Brampton: Artists’ town?

Back in February, after several hours of fascinating interviews with some amazing, interesting, people, I completed a feature for Cumbria magazine.  I was pleased with it – but the magazine then didn’t want it (despite a couple of edits on my part).  Out running today I decided I’d publish it here instead so that my efforts, and the time granted to me by the interviewees, at least see the light of day.

One of Cumbria magazine’s comments was that it was too subjective.  However it expresses the feelings many of us – particularly perhaps the creative people and the outdoors people – share about living up here, in this truly rural part of the country (England, that is – obviously Scotland has wilder and more remote parts) so far from the traffic jams and bustle of big cities. 

Sadly, Front Room will be closing in 2019, but I hope somehow someone finds a way of carrying on an ‘artists’ hub’ in the way that Nancye and Steve have started.  Please follow links to see the artists’ work!

With over 8 million visitors a year it’s no surprise that the Lake District is well-known and also that people tend to associate Cumbria with the Lake District.  The areas outside the National Park are relatively unknown in comparison and yet the Eden valley is a beautiful, fertile corridor which leads at its southern end into the glorious Yorkshire Dales (another National Park); the west coast has miles of unspoilt beaches, an interesting industrial past, and views out over the Irish sea; and the north-east corner of the county has Hadrian’s Wall.

Brampton is the main town for this corner of the county and not only is it situated just a couple of miles south of Hadrian’s Wall amongst stunning rugged countryside – from the Moot or the Ridge on the edge of the town you can see to Scotland, the Northern Pennines, the Lake District fells and the Solway plain, and the countryside has a wild character of its own – but it is full of surprises which are not obvious to a visitor and which only reveal themselves once you live there and start to look around and explore.

Hidden in sandstone cottages in the lanes around Brampton, or living in the centre of the town ‘hidden in clear sight’ is a wealth of talented artists and craftspeople.  Some are little known locally because they exhibit further afield in the big cities, either because that is where the more affluent markets are or because they have moved to the area from those big cities and still have contacts there.  But dig under the surface and it becomes clear that for decades artists have been choosing to live in this area.  The landscapes around provide them with inspiration; the town is well-located and accessible for reaching further afield.

The local Howard family has been influential in the area for centuries, and notably George Howard, 9th Earl of Carlisle (1843-1911), was a talented artist and pre-Raphaelite.  When he commissioned Philip Webb to design St. Martin’s church in Brampton, the windows were designed by his friend Burne-Jones and executed in the William Morris studio (as an aside, the only stable block Philip Webb ever designed was at the Four Gables estate on the edge of Brampton: the house being designed by Webb for the Earl’s factor).  The Earl was a man who believed ‘art’ was a vital part of life which should be encouraged.  He was an inspiring mentor to his grand-daughter, renowned artist Winifred Nicholson, whose home was near Lanercost and who in turn became a mentor to her grand-daughter, painter Rafaele Appleby.  Rafaele still lives locally and her studio has a large panoramic window with an incredible view of the north Pennines.  She says on her website “I work in my studio on Hadrian’s Wall with views of the Cumbrian fells to the south… Paintings and pastel drawings are often inspired by, but not limited to, the nature around me”.

Rafaele’s comments are echoed by many of the other artists.  Painter Rachel Gibson, who has lived in the area almost 50 years after growing up in Berkshire and then studying in Newcastle, says she “loves the openness; the fells; how wild, rugged and empty the area is” and how history has become nature.  Hadrian’s Wall is as much a part of the landscape as the trees and hills.  She also uses nature more fundamentally with her use of pigment from Florence Mine in Egremont, West Cumbria: subtle colours of the earth also used by other artists to echo colours used by Fell shepherds or the hand prints of Elizabethan miners throughout Cumbria.  In this now quiet countryside the remains of mine workings, like the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall, have begun to merge back into the landscape, the noise and fuss of the industrial age no more than a whisper, revealed only by the route of disused railways and empty stone ruins at Forest Head and through Geltsdale.

