Act Now To Protect Our Paths

This from the Ramblers Association – it’s urgent and vital to all country walkers.

We are blessed in England and Wales with a fantastic network of paths – nearly 140,000 miles of rights of way (enough to stretch round the earth five times or half way to the moon!). However, there are thousands of historical rights of way which have not been recorded and if they are not claimed by 2026 they will be lost – forever!DSCF0534

The Ramblers’ Don’t Lose Your Way project is focused on how we can take this one-time opportunity to preserve these rights which have been built up over centuries. We are supporting volunteers with identifying, researching and making applications to save these important parts of our local heritage.

Our landscape, and how we interact with it, has evolved and changed over the centuries. The shape and extent of villages and towns change, railways appear and disappear and – crucially for walkers – footpaths, bridleways and footpaths go in and out of use. But if we can identify a route which, at any point, been a public right of way then we can claim it and add it back to the map for future generations of walkers to use (all under the legal mantra of ‘once a highway, always a highway’).

In order to claim these paths, we need to look back at old maps and records to find evidence of previous public use. While we are working to see how we can get more historical maps digitised to support this important work, there is a wealth of material already available. For the first time we have created a directory of sources that will help volunteers research lost historical rights of way – and, if you are like me, lead to hours of fun looking at old maps!

There are many great tools that offer national coverage including the National Library of Scotland (where you can play around with side by side comparisons), the British Library, Old Maps Online, and the GB1900 project (which used volunteers to identify and locate every single word on the 1900 Ordnance Survey map).

As well as links to national sources, we have brought together links to some local projects which have digitised some fascinating maps. Highlights include the Know Your Place project in the South West, Cynefin in Wales, which has put all the Welsh Tithe maps online, and New Landscapes in Berkshire, which has made available all the enclosures in that county.

So why not explore these amazing maps and begin the hunt for lost historical rights of way? To find out how to get involved with Don’t Lose Your Way visit our webpages or email


A Place Called Robin Hood

We all associate Robin Hood with Sherwood Forest, but as far as place-names go, the outlaw appears all over England. I was minded of this the other day, as we were strolling around Richmond Castle in Yorkshire. Or Richmondshire, if you prefer. There’s a ruined tower in the castle named after the old wolfshead.

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Robin Hood’s Grave, Westmorland. (c) J Bainbridge

As it happens, there’s little historical basis for the name. Popular thought decrees that romantic Victorians called it Robin Hood’s Tower.


I suspect the same happened with lots of other Robin Hood links, the names are either there through the efforts of recent romanticism and…

Then there were lots of Robin Hoods. As some of you might know, I’ve spent the last couple of years writing a series of novels in which I’ve tried to root Robin in medieval reality. I’ve set my books in Sherwood Forest, though my Robin makes excursions into Westmorland, where there are lots of Robin sites, briefly Barnsdale, Fountains Abbey, Hathersage in Derbyshire.

My own belief is there was once an original Robin Hood. Who he was and where and when he lived, we shall never know. But rest assured, he wasn’t the romantic outlaw of legend. But he obviously made a name for himself, for I believe that that Robin Hood became a generic name for lots of other, possibly bold, outlaws.

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Robin Hood’s Tower (c) A Bainbridge 2018

And that’s why you find the place name in so many places across the land. They were named after their local Robin – lots of successors to the original.


Walking on the Westmorland fells, we often visit Robin Hood’s Grave – it’s obviously a cairn of questionable age. At Fountains Abbey, there’s a Robin Hood’s Well and Wood. (I used it as a setting for my Robin Hood novel Villain). Tradition alleges – with little evidence – that the monk called Friar Tuck trained at Fountains Abbey, though as far as the old ballads go, Tuck was a late arrival. Much later in the Middle Ages, a robber-monk called Tuck appeared in reality at Lindfield in Sussex. Nothing to do with Robin Hood, though you wonder if the Sussex monk was named after an earlier legend.

You get little help from the Robin Hood ballads. Only a few are very early, the first claiming Barnsdale as Robin’s hideout, though interestingly it also has the Sheriff of Nottingham as a character. I must say that had I been a medieval outlaw, I wouldn’t have chosen Barnsdale as a refuge. It was a place then of open heaths and small woods – not a very good place to hide if you are literally outside the law and anyone can bring you down.

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Fountains Abbey (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The problem is, the ballads that we have were probably written down from original oral sources, and the person writing them down localised them so that they referred to places his audience might know. So the original Robin could have come from anywhere. Just fill in the blanks as you rewrite the old verses.

But other place names – there’s a strong tradition that Little John hailed from Hathersage in Derbyshire – you can still see his purported and very massive grave. There are several other Robin Hood graves, including the famous and currently threatened one at Kirklees.

