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A Low-Level Walk from Sedbergh

Sedbergh – and you lift up your eyes to the wonderful Howgill Fells. A favourite range of hills for me. But the lower ground, in the river valleys below Sedbergh makes for grand walking as well. Just into the New Year we fancied a short walk in the area, so that we could spend some time browsing in the Sedbergh bookshops afterwards – it is after all a book town.

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Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Sedbergh is also the home of an English public (private) school. They were mowing the grass on the sports fields as we wandered through, for the pupils were due back later in the day.

As always, I think of one particular ex-pupil when I pass by the school – F. Spencer Chapman, whose books were everywhere when I was young. Spencer Chapman was a considerable mountaineer and arctic explorer in his younger days. He was on Gino Watkins’ last expedition in Greenland. He then spent over three years organising resistance groups behind the Japanese lines in World War Two. He wrote some memorable books, which are still worth reading, such as Watkins’ Last Expedition, Memoirs of a Mountaineer, The Jungle is Neutral and Living Dangerously.

There’s no doubt that his years as a soldier behind enemy lines affected him greatly. He seemed to have difficulty in settling down to domestic life in the post-war years. In modern terms he probably suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His experiences and ill-health led him to suicide.

These places around Sedbergh must all have been known to him, perhaps fuelling his love of adventure.

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The Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Our walk led us down to the picturesque hamlet of Birks, before we took footpaths across the fields to Brigflatts. An interesting hamlet, for here is a Quaker meeting house dating back to 1874, visited and inspired by Charles James Fox. I’m going to do a walk soon in the steps of the Quakers so I’ll leave it there for now. All I will say, is that the Meeting Place is a building of great peace with a restful garden to sit in. Across the lane is the peaceful Quakers’ Burial Ground – the last resting place of the poet Basil Bunting.

We walked up to the road and then up a very beautiful bridleway past Ingmire Hall, though there are few glimpses of the building from the path.  Ingmire Hall is a 16th Century house built around the remains of a pele tower. It was enlarged in the early nineteenth century, partially destroyed by fire in the 1920s and partially remodelled in 1989.

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Ingmire Bridleway (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A short road walk brought us to a farm track leading up to the old farming hamlet of Underwinder – appropriately named for it stands hard under the great hill of Winder, then a steep climb up to Howgill Lane, which we followed downhill back into Sedbergh. Then a delicious hour browsing in the second-hand bookshops. A heavenly way to spend a day.

But glancing up at the Howgill Fells – and there are splendid vistas of Winder as you do this walk – reminds us that it’s a while since we’ve climbed their beautiful rounded slopes. No wonder the Sedbergh school song celebrates this fine landscape:

Oh Eton hath her River and Clifton hath her down,
And Winchester her cloisters and immemorial town.
But ours the mountain fastness, the deep romantic ghylls,
Where Clough and Dee and Rawthey,
Come singing from the hills!

Refrain
For it isn’t our ancient lineage, there are others as old as we.
And it isn’t our pious founders, though we honour their memory.
‘Tis the hills that are stood around us, unchanged since our days began.
It is Cautley, Calf and WINDER, that make the Sedbergh man.

(Winder to sound a bit like window, rather than winding something up).

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70th Anniversary of a People’s Charter

The 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was one of the best bits of legislation ever passed by Parliament – by the far-sighted government of Clement Attlee. Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society says how we all benefitted. Do please click on the link at the end to see Kate’s original and beautifully illustrated article.


1 January 2019
This year we celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Open Spaces Society general secretary Kate Ashbrook, explains what it achieved.

This is not just a Bill. It is a people’s charter—a people’s charter for the open air, for the hikers and the ramblers, for everyone who lives to get out into the open air and enjoy the countryside.

So concluded Lewis Silkin, Minister of Town and Country Planning, as he moved the second reading of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Bill on 31 March 1949 (column 1493).

These are uplifting words, which capture the spirit of that post-war period. The act, which received royal assent on 16 December 1949, was an extremely important start in protecting our most treasured landscapes and recording public paths. Unfortunately, though, Silkin’s words proved rather too optimistic, for the act fell short of the hopes and expectations of conservationists and outdoor activists. These included the Standing Committee on National Parks (predecessor of the Campaign for National Parks), the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (now the Campaign to Protect Rural England), the Ramblers, Youth Hostels Association and ourselves.

But the act did make a significant different and many of its provisions endure to this day.
The act introduced a wide range of measures.
It established the National Parks Commission (predecessor of Natural England) with duties which included the designation of national parks (section 2).
It created the mechanism for designating national parks. These were to be extensive tracts of open country in England and Wales, areas of natural beauty with opportunities for open-air recreation (section 5).
It introduced the concept of nature reserves (section 15) and sites of special scientific interest (section 23).

