Cumberland Pencil Museum

During our holiday in Cumbria last month, one of the places the delightful assistants and I were most looking forward to visiting was the Cumberland Pencil Museum.

One dark and drizzly morning we set off for the town of Keswick to achieve this ambition. It was mid-morning when we reached the museum and we headed straight for its aptly named coffee shop, Sketchers.

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Part of Sketchers coffee shop, adjoining the Cumberland Pencil Museum gift shop.

We chose a table in a ‘drawing room’ next to the main body of the coffee shop.

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I was delighted by the tablecloth, decorated with coloured pencils.

Sketchers table cloth

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Alongside the usual tub of sugar packets there was a pencil holder full of coloured pencils.

sugar and pencils

Delightful assistant no.1 wasn’t very hungry so we ordered two scones between the three of us: one fruit

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and one plain, each accompanied by a cheerful pink napkin.

plain scone

After buttering and jamming the scones I cut them into bits for sharing. They were crumbly but tasty and the jam was first rate.

To sloosh ’em down we chose an Americano (delightful assistant no.1), a cappuccino (delightful assistant no.2) and a hot chocolate (me). I liked the stripy mugs. Had they been on sale in the gift shop, I might well have taken one home with me.

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Replete and ready for the exhibition, we toddled off with our tickets. Rather splendidly, instead of individual bits of printed paper or card, each ‘ticket’ came in the form of a plain wooden pencil with the name of the museum printed on it.

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The entrance to the museum had been designed to look like a cave, and we had to duck our heads as we went through.

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We passed a miner hammering rock to obtain graphite for pencils,

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and on into a brightly lit area where there was plenty to read. I educated myself with some interesting facts, such as the following:

  • Pencils can write in zero gravity and underwater.
  • Pencils don’t contain lead, but are made from a mixture of graphite and clay.
  • An average pencil can write around 45,000 words.
  • The Americans spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would write in space. The Russians took a pencil.

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My favourite bit of the museum was the display dedicated to Charles Fraser Smith. The name may or may not mean anything to you, but if you’ve ever seen a James Bond film you’ll no doubt be familiar with the character ‘Q’.

Ian Fleming, author of the original Bond novels, met Charles Fraser Smith during the Second World War and based the idea of Q, or more specifically Q Branch (the outfit responsible for the development of ingenious gadgets), on his remarkable work. In real life, Charles Fraser Smith created precisely the sorts of gadgets that feature in many a Bond movie. This was what he had to say about his unusual job:

“My piece of the war had been, I suppose, more unorthodox than that of almost anyone alive. I supplied equipment and gadgets to secret agents in the field or to prisoners of war trying to escape… I worked completely underground using as a cover the ‘Ministry of Supply Clothing and Textile Department’. My methods were certainly individual. In most cases I was forced to go well outside the normal channels to get anything done at all. Knowing when something of mine went well – a gadget really worked and out-foxed the enemy, perhaps helping to save a valuable life – was all I needed by way of inspiration.”

His connection with the Cumberland pencil factory in Keswick came about when he had the idea of hiding a miniature compass and a map inside a pencil. The project was so top secret that the pencils were made at night after the factory had closed, and only the managers had wind of the scheme. Each pencil contained a tiny compass and one of a series of maps of Germany. The maps were printed on silk so that they could be unravelled silently, and each pencil was marked with a number relating to the map it contained. The pencils were issued to Royal Air Force pilots, for use in the event of them being shot down over enemy territory.

Other similar pencils were made for British prisoners of war, the maps inside being marked with escape routes and safe houses. These pencils were passed to prisoners by the Red Cross, who smuggled them in unwittingly, having no idea that the pencils were anything other than ordinary writing tools. The pencil designs were such a closely guarded secret that no official records of them exist, and it’s not known how many were made or exactly how they were constructed.

After the war had ended, gadgets such as these were recalled by the British government and destroyed. Very few are known to still exist, but one of them can be seen in the pencil museum, and I must say it’s an admirably dull looking implement. So dull, in fact, that although I inspected it in its glass case, I neglected to photograph it.

I did attempt to take a photograph of another pencil in the museum but I couldn’t get it all into the picture. You can see the pointy end of it at the top of the picture below. It’s suspended on brackets near the ceiling, which makes it a bit difficult to see in its entirety, but I suppose the sheer size of it made displaying it something of a challenge.

big pencil

It is, in fact, the world’s longest coloured pencil (it’s yellow) and, according to the Guinness World Records Certificate on the wall nearby it measures 7.91 metres (25ft 11.5 in) long and weighs 446.36 kg (984.05 lb). It was made by the Cumberland pencil factory in 2001, and 28 men were needed to carry it from the factory to the museum. Not having a pencil sharpener big enough to accommodate it, they had to sharpen the tip with a chainsaw.

