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Mr Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor

One of the best things we did in my time as chief exec. of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, was to pay for the restoration of the gravestone of William Crossing, author of the classic Guide to Dartmoor and many other works about the Moor. Before we had the stone in Mary Tavy churchyard re-lettered, it was hard to read. It was a job well done.s-l225

Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor was first published in 1909, and it remains the most detailed book about the Moor.

(Note that: The Moor, with a capital M. While you may be in the Lake District, or the Scottish Highlands, you are always on Dartmoor. If you are in Dartmoor, it means you’re banged up in the prison – I never have been. They haven’t caught me yet! Though I have several times found myself within its precincts.)

Back in the 1960s, it was hard to get a copy of the Guide, until in 1965 David and Charles did an admirable reprint, with an introduction by Brian Le Messurier. Brian wrote introductions for several other Crossing books.

As a teenager with a Dartmoor obsession, I devoured the guide. Brian was sensible not to try to update the guide. It didn’t need it, Dartmoor hadn’t changed that much in sixty years, despite being Britain’s most abused National Park, and, as Brian pointed out, the result wouldn’t have been Crossing’s guide.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

There’s not a bit of Dartmoor left out from the hundreds of walks Crossing suggests, or not that I’ve found. And his Hints to the Dartmoor Rambler chapter is one of the best thoughts on what you might encounter on your walks. The summary of ancient tracks is superb, giving further scope for moorland expeditions.

Best of all, Crossing caught Dartmoor at an interesting time, before the modern world got at it. When folk farmed in a traditional way, when old folktales were still being told around the moorland hearths, when antiquarianism was being transformed into archaeology.

William Crossing was born in 1840 and died in 1928. He lived a lot of his life in poverty, writing hard to keep himself out of the workhouse. In old age, crippled up with rheumatism, only the charity of friends kept him from poor relief. He did some desultory, badly-paid work for the Dartmoor Preservation Association, which hardly benefited him (I know the feeling!)

His contribution to the DPA’s work has never been properly appreciated.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

I think back fifty years to the day I emerged from a Newton Abbot bookshop with my copy of the reprint. Now, though I collect guidebooks, I seldom follow routes in them, but I made up my mind that day to walk every single walk Crossing suggested – and I did, though it took several years. Interestingly, there were only a few where I had to improvise, where, for example, reservoirs had been built or conifers planted – I do wonder how many other Dartmoor walkers have done every walk in the book exactly as Crossing suggested?

In that period, everyone referred to the book simply as “Crossing”, such was its authority. I suspect most Dartmoor walkers these days hardly glance at it, which is their loss. There are some excellent modern writers of Dartmoor guidebooks, but none of the present generation come close to William Crossing.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

I used Crossing’s work as written evidence in numerous Dartmoor campaigns, from fighting mining companies to preserving the ancient lines of footpaths. He remains an authority worth quoting.

When I quit the Dartmoor Preservation Association in 2005, it was suggested to me that I should write a topographical book on the Moor. I gave it serious thought and decided not to do it. How could I compete with writers like Crossing, or Richard Hansford Worth, a predecessor of mine at the DPA, who wrote fine archaeological essays about the place?

I may still write a non-fiction Dartmoor book – my Dartmoor novel will be out in October – but it won’t be a guide, more an autobiography of those days when Dartmoor was less crowded, when I explored the Moor in Crossing’s footsteps. I can’t compete with the great William Crossing.

I shall never do all those Crossing walks again, but doing them when I was young enabled me to get to know Dartmoor really well. A foundation which served me well in the years that followed.

So if you are near Dartmoor and want to get to know the place really well, find yourself a copy of Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor, and start on those walks. It’ll take you a few years but, if you have the energy, you’ll know the Old Moor in a way that’ll be the envy of Dartmoor dilettantes.

And, if you do, I envy you the chance of following in Mr Crossing’s footsteps for the very first time

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Writing and Walking

When I’m not walking, I’m writing, though I like to set the books in the places I’ve explored on foot…

I’ve spent much of this year writing a thriller set on Dartmoor -it’s taken longer than I anticipated (writing novels always does), but the new book will be out by October.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

The book is a sequel to my Sean Miller adventure Balmoral Kill, and is set on Dartmoor in 1937. It has a Dartmoor setting for a reason. I first visited the Moor when I was seven years old and spent the next few decades exploring it, leading guided walking parties, writing and broadcasting about the place, and more or less living there. In 1996, this culminated in my being appointed as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association – founded in 1883 and one of the oldest campaigning groups in Britain. Nine years later I left the DPA to go back to full-time writing, though I still support various environmental campaigns.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

So there was a sort of inevitability about writing a work of fiction set on Dartmoor. Not the first… I’ve started Dartmoor novels before, but either never finished them, or been so dissatisfied I’ve destroyed the manuscripts – once with a Viking burning on the top of Ryder’s Hill – the highest hill on southern Dartmoor. Which I rather regret… you should always keep your old work. You might get the chance to reuse it.

