Inside Grasmere’s Allan Bank

Allan Bank above Grasmere
Photograph by Phil Rigby

On a sunny afternoon at Allan Bank youngsters are playing hide-and-seek or hunting for Woody Fox’s willow animal sculptures on Billie Buzzard’s Wild Garden Trail. 

The grown-ups are lounging in National Trust deckchairs on the lawns and terrace, picnicking or strolling around the grounds, china teacups in hand.  

There are lots of people inside and out but the sense of peace and relaxation is as intoxicating as the sweeping views of Grasmere and Loughrigg.  

Although the garden and woodland are cared for and lovely, Allan Bank is worlds away from the manicured grounds and formal art and furniture collections of many National Trust properties. 

I first wrote about Allan Bank just ahead of its experimental six-month opening to the public at the end of March 2012. The Grade II-listed Georgian house had been privately tenanted for decades when a fire broke out in March 2011, destroying part of the roof and two rooms below and causing extensive smoke damage. 

After re-housing the tenants, the National Trust embarked on a groundbreaking project, welcoming visitors into the undecorated house and asking them how they would like to see it develop. 

Allan Bank has more of everything since I first looked round in 2012. There’s a children’s room overflowing with toys with a beautiful woodland animals mural. And a room where Coleridge stayed is now the Chorley Hopkinson Mountaineering Library. Musical and other events are held and each year Allan Bank responds to visitors’ suggestions in particular ways. 

But although the study is now papered and carpeted, with books, newspapers, binoculars and scrapbooks about the house’s occupants to hand, Allan Bank remains largely pared back and undecorated, old paintwork and layers of living revealed.  

“Allan Bank is very low tech with no Wi-Fi and no touch screens,” says Allan Bank’s membership and visitor welcome manager Elaine Taylor. “We play a film and that’s about it. Allan Bank has always been a family home and that has rubbed off on it. The touchstone is that it’s there for ever and for everyone.” 

The full version of this feature appeared in the July issue of Cumbria Life. 

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