As I write this the snow lies four inches deep outside my window and the landscape is muffled in a blanket of whiteness. Fortunately for our party at Rothay this all-enveloping shroud kept away until we were safely home, and we were able to fulfil all our planned visits, and accomplish all our talks.
These ranged from a Masterclass with the elegant Dr Kathy Haslam on the architect of Blackwell, Hugh Mackay Baillie Scott, to another Masterclass on English Portraiture, by David Cross of Durham University. This concluded with an image of the alluring Lady Agnew by John Singer Sargent, having touched in the course of his talk on every portrait-painter of importance from Nicholas Hilliard to David Hockney.
Our expeditions took us to a varied selection of venues which ranged from the Cumbria Crystal Factory at Ulverston to the idiosyncratic horological wonderland which is G K Hadfield’s at Great Salkeld in the spacious and verdant Eden Valley. Nearby we also called in at the only remaining organic flour mill left in Cumbria at Little Salkeld. Here we saw not only the simple technology which produces this essential product but were able to purchase some of the end results, notably Granarius Malted Flour. It is a salutary thought that the glass factory at Ulverston, with four glass-blowers, is all that remains of the British lead crystal manufacturers which once numbered Waterford, Stuart Crystal, and Brierley amongst their number. Any production bearing those names is now largely made overseas.
In addition to the two masterclasses we had a number of illustrated talks, ranging from Heating the Home, a survey of the ingenious and increasingly sophisticated means employed to furnish that basic requirement, to a talk on Some 20th Century Country Houses. Here we learned that far from being a disappearing phenomenon in the latter part of the 20th century, the country house is alive and well encouraged by such architects as Raymond Erith and Quinlan Terry alongside Edwin Lutyens, Francis Johnson and surprisingly, Basil Spence.
Quite a packed week, then, amidst the hills and lakes of Cumbria which will be repeated in February 2011. This long-running series of Short Breaks attracts a loyal following as well as new adherents, who have come to enjoy not only the camaraderie of the event but also the relaxed charm of this family-run hotel on the edge of Windermere.