The book starts in the eerie and lonely Wistman’s Wood…VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

The new book – and I shall be announcing the title in September – follows immediately on from the events in Balmoral Kill. If you’ve read that you’ll know it closes with Sean Miller going back to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Somehow, he finds himself instead on Dartmoor, meeting up with old friends and facing new enemies.

I’ve tried to root the book in Dartmoor reality. Apart from a couple of invented buildings, you could, if you wished, follow in Sean’s footsteps, over the Dartmoor tors, through the river valleys and even into Dartmoor Prison – well, perhaps they wouldn’t welcome you there!

I like to read books where you can go to the settings.

Of course it’s not unusual for Dartmoor writers to give accurate portrayals of the Moor. Novelist Eden Phillpotts, one-time president of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, used Dartmoor locations for his novels, right down to the actual names of farms and, in some cases, the people who lived in them. Not that you could get away with that these days.Vixen Tor. Picture John Bainbridge

Anyway, it’s been fun revisiting these Dartmoor scenes in my imagination. All those years of moorland walking have paid off. I’ll let you know when the book’s due out, for readers of the blog always get first news on how to order our books at a cheaper pre-publication price.

I’m already working on the next William Quest novel. Following Quest’s adventure in York in Dark Shadow, he’s back in London in the sinister alleys along the Thames. Facing some tough opposition as well – has the vigilante finally met his match?

And for the non-fiction fans I’m bringing out another walking book as in September, for those of you who enjoy reading about quiet days in the countryside.

If you haven’t read Balmoral Kill, here’s the link. It’s out in paperback and on Kindle:

And you can find out more about all of the books at my author page at:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Bainbridge/e/B001K8BTHO/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

 

Walk the Teignmouth and Dawlish Way

One of the best ways to keep rights of way open is to devise and publicise local walking routes for people to follow. You don’t need to invent a Pennine Way or a Coast to Coast route. Just link some paths together to provide a circular or linear trail, publish a guide and encourage people to get out there. Well walked paths are paths that get noticed and protected.Scan

A success story in devising short routes is the Teignmouth and Dawlish Way, an eighteen mile circular trail linking these two Devon seaside resorts. It’s pleasing to note that the guidebook has now gone into a third edition, written and published by the Teignmouth and Dawlish group of the Ramblers Association.

And a splendid edition too, sumptuously  illustrated with lots of photographs, not only of the stunning Devon scenery, but – clever this – with pictures of some of the turnings on the route, just so there’s no confusion about which way to go.

Although the T and D Way formally starts from Teignmouth Pier, it can be started, being a circular walk, from any point along the route. Fit walkers might like to do the whole eighteen miles in a day, but many ramblers might care to linger and explore this quieter area of Devon at a gentler pace, perhaps over a weekend or even in shorter stages. The guide gives information on public transport and how to seek out accommodation.

This part of Devon isn’t as well known as some others, but is well worth looking at – from Teignmouth the route takes in the villages of Bishopsteignton, Luton, Ideford and Ashcombe, before winding down to the seaside resort of Dawlish. Paths then take the rambler on an inland route back to the start in Teignmouth.

Along the way, there’s a lot of history – Bitton House, where the poet Mackworth Praed and the Nelsonian Admiral Pellew lived, the ruins of a medieval bishop’s palace, several early parish churches, and a town with links to authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Eden Phillpotts.

And the profits of the guide go back to the Teignmouth and Dawlish Ramblers, who work hard to keep open the paths in this part of south Devon.

So why not try the Teignmouth and Dawlish Way? Excellent walking at all times of the year.

You can order a copy by post for just £2.50 or by sending a cheque to Teignmouth and Dawlish Ramblers c/o 1 Shillingate Close, Dawlish, EX7 9SQ or from the Dawlish Tourist Information Centre. A real bargain for such a great booklet!