We also have Robin Hood’s Bay on the Yorkshire coast, where the outlaw saw off some pirates. There are also several Robin Hood pubs, including one in Penrith in Cumbria – though – as you are getting nearer to Carlisle, you are really entering the territory of the outlaw Adam Bell, whose adventures and crew are very similar to Mr Hood’s. There’s Robin Hood’s Stride in the Peak and a lot of other Robin features across the north and Midlands. Geographically, he got about as much as King Arthur.

And, of course, there is Robin Hood International Airport – a sight that would probably have overwhelmed the original ballad writers.

So if you have another Robin Hood location, do leave a comment, especially if it’s not one of the famous ones.

I’m currently working on the fourth and final novel in my Robin Hood series. The first three are out in paperback and on Kindle if you fancy a read (Just click on the link below for more information).

Interesting, I think, that a legend can have a validity for nigh on a thousand years, and that a medieval peasant could come into our very different 21st century and we could still both relate to the character of Robin Hood.


Pennine Leadmining Tracks to Great Rundale Tarn

Industry has brought its own tracks to our countryside. Many of the paths we follow today were created or adapted by those who worked the land in various ways, not least mining.DSCF0642

The Pennines have been worked for lead since at least Roman times, though there was a great spurt of activity in the Victorian age. A hard life it was too for those miners, dreadful hard work in appalling conditions. The pay was poor. Many of the miners died young.

I have mining ancestors, though they mined coal. They didn’t live very long, so I have considerable sympathy for the lead miners who worked in such a hard environment as the high hills of the Pennines.DSCF0640

We walked from Dufton up to Great Rundale Tarn in the hope of seeing the heather out, but it was long past its best – the long winter and the early summer heatwave seems to have interfered with the country calendar around here.

We’d last come this way in the winter, when the snow was still clinging to the Pennine hills. Re-walking a route in all seasons gives a good idea of what life might have been like for the men and women who lived and worked these hills in times past.DSCF0626

The track from Dufton runs past Pusgill, around Dufton Pike before making a steady ascent up through what is a land of dereliction, where the old lead mines would have been. Here are the adits, the remnants of shafts, the ruins of stone huts, the great rocky slopes of waste. The track itself along which men would have walked out from Dufton to face many hours of hard labour, until they could return to the comfort of their beds.

Mine workers never got rich from their toils in the Pennines (or elsewhere) – the fruits of their labours went into the pockets of the mine-owners and shareholders. Not a lot’s changed really!VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

There were a few grouse about as we came above the mining valley to the shooting box, which stands isolated on the edge of the Pennines plateau. But not as many as we saw in the winter, when we came across the blackcock. The wilderness – surely the last great wilderness in England – goes for many miles to the north-east, where the Tee, Tyne and Wear begin their journeys to the North Sea.

Great Rundale Tarn, with its little unamed neighbour stood cold and bleak on the top of the hill. The kind of mere where Grendel might have crept from in Beowulf. Not a place of beauty, more a little lake of nightmare, devoid of birdlife or much else. Worth looking at, though I preferred it on our winter walk when its waters were iced over.DSCF0633

We came back over White Rake and Cow Band, where there’s a lot more evidence of mining, including a hush – where miners stored water on the top of hills, releasing it in a great rush to remove the top-soil, to reveal the ore. Here too are shafts, drainage adits and the wrecks of more huts.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

A grand place for good views too, clear across the Eden valley to the far hills of the Lake District.

I can find little written material about these mines, even though the industry continued until into the last century. We can only surmise what happened along the Great Rundale Beck from what we know about Pennine lead-mining generally.

A lovely day, but you leave the place thanking your lucky stars you weren’t forced to work the day through, and possibly the night as well, as a lead-miner.

Text and pictures (c) J. and A. Bainbridge

Walking the Old Ways to Church

Back in the days when I was an area footpaths secretary for the Ramblers Association, the usual moan of the country landowners association was that our quaint network of footpaths should be cut down and rationalised because, they said, “who is interested in the way our ancestors walked to church?”

Path across a field (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Er, well actually I am, just as I’m interested in the way drovers took the beasts over the hillside, pedlars and jaggers used our ancient paths to travel from village to hamlet, and miners made tracks on their way to distant moorland mines.

It’s what this blog’s all about. Our path network is a hugely important part of British history, as relevant to our understanding of the past as Stonehenge, our great cathedrals, our ancient castles and our country’s battlefields.

The way to go (c) John Bainbridge 2018

But these paths are only of value if we are walking in the steps of our ancestors, which is why I believe they should never be closed and diverted only in exceptional circumstances. I’ve seen some terrible diversions agreed by rambling group footpath officers, some of whom shouldn’t be in the job.

