Walking from Romaldkirk

It’s funny isn’t it? You see a placename on a map or a signpost. You have no idea what the place is like. Then you go there and wonder why you never made the journey before? So let me put it on record. Romaldkirk, high above the banks of the River Tees in County Durham is a beautiful village in an area blessed with stunning scenery.DSCF0818

County Durham has some great walks, though I suspect most British walkers don’t know that. But get up into those Durham Dales and I just know you’ll be impressed. We’ve been walking sections of the Teesdale Way this year. A great walking route, with – very often – alternative routes on both sides of the river. If it’s not on your walking to-do-list put it there today and elevate it to the top.

Now for Romaldkirk – a lot of English villages have a village green. But Romaldkirk has  three, with beautiful cottages, a couple of pubs and even a village stocks for ne’er do wells like me!

The village takes its name from St Rumwold, a Saxon prodigy who got his sainthood for preaching the gospel immediately after being baptised. He actually seems to have originated in far away Buckingham, and there seems to be only other one dedication in the country. Some parts of the church date back to Anglo-Saxon times. Inside is the tomb of Hugh Fitz Henry, who died of wounds in Edward I’s Scottish wars.

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The Tomb of High Fitz Henry (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The paths are beautiful too, especially on gorgeous autumn days when the colours are at their best. We followed the Teesdale Way down to the river. On the way we passed the derelict farm of Low Garth – a place that was, now sadly deserted and boarded up. I suspect its fate was sealed by the fact that it stands out in the fields with no access for motor vehicles. But what tales those old walls might tell – how families lived and died there for centuries, the laughter and the tears. Folk adding their own stories to the history of this place.

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On

Through woodland then, and down to the River Tees. And some of the finest riparian scenery I’ve seen in England for a very long time. The path rocky, some times close to the water, then high above it. The river sometimes still in deep pools, then the swirl of white water.

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On the Teesdale Way (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The path climbed and we came to a farm called Woden’s Croft – now there’s a name to conjure with, named for the Norse god Woden, the Anglo-Germanic version of Odin. Long before Christianity came to Teesdale, Saxons and Norse would have worshipped the old gods in this wild landscape, which probably wasn’t too different to the land we see today.

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Eggleston Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Below the village of Cotherstone (see blogs passim) we halted at the confluence, where the River Balder (another terrific Saxon name) meets the Tees, before crossing the footbridge over the Tees, to take the variation of the Teesdale Way to Eggleston Bridge.

This path runs high above the river, giving you a grand view over the whole of Teesdale, right up to Middleton. The wild countryside of the Pennine Fells in the distance, before coming back down to the river.

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The village stocks at Romaldkirk (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Eggleston Bridge probably dates to 1450, and once – as many bridges did – had a chapel built upon it. The present bridge was constructed in the 17th century, though there have been recent restorations.

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Romaldkirk Church (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We crossed the bridge and followed easy paths back into Romaldskirk, finishing our day by exploring the church and graveyard, visiting the tomb of Hugh Fitz Henry, and reading the inscriptions on many of the outside tombstones. People who would have known and walked the same paths that we had explored.

 

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Butchering Brighton’s Senior Public Space

Another disgraceful act of public vandalism… please help if you can…

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SAVE WHITEHAWK HILL NATURE RESERVE 

Contact: Dave Bangs <bangs682@btinternet.com> T: 01273 620 815;  Eileen McNamara <eyemac60@yahoo.com>;  Anne Glow <anneglow774@yahoo.com>  Richard Bickers  <richardbickers@hotmail.co.uk>

October 2018 

WHITEHAWK HILL PROPOSED HIGH RISE HOUSING DEVELOPMENT

 BUTCHERING BRIGHTON’S SENIOR PUBLIC SPACE

A site for a major housing project has been proposed at Whitehawk Hill, as a result of the grossly flawed Brighton and Hove Urban Fringe Assessment Survey of 2014. The new Living Wage Joint Venture Board (LWJVB), set up 50:50 between Hyde Housing and BHCC, has targeted this site for 217 homes in six tower blocks of equal height to the highest adjacent existing blocks.

