Series 2 – 06: Stickle Pike and Caw


From 1963 to 1968 we took all our holidays in the Lake District – two a year and sometimes, later in the decade, three, they being so inexpensive – at Low Bleansley Farm, in the Lickle Valley, a few miles away from Broughton-in-Furness.
Low Bleansley was farmed by Joseph Troughton, a small, wiry man who might have been any age but who was probably only about fifty, with his son David, a burly lad in his twenties. Taking in guests was a relatively new sideline of his wife, Jean, and enough of a success that, a few years later, an annexe was built to that end of the farmhouse (providing me with my first opportunity of a separate bedroom).
That success was all down to Mrs Troughton, a very welcoming and friendly woman, who provided Bed, Breakfast and Evening Meal with an attention to her guests and good, simple food. We were popular guests, always welcomed as friends whose visits always brought the sun with them at harvest time (we never had more than a single day of rain on any visit). And, being part Cumbrian, we belonged, in a sense.
Indeed, Grandad’s instructions to me on our first visit were, on our last day, to ask Mr Troughton for ‘a la’al bit o’ streer’ which, despite his refusal to admit it, was indeed a little bit of straw. Mr Troughton, greatly amused by my struggling attempt to reproduce dialect, happily obliged.
The Lickle Valley, a working valley immediately to the east of the Duddon Valley, offered nothing to the tourist, except a little-used fell-road shortcut into the middle of the Duddon, at Seathwaite. Narrow at its head, the valley expanded to surprising width and depth as it emerged onto the Duddon Estuary. Low Bleansley, halfway up the western wall, was the lowest farm in the valley, easily seen from the main road to the coast, but to reach it we had to take a narrow road off the Broughton – Coniston road, high on the eastern flank, descending a mile or more to the hamlet of Broughton Mills, then double back down the other side of the valley, more than a mile or more, to the road end at Low Bleansley.
They were happy times. One sheepdog, Nan, was a complete softie, but the other, Beth was hostile and had to be kept tied. In my first ever display of perseverance, I stood and talked and held out my hand for ages  until she allowed me to sit and stroke her. My sister fell for two pet lambs kept one year in a pen at the far end of the farmhouse. She named them Sunny and Snowdrop, and professed to recognise them as sheep the following year.
One night, after tea, Dad and I let ourselves through the gate, onto the steep green fellside beyond. We climbed up a hundred feet or so above the farmhouse, to where a tree grew out of the base of a small rock outcrop, and there created a cache: a thruppenny bit in a film canister, hidden in a hollow in the tree-root, there to be checked upon in later years. There was more than just the coin, but I don’t remember what.
There was no television at the farm, except for one night in May 1968, when the Troughtons invited us into their kitchen to watch the European Cup Final. My parents weren’t bothered about football, but they remembered Munich, whereas I was, to my shame, anti-United because everybody else at school was a Red and I scrabbled at any chance there was to be distinct.
Full-time was also bedtime and, though the match was level, I was sent to bed, grumbling. Then Mam called upstairs: was I still awake? Did I want to see the second half of extra-time? I look back now in horror that I saw my team play its biggest ever game – except for that small piece of it when they won it.
We were back in August for one last time, Saturday to Saturday, and then were horrified to be contacted and told that, on the Thursday of that following week, Mrs Troughton had collapsed and died, I think of a stroke. We were friends as much as guests, but then I feel sure that everyone who visited Low Bleansley for more than a single holiday regarded her as a friend, rather than a mere hostess, and many will have been as shocked and saddened as we were.
Low Bleansley still hosts guests, in self-catering accommodation to this day, under new management. One day, when circumstances allow, I’ll go back there, explore that little scrap of fellside, find that canister, and bring a part of Dad back with me. For those who would like to try Low Bleansley for themselves, here’s a link to their website: http://www.thelicklecottage.co.uk/index.htm
The picture is of Stickle Pike and Caw, small but shapely fells that formed part of the ridge between the Duddon and the Lickle. They were a permanent and attractive backdrop to all approaches to the farm, and I was offended on their behalfs that Wainwright had excluded them from his Guides, though they did make it into The Outlying Fells, and I have climbed them both.

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