The battle for Blencathra: A movement to ‘save’ a mountain

Thousands back campaign to buy Lake District fell to prevent sale to foreign billionaire

The travails of man cannot help but appear puny in comparison with the mighty, timeless massif of Blencathra – even those of a family as grand and as ancient as the Lowthers.

While once their forebears could walk from coast to coast without straying from their own land, today the ravages of death duties, divorce and a bitter family feud have left the 8th Earl down to his last 32,000 acres.

And his estate is about to get a little smaller still. Faced with a looming £9m tax bill dating back to the death of his father eight years ago, the current Lord Lonsdale, Hugh Lowther, is conducting what must rank as the world’s most spectacular garage sale, selling off one of the Lake District’s best-known mountains.

Visible from across Western Cumbria, the 2,848ft peak, nicknamed Saddleback for its sweeping and perilous ridge, has inspired everyone from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Alfred Wainwright. It was gifted to the family 400 years ago for their doughty support of the Royalist cause.

But suggestions that a buyer will most likely be found in Russia, China or India has sent an icy gale blasting down the valley with fears that Cumbrian massifs could join Premiership football clubs and superyachts as the must-have playthings of the international super rich.

Five days after it went on the market at £1.75m, plus VAT,  thousands of supporters have pledged backing and money to help buy the mountain, after two community groups sprang up on Facebook and other social media.

With local mountaineering legend Sir Chris Bonington in talks over the bid, the two groups are urging lovers of the great outdoors to club together and preserve Blencathra in the memory of the dead of the First World War.

Andy Luke, who established the Buy Blencathra website and Twitter account last Sunday, said there had been an extraordinary level of interest. “There is a sizeable walking community that loves the Lake District and ideologically likes the idea of what is being proposed,” he said.

There is a precedent. Following the Armistice, 3,000 acres of land around Great Gable in Wasdale were bought by members of the Fell and Rock Climbing Club and donated to the National Trust in memory of their fellow adventurers who would never return from the trenches. Each year a service is held to mark their loss.

The Earl of Lonsdale with his wife, Lady Lonsdale, and the sale brochure for Blencathra The Earl of Lonsdale with his wife, Lady Lonsdale, and the sale brochure for Blencathra (PA)
Yet there would appear to be few benefits to ownership of Blencathra. It is within the National Park and its slopes are home to the sheep of 10 graziers with rights held in perpetuity. It is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, so whoever owns the mountain will have little room for change and – it is claimed – will be forced to settle for the £1,000 a year generated by a hydroelectric station. The National Trust believes there are sufficient safeguards in place and is not planning to intervene.

But doubts persist. Mr Luke said: “It shouldn’t make a jot of difference who buys it. You can walk up it today and have your lunch on it – just as you will be able to in five years’ time. But whilst there is a very high degree of protection to the mountain I would imagine that there are some things that can be done. We just don’t know what they are.”

Lord Lonsdale is in little doubt of the lure of the place, which comes with an ancient manorial title, the Lordship of the Manor of Threlkeld.

“Prestige,” he said. Although he prefers to fly over it in his microlight, some may prefer to experience it on foot, he acknowledged. “People will want to be able to walk up it, stand at the top, look around and say: “I am a lord and this is my mountain.”

The Earl has already sold a family Turner to Tate Britain for £1.4m to meet financial commitments and is said to have preferred to dispense with the mountain rather than break up the tenanted estate.

The financial impasse stems from a bitter breakdown in family relations and a High Court battle over the 7th Earl’s will. It was claimed that the present incumbent was disinherited by his four-time married father on his deathbed in revenge for his son’s allegations of childhood sexual abuse.

But the Earl’s agent, John Robson, said the family would be happy to accept the community offer: “It is a very attractive idea … But they will have to be there on price and in time.”

Mr Robson said interest in Blencathra had been “off the scale” and that overseas purchasers could be proceeding through an English third-party agent. He said there had been serious interest from India.

Meanwhile, out on the misty hillside yesterday there was genuine concern. “People can always find ways around restrictions,” said Ben Lyon.

His walking partner, Ken Ledward, agreed with the idea of a memorial. “There will be millions of hill walkers out there who would love to contribute. I would,” he said.

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Arts and Entertainment
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home