OK to chop Whitehawk Hill in two ?

Whitehawk Hill is Brighton’s senior public open space and most important Downland landscape. The proposal to build a major high rise housing development at its heart is monstrous.

It will hack this landscape in two, destroying its integrity.

 

Would it be OK to chop Preston Park or Hove Park in two ?

If it was suggested that Preston Park or Hove Park be chopped in two it’d be a no-brainer that the scheme was daft.

Because Whitehawk Hill  is next to Brighton’s most deprived community it is thought safe to propose its dismemberment, despite the Hill being richer in many public values than those two public parks…in wildlife, deep history and prehistory, for free play in nature, for landscape, Downland views, food growing, foraging, horse racing, dog walking, badger watching…

 

‘Fish and chip Downland’ and ‘cream tea Downland’

Whitehawk Hill is ‘fish and chip Downland’, not ‘cream tea Downland’. That is why it is attacked

The trashing of Whitehawk Hill is an ‘equalities issue’, though no mention of this is made by the Council.

2002: Good enough to be in the National Park !

2018: Only good for a high rise housing development ?

In February 2002 the full Council voted for the inclusion of the whole of Whitehawk Hill in the proposed National Park. Though a small group of councillors later got this undemocratically overturned in the P&R Committee they accepted the inclusion of the proposed housing site and the wider hill slope in the National Park.

How come this landscape was good enough for all Parties to agree it should be in the National Park in 2002, and in 2018 it’s okay to site a major housing development there?

Recreational common / statutory Local Nature Reserve / statutory Access Land / Scheduled Ancient Monument

Whitehawk Hill’s multiple public values are reflected in a wealth of designations.

In 1822 the 106 acre ‘Race Ground’ (a recreational common) was created by deed at the enclosure of Brighton’s commons. The deed stated it was for “the inhabitants of Brighton and the public in general”, for “racing, exercise and diversion”. The new common was not be to “broken up, cultivated, or divided.”

In 1923 the 12 acre Whitehawk Camp Neolithic causewayed enclosure was designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument. (SAM) – one of the ten best such sites in the country.

In 1997 the whole Hill was declared a statutory Local Nature Reserve (LNR).

In 2002 the City Council voted to support its inclusion in the proposed National Park.

In 2003 it was declared to be statutory Access Land under the ‘CROW’ Act (Countryside and Rights of Way Act).

 

Wildlife as good as Castle Hill National Nature Reserve

The ancient Gorse thicket on the proposed housing site is home to rare and special scrubland birds. It is a well known site for Dartford Warblers, Stonechat and Whitethroat, with numbers fluctuating over time, and with hard or mild winters. For many years local residents have watched Badgers play. Rare insects like the Large Velvet Ant (actually a primitive kind of ‘cuckoo’ wasp) are present. It is home to the giant Great Green Bush Cricket.

The wildlife community of Whitehawk Hill is at least 5000 years old and probably much older. Its wildlife is comparable with that of the Castle Hill NNR, with Adonis and Chalkhill Blue butterflies, rare wildflowers and pasture fungi (the best assemblage in the city).

Horribly neglected, punch-drunk, but still standing…Will our Council now deliver the knock-out blow to our ancient Hill ?

Whitehawk Hill is horribly neglected and its users sold short by our Council. In recent years it has suffered piecemeal development. – more Racecourse infrastructure, Wyevale Garden Centre, and more – and the neglect of many of the management tasks in the LNR Management Plan (notwithstanding the HEROIC work of the Countryside Service ranger and volunteers). But its wildlife and archaeology still survive.

We should be re-unifying The Racecourse Landscape (Whitehawk Hill / Sheepcote Valley / Red Hill) not breaking it in two.

