I met Michael Webster at Dove Cottage around twelve years ago. He and poet Paul Farley recorded the nocturnal noises within the house and using a computer program, transcribed the sounds into individual words for their exhibition and installation called ‘Amanuensis’. He’s the former creative director at Vidal Sassoon and works as a freelance artist and graphic designer, who designed and built my website along with this blog. He’s aware that I’m constantly in need of new stories and last weekend he took me along to see the strange and largely forgotten ‘Inscribed Rocks of Windermere.’
Ecclerigg Crag quarry is an overgrown eighteenth century stone works that lies in the grounds of Crag Wood Country House on the shores of Lake Windermere. The last stone to be extracted built the house in 1910; since then the area has been allowed to self-seed and conceal itself so that these days you wouldn’t know it was there until you stumble upon it.
It’s the same with the carvings: they appear out of the moss and lichen like riddles: prophetic coded messages and names that you feel must mean something by the extraordinary lengths the mason has gone to in producing them.
We came across the first one in the forest floor, carved into rock that was partially buried and covered in leaf litter and almost two meters in length, it read.
NATIONAL DEBT L800.000.000 1837
O, SAVE MY COUNTRY HEAVEN!
GEORGE 3 WILLIAM PITT
MONEY IS THE SINEWS OF WAR
FIELD MARSHALL WELLINGTON
HEROIC Adm NELSON
Scraping away the moss from the surrounding rocks reveals a litany of names: some bold and incised while others are raised and written in old English.
Wordsworth poet Rydal: Walter Scott Author. Humphrey Davy, Dr Jenner, James Hogg, the explorers Ross and Parry along with less well known figures such as Matthew Piper, a Quaker from Whitehaven whose good deeds in funding and endowing three National schools along with a soup kitchen also gets a mention. Alongside are freedom fighters General Lafayette, Lord Byron and Robin Hood. All are meticulously carved on an industrial scale into the exposed rock. Still others lie below the water line and it’s said that when the lake level drops Neptune rises.
The carvings are attributed to a reclusive stonemason called John Longmire from nearby Troutbeck who between 1835 and 1837 took it upon himself to carve the names of his heroes along with other issues of the day onto the exposed rock. Why he did it is unclear, they weren’t commissioned as the quarry’s absentee owner lived in Devon and rarely if ever set foot on the place. Nor were they done for any kind of public recognition since the area is far from the road or public footpaths. The inclusion of Byron and Lafayette and the omission of the reigning monarch suggest Republican leanings, while Dr Jenner (smallpox vaccine), Davy (the miners’ lamp) and to a lesser extent Piper, imply a man with a deep social conscience very much aware of the sufferings of others. Whatever his reasons he’s left his mark – though not his name – on the inscribed rocks. A transcript from the Ancient Monument Society suggests that he was simply ‘marking the passage of time through the people and events that had shaped his life.’
It sounds like a good enough reason to me.
Photos of carvings Julie Ellis
Michael’s recipe for: Marbled Eggs
For Marbled Tea Eggs, you’ll want to hard boil eggs first, and after they cool off, use a back of a teaspoon to gently crack the eggshell all over.
Keep the eggshell intact, but the more you crack, the more intricate the design of the marble will be.
Make those crack pretty deep, as that is how the tea/soy mixture will seep into the egg.
Gently place the eggs in a medium pot and fill with water to cover the eggs by 1-inch.
Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat and let simmer for 3 minutes.
Remove the eggs (leaving the water in the pot) and let cool under running cool water.
Using the back of the teaspoon, gently tap the eggshell to crack the shell all over.
The more you tap, the more intricate the design. Do this with a delicate hand to keep the shell intact.
To the same pot with the boiling water, return the eggs and add in the remaining ingredients.
Bring the mixture to a boil and immediately turn the heat to low.
Simmer for 40 minutes, cover with lid and let eggs steep for a few hours to overnight.
The longer you steep, the more flavorful and deeply marbled the tea eggs will be.
Next week: Taking a Break
michael’s website can be found at www.michaelwebster.co.uk