This week we look for the last time at the tourist industry in generations past. During the past three weeks, elderly people have recalled the sort of accommodation there was available, the prices people paid, the food they ate and what hard work it was for ordinary people to cater for visitors before electricity turned on the Hoovers, washing machines and dish washers. This week we explore the reasons why people used to come to the Lakes, and what they did when they got here.
Walking, of course, always heads the list. Even the fairer sex walked long distances over rough terrain dressed, naturally, with economy and modesty rather than the prevailing conditions in mind:
"They did walk the fells, but their boots were not like modern-day boots, they were just boys' boots really and what always horrified us - they were passed on in the family and as you grew out of one pair of boots they were passed on to your younger sisters...they walked in what they normally wore. It must have been very difficult really for little girls. They had lots of fairly long petticoats, not ankle length for children, but well below the knees and of course we cut them up to use the material during the War. Mother had knickers that came below her knee with a frill of broderie anglais round here and tape round the waist and a slit down the back. And they were sort of cotton, cotton cambric."
Long before the Kagoule and Vibram soled boots became fell-top uniform, there was still room for individuality:
"I still think a cape and sou'wester are the tops...and on that first trip up Wasdale and Burnmoor I'd probably be wearing britches because they were very much what we wore in the O.T.C. at school, and I probably had puttees on as well...I'd be the only one that would but they are alright."
For those who found walking up on the fell tops too arduous, one could take a pony ride up Helvellyn instead:
"Johnson Thompson had a couple of ponies and about 1920 or so the Dutch Royal Family took Rydal Hall from the Le Flemings and brought the young princess there for a holiday, and Johnson Thompson took her to the top of Helvellyn on pony back; he kept these ponies and Americans would go up to the top of Helvellyn on these ponies"
There may have been no ice cream vans or fruit machines to keep the visitors happy in those days, but local people were just as enterprising in finding ways of making money out of tourists; late in the last century, the wild beauty of Ambleside's Stock Ghyll Park was exploited to the limits, with pony rides up Stock Ghyll Lane to the Falls, a turnstile gate and a charge for swimming, extra for hire of a towel.
One very popular holiday pastime was a trip by wagonette from the Rothay Hotel, Grasmere:
"Every morning, about ten o'clock the coach and a pair of horses with Tom Sanderson in the driver's seat would drive to the front door of the Rothay Hotel and out would come the Americans and climb aboard, it was all open, no covering, they were open coaches and off they would set for a drive around the Lake District. One rule was that when they came to a very steep hill all the men had to get off and walk, in fact in some cases they had to help push the coach up the hill, but it was very popular."
In Ambleside it was John Bell's Post Horses for the daily Lakes Tour which went over Kirkstone, and over on Coniston there were popular circular tours which involved a drive aboard a bus or charabanc and a trip on The Gondola as well - all provided everything ran to time. Cruises on Windermere, Coniston, Ullswater or Derwentwater were as popular then as now, largely aboard many of the steamers which are still in graceful use today.
Water was a great attraction, whether on it, or in it; bathing huts were provided at the Waterhead end of Windermere, and there was far more lake swimming done in those days than now, when heated indoor pools, both public and private, provide a more comfortable, safer alternative than the cold weedy water of the lakes.
Fishing was also popular, with a little help from the gramophone to help the fish bite:
"Fishing was quite good in those days, I think they had quite good catches and we used to eat them, the trout, and the farmer's wife would cook them for us and I remember them catching eels, but we weren't very keen on eels. You don't get a lot of meat on an eel and its an awful fiddle skinning and cutting it. She would cook the trout in the simplest way, a little bit of butter and probably stuck in the oven. I know it came to the table as a trout, complete with head and everything... there was enough for us and probably we gave some to the farmer and his wife, I don't really remember that. But we had a gramophone and being the youngest, we all used to go in the boat, and it was my job to keep changing the records and winding it up, yes, and there was one song called "The Cuban Love Song" that they nearly always used to catch something to! And if the fish weren't biting they used to say, 'Oh, put The Cuban Love Song on.'"
School parties and Scout troops became a familiar sight on the fells :
"In those days we wore shorts, we didn't know anything about exposure, hypothermia just didn't exist, we just went, blizzard or no blizzard, in Scout uniform and hats. We didn't go up hills with them on, we used to sling them, but when we came to a town we were in full regalia, like an army."
Undeterred by bad weather, with no waterproofs and no means of drying clothing, one Scout troop marched through two days of rain:
"We stopped half way up for some sandwiches and my second oldest scout said, 'Please Sir, I've changed the water in my boots!' We arrived at the Grasmere Hostel that night and I said, 'Right, chaps, get all your clothes off and put your pyjamas on,' and we stayed that evening in pyjamas. Next morning I said, 'Put your wet clothes on', and we walked them dry.It was a beautiful day and long before we got to Ambleside we were bone dry and caught the night train and we didn't lose a man."
However hard it rained in those days, however simple the accommodation, Lakeland hosts and landlords provided the sort of welcome which kept people coming back year after year, in such ever-increasing numbers that tourism and visitors now provide this area with its richest source of income. The magic is still working.