Our second day in Cumbria and the sun is out again!  Who said it always rains in the Lake District?

As I mentioned yesterday, a visit to the Pencil Museum at Keswick is planned for today.  It is housed in a shed like building on the edge of a car park – not particularly prepossessing.  What is quite nice, however, is the little van.


Inside the shed it was a hive of activity and a good note was immediately struck when the young lady on the desk didn’t put us down immediately as ‘concessions’.  We had to tell her!  Ok, she was probably just being cautious.  We were given two small leaflets and a pencil each – nice.  The museum isn’t big and has the usual arrangement of storyboards and exhibits.


In the 1500s a hard substance was discovered in the Borrowdale region – this was graphite, and the locals soon discovered that, if you chipped a piece off, it made an excellent sheep marker.  In 1602 there is evidence that Flemish traders were supplying the Michaelangelo School of Art in Italy with Cumberland graphite so it must have been good stuff.  Unfortunately for the shepherds, however, it was also discovered to be perfect for lining cannonball moulds and thus a valuable item to the king, who immediately put armed guards in place to keep the locals from pinching it.

Apparently, there were other uses too – I like this paper written by the Rev. T Robinson of Ousby in 1709, who mentioned it as a cure for what sounds like gallstones!

DSC_3894When sand began to be used for moulds instead of graphite in the 18th century, the demand collapsed, allowing it to be used in pencils instead, although it took a Frenchman called Conté to discover that it was best mixed with clay.  The Borrowdale mines eventually closed in the late 19th century and now the vital ingredient is obtained from China!

I rather like this Lakeland Fotocol hand colouring product from the 1930s – very useful for those black and white snaps.

DSC_3897 A stand showing the Derwent range of coloured pencils that I coveted in the 50s!


One of the most interesting items in the museum was the story of the wartime map of Europe and compass hidden in a Cumberland pencil, to be used by British prisoners of war.  The map had to be made from the finest tissue paper, which was rolled and fastened with cotton before being inserted into the pencil casing after drilling out the ‘lead’.  The tiny compass was then inserted before finishing with a brass ferrule and rubber.  Ingenious. (You’ll need to click it to be able to read it)


There was an interesting film about the making of pencils, during which a Dutch woman translated for her husband in a loud grating voice and a small American boy fidgeted in his seat.  Anyway, I came away from the Pencil Museum with a new-found knowledge of pencils and clutching a 24 piece watercolour pencil set!  I must tell you that they are still expensive!

The large grey building with the Crittall windows that you can see in the featured image at the top is the old Cumberland Pencils factory but this is now abandoned and the new factory is housed in a modern industrial building near Workington, which is a shame for Keswick but the building is listed so will survive.

Keswick is a really charming little town.  The shopkeepers are helpful – the hardware shop owner explained where we could buy a replacement light bulb (Bessie’s loo) from one of his competitors in the town and the jolly man in the Cumberland sausage and pie shop explained all his various fillings!  Decisions were made – Cumberland pasty for Pete and pork and apple pie for me.  Delicious.

In the search for the light bulb we spotted the Alhambra Cinema, an untouched Edwardian edifice which houses a modern cinema with the latest equipment.  Apparently, though, up until the 1980s it still had gas lighting!


The Thursday market was in full swing under the watchful eye of the Moot Tower and the Italian ice cream shop, Luchini’s provided us with the best ice cream we have tasted for years.


We had a large tub filled to the top with three different flavours, coffee, chocolate and vanilla (for £3) and we shared it for lunch after the pies (note the demarcation line) in Bessie, parked beside Derwentwater.  Wonderful!  You can read all about how Luigi Luchini came to Cumbria in 1901 and sold ice cream from his handcart.



Then it was on the road once more and we started our 150 mile journey up to Milarrochy Bay campsite on the shores of Loch Lomond.


First of all there was Glasgow to get through though – not too bad, although the sat nav kept going into meltdown.  Then the rain started and we saw from the forecast that tomorrow (Friday) will be quite a wet day.  We knew it couldn’t last!