Friday, 29 June 2018

Head Hunting in the Eden Valley

River Eden - Armathwaite
This is literally a story of blood, sweat and tears - trust me when I tell you that all three bodily fluids have been shed in pursuit of this particular goal.  It was definitely worth it but not something I'd recommend to everyone.

The story goes something like this - when we were researching 50 Gems of Cumbria we scoured the web and the history books for interesting and unusual things to include, and came across stories and photos of heads carved into the sandstone cliffs of the Eden valley.  Well now, that sounded way too good to miss so off we set to try and find them (those of you who know where they are will be chuckling already!)  After a couple of minor failed missions during 2016 we set off on a proper attempt in October.

We had a lovely afternoon in the autumn sunshine before our final attempt of the day ended with a footpath collapsing underneath me resulting in a 10 foot fall into a pile of brambles (the full story is here).  That's where the "blood and tears" part came in - 3 staples in my head and a hand the size of a small football.  Still, it could have been a LOT worse.

More research told us that the heads were "more easily" accessible when the water levels were low, so we shelved our hunt over the winter.  During 2017 Steve was busy racing around taking photos for his new Cumbria in Photos book and he had another attempt - this time wisely leaving me safely at home - but still drew a blank.  These pesky things are properly hard to get at, so they sadly didn't make it into that book either (but loads of other awesome stuff did!)

Fast forward to this week and we were back up near Carlisle researching another book (edit update 2/5/19 this book - The Old Ways of Cumbria - is now available to pre-order here), which for now has to remain a secret but, funnily enough, does not require us to find the carved heads - however we are in the middle of a heatwave and it hasn't rained properly for ages so we decided to have one last crack at finding the elusive carved heads.

As you can see from the top the river looked superb but the weather meant that even though the walk along the riverbank is mostly shady, it was still a hot and sticky affair (this is the "sweat" part!).  To give you an idea, this is what the route to the carved heads looks like:

No, I'm not kidding.  The easiest way in is probably to swim but the cameras don't like that, so the only alternative is to inch along a very narrow sandstone ledge, battling weeds and nettles, with very deep water just inches away.  There was cursing, there was definitely more blood (but only bramble scratches this time) but we finally made it.  So, was it worth it?  Well, here are the pics we eventually got:


The carvings are said to have been done by William Mounsey (a local eccentric who clearly had a good set of wellies or the river was lower back then) and the quote is from The Compleat Angler (Isaac Walton).  The fish is a salmon as the River Eden is an excellent salmon river - one of the finest in England, apparently.

For me it was definitely worth it - I love tracking down curiosities like these, especially ones that are hard to find.  I'd only recommend the adventure to those who are very sure footed or don't mind falling into the river.  As well as the carvings the natural sandstone along there was also stunning.

Once we were done we celebrated with nice cool drink on a much safer rock and pondered what to tackle next now that we'd finally achieved this goal.  (If you have any ideas, do let me know!)

As you can see, we put a LOT of effort into all our books and they are all available to buy directly from us.  Yes, you can get them all on Amazon too, but we make next to nothing that way - plus if you buy from us we'll be happy to sign them for you.  Just click the pictures below to find out more.  Cheers! 😀

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