Do take the children on the hills early, in a rucksack on your shoulders if they can’t yet walk. Children are born scramblers…they will be in the seventh heaven of delightAlfred Wainwright – 1907-1991
Alfred Wainwright loved walking in the Lake District. So much so, that over the course of 13 years he produced a series of seven books known collectively as A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells. Each book describes a particular hill or mountain walk, with hand drawn pictures illustrating various routes to the summit. And each year, even though these books are now over 50 years old, thousands of people travel to the Lake District to follow in Wainwright’s footsteps. Over 20 million people visited the National Park last year (2019) and now, even though it is February and has rained solidly for the past week, it would seem that this high level of tourism is set to continue. Along the waterlogged footpath beside the swollen River Rothay, there are numerous hikers, dog walkers and families enjoying a half-term afternoon stroll. Two young children, suitably attired in blue and white striped wellingtons, squeal with delight as they splash through the puddles, while others simply roll up their trousers and wade through. Except for two. These hikers, also suitably attired in ankle boots and waterproof trousers, decide to divert from the footpath. Instead they climb over the fencing separating the path from the private woodland to the right, carving an alternative muddy, yet drier pathway for others to follow.
Perhaps you may think the occasional diversion from a waterlogged path is not a cause for concern? But with visitor numbers to the National Park at an all-time high, and predicted to increase by up to 5% each year, what would happen if everyone decided to tread where they like? Erosion of the landscape is one of the major consequences of the popularity of the Lake District, each footstep causing more wear and tear on an already fragile environment. As is pollution from the congested traffic jam of vehicles that arrive during the peak summer months. So what is being done to help protect the Lake District for generations to come? So that our children and grandchildren may find delight in the fells and views that Wainwright so loved. Are we able to travel to and enjoy the Lake District in a way that conserves rather than destroys?
Currently, according to the Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA), approximately 83% of visitors arrive by car. In December 2018, they produced a Travel Strategy, “Smarter Travel”, with the aim to “increase the share of visitors who use sustainable travel, in order to minimise the impact on the landscape and communities, to maintain, and where possible enhance, the tranquillity and beauty for which the Lake District is appreciated”. One such sustainable mode of transport is the electric vehicle, with over 30 charging points in the National Park at the moment, and a target of 60 by 2040. And one of the forerunners in the race to create both a sustainable and luxurious electric vehicle is Bentley Motors.
In October 2019, Bentley took a huge step forward on their journey to becoming the world’s most sustainable luxury automotive manufacturer, by achieving carbon neutral certification for their factory headquarters in Crewe. Here over twenty thousand solar panels cover the main factory
buildings, with a further ten thousand in the staff car park on the UK’s largest solar car port. This covers a huge 1378 parking spaces, meaning that 100% of the electricity the factory uses is now generated on-site or purchased as certified green electricity. But becoming carbon neutral is just one of many sustainable practices across the organisation.
Bentley’s craftsmanship is world renowned, and of the 4000 staff that work in Crewe, many are second or third generation workers, happy to follow in the family tradition, and of course highly skilled in their given craft. Perhaps you already know that a Bentley steering wheel is handstitched, but are you aware of the origins of that high quality leather? It is taken from bulls that graze high in the mountains of Southern Germany and Scandinavia, reared for the meat industry, not for Bentley. The leather, once removed and received into the trim shop, is heavily scrutinised for imperfections, but the high altitude at which these animals are reared ensures that they have far fewer blemishes from insect bites or barbed wire fences. On average, over 80% of the hide is able to be used and what isn’t, is sold to be recycled into watch straps, wallets, belts or other leather goods. No part of the hide is wasted.
Aside from the leather, one of the most striking features of a Bentley interior is the ring of veneer that encircles the cabin, and all of the wood
used is ethically sourced.
Sustainably-sourced wood has been one of Bentley’s core interior components since our beginnings 100 years ago – and it continues to be an essential element of the unique craftsmanship in our cars. Our wood veneers are ethically sourced by experts who go to great lengths to find the finest veneers in the world.Peter Bosch, Bentley Motors
For every tree they fell, Bentley pledge to plant another three, but ultimately they would rather not fell any. Instead, at the launch of the EXP 100 GT in July 2019, an all-electric concept car designed to celebrate Bentley’s centenary year, they showcased a 5000 year old reclaimed river wood, repurposing an otherwise discarded material for use in the Bentley interior.
