Wayfarer’s Dole – Memoirs of a Country Walker

Another walking the old ways blog coming at the end of the week, so please do click Follow. If you enjoy the blogs, do check out my walking autobiography “Wayfarer’s Dole”, out in paperback and on Kindle. You can get a full list of the non-fiction and the novels at: 


Wayfarers’s Dole –

Wayfarer's Dole: Rambles in the British Countryside by [Bainbridge, John]


In a series of solitary journeys on foot the writer and novelist John Bainbridge explores the ethos of rambling and hiking in rural England and Scotland.

On his journeys he seeks out the remaining wild places and ancient trackways, meeting vagabonds and outdoors folk along the way and follows in the footsteps of writers, poets and early travellers.

This is a book for everyone who loves the British countryside and walking its long-established footpaths and bridleways.

And for the armchair traveller…

Wayfarer’s Dole takes its title from an ancient tradition – In medieval times pilgrims travelling the road through Winchester to Canterbury would halt at the St Cross Hospital, a place of rest and refuge for those on holy journeys, and demand the Wayfarer’s Dole – small portions of ale and bread to ease the hunger and thirst incurred on their travels.

Read John’s other outdoor books “The Compleat Trespasser”, “Rambling – Some Thoughts on Country Walking”, “Footloose in Devon” and “Footloose with George Borrow”.

“This engrossing book by writer, novelist and one-time chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Society, John Bainbridge, explores the ethos of rambling via a series of short essays. The book takes its name from the medieval tradition of offering help to pilgrims on foot, but John’s own adventures take him deep into the moors, downs and mountains as he muses on everything from maps, roadside fires, stravaiging and the protection of our ancient footpaths. It’s a very personal but informed and intelligent journey that will resonate with inquisitive ramblers everywhere.” WALK MAGAZINE.

Walking a Roman Road

DSCF1408There’s a quiet stretch of Roman road in Cumbria’s Eden Valley which we often walk, part of the greater Roman road that crosses the Pennines through the Stainmore Gap – in its day one of the most important highways in the Roman Empire.

This stretch of just a few miles runs from Appleby in Westmorland, starting at Fair Hill, where the Gypsies camp at the famous horse fair. Fair Hill now, but it was once Gallows Hill where victims of the Appleby courtroom where sent to be hanged. The farm nearby has the sinister name of Hangingshaw, but whether that comes from public executions or takes the title from its geographical position I’m not sure.

When I say walking the Roman road, we are of course only following the line, the original surface must be a foot or two lower down, hence my frustration in never finding the odd Roman coin lost by some careless centurion.DSCF1407

But walking the Roman road, you do at least get a feeling of what it must have been like to march with the legions across our countryside.

This section of the Roman road is in two distinct portions. Nearer to Fair Hill it is a clear and wide stretch of highway, mostly I suspect because the farmer uses it as access to his fields. But as you travel on, the Roman road becomes overgrown, hidden and mysterious, with secret places haunted by deer and pheasants.

A place to linger.

A place to consider the mighty Roman Empire which stamped its mark on our landscape, and which, like all historical empires, went away – those who seek and support dominant societies and countries today might perhaps recognise the transient nature of their ambitions.

One day everything they supported and fought for will be just a page or two in the history books – maybe just a footnote at the bottom of the page.DSCF1409

There’s a popular belief that there were no highways in Britain until the Romans came. Bunkum of course. There were tracks across Britain for thousands of years before the Roman arrived. It’s true that the Romans put down a few new stretches of highway, but for the most part they “improved” existing what was already there.

So when you walk a Roman road, don’t just think of the Romans, but the generations of earlier Britons who forged the first highways.


A Walk Among the Dark Age Spirits —

Here’s a fascinating blog by Alli Templeton

With my big exam finally behind me, last weekend I was in dire need of some fresh air and a good walk. So with a gap in the seemingly endless rains, we took the opportunity of taking a long wander into the spiritual world of the Dark Ages around a small village with a big […]

via A Walk Among the Dark Age Spirits —

Wensley Church

Wensley church is an historical gem, as I mentioned in my last blog. It’s worth travelling quite a distance to see. Here are some of the highlights. Holy Trinity church dates to at least the 12th century, though there may well have been a church on this site in Anglo-Saxon times.

Fortunately, the Victorian “restorers” more or less left the building alone, hence its rich treasures.DSCF1364

Firstly, here are some Anglo-Saxon grave-markers, now set in the interior wall of the church.


