Corpse Road from Chapel Stile

One of the loveliest and easiest routes in the Lakes is along the old corpse route from Chapel Stile to Grasmere. Some beautiful scenery and a wonderful paved path some of the way. Until the church at Chapel Stile was built, the dead of the Langdale Valley would have been carried to Grasmere for burial.

A Glimpse of Grasmere (c) John Bainbridge 2020

It’s a short route, so we walked it in both directions, from Grasmere to Chapel Stile and then back again.

We walked up the lane from Grasmere to Huntingstile, where almost immediately you arrive at the paved section of the path. It seems almost miraculous to me that such old paths have survived as much as they have. It’s why we really must fight to preserve the original lines of our ancient rights of way. Take them away and you take away a hugely important part of our social history.

The Paved Corpse Road (c) John Bainbridge 2020

What I love about this path most are the views. So many familiar places, so many memories of walks in ancient sunlight.

The Corpse Road (c) John Bainbridge 2020

Chapel Stile, like Elterwater below it, is overwhelmed with holiday cottages. Now, like everyone else, we stay in holiday cottages. But I do regret that there are so few homes for local people.

Trevelyan’s Grave (c) John Bainbridge 2020

In the churchyard is the grave of the great social historian G.M. Trevelyan, one of that great family that championed social justice. Trevelyan was also a great fighter for ramblers’ rights and youth hostels. He wrote a fine essay on “Walking” which you can find in his collection Clio: A Muse. I commend it to you. His gravestone records him as “Historian of England.” Not a bad epitaph.DSCF2124

Reading Trevelyan’s books on social history inspired my own studies, and prompted me to do the degree I did at the University of East Anglia. It led me to the historical writings of G.D.H Cole, E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm and Patricia Hollis – the latter a wonderful teacher who became my history tutor at UEA.

Too often these days, our politicians try to knock social history off the agenda, in favour of big names and kings and queens. All worth knowing no doubt, but important to remember the majority of us are descended from the workers of the world.

Old Gatesposts (c) John Bainbridge 2020

It was my study of social history that made me look again at the history of our old ways, the paths that tell so many stories.

The corpse path we walked the other day is a path that Trevelyan would have certainly known. A walk where he must have considered so many points of social history.DSCF2127

And if you want to get a good slant on real British history, rather than the Establishment’s view of what you should know, then do read Trevelyan, and then Thompson, Cole, Hollis and Hobsbawm.

Then, if walking is important to you, seek out the historians of walking and paths.

Corpse Road (c) John Bainbridge 2020

Near to the grave of Trevelyan lies the last resting place of the wonderfully-named Cornelius Soul, who – the stone says – finished his days out on the Langdale Fells.

Well, there are worse places to die than out in the open air. I was leading a walk once on Dartmoor, when one of my walkers stood and admired the view over the Widecombe Valley from the track under Honeybag Tor. He turned to me and said “What a beautiful view!” and just dropped dead. That must be forty years ago or more.

In Chapel Stile it was good to see the people who run the Co-op hadn’t lost their sense of humour, with an amusing sign. I hope they are trading well.

Back in Grasmere nobody very much seemed to be social distancing. Get your walks in before the next Lockdown.



Published by John Bainbridge

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

17 thoughts on “Corpse Road from Chapel Stile

  1. That’s exactly what my Uncle did over Malham – said something very similar and then was dead. We were delighted in retrospect that he’d had such a good ending although it was a shock for the adults on the walk at the time. Us kids just got moved on pronto and only found out later!

    Love the sign outside the pub – really funny.

    I’ve nothing against holiday cottages as visitors have to have somewhere to stay. It’s second homes I object to (if they’re houses and not caravans) as they really are taking homes off locals and putting prices up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agree with that, but I don’t like the idea of about 90% of homes in a village being holiday cottages, which is probably the ratio there.


  3. I didn’t know about that corpse road. Will have to look into it.
    I fully agree with your comment on history. There’s far more too it than kings and queens but there are ideological reasons why that’s the focus of history education in schools.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My dad walked that corpse road a few times when we stayed in a house near to the Three Shires pub over to Grasmere to get gingerbread and supplies (yes apologies I am one that stays in houses around the region!!). Have’t a clue why he went so far but he loved the walk

    Liked by 1 person

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