A Walk in the Westmorland Dales

A fantastic karst landscape, terrific views and a Neolithic stone circle made this a wonderful morning walk from the little village of Orton. Although this ramble is in the county of Cumbria, this landscape has recently been added to the Yorkshire Dales National Park – and deservedly so.

Great Asby Scar 011

Perhaps one day we’ll get our old county boundaries restored. Politicians should never have fiddled with them in the first place!

We set out from the village of Orton, where you can park for free in the village square. Buses are, to say the least, infrequent. The village itself is a bit of a gem, a grand old church and quite a selection of ancient buildings.

The original name of the place was Sker-Overton, changed to Orton in the local dialect. I found this out quite recently when I was researching my novel Villain  – the third in the series which brings some reality back to the legend of Robin Hood. My book starts on the wild moorlands above Orton, before my villains return to Sherwood Forest.

Curiously, there are a lot of Robin Hood links in this part of Cumbria. His “grave” is high above the village. It was a visit to that a couple of years ago which inspired the start of my book. There were a lot of outlaws in these parts in medieval times, not least Adam Bell in nearby Inglewood Forest.

Great Asby Scar 004

We followed the Coast to Coast long-distance path up through Broadfell Farm up to Orton Scar and the Beacon Hill. From here there are superb views across to the Lake District in one direction and the Howgill Fells in another, the valley of the River Lune in between.

Following the wall to the top of Beacon Hill, we came to the cross built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Here you get all round views, the ones I’ve mentioned before with the addition of the long heights of the northern Pennines.

The karst landscape of limestone pavement had already begun, intensifying in its splendour as we gained height. Walking north-east, following an impressive stone wall, we came to the entrance of the Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve.Great Asby Scar 006

Great Asby Scar is one of the best limestone pavements in Britain. There’s something almost unearthly about this landscape. I can’t even describe what it is. You need to go there and look for yourself. It’s almost as though you’ve stepped outside time.

A good path leads out of the nature reserve to a cross-ways on the far-eastern edge of Beacon Hill. A wide track leading around the Knott, one of the highest points on the walk.

As the Knott is the highest hill in the Westmorland Dales, we thought we should climb it at last. It’s a modest height, surmounted by a trig point and crossed by a stone wall. An easy ascent, but well worth it for the excellent views.

We descended a track called Knott Lane – and here’s another impressive sight. A stone circle from the Neolithic period.

The Gamelands Stone Circle is situated on what was once open moorland, but the circle was first ploughed out in 1863. A wall was constructed nearby and most of the stones have been tumbled over time, probably deliberately in the course of agricultural works. At one point there was probably a burial kist within the circle. It was certainly visible in Victorian times, but has long gone.

Great Asby Scar 018

Despite these interferences, the stone circle, one of the largest in the north, is still impressive. You can stand there and wonder about its purpose. There are many proposed solutions. It is, they say locally, not often visited.

It’s possible to return to Orton on footpaths from there, but we chose the lane back to the village, a very old road indeed.

A walk that lives in my mind as I think back, because of the strange landscape and that old stone circle.

These Westmorland Dales make an excellent addition to the National Parks Family. Away from the route of the Coast to Coast path, this is a very quiet area – you can walk all day and hardly see anyone. If you are staying in the district, Orton, Appleby and Kirkby Stephen or the villages thereabouts, are good places to find accommodation. There are buses to Appleby and Kirkby Stephen and sometimes Orton as well.

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Author: John Bainbridge

Rambler, hillwalker, stravaiger and trespasser, access campaigner. Novelist writing historical and period crime fiction.

7 thoughts on “A Walk in the Westmorland Dales”

  1. Overton… O’erton… Orton – yep, I can see how that works – didn’t know about the bit before it though. Didn’t know about that stone circle but fancy a visit and have always wanted to do Orton Scar. We used to visit a nice (but very expensive) cafe in Orton on a tight bend in the road on the way in/out of the village – wonder if it’s still there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The chocolate cafe near the car parking looks good too. The stone circle is worth a look as Neolithic ones are rarer than the later Bronze Age examples.

      Like

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