A Land of Peaceful Footpaths

I never walk a public footpath without wondering why it’s there? We’re fortunate to have so many of these fascinating tracks to explore, many of them deep-rooted in our social history.

Path west of Mains Wood (C) John Bainbridge 2019

We’ve walked several times from Crosby Ravensworth in the Westmorland Dales (although now in Cumbria, the Dales are part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park). It shows in the quality of the footpaths. National Park staff have been busy waymarking the paths in the area and producing a leaflet of some suggested walks.) We’ve often gone up on to Crosby Ravensworth Fell, glorious wild country, and I blogged a walk to Maulds Meaburn via Flass House on October 24th last year.

We repeated the first part of that walk on Sunday, taking the path past Flass House – built by Victorians on the profits of the opium trade – to reach Maulds Meaburn. As I noted in my October blog, this path by the River Lyvennet was made-up by the owners so that their servants might more easily access Crosby Ravensworth church every Sunday.

The Servants’ Path (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A fascinating path in so many ways, but we’d really come to look at the paths west of Maulds Meaburn village. Looking at the map, we saw quite a network of paths criss-crossing the area. Too many to explore on one walk, so we thought we’d sample a few to get the lie of the land.

Maulds Meaburn’s a fascinating village in so many ways. It’s one of the three villages in England where sheep are still grazed on the village green.

Many of the cottages show evidence of the crofts and tofts grazing system, where each house had its own narrow strip of arable land to the rear – a common practice in medieval times. These segments of land still exist, and the map indicates earthworks running along the furthest-most boundary, undoubtedly offering protection to the crofts in earlier times. It was also a village with a rebellious nature, as I related on my October blog.

Just beyond Low Bridge, at the northernmost point of the village, we headed west up a footpath to Mains Wood. This long strip of woodland probably originated as a hunting or shooting covert (you don’t pronounce the t) and there was some evidence that it is today, as it appears to be owned by the ubiquitous Lowther Estates.

Old Road Sign in Maulds Meaburn (c) John Bainbridge 2019

In the midst of the wood there’s a wider access track, and here we met a friendly farmer on his quad bike – farmers in these areas seem to be particularly welcoming to walkers, which is nice. Emerging from the wood, the path ran beneath a splendid avenue of trees. They were rumbling and groaning in the fierce wind that was sweeping the valley and hill slopes.

The path offered a fine view over a lot of splendid and unspoiled fields, all the way to the distant and snow-capped Pennine heights around High Cup Nick and Roman Fell…

And there were several enticing footpaths, heading in several directions across this attractive and I suspect seldom-visited countryside. A temptation for another day.

We took a path heading south past a well-kept stone-barn (technically you should, I suspect, describe it as a ‘cow ‘us’ – cow house). We glimpsed inside. The stalls were intact and though it didn’t appear to be in use, you could see an interior that has probably not changed for several generations.

Cow ‘Us (c) John Bainbridge 2019

South of the barn was a bridleway, sometimes enclosed – suggesting that it is particularly ancient – and often just along the edges of fields, where agricultural improvements have removed one of the enclosing hedges.

The track wound down to Crake Trees – we didn’t take the path to the ruins of the 12th century manor, as we’re saving that for another day, and soon found ourselves back on the lane leading back into Crosby Ravensworth.

A walk of less than five miles, undertaken on a gusty and freezing January day, but in that short space history dating back a thousand years or more.

The Victorian naturalist Richard Jefferies (do read his books) said somewhere that every footpath is worthy of exploration and has something interesting along its route. He was right – another reason why we should preserve our paths along their original routes.

They are the old ways back into our history.


The Hoff Beck Walk

I was pleased to see that the Eden Rivers Trust has created a formal walk – the Hoff Beck Walk – along the lovely little river of that name close to Appleby in Westmorland. The new trail follows the Hoff Beck from Colby to the picturesque Rutter Falls, passing through peaceful and uncrowded countryside.

Rutter Falls (C) John Bainbridge 2019

I’ve walked the Hoff Beck many times over the years, starting from Appleby. It really is a grand stretch of river and you rarely see any other walkers. While I’ve walked the length of the new trail, I usually complete a circuit via the village of Ormside, returning along the River Eden.

The Eden Rivers Trust has placed informative noticeboards at several points along the walk, giving details of local history and riparian wildlife – the Hoff Beck is particularly good if you want to watch herons. I saw a kingfisher once near Bandley Bridge, and there are otters too – though you have to be lucky to see one. If you want a better chance do the walk just after dawn or in the late evening.

The other day, we walked out from Appleby, taking the attractive bridleway through Rachel’s Wood to Bandley Bridge. You can stroll downstream to Colby and back from here if you wish to. Although the footbridge at Bandley is relatively modern, the crossing place is ancient. The first record of a crossing here dates back to 1292, where it is described at Bangelmibrigg.