An artist who lives outside Brampton in the hills of the northern Pennines is another painter, Carol McDermott: although she’s keen to point out that despite the isolation there is also a wood turner, a fine art print maker and a guitar maker in her village.  Like Rachel, she moved to the area after training and living elsewhere: for her living up in the hills and being able to see the stars at night became important.  Again she loves the untamed ruggedness of the area and gets much of her inspiration from the landscape, for example when walking the dog.  Despite living somewhere quite remote, she says “the internet connects you to the world.  I have Facebook friends in America and Germany.  I don’t feel isolated at all”.

Carol expressed the view that creative people are more empathetic than most and that she’s become accustomed to ‘tuning in’ and going with the flow.  For her, being a painter is her language – art speaks for her.  Gillian Naylor would agree:  she says that for her “the answer comes in a visual image”; that her paintings tell a story and are ‘visual philosophy’.   Gillian is originally from Wasdale but made the comment that “this area pulls you in… and then you stay because it’s interesting”.  She loves the feeling of connection to people from the past; the sense of being a continuation of history. Gillian is working with Rafaele Appleby and Kenyan-based Sophie Walbeoffe on a project based around locations in Cumbria where Wordsworth wrote his poems, and perhaps not surprisingly loves Lanercost Priory with its deep-rooted history: its connection to Edward I, Robert the Bruce, the Dacre and (again) Howard families.  Like Carol, for Gillian it was necessary to be able to balance bringing up children with working as an artist: she found that balance in Brampton where she has ‘found her flock of people’.  Both Carol and Gillian echo words of Winifred Nicholson, who wrote about balancing bringing up children with being an artist and also about art as a means of communication.

Other artists have grown up locally and flown the nest, to return later in life.  After a ‘feral childhood’ near Bewcastle with two artist parents, painter and felt-sculpture maker Ness Bamkin moved away but now lives in the centre of Brampton and works in the Art department at William Howard secondary school, in addition to creating her own artworks; self-styled Arts Photographer Tricia Meynell, another well-known name in local art circles, also teaches at the school.  Photographer Paul Stewart, on the other hand, was a student at William Howard school, has travelled extensively and lives abroad.  He now frequently comes home and says “It was the return to the region that was inspirational. After 30 years I’d forgotten how beautiful it was and that it was as exotic as any tropical jungle or far away place that I had visited on my travels.  Photographing the region again… was a real reward. It was a rediscovery of the nooks and crannies that I enjoyed as a child but now saw with a mature eye.”  Paul’s photographs of Brampton and of ‘nooks and crannies’ such as the marsh area off Black Path are hauntingly evocative, and his words again echo some of Winifred Nicholson’s, who wrote about obtaining as much inspiration from the flowers of Cumberland as from those of more exotic countries.

And then there are the more recent incomers, who find themselves, as Gillian Naylor did, pulled into the area almost as if by an unseen force.  Ceramicist Carolyn Marr “enjoys incorporating locally-found materials into [her] pieces” and points out that there are several different networks for artists and craftspeople locally.  Nancye Church was going to buy a property in Cockermouth but it fell through and she happened to be told about Brampton through contacts in Malta.  Now Nancye not only makes her jewellery here and takes some of her inspiration from Hadrian’s Wall, but opening The Front Room in Brampton and putting on exhibitions of local artists’ work has provided a year-round focal point for the sector.

Other focal points include the Abstract Gallery at New Mills Trout Farm and exhibitions in Off the Wall coffee shop.  Local arts groups should also be remembered, with The Hut (a former World War I gym building from Eastriggs at Gretna, and previously used by the White House School) providing a wide range of groups and classes and artist Trish Parry, originally from Manchester, running courses from her home at Milton.

And with that sense of circles within history and of only three degrees of separation which is so prevalent in Cumbria, perhaps The Front Room is a sort of reincarnation of Li Yuan-Chia’s ‘Museum’ up at Banks.  A prominent Taiwanese artist, Li was friends with Winifred Nicholson and chose to live near Brampton and Hadrian’s Wall and then attracted a wide variety of artists to exhibit in his space.   Some were or became household names, amongst them Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Andy Goldsworthy and Jenny Cowan.  Are we now, at The Front Room, seeing artists who will be similarly well-known in the future?

Too nice to stay indoors

The lovely weather continues and today I woke to another day of gorgeous golden autumn sun.