The wall paintings are very faint, but probably date to the early 14th century:



Here’s a wooden alms box and reliquary which probably came from Easby Abbey after the dissolution of Henry VIII:


The oak choir benches in the chancel date to 1527 and are the work of the Ripon Carvers, notice the ancient choristers graffiti. The carved creatures include a leopard, a greyhound, a dragon, a hare etc. Hidden away on one of the benches is a representation of a green man:

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The brass of Sir Simon de Wensley, who died in 1394, is considered to be the finest example of a monumental brass in an English parish church. It shows Sir Simon, a member of the Scrope family, in full canonical vestments with a chalice at his breast and sacramental bread:


The font dates to the 16th century:


The double-decker pulpit was erected in 1760 at the cost of £12. 4s. 10d:


The Bolton family pew is Jacobean:


And there is so much more, which I’ll let you discover for yourself…




Walking Leyburn Shawl

One of the finest paths in Yorkshire runs along the two-mile limestone terrace of Leyburn Shawl, which offers such fine views up through Wensleydale. We walked its length again this week, on a beautiful day in this very wet June, starting from the town of Leyburn.

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On Leyburn Shawl

Legend relates that Mary, Queen of Scots, escaping from captivity in Bolton Castle, dropped her shawl along the way, giving this long hillside its name. That’s not actually true. Shawl is almost certainly a corruption of an old English word meaning Settlement. Whatever its origins it is a stunning vantage point, and the flowers were quite wonderful as we followed the path through woodlands and outbreaks of limestone.


The views are truly magnificent and the path divine. The first part of the Shawl, nearest to Leyburn,  was laid out as a promenade, with seats and shelters in 1841. A gala, known as the Leyburn Shawl Annual Festival was held there, attracting over two thousand folk in 1844.

The local newspaper remarked that the visitors were people “of the highest respectability.” That might seem like a throwaway remark by a local journalist, but let’s not forget that the 1840s were a particularly lawless decade, with a considerable amount of justified political agitation.

In the following years, grottos were provided for visitors, and annual tea parties were held.

A path properly restored

There were no crowds as we walked the Shawl, just a few ramblers and dog-walkers. Towards the end of the Shawl, the path dips down to the fields below towards Tullis Cote. So pleased to see here that a good farmer has properly restored the public footpath after ploughing, an excellent example to others.

Tullis Cote is a scattering of houses, but the lower slopes are dominated by the ruins of the Preston Smelt Mill – a reminder of the lead mining that was once prevalent in this dale. Centuries ago, lead was smelted around here to provide the roof for nearby Jervaulx Abbey (see blogs passim). Now the industry has gone, following a great flourish during the Industrial Revolution, but the echoes of that hard-working past are there – at Tullis Cote and other places.

Preston Smelt Mill

We crossed the railway line and the main road through the dale, and followed a long path through Wensley Park, where we took the driveway leading between the village of Wensley and Bolton Hall, built in 1678 by the Marquis of Winchester, who married the daughter of Lord Scrope – whose family had held these lands since medieval times.

Wensley itself is now a tiny village, but was much more important centuries ago, being the principal market town of the dale. Granted its charter in 1306 by Edward I folk would have used the paths we now walk on market days. However, a disastrous plague struck in 1563. The place never recovered and its decline led to new markets and the growth of population in the nearby towns of Leyburn and Hawes.

Wensley Church

The great joy of Wensley is its parish church, one of the most interesting in England, so historically stunning that I’m going to devote my next blog to it. There’s just too much to say here. It’s not used for regular worship, but is maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust. If you love our old churches, put it on your “to visit” list.

The Gateway to Bolton Hall

Interestingly, Wensley gives a name to this entire dale, despite being situated at its foot, and despite the fact that the river is the Ure or Yore. Some still call it Yoredale or Uredale, and quite properly too.

Sundial at Wensley Church

We followed Low Lane, a quiet lane that runs alongside the river, making our way up the Low Wood Lane track back into Leyburn – the town that grew because of the plague wiping out much of the population of the once important market town of Wensley.


Extending the Lake District National Park

I’m supporting the Friends of the Lake District (FLD) bid to extend the southern boundary of the Lake District National Park. It’s good to see such ambitious plans proposed. In recent years some campaigners have been too timid regarding the extension of park boundaries and the creation of new National Parks. Good to see FLD taking a lead.

Here’s what FLD are saying:

Friends of the Lake District has submitted a formal request to extend the southern boundary of the Lake District National Park to Natural England (NE) for its consideration; Natural England is the government agency with the statutory powers to create a National Park or vary its boundary.

The extension proposed would incorporate an area of outstanding landscape in the south of Cumbria, its land and its estuaries, increasing the size of the Lake District by 155 km2 increasing its overall area by approximately 6%.

It incorporates the area between Silecroft and Grange-over-Sands, the Millom Without, Furness and Cartmel peninsulas and the majestic estuaries of the Duddon, Leven and Kent rivers, all three of which rise in and traverse the Lake District.

The Preface in our Executive Summary sets out the motivation for submitting this proposal and just why we think that this area should be considered for re-designation by Natural England and given National Park status.

Executive Summary Preface

The land and estuaries of South Cumbria are stunning landscapes with high quality recreational opportunities that are treasured and valued by local people and visitors alike. This land of the Millom, Furness and Cartmel peninsulas is intersected by the incredible estuaries of the Duddon, Leven and Kent rivers, all three of which rise in and traverse the Lake District.