The crossing here probably dates back a long time before that, to the time when the Vikings settled around Appleby, giving the name to this river, Hoff and Beck are both Norse words in origin.

Following the Hoff Beck upstream, we descended to Cuddling Hole. Now I’ve always puzzled as to the origins of that name, my mind going off in various lascivious directions. I’ve been wrong in those assumptions and I should have known better, for I was well acquainted with a very similar word.

hoff beck
The Hoff Beck (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Cuddling is a local expression for tickling trout, a way of catching them by hand. I really should have guessed, for guddling is a well-known expression in the Lake District (Arthur Ransome used it in his novel The Picts and the Martyrs – a terrific read which I recommend to you). Interestingly, the word used to be current on Dartmoor, very familiar with an old poacher I used to know there. Arthur Ransome used to fish in the nearby Eden – perhaps he tried the Hoff Beck as well?

A walk across the fields brought us to the hamlet of Hoff, where there’s a pub if you need refreshment. Some lovely ancient barns here. A place lost in time. The next few fields below Low Rutter farm can be muddy after wet weather, but on the frosty day we walked it they were fine.

I’ve done this walk in pelting rain, snow and in last summer’s heatwave and it offers something new each time. In last summer’s drought, the waterfall of Rutter Force had dried up altogether. Now the water was back, making the picturesque falls a delight to see. The building next to the force started out as a corn mill and was latterly a bobbin mill. With its footbridge and ford it must be another ancient crossing place, though I miss the tea shop that used to be there. It marks the official end of the Hoff Beck River Walk.

We walked up to the lane and crossed the fields to the house marked on the map as Porch Cottage, though now called the Donkey’s Nest. From there a quiet lane took us down under the Settle to Carlisle railway line to the peaceful village of Great Ormside.

The church here, standing next to a farmhouse with a Pele Tower, is one of England’s gems, built on a defensive mound that was used by both Saxons and Vikings. I’ve written in praise of it in my walking book Wayfarer’s Dole. As with many Christian buildings it began its existence as a Pagan site, used as a burial ground by the Vikings. Much of what you see today dates to the late 11th-century.

In 1823, the Ormside Bowl, Anglo-Saxon in origin and dating to the 7th or 8th century was found in the churchyard. It’s now in York Museum. In 1898 the body of a Viking warrior, complete with sword, was unearthed in the churchyard. You can see his sword at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.

ormside church
Great Ormside Church (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Sadly, cracks have appeared in the church tower and expensive repairs are needed. If you can send a donation to help please do.

The parishioners are certainly rallying round with fundraising measures. We bought a delicious jar of home-made marmalade, which was on sale in the church. So if you do visit take some spare cash to support this worthy cause!

Leaving the village, we went under the Settle-Carlisle railway once again, to follow the River Eden back to Appleby. This path starts in woodland high above the river, before descending to its banks, giving more chances to see wildlife. A peaceful stretch of river, now part of the Lady Anne’s Way trail – which follows in the steps of Lady Anne Clifford, the well-known diarist of the 17th century.

After the woodland ends, the path follows the river through water meadows, emerging at Jubilee Ford at Appleby – a popular crossing place for Gypsies during the Appleby Horse Fair week in June.

A grand walk of about eight miles – and it is good that the Eden Rivers Trust has delineated some of it as the Hoff Beck Walk – a Westmorland river that deserves to be better known.

The Stopping Places

Damian Le Bas, The Stopping Places: A Journey through Gypsy Britain (London: Chatto and Windus 2018). ISBN: 978178471037. Hardback, price £14.99. A review by John Bainbridge. The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain by [Bas, Damian Le]

In this fascinating and well-written book, Damian Le Bas overturns many of the public perceptions about modern Gypsies and their way of life, but carefully references Romany heritage and the old travelling traditions.

The stopping places of the book are the atchin tans, the places where Gypsies and Travellers – and Le Bas is rightly insistent that those are ethnic descriptions and should be capitalised – rested up in the past, and sometimes still do. Inspired by family stories, Le Bas set out to visit some of the best known of these in Britain – with a brief diversion to the Camargue for the Romany pilgrimage celebrating Saint Sara. Le Bas sets out not in a horse-drawn vardo, or even a modern caravan, but in a transit van.

But the journey is not just some Gypsy travelogue, which merely details places visited. It’s an examination of what it means to be Romany in the 21st century. As he journeys between stopping places, the author discovers as much about himself as the stretches of countryside where his forebears often lingered.

The wider public have a perception of just what a Gypsy should be. Damian Le Bas doesn’t immediately fill that stereotypical description. He is particularly fair in looks, went to public school, has a first-class degree in theology from Oxford University. He acts, writes poetry and is an artist. It demonstrates a great deal about how misunderstood this one minority group is, that any of the above should seem strange at all. One of the joys of this book is that it banishes so many public perceptions and prejudices.

