Sticks Pass to Raise and White Side

Sticks Pass is the second highest mountain pass in the Lake District, one of those old ways used in past days to link Glenridding and Patterdale with the areas around St Johns-in-the-Vale and Wythburn. The ancient track takes its name from the sticks used to mark the route – though none survive today.

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Going up to Raise (c) John Bainbridge 2018

As you walk these mountain passes, particularly in wild weather, you can see just why they came about. It doesn’t take much to imagine herders driving sheep and cattle across them, or mineral workers bringing fell ponies through, loaded with mineral ore from the area’s mines.

 

Sunday was a fine day for walking, the Lake District looking magnificent with the mountains still dappled with broad fields of glistening snow.

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We set out from Stanah Village Hall (£2 honesty box parking) to walks up to the topmost part of the Sticks Pass, then along the ridge towards the two Wainwright heights of Raise and White Side.

The first part of the track is undoubtedly quite steep, a hardy task for herders and ponies. But it does offer wonderful views over Thirlmere and the Northern Fells. The dramatic gully of Stanah Gill runs alongside and it wasn’t long before we glimpsed the placid waters of Bassenthwaite.

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Head of the Pass (c) John Bainbridge 2018

 

Thirlmere itself was half-frozen, the long stretches of ice stilling its water.

The last time we walked up to Sticks Pass I was incredibly unfit and it seemed to give the impression of going on for ever. But the fitter and lighter me did much better this time, feeling much as I did over twenty years ago.

A good sunny day as we hit the top of the Pass, just a few other walkers about. A bit more snow here, adding to the excitement of the day.

The lingering clouds cleared as we followed the path up to Raise, with some nice stands of snow to negotiate on the way.

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Raise Summit (c) John Bainbridge 2018

 

Grand and very clear views from the top, right across Lakeland to Gable and Scafell Pike in one direction, Skiddaw and Blencathra to the north, then across Ullswater to the North Pennines. So many familiar and walked heights.

The three quarters of a mile across to White Side, offers some of the easiest walking in the district. A delight walking in this southerly direction because of the fine views you get towards Helvellyn and its Lower Man – still looking positively Alpine with its greater stretches of snow.

From White Side we descended along the line of the bridleway to Brown Crag, a minor summit that has some nice craggy rocks on its northern edge. The remnants of cairns on its top are clearly prehistoric. Another terrific viewpoint over the head of Thirlmere.

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A View from Raise (c) John Bainbridge 2018

 

The bridleway winds back on itself down towards Thirlspot. This too was a track for men and women with fell ponies in times agone.

We crossed the little wooden bridge across Fisherplace Gill, with its dramatic waterfalls, and then the footpath to Stanah.

Walking in the footsteps of so many journeyers along the old ways, who would, even today, recognise this landscape – even if the reservoired Thirlmere is bigger than it once was.

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Helvellyn and Lower Man (c) John Bainbridge 2018
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Walking the Lowther Estate Tracks

 

There’s something really interesting in walking the tracks of one of the country estates of the so-called landed gentry. We did it the other day on the Lowther Estate near to Penrith on the edge of the Lake District.

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Lowther Castle Ruins (c) John Bainbridge 2018

What I find fascinating is that so many rights of way continue to exist in such places, particularly in the north of England. It’s often a different story in other parts of Britain.

It was not unusual for the landowning upper classes to close paths near to their stately homes. As most of the landowners were also magistrates, Justices of the Peace, and it only took two of them to close a right of way, many of the old ways were lost in recent centuries. Closing old paths was, as Victorian country writer Richard Jefferies noted, very unpopular amongst the surrounding peasantry.

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Askham Hall (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Whether to court that local hate was a calculated decision by the squirearchy.

But wander down to the south and parts of East Anglia and you’ll find many a country estate with nary a path across them. I’ve spent many a long day trespassing on these forbidden lands.

But you can get a fair idea of the Lowther Estate by walking the surviving rights of way. We set out from Askham, that beautiful little village on the edge of the estate. Lowther Castle has been a roofless ruin since 1957 and the family now live at Askham Hall, which is a much more attractive building anyway.

The family were the Viscounts and then the Earls of Lonsdale, and over the centuries many well-known names visited them, including William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and – just before the Great War – Kaiser Wilhelm II. The two poets endowed the estate with some poor but oft-quoted examples of their verse.

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The Church and Mausoleum (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The walk through the Askham side of the estate and the old deer park on rights of way is very pretty, especially on a Spring day. Passing Askham Hall, we followed a bridleway and then a footpath down to Heining Wood and then down to the River Lowther – quite something to have a river named after you!

We walked up through Lowther Park up towards the ruin of the castle, and out to the estate church and the mausoleum where members of the family lie. The church is not particularly attractive on the outside, through the interior is rather charming in its way.

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Askham (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Then a footpath alongside the river, through the deer park to the oddly-named hamlet of Whale. Rather beautiful in the warm weather. We saw no deer on our day out, though there are some left out on the neighbouring fells – it was the deer that Kaiser Bill came to shoot on his pre-war visit.

