Lakeland Rock

Fragment of a Lakeland rock (I'm not sure exactly where I picked this up now!)

I REMEMBER this rock near the lakeside at Bowness from a childhood holiday in the Lake District. It’s been smoothed and polished not only by passing glaciers but also by the effect of several decades of children sliding down it. I remember joining a queue at the top and enjoying the slide down onto the turf below so much that I went back up and queued for a second go. I have a  vague memory that there were two routes down; a nursery slope and an extreme sports alternative. It seemed a wild ride after the children’s slides that I’d been used to in council recreation grounds.

Close up of the fragment, approx. 10x, showing a mineral vein, probably quartz.

Unfortunately since the 1960s, the rock has been cut through to widen the road. It’s a shame not only for the children but also because this was such a prominent example of a roche moutonnée. I always thought this meant a sheep-shaped rock, smoothed by glaciers but, according to Wikipedia, when Alpinist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure came up with the term in 1786, he was thinking of the wigs, slicked down with mutton fat, which were worn by the nobility of the day.

In my memory, this ice-smoothed rock was further up the slope from the lakeside, far enough inside the park for a soft landing on the turf below. The road and the lakeside have been re-engineered here, so that might partly account for it but apparently the lake shore itself has changed. In Eric Hardy’s The Naturalist in Lakeland, written in 1973, I was surprised to find a brief reference to an increase in the water level of Windermere, brought about by controlling the outlet at Newby Bridge, the aim being to provide a more reliable water supply for Manchester. This would have been in the 1960s.

And he refers to the time ‘when Morecambe Bay is converted to a barrage or to storage reservoirs’, as if the matter had already been decided.

The ‘Greywackes’ of Windermere

Slaty cleavage in a fragment of rock from the edge of the car park at the Belsfield Hotel.

Jonathan Otley (1766-1856), ‘the Father of Lakeland Geology’ observed that,

” . . . the greater part of the central region of the Lake Mountains is occupied by three distinct groups of stratified rocks of a slatey texture – the Clayslate, Greenstone and Greywacke.”

Otley’s ‘Clayslates’ are what we used to call the Skiddaw Slates, which underlie the smooth bulk of the fells of the north Lake District; the ‘Greenstones’ are the Borrowdale Volcanics of the knobblier central fells and ‘Greywackes’ are the Silurian rocks of South Lakeland, now known as the Windermere Supergroup.

In Lakeland Rocks, An Introductory Guide, Alan Smith describes the Windermere formations as ‘Geologically interesting but not charismatic for the non-specialist in any way.”

Link; Rigg Side Publications also publish Alan Smith’s The Story of the Bowder Stone, The Ice Age in the Lake District and, one that appeals to me as ideal to take on a future break in the Lake District, Landscapes around Keswick; it would be great way to get to know more about the landscapes Keswick, Bassenthwaite, Derwentwater and Borrowdale.


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