The Time Machine - a temporary installation at the Bowder Stone

It's easy to look at the landscape of the Lake District and think that it's been unchanged for hundreds of years. Well, think again... this artist's impression we commissioned of the Bowder Stone revealed how dramatic landscape change has happened over the past 200 years, and how the way that we write about and describe the landscape has changed with it.

A temporary installation from Saturday 23 September - Sunday 29 October 2017 in a former climbers' hut beside one of Borrowdale's most famous landmarks helped to tell the story of the way the landscape of the Lake District has always changed and will always continue to change.

In the words of the UNESCO World Heritage Site bid, it's an 'evolving masterpiece'.

The 'Time Machine'

200 years ago, the Bowder Stone was one of the most prominent landmarks in the valley - a huge boulder that awed visitors with its sheer size and mass, that stood out against the sky as the road wound towards it.

This is how the Bowder Stone appeared in the eighteenth century
eighteenth century sketch of the Bowder Stone
This is how the Bowder Stone appeared in the eighteenth century

Like the time machine in H G Wells' novel, it has stood unchanging for millennia, while the landscape has evolved around it: The boulder would have nestled deeply in the forests that covered the Lake District after the last ice-age – the original 'wildwood' that predated human habitation in the Lakes; it stood unmoved through the coming of the people who built the Iron Age hill fort on Castle Crag, the Norse who created the many clearings or 'thwaites' along the valley for grazing, and the traditional woodland industries which coppiced and harvested the timber for firewood, building materials, leather tanning.

The Bowder Stone didn't so much as twitch when eccentric offcomer Joseph Pocklington fixed a ladder to it, dug a hole beneath it so people could shake hands for luck, set a 'druidical stone' standing beside it and built a small 'hermitage' for a caretaker to live in who charged a fee for use of the ladder. It wasn't impressed by the visits of famous writers like William Wordsworth, John Ruskin and the queen of Gothic fiction herself Ann Radcliffe.

" Like the 'time machine' in H G Wells' novel, the Bowder Stone has stood unchanging for millennia while the landscape has evolved around it"
- Harvey Wilkinson, National Trust curator

And now it stands just as impassively while boulderers cling to its overhang, creating routes with incredible names like 'Picnic Sarcastic' and while the regenerated woodland surrounding it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because it's one of the last remaining fragments of the Atlantic Oak Wood habitat – once a vast temperate rainforest that stretched from Scotland to Cornwall.

The installation: Sat 23 September - Sun 29 October 2017

To help tell this story in a playful way, we commissioned artist and film maker John Hamlett to create three short animations that show how the Bowder Stone has witnessed this continuous change. You can see this film at the top of this page.

We opened the door of the climbers' hut, lighting the wood-burning stove and projected Hamlett's animations onto the wall for everyone to see. We also had some foam mats to help make shaking hands beneath the stone more comfortable.

Visitors to the Bowder Stone in the eighteenth century, as today, were fascinated with how it came to be there, and how it came to rest balanced improbably on one edge – did it fall from the crags above? Was it carried by a glacier? The animations play with the idea of some of the stories and responses that grew up around these ideas.

Sparking a conversation

The installation, which tied in to an exhibition at Wordsworth House of many original engravings and paintings of the Bowder Stone over the last 200 years, surprised people and helped spark a conversation about the landscapes in the Lake District, and what the concept of an evolving masterpiece means for the future of this unique and inspirational place.