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