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Field Trip 3 – Ruskin’s Geology


The Ruskin Field Excursion to the Southern Lake District is designed to give participants a flavour of John Ruskin’s geological work and how this influenced his art. We will also examine the geological interests of other famous Lakelanders such as William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.

John Ruskin (1819–1900) – art critic, artist, poet, social commentator and philanthropist – was also an amateur geologist; mineralogy being his particular passion. He compiled a mineralogical dictionary during his teenage years after reading Robert Jameson’s three-volume work System of Mineralogy, and requested Horace B. de Saussure’s Voyages dans les Alpes for his fifteenth birthday. He was fascinated by the crystalline nature of minerals, particularly those observed in the Swiss Alps where he sketched the strata and studied the landforms and scenery. Ruskin’s major geological works were Deucalion (1879) and Modern Painters, Vol. 4 (1856).

In 1871 Ruskin moved to Brantwood on the shores of Coniston Water in the Lake District, having been to the region frequently during his youth. There he created a home that could house his mineral collection and from which he could look across to the landscape that had influenced his early years. We will visit Brantwood to view some of Ruskin’s collections and to get a sense of the man’s character, and then travel to Coniston’s Ruskin Museum where more of his collections are preserved. Later in the excursion we plan to visit the Ruskin Research Centre at Lancaster University where we will be able to examine more of his Alpine art studies, which were influenced by his geological observations.

A walk down Yewdale, by Yewdale Beck which runs into Coniston Water, will examine this famous Victorian beauty spot made the subject of a Lecture by Ruskin to the members of the Literary and Scientific Institution, Kendal, on 1 October 1871, and subsequently republished in Deucalion. His ideas on erosion and river transport were unorthodox, even for his time.

Beatrix Potter was a gifted illustrator and artist whose work went beyond the confines of writing children’s stories. She was an amateur palaeontologist as well as a respected mycologist and archaeological illustrator. Her scientific leanings as well as her appreciation for landscape and the way of life of Cumbrian people enabled her to help preserve the Lake District from unscrupulous developers, using the royalties derived from her Peter Rabbit stories. It is through her influence and legacy that the Lakeland National Park exists today. We will look at the scientific work of Beatrix Potter at the Armitt Centre, Ambleside, and her efforts to preserve the countryside. A visit to her farm ‘Hill Top’ near Esthwaite Water will be included if time permits.

Finally, we cannot visit the English Lake District, the home of several Romantic poets, without mentioning William Wordsworth. At the turn of the 19th century he became interested in ideas that sought to explain the endless variety of landscape forms in terms of long geological periods of growth and decay. These new ways of looking at Earth history engaged Wordsworth’s creative imagination, especially from around 1820 onwards, when he got to know Adam Sedgwick (1785–1873), William Whewell (1794–1866), and other geologists. Wordsworth also met up with Ruskin in 1839 when Ruskin was awarded Oxford’s Newdigate Prize for poetry.

We intend visiting both Dove Cottage in Grasmere Wordsworth’s family home from 1799 to1808, and Rydal Mount, which lies between Ambleside and Grasmere and commands glorious views of Lake Windermere, Rydal Water and the surrounding fells: Rydal Mount was Wordsworth’s home from 1813 until his death in 1850 at the age of 80.

Trip Leaders:

Alan Bowden and David Oldroyd


28-30 July, 2013


£255. Price includes transport from Manchester to Windermere; dinner, bed and breakfast for 2 nights on a room-share basis.£25 single room supplement.

Field trip base:

The Hydro Hotel, Helm Road, Bowness-On-Windermere, LA23 3BA

Maximum no. of participants:



There are provisionally two drop-off points at the end of this trip:

1) Lancaster Station around 16:00 hours

2) Manchester University around 18:00 hours

Places on this trip can be reserved on a first-come first-served basis by paying the full registration fee.

Registration deadline – 15 June 2013.


This field trip will complement the Geology in Art and Literature symposium.

Places on this trip can be reserved on a first-come first-served basis by paying the full registration fee.