Also on display, neatly arranged in glass cases, were various packets of Cumberland pencils produced over the decades since the factory opened in 1832. Some were housed in long, thin cardboard boxes,

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while others were presented in tins or boxes decorated with attractive Lakeland scenes.

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After enjoying the display about Charles Fraser Smith I had been hoping (and, I admit, assuming) I would be able to buy a book about him in the gift shop. However, virtually all of the books on sale were concerned with drawing techniques. I think the shop missed a trick there because I’m sure the wartime pencils fascinate many visitors.

Our minds well filled with pencil-related information, we skipped through the rain and got into the car to head for our planned lunch stop. Before we left I took a picture of a little old truck sitting in a corner of the car park.

pencil bus

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Mae’s Tearoom and The Lanes Cafe

After dondering around Caldbeck (described in the previous post), we hopped into the car and drove across moorland that reminded me of the south-west of Scotland. (Although separated by the Solway Firth, the English moorland is not all that far from the south-west of Scotland as the crow flies, so I suppose the similarities were not too surprising.)

We were bound for the village of Uldale and Mae’s Tearoom which is, according to Wikipedia, the biggest employer in the area. The tearoom included a gallery and shop, all housed in a Victorian building that used to be the village school.

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Pushing open the front door, we found ourselves in an entrance area containing a visitor’s book and various items for sale, with the tearoom through a doorway beyond.

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The tearoom was fairly busy (I took the photos after we’d had our lunch) and the room was bigger and brighter than I had been expecting. There were large windows, a high ceiling and plenty to look at on the walls.

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We sat down at a free table and perused the menu after ordering apple juices and water.

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In addition to the printed items, there were a number of specials which included two soups and several different curries.

The assistants both went for tomato soup, which came with two big chunks of freshly baked white bread.

tomato soup with bread

Delightful assistant no.2 opted to swap his bread for a couple of tuna sandwich doorsteps.

tomato soup with tuna doorsteps

It was definitely soup weather, and I might have gone for that had there not been the enticement of a vegetable curry with rice. I counted nine different vegetables in my meal.

veggie curry

Our tasty lunches were enhanced by the lovely surroundings and the friendly and helpful staff. I’m not usually a fan of music in tearooms, but on this occasion the soft strains of Classic FM in the background added to my enjoyment of the experience.

Very nicely filled up after our food, we visited the facilities before going on our way. Harking back to the days when the building had been a Victorian school, the toilet block was a separate entity outside in the playground.

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This brought back a childhood memory for delightful assistant no.1.

When she was in the infant class (as it happens, also in Cumbria, where she spent her early childhood), her teacher had told the children that if they wanted to go to the toilet they must do so during playtime, and not during class. One day, after playing outside and not having taken advantage of the toilets, the young Elizabeth sat in her class bursting for the loo. Being a timid wee mite she didn’t like to ask her teacher if she could be excused for the needful, so she invented a terrible pain in her ear. Her teacher agreed that she should be sent home, and off she trotted post haste.

You might have thought she’d have made straight for the toilet block, but unfortunately it was in direct view of the classroom windows. In fear of her teacher jalousing the real reason behind the claimed earache, she dashed out of the school grounds and along the road towards home. Unable to reach her destination in time, she squatted in a gutter where she experienced great relief.

One hurdle had been jumped but another lay in wait at home. Having thought of a plan, however, she was well prepared for the inevitable question.

‘Elizabeth,’ said her mother, surprised to see her young daughter so soon. ‘What are you doing home at this time?’

‘I was such a good girl that I got sent home early,’ came the reply.

My granny’s mother-in-law was staying with them at the time, a situation that I gather was not altogether restful. Having other fish to fry, she didn’t question her daughter’s remarkable claim and little Elizabeth got away with the charade.

From Uldale, we drove on through some lovely countryside and ended up in the market town of Cockermouth. By this time our lunches had settled and we all felt we had space for a little something.

We parked in the main street and wound our way along to The Lanes Cafe which was situated at the end of a quiet pedestrian area.

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The Lanes Cafe, Cockermouth.

Acting on advice from the waitress, delightful assistant no.1 ordered a lemon meringue traybake,

lemon meringue traybake

while her spouse went for a chocolate peppermint slice.

chocolate peppermint slic e

I had a cherry and almond scone, washed down nicely with a pot of Darjeeling tea.
cherry and almond scone

When we had finished our treats we browsed an interesting wall of history outside, which had attracted quite a few other visitors.

Cockermouth history wall

As well as being full of facts about the town, the display mentioned various famous people with connections to Cockermouth.

The poet William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth in 1770 and his old house, which is open to visitors during the summer, is now owned by the National Trust. Eminent scientist John Dalton (1766-1844) was born just outside Cockermouth and went on to have an illustrious and wide-ranging career. He has a lunar crater named after him, as well as a street in Manchester and a township in Ontario. Last but not least, infamous mutineer from the Bounty, Fletcher Christian, hailed from near Cockermouth and has a pub named after him in the main street.

