A Stroll in the Westmorland Dales

The village of Orton’s original name was Sker-Overton, changed to Orton in the local dialect. I found this out when I was researching my novel Villain  – the third in the series which brings some reality back to the legend of Robin Hood. My book starts on the wild moorlands above Orton, before my villains return to Sherwood Forest.

Looking to Orton (c) John Bainbridge 2020

Curiously, there are a lot of Robin Hood links in this part of Cumbria. His “grave” is high above the village. It was a visit to that a couple of years ago which inspired the start of my book. There were a lot of outlaws in these parts in medieval times, not least Adam Bell in nearby Inglewood Forest.

The Knott (c) John Bainbridge 2020

Interestingly, the old manorial rights in Orton now belong – equally – to the freeholders of the village rather than some big-wig at the manor house. A Manor Court is still held, run really as a democratically elected committee, so no forelock-tugging to the squire in this parish.

Gamelands Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2020

And Orton now lies in the heart of the Westmorland Dales – part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, despite the village being in Cumbria and in Westmorland if you champion the old counties as I do.

The Jubilee Cross (c) John Bainbridge 2020

We had a short stroll out to the Gamelands stone circle, along what was once the main highway to Kirkby Stephen, usually a quiet road, but busy yesterday as farm tractors bustled along – the workers on the land labouring long hours to get their field grass cut and taken away.

The Gamelands Stone Circle is situated on what was once open moorland, but the circle was first ploughed out in 1863. A wall was constructed nearby and most of the stones have been tumbled over time, probably deliberately in the course of agricultural works. At one point there was probably a burial kist within the circle. It was certainly visible in Victorian times, but has long gone.

Despite these interferences, the stone circle, one of the largest in the north, is still impressive. You can stand there and wonder about its purpose. There are many proposed solutions. It is, they say locally, not often visited.DSCF2062

Climbing the track nearby, we crossed the skirts of The Knott – the highest summit in these Westmorland Dales. We’ve climbed its modest height a couple of times and it’s well worth while, offering superb views across the Lune Valley to the northern boundaries of the Howgill Fells.


Passing through an old stone wall to the top of Beacon Hill, we came to the cross built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Here you get all round views, the Howgills, the Shap Fells, the hills of Lakeland and the long stretch of the North Pennines. All grand walking country.

Coast to Coast into Orton (c) John Bainbridge

We took the route of the Coast to Coast Path – interestingly not Wainwright’s original route, he succumbed to landowner resistance – back to Orton. The farmer on the route laughed that it must be the rush hour, as several walkers had passed through in a few minutes.

I commend the Westmorland Dales to you if you want some quieter walks through very scenic countryside. If you are visiting then Orton or Appleby make great centres for accommodation. There is free parking in Orton.





Published by John Bainbridge

Rambler, hillwalker, stravaiger and trespasser, access campaigner. Novelist writing historical and period crime fiction.

18 thoughts on “A Stroll in the Westmorland Dales

    1. It’s Neolithic and despite being interfered with rather nice in its setting. Two nice cafes in Orton as well as the choccy shop.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Revolution starts here. And of course Appleby formally changed its name to Appleby in Westmorland to keep the connection.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve driven over the high moor between Appleby and Orton a few times – didn’t realise there was a stone circle and burial kist thereabouts though! Always fancied The Knott and didn’t know anything about the beacon hill. I must see if that area is on any of my maps…

    I also prefer the old county names and always try to remember which old county the various towns and villages of Cumbria were in.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely photos as usual John. Makes me very homesick.
    Must admit it annoys me how they keep changing boundaries or names of counties. When I was younger my old village (Grenoside, near Sheffield) was part of the West Riding of Yorkshire….now it’s South Yorkshire.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Looks and sounds absolutely idyllic, John. All that open, rolling scenery, beautiful paths and a stone circle to wander at in peace as well. The Westmorland Dales will go on my walking destination list, especially as it’s so quiet up there. Perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very peaceful part of England. Interestingly, it’s not in Domesday as it was in Scotland at the time. Regards JB


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