Walking around Keswick with your eyes closed by Beth & Steve Pipe
The thing I was most nervous about after writing Secret Keswick, was sending it to my local friends – I was sure they’d find some mistake or other that I’d made, but instead they loved it, with one of them saying “I feel as if I’ve been walking around Keswick with my eyes closed”. To be honest, that’s precisely how we felt as we got into the research for the book.
I’d be the first to say that our research approach isn’t as methodical as some; rather than go straight to the library and see what everyone else has said about the town, we took several trips where we just wandered around different areas, really looking for plaques, features, or anything else of interest. We talked to everyone we knew who was local to find out some of their secrets, and we inadvertently discovered some fascinating history following an impromptu visit to the hospital for an allergic reaction to insect bites – when we told the staff what we were doing they happily took us ‘behind the scenes’ so we could learn more.
For me, the plaques are the thing I enjoyed most, with two in particular sticking in my mind for completely different reasons.
The first one is the plaque to Dr Crawfurd on station road – it is incredibly easy to miss, but behind this plaque lies a story of murder and intrigue. I knew nothing about Dr Crawfurd prior to this and thoroughly enjoyed learning more about him.
The second plaque was one that we knew existed, but just couldn’t find. We knew that there was a plaque to commemorate the site of the original museum, we knew it was supposed to be somewhere on, or in, Museum Square, but we just couldn’t find it. I looked, Steve looked, we roped my brother and sister-in-law in to look too on one visit, but nothing.
It wasn’t until 3 days before our deadline for submitting the book that I took one final trip up to Keswick – Steve was busy, so I thoroughly enjoyed myself on the 555 (the bus route that goes through the heart of the lakes) and, as we swung through town, past Museum Square, I looked down out of the window and suddenly spotted somewhere we hadn’t checked. As soon as I got off, I raced over and there it was – hurrah! It also explains why that photo is not up to the same standard as the rest of the ones in the book, as it was taken my me on my phone instead of by Steve on his fancy camera, but I found it and that’s all that counts!
It also gave me the perfect excuse to learn more about places that had always puzzled me – where did Parafin Ally get its name from? Who, or what, were the PUPs and why was there a clock with their name on it? Why does Greta Hamlet look so different to the rest of the town? And where can you buy the best ice creams in town? (Plot spoiler, Luchinis is the easy answer to the last question – and that’s another shop with a fantastic history too!)
My favourite day of research was the day we found the mill race at Brigham Forge, we’d read about it and decided to set out on a mission to find it. We knew where the mill was but couldn’t figure out how they got the water there, so we put on our sleuthing heads, studied the map, looked at the landscape, and off we set. We were both delighted when we tracked it down and had a lot of fun crawling through the tunnel at the end to the river. (I should probably add some sort of H&S warning here so, you know, don’t go crawling through random tunnels unless you have the correct gear.)
I’ll be honest, I hated history at school, but if there had been more crawling through tunnels involved, I’d have probably enjoyed it a lot more. Having published several local history books with Amberley, we’re often asked if we’re ‘local historians’ and I always say ‘no, we’re nosey hikers’, and it’s that nosiness that forms the start of all our research and adventures – when we see things or notice details or names and ask the inevitable question ‘why?’ it always leads somewhere interesting. And it beats wandering around with your eyes closed.
Beth & Steve Pipe's book Secret Keswick is available for purchase now.