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After a day full of interest, but rather raw and chilly weather, we were glad to get back to our warm holiday home: a beautifully converted old grainstore on a dairy farm (you can visit the website here).

Old Grainstore

One of my chief delights of the holiday was seeing cows every day from my bedroom window.

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Caldbeck

On a recent holiday to the county of Cumbria in the north-west of England, the delightful assistants and I visited some lovely little villages. The first of these was Caldbeck, which sits on the northern edge of the Lake District National Park. It was misty and atmospheric as we approached.

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We parked on the outskirts of the village and walked in towards the tearoom we were heading for. It was extremely quiet, with no traffic or other people about.

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Delightful assistants walking through the peaceful village of Caldbeck.

On the way we passed the Cald Beck (a ‘beck’ is a stream), which provided water for various mills during the 17th and 18th centuries. A road runs along one side of it, with old stone-built cottages on the other. The addition of bird feeders along the bank was, I thought, a nice touch.

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Our tearoom destination was The Old Smithy which, going by the name and the look of the outside, was once a blacksmith’s establishment.

The Old Smithy

DA1 entering tearoom

Inside, the tearoom had simple, old-fashioned appeal with whitewashed walls and old timber beams.

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Having recently finished breakfast, some of us weren’t ready for more food (this didn’t include yours truly). We ordered one fruit scone and coffees all round.

The scone was a slightly unusual looking little thing, but it was packed with fruit and slipped down a treat.

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Thus fortified, and warmed up a bit after the cold air outside, we ventured forth for a wander through the rest of the village.

Caldbeck village

We passed some beautiful leaves spilling over a wall

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and a cat getting some shut-eye on a table outside the village pub.

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A little further on we came to St Kentigern’s Church, standing at the end of a path through recently mown grass in the graveyard.

St Kentigern's Caldbeck

Making our way towards the church, we admired some beautifully carved headstones and a building over the churchyard wall with fancy windows. There was a pleasingly lop-sided look about it all.

St Kentigern's graveyard

One of the gravestones is particularly famous, thanks to a 19th Century song called ‘Do ye ken John Peel?’ The John Peel in question was a farmer and huntsman who was born in Caldbeck in the 1770s.

The song was written in Cumbrian dialect by John Woodcock Graves, a friend of Peel’s. It was published in a book of Cumberland songs and became very well known, to the extent that at some point along the way it even got lodged in my brain. I would imagine that many of my fellow Brits will have heard of it even if, like me, they don’t know how or when they absorbed the information.

John Peel's gravestone.

John Peel’s gravestone.

St Kentigern’s is an Anglican parish church and the oldest bits of it date back to the 12th and 13th Centuries, although there was a previous church on this site in the 6th Century. The main part of the building is constructed from sandstone, with the tower (which was built in stages) made from a combination of limestone and sandstone.

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Note the lawnmower in front of the porch. After wandering round the graveyard our shoes bore evidence of the recent grass cutting.

There were several people inside the church, busy with preparations for a Harvest Thanksgiving service the following day. Bits of greenery and fruits had been strung up on the pillars, as you can perhaps make out in the picture below.

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In window recesses artistic displays had been created using fruits, vegetables, jars of preserves, flowers, greenery and other produce. The smell of fresh apples throughout the church was delicious.

window display

window recess

In addition to the colour provided by harvest produce, there were some magnificently bold stained glass windows.

stained glass at st kentigern's

Caldbeck’s parish church is one of eight in the north of Cumbria dedicated to St Kentigern, who was also known as St Mungo (which I believe means ‘dear friend’). St Kentigern/Mungo was going about his business in the 6th Century, and when it came to baptising converts in Caldbeck he made use of a well next to the churchyard. The well is still in existence, near an old packhorse bridge.

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Packhorse bridge.

St Kentigern's well

Steps leading down to the rather overgrown St Kentigern’s well (where the mossy stones are towards the bottom right of the picture). I peered into the undergrowth and didn’t much fancy the colour of the water in it.

After looking at the well, we sauntered along a broad path beside the churchyard wall, back towards the car park. It had remained cold and foggy during our visit, which added to the intrigue and mystery of the place.

path beside churchyard

If ever you roll up on the northern edge of the Lake District wondering what to do with yourself I can highly recommend a visit to the pretty village of Caldbeck. After our time there we tootled along to a splendid tearoom in the nearby village of Uldale, which I hope to post about anon.

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Houses beside the river in scenic Caldbeck.

October glory

We’ve had a smashing couple of days, weather-wise, in Perthshire.

Afternoon sunshine at Over Forneth, near Blairgowrie, Perthshire.

Afternoon sunshine at Over Forneth, near Blairgowrie, Perthshire on 13 October 2015.

