Waking up on the first morning in an unfamiliar room is always a bit of puzzlement, but this was a very contented one. I was in Plumtree House, a nineteenth century converted farmhouse in the village of Brigsteer in the Lakes, and a delightfully comfortable bed and breakfast run by Michael and Maureen Whelan. And about to savour Maureen’s full English breakfast which certainly lived up to its reputation, even if I did have to finish my plate under the beady single eye of Sooty the cat.
My intention that morning was to visit Rusland Church, the upland resting place of Arthur Ransome and Eugenia his Russian second wife. I left Plumtree a little before nine o’clock feeling more than a little full and took the busy A590 road to Newby Bridge on the southernmost tip of Windermere. Dominating this scene is the Swan Hotel and Spa, a magnificent Georgian façade on the north bank of the River Leven.
For a moment I was tempted to loiter and order a coffee to drink on the terrace. The Leven is a famous trout and salmon river and in places such as this I love to let my angling imagination run free – but no, not that morning. It was onwards and upwards into Furness Fells in search of Rusland. I say “in search of” for despite a good map most people get lost in the labyrinth of narrow, unsigned country lanes. And I was one of them!
It was more by luck than by judgment that, after two miles of driving in the wrong direction and turning around, I saw a small sign to Rusland half hidden by an overgrown bush. That road seemed even narrower as it climbed some more, and turned into the hamlet. Passing between farm buildings and low stone walls I saw another sign to the church and drove up a steep lane to find it.
The parish church of St Paul Rusland is a gem of a building set on a hill with views to almost all points of the compass. I admit to it being a personal pilgrimage, but getting out of my car I felt a sense of accomplishment and peace. Not only was this the final resting place of Arthur Ransome it was also a place of overwhelming beauty. St Paul’s is not an old church, consecrated in 1745 and restored in 1868, but its relative youth betrays its spirituality. For a brief history and tour please visit the Benefice website. http://www.hawksheadbenefice.co.uk/rusland.htm
I lingered an hour or so at Rusland, soaking up the ambiance and (as is my tradition in all churches I visit) saying prayers for the community of faith who worshiped there. But then it was time to move on. The sun was rising high in the sky, breakfast was eventually wearing off, and Coniston Water beckoned. As I drove away from Rusland church it was all downhill from there to the place where the Swallows and Amazons sailed and camped.