Ruskin’s ‘loveliest’ view under threat in Kirkby Lonsdale

<span>Photograph: Edwin Remsberg/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Edwin Remsberg/Getty Images

An unspoiled, spirit-enhancing countryside view celebrated by the 19th-century critic and poet John Ruskin as one of the most beautiful in the world is under threat unless £1m can be raised.

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

He wrote: “Whatever moorland hill, and sweet river, and English forest foliage can be seen at their best is gathered there. And chiefly seen from the steep bank which falls to the stream side from the upper part of the town itself … I do not know in all my own country, still less in France or Italy, a place more naturally divine, or a more priceless possession of true ‘Holy Land’.”

The view was painted by JMW Turner in 1822 but it was already famous, with the poet William Wordsworth describing it as a place not to be missed in his 1810 Guide to the Lakes. It is the reason why many tourists visit the small Cumbrian market town, but if they do so today they will come across a locked gate.

The issue, according to Mike Burchnall, the chair of the town council, is that the footpath is on an embankment and when the Lune below is high it cuts into the bank. Work was done in the mid-1980s to try to reinforce the bank but a lot of that was washed away during Storm Desmond in 2015, “and we’ve had big storms ever since then so the whole bank is eroded”.

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

It is a big job to resolve the problem and will cost an estimated £1m. The council, which was given the land in the 1800s, is putting in £100,000 and has given itself until this time 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 to do the work in 2024,” said Burchnall. “Each year we don’t raise the money, the footpath will be closed and we’ve got a longer timescale to do the work. We’ve got to try and get the money in as soon as we can.”

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

The local brewery has made an 1822 ale from which 10 pence a pint goes to the fund and shopkeepers have put out collecting boxes.

“It is a big ask,” said Burchnall. “But failure isn’t a possibility because if we do fail then the footpath may disappear into the River Lune. We’ve really got to do it. Having it closed off has been very difficult for tourists who come here. The view is completely blocked and we’ve had to put metal gates up to close the whole of the footpath because it is unstable.”

It is also a nuisance for local people, many of whom walk their dogs there or want a quick route to the rugby club.

“It is a very important link in the town which has been closed off for more than a year. There has been quite a lot of concern and opposition but I think most people realise it had to close and we’ve got to do something about it,” Burchnall added.