And if you are in Devon why not walk with the Teignmouth and Dawlish Ramblers (visitors welcome). You can find out more about them at their website: www.teignramblers.org.uk

The Compleat Trespasser on Sale

Another walk later in the week… meanwhile my book The Compleat Trespasser is on sale for just 99 pence/cents as an Ebook for this week only. It’s also available as a paperback. Just click on the link below to order…

WALK MAGAZINE SAID OF THE COMPLEAT TRESPASSER:
“On a vagabonding tour through Britain’s most delightful countryside and forbidden tracts, Bainbridge charts the history of access and assesses the present state of the law. Villainous landowners feature; so do the likes of GHB Ward and CEM Joad, calling at rallies for access to mountain and moor. Gamekeepers, spring-guns and mass trespasses also get a look-in. Redolent of country air, with nature and archaeology dealt with in graphic style, the book evokes the age of campaigns before words like ‘stakeholder’ and ‘partnership’ were hatched out. The author lends his support to the England Coast Path campaign and calls for the Scottish access model to be extended throughout Britain. It’s thought-provoking stuff and well worth a read.”

In 1932, five ramblers in England were imprisoned for daring to walk in their own countryside. The Mass Trespass on to Kinder Scout, which led to their arrests, has since become an iconic symbol of the campaign for the freedom to roam in the British countryside.CT Paperback Cover

The Compleat Trespasser – Journeys Into The Heart Of Forbidden Britain, written by outdoor journalist John Bainbridge, looks at just why the British were – and still are – denied responsible access to much of their own land. This book examines how events throughout history led to the countryside being the preserve of the few rather than the many.

It examines the landscapes to which access is still denied, from stretches of moorland and downland to many of our beautiful forests and woodlands. It poses the question: should we walk and trespass through these areas regardless of restrictions?

An inveterate trespasser, John Bainbridge gives an account of some of his own journeys into Britain’s forbidden lands, as he walks in the steps of poachers, literary figures and pioneer ramblers. The book concludes with a helpful chapter of “Notes for Prospective Trespassers”, giving a practical feel to this handbook on the art of trespass. At a time when government is putting our civil liberties at threat, destroying the beauties of our countryside, and your right to access it, this book is a most useful read.

Fawe Park v The Trespassers

On a scorching Monday morning, we walked the north-west corner of Derwent Water, passing Fawe Park, in Victorian times the scene of access battles and trespassing protests. Battles long over, though, interestingly, there is still an appalling lack of public access on that corner of a very beautiful lake.DSCF1456

Not that there aren’t rights of way – there are. But not as many as along the other banks of Derwent Water. And there is a strong presumption that walkers shouldn’t stray from the signposted tracks. And even as you walk through the beautiful woodland, you are often corralled in between unnecessary fences.DSCF1459

When we think of the need to trespass, we tend to dwell on the battles in the Peak District and the Forest of Bowland – though the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) has remedied some of these problems.

But the Lake District has had periods were traditional access has been denied. Before World War Two, the Lowther Estates tried to deny access to much of the hill country east of Angle Tarn.

But back in Victoria’s reign, when the rich took to building new houses in the most picturesque corners of the Lake District, there were considerable battles. Newcomers to the district closed at least twenty-two footpaths around Ambleside, there was an attempt to restrict access to the Stockghyll Force waterfall, landowners tried to deny access to the summit of Latrigg Fell – all places were people had traditionally walked.

Even earlier, William Wordsworth, by then a pro-landowning Tory, was so incensed by the blockage of an ancient path that he tore away the obstruction, as I’ve related in my book The Compleat Trespasser.

In the 1850s, James Spencer-Bell built the house of Fawe Park on the shores of Derwentwater. Riders and walkers had used the nearby ancient track going through the estate for generations. He died in 1872, leaving the property to his wife and eldest son. In 1885 access to the path was blocked on the grounds that its use invaded their privacy.  Discussions were held with Mrs Spencer-Bell, after the death of her son, but she was unwilling to compromise.DSCF1467

In 1887,  the Keswick Footpaths Association, compiled a report on the evidence supporting the public’s right to use the footpath across Fawe Park and this was submitted to Counsel for legal opinion. The lawyers opinion supported the existence of the right of way. On the 30 August of that year, local campaigners Mr Jenkinson and Mr Routh Fitzpatrick led a protest group to Fawe Park where they were confronted by Mrs Spencer-Bell who refused to remove the barriers.  Mr Routh Fitzpatrick ordered the barricades down and proceeded to lead his walkers along the path.

Undaunted, Mrs Spencer-Bell restored the barriers.

Equally undaunted, the footpath association declared that they would remove the barriers again on on 28 September. At least of 500 protestors – many of them leading members of the local community – marched on Fawe Park, removing the barriers and taking the old track.

This time, Mrs Spencer Bell yielded to pressure and no further attempts were made to close the footpath.

