8 August 2003

Ullswater: Sea Training and the Indian Head.

Just up the road from us towards Howtown was a large empty mansion called called Ravencragg. Here the mansion had been taken over by the government of the day for use as a Royal Navy training establishment. The teen-aged boys, I suppose would be 15 years upward. I'm not at all sure what their training was exactly for, but to make a guess I would say it would be for the Royal Navy. We would often see the boys on the lake practising their seamanship with boats which closely resembled lifeboats or maybe cutters.

At Sharrow Bay we, by this time had left the cottage and moved into the lodge at the main gate entrance. The cottage was now empty, shortly a man and his wife moved in and I noticed he wore a uniform, a naval uniform which to me resembled a petty officer's uniform. My wife Patricia's brother was a Royal Navy chief petty officer during WW2 and the uniforms were similar.

The man was employed at Ravencrag and would be, probably an instructor. One day I overheard that the man had asked Nelson's permission to build a boat were the hounds dog kennels were. These unused kennels were from the days when Mr Nelson was Master of the Ullswater Hunt. Sometime after this permission was granted. Part way through the building of the boat we were invited by Mrs Nelson down to see the progress of the boat. The man gave us an explanation of how it was built using steel plate(with rivets), the size of the boat and other things which I forget now.

As I write this I am puzzled why the boat was being built. Why the man had been allowed to build the boat. Why he had been allowed to dismantle the dog kennels. This present early morning as I write I came up with what I think may be the answer.

These were ship building engineering students who at the end of their training would go to sea as ships engineers? How ships were built was part of their course training. Ravencrag mansion was not the ideal place to demonstrate ship building techniques. Ravencrag was built on a small piece of flat ground with rising ground to one side and the rear, with the road to Howtown on the 3rd side. Whether steel boat or ship, steel building causes a noisy environment and if close to a study environment is far from ideal. So that is my best guess.

I don't remember seeing much of the Ravencrag boys but I do remember, vividly, seeing one of the boys carvings. It was on a tree on the Howtown road, not too far from Pooley Bridge. There was a row of smooth barked trees, Beech trees, I think. The row of trees started at about opposite Elderbeck Farm gateway and continued at spaced intervals down the hedgerow towards Howtown for a short way.

Some lines had been cut in the tree bark with a knife. At 2-4 day intervals more lines and curved cuts would appear, slowly a picture started to emerge from the cuts. One day I saw the finished picture. It was a side view of an American Indian's life-size face plus wearing full headdress. Coming down the road on my bike I would sometimes stop and gaze at the picture and marvel at the lifelike picture the boy had done.

In the year 2000 when visiting the UK, my brother John took me up to Sharrow Bay for a nostalgic visit. I thought of the Indian head carved into the tree trunk and asked John to stop. As we came up to the row of trees I immediately picked out the tree. I clambered out of John's vehicle. As I crossed the road towards the tree, at first I could not see the carving. Had I got the wrong tree? I glanced past the tree to the next tree, I started walking towards it; no there was nothing there, the bark was smooth. I started to walk to check the previous tree to the one I was so sure of. I stopped and took another glance at the tree I was so sure of and then stared intently, I thought that is silver coloured lichen I see. I moved closer into the hedge as far as I could and scraped the lichen away and the dirt underneath. With my finger nail following the black line and as I kept scraping I came to missing bark, twisted bark and then newer bark from the tree trying to reproduce new bark. I stopped what I was doing and a thought crossed my mind, if I do clean the carving up, all I can do is make it look worse. Best thing I could do is leave the Indian head carving alone and let nature take its course. As I write this the year is 2010 and I am 78 years. I last saw the Indian Head 12 years ago, in the year 2000. I would be about 10 years old when the boy did the carving.

John sat patiently in the drivers seat waiting for me. 

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