Posted by: travelrat | March 26, 2008



Recently, I spent a few days in Cumbria, where most of the old buildings are whitewashed. The poet William Wordsworth didn’t like this; he felt that the rough stone ought to be left in its natural colour.

But, there was a reason for the whitewash. Most houses of the day were built using natural stone, and, no matter how carefully they were laid, there were always cracks in the wall. The whitewash filled them in. Quite often, if the barn and the living quarters are in the same building, the living quarters are whitewashed, and the barn isn’t.

These days, the ‘whitewash’ is a commercial product, but, in the old days, it was made simply from lime and water, and applied with an old sweeping brush … with a fresh ‘cow pie’ or two added to the mix, to ensure hardness and the undefinable glow many of them have. And, from a photographer’s point of view, they can produce a good image even in less than perfect light.

It’s said, too, that the white-painted farmhouses helped many a shepherd to find his way home in the dark … but whether that’s a fact or just romantic fiction, I can’t really say.


  1. I’d love to think that the whitewashed farmhouses helped shepherds find their way home in the dark. Sounds like a scene plucked straight from a Thomas Hardy novel!

  2. I’m not wholly convinced by the tale … most shepherds know their native fell like their own back garden, anyway.

    Trouble is, Victorian writers often muddied the water by presenting their fanciful, romantic tales as facts … perpetuated even today by some guidebooks.

    However, it would make a good story …

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