But, the thought occurred to me as we walked, this is still the area around Derwent Water with the least access. There are Private – Keep Out signs on either side of the Derwent Water circuit path. There are, if you are walking north from Hawse End, only a couple of places where you can access the lake, the most prominent being by the boat station at Nichol End.DSCF1466

The other is at Lingholm, where – by grace and favour – you can walk down to the lake courtesy of the owners of the cafe. And very beautiful it is too, with its connections to Beatrix Potter, who stayed there and Fawe Park, and used both as settings for her delightful stories. You can also visit the impressive walled garden there.

But some of the countryside around is still out of bounds.DSCF1455

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it, England and Wales needs the kind of Land Reform, with the massively increased access rights, that we enjoy every time we go walking in Scotland.

No more piecemeal access!

We want the real thing!

(c) Text and pictures John Bainbridge 2019

 

Over Dunmail Raise

In a car you hardly notice the steep climb over Dunmail Raise, as you drive the busy Loughrigg Circuit February 2014 023tourist route from Grasmere to Keswick. Just another hill on a fast stretch of road, widened in recent years so that motorists might overtake struggling lorries and holiday coaches. Not considered one of the classic Lake District mountain passes, despite the dramatic crags and summits all around. The great stone cairn, between the two carriageways, looks interesting but flashes by in an instant.  Motorists probably don’t know that the Raise once marked the southern boundary of the kingdom of Strathclyde or the division between Westmorland and Cumberland.

But looked at from the surrounding summits of Steel Fell, Helm Crag or Seat Sandal, you get a perspective of Dunmail’s importance as a mountain pass giving access through the surrounding high ground.  Its significance as one of the few easier routes across the Lake District confirmed by the presence of a World War Two Pillbox, guarding the pass from both directions. A wise precaution. Armies have marched this way for thousands of years.

     The Raise gets its name from just such a warrior, Dunmail,  Norseman and King of Cumberland, defeated in battle here by the Saxon King Edmund in 945 AD. The giant cairn, or raise, now hemmed in between  two modern carriageways, is said to be his last resting place, the stones laid over his body by his surviving troops.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the cairn has been  repositioned on several occasions by road-builders, absorbing rocks from a drystone wall that once marked the county boundary.

Legend says Dunmail’s golden crown was taken from the pass to nearby Grizedale Tarn and thrown into its dark waters, until Dunmail might rise to lead his men again. Once a year his phantom army appears to take the crown from the tarn down to the Raise only to hear Dunmail’s voice moan in the wind “Not yet, my warriors. In a little while. Not yet!”  On dark stormy days, as you follow in their footsteps, you can almost believe it.  The legend is rather compromised by the fact that Dunmail apparently died on pilgrimage to Rome many years after 945.

The old tale was often in William Wordsworth’s mind, as he walked the once narrow road over the Raise, a route he took by day and night, whatever the weather.  During the Napoleonic Wars he would come this way in the dark with Thomas de Quincy, author of The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, so that they might waylay the courier bringing news from Keswick of Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain. There must have been sad memories for Wordsworth when he made this journey in later years. It was in the hills above the Raise that he had taken a last walk with his brother John, who drowned when his ship was wrecked in the English Channel in 1805.

Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge would regularly tramp ‘over the Rays’ to Keswick and back, sometimes diverting via the summit of Helvellyn. Towards the end of her life, Dorothy Wordsworth could still mount the steep hill at a steady four miles an hour, such was the conditioning brought about by many years of hard fellwalking. In the Wordworth’s time, travelling on foot or horseback was the regular way to travel the road leading up to the Raise, so much so that Dorothy commented in her journal on the unusual sight of someone making the journey in a chaise.

The arrival of the railway from Kendal to Windermere encouraged a regular stagecoach service onwards to Keswick, Dunmail Raise representing quite a challenge to coachmen. On the northward  journey the coach driver would sometimes make fitter passengers disembark and walk up the steep hill, so that his horses could cope with the gradient. The descent could be equally perilous, great skill being needed to prevent the coach running away.  The Lakeland writer William Palmer, recalling Victorian days, tells how the road was scored by the skid marks of coaches as drivers hauled on their brakes during the descent.

At Town Head, on the Grasmere side of the Raise, was the toll bar, where the toll-keeper would take the fee for using this stretch of road. In 1851, John Hawking, a man well-known to Wordsworth, was still working away at this unpopular job at the age of 76, aided by his 52 year old wife Betsy.  Most of the tolls he collected would have been taken from carriages of early Lake District tourists, or the occasional carrier’s cart. Wilier Lakelanders, droving sheep or cattle, or moving goods by pack-pony, would  bypass Dunmail Raise altogether to avoid paying the toll.  Coach fares would have been well beyond the pockets of working people. Horse-drawn coaches for tourists continued to come through the Raise as recently as the 1920s.