While the EXP 100 GT is Bentley’s vision for a fully electric future, their first step on that journey, is the Bentayga Hybrid. The new plugin hybrid model combines an advanced electric motor, with a powerful and efficient new-generation V6 petrol engine. The engine is so silent that driving one of these vehicles around the winding roads of the Lake District is a serene experience, although you do have to be careful when approaching road walkers or the occasional lost sheep. They simply don’t hear you coming. The Bentayga has a 31 mile range in pure electric mode, before the petrol engine will seamlessly engage. This is more than enough for a scenic drive along Lake Windermere with views of the snow-capped Langdale Pikes in the distance, past Rydal Water and Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage, towards lunch at one of the Lake District’s finest, and most sustainable restaurants, the Michelin Star Forest Side in Grasmere.
Approaching this 18th Century refurbished Gothic mansion along its sweeping driveway, the first sight you are greeted with is the huge, kitchen garden. Chefs wander between the raised beds, while several greenhouses hold pots of seedlings waiting to be transplanted. Soon, Head Chef Paul Leonard, hopes to have local Herdwick sheep grazing in the meadow at the front, whilst wild garlic and other plants are ripe for foraging at the end of the driveway.
In the future I want 95% of all our vegetables to come from this garden. We want to use as much as we can and be as sustainable as we can be. All the waste from the kitchen goes into our compost. We don’t use any pesticides, chemicals. The way we’ve planned, each row is one product. And in six months’ time, this garden will dictate what’s going on the plate.”Paul Leonard, Forest Side
Paul has only been at the Forest Side since November 2019, but this restaurant, this garden, the ability to create dishes based solely on seasonality and locality, has been his dream for the past 18 years. He and his team have already worked out a growing plan for the kitchen, their philosophy being ‘if it grows together, it works together’, meaning that whatever is available and in season at the same time, is what they will create their menu around.
“Seasonality is the key to sustainability” He says, pointing to another row of beds in the walled garden. “There’s six different kinds of strawberries there, which we’ll only have when they’re in season. Soft fruits for juicing. Our kitchen garden is the heart of the Forest Side”. Aside from what they can grow, Paul is truly passionate about only using the best ingredients from suppliers that he has a long standing personal relationship with, so that he can be confident in the rearing, handling and freshness of the product.
“Provenance and decadence”, he says, walking into the light-filled dining room, floor to ceiling windows framing the view of the garden and hills. “That’s what we’re aiming for here”.
He and his team want to give their customers the luxury they expect from a Michelin establishment, whilst staying true to their ethos of using local suppliers and sustainable methods in the kitchen. Sometimes though the luxury has to come from further afield, such as lobster from the West coast of Scotland, so how does that conform to a sustainable ethos? Paul’s answer is to change the packaging.
“It’s not rocket science. We went out, bought some reusable crates, painted ‘Property of the Forest Side’ on them, and now we ask for all our fish to be transported in those. This morning the turbot arrived in the crates, but it was all wrapped in polystyrene. Now we don’t shout here, but I did have a word over the phone. We’re just making small changes, hoping that it might get others thinking too”.
When meat is sourced locally, such as the venison on the menu from Cartmel Valley Game, it is not just a sustained food choice, but also helps to support and therefore sustain the local infrastructure. Even the smaller businesses are supported, as Paul explains;
“There’s a place in Grasmere called Lucia. They make absolutely amazing sourdough that we use for breakfast. It’s locally milled flour. We pick up 8 loaves a week. That doesn’t seem a lot, but then we have this conversation and you think, well, maybe we’ll nip in, and again it’s just about helping the local community”.
Helping to support the local community, is an important part of responsible and sustainable tourism, and shopping at local and small businesses in the Lake District is obviously an easy way to do this. There are also numerous conservation and environmental projects which rely on public funding as well as donations. One of these, supported by the National Trust, is ‘Fix the Fells’, which consists of a team of skilled rangers and volunteers who work to repair and maintain the mountain paths in the Lake District. Without their work, and with the thousands of footsteps that tread the hills, erosion would quickly develop, resulting in a loss of vegetation, soil, stone, habitats, species, and adversely affecting rivers and lakes in the valleys below. In other words, we will destroy the natural and majestic landscape of the Lake District that many from Wordsworth to Wainwright to myself know and cherish.
To quote Alfred Wainwright once more; “The hills are eternal. Always there will be the lonely ridge, the dancing beck, the silent forest”.
The hills may be eternal, but to protect their beauty, for generations to come, it is up to all of us to learn to tread lightly.
Written by Joanna Lawrence, photography by Alex Lawrence (February 2020).