I will always remember and treasure my visit to Allan Bank, although perhaps not for any reason you might be able to suggest. Purely and simply, it’s because I saw my first red squirrel there!
You might think this isn’t much to write home (or blog) about, but it’s a big thing to me. I have spent all my previous visits to the Lakes and Scotland risking life and limb by paying no attention to where I was walking and looking up instead, just on the off chance that a red squirrel might be climbing a tree nearby. So, thank you, Allan Bank. I got to see three or four of the little critters bounding across the grass to get to the boxes of bird food in the garden. According to one of the ladies in the Grasmere National Trust shop, they tend to come out more often when it’s wet; so for today at least I was thankful for the rain!
But surely there’s more to Allan Bank than the squirrels, I hear you cry. Well, of course there is, although they certainly do make the most of their cute residents, laying on binoculars in one of the rooms so you can sit inside (out of the rain), with a crackling log fire behind you, and watch them from the comfort of a chair.
Unlike many Trust properties, you can sit on any chair you like at Allan Bank and, in fact, sitting on them doing nothing is actively encouraged. Teas and coffees are available free of charge (although donations are obviously welcomed) and can be taken anywhere in the house to be drunk at leisure. Like Wray Castle, Allan Bank has not been open to the public long, welcoming visitors for the first time in March 2012, and again like Wray Castle, it is very much a shell of a house (not helped by a serious fire in 2011). It is geared towards gentle activity and family pastimes, with a reading room and a games room, plus blackboards, typewriters and calligraphy sets so visitors can either make suggestions about potential uses for the property or simply let their inner poet run wild.
The poetry aspect comes from Allan Bank’s biggest claim to fame, which is the fact that the Wordsworths lived here for a number of years in the early 1800s. Wordsworth originally bemoaned the construction of Allan Bank as it interfered with the hillside views from lower Grasmere but his family actually became the first residents after John Crump’s building work was completed, moving there when Dove Cottage became too small for their growing family. William’s great friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge also stayed here so one of the bedrooms is also flagged as being his. And then we come to Canon Rawnsley again, as he bought the house in 1915 and lived there until his death five years later. As mentioned in earlier blog entries, Rawnsley was a founder member of the National Trust so it is no surprise that he bequeathed the house to the Trust, although his wife lived on there for another 30 years. As with many other properties that are without any notable contents, the Trust later rented the house out as a family home and only took it on again after the fire in 2011, patching it up as best it could before opening its doors for the first time two years ago.
So, if you’re after a quiet sit-down with some stunning views of Grasmere and the surrounding hills, this is a nice bolthole away from the busy tourist trap that is Grasmere village. There is a bit of a walk up a hill to get to the house but the extra height is worth the effort in order to get the views. On my way up to the house, I passed a field of cows and saw one of them struggling to its feet; I took this to be a good sign of better weather to come until I realised that it had only stood up to relieve itself! In fact, the weather was pretty foul when I came out and I had to shelter under an umbrella and a tree for a while before walking back down to the village. I was so distracted by the rain, in fact, that I forgot to take a picture of the house so I had to traipse back up the hill again to remedy this… doh!
The entry for Allan Bank in the handbook reads ‘Allan Bank and Grasmere’ and there is an NT shop in Grasmere village where I bought a new umbrella (pessimistically expecting my existing one to get a lot of wear and tear over the next few days), a birthday card and a postcard (yes, I have to admit, the cute squirrel picture above is a bit of a cheat!!)
Highlights: Red squirrels
Refreshments: Carrot & Lentil Soup
Purchase(s): Umbrella, birthday card and postcard from NT shop in the village
NT Connections: The Wordsworth connection links this property to Wordsworth House & Garden in Cockermouth