Ruskin’s “most beautiful” vision threatened in Kirkby Lonsdale

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An unspoilt and spirit-boosting country view celebrated by 19th-century critic and poet John Ruskin as one of the finest in the world is under threat unless £1 million can be raised.

It was after a visit in 1875 that Ruskin described the view over the River Lune from St Mary’s churchyard in Kirkby Lonsdale as ‘one of the finest in England, therefore the world’.

He wrote: “Whatever moorland hill, and gentle river, and English forest foliage may be seen is best gathered there. And principally viewed from the steep bank which descends to the side of the stream from the upper part of the city itself … I know of no more in all my country, still less in France or Italy, a place more naturally divine, or a more priceless possession than the true ‘Holy Land'”.

The view was painted by JMW Turner in 1822 but was already famous, with the poet William Wordsworth describing it as a must-see in his 1810 Guide to the Lakes. It is why so many tourists visit the small Cumbrian market town , but if they do today they will come across a closed gate.

The problem, according to City Council President Mike Burchnall, is that the sidewalk is on an embankment and when the Lune below is high it cuts the bank. Work was done in the mid-1980s to try and strengthen the bank, but a lot was washed away in Storm Desmond in 2015, “and we’ve had big storms since then, so the whole bank has been eroded.”

A scene of the River Lune from St Mary’s churchyard in Kirkby Lonsdale by JMW Turner. Photography: Albums/Alamy

It’s a big job to fix and will cost around £1 million. Council, which was granted the land in the 1800s, is investing £100,000 and has given itself until next year to raise the money.

“The problem with the Lune is that you can only do the work between June and September, so we want to try and do the work in 2024,” Burchnall said. “Every year we don’t collect the money, the sidewalk will be closed and we have more time to do the work. We have to try to get the money in as soon as possible.”

The council hopes to successfully bid for the Heritage Fund lottery money and raise the rest through donations.

The local brewery brewed an 1822 ale from which 10p per pint goes to the fund and shopkeepers handed out collection boxes.

“It’s a big question,” Burchnall said. “But failure is not a possibility because if we fail, the trail may disappear into the Lune River. We really have to do this. Having it closed was very difficult for the tourists who come here. The view is completely blocked and we had to put metal gates to close off the whole sidewalk because it’s unstable.”

It’s also a nuisance for locals, many of whom are walking their dogs or want a quick route to the rugby club.

“It is a very important link in the city which has been closed for more than a year. There has been a lot of concern and opposition, but I think most people realize that it needed to close and that we need to do something about it,” Burchnall added.

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