I had thought of running up Talkin Fell, but somehow that didn’t feel like quite the right place to go, and also having cycled from Maryport to Ravenglass yesterday (feature to follow…), walking somewhere appealed instead – and I remembered that I hadn’t been up above Lanercost at Haytongate for ages – probably not since I was training for Kielder Marathon (see Supervet Sarah blog).

walk-around-lanercost-23rd-oct-5So, lazily (and as I was meant to be getting back with time to finish painting my utility room), I drove to Lanercost.  I wanted to be on my own, so when I saw some other people heading up the track to Haytongate I turned left to walk along the lane which heads eventually to Walton, knowing that I’d pick up the Hadrian’s Wall path at the top of the hill (you can cut across the field from Lanercost Bridge as well, to join the lane further west near Burtholme East).  The colours were fantastic and the views as lovely as ever.  I walked to the top of the hill above Haytongate, remembering using it for hill training (and Kerry not being too happy about me suggesting she sprint up it and jog back down at least 10 times); remembering the day when loads of people came out to light up Hadrian’s Wall.

Somehow photos of views across to the Lake District never come out very well, but some of my photos did capture a little of the essence of this autumn – so different from this time last year, when it seemed to rain and rain and rain and life felt as if it was just falling apart.  I’ve also added some photos from a run I did up through Rowbank to Milton and back on Friday: all those photos need is some snow to make them Christmassy!  It’s too early to be thinking (much) about Christmas, but the first snow of the year has already been recorded on Great Dun Fell.

Perhaps this winter will be a white one rather than a wet one…

Anno nuovo, vita nuova!

The end of 2014 (‘the year of broken things’) and beginning of 2015 was pleasant but I was still having the odd ‘wobble’ about my marriage break up and separation and had a row with my ex on New Year’s Day, which resulted in his not coming around for a meal with all the rest of his family and my children. On the whole however I was feeling great about being single again and I was feeling attractive and ‘me’.

The end of 2015 and early 2016 was far calmer, although my depression due to basically just having too much to juggle in my life, cast a sad spell over the final months of the year.  On the whole however I feel very positive about 2016: I think this will be the year that the creative side of me is more fulfilled.

New Year’s Eve celebrations were great.  My parents generously paid to take the children and me to Capernaum bistro for Edward’s 5th birthday.

This was Edward’s cake (for some reason there seem to be fewer options for editing photos in wordpress today, so I can’t work out how to turn the photo round) – spot the Lego mini figure heavy metal band!

The children then went to see their Dad and his girlfriend while I got ready for New Year’s Eve dinner – as last year, at my house.  Dave Brooks brought some amazing Prosecco Punch with incredible ice cubes in it, which started the process of new year inebriation.

The menu was Insalata Tricolore (it was meant to be Insalata Caprese but my basil plant had all but died, so we only had a basil garnish); Salmon with a sort of Prosecco Cream (see note below) with Pommes Dauphinoise and green veg.; then dark chocolate mousse with a warm cherry and cassis sauce to finish.

Please note that the Salmon in Prosecco Cream is my very favourite dish at Capernaum and so it was a case of ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’.  I have to say that whilst my guests were very complimentary about my cooking, the Prosecco Cream (which was a bit of guesswork rather than a recipe) was nothing like as good as Ant’s (the chef-proprietor at Capernaum).  Also my green vegetables were a bit overcooked, which I hate.  However I was proud of all my other dishes and I was really glad I had chosen salmon for the meal rather than a heavy meaty dish.

The chocolate mousse is a Raymond Blanc recipe except he adds port rather than cassis, and serves the sauce cold.

The lovely, lovely evening ended with several games of Bananagrams, which Nicola’s mother kept winning, and then a game of Carcasonne – which Nicola’s mother and I won as a team.

I then started the New Year well with a short lie-in while I read in bed and had a coffee, and then went out for one of my favourite runs.  The air was slightly icy but stimulating and I stopped several times just to enjoy being out.  The swing which Alex and his friends had pointed out to me a while ago was wonky and whilst I swung on it for a bit, the rope cut into my left leg.  I paused by the stone memorial which had appeared at about this time last year, wondering again who Lorna Games was and what the significance of the calf or whatever it was on the stone was; and of course I had to stop to admire the view.  Despite it being a rather dull day and hence not particularly great for photographs, I love this view over towards Walton, the Solway Plain, Kielder and then Scotland – the misty Scottish hills touched with a sprinkling of icing sugar snow on their tops.

