Kirkby Lonsdale and Ruskin’s View

by David Murray on 1 August 2011

in Cumbria, Rivers, Towns

It was a sunny Saturday a few weeks ago when we set off to drive from the Eden Valley down to Skipton and beyond. We hadn’t gone more than thirty miles or so when my wife said, “Let’s stop in Kirkby Lonsdale and walk down to Ruskin’s view of the River Lune”.

Kirkby Lonsdale

Kirkby Lonsdale - Sun Inn

Kirkby Lonsdale is a quaint old town well worth visiting for its own sake, quite apart from the view which we’ll see in a moment, to walk around slowly and to enjoy a meal. That day we didn’t stay to eat but we did stroll through the streets before heading for the churchyard.

Kirkby Lonsdale Parish Church

Kirkby Lonsdale Churchyard – Ruskin’s View

Down past the old church at end of the graveyard is a viewing point which attracts thousands of visitors each year to see the view of the Lune valley which John Ruskin in 1875 described as “one of the loveliest in England” – the River Lune flowing peacefully down past meadow land, then sweeping round as it hits the rocky escarpment – “a gentle panorama of river, meadow, woods and hills in almost perfect balance”. I have to agree with Ruskin. It is splendid. I’ve gazed at it repeatedly through my life and never tire of seeing it yet again.

Ruskins View from the churchyard in Kirkby Lonsdale Cumbria

Walking back toward the church by a different path from the one we used to get to the viewing point we passed something else I’d noticed repeatedly over the years.

Kirkby Lonsdale churchyard - Ellen Cookson grave 1867

This part of the churchyard now has its grass uncut as a deliberate attempt to encourage wildlife, but still clearly visible by the side of the path is an unusual gravestone. The stone had been here eight years when Ruskin famously praised this view of the Lune. I wonder whether he noticed it as generations of others have done since.

This is not an elaborate monument like Ruskin’s own monument in Coniston churchyard. It is a simple stone. But the words are so forceful. I’ve often wondered about its history. Who was Ellen Cookson? Did she ask for these words to be inscribed over her grave? Or was it the idea of some surviving relative struck by the suddennness of Ellen’s loss? I don’t suppose I’ll ever know. But almost a century and a half later, here in Kirkby Lonsdale churchyard, she still speaks to passers by.

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