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In the Deer Park (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The fifth Earl of Lonsdale, who used to enjoy his billing as “England’s premier sportsman” was a keen stalker. He also hated walkers exploring the Lakeland Fells within his estate (more or less everything east of Ullswater), and attempted to bar access by fellwalkers, branding everyone who rambled for pleasure as thieves, vandals and arsonists. Fortunately, his attitude didn’t prevail and the fells are now open for all to enjoy.

Crossing the river below Whale, we took a most delightful enclosed bridleway up to Helton, before following the lane back to Askham.

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The Bridleway to Helton (c) John Bainbridge 2018

On the way back I remembered how William Wordsworth, on his way to dine at Lowther Castle one day, took direct action against a neighbouring landowner who’d obstructed a right of way. I related the tale in my book The Compleat Trespasser:

The Tory poet William Wordsworth took direct action to break open a blocked right of way on the land of Sir John Wallace, when journeying to Lowther Castle for a dinner held in the poet’s honour.

During the meal an apoplectic Sir John complained that his wall had been broken down and, if he ever found out who was responsible, he would get out his horsewhip.

At which point Wordsworth got to his feet, saying “I broke down your wall, Sir John. It was obstructing an ancient right of way, and I will do it again. I am a Tory, but scratch me on the back deep enough and you will find the Whig in me yet”. A witness to Wordsworth’s action stated that the poet attacked the obstructing wall “as if it were a living enemy”.

I’m not Wordsworth’s greatest fan, but you’ve got to have some admiration for anyone happy to disrupt a dinner party with such a sentiment. Nothing like a bit of direct action – we should all do it more often…The_Compleat_Trespas_Cover_for_Kindle

The Compleat Trespasser is still available in paperback and as a Kindle eBook, if you wish to read more. Just click the link for more information…https://www.amazon.co.uk/Compleat-Trespasser-Journeys-Forbidden-Britain/dp/1494834928/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1521288001&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=The+Compleat+Trespasser

Walking the Local Paths

If you are a British rambler, you tend to take individual footpaths and bridleways for granted, linking them together to design a longer walk for the day.

I know walkers, determined as they are to arrive at their destination, who scarcely see or examine the path they are on.

We all do it from time to time. Yet look more carefully and you can find out much about the history of the landscape you are walking through.

The great dramatic tracks – the old Roman roads, the prehistoric ridgeways and so on – tend to get noticed. But the simple paths linking village to village, farmhouse to church, are just as important and worthy of note.

Our footpaths and bridleways are an absolutely vital resource for every country walker. During my campaigning days, landowning organisations were continually pressing for the “rationalisation” of the path network, seeking to get rid of many of our precious rights of way and pushing walkers on to unimaginatively routed and compromised core paths.

Thankfully, walking campaign groups resisted much of this, though some rambling footpath officers too readily agreed diversions which were not in the best interests of ramblers.

Core paths are still promoted by some local authorities. With austerity budget cuts, some highway authorities are not spending enough on the entire network, singling out just some of the more popular walks.

Yet walkers bring billions of pound into the British countryside, so this is a false economy. And the best way to keep ALL paths opened and maintained is to get as many walkers as possible out on to them.TDWAYFront Cover

One idea is to look at designing shorter long-distance walks on little used rights of way. My old group of the Ramblers Association in Teignmouth and Dawlish in Devon http://www.teignramblers.org.uk/ did this with the creation of the Teignmouth and Dawlish Way – 18 miles around some little visited wilder countryside. Many other rambling groups have done something similar.

You don’t have to be in a group to design such a route. You can do it yourself and produce your own booklet to sell online or in local bookshops.

Or why not just walk all the local paths in your locality, reporting any problems to the local highway authority and the Ramblers – who have a useful path problems app on their website http://www.ramblers.org.uk/

A Lead Miners’ Track in the Pennines

In between our two recent bouts of snow, we walked up from the village of Dufton to reach the edge of the Pennine plateau and Great Rundale Tarn. There were still some patches of snow and it was bitterly cold.

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A Worked Landscape (c) John Bainbridge 2018

What’s interesting about this walk, is that the track up to the edge of the fells and the tarn probably didn’t exist a couple of centuries ago. The path is a relic of the lead-mining which took place here from the nineteenth-century until the early years of the twentieth.

This is still a walk with some industrial dereliction, though nature has healed the wounds considerably. Now the lead mines are deserted, though you can still see the shafts, adits, associate buildings and pathways. A strange, haunted landscape – once a place of noise and bustle, but now the only noise is the breeze, the warning shouts of the grouse and the witterings of moorland birds.

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Where the Miners Worked (c) John Bainbridge 2018

It’s as wild a location as you might find anywhere in England.

Dufton’s an attractive moorland village – the poet W.H. Auden adored it. But it owed much of its prosperity to the activities of the London Lead Company, who worked several mines out on Dufton Fell, notably at Threlkeld Side where we were headed.

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Dereliction (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Compared to the nearby Lake District, these fells are particularly quiet – even at weekends you see few walkers.

The track made by the miners makes this approach to the North Pennines very easy – a simple ramble out and back. We climbed gradually up to the snowline, round to the east of Dufton Pike and then up the now quiet Thelkeld Side, above the Great Rundale Beck.