These thoughts came to mind a lot as we walked from the Cumbrian village of Dufton to its parish church, which is situated some three-quarters of a mile from the village – a long way for the villagers to walk on a sunday. They had an immediate choice of walking there along a quiet country lane which leads to the hamlet of Knock, while farmers coming from the Pennines side of the valley could use a rather charming public footpath which exists today, winding across the farm field through a splendid squeeze stile into the churchyard.

Dufton Church (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We walked out of Dufton, the place of the doves, beloved of the poet Auden, and sought out this path, knowing we were walking in the steps of generations of local people who’ve walked this way. These were lands owned by some of the famous names, such as the Dacres and the Howards.

Dufton Church is an absolute delight. St. Cuthbert’s is ¾ mile north west of the village between Dufton and Knock. Some of the present church fabric dates to at least the 12th century, though there was almost certainly a church on this spot much earlier. Tradition says that St Cuthbert’s body was rested here, having been carried by the Lindisfarne monks fleeing from the Vikings during ninth century. It was rebuilt in 1784 and again in 1853. 

Today, it has a wonderfully peaceful atmosphere. Well worth a visit even on this shortest of walks. Following a rather nice and growing tradition, they have filled a back pew with second-hand books on sale to help refurbish the church fabric. I purchased a copy of the short stories of Maxim Gorky, published in Moscow – you do wonder how the book ended up in such a very English church?

The squeeze stile into the churchyard (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Have you noticed that it’s not uncommon for churches to be situated a long way from their parish village? There’s no explanation as to why Dufton church was placed where it is, though it is almost equidistant between Dufton and Knock, so that might be a reason. Chapel goers in Dufton were spared the walk, their chapel being within the village confines.

There are similar splendid examples in Dorset, while on Dartmoor, Okehampton church is a good way out of the town, and Brent Tor is situated on the very top of a rugged hilltop. Perhaps these distant locations were a test of faith?

Whenever I follow a church path I always recall that scene in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles when Tess and the other milkmaids from Talbothays Farm are walking to church and have to be carried across a ford by Angel Clare.

The path continued across the churchyard and we followed it to the lane leading into Knock, a remote Pennine hamlet with some rather splendid architecture. We walked up the bridleway leading to the rounded hill of Knock Pike, in search of blackberries, but we were too late for any worth picking – many a walker on the old ways would have mouched in the same way over the centuries.

We travelled the footpath to the Rundale Beck, and then took the Pennine Way back into Dufton, a route we know well. Some of these paths made for animal droving or used by the lead miners who’ve frequented this place since Roman times.



Open Spaces Society welcomes access provisions in the Agriculture Bill

This, from the Open Spaces Society:

We (The Open Spaces Society) have welcomed the support for public access to and enjoyment of the countryside in the new Agriculture Bill which was published on 12 September.

With the Ramblers, British Horse Society and other outdoor organisations, we lobbied for agricultural payments to be directed to providing more and better access to the public.

The Agriculture Bill confers on the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the power to give financial support for public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland or woodland, and better understanding of the environment.  Support can also be given for managing the land to restore or enhance cultural or natural heritage, to protect or improve the environment, among other things.

Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘We are delighted that the environment secretary has listened to the combined voice of bodies representing those who champion public access.  Public paths and access land give people the opportunity to explore the outdoors, and are vital for our physical and mental health, as well as benefiting local economies.

‘We also want to see robust enforcement so that those receiving funds fulfil their legal duties on public paths and access land.

‘Now that these words are in the bill the future is promising, and we shall seize this opportunity to protect existing access, and to provide more where people want it,’ says Kate.

Journey Through Britain

I find it hard to believe that John Hillaby’s classic walking book Journey Through Britain was first published fifty years ago. Scan

It’s an important book for me, though I only read it a couple of years after it came out. So important, it was one of the reasons I gave up a secure job in the Post Office, at the age of twenty, taking to the road for a life of tramping and writing.

John Hillaby’s book is an account of the long walk he took from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the mid-Sixties. More than half a century ago, so his walk is now an exploration of a fascinating point in British history – Britain in the Sixties was a very different country to the one we had now. There was still industrial infrastructure, and people were, I think, kinder and more compassionate. For all Britain’s faults – and there were many – it was a more hopeful time than now.

John Hillaby was a particularly fine writer, and Journey Through Britain was his masterpiece. He had other walking adventures and several more books, but none work quite as well for me.

Hillaby had intended to walk the length of the country just following our ancient trackways, a wonderful network of footpaths and bridleways, but this proved impossible. Many were blocked by overgrowth, were unwaymarked or deliberately obstructed. Those of us who were path campaigners at the time know that those were dark days in the history of access. So Hillaby was forced to take to roads and lanes from time to time, though there are plenty of accounts of path and wild walking too.

