Stagshaw Garden

The view of Lake Windermere from part way up the fellside

Stagshaw Garden is a sloping woodland garden of approximately eight acres. It is located on a steep slope named Skelghyll Fell on the north-eastern shores of Windermere, England’s largest lake. The area around Windermere is considered the centre of the Lake District. The word ‘Lakeland’ has become a normal way of referring, locally, to the Lake District.

Most of the Lake District is protected by the National Trust – a preservation organisation which was founded in 1897 and empowered by an Act of Parliament in the early years of the twentieth century. Beatrice Potter, the children’s author, was one of the founders of the National Trust. She lived in Lakeland and bequeathed her substantial local landholdings to the Trust at its formation.

Stagshaw Garden was created for the National Trust by Cubby Acland. The project was begun in 1959 and continued to his death in 1979.

Cubby Acland’s book ‘The Lake District’, one of his popular series in the 1950s

Acland was a local travel author and a Land Agent for the National Trust. He lived in one of the country houses on the edge of what became Stagshaw Garden and was intimately familiar with the layout of Skelghyll Fell – within which the present garden was created and landscaped. The entire Wansfell Estate passed into the hands of the National Trust in 1957.

We are lucky to live in Kendal; a half-hour’s drive from the shores of Lake Windermere. Many of our relatives like to visit… Easter is popular, as the ‘coming alive’ of the local landscape is very tangible at that time.

For this Easter weekend, we had my mother and Bernie’s sister staying with us. My mother is eighty-nine and has vascular dementia. Although she has a full life – and is still independent – her attention span is short, so we try to construct days out which compensate for this and give her the happiest family memories for as long as she can retain them…

We have learned from experience that getting out early in the day is the key to a successful trip; as is filling it with a number of relatively short activities. This gives her time to relax in the afternoons, back at our house, and not get too tired by the day.

Stagshaw Garden is an easy walk (following an initial short climb) and so was an ideal choice for our morning, which called for a first visit of about an hour. Having decided this, we wrestled everyone out early and arrived just after nine-thirty, enjoying the unusually light traffic for such a popular weekend…

The garden is steep, but accessible. It follows the ravine created over millennia by the descending stream.  It is famous for its shrubs, especially rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.

From the rustic wooden gate, the path winds up to the right and begins to follow the stream valley that climbs the hill. This forms the core of the garden.

It was still before ten in the morning and the light had that special spring-like quality to it. Everything seemed extra bright, and the colours – particularly the greens – were vivid and sumptuous.

When Bernie and I retired from our former life in IT, she went back to college to qualify in horticulture – something she had always wanted to do – and now volunteers with Cumbria in Bloom, part of the RHS’ work of promoting gardens.

Neither of us had ever visited Stagshaw Garden, but it was on our list, largely because Bernie is fascinated by the kind of landscape design that moulds itself into a difficult landscape – such as a long gulley on the side of a Lakeland fell…

The trick, she explained, was to make it look completely natural; to take the visitor on a journey that looked as though its path has always been there, winding and climbing through the changing forest.

We were delighted to find a section of bluebells at the highest point of our climb. A deer also made an appearance but ran off too quickly to photograph. We had reached the limit of what Mum could cope with – but we had promised her bluebells… Their sudden appearance at this high-point made her morning.

From our partial ‘summit’, two paths led back down through the garden. The first was the way we had come. The second offered us an alternative descent which gave us an unexpected view of Cubby Acland’s former home.

Ahead lay a visit to Waterhead, a coffee and an unexpected scone with local jam and cream; followed by the ruin of a Roman Fort and a dog chasing a frisbee… but that’s probably enough for one post! A very happy but tired mother returned home by the early afternoon for her nap…

Lake Windermere and coffee… perhaps a scone with jam and cream!

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at


Here sits the poet, lost in rapture…

Photo of a 'poet's bench' on Lake Windermere

By wind and mere and rippled flow

And water’s mirror, sunlight’s glow

To farther hills whose skin embraces

Touching sky with changing faces

Who sees the round but loves the whole

And wrestles with that spirit’s capture

Here sits the poet, lost in rapture

©️Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

Oxen Home


It’s a station on the North-West main line – ‘Oxenholme’ is how it is really written. If you set quiz questions, it’s a good one: what’s the only main line station in Britain to be found in a village?

Oxehholme - 1

Oxenholme is really on the outskirts of Kendal – as close as the main north-south line to Glasgow gets, but there’s another station in central Kendal so they had to call it something else.

