Lorna Singleton, who was commissioned to respond to her Artful Way, catches us up with notes from Day 2 of her 3-day walk, which traces the journey coppiced wood once made, from tree, to basket, to export, and involves spontaneous weaving along the way.
I was slow getting back on track on day 2 as there were fresh eggs and good conversation on offer. I realised I’d left my walking poles back at the barn so I got a lift back there before scooting on a bit down the road to start my walk, cheating a little by getting a lift, but mostly cutting out a section of walking on the road.
The path followed the shore of Lake Windermere and past some enormous parkland oak trees, back out onto the quiet lane for a while and then the footpath picked up again over Cat Crag and down to the lakeshore. This is ancient woodland and soon my eyes started picking out archaeological remains. As the path dropped down to the lake I found the unmistakeable remains of a charcoal burning platform, or pitstead. A large, flat & round area of about 6 metres diameter.
In our steep lakeland woods these pitsteads are easy to spot once you get your eye in. Often there’s a beck nearby as water is needed to close the burn when its finished and if you dig around gently at the edges you can often find pieces of intact charcoal, which I did. How long had this been here? 100 years? More? These woods were heavily worked making charcoal for the iron industry, packhorse routes run diagonally down the steep slopes to the lake where coal would be loaded onto boats and taken to Cunsey or Backbarrow. The footpath I was following was probably one of these packhorse pathways.
This spot also has the jackpot of the remains of a charcoal burner’s hut. These are round structures with a metre or so high of dry stone wall and on top would be poles covered in turf, with a hearth at the back for a fire. The colliers were itinerant and had to watch the burn round the clock, for multiple days.
I studied archaeology, so being able to read the landscape in this way is important to me, to be able to imagine who has been here before me and what the landscape might have looked like then. To read the story of the land and feel the humility of a short human life in the long time-frames of the land – I find it puts any worries into perspective and gives me a sense of belonging.
As I carried on down the path to the lake I couldn’t help think about how this peaceful bit of woodland must have been busy, noisy and industrious when the pitstead was in use. And how the baskets I made were an essential part of this industry. Baskets were used as scoops for the charcoal and for general carrying of all materials
Further along the lake path I found a good hazel stick and sat on a collapsed wall to process some basketry material in the dappled shade. I coiled it up, tied it onto my backpack and packed my tools away. Then it was on down the valley to Lakeside, up a steep woodland (with lots more archaeology) to High Dam and down into Finsthwaite. I was tempted to stop for an ice cream but I had a delicious meal waiting for me and wanted to press on a bit further.
It was hot walking out of Finsthwaite across fields without any shade, so when I got to the woodland edge I sat against the dry stone wall and wove another mini rush basket. By now it was tea time and there were a few holiday-makers walking off their evenings meals. I was sat near to a stile and overheard a few admiring comments from children who’d spotted what I was up to. I suppose it isn’t a usual sight to see someone sat in a field weaving a basket. How sad that it isn’t.
From here my description and the map change, because I had technological issues and had to walk this day again to record the GPS. On the map I continue on the ridge behind Haverthwaite along to Roudsea Woods. On the walk I continued down to Allithwaite, where I’d arranged to stay with friends.
Susan and Ian often help in the woods, especially in bark-peeling season; and Susan is also a basketmaker. Ian has an enviable vegetable garden and it was fantastic to see a couple of oak swill baskets in use.There was a delicious supper of produce from the garden and I was offered a freshly-mown bit of their hay meadow for my tent, or the option to stay in Susan’s workshed. I chose the shed, as sleeping with the smell of willow was too tempting.
Day 3 … to follow. To read Day 1, follow this link.