In the early nineteenth century the Reverend John Beresford, Baron Decies, decided to turn a swampy area of ground on his estate into an attractive landscape with a lake and woodlands. Many landowners were carrying out similar improvements but perhaps more unusually the Reverend was acting out of philanthropy. He wanted to do something to help local people who were suffering from a lack of employment opportunities during a period of economic and agricultural decline.
He employed John Dobson to lay out the design. Dobson was better known as an architect and was responsible for some of the most attractive parts of Newcastle upon Tyne, including its grand Central Station. For this project he adopted the principles of the landscaping greats such as Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown who was born at nearby Kirkhale. These include variety, association (using existing features) and grandeur.
The result was a very natural-looking lake fringed with many different species of trees including oak, lime, beech and elm. Dobson used natural features of the landscape to create interesting views, but the lake was the centrepiece of his design.
And Baron Decies’ aim of helping the local population was fulfilled too. The creation of the lake provided work for local labourers. They were paid 1 shilling a day and only required to return if they wanted to. The Baron also invested in the village of Bolam, employing a new vicar, improving the church and opening a Sunday School.
Bolam Lake Country Park
By 1945 Dobson’s woodlands and lake had grown wild and neglected. But they got a new lease of life in 1972 when the estate was purchased by Northumberland County Council to be turned into a country park. While Dobson was inspired by Capability Brown, we are inspired by nature. And Country Parks were created to enable exactly that. They are often located in places easy to reach from urban areas, allowing those who spend most of their lives in towns and cities to connect with nature. But even if you visit the countryside quite regularly they are still a great option when the weather is iffy and you don’t want to drive too far!
Such was the case on our recent visit to Newcastle (summer has been somewhat elusive this year!) So when looking for a place for a leisurely walk we decided on a return outing to Bolam Lake (last visited in the early 1980s I think).
Near the car park we came across some tree stumps carved into faces.
Around the lake
The most obvious walk to take here is around the lake which should make a pleasant Monday Walk for Jo. This is advertised as taking about 30 minutes. But we spent longer on it, mainly because of all the photo stops, including a search for seed heads for Denzil’s Nature Photo challenge (I found just a few).
One highlight was seeing so many swans and some almost-grown cygnets. An information board near the car park informed us that these are mute swans, Britain’s heaviest flying birds. We read that:
Until recently just one pair of swans had held territory at Bolam for at least 12 years, hatching a total of 65 cygnets and rearing 50 of these to flying. Eventually the old male could no longer compete with the younger pairs and was killed by them to free up the territory.
As much as the swans, I enjoyed photographing details of the plants and insects.
And I experimented with some abstract shots of the water and ICM ones of the reeds and rushes.
On the far side of the lake we came across an old water pump, dated 1887. It was once used to provide drinking water for cattle.
After completing the loop we did a smaller one in the woodland above the lake. This was more peaceful (we had it to ourselves) but less scenic. However that too was a great opportunity to unwind among some beautiful trees.
I last visited Bolam Lake in August 2023 when all these photos were taken