Following the Turner Trail

by Beth Pipe

These days, the first thing we do when we spot a magnificent view is take a photo of it. Maybe we share it on social media, or simply keep it to show family and friends when we get home. It only takes a few seconds to whip your phone out and capture the view — unless there’s a red squirrel sat right in front of you, in which case you will fumble with your phone and be unable to unlock your screen before said squirrel scampers away, leaving you with just memories and a complete inability to convince anyone that it was “sat right in front of me, honest!”

Back in the day, before the invention of cameras, it was rather more tricky to capture the view, and we had to rely on the great artists to recreate the scene. Thankfully, many of them did. It’s fascinating looking back on these images, as some of them reproduce the landscape quite faithfully, whereas others had a tendency to exaggerate — rather like an early version of photoshopping.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Turner produced many wonderful images of the county and it’s interesting to revisit the places he painted to see how they’ve changed over the years. Here are five of our favourites.

1. Whitehaven from Parton

Turner's Whitehaven

This was painted sometime around 1810 and really captures the ruggedness of the coastline around Whitehaven. At that time the town was an important centre for shipbuilding and one of the most important ports in England. These are the only sea cliffs in Cumbria and famously mark the starting point of the Coast to Coast walk. Perhaps you could slip your watercolours and a sketch book into your rucksack?

2. Derwentwater

Today this is one of the most popular spots for visitors, and it was the same when Turner was here. The soaring fells surrounding the lake are eternally beautiful and need no exaggeration. Turner painted several images of the lake, including the view from Friar’s Crag, and it’s clear that the landscape has changed very little — although “that bench” was obviously not there when he visited.

3. Crummock Water

Crummock Water has always been a little more remote and it’s still a great place to visit to escape the chaos of the crowds elsewhere in the National Park — there’s a lovely walk along the far side of the lake with magnificent views and the remains of an ancient castle to visit. Turner’s view is looking down towards Buttermere and Fleetwith Pike, and so little has changed that it’s still easy to pick out the familiar peaks of the surrounding fells.

4. Ullswater

Ullswater was once a very industrial place: where we now see pleasure boats cruising up and down the lake, we would once have seen smaller boats racing back and forth, transporting people and goods to the villages around the lake shore. There would also have been more livestock, and this is shown in Turner’s image with the cows paddling along the foreshore. He painted several images around the lake but this one really seems to capture the atmosphere beautifully.

5. Windermere

This is another busy lake and images like this give us a great insight into how life was lived in the early 19th century. Today we have countless records of mundane, day-to-day activities but that’s not always been the case. In Turner’s image there are dozens of people dotted around the lake shore and boats disappearing away into the distance.

The ferry just south of Bowness has been an important crossing point for centuries; even today the detour when the ferry is ‘out’ is irritating — imagine how it must have been if you only had a horse and cart to get you all the way around to Far Sawry. On the plus side, there would have been less traffic to deal with...

Originally published 23/01/20

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Routes on this trail

Lakeland Round
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Derwentwater Round
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South Lakes Short Break
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A walk from Windermere through the landscapes that inspired William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Find Out More
Lakeland Three Passes Walk
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A circular walk through Borrowdale, Langdale and Wasdale in the Lake District National Park. Find Out More