer Joanne Backshall.

Precious and vulnerable, the White-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes), native to the UK, carefully held by Conservation Officer Joanne Backshall. Linda Pitkin Photo

Endangered Native Crayfish Conservation

Eden Rivers Trust tell us that the native, white-clawed crayfish is endangered and rapidly declining across Western Europe.  It is being wiped out by non-native species of crayfish, particularly the North American signal crayfish, and the disease they carry, crayfish plague, which is caused by a fungus.  Native crayfish are also disappearing because many of the rivers in which they occur do not have the right conditions for them to feed, breed and thrive.

Cumbria contains the UK’s only extensive populations of White-Clawed Crayfish with neither a plague infestation, nor the presence of non-native signal crayfish.  The most important of these are in the Rivers Eden and Kent.  Cumbria is vital in a European context because it remains the UK stronghold for the native species according to ERT.

You can learn more about this endangered species on the Eden River Trust’s dedicated white-clawed crayfish page. The site also provides guidance on how to avoid spreading Crayfish Plague from one river to another. We have to be wary of this because the Signal Crayfish have invaded The River Derwent.

These very fine pictures and others taken by Linda Pitkin, including some lovely split views showing river scenes above and below the water line, can be viewed on her Eden Rivers web page http://www.lindapitkin.net/Eden_Rivers/index.html

Native Crayfish by Linda Pitkin

Note the underside of the claws are white. Native White-Clawed Crayfish in river bed habitat by Linda Pitkin

Readers interested in The Eden Rivers Trust and its work, and potential volunteers and donors are invited to contact the Eden Rivers Trust, Dunmail Building, Newton Rigg College, Penrith, Cumbria CA11 0AH
Tel: 01768 866788 | e-mail: office@edenrt.org  | www.edenriverstrust.org.uk
Registered Charity Number 1123588 Company limited by guarantee number 06460807

Registered in England and Wales

A Little Book of Pleasures nominated for The People’s Book Prize

Front cover of A Little Book of Pleasures By William Wood ISBN 978-1-907984-07-5 Paperback • 200 pages • Sunpenny Ltd £7.99 • December 2011

A Little Book of Pleasures By William Wood ISBN 978-1-907984-07-5 Paperback • 200 pages • Sunpenny Ltd £7.99 • December 2011

A Good Book Makes Life in Cumbria Better.

A Little Book of Pleasures by William Wood (Sunpenny Ltd publishers) has just been listed in The People’s Book Prize Autumn Collection. This is a very gentle but emotive anthology of short essays, each account devoted to small pleasures in life and combining as a whole to remind us of the value of little things that make life special and truly worth living.
An ambitious endeavour, you might think, for someone to suppose that anything so personal as pleasures could be shared and revealed as experiences in common. Start reading the book and I doubt you will question the worthiness of the endeavour or doubt William Wood’s skill in bridging gaps that you might presuppose exist between one human and another in the matter of appreciating small things.

It’s a surprising read for several reasons:

    1. here is a compilation of short essays by a single author. How often do you see those for sale these days? Hardly ever, partly because there are few writers of sufficient calibre to produce enough good stories on a theme to make up a whole book, and partly I suspect, because big fat novels by celebrity authors are a safer venture from the publishing point of view.
    2. the focus upon the small pleasures that make the author’s life worth living might cause you to expect it to be painfully self-indulgent, at least in places, but Wood always avoids falling into that trap. I was surprised to discover that I found so many of the same things pleasurable, either from my own experiences where they coincided with his or vicariously when they didn’t.
    3. finally, the simple act of focusing your time and thoughts on things pleasant is surprisingly refreshing. At first it feels almost sacrilegious somehow to be presented with the pleasant, the wholesome and the good in an intelligent literary work. We are so used to the relentless stream of in-your-face misery, grim facts, depressing news, sobering statistics and focus on survival in the rat-race etc. that thoughts of the small pleasures in life can be eclipsed, marginalised or subjugated.

This is a bold book then, yes, and the author’s openly assertive in sharing his values, but can we afford to devote time to hedonism? One of the book’s charms is the brevity of each story, it can be read at bed-time, read on the commute, read on the loo perhaps if you’re severely time-strapped.

From the outset the author engages you as a reader directly in the discourse and makes these experiences your own. I found the degree of commonality in appreciation remarkable and the interest maintained throughout the anthology.  This is a very sensual book, richly descriptive, it conjours vivid visions, sounds, scents and flavours of life, exercising the senses of the imagination and vividly reawakening the reader’s sense of adventure in experience. Whether discoursing upon communications, fruit, vegetable gardening, push mowers, fountain pens, tortoises, Norwegian cabin holiday experience, swimming off a mangrove fringed island or in the municipal pool, William centres you satisfactorily in every scenario.

A Little Book of Pleasures is unashamedly a “feel-good” book, but there’s nothing sugar-coated or laboured about it and I’d recommend it to those who might be feeling jaded, overly worn or distanciated; it is well-written, penetrating in its observations, not heavy-handed in the delivery, clever, gentle light reading.

Does such a focus better belong in a brighter, easier past than this so often bitter present? Not really, because if you can’t appreciate the eclectic mixture of experiences in this book today, I’d venture to suggest that you are sorely in need of just such refugia. This isn’t escapism so much as self-administered care for yourself. I have a pervasive sense of the author being a very well grounded person and his often mildly quirky perspectives strike chord after chord and when, upon occasion you are presented with something that you don’t appreciate as much as the author, or with an opinion that doesn’t match your own, what does your imagination do? Your own substitute pleasure rises quickly to mind and you transport yourself.

Yes, this is definitely a book to read for pleasure or to give to someone you know who needs some.

This book is now short-listed for The People’s Book Prize and voting for A Little Book Of Pleasures is a two step process.

  1. First, it takes a couple of seconds to register with The People’s Book Prize website (click here for page) and they’ll instantly send you an email with your password in it. If you can’t see it in your inbox, click your receive mail button, if you still don’t see it then check your junk/spam folder for it.
  2. Then please click this link to take you to the page with my book listed, click on “A Little Book of Pleasures” by William Wood and log-in with your email and the password that they just sent you and check the Add vote for this book box. You can add a comment at the time, or later too if you wish. You can only vote once for any single book, but you can make multiple comments if you feel so inclined.

If you haven’t bought a copy yet and would like to do so, you can buy the book from the same website.