Art staycations: Lake District

Published 11 August 2014

The National Art Pass is your passport to great art all over the UK – here's what's on offer in the Lake District.

A UNESCO world heritage site in itself, the Lake District's rocky mountaintops, heather-covered slopes and native woodlands have uithe likes of John Ruskin, JMW Turner, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Kurt Schwitters. Today the area is home to a wealth of amazing museums, galleries and historic houses, which celebrate the Lake District's rich cultural heritage. Here's how to spend your staycation.

Day One

1. Tullie House, Carlisle

Free entry with National Art Pass

Set in beautiful gardens, Old Tullie House is a Grade I Listed building, and holds collections of fine and decorative art, human history and natural sciences. Included are 4800 paintings, watercolours, drawings, prints and sketchbooks, and a small collection of sculpture dating back as far as 1650. As well as representing artists from north Cumbria, the house contains a nationally important collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, with works by DG Rossetti, Elizabeth Siddal, William Morris and Ford Madox Brown.

Don't miss the Roman Frontiers Gallery, which explores the western end of Hadrian's Wall, just nearby. Other archaeological exhibits at the gallery span from the Old Stone Age to the Celt, Viking and Middle Ages.

2. Dove Cottage, Grasmere

Free entry with National Art Pass

Follow in the footsteps of William Wordsworth, who came across Dove Cottage by chance during a walk with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his brother John. Moving in just a few weeks later, it was in this little home, at times ‘crammed edge full’ with people, that Wordsworth wrote some of his greatest poetry. His sister Dorothy also kept her famous Grasmere Journal here, which is on display in the museum.

With its stone floors, dark panelled rooms, glowing coal fires and the family’s belongings, little has changed in the house since the Wordsworths lived here. The garden – returned to the half-wild state the siblings created – was described by William as ‘the work of our own hands’, as it was here they planted flowers and vegetables, watched the birds and butterflies and wrote poetry. Most of William's surviving manuscripts are in the collection, along with the works of over 4,000 other writers and artists.

JMW Turner's watercolour Ullswater is also at Dove Cottage, based on sketches made during his visits to the Lake District. As with many of Turner's landscapes, objective accuracy was sacrificed in favour of an aesthetically pleasing arrangement, and using a light more typical of Italy than Cumbria. ArtFunded in 2005, it was a favourite of art critic and local man John Ruskin.

Day Two

3. Ruskin Museum, Coniston

Free entry with National Art Pass

Another local gem, this museum was the brainchild of Ruskin's secretary and biographer WG Collingwood, who wanted to create a space that would serve as a memorial to the artist, and celebrate the area's heritage. As well as a Ruskin collection – which reveals how the great Victorian critic developed his ideas through drawing – there are exhibits relating to the region's coppermines, slate, geology, lace and farming. One of Collingwood's own works is also included (ArtFunded in 2006).

Make sure you visit the Bluebird Wing, which focuses on the 1940s, when Conniston served as a race-track to the hydroplane Speed Aces Sir Malcolm Campbell and his son, Donald Campbell. The wreckage of Donald's K7 from his fatal crash in 1967 is currently undergoing a conservation rebuild, but there are plenty of other artefacts relating to the pilot and his story – including the Bristol-Siddeley Orpheus engine that sat in the lake for 34 years, and Campbell’s pension plan.

4. Brantwood, Coniston

Free entry with National Art Pass

From Conniston pier, hop on the 19th-century steam yacht gondola and sail over to Brantwood estate, imagining yourself as a wealthy Victorian. The boat was rebuilt by the National Trust in the 1980s and features luxury saloon style seating and open air decks, as well as commentary on the local area and its famous former residents.

Now a museum, archive and gallery, John Ruskin’s former home offers a fascinating insight into the last 28 years of his life, which he spent in the Lakes. Filled with paintings, furniture, objets d'art and Ruskin’s personal treasures, it reflects the huge variety of his interests. Make sure you also take the time to explore the surrounding estate; both fascinating and dynamic with its gardens, pastures, ancient woods, high moors and spectacular views.

Day Three

5. Blackwell, Bowness-on-Windemere

50% off entry with National Art Pass

One of Britain’s finest houses from the arts and crafts period, Blackwell survives in a truly remarkable state of preservation retaining many original decorative features. MH Baillie Scott designed the property as a holiday retreat for the wealthy Manchester brewery owner, Sir Edward Holt, who furnished it with objects by many of the leading arts and craft designers and studios.

See them for yourself, as many still remain; such as furniture by Morris & Co., metalwork by WAS Benson and ceramics by Ruskin Pottery. See if you can spot some of the house's other interesting and unusual details, such as leaf-shaped door handles, intricate stained glass and carved wooden panelling.

6. Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal

Free entry with National Art Pass

Finally, visit Abbot Hall – built in 1759 by Colonel George Wilson, whose family owned a large house and country estate nearby. In spite of the trouble and expense, it seems Wilson was displeased with his new home and he and his wife left after just a couple of years. After passing through several other owners, the hall fell into disrepair and by the 1950s it was facing demolition. A group of local people came together to raise the money to save the Grade I-listed building, which they decided should be an art gallery.

Abbot Hall holds many fine examples of 18th- and 19th-century painting, as well as a substantial collection of work by Ruskin. Modern artists include German refugee Kurt Schwitters, who also had a local connection – spending his final years in the area – while contemporary works by Bridget Riley, David Hockney and Lucian Freud are also shown. This summer, make sure you visit the exhibition Barbara Hepworth: Within the Landscape, which uses sculptures, prints and photographs to illuminate the artist’s relationship with her surroundings.

Savings with National Art Pass (per person): £35.45

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