In Victorian times this bleak pass was well known as an atchin tan (camping place) for Romanies. Why choose such an exposed place to halt?  Possibly to avoid conflict with the farmers and villagers of Grasmere. The Lake District writer William Palmer recalled pulling a Gypsy lad from under the wheels of a horse-drawn coach at this point, earning the gratitude of an ancient fortune-teller, who told him he would only prosper with a lifetime of hard work. Palmer noted that she spoke pure Romani and that her words had to be interpreted by a cheroot-smoking younger woman

During its days as a county boundary, the head of the Raise was considered very much a frontier between the north and south of the Lake District, residents on each side holding the belief that little good came from the opposite end of the pass, a prejudice broken down only with easier access to cars and travel.

By the 1930s, Dunmail Raise was starting to become the busy motor road that we see today, deterring the traveller on foot or on horseback.  William Palmer, who had known the road from Victoria’s reign, noting that many of the old hummocks had been ironed out by successive road builders. More recently, the Raise has become the only Lakeland pass with an effective dual carriageway, the two opposing lanes trapping King Dunmail’s cairn on an island that can be hazardous to anyone who wants to walk there.

But despite these changes, today’s traveller is seeing much the same views of wild mountains and the broad vale of Grasmere as Wordsworth, William Palmer’s Gypsies, and the coach passengers who visited the Lake District during Queen Victoria’s reign. Every wanderer through this Lake District pass adds a tale to the long history of Dunmail Raise.

A Walk on Kerrera

Just a five minute ferry ride across from near Oban is the island of Kerrera. Delightful coast and moorland walking, fantastic views across to the Argyll mainland and out towards several Hebridean islands. Our walk took place on one of the hottest days I have ever known in Scotland. A perfect day for a walk.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

We chose to do the southern circuit of the island, from the ferry landing, so that we might see Gylen Castle and the views towards Jura. The walk around the island is on a good track, with reasonable gradients. There are many reminders that Kerrera was once part of the kingdom of Norway. It is not difficult to imagine Viking longships slipping into the quiet coves of this island.

One of the first places you come to, walking southwards, is Horseshoe Bay, where in 1249 Alexander II of Scotland began his campaign to reclaim the Hebrides from Norwegian control. His campaign never got off the ground. He was taken ill and died in a field nearby; called Dail Righ, the king’s field to this day. In 1263, a fleet of one hundred and twenty longships, under the command of Norway’s King Haakon I, moored here on the way to defeat at the Battle of Largs.  Kerrera is so unspoiled it feels like it all happened yesterday.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

At the next inlet, Little Horseshoe Bay is a row of
delightful cottages, once the homes of quarry workers, before becoming the centre of the local lobster industry.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

A mile further on is Gylen Castle, standing gaunt and mysterious on its clifftop above the swirling waters of the Atlantic. Okay – I admit they weren’t swirling when we got there. In fact the Atlantic was still and blue. But the atmosphere of this old ruin sinks into your imagination. Gylen Castle is a place haunted by bloody deeds. It could have come straight out of a story by Scott, or Neil Munro, or John Buchan. It cries out to be in a novel. In 1647, it was besieged by Leslie’s covenanters, who forced the garrison of clan MacDougall to surrender, slaughtering all the defenders, except one youth, as they came out. The castle was put to the torch, and has been abandoned ever since. We sat for a while on the stony beach nearby. All was perfect peace. It felt like the edge of the world. Souls can grow calm in places like that.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

Nearby we found refreshment at a tea garden before continuing our journey. They have a bunkhouse as well, if you are tempted to spend some time on this jewel in the Firth Of Lorne.

The western side of the island became wilder as we made our way northwards, the track narrower, but with superb views towards Mull and Morvern. At Bar-nam-Boc-Bay are the remains of what was once a port, a crossing point to Mull, a place where thousands of cattle a year were brought from the islands by drovers. You can almost hear the cry of the men and the lowing of the cattle amidst its ruins.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

Here we began to cross the island, back to the ferry, taking in the highest grounds of the walk. This high stretch is called Am Maolan – the Wild Place – and wild it is, seeming far higher and more remote than its contours would suggest. A long descent brought us back to Kerrera’s Victorian schoolhouse, and to the four o’clock ferry, which we caught with just half a minute to spare. If you haven’t been to Kerrera, then I can recommend it. The memories are priceless. A day out of the madness that we call modern life.

Text and pictures (c) John Bainbridge 2019