Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends
Hows & Knotts: A Guide to Lakeland Views by Guy Richardson. Redshank Books. £20
The word ‘how’ comes from the Old Norse word ‘haugr’ for a hill, mound. ‘Knott’, again from the Old Norse, is the old word ‘knottr’ which meant a lump or a hard knot. The hows are smooth and round and the knots are craggy and knot-like.
And there are about 443 such names describing landforms on the Lake District map. Guy Richardson claims that “about 90 per cent actually felt the weight of the author’s boots and the remainder were viewed from a short distance because of lack of public access or, occasionally, bone-idleness”.
Of these 443 elevated, airy spaces, Guy has chosen 22 that offer some of the finest views in the Lake District. An intriguing map of the Lakes shows all 443 marked with red and green dots.
Ling How, above Bassenthwaite, offers an elevation of 320 metres. From this elevation, you can see, to the north, “a pastoral landscape of dispersed farms and hamlets with a long history of human occupation”. Bassenthwaite itself “fills a trough gouged out of ancient sedimentary rocks of the Skiddaw Group by ice moving north-west from the central Lake District”. On the far side of the lake is Elva Hill where there is a stone circle of fifteen pink granite boulders from the late Neolithic period.
Close to the lake is the church of St Bega, which dates from about 950, although the building was extensively restored in 1874. The field systems that mark out the lower landscape are ancient and “based around a number of former medieval common fields”. The higher ground around Binsey and Caer Mote was subject to Parliamentary Enclosure in the nineteenth century. Farming practices have changed over the years, but, “The remaining farmers have a mixture of owned and rented fields . . . and run their businesses with an element of public subsidy through environmental stewardship schemes.”
The lake itself “may look serene”, but “the quality of the water does not match the quality of the view”. Pollution arises from the phosphorus levels, from farming practices and from “cadmium, lead and zinc leaching from the spoil heaps of abandoned metal mines”.
Guy Richardson examines a further 21 views with the same informed and sharply critical eye. They range from Allen Knott above Windermere to Lambing Knott above Buttermere, and from Bell Knott above Ullswater to Boat How in Ennerdale.
The viewpoints he chooses, determined by the accident of their Old Norse name, may be random, but Guy’s critical interpretation of the Lake District landscape is both appreciative and critical. He knows how the beautiful landscape has changed in the past and he is aware of how it may change in the future and how crucially important it is that we do everything to protect the Lake District as a World Heritage Site.