One of the tragedies of Storm Desmond was the loss of the historic Pooley Bridge, below Ullswater. We were there just before the storm admiring the beautiful old bridge, little realising that it would soon be swept away. Now a new, modern bridge is being built across the River Eamont. It looks very nice, but modern. So sad, but I am glad that the little community at Pooley Bridge will have a bridge back.
These thoughts were very much in my mind as we walked from there the other day, exploring the Dalemain Loop of the Ullswater Way. The Way, circling Ullswater, was created in response to Storm Desmond, and a brilliant walk it is too. We walked the whole way a couple of years ago, but the two loops away from the lake, around Lowther (see blogs passim) and around the policies of Dalemain House are newer.
We were familiar with all the paths around Lowther, but there were some around Dalemain we hadn’t walked, and a late autumn day seemed a good time to explore them. By the way, if you are walking the Ullswater Way and the two loops then do seek out the latest version of Mark Richards’ excellent guidebook – a bargain for a fiver and a sterling example of just how to write a good walks guide, illustrated with maps and Mark’s beautiful drawings.
The first part of our walk followed the River Eamont downstream, full of water but so placid – hard to believe that its waters could take away a centuries-old bridge. Paths took us then across fields to Dalemain House. An old path this, leading down to Dacre Bridge, which I suspect the route once crossed, though now it’s diverted back to the road and to a more modern crossing of the Dacre Beck. The Way then goes up the drive to Dalemain itself – the estate has Saxon origins, though the house is more recent. Now it stages the annual World Marmalade Festival. I’m a fan of marmalade myself. Rather good on a slice of toast before a walk.
Passing the house we walked a mile through the estate to Dacre, with its impressive castle on the brow of the hill, a 14th century tower house which is still privately occupied. The village of Dacre and its fascinating church is just beyond.
In the churchyard are four strange stone statues, called the Dacre Bears, though some people believe them to be lions. What they are and how old they are is a mystery. Some believe them to be Roman, others medieval. There’s certainly been a church on this spot since the 7th century, and the present church dates to the 12th century.
I once had an uncanny experience within the church. Photographing some Viking cross shafts in the chancel., I noticed a hideous face in the wall nearby glaring out at me. It seemed to be definitely carved into the stone. I took several photographs of it and – you’ve guessed it – when I examined the pictures at home they just showed the stone of the wall. No face at all! The other day I sought out the face again. Not a trace. Rather like a ghost story by MR James. I can’t explain it, but it was definitely there on our first visit.
Leaving the church, we wandered through the village and then down a quiet lane to the Dacre Beck and to our second Dacre Bridge of the day. Just beyond is an old stone marking the boundary of “The Township of Dacre” – a very Scottish sounding term. But then, at the time of Domesday, much of this countryside was part of Scotland.
A mile of lane walking brought us to a bridleway leading back towards Ullswater, below Dunmallard Hill, the site of an Iron Age hill fort, though all you can see now on its tree-shrouded summit are a few low banks. It must have been dramatic in its day.
Then back to Pooley Bridge and Ullswater. A splendid loop of the Ullswater Way.
IPictures and text copyright J and Bainbridge