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.
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.
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.
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.
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.