Oxehholme best - 1

If you’re going to Edinburgh, the line bifurcates somewhere around Carstairs and trundles off at a slower pace, cross-country to Scotland’s capital. Glasgow is more fun – and a lot faster.

It gets you to London, too, via The venerable stations of Lancaster, Preston, Wigan, and sometimes, Warrington and Crewe, before thundering south to Euston. But my working life contained a lot of that, as most of our large customers were in the City, and living on such trains, via Preston or Manchester, was a way of life I’m happy to have left behind, though it served me well.

Apart from happy visits like the Bloggers Bash, I’d rather face the other way and visit romantic Scotland – a place that Bernie and I love.

My happiest London moment was always the sight of Euston’s platforms sliding into the darkness as the train left for the North-West.  This does not reflect a dislike of our capital – it’s a wonderful place; just a desire to ‘breathe’ again after the crush of the city and the necessary compression of the Tube.

When we bought our ‘old’ 1960s bungalow in 2010, and set about converting it so that we could ‘ part-retire’ to the Lakes, the prospect of having a main-line station on our doorstep was very appealing. If we wish, we can walk from our tiny village of Sedgwick (one horse, no shops, nearest pub 30 mins on foot) to Oxenholme station in 45 mins. If we want to amble and arrive less sweaty, an hour. There’s a top-class coffee shop just outside the station’s rear approach which is part of a local bakery. 

Sometimes, I walk Tess there, we have coffee and Danish, and then we walk home with the bread. It’s different from London, though the latter has closer shops!

I love trains, and opt for them whenever possible. Bernie is very adept in scouring Virgin Rail’s online offers to get me or is two first-class singles for the price of a standard-class return… heaven.

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And the lovely, historic station at Oxenholme makes all this possible for us Lake District dwellers…

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We shall shortly be leaving for Scotland, to spend the weekend with friends who have treated us to a joint birthday present – a day’s cycling around the Scottish Isle of Tiree. We will train from Oxenholme to Glasgow, meeting up for dinner; then fly to Tiree in the morning for our day’s cycling. 

I’ll bring back pictures, I promise…

Agents of the Deluge



I should have known, I tell myself – as the torrential rain comes at me sideways and immediately drenches my black corduroy trousers, that it was going to be one of those days. Note to self: cords and heavy rain do not a happy camper make…

Not that I’m camping. It’s a normal, February, Saturday morning in South Lakeland and the rain has continued its assault on the inhabitants, as the above photo of the ‘unadopted’  lane that connects us with the main road through the village of Sedgwick shows.

Bernie and I have a deal on such mornings – when the shopping requires central Kendal and the dog (Tess) needs walking. She drives us the four miles to the edge of Kendal from where man and collie walk along the river while the warm car driver continues the journey. Two hours later we meet up at one of the few dog-friendly cafes in Kendal’s centre. Tess gets a good walk, regardless of the weather, and Bernie gets to shop in peace.

The only problem with this plan is that, regardless of the weather, I have to spend two hours outside in the raw, winter elements. No problem in summer, but in February… It can loosen one’s sanity, so to speak…


And that’s where I am, now, on the riverbank; the bank of a very full river Kent… and me a very wet human. I took a selfie to prove it – but looked so glum I’ve blurred the face!


Of late, I’ve noticed a few fellow bloggers doing things under the banner of ‘stream of consciousness’ prompts. Getting out of the warm car and into the deluge of that morning, I thought why don’t I photograph things as a stream of consciousness, and narrate it as presented? Give me something to focus on, other than my chattering teeth, and wet corduroy legs…

One positive thing about the selfie was it reminded me of the ‘still-suits’ that were used by the desert peoples in the book Dune, by Frank Herbert. In the series of wonderful novels that followed, the Fremen – the desert warriors – triumphed over the corrupt political empire that dominated the far-off solar system.

On Arrakis, also known as Dune, water is so precious that every drop is cherished.

Now, across the Lake District, everything is reversed: the threat to life is water. The continuous downpour is in danger of creating another flooded Kendal – only fifteen months after the devastation of 2015. But Cumbria isn’t just gushing water from every orifice, it’s also trying to wipe out local human life in a sea of mud… It’s a slight exaggeration, but good enough to propel my stream of consciousness morning…

As a child, when my weekly comic book was finished, I’d run out and be my favourite character. I’m sure we all did, in one form or another. That power of imagination, shared by all children, is a potent thing… So now, as an escape from the retelling of the misery of the following two hours, witness a change of space, time and eyes as we journey into Kendal in the present tense, stream-of-consciousness style…

We need some baddies – let’s call them the Agents of the Deluge!

