Up to Dukerdale – A Walk of Two Halves

The other day we walked out from Kirkby Stephen to have a look at Dukerdale, the dramatic valley which doesn’t quite scrape into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, though – even though it’s in Cumbria – it ought to. (There are precedents – the Westmorland Dales between Appleby and Orton are now part of the YDNP.)

High Dukerdale (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A walk of two halves this, the first all pastoral through woods of ash and blackthorn, where the primroses grow and the spring lambs gambol: the second a long and hard moorland tramp where the only signs of life are the calls of the hill birds and the occasional disturbed grouse.

Starting by the sparkling waters of the River Eden at Frank’s Bridge, familiar to walkers of the Coast to Coast path, we crossed the disused railway line, and walked up to the mighty and dramatic Ewbank Scar, a great chunk of limestone, worn down over the ages by the tiny but very pretty Ladthwaite Beck. We saw deer not far away, red squirrels and a passing fitch. A good area for wildlife.

Frank’s Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Beyond Ladthwaite Farm, the whole tone of the walk changes. What is a relatively pastoral landscape walk is transformed into a wet and occasional boggy moorland tramp – first across stone-walled intakes and then across open fellside, as we followed a long wall to the slopes of Tailbridge Hill.

The first part was a trudge through lank moor-grass and heather. Heavy going, the initial brightness of the day vanishing into light rain and hail. These fells, though, have an interest of their own – particularly for the walker who likes moorland birds and the lover of wild open spaces.

Ewbank Scar (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Hard going though, until a track opened up nearer to the summit. There was a time in my long ago Dartmoor days, when I could do thirty miles across such country and not think twice about it. Older age has calmed me down a trifle.

But when you come to the edges of Dukerdale you do get a gasp of excitement – it’s like a miniature version of the famous High Cup Nick, though limestone and not Whin Sill. Well worth going to have a look at.

We circled Dukerdale, crossing at the beck which pours down into this once-glaciated valley – a good place to halt for a tea-break. Then up across wilder moorland towards Rollinson Hags.

Walking into the wild (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Superb views here, right across the great valley of the Eden to the North Pennines in one direction, with the Lakeland and Howgill Fells in the other.

We cut across to the track leading up from Kirkby Stephen to the Nine Standards, though we didn’t go up to those dramatic cairns on this occasion. Instead we followed the path and then the lane down the three miles back to Hartley and then Kirkby Stephen itself – a lovely gentle descent with equally terrific views, so familiar to walkers on the Coast to Coast.

A walk of two halves across countryside where, apart from at the end on the long-distance path, we hardly saw a soul.


John Ruskin on Footpaths

In 1885 John Ruskin wrote a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette:Wray Castle and Brantwood 021

“Sir, Will you kindly help me to direct general attention to the mischief now continually done by new landowners in the closing of our mountain footpaths? Of all the small, mean, and wicked things a landlord can do, shutting his footpath is the nastiest…”

The picture above shows the view through Ruskin’s study window near Coniston…

Dufton Gill and Flakebridge Wood – A Good Old-Fashioned Country Ramble

Most ramblers use our old paths by linking them together in a circular or linear route, taking the walker through a wide variety of scenery. And that’s what we did the other morning, from the village of Dufton high on the slopes of the North Pennines.

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The Path to Dufton Gill (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A grand walk through some very pretty scenery and on good paths too. I’m often critical of the state of the path network, which has paid a high price with the government’s Austerity obsession.

But not here: The paths around Dufton are in immaculate condition – all well-signposted and waymarked, bridges and stiles in good order, paths kept clear by the farmers and well restored after ploughing. I commend the farmers whose lands we crossed on this walk – a shining example to others.

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Dufton (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Dufton – the village of the doves – stands on the edge of the Pennines and is a staging point on the Pennine Way. But our walk lay away from the high ground, through the fields and woods that tumble down towards the Eden Valley.

Hidden below the village is Dufton Gill, a dramatic gorge of St. Bees sandstone. And very lovely it looked too with the fresh green leaves at last appearing on the trees and a host of golden daffodils. The bluebells are not out yet, but we hope to return in a few weeks to see what will be a splendid display. The sandstone cliffs, geology that’s older than the neighbouring Pennines, give a wild setting to such floral beauty.

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In Dufton Gill (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A good path runs through the Gill to Greenhow Farm, where a footpath leads to Keisley Beck. A really good farmer here – who’d provided a very wide headland path along the edge of a ploughed field. Superb.

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A properly restored headland footpath (c) John Bainbridge 2018

To the sound of curlews and the sight of two overhead peewits, we followed the path to Flakebridge Wood, which looks as though it’s going to be particularly dramatic come bluebell time. Though much of the wood’s access is restricted, there are a couple of rights of way crossing it and another running along the edge. We shall try to get back there when the bluebells are out.

