Saturday, June 02, 2007

Lake District Holiday I: Dacre

One of the mysterious stone bears in the Dacre churchyard.

This was our second week-long stay in Dacre. The first was in August 2000, when Will was 9 and Peter was 6. Dacre lies in a secluded valley on the edge of the Lake District, west of Penrith and about two miles from the popular holiday village of Pooley Bridge. This time, we stayed in Barn Croft, a lovely self-catering cottage right next door to the 18th-century public house, the Horse and Farrier. The cottage is owned by Brenda and Mike Walton. Mike was a dairy farmer in Dacre until his retirement last year. I asked him if his herd was affected by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease that hit England in late 2000. He said the valley around Dacre was untouched, and lay under a heavy protective quarantine, but he could see smoke from the pyres of burning carcasses rising from neighboring valleys and hills all around.

The Horse and Farrier, Dacre

Dacre has been inhabited since Anglo-Saxon times. The old church of St. Andrew stands on the site of an Anglo-Saxon monastery mentioned by the Venerable Bede. Inside the church, there's a shaft of a Viking cross, and in the churchyard are four mysterious stone bears, including the one at the head of this entry, in the northeast corner of the churchyard. Not far from the church stands Dacre Castle, a "pele tower" built in the 14th century as a defense against Scottish marauders. The walls of the castle are seven-feet thick. Dacre Castle is now owned by the Dalemain estate.


Dalemain is a stately home about a mile east of Dacre. Another pele tower once stood on the site; this was succeeded by a medieval hall (now a tearoom) and an Elizabethan manor house. Finally, in 1744, the manor house was given a make-over with this Georgian facade.

Will on Barton Fell, overlooking Ullswater.

One of the main reasons to visit the Lake District is for the opportunity to walk the fells, or hills, amid some of the most beautiful scenery in England. On our first full day in Dacre, we walked over to Pooley Bridge and up Barton Fell toward Arthur's Pike. Clara and Peter turned back before reaching the summit, but Will and I continued on to enjoy the stunning views over Ullswater. Ullswater is the furthest north and east of the Lakes, and is comparatively peaceful, although Pooley Bridge was busy on a Bank Holiday Monday and we had to squeeze into the Sun for our pint of Jennings Cumberland Ale after the walk.

Bonus text: Bede's Ecclesiastical History, chapter 32: The miracle at Dacre (AD 698):

NOR is that cure to be passed over in silence, which was performed by his [St. Cuthbert's] relics three years ago, and was told me by the brother himself, on whom it was wrought. It happened in the monastery, which, being built near the river Dacore, has taken its name from the same, over which, at that time, the religious Suidbert presided as abbot. In that monastery was a youth whose eyelid had a great swelling on it, which growing daily, threatened the loss of the eye. The surgeons applied their medicines to ripen it, but in vain. Some said it ought to be cut off; others opposed it, for fear of worse consequences. The brother having long laboured under this malady, and seeing no human means likely to save his eye, but that, on the contrary, it grew daily worse, was cured on a sudden, through the Divine Goodness, by the relics of the holy father, Cuthbert; for the brethren, finding his body uncorrupted, after having been many years buried, took some part of the hair, which they might, at the request of friends, give or show, in testimony of the miracle.
One of the priests of the monastery, named Thridred, who is now abbot there, had a small part of these relics by him at that time. One day in the church he opened the box of relics, to give some part to a friend that begged it, and it happened that the youth who had the distempered eye was then in the church; the priest, having given his friend as much as he thought fit, delivered the rest to the Youth to put it into its place. Having received the hairs of the holy head by some fortunate impulse, he clapped them to the sore eyelid, and endeavoured for some time, by the application of them, to soften and abate the swelling. Having done this, he again laid the relics into the box, as he had been ordered, believing that his eye would soon be cured by the hairs of the man of God, which had touched it; nor did his faith disappoint him. It was then, as he is wont to relate it, about the second hour of the day; but he, being busy about other things that belonged to that day, about the sixth hour of the same, touching his eye on a sudden, found it as sound with the lid, as if there never had been any swelling or deformity on it.

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