Man and dog versus the Agents of the Deluge… It’s going to be tense…

While I’m framing our quest, Tess has been busy doing what dogs need to do at the start of a walk in the rain. Depositing the dog-poo in a nearby bin, I turn to collect her. She’s chasing the ducks. She knows I don’t like it but she’s been made to wear her winter coat, which she hates, so she waits till my back is turned and frightens the ducks back into the river. Butter wouldn’t melt, people say, when they see her… heh heh, sniggers dog, leaping off into the mud by the river… What a mess, and that’s just here! Just can’t wait for the park in Kendal, I think to myself, and ‘frisbee time’ in five inches of mud. Why do I feel bound by these promises?

We cross the main road using the underpass and arrive at the K Village – built on the site of the old K Shoes factory; long closed, asset-stripped and the bits moved to Somerset and the Far East.


The locals said it would never work, a bijoux mall of ‘designer outlets’ – too small and too restricted. Looks like they were right. We count only four shops surviving – the number seems to lessen each week. It’s too early for a coffee (08:45), so we walk around the closed shops and pretend to be interested in shoes and ski-jackets. It’s empty, but dry… There is a huge game of Connect4 on offer, but Tess isn’t up to speed on it, yet… I live in hope, but I know that, now and in the future, she’s going to prefer ducks…


The requisite fifteen minutes to opening time have passed. It’s 09:00. We head for the Costa Coffee, finding it ironic that the most signposted and visited ‘shop’ is on the outside of the complex… This retail malaise doesn’t affect all of Kendal. Shops in the centre of town are fine, but this liminal edge is just too far away to feel connected to the main people flow.


And suddenly, there is that sign that means warmth and coffee… and in summer, a gentle consideration of the river Kent’s flow… but it’s not Summer and there’s a dog in tow,so we flee, wind-driven but with our refreshments, back into the centre, where we have our biscuits and latté, but not necessarily both.


Frefreshed, we consider the remainder of the journey…

Mine… Collies can’t have currants! She does get her own biscuits on such occasions, though, and decaf coffee, of course.

Leaving the centre by the main entrance, we notice that the Agents of the Deluge have planted one of their men to watch us. Tess is not fooled…


Deep, breath… Now comes the extreme bit. We fight the driving rain across the old bridge and onto the riverside path.


I let Tess off the lead and she heads for her favourite bits of the grassland – but they’re all covered in water… and mud, of course. I shudder, knowing what lies just ahead.


The deal is this: when we get to the main quadrangle of the park’s centre, she gets twenty throws of the frisbee. It’s not really a frisbee, it’s an aerodynamic equivalent, with cut-aways that let it fly a long way and yet still be ‘tuggable’ when she retrieves it and wants me to fight to get it back.

She lives for these moments. Collies love chasing things…

For perhaps fifteen minutes, we throw and fetch across the edges of the park, taking care to avoid the newly-sprung marshland in the centre. Tess looks at me and I know she wants a really big chuck… If I can get it all the way across without it taking a dive..? I am quite good at this, having practised for most of her two years.


As I draw my arm back to hurl the aero-frisbee, backhand, right across the park, a voluble crow, perched high in a nearby tree, and clearly an Agent of the Deluge, caws, cartoon style, a noise that sounds distinctly like “You’ll be sooooorrry!”

But it’s too late… the lilac disc leaves my drawn-back right hand with an audible howl. Caught on the breeze, it winds itself into the sky at the beginning of a truly amazing journey.

As the Collie hits the new lake in the middle of the park, there is a hiss of rising water that reminds one of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird speed trials on nearby Lake Coniston. Tess, maintaining her speed, disappears into a curtain of rapidly vapourising brown and frothy liquid, from which she emerges, seconds later, barking her ecstatic triumph to collect the frisbee which is hanging from the lowest branch of a distant bush…

Return journeys must have their second leg… Without hesitating, she ploughs back into the turgid brown water, intent on returning the way she went. Then she’s back…


Standing before me, there is a slight pause, while she radiates love from those golden brown eyes, and then the shaking begins…

When she concludes, tail wagging, there remains a pebble-dash effect, covering a dog and a human to a remarkable degree.

Human plus dog nil, Agents of the Deluge one, I’d say…. We live, albeit muddily, to fight another day… The cafe owner is not amused. I talk about football to distract him. I don’t know anything about football, either…

©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017.