If this goes through, more will follow

If this proposal goes through it will set a precedent in Brighton and other local councils, for breaking up their core wildlife sites when pressed to find land for housing and other developments.

This is a city-wide, regional and national issue, not just a local one.

The proposals, at the crowded northern end of a crowded suburb, will, if built, drive huge further pressure for a direct road link with the adjacent road system (Elm Grove, Warren Road, Freshfield Road etc).

Pressures to further encroach on the broken fragments of remaining high value landscape will grow steeply.

The need for housing

We passionately support the case for a major drive to build, buy, and purchase back more council homes in our City.

We see whole areas of low density, high cost, under-occupied housing, with privileged levels of private garden space, at the heart, and at the edge of our city, which could do far more to accommodate council homes.

We see major housing schemes go ahead in which the driver is more private sector high cost homes, not homes for the low waged and no waged.

We see major housing schemes go ahead in which the needs of temporarily resident students are privileged over those of our poorer residents, the homeless and poorly housed.

We urge the council to re-focus on driving forward more sites for council homes, if necessary at the expense of high cost housing, student accommodation, and some employment and retail  uses, but NOT at the expense of nature or our cherished public open spaces.

 

Whitehawk Hill is as important to Brighton as the Royal Pavilion

 RESPECT ITS INTEGRITY   CHERISH IT   RESTORE IT 

A Waste Land Rebellion, walking to church and opium dealing

A village where the locals attacked a common land intrusion by their landowner, following a path where the “big house” servants walked to church, and tea importers with a sideline in opium dealing. The history you encounter on a five-mile walk in the countryside of Westmorland.

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Crosby Ravensworth Church (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We set out from the village of Crosby Ravensworth, walking to Flass House. This path, running along the banks of the pretty River Lyvennet, was used by the servants of Flass each sunday as they made their way to church in Crosby Ravensworth. To facilitate their passage, the owners of Flass built two beautiful step stiles in the drystone walls. They’re still there today, and I hope they remain safe from the zealots who want every stile destroyed in favour of gates.

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A stepstile for servants (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A pretty path, the river a delight and the autumn colours quite beautiful. A heron stood as still as a sculpture in the water, looking for fish. It took off after a while, flapping like something out of prehistoric times, its weird cry echoing across the landscape. I’ve always liked herons. There’s something so wonderful about these riparian denizens.

As we walked, I thought a lot about the servants of Flass, obliged to go to church in their few hours of leisure. Programmes like Downton Abbey give the impression that being a servant was great fun. It wasn’t. It was darned hard work, with little time for yourself and appalling pay. I’m old enough to remember lots of old people who’d been in service – it was a huge chunk of the British population until World War Two. I can’t recall one who looked back fondly on their days of servitude, or felt particularly charitable towards their so-called “masters”.

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The pheasant-shooters tunnel (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The Dent family, who owned Flass, made their money from tea and opium importing – though we should note that opium was perfectly legal in those days. Hence all the opium dens around the country (I put one in my novel Deadly Quest – those of us who write Victorian crime stories love the idea), and, of course, poets like Wordsworth and writers like de Quincy spent most of the time high on the stuff and its derivative, laudanum.

Interestingly, given its history, a more recent occupier of Flass was raided and jailed for running a cannabis factory from the premises – sort of appropriate in a way.

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The bounds of Flass House (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The path goes through a tunnel just before you reach the high back wall of Flass, carrying a track into the owner’s pheasant preserves. The path beyond was beautiful in the autumn light, like an Atkinson Grimshaw painting, or something out of a ghost story by MR James.

Flass House, built in 1851, is currently empty and being renovated. We thought the house was an ugly pile, a long way from its Italianate or Palladian influences. But you can see the back gate in the surrounding wall through which the servants would emerge every sunday for their walk to church.