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Ancient Ford on the Brampton Beck (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We wandered along the path to Esplandhill Farm. We’d come this way a few weeks ago in a snowstorm, but now we walked it in just a few drops of rain. Then past the Mill below Brampton, crossing the pretty Brampton Beck at a footbridge. There’s a ford of some considerable antiquity nearby…

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Wood Lane (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A long green lane – Wood Lane – led back to Dufton Gill and the village. One of those wide, hedged lanes that history never converted into a surface road, a shorter route than the present road between Brampton and Dufton.

In these days of busy, fast traffic, it’s a joy to get away from the noise, smell and visual intrusion of the motor car. Although I often envy the road-walking trampers of past days who undertook long walks across Britain along what is now the busy road network. Some of their routes would be unpleasant these days.

Another reason we need to preserve the alternative network of public rights of way. And one of the best ways of keeping them open is to walk them regularly on country rambles.


Journey Through Britain

First published in 1968, Journey Through Britain by John Hillaby, detailing his long walk from Lands End to John O’Groats, made a huge impression on me when I first read it.

In this very readable volume Hillaby, recounts his adventures as he takes the back paths of Britain, through the west country, along Offa’s Dyke, up the Pennine Way and then through the Borders and Highlands of Scotland to his destination.

Now, of course, we are used to people doing such long walks but, at the time that Hillaby did it, the practice had become unusual. In fact, Hillaby thought his walking journey would be one of the last. Little did he guess how many readers and walkers would be enthused by his adventures.

Hillaby is a grand travelling companion, anecdotal, fascinated by nature, landscape and people. His book was massively influential on publication, probably inspiring the creation of many a long distance trail and correspondingly long walks.Great Asby Walk 019

It now has an historical value, giving as it does the feel of the long lost 1960s in Britain (and how some of us miss them!).

Do give it a try or a re-read:

Other books by John Hillaby:

Journey to the Jade Sea

Journey Through Europe

Journey Through Love

A Path Going Nowhere

Look on the Ordnance Survey map and you’ll often see paths going apparently nowhere. Marked clearly and then stopping dead. But don’t be deceived, for paths which don’t seem to connect to anywhere can often lead to a fascinating walking trip – contrary to my title, all paths go somewhere.

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The Murton Track (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A fortnight ago, we used one of these tracks leading from Murton village in the North Pennines to access Murton Pike – the surrounding fells were covered in snow. Yesterday, we did it again on the best Spring day this year.

If you look at the map of Murton and its Pike, you’ll see the track clearly marked, winding round the south-east side of the Pike and petering out just south of Burnt Crag. Or so you’d think… In fact the line of the track on the OS map bears little resemblance to the actual track, which winds far more than the marked route.

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Stone Shelters Near Burnt Crag (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A beautiful morning as we set out from Murton, so odd to see these hillsides without snow. We talked to a villager about the fells on either side of Gasdale and picked up some useful walking information. This walk is at the edge of the army’s Warcop Firing Range, which we stayed outside, though we flirted with its boundary.

Climbing up the track, a gradual ascent, gave us some wonderful views across the Eden Valley to the distant Lakeland Fells and the high country towards Stainmore and Kirkby Stephen. But this time we didn’t leave the track for the summit of Murton Pike, determined to find out just why it seems to stop dead in the middle of nowhere.

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Frogspawn (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Only of course it doesn’t stop dead at all. True, the hard-surfaced track ends and the map’s public right of way with it. But as the track ends, several paths take off in varying directions, offering an opportunity to explore these quiet Pennine hills.

If the Lake District didn’t exist so close nearby, these hills would be thronged with walkers. But we saw nobody at all on these neglected highlands. So do come and explore…

One path from the end of the track leads across to High Cup Nick – we’re saving that for another day. Instead, we took a faint path around Gasdale Head, so that we might see White Mines – an extensive area of ancient lead mining. We briefly passed through the outer military range warning notices for just a few yards, but you are safe enough as long as you don’t go further in.

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The Hush (c) John Bainbridge 2018

On the way across the fell, we saw frogspawn in puddles, put up a black grouse and heard endless skylarks and a peewit. This is an area much frequented by jackdaws.

White Mines is a wonderful example of Pennine industrial archaeology. The whole level of the hillside above was torn asunder by a Hush – where miners would dam water at the top of the hill and release it in one great torrent to clear the topsoil and expose the ore. The remnants of the Hush are there in a torn apart, jagged and craggy landscape.

But the miners tunneled into the hillside too – one of their beautiful and stone-lined adits is there awaiting exploration. We went in, though you can only journey some thirty feet before a fall blocks your way. Worth doing though, to see how skilfully made was this entrance to the mine.

Above its entrance was a wrecked tractor. The villager told us that a local farmer was driving it above the Hush when it fell in. Luckily he was able to jump clear before it tumbled down.

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The Mine Tunnel (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Hard to imagine the noise and the intrusion made by these mines when they were in use. So peaceful now, especially on a balmy Spring day when the bees hum.

We strolled down on old miners’ track back into Murton after a morning’s walk into a different world from the busier valley below.