Geologically, the valley’s very similar to the more famous High Cup Nick, though not quite as dramatic. And as we climbed higher, its purpose became clear. Here are the hushes where miners would dam back hilltop water, releasing it to remove the ground level, exposing the seam beneath. Here too are the huge spoil heaps the miners left behind and the tunnels – now very unsafe – burrowing into the hillside.

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A Frozen Great Rundale Tarn (c) John Bainbridge 2018

It must have been a harsh life, perhaps not so bad underground where the temperatures are constant, but freezing out on the open fellside. There were great patches of snow and a wide vista of the distant white Lakeland hills. In the distance we were seeing the same landscapes that the miners saw. Only the ground immediately around would have been different.

Look at the Ordnance Survey map and see how mining has left its marks on the hills. So many shafts forced into these wet and boggy fells. Early miners worked hard, long and dangerous hours.  Only the bosses got rich, not the men who did the work. The lifespan of a Victorian miner was notoriously short. Some of my own coal-mining ancestors in the Black Country barely got past forty.

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The Miner’s Track and Dufton Pike (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Then, above the mines, the valley narrows and becomes shallower, but the track goes on a few hundred yards. We emerged from the great chasm, deep in shadow and caught the winter sun for the first time since Dufton – the industry left behind and the broken peat hags of the high Pennines in front of us. Miles of wild countryside and trackless hard going across the plateau, all the way to lonely Meldon Hill – one of the most isolated summits in England – and then Cow Green and Teesdale.

You can see why it was considered worth the bother taking this old way beyond the mines. At the track’s end is a shooting box, and lots of grouse and blackcock. The shooters must have been grateful to the miners for giving them easy access to their blasting grounds.

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The Shooting Box (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The black peat and the heather were frozen stiff and there were greater patches of snow. There are several tarns on this level-lying high ground. Great Rundale Tarn a long white patch of ice covered in snow. Hard even to see it as water, though it must be a joy for the moorland birds in other seasons of the year. The pre-war Pennine explorer and writer Donald Boyd in his classic book Walking in the Pennines, writes of it having a sandy shore – but there was no sign of that on this frozen day.

We walked back the same way, back through the old mines and then down into warmer air as we breasted the slopes of Dufton Pike, the stone-walled enclosures already feeling like a different world from the frost-blasted grounds of Threlkeld Side.

Then, from this track lost in time, back out to Dufton, with not even a Pennine Way walker in sight. A place those Victorian miners would have recognised, even in a twenty-first century that seems so different to their hard existence.

Strange the landscapes the Old Ways take you to.

Just click on a picture to enlarge it.

The Old Tracks

So what are these old tracks?Smardale Fell Walk 007

We all see them as we walk in the countryside. Take them for granted as we use them for our present-day walks. But every single path we use tells a story, an episode in our history. They are as vitally important for telling the story of Britain as archaeological sites such as Avebury and Stonehenge.

That is why I believe the original routes should be preserved as much as possible, closure and diversions should be resisted. Changing the line of a path is interfering with our island story.Roman Road Feb18 002

About the tracks themselves –

I’ve been re-reading A.J. Brown’s classic work of Yorkshire Tramping Broad Acres. Brown was a leading figure in the rambling world between the two world wars, the author of definitive works such as Moorland Tramping and Striding Through Yorkshire – all worth a read. In Broad Acres he gives a good definition of the Old Ways:

Ancient British ridgeways (followed by hillside ways);

Romanised roads (i.e. ancient British ways. metalled and straightened by the Romans);

Pure Roman roads;

Drovers’ roads, drift ways and pannier-mule tracks;

Local green ways or Monks’ Trods’

i) Leading from monastery to monastery or chantry

ii) Saltways, flintways and other local ‘tradeways’.

I would add the following to Brown’s list:

Coffin Paths or Corpse Roads (Lich or Lyke Walks) – the way the dead were taken for burial.

Parish Paths – used to get to local churches, or from farm to farm and village to village.

Industrial Paths, the ways miners and quarrymen got to their work or transported minerals.

Paths constructed for the defence of our country in time of war.

Many of the above still wind through our countryside and may be followed by ramblers. But  by properly looking at them we can get a great deal more from our walks. We are literally walking in the steps of our ancestors most of the time. Striding through the British landscape is a history lesson on foot.Rydal Corpse Road 005

In my next blog I’ll be looking at a path used by lead-miners in the Northern Pennines.

On this blog Walking the Old Ways, I’ll be recounting some of my own walks and looking at what you might see along the way. But more than that I’ll be featuring the organisations which are fighting to protect these ancient paths, the people who have written about them and the books they’ve produced, and the ethos of the country walkers.

Looking too at the wild places where paths are few and far between,  for I’m an ardent campaigner for the right to roam. So there will be some campaigning as well. You can read how I became interested in our paths in my books Wayfarer’s Dole and The Compleat Trespasser – available in paperback and on Kindle.The Occupation Road 010

But I’d like to hear from readers too, particularly if you are fighting to protect an ancient path.

The above is just an introduction, so please keep visiting the blog or click on the Follow button, to get an email when the new blog appears.

Enjoy your walking.