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Flass House (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A few hundred yards on brought us into the pretty village of Maulds Meaburn, one of only three left in England where sheep still graze on the village green. This was once the village “waste”, land common to all. It was the scene of a modest rebellion way back in 1585 (October 22nd, to be precise), when the villagers fought off an attempt by their landlord to build on their waste.

The landowner, Christopher Lowther, built a little court-house in the middle of the green, an intrusion into the villagers’ ancient rights. The village wives abused the workmen Lowther had hired and Lowther himself. They threw stones at them, but the building went on. On the night of 28th October, a number of Lowther’s tenants, led by one James Fletcher, armed with pitchforks, axes, long-piked sticks, swords, dagger and other “unlawful engines”, attacked the building and razed it to the ground.

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Maulds Meaburn Green (c) John Bainbridge 2018

It all led to a court case in York, where the villagers argued that, according to the indentures, the lord couldn’t build on the waste without the villagers consent. That if they ignored the intrusion, he might further encroach on their common ground. They said that Lowther refused to listen.

Taking on a landowner in 1586 was seldom a good idea. Lowther won compensation of £8, and the attacking villagers were fined between 40 shillings and £3 as a punishment. Still Lowther wasn’t satisfied, bringing the matter to trial again. He managed to obtain a decree to have a piece of the ground to build his court house.

The Lowthers had incredible power over the populace (some might argue the family still do!) His tenants in Maulds Meaburn were obliged to carry sixty loads of coal, paying themselves in advance, from the pits on Stainmore, and having to haul it the many miles to Lowther Hall. This too led eventually to a legal dispute. The ruling still came down on Lowther’s side, though the tenants were granted the right to take the coal only as far as Meaburn Hall, instead of Lowther.

Today, the green is peaceful, the river idyllic and the cottages picturesque. There can’t be a village in the land that isn’t able to tell similar bitter stories.

To get a view over the whole valley, we followed the footpaths and lanes up to Brackenslack, then paths back down to Maulds Meaburn, before walking back past Flass to Crosby Ravensworth, now walking in the direction the servants would have taken on their way to church.DSCF0796

In the churchyard, we examined the graves of some members of the tea and opium dealing Dent family. The two villages have really changed very little since they lived here, and their servants walked the old ways of the Lyvennet valley.

A few blogs ago, I reported that Beacon Hill in Penrith was under threat from plans by the Lowther family to build on this grand high place. I’m pleased to report that public protest has persuaded the Lowther estate to withdraw their plans – at least for the high points of the Beacon.

 

 

Footloose in Devon

My Devon book’s now out in paperback and on Kindle…   
Here’s the blurb…411C+iYtNWL._AC_US218_
“The novelist John Bainbridge has walked in the Devon countryside for over fifty years, and is well known as a writer and broadcaster on the county.
In this miscellany of country essays, he explores many of the quiet corners of Devon, from the wild moorlands of Dartmoor and Exmoor to its spectacular coastline and peaceful pastoral landscapes.
John Bainbridge is the author of the country books The Compleat Trespasser and Wayfarer’s Dole.

“As a rambler, I’ve spent much of the past half century roaming through the Devon countryside, exploring the county’s quiet villages, winding footpaths and bridleways, lonely moorland and dramatic coast. I’ve had the privilege of leading walking groups to share what I know of this land. For much of that time I’ve also written and broadcast about Devon – in a number of books and many newspaper and magazine articles and for a local radio station. In fact, my first published work was an article about Dartmoor, written and sold when I was sixteen.

Devon has changed a great deal since I began my walks there – not altogether for the better. Ill-thought out development has blighted some of the countryside I knew. I salute those campaigners who are fighting to protect what remains. I spent nine years as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, so I appreciate the hard work involved in saving the beauties for future generations to enjoy.

But even with all these changes there are still the quiet secret places there to discover, and what better way to seek them out than on foot? I’ve enjoyed my Devon walks, both alone and in the company of other ramblers.