This landscape is so closely related to the geology, geomorphology, cultural history and wildlife of the adjacent Lake District National Park that an increasing number of local residents have questioned why this area was not included in the originally designated National Park. Discussions with Friends of the Lake District led to an Area of Search being developed, and soundings have been taken over the last year confirming a groundswell of opinion that statutory designation should be sought to provide the protection that the landscape deserves.

Friends of the Lake District is aware that this application includes land which was originally recommended for inclusion in the Lake District National Park in the Report of the National Parks Committee in 1947, (the Hobhouse Report), as being of the quality affording National Park status, and also covers land formerly designated in 1993 as part of the Lake District Environmentally Sensitive Area.

This led us to consider that the current boundary of the Lake District National Park between Grange-over-Sands and the Irish Sea coast at Silecroft should be reviewed. We commenced a research project to assess whether or not the quality of the landscape as it is now warrants statutory designation under Section 5 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

A team of Dr Jan Darrall and Frank Lee carried out background research into the history of this landscape and the processes that should establish a way forward. Alison Farmer, of Alison Farmer Associates (a landscape architect with specialist expertise in landscape evaluation for designation), was then appointed to carry out a detailed assessment of the landscape and to make any recommendations, if identified, for the amendment of the southern boundary to submit to Natural England. ­ This Project has also been greatly assisted by the expert knowledge of Ian Brodie, a former Director of Friends of the Lake District.

This team, all with previous experience of National Park boundary revisions, have with the full support of Friends of the Lake District and the local parish councils, brought this Report forward supporting their conviction that a strong and urgent case can be made for a further boundary extension to the Lake District National Park. We strongly commend active consideration by Natural England of this work in order to secure necessary amendments to the boundary of the Lake District National Park.

A Stroll near Oban

There’s a popular belief that you have to walk miles and go into the wild blue yonder to find interesting places. It’s not true of course. A short stroll can give you lots of history and some grand scenery as well.

Dunollie Castle (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Nor do you always need a footpath or bridleway. For this stroll we mostly used the road, a relatively quiet road too, for it comes to a dead end – though there are footpath continuations.

A week ago, we were in Oban in Scotland, a place very familiar to us. But we decided to walk along to Ganavan Bay, somewhere we hadn’t been for a few years. Now this is just the sort of stroll a tourist might do. But it’s interesting, for this couple of miles embraces hundreds of thousands of years of history, legend, folklore and wartime exploits.

The Dog Stone (c) John Bainbridge 2019

This walk below Dunollie Castle even has the blessing of Sir Walter Scott, who admired the scenery hereabouts “Nothing can be more wildly beautiful than the situation of Dunollie.”

He was right. So many times, returning on the ferry from Mull, I’ve admired Dunollie’s Tower as the ship comes into Oban harbour. Once it was green with ivy, though restoration has swept much of this away. There used to be a free path to the tower from the road, but this has now been closed – access is now from the more recent mansion of the Chief of the Clan MacDougall.  The original castle dates to at least 685 AD, though what you can see is probably mostly 14th century.

The Carriage Drive (c) John Bainbridge 2019

This house itself is now open to the public, housing a little museum regarding the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. When we went last week, it was also hosting an interesting display about Scottish Tinkers – more of which in another blog,

Dunollie House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

We approached the castle by way of its original carriage drive, now a pleasant green track which passes the great stone of clacha’ choin, or the Dog Stone, where legend has it that the giant Fingal used to chain up his equally huge hound Bran.

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Oban Harbour (c) John Bainbridge 2019

From the castle we headed back along the road, admiring the views across to Kerrera, Morven and Mull. On the other side of the road are great rocky cliffs covered in trees. Search among them and you may discover the caves used by dwellers in the Stone Age, who lived by hunting in these woods and moors or scavenging on the beach. Many more caves were destroyed when the Victorians expanded the town of Oban. But the views across the seascape would have been as familiar to Stone Age men and women as they are to us.

(c) John Bainbridge 2019

And like us they would have seen deer as they walked along the edge of the sea.

The road winds round to Ganavan Bay, sadly partially disfigured by the kind of ghastly modern architecture that should never have got planning permission. But our thoughts were on the past. During World War Two, Ganavan was used as a base for the seaplanes that went far out into the Atlantic to guard shipping convoys and destroy enemy U-Boats. Only a simple signboard relates this history, though there is more information in the Oban Military Museum.

Dunollie Tower (c) John Bainbridge 2019

What a pity that Ganavan Bay couldn’t have been left in a state that might have been recognised by those wartime aviators. These luxury homes are just a massive intrusion and a disfigurement of a fine coastline.

Years ago we followed the coast from here for several miles on an extremely wet day. But this time we returned to Oban, via a cup of tea stop at Dunollie. Reflecting on so much Scottish history.