Cumbria

Friends of Blencathra: The people who bid for a mountain

Blencathra/Saddleback
Image caption An offer above the £1.75m asking price has now been accepted for Blencathra

When Debbie Cosgrove first climbed Blencathra as an 11-year-old schoolgirl from London, she thought there and then that one day she would move to the area.

So when the striking Lake District mountain was put up for sale by its aristocrat owner, she led a bid to take it into the hands of the citizens who love it.

"When I first climbed it, I thought I was going to die, but when I got to the top everything just made sense," said Ms Cosgrove, who now lives in Allerby, Cumbria.

"We call it the people's peak here. Seeing it means you're home for so many people."

Alfred Wainwright, the fell walker and writer, called it "one of the grandest objects in Lakeland".

'For ever, for everyone'

The Friends of Blencathra group, under Ms Cosgrove's leadership, put in a bid for the £1.75m-priced peak.

But it looks as if the group's efforts have been unsuccessful, after the agents handling the sale announced they had accepted a rival bid.

The mountain's owner Hugh Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale, announced two months ago he was selling it to help settle an inheritance tax bill.

The group quickly established itself as a charity and started raising funds to buy the fell.

Friends of Blencathra expressed concerns about future owners not being "such good custodians", after the Lowther family's 400-year stewardship.

Image caption Debbie Cosgrove was 11 years old when she first climbed Blencathra

The National Trust, though, said it would not bid for the mountain, because of "existing high levels of protection and public access".

The area's national park status and rights of way legislation ensure the public's right of access and protect against inappropriate development, whoever owns the mountain.

Furthermore, the land is bound by common grazing rights for local farmers, making it effectively under shared ownership.

But for Ms Cosgrove, it is less a case of preventing future harm to the land, but rather promoting a positive agenda.

"We feel if the land is in public ownership, we can engender a sense of social responsibility with that ownership," she said.

Blencathra

  • Blencathra rises to a summit of 2,850ft (868m)
  • It covers an area of about 2,676 acres (1,083 ha)
  • The main route to the summit is Sharp Edge, well known among climbers as a challenging ascent
  • The name Blencathra is thought to derive from the Cumbric words "blaen", meaning bare hill top and "cathrach", meaning chair
  • The more recent name, Saddleback, refers to its shape when seen from the east
  • The mountain has been mined extensively for lead and zinc, but the last mines have been disused since the 1930s

Source: Ordnance Survey and H&H Land and Property

The group spoke to local charities, including the Blencathra Centre and the Calvert Trust, with a view to promoting volunteering on the land.

"There's also things like researching local history, so we can run history tours", Ms Cosgrove said.

The National Trust has been actively encouraging donations to Friends of Blencathra.

John Darlington, North West regional director of the National Trust, said the friends group and the trust shared the idea of making places "for ever, for everyone".

He said: "Blencathra is very important to a lot of people (who) are committed to a long-term investment, in both time and money, in a place that they find very inspiring."

Worldwide support

Ms Cosgrove said she and her fellow volunteers had spent "literally every break" working on the campaign, but she thought it was "totally worth it".

"Somebody mentioned it was for sale - it was just a throwaway remark - but a few of us got together and decided to try to buy it," she said.

They garnered significant backing, with over 6,500 members of their Facebook group alone.

Ms Cosgrove said people from as far afield as Dubai and Canada had supported them, including some who had never been to the Lake District.

After finding out the owner had accepted an offer from somebody else, Ms Cosgrove said she was "bemused".

Image caption Friends of Blencathra had thousands of supporters within days of launching

The agent managing the sale, H&H Land and Property, said there was a "significant shortfall" between the offer the group had made and that of the "unnamed party" that had been successful.

Ms Cosgrove said, when the group heard about the higher bid, they made it clear they were prepared to match it and just needed to work out "how they would do it" before coming back to the agents.

"Before we'd even had time to do it my phone started going, saying that the news had already gone out that we'd lost it, so we are absolutely bemused," she said.

The group had put a lot of thought into how it would manage the land in the long run, consulting with the local graziers' association and the National Trust.

But, for the time being at least, it looks as if the dream of bringing Blencathra into public ownership will not become a reality.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The mountain has been owned by the Lowther family for about 400 years

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