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Laddering up to a Victorian viewpoint – visitors get birds ‘nest’ view at Bowder Stone

Bowder Stone (National Trust Images)

An 18th century “gravity defying” tourist attraction that once drew crowds from across the country has been given a new lease of life thanks to the National Trust.

The Bowder Stone became a famous stop off for thrill seeking Victorians when a flimsy wooden ladder was first installed by eccentric local landowner Joseph Pocklington in 1798.

Victorian postcard of the Bowder Stone near Keswick. Credit National Trust

Such was the fame of the giant boulder in Keswick, near the Lake District, that John Atkinson Grimshaw, today recognised as one of the era’s most popular artists, painted it at some point between 1863 and 1868, standing prominently in the valley.

But now, the National Trust, which cares for the stone, has installed a new nine metre metal ladder, which ‘opens’ today, to allow tourists to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.

Lifting the metal ladder into place at the Bowder Stone. Credit John Malley

“This is about restoring the excitement of a visit to one of the strangest and at one time, the most famous Lake District attraction,” said National Trust Curator Harvey Wilkinson.

The Bowder Stone is six times the height of a person, approximately nine metres high and 15 metres wide, and is estimated to weigh 1,253 tonnes.

It is thought to have fallen from the crags above after the last ice-age, coming to rest at its current improbable angle; from one view point it looks like a ship’s keel.

Bowder Stone (National Trust Images/Chris Lacey)

Two hundred years on, it is partially hidden by important woodland which has grown around it.

“The Bowder Stone is a powerful reminder of change in the landscape, viewed through the eyes of the painters, poets and writers who portrayed it.  In that sense it is something of a time machine, revealing changes in its setting, and also in peoples’ perception over time.

“The once visible landmark is now very much a hidden treasure, part of the evolving story of this landscape,” added Harvey Wilkinson.

Jessie Binns, National Trust Visitor Experience and Engagement Manager said: “When the Victorians stood on the top of the stone they would have been able to clearly see the high and central fells.

“However, today’s visitor will instead find themselves surrounded by tree tops, mostly birch and oak. And, depending on the time of the year, they may also see and hear woodpeckers, tawny owls and large dragonflies like the spectacular golden-ringed dragonfly hunting for insects in the tree canopy.”

The National Trust bought the Bowder Stone in 1910, as part of the purchase of 310 acres of Grange Fell and Borrowdale Birches[4].  It has been in the care of the conservation charity ever since.

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