As I ran I thought over my goals and desires for 2016: you will have seen them in my other post, and details of singing events and of published writing will follow on my website.  Meanwhile, I wish everyone (me included!) an incredibly happy, successful and abundant 2016, and that your dreams may come true – however remote they seem just now.

Happy New Year!



Much as I love the children, I have to admit that having single, childfree time, is great…

Last night I went to Brampton’s newest and most classy restaurant for the fourth time in about 5 weeks (see my review and others equally as enthusiastic and complimentary on Trip Advisor – Capernaum Bistro).  I was early arriving – Nicola was a little bit late.  I hasten to add that I didn’t mind in the slightest – I was quite happy sitting there day dreaming and doing nothing for a change while Chef-Proprietor Anthony and his team rushed around looking after people. By the time she arrived I’d almost finished a gin and tonic and had munched my way through the delicious crudities (tiny slices of toasted (?) ciabatta with ham hock terrine and – I think – tapinade (sorry Anthony but I can’t remember!).  Both were lovely, the ham hock terrine being so delicate that it almost didn’t taste meaty.

Having scoffed the lot, when Nicola arrived we were generously provided with more crudities in the form of little cubes of ham hock with pistaccios.  Yum…  we then shared a starter of caprese, beef tomatoes and mozzarella with a lovely pesto dressing which I could have just eaten loads of on toast.  In fact a large helping of that entire dish with some salad leaves would make a fab. lunch… and fresh pesto is so much better than the stuff in jars.  The Co-op started selling fresh pesto at one point but sadly they’ve stopped again.  I’ll have to either make my own or keep my fingers crossed that Capernaum opens a delicatessen.  In fact one of my ambitions has long been to open a delicatessen in Brampton, and the block in which Capernaum is situated has always seemed the right location.  Any funders out there?

Capernaum 24th January (1)Between courses we were served the heavenly surprise of a complimentary palate cleanser.  I’m dying to use the term amuse bouche as I think it’s such a great one – lit. ‘amuse the mouth’ – but I’m not sure that’s strictly the right expression and in fact of course it would apply more to the crudities.  I choose the word ‘heavenly’ deliberately: the first mouthful of this damson sorbet with a champagne topping had my taste buds dancing with delight.  Superlatives aren’t adequate to describe that first mouthful (and the second, third…).  And aren’t its colours beautiful?

Nicola then progressed to Beef and Ale pie, which looked lovely, and I had a sirloin steak.  I love the straw fries with parmesan and we also shared seasonal veg. with new potatoes and root vegetables.  I had said I’d share a dessert with Nicola but in fact by then I was feeling far too full, so I had a liqueur (amaretto) coffee while she had crumble.Capernaum 24th January (2)

Post-dinner we sat and chatted upstairs in the lounge area with a glass of port each, continuing to put the world to rights.  This mostly entailed discussing how Brampton was a good place for ex-city-dwellers who want a truly rural life but with facilities (decent wine bars/bistros) as good as those in a city; talking about her forthcoming move to Holmfirth (her husband moves ahead of her and the girls tomorrow); and the reasons for my marriage break up (or should that be breakdown…).  I eventually rolled home feeling good about life, and about myself.  I have some of the feelings I had when I was single – the excitement of having a social life, potentially doing some travelling, and being able to go out with friends and feel no pressure to get home by a certain time – but with the fulfillment and satisfaction of having children.  Sadly, David leaving has given me the space I need from time to time just to relax, unwind and do my own thing.  I guess it’s partly that I don’t feel guilty – if the children are being looked after by him I have a few hours or a couple of days when I can switch off to a large extent from being a mother and, guilt-free, just be me.