Yesterday, after a bit of blackberrying with Delightful Assistant no.1 (the freezer is slowly filling up with frozen berries and plums – roll on winter crumbles), we called in at Loch of Clunie, a few miles to the west of Blairgowrie.

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The loch was blissfully still and the sunshine was gloriously warm for the time of year. The clouds were beautifully reflected in the water.

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The road runs slightly above the level of the loch, so we parked up and slithered down to the lochside where we stood on a small beach and gazed out across the water. It was very peaceful, and quite delightful to soak in the rays and admire the view.

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Although there’s still a lovely lot of green around, some autumn colours are starting to come out.

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Here’s hoping for more days like this throughout the autumn. When the weather’s like this I find Scotland hard to beat.

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Having said that, I’ve recently returned from a holiday in the north-west of England, which was pretty good in the scenery department. I hope to post about it before too long but in the meantime here’s a photo of Matterdale, near Keswick in the Lake District to whet your appetite.

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A foreign land

A couple of weeks ago the delightful assistants and I went off on an excursion to a foreign land.

Not all that different from Scotland, it must be said, the land in question being the first stop south over the border: England.

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Our destination was the island of Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island), off the Northumberland coast.

One of the exciting things about going to Lindisfarne is that you have to drive through the sea to get there:

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Having consulted the tide tables before setting off, I’m happy to report that we avoided the above predicament.

We drove along an exposed strip of tarmac that wound its way across the sand and mud flats to the island. It felt quite exciting, knowing that a few hours later the road would be under the sea.

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It having been quite a long drive from sunny Perthshire, we were ready for a spot of luncheon and opted for al fresco paninis in the garden of the Pilgrim’s Coffee House:

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The sign outside very helpfully informed canine patrons of the facilities:

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To digress for a moment, this reminds me of a sign that was stuck up outside my local Catholic church. It said something like ‘No dog fouling’ and had been attached to a railing, not at eye height for humans, but a few inches off the ground at a position I can only assume was aimed at the dog rather than the owner.

Back at the Pilgrim’s Coffee House a dog sat quietly, not checking his email but gratefully accepting pieces of scone laden with jam and cream. Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of the treats, but here he is sitting nicely:

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The island measures 2.25 miles from east to west and 1.5 miles north to south.

We concentrated our wanderings on the village area, which has a surprising amount to offer visitors.

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One of the streets in Lindisfarne.

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Entrance to the parish church of St Mary the Virgin.

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Inside the church: six wooden monks carrying a coffin.

The sculpture above depicts St Cuthbert’s body being removed from the island during Viking raids in 793 AD.

St Cuthbert is the patron saint of the north of England and was at one time the Bishop of Lindisfarne. He’s a particularly interesting saint, one of the curious things about him being that when his sarcophagus was opened some years after his death, his body was found to be in tip-top condition.

Right next to the parish church are the remains of Lindisfarne Priory, seen below with the church on the left and Lindisfarne Castle in the distance on the right.

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From left to right: church, priory and castle.

We didn’t have time to visit the castle, but I would like to pop down and look round it on another occasion. It was built in the 16th century and sits on the highest point in the island.

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Lindisfarne Castle seen from the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin.

The weather was lovely, with hazy sunshine all day.

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Delightful assistants soaking up the sun in a public garden.

Once we had wearied ourselves of walking, and despite the temptations of staying on the island….

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…we scooted back across the sea and, not far over the border into Scotland, happened upon a delightful refreshment stop in the small town of Coldstream.

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Stanwins Coffee Lounge, on the High Street in Coldstream.

We were gasping for beverages and I was delighted to find that Stanwins offered Lady Grey leaf tea, something I don’t see as often as I’d like to.

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Delightful assistants happily awaiting treats.

The cafe had a Scandinavian feel, with a Danish poster on the wall and fresh, neutral decor.  The lovely lady who served us said her husband was Danish and instead of the usual toasties for lunch, they offered open sandwiches and other Scandinavian-inspired fare.

I don’t think any of the things we had were particularly Scandinavian, but they were jolly tasty.

I had an enormous toasted teacake with Lady Grey tea, delightful assistant no.2 had shortbread and a cappuccino, and delightful assistant no.1 went for a slice of Swiss roll and a pot of breakfast tea. This was the Swiss roll, which was apparently delicious:

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We all enjoyed our trip to Lindisfarne, and hope to go again one of these days.

Perhaps, if the next visit is post-referendum*, I might get an English stamp in my passport.

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Grassy path, Lindisfarne, with water tower on the left.

*In less than four months, on 18 September, Scotland goes to the polls to vote on the issue of Scottish independence. The question we’re being asked is ‘should Scotland be an independent country?’ If the majority of voters tick the ‘yes’ box, Scotland will cease to be part of the UK and become an independent country within the European Union.