I first visited Keswick, on the shores of Derwentwater (pictured above) in Cumbria, back in 2011, and fell in love immediately. It felt like coming home.
My friend Susan recommended it to me, and I soon fell into the rhythm of being back in a small town, surrounded as it is by beautiful fells, and walking along by the lake, the local Herdwick sheep wandering near its edge.
There are several islands in the lake – two to my knowledge have some folkloric attachment.
Firstly, St Herbert’s Isle takes its name from a saint of the Seventh Century, a contemporary and friend of the better known St Cuthbert. He is supposed to have prayed that they would not outlive each other, and according to tradition they both died on the same hour of the same day.
Then there is Lord’s Island, where the Earls of Derwentwater once had a mansion. The third – and last – Earl met an unfortunate end, executed in 1716 for his part in the Jacobite uprising. He was popular and well loved, and local people blamed his wife for having encouraged him to join the rebels. Above the lake is Walla Crag, which has an opening or pass on its summit named the Lady’s Rake. Here she is supposed to have escaped from an angry mob with as many jewels as she could carry…
On the edge of Keswick is Castlerigg, once the site of a castle owned by the Earls of Derwentwater. Far more ancient is the stone circle there, dating from c. 3200 BC. In common with many other similar monuments, legend has it that it is impossible to accurately count the number of its stones, and that bad luck will befall you if you try.
Nearby is another one of Cumbria’s megalithic structures, Long Meg and Her Daughters, whose stones also cannot be counted. Like those at Stanton Drew (see earlier post), these stones are supposed to have once been people, in this case a coven of witches, petrified for defiling a holy place – or possibly the Sabbath – by a local saint, or, in some accounts, the medieval wizard, Michael Scot…