One question which has come up in the past few days in my conversations with both Kath and Nicola is ‘would I get married again?’.  The answer is, I don’t know: there’s a lot to be said for feeling young, free and single at times: on the other hand a good marriage or settled relationship can be an especially close support and companionship.  At the moment I’m even in two minds about the whole internet dating thing, though it’s fun to get messages and ‘talk’ to some new guys online: part of me feels that just to do my own thing and concentrate on  my writing and singing and some exercise would be enough in addition to my children, work and friends.

In the spirit of temporarily reduced responsibility, I sat down this morning to apply for two jobs – but have decided not to as the deadline is tomorrow, the application form has some difficult questions on it which I don’t want to think about right now, and I’m just not sure enough about the organisation and type of work to want to apply at the moment.  Instead I’m off out for a run up the Ridge, to get some kindling for the wood-burner, and then to start some decorating or gardening and to do some writing-related stuff: plus a good hour of singing practice this evening after I get the kids to bed.

Life is good.

Footnote: while running in Ridge Woods I came across a new stone memorial to a Lorna Graves (2014).  It was rather lovely: roughly hewn with a relief of a cow and the moon on it.  I don’t know who you were Lorna Graves, nor the significance of the cow and the moon, but your memory lives on in a glorious spot.

Brampton awakes and other musings

St Martin's Church Brampton (2)

I slept soundly last night so I had no idea whether or not the storm hit us badly.  In fact, other than my bay tree falling over despite its brick ballast, there seems to be rather less debris around than there was after the previous storm (when my back garden acquired several plastic cartons, some bin bags and various other bits and pieces.   If anybody wants some plastic crates, please let me know – they’re under the trampoline.  Or at least they are at present.  I guess if the winds continue then they may continue their journey further long the road).

I drove the car down to David’s this morning so he could take the children to school and then get to work.  As I went outside the first of the church bells were striking 8 a.m. – I could swear that as I was walking back I heard another set striking.  Rather than a deafening riotous clangour every hour on the hour, Brampton’s clocks politely take it in turn to strike the hour, starting (I think) with St. Martin’s Church clock, as seems right and proper: it’s the largest, oldest and most central church.

The sequential striking of the hour does, however, mean that you can’t be sure exactly what the time is.  This is something I am quite comfortable with as the clocks in my house, at school, at nursery and in my workplace all tell a different time.  You would think that perhaps in this digital age timepieces would be far more accurate: I’m rather glad they’re not.

Mind you, my time-keeping was something David always criticised me for.  A stickler for promptness himself, he said I was always ten minutes late for everything.  I know time-keeping afficionados will think that this is rude and inconsiderate.  It’s not intended to be: it’s just that there’s always something I think I can ‘just fit in’ or ‘just finish off’ which will still give me precisely the right amount of time to get wherever I have to go.  Very often this works perfectly: sometimes it means I am just a little bit (well, ten minutes) late…  but it does mean that whatever was bugging me to be finished will be finished, and you will – or should – have my full attention once I’ve arrived.

The nursery clock is one I’m particularly fond of as it always makes me feel that I’m not quite so late as I had feared, as I dash out of work (I rarely leave work on time, but usually about ten minutes late…) to fetch Edward.  Fortunately he can’t yet tell the time.

As I walked back through Brampton I was musing over how much I like the first week or so of the new year.  Christmas and the New Year can be relatively hectic and I certainly feel that I’ve eaten too much and drunk too much alcohol: my stomach is showing the effects and large meals washed down with glasses of wine do not currently appeal.  I went to see some friends last night and to do some singing and they were rather apologetic about the supper they provided – a piece of quiche, a piece of pizza, some potatoes and a pile of salad.  Actually it was perfect, particularly the salad.

But in addition to that this is the one time of year when you really feel you can catch up on things.  The pile of random papers on my desk has reduced and my ‘to do’ list is somewhat shorter (and feels more manageable) than it has done for a while.  Things feel relatively controlled.

And I don’t have the children this weekend, so once I’ve written my Nordic Walking feature and done a bit of pitching, I shall get out for a couple of runs and perhaps even start some decorating.  I’ve even – finally, hooray! – now got my child/working tax credits sorted, so I can sort out the mortgage and other financial matters.

Life feels relaxed and full of possibilities…. time for me to go to check out my internet dating site!