Matt Sowerby, a volunteer member of the Save Ruskin's View campaign in Kirkby Lonsdale, writes about the view and its significance.
When John Ruskin visited Kirkby Lonsdale in 1875, he was already reflecting on an unsettling shift in the weather that he called 'The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century' — possibly one of the earliest recognitions of anthropogenic climate change. Now Ruskin's View, an iconic heritage site which he described as "the loveliest view in England", is in danger of being lost forever.
Ruskin’s View, a popular tourist destination since the Romantics — lies at the edge of the tiny Cumbrian town of Kirkby Lonsdale. Here, the ground drops away sharply towards the river, and visitors look out over the whole Lune Valley and towards the Yorkshire Dales. In 2021 the ground at the edge of the cliff began to crack, undercut by exacerbated riverbank erosion. Black iron railings were erected, sealing the area off. Kirkby Lonsdale had a choice: raise over £1,000,000 to protect Ruskin’s View, or let it slip away.
The decision was obvious. Ruskin’s View isn’t just a stunning and important heritage site, it’s a vital part of the town’s story, community, and economy — and the only wheelchair-accessible view around. Already the campaign to Save Ruskin’s View has raised almost £150,000, but there’s still a long way to go.
Ruskin wasn’t the first to recognise the importance of this stunning viewpoint. His hero J. M. W. Turner had visited back in August 1816 — known to history as the year without a summer. Mount Tambora in what is now Indonesia had recently erupted, casting debris across the planet, which led to famines across the Northern Hemisphere and global temperatures dropping by maybe 0.7°C. It was the world’s largest eruption in at least 1,300 years. Over in Switzerland, Mary Shelley was inspired by the eerie weather to write Frankenstein, and Byron composed his apocalyptic poem ‘Darkness’:
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day…
— Lord Byron ‘Darkness’ (1816)
Here in Britain, Turner was touring the North and capturing a series of startlingly red sunsets caused by high levels of tephra in the atmosphere. It was on this tour that he came to Kirkby Lonsdale, and he would later use sketches from this visit in his painting of the landscape — the atmosphere hazy.
It’s often said locally that before Ruskin visited Kirkby Lonsdale, Ruskin’s View was called Turner’s View. In reality, Turner’s sketches and painting were made slightly further down river. Looking closely at Turner’s background, towards the left of the picture, you can actually see someone standing at Ruskin’s View. Here in Kirkby Lonsdale the figure — barely visible, perhaps an afterthought — grabs at local people’s attention. It feels like they are trespassing, like any moment the ground might give way under their feet. In a way, the figure is representative of a memory shared by hundred of thousands of people over hundreds of years: stopping for a breath at the edge of the cliff.
It’s a memory that unites the entire town, as well as all those who visit every year. It is a memory that may never be made again, not unless the money can be found to save Ruskin’s View for the future.
The Friends of Ruskins View are working to raise over £1,000,000 to save this beautiful heritage site from collapse. We are keen to make links with other Ruskin enthusiasts, and would be excited to hear from anyone able to support us with their time, ideas, or connections. To follow the campaign or make a donation yourself, visit www.saveruskinsview.co.uk.