Ruskin's View

Kirkby Lonsdale is a lovely little market town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park which we enjoy visiting as it is only 15 minutes' drive from home. Aside from the interesting shops and country pubs, Kirkby Lonsdale has a very special place: Ruskin's View.

In 1875 Ruskin described the view from the church yard across the River Lune as 'one of the loveliest scenes in Englandtherefore, in the world' and who could argue with that? He added 'I do not know in all my own country, still less in France or Italy, a place more naturally divine.'

Some time before Ruskin, Turner had also celebrated the view. His 1818 water colour was reproduced as an engraving in his 1822 book An History of Richmondshire in the North Riding of the County of York. In fact the view was still known as Turner's View well into the twentieth century.

Turner's water colour of the View
The view today, 200 years on from Turner, has not changed much and is still beautiful. And Ruskin's description has been quoted many times to encourage tourists to visit this little town.
Ruskin's View today
But Ruskin's famous quotation was never intended to be a tourism advert for the town. It was the opening of a complaint about creeping urbanisation in the countryside. He wrote that, in Kirkby Lonsdale, he saw 'more ghastly signs of modern temper than I yet had believed possible'.

Ruskin was, it seems, especially concerned about the installation of metal railings along the path from the church yard to the viewpoint.

Those skewer-topped railings
In his Fors Clavigera he speculates with charateristic irony that the railings - 'this lovely decoration' - must have been installed because local people could no longer 'take care of themselves' due to drink. But he then notes that the low level railings are topped with 'finely sharpened skewers' which would probably do more harm than good if a drunk fell against them. The addition of a sign advising that 'All trespassers will be prosecuted' added to the horror of urbanisation for Ruskin.

He was equally unhappy that two benches had been installed behind the new railings, not being able to comprehend why people would need to sit down in order to enjoy the fine view.

And finally he noted that local people were now habitually throwing rubbish over the new railings 'among the primroses and violets' whereas, before the railings, the area was free of rubbish. Ruskin clearly had real insight into the psychology of the fly-tipper.

The view is still very fine. But perhaps Turner was more positive about Kirkby Lonsdale than Ruskin was.