I’m about a month into my PhD now, taking into account a week in the Lakes we’ve just returned from, and I’m pretty sure I’m in the same position as most month-old PhD students – with each book or article I read, the direction of my research seems to change dramatically, and a hundred new directions become possible. Each time I think I’ve found a new and interesting way of approaching my subject, I find out there’s already an entire discipline devoted to it. It’s a touch overwhelming, but probably that’s supposed to be the case. Either way, I keep coming to awkward aesthetic decisions about my thesis, like, it would be nice if it was both academically rigorous and enjoyable to read; or, in my purpler moments, I want to write something beautiful. Maybe I need to keep my feet on the ground.
Having spent a week in the mountains, perhaps I’m getting romantic ideas in my head, but I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. There’s no shortage of history in the mountains, even for one so mired in the industrial era as I – the Romans quarried at Honister, the Elizabethans mined copper from the Old Man of Coniston, and lead was mined at Force Crag in Braithwaite. This is just up the road from where we stayed, and in fact in Thornthwaite itself there are disused lead mine workings, if you know where to look.
As with the rest of the Lakes, Thornthwaite is thoroughly rural now. It’s flanked by the mass of the Whinlatter Forest Park to the West (planted by the Forestry Commission in the 1960s as Thornthwaite Forest, as Wainwright points out, characteristically grumpily), and the mass of Bassenthwaite Lake and its attendant marshes to the East. There’s a gallery with a tea shop, two hotels, some holiday cottages (and at least one red squirrel).
150 years ago, the physical environment wasn’t all that different. The forest was private rather than public (as with most of the landscape), and the A66 there now was a railway. You can still walk across the aqueduct built for Chapel Beck, although it crosses the bypass now. The lead mine was located on the main road of the time, by “Hollins” – if you’re passing through, it’s opposite the disused school bus. There was also a woolen mill at one point, up Thwaite Hill, with a mill dam up the hill and an unidentified old shaft on the 1864 map. So, plenty of activity for such an out-of-the-way little spot.
This is pretty typical for the lakes, in that these are all disused. Mining in particular declined in the nineteenth century when it became easier to extract coal, lead and iron from other parts of the country. Despite the evidence of the map though, it appears Thornthwaite lead was mined til at least 1920. Much as it saddens me to say it, you can’t always rely on maps to give you the full picture.