I’ve written about Devon in my two earlier walking books Wayfarer’s Dole and The Compleat Trespasser, which give accounts of some of my longer walks.  But there are some shorter pieces I’ve written, many previously published as magazine articles, which didn’t fit into the themes of those titles – fugitive pieces which I thought might make a collection on their own, hence this little volume.

This is no definitive account of Devon, nor yet a walks guide, though there are snippets of history, legend and topography in the pages which follow. Footloose in Devon is rather a bedside book, a volume to be dipped into when the reader has a quiet moment.  I hope the places mentioned might inspire some rambles and expeditions into the heart of this very lovely county.”

To read more or to order just click on the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Footloose-Devon-John-Bainbridge/dp/1981692096/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1530172277&sr=8-1&keywords=Footloose+in+Devon

Turnpikes, Toll Gates, Fly Agaric, the South Tyne and the Pennine Way

There was a wonderful cloud inversion as we drove up Hartside on the way to Garrigill, for a walk along the Pennine Way and the South Tyne Trail. One of the best we’ve seen for a long time, hiding the levels of the Eden and the Solway. The high Pennines around were high above the clouds, a hard frost giving a ‘first taste of winter’ look to this wild northern countryside.

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Garrigill (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The road to Alston has one of the steepest climbs in the country as it ascends to Hartside – the once familiar cafe now a sad ruin after a recent fire. Interestingly, it was turnpiked in the 18th century at the expense of the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital in London, mostly because they owned a lot of moorland around Alston.

Turnpikes were effectively toll roads, built at the expense of private companies. I suppose, given that there was no real income tax at the time, it was the only way roads could be funded. Companies did it for profit, of course.

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On the South Tyne (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The snag was that people had to pay for travel, no matter how poor they may be. Some rich travellers didn’t like to pay either. It wasn’t unknown for wealthy gents to leap the toll gates on their horses. George Templar of Stover, Devon, made rather a habit of it.

But in a round about way, the creation of toll roads might have preserved some of our old ways, our ancient tracks which are now rights of way. Cunning travellers, seeking ways to avoid paying at the tollhouses, would seek out any useful untolled track that took them in the right direction. Hence, old stretches of road, footpaths and bridleways gained a new and surreptitious use.

We had intended beginning our walk from Alston, but they were resurfacing the road through. Instead, we started from Garrigill, so familiar to walkers of the Pennine Way, who come down tired and thirsty from the wilderness around Cross Fell.

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Fly Agaric (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Garrigill a pretty little village, one of the remotest in England. It was once named Gerard’s Gill. During the productive years of the lead-mining industry over a thousand people lived in Garrigill. It has shrunk by several hundred since.

We followed the Pennine Way along the South Tyne, which also bears the route of the South Tyne Trail. A pretty walk this, along a particularly beautiful stretch of river. The autumn colours were at their best, and it was pleasing to see a considerable amount of fly agaric – associated so much with fairies and witchcraft. It’s a powerful hallucinegenic and dangerous. Witches, they say, used to make their flying ointment from it. We hadn’t seen any for a long time. It gets its name by its ability to attract flies, of course.

Above the path are several farms bearing the name Skydes, High, Middle and Low – interesting name, perhaps Norse? There’s a Danish word which is similar, meaning fire or fusillade or shooting. If anyone has a definite explanation of the word please let me know…

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The Old Quaker Meeting House in Alston, dating back to 1732 (c) John Bainbridge 2018

I never walk the Pennine Way without thinking of the many people who have walked it – not least Tom Stephenson who created it – I met him once a long time ago – and Wainwright, who wrote a guidebook, but didn’t like the trail very much.

Whatever your views, this stretch is a delight, wooded riverbank and surrounding high moorland.