Le Bas is a most self-effacing author, not the least boastful, often admitting to finding life on the road difficult. He is nervous about spending the nights alone in remote places. He has trouble being accepted by other Gypsies as one of their own. There’s a telling example where he’s ‘faced out’ from the traditional camping ground at the Appleby Horse Fair by an aggressive opponent who questions his very right to be there. He’s looked on with suspicion by some of the Romanies at the Feast of St Sara. But opposition is often removed by Le Bas’s considerable knowledge of Anglo-Romani. Interesting too that, because of that understanding, he finds he can relate easily to the Roma who have settled in Britain in recent years.

His passages on Romanes, and how the language is used today are very relevant to anyone with an interest in the language. George Borrow gets a too-brief mention, but there’s a good account of that great Rai John Sampson’s researches into the pure Romani of the Welsh Gypsies. There’s a useful glossary in the book for beginners, interestingly with some word variations I haven’t encountered before.

The book is beautifully written. Le Bas has the true writer’s gift of being able to summon up the atmosphere of a place in just a few lines, whether the particular atchin tan is in some beautiful location or somewhere hideous or threatening. He has a similar skill in describing the people he encounters. They come alive from the page, often in just a few words.

If you are near Keswick in March, the author will be giving a talk at the theatre there, during the Words on the Water Literary Festival.

A Low-Level Walk from Sedbergh

Sedbergh – and you lift up your eyes to the wonderful Howgill Fells. A favourite range of hills for me. But the lower ground, in the river valleys below Sedbergh makes for grand walking as well. Just into the New Year we fancied a short walk in the area, so that we could spend some time browsing in the Sedbergh bookshops afterwards – it is after all a book town.

Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Sedbergh is also the home of an English public (private) school. They were mowing the grass on the sports fields as we wandered through, for the pupils were due back later in the day.

As always, I think of one particular ex-pupil when I pass by the school – F. Spencer Chapman, whose books were everywhere when I was young. Spencer Chapman was a considerable mountaineer and arctic explorer in his younger days. He was on Gino Watkins’ last expedition in Greenland. He then spent over three years organising resistance groups behind the Japanese lines in World War Two. He wrote some memorable books, which are still worth reading, such as Watkins’ Last Expedition, Memoirs of a Mountaineer, The Jungle is Neutral and Living Dangerously.

There’s no doubt that his years as a soldier behind enemy lines affected him greatly. He seemed to have difficulty in settling down to domestic life in the post-war years. In modern terms he probably suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His experiences and ill-health led him to suicide.

These places around Sedbergh must all have been known to him, perhaps fuelling his love of adventure.

The Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Our walk led us down to the picturesque hamlet of Birks, before we took footpaths across the fields to Brigflatts. An interesting hamlet, for here is a Quaker meeting house dating back to 1674, visited and inspired by Charles James Fox. I’m going to do a walk soon in the steps of the Quakers so I’ll leave it there for now. All I will say, is that the Meeting Place is a building of great peace with a restful garden to sit in. Across the lane is the peaceful Quakers’ Burial Ground – the last resting place of the poet Basil Bunting.

We walked up to the road and then up a very beautiful bridleway past Ingmire Hall, though there are few glimpses of the building from the path.  Ingmire Hall is a 16th Century house built around the remains of a pele tower. It was enlarged in the early nineteenth century, partially destroyed by fire in the 1920s and partially remodelled in 1989.

Ingmire Bridleway (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A short road walk brought us to a farm track leading up to the old farming hamlet of Underwinder – appropriately named for it stands hard under the great hill of Winder, then a steep climb up to Howgill Lane, which we followed downhill back into Sedbergh. Then a delicious hour browsing in the second-hand bookshops. A heavenly way to spend a day.

But glancing up at the Howgill Fells – and there are splendid vistas of Winder as you do this walk – reminds us that it’s a while since we’ve climbed their beautiful rounded slopes. No wonder the Sedbergh school song celebrates this fine landscape:

Oh Eton hath her River and Clifton hath her down,
And Winchester her cloisters and immemorial town.
But ours the mountain fastness, the deep romantic ghylls,
Where Clough and Dee and Rawthey,
Come singing from the hills!

For it isn’t our ancient lineage, there are others as old as we.
And it isn’t our pious founders, though we honour their memory.
‘Tis the hills that are stood around us, unchanged since our days began.
It is Cautley, Calf and WINDER, that make the Sedbergh man.

(Winder to sound a bit like window, rather than winding something up).

70th Anniversary of a People’s Charter

The 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was one of the best bits of legislation ever passed by Parliament – by the far-sighted government of Clement Attlee. Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society says how we all benefitted. Do please click on the link at the end to see Kate’s original and beautifully illustrated article.

