Muncaster Castle – A Trip Down Memory Lane.
by Sally Fielding
Today I took a trip down memory lane and had a day out at Muncaster Castle by Ravenglass (near Eskdale). Boldly passing all the people having ice-creams and cake at the café I knocked on the private entrance door at the castle of Iona and Peter Pennington who run Muncaster, and whose family have lived there for over 800 years. Bruno (my 4 year old) was very excited because he thought we were going to meet the Queen.
Iona and Peter more than made up for the lack of Queen and we had a small tour around part of the Castle as they were preparing for a wedding that was to take place there in the afternoon. I remembered the guided tours I used to give and all the stories I used to tell about the place. One of my favourites was the three-quarter length portrait of Lord Nelson. It used to be one of only two full length portraits in existence … until one of the Penningtons decided that it would look better in a different frame and cut his legs off!
Another memory I have is of Phyllida Gordon-Duff-Pennington (the current owner) asking me to help her carry a load of teapots from one end of the castle to another. As I struggled through the castle with an armful of teapots (mainly in the dark as it’s good to conserve energy and save money) I asked her what she was doing with them all. She told me that they’d just come back from being valued. I asked her how much they were worth and then almost dropped them in surprise when she gave me the figure!
It’s 11 years since I worked at Muncaster and it has moved on quite a lot since I left there in 2000. Back then I was working in a portacabin; now it has lovely new offices, new shop, new café, a meadowvole maze for children and more paths through the woods. It still has the fantastic views over the Eskdale valley and the Georgian Terrace walk is just beautiful, especially at this time of year when the rhododendrons are at their best.
We had lunch in what Bruno decided was a little pixie house against the backdrop of the Eskdale fells. This is where I used to have a picnic lunch most days when I was working here. My friend remarked that it was the perfect place to contemplate life and the universe, and indeed, at the time I was reading quite a lot of Richard Dawkins. The kids, however, were more interested in running wild round and round the pixie house. I don’t know where they get their energy from as they had already run wild around the playground and also around part of the woods where we made a rhododendron necklace from the fallen rhododendron petals.
Within the woods, there is a Sino-Himalayan trail bursting with Himalayan plants along the way. The soil and climate around Ravenglass and Eskdale is apparently very similar to that which you find in the Himalayas. One of the gardeners at Muncaster was renowned for his intrepid plant-hunting in China and Tibet. Before I worked at Muncaster I had no idea that there was such a job as ‘plant hunter’. It’s probably more prestigious than the hunter who killed and brought back the skull of a man-eating tiger that Bruno was quite taken with in the Castle.
I don’t know where the time went – we were there all day but still didn’t manage to see the Owl and Bird of Prey display, explore the woods fully or even visit the café. We just about had time to visit the Meadowvole Maze with its oversized animals waiting to kill you. The kids loved it and they answered the whole question sheet correctly. The only way we could get them to leave was to promise a trip to the shop to collect their (free) prizes. Things really have changed since I started my own business running a Lake District cottages
Back in the car with an ice-cream for the scenic route home – down Birkby lane, into Eskdale, over Hardknott Pass, then Wrynose Pass, through Ambleside, past Grasmere and back to Keswick. Just beautiful.
Article submitted Saturday, April 23, 2011 & read 50 times.
Sally was born and bred in Eskdale and brought up on a working farm. Her family where always branching out into new areas which eventually led to the self catering lake district holiday cottage industry. She has followed in those footsteps and enjoys sharing the little hidden gems.
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