An unspoiled, spirit-enhancing landscape celebrated by 19th-century critic and poet John Ruskin as one of the most beautiful in the world is under threat unless £1 million can be raised.
It was after a visit in 1875 that Ruskin described the view of the River Lune from the churchyard of St Mary’s in Kirkby Lonsdale as “one of the most beautiful in England, therefore in the world”.
He wrote: “What moorland, sweet river, and English forest foliage can be seen at their best, are gathered there. And, first of all, from the steep bank which falls down to the stream side from the upper part of the city itself… I do not know in all my own country, much less in France or Italy, a place more naturally divine, or a more priceless property of real ‘Holy Land’.”
The view was painted by JMW Turner in 1822, but it was already famous, with the poet William Wordsworth describing it as a place not to be missed in his 1810 Guide to the Lakes. That is why many tourists visit the small Cumbrian market town, but if they do today they will come across a locked gate.
The problem, according to Mike Burchnall, chairman of the town council, is that the footpath is on an embankment, and when the Lune below is high, it cuts into the bank. Work was done in the mid-1980s to try to reinforce the bank, but much of it was washed away during Storm Desmond in 2015, “and we’ve had big storms since then, so the whole bank is eroded”.
It is a major job to fix the problem and will cost an estimated £1m. The council, which acquired the land in the 19th century, is putting in £100,000 and has given itself until this time next year to raise the money.
“The problem with Lune is you can only do the work between June and September, so we want to try to do the work in 2024,” Burchnall said. “Every year we don’t collect the money, the footpath will be closed and we have been given more time to carry out the work. We have to try to get the money in as soon as we can.”
The council hopes to bid successfully for the Heritage Fund lottery money and raise the rest through donations.
The local brewery has made a beer from 1822 of which 10 pence a pint goes to the fund and shopkeepers have put out collection boxes.
“That’s a big question,” Burchnall said. “But failure is not an option, because if we fail, the footpath could disappear into the river Lune. We really have to do it. Getting it closed has been very difficult for tourists coming here. The view is completely blocked and we have had to put up metal gates to close the entire footpath because it is unstable.”
It is also a nuisance for local residents, many of whom walk their dogs there or want a quick route to the rugby club.
“It is a very important link in the city that has been closed for more than a year. There has been quite a bit of concern and opposition, but I think most people realize that it had to close and we have to do something about it,” Burchnall added.