1 January 2019
This year we celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Open Spaces Society general secretary Kate Ashbrook, explains what it achieved.

This is not just a Bill. It is a people’s charter—a people’s charter for the open air, for the hikers and the ramblers, for everyone who lives to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside.

So concluded Lewis Silkin, Minister of Town and Country Planning, as he moved the second reading of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill on 31 March 1949 (column 1493).

These are uplifting words, which capture the spirit of that post-war period. The act, which received royal assent on 16 December 1949, was an extremely important start in protecting our most treasured landscapes and recording public paths. Unfortunately, though, Silkin’s words proved rather too optimistic, for the act fell short of the hopes and expectations of conservationists and outdoor activists. These included the Standing Committee on National Parks (predecessor of the Campaign for National Parks), the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (now the Campaign to Protect Rural England), the Ramblers, Youth Hostels Association and ourselves.

But the act did make a significant different and many of its provisions endure to this day.
The act introduced a wide range of measures.
It established the National Parks Commission (predecessor of Natural England) with duties which included the designation of national parks (section 2).
It created the mechanism for designating national parks. These were to be extensive tracts of open country in England and Wales, areas of natural beauty with opportunities for open-air recreation (section 5).
It introduced the concept of nature reserves (section 15) and sites of special scientific interest (section 23).

It required the production of definitive maps of public rights of way and set out how this should be done (sections 27-38). This was vitally important: until we had definitive maps you had to prove that the route was a public highway before you could persuade an authority to act against an obstruction.

It contained provisions for the creation, diversion and closure of public rights of way (sections 39-45).

It empowered the National Parks Commission to recommend to the minister the creation of long-distance routes (now national trails) (sections 51-55) with powers for a highway authority to provide and operate a ferry where the route required one (section 53).

It introduced a criminal offence of displaying a misleading notice on a definitive path (section 57).

It defined ‘open country’ as land consisting wholly or predominantly of ‘mountain, moor, heath, down, cliff or foreshore (including any bank, barrier, dune, beach, flat or other land adjacent to the foreshore)’ (section 59).

It defined ‘excepted land’ (eg agricultural land other than rough grazing, land covered by buildings, parks, gardens or pleasure grounds, quarries, land which already had rights of access) (section 60).

It required every local planning authority, within two years of commencement of the act, to review its area and ascertain what land there was which met the definition of open country and to consider what action should be taken, whether by access agreement or order, to secure access by the public for open-air recreation there (section 61).

Dunkery Beacon on Exmoor is open country but legal access there was not achieved until the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

After completing the survey, the authority must either take the necessary action or forward to the minister a statement that no action was necessary and publish a notice setting out the contents of the statement and inviting representations. The minister could then call a local inquiry or afford those making representations the opportunity of being heard (section 62).

Within one year of the completion of the review the authority must, unless it had already submitted a statement, prepare and forward to the minister a map showing the approximate extent of the land which was defined as open country and explaining what action had been taken to enable the public to have access to that land, and publish a notice that the map had been prepared and where it may be seen (section 63).

A local planning authority might, with the approval of the minister, make an access agreement on open country (section 64) or, where an access agreement could not be achieved, an access order (section 65). There were also provisions for securing the means of access to access land (sections 67-68).

The National Parks Commission also had powers to designate areas of outstanding natural beauty (section 87) although the AONBs were not defined in the act, merely being referred to as ‘any area in England or Wales, not being in a national park, which appears to [the commission] to be of such outstanding natural beauty that it is desirable that the provisions of this act relating to such areas should apply thereto …’.

Worm’s Head at Rhossili in the Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This was the first AONB, designated in 1956.

There were at least two main disappointments in the act.

One was that the national park committees were spelt out as being independent of the local authorities. Those who promoted the act had envisaged independent boards with a full-time planning officer, and the parks administered as single geographical units regardless of their distribution across county council boundaries.

The first two parks, the Peak District and the Lake District, were established as independent joint boards as the act had intended. The remaining eight (Snowdonia, Dartmoor, the Pembrokeshire Coast, the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Northumberland and the Brecon Beacons) were established after Silkin had moved to housing and local government and was no longer involved. They were advisory committees to their county councils, relying on the councils for funding and their permission to take action. It was not until the Environment Act 1995 that the parks became truly independent.

Brecon Beacons National Park
The other disappointment was that, instead of creating a public right to roam on open country, the act merely made provision for access agreements or orders. Few were negotiated despite there being acres of open country where access was denied. The requirement for local planning authorities to carry out a survey of open country and determine how to achieve public access there was widely ignored, and it was never followed up. So the ‘access to open country’ provisions of the act were futile.

But we did get national parks, AONBs, long-distance paths and definitive maps of rights of way, and the act provided the foundation for much that followed, including the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the coastal-access provisions of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Coastal access in Cumbria
The 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act is a great milestone.