The Bowder Stone

Grange Village / Borrowdale

The Bowder Stone, estimated at 2,000 tons, around 9m high, and 15m in diameter.

One of Lakeland’s most famous features, this 2000 ton stone, some 30 feet high and fifty feet across, apparently rests in a state of delicate balance. It was not carried into the area by ice but is a local rock that toppled into its present position This happened after the glacier that once almost filled Borrowdale retreated and no longer buttressed the steep side of the valley. This resulted in a large rock fall.
 
Other rocks that fell at the same time are now largely obscured by trees and soil but some of them can be seen on the painting by Grimshaw made at a time when the trees that once covered much of Borrowdale had been felled. The precise age of the rock fall cannot be determined but it must be after the ice started to retreat some eighteen thousand years ago.*

 

‘The Bowder Stone’ by John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893)

Borrowdale, strewn with tumbled rocks, was once avoided by travellers or provoked near-terror in the few who ventured there. The Victorian painter John Atkinson Grimshaw, most famous for his pictures of scenes lit by moonlight, must have visited it between 1863 and 1868, when he was painting the Lake District and collecting photographs of the region. These, and the Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the Leeds collections, inspired the meticulous realism and detail of this picture of Borrowdale’s largest rock.
 

Postcard of the Bowder Stone from 1890

It had been the idea of the founders of the National Trust that gifts to the nation of places of beauty or of historic interest would form fit memorials to those who had passed away. The president of the National Trust, Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, and sister of King Edward VII, wanted to make a gift in memory of the King, when he died in 1910. Grange Fell was purchased, which included the Bowder Stone, and a memorial stone to King Edward was placed on the fell (grid ref 90: NY 258167). Eight years earlier Princess Louise had performed the opening ceremony at Brandlehow Wood, the first Lake District’s first aquisition.
 
The Bowder Stone is a very popular site for rock climbers, bouldering (climbing without ropes) is practised, often with mattresses placed below the climber as the more athletic attempt the overhang, as is the Bowder stone crag nearby.
 
Getting here : It is a short level walk from the National Trust car park (SatNav CA12 5XA) on the Keswick to Borrowdale road, near Grange. The 78 Borrowdale bus from Keswick also stops near the start of the path. A ladder allows you to climb to the top of the Bowder Stone.
 
*The interpretation summarised in the first two paragraphs is from a booklet about the geological origin of the Bowder Stone and early tourism associated with it, published in 2003 by Alan Smith (The Story of the Bowder Stone, The Landscapes of Cumbria Series No. 1, Rigg Side Publications, Keswick, ISBN 0-9544679-0-6).
 
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Grid Ref : NY 255164

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