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Inside the Tunnel (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Which all goes to show that you should never ignore a path that seems to come to a dead end. You never know what wonders await you.


Wayfarer’s Dole

My walking book Wayfarer’s Dole is now out in paperback and as a Kindle eBook…

In a series of solitary journeys on foot the writer and novelist John Bainbridge explores the ethos of rambling and hiking in rural England and Scotland.Wayfarers_Dole_Cover_for_Ko

On his journeys he seeks out the remaining wild places and ancient trackways, meeting vagabonds and outdoors folk along the way and follows in the footsteps of writers, poets and early travellers.

This is a book for everyone who loves the British countryside and walking its long-established footpaths and bridleways.

And for the armchair traveller…

Wayfarer’s Dole takes its title from an ancient tradition – In medieval times pilgrims travelling the road through Winchester to Canterbury would halt at the St Cross Hospital, a place of rest and refuge for those on holy journeys, and demand the Wayfarer’s Dole – small portions of ale and bread to ease the hunger and thirst incurred on their travels.

Walk Magazine Reviews Wayfarer’s Dole:

“This engrossing book by writer, novelist and one-time chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, John Bainbridge, explores the ethos of rambling via a series of short essays. The book takes its name from the medieval tradition of offering help to pilgrims on foot, but John’s own adventures take him deep into the moors, downs and mountains as he muses on everything from maps, roadside fires, stravaiging and the protection of our ancient footpaths. It’s a very personal but informed and intelligent journey that will resonate with inquisitive ramblers everywhere.” WALK MAGAZINE.

Just click on the link here for more details or to order: https: //www.amazon.co.uk/Wayfarers-Dole-Rambles-British-Countryside-ebook/dp/B019B4Y4HU/ref=la_B001K8BTHO_1_15?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1523802741&sr=1-15



Walking A Corpse Road

On Dartmoor is the Lich Way from the middle of the Moor to Lydford – the parish church that once covered the entirety of Dartmoor Forest. There are several minor Dartmoor burial paths as well, including the one going up Dartmeet Hill on the way to Widecombe church, which includes – on Dartmeet Hill – the inscribed Coffin Stone. There are several good corpse routes in the Lake District – the one from Ambleside via Rydal to Grasmere is worth checking out.
But a very atmospheric corpse road, little changed since it was first used, runs down Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales.

There was a thick mist as we made out way over from Kirkby Stephen to Keld in Swaledale, but by the time we reached the tiny village, which is on both the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast Path, it had melted away, leaving clear views down the dale and over the lonely and seemingly endless stretches of moorland.


We had come to walk part of the corpse road, along which the dead of Keld were carried the twelve miles to the parish church of Grinton, to be buried. And a wild journey it must have been in bad weather, for the stretch that we walked, between Keld and Muker is both high and exposed.

Keld itself feels like the village on the edge of the world. As Wainwright says in his Coast to Coast Guide “a sundial records the hours, but time is measured in centuries in Keld.” On the lane out of the village is the war memorial, commemorating the four men of the district who died in the Great War. But were they to come back they would hardly believe they had been away at all, so unchanged in this village.

The Corpse Road on Kisdon Hill (c) John Bainbridge 2015

The corpse road is a well-defined track climbing the western side of Kisdon Hill, offering grand views over this quiet and unspoilt land.  I have a great interest in corpse roads. This seems a particularly unspoiled example.

If you met a corpse-carrying party who’d wandered in from the Middle Ages you wouldn’t feel terribly surprised.

But this day we saw no ghosts. Just a solitary shepherd feeding his sheep and a great many lapwings.

The path goes steeply downhill to the little village of Muker (pronounced Moo-Ker). A tad bigger than Keld, but not much bigger. The church is delightful in its simplicity. Built in the 1580s – one of the few in England dating from the reign of Elizabeth I – and thus making much of the corpse road redundant, offering a decent burial ground for the people at the head of Swaledale. We liked the stained glass, showing Christ as a shepherd and the appropriate 23 sheep – all of the Swaledale Breed. This is where we left the Corpse Road, though we hope to resume it one day.

Muker from the Corpse Road (c) John Bainbridge 2015

On then to the River Swale itself. Here there are lots of signs of lead-mining, though nature has healed the scars. The miners, who would work a long day at the mining and then farm as well, used the system of mining known as hushing. Holding back water in huge dams on the hill-tops. Then releasing it in one mighty surge to wash away the topsoil, making the ore more visible.

There are the ruins of a smelting mill with some delightful waterfalls at Swinner Gill, with fine views back over Kisdon Hill. Then past Crackpot Hall, now a ruin, abandoned due to subsidence in 1953.

The name Keld comes from the old Norse word for water, and there’s certainly a lot of it about. There are a great many waterfalls on the Swale itself and its tributary becks. Just before you hit Keld again are a beautiful series of falls known as East Gill Force – a lovely spot to linger.

East Gill Force (c) John Bainbridge 2015

If you fancy a walk that’s lost in time with a great deal of history, then this is the walk for you.