We came out in Alston, the highest market town in England (though the folk of Buxton would dispute that claim) – a nightmare on this day as they were tarring the main road through. A pleasant place, which has been used for films and television. It was used in a recent production of Oliver Twist – appropriately for Charles Dickens visited the town in 1838 while researching his next novel Nicholas Nickleby.

Like Garrigill, it was a boom town in lead mining days. Silver was mined here too, the ore often being sent down for minting in Carlisle. Its market dates back to 1154.

Seeking a slight alternative back we took the well-established track to Nattrass Gill, passing through Annat Walls farm – where an old farmhouse has become a barn. Wonderful, these old buildings. So little changed. You could easily film a period drama in any one of them.

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Nattrass Gill (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Nattrass Gill is a waterfall running through a wooded ravine, crossed by a narrow footbridge. It was a scenic spot beloved by Victorian tourists, though there were fewer trees in those days. The stone steps were put in to facilitate their access. A pretty spot, rather dramatic. Were in nearer the roads it would be thronged by modern-day tourists. Pleasant that you have to walk if you want to see it.

From Bleagate Farm – it gets a mention in documents dating back to the 1300s – we were retracing our steps of the morning, along the South Tyne back to Garrigill. The frost of the morning had lifted and there was bright sunshine, adding a delight to the autumn colours.

 

Brownber – A Much Neglected Hill

Brownber Hill – you see its splendid shape from so many places. Many gaze, I suspect, but few climb to its lonely summit. But why not? It’s a grand hill and a terrific viewpoint. A dramatic rampart of the Eden edge of the North Pennines.DSCF0756

It’s not that people don’t walk in the area. Nearby Dufton Pike is regularly climbed – and Brownber is higher than Dufton Pike. The Pennine Way runs not far away. The leadmining valley of Threlkeld Side goes to one side of Brownber.

It may well be, and I don’t know, that before the CRoW Act (Countryside and Rights of Way Act) access to Brownber Hill might have been discouraged.

But it’s access land now.

We walk in this area a great deal. We’ve never seen anyone ascending, descending or on the top of Brownber Hill. And, I have to admit, we hadn’t either until yesterday, though we’ve often meant to do it. Walkers in the area could do both Brownber and Dufton Pike in a pleasant morning expedition.DSCF0770

We followed the Pusgil Track up from Dufton, passing Dufton Pike, to where the footpath heads downs to the Rundale Beck. Crossing the wall by a stile we walked steeply downhill and crossed the beck.

Now, despite being access land there’s no actual access point on to Brownber Hill here (I seem to recall that the CRoW Act was supposed to create access points?) So we climbed a wooden fence by a wired-up gate.

A very clear path leads up to the top of the hill, undoubtedly created by a quad bike in its early stages. A simple but quite steep path that leads without argument to the summit of Brownber Hill.

Although Brownber comes to a dramatic and rocky edge above the beck, the highest point – and its debateable – is on a wide and featureless plateau. Sphagnum moss like a vast cushion to walk on, though curiously dry – no doubt because of the rock not far down.DSCF0769

The views from the top are excellent, along the line of border pikes and across the Eden Valley and across to the greater heights of the Lake District mountains. Beyond, and to the east and north, are the mysterious hills of the Pennines. Great walking country and free of the crowds you find in more popular hillscapes.

Brownber continues into its larger neighbour Rossgill Edge, a great rocky ledge where the lead-miners sunk shafts and made hushes. It would have been nice to continue our walk up on to its heights, but a fence-topped stone wall makes access difficult – another access denial that the Ramblers Association and the CRoW people should look at.

We followed the stone wall back down to the beck. In some ways the most dramatic side of the hill, where it attains a beautiful and craggy shape, great splurges of white quartz colouring the darker rocks.

An easy crossing of the beck and then back along the Pusgil Track to Dufton.

Brownber Hill is certainly worth a climb, though how splendid it would be if the access could be improved both on the Dufton Pike side and on the ridge between Brownber and Rossgill Edge.

(c) Text and pictures John Bainbridge