And what a route Hillaby took – along the Cornish coast, across Dartmoor, through the Somerset Levels to Aust Ferry on the Bristol Channel (the Severn Bridge hadn’t been completed.) Then up through the Black Mountains and Offa’s Dyke, through the Midland to the start of the then-fledgling Pennine Way. Across the Scottish borders and through the Highlands to the lonely lands of the far north.

Every chapter is fascinating to read, for Hillaby is very good at giving pen-portraits of the people he met along the way – poachers and transport-cafe waitresses, an itinerant and whisky-loving bagpiper, policemen and folk who were suspicious of walkers. He’s modest too – he often admits to losing his way, comes a cropper around Cranmere Pool on Dartmoor, has to make weary detours, finds the then new Pennine Way a bit of a trial. He walks through fine weather and foul, but every step shows a great love for this remarkable landscape.

Interestingly, John Hillably thought that he was going to be one of the last in a long line of literary tramps. He says that his book might be the ‘lay of one of the last’. He was wrong, of course; many have walked that long walk since and several more writers have written worthy books – I commend to you those by Chris Townsend and Hamish Brown. Journey Through Britain was not only a best-seller, but an inspiration to so many other walkers.

I planned to do that long walk across our land myself. I never did – though I’ve wandered through most of the places John Hillaby described on my own walks.

So if you want a beautiful armchair ramble, do sit down with Journey Through Britain, and relive John Hillaby’s own expedition through the spring and early summer of a year in the 1960s – across an England, Wales and Scotland that are still much the same, but in many ways so very different.

A Walk to Jervaulx Abbey

I always think that you should walk to one of the great abbey ruins of England, giving your walk something of the feel of a medieval pilgrimage – even if you are just walking a few miles.

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Jervaulx Abbey

And to visit Jervaulx Abbey in this way, I very much recommend going there from the beautiful Yorkshire village of Thornton Steward – the village where ramblers are so welcomed.

Not least, because the start of the walk is down a quiet track to the lovely pre-Norman church of St Oswald, which stands alone and peaceful a half-mile from the village. It is a place of tranquillity – a church to explore and longer in. An archaeological dig in the area in 1996, revealed the resting place of early Christians buried in around 680 AD. They were re-buried in the churchyard with great reverence.

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Thornton Steward Church

A path leads across the fields to Danby Hall, said to be haunted, and the ancestral home of the Scrope family, who feature so much in English history. Although much of what you see is Victorian, the origins of the house date back beyond the 14th century.DSCF0595.JPG

This is another northern house where the landowners through history didn’t seem to mind having a public footpath running close to the house. Even today, the path bears a “walkers are welcome” sign. Walking through the park of the great house, you get magnificent views over the valley of the River Ure towards the hills of Wensleydale.

Danby Hall

Passing the old mill and the Victorian church at Ulshaw, we arrived at Ulshaw Bridge, over the Ure, once a crossing point for drovers travelling between York and Kendal. In one of the sanctuaries on the bridge is a splendid sundial, dating back to 1674.

The Sundial on Ulshaw Bridge

Just beyond is the Coverbridge Inn, a coaching tavern which goes back to at least the 16th century. Crossing the bridge over the River Cover, a narrow path follows the river back to its confluence with the Ure. Very pleasant woodland walking and fine riparian scenery. The Ure one moment rushing along its course, then more tranquil with deep fish-haunted pools.

A mile of walking brought us to the ruins of Jervaulx Abbey, founded by the Cistercians in 1156. Jervaulx meaning the Ure Valley in their original Norman French. If you’ve ever eaten Wensleydale Cheese it had its origins with the monks who settled in this quiet place.

Their life of contemplation came to a sorry end in 1536, when Henry VIII seized the place. Its last abbot, Adam Sedbar, was executed for his part in the rising known to history as the Pilgrimage of Grace. Much of the abbey stone was taken away to be used in local buildings.

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Jervaulx Abbey

Jervaulx Abbey is one of the few abbey ruins in England to be privately owned, but is open for a very modest charge of £3 on most days of the year. As ruins go, Jervaulx is particularly beautiful – very peaceful and hard to tear ourselves away. The nearby family-run tearoom is just as attractive – offering some of the best baking you can imagine. We certainly took advantage.

We walked on through the grounds of the old abbey to Kilgram Lane, then along the lane to Kilgram Bridge over the Ure. This bridge is probably pre-Elizabethan – the locals will tell you that it was built by the devil in a single night. But you are safe enough! There is one stone missing from the bridge to hold back the evil of Old Nick – but they do say that if the stone is ever replaced, a most dreadful curse and spell will be enacted.

Kilgram Bridge

Perhaps best not to tempt fate…

A few pleasant field paths took us up from the bridge back to Thornton Steward, following this ramble through a considerable span of English history. How fortunate we are that we have the old ways – our ancient path network – there to faciliate such explorations.

(c) Text and pictures J and A Bainbridge