It required the production of definitive maps of public rights of way and set out how this should be done (sections 27-38). This was vitally important: until we had definitive maps you had to prove that the route was a public highway before you could persuade an authority to act against an obstruction.

It contained provisions for the creation, diversion and closure of public rights of way (sections 39-45).

It empowered the National Parks Commission to recommend to the minister the creation of long-distance routes (now national trails) (sections 51-55) with powers for a highway authority to provide and operate a ferry where the route required one (section 53).

It introduced a criminal offence of displaying a misleading notice on a definitive path (section 57).

It defined ‘open country’ as land consisting wholly or predominantly of ‘mountain, moor, heath, down, cliff or foreshore (including any bank, barrier, dune, beach, flat or other land adjacent to the foreshore)’ (section 59).

It defined ‘excepted land’ (eg agricultural land other than rough grazing, land covered by buildings, parks, gardens or pleasure grounds, quarries, land which already had rights of access) (section 60).

It required every local planning authority, within two years of commencement of the act, to review its area and ascertain what land there was which met the definition of open country and to consider what action should be taken, whether by access agreement or order, to secure access by the public for open-air recreation there (section 61).

Dunkery Beacon on Exmoor is open country but legal access there was not achieved until the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

After completing the survey, the authority must either take the necessary action or forward to the minister a statement that no action was necessary and publish a notice setting out the contents of the statement and inviting representations. The minister could then call a local inquiry or afford those making representations the opportunity of being heard (section 62).

Within one year of the completion of the review the authority must, unless it had already submitted a statement, prepare and forward to the minister a map showing the approximate extent of the land which was defined as open country and explaining what action had been taken to enable the public to have access to that land, and publish a notice that the map had been prepared and where it may be seen (section 63).

A local planning authority might, with the approval of the minister, make an access agreement on open country (section 64) or, where an access agreement could not be achieved, an access order (section 65). There were also provisions for securing the means of access to access land (sections 67-68).

The National Parks Commission also had powers to designate areas of outstanding natural beauty (section 87) although the AONBs were not defined in the act, merely being referred to as ‘any area in England or Wales, not being in a national park, which appears to [the commission] to be of such outstanding natural beauty that it is desirable that the provisions of this act relating to such areas should apply thereto …’.

Worm’s Head at Rhossili in the Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This was the first AONB, designated in 1956.

Disappointments
There were at least two main disappointments in the act.

One was that the national park committees were spelt out as being independent of the local authorities. Those who promoted the act had envisaged independent boards with a full-time planning officer, and the parks administered as single geographical units regardless of their distribution across county council boundaries.

The first two parks, the Peak District and the Lake District, were established as independent joint boards as the act had intended. The remaining eight (Snowdonia, Dartmoor, the Pembrokeshire Coast, the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Northumberland and the Brecon Beacons) were established after Silkin had moved to housing and local government and was no longer involved. They were advisory committees to their county councils, relying on the councils for funding and their permission to take action. It was not until the Environment Act 1995 that the parks became truly independent.

Brecon Beacons National Park
The other disappointment was that, instead of creating a public right to roam on open country, the act merely made provision for access agreements or orders. Few were negotiated despite there being acres of open country where access was denied. The requirement for local planning authorities to carry out a survey of open country and determine how to achieve public access there was widely ignored, and it was never followed up. So the ‘access to open country’ provisions of the act were futile.

Milestone
But we did get national parks, AONBs, long-distance paths and definitive maps of rights of way, and the act provided the foundation for much that followed, including the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the coastal-access provisions of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Coastal access in Cumbria
The 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act is a great milestone.

https://www.oss.org.uk/seventieth-anniversary-of-a-peoples-charter/?platform=hootsuite

South Downs in Winter

A while now since I’ve walked on the South Downs – but here’s a memory of the downland in winter – taken from my book Wayfarer’s Dole…

On a frozen day in February I was on the South Downs again, walking up to Rackham Hill from Burpham. The village stands at the end of a lane that is a terminus for motor traffic, but continues in several directions for those on foot or horseback. Burpham’s church was begun in Saxon times, standing hard by the earthen banks of a hill fort.

Whether that was built by Saxons or Danes is subject to much dispute. In the first half of the last century its vicar was Tickner Edwardes, who wrote some delightful books on the countryside and the craft of keeping bees. Burpham is a delightful village. John Ruskin commented that he would live there if Coniston didn’t exist.

I took the lane to High Peppering, passing a herd of bison in a field as I set out. These Downs are covered in antiquities, and a tumulus known as the Burgh was the first on my route. Even in February skylarks danced almost invisibly in the heights, the great sweep of downland alive with their song.

The hillside was a gentle acclivity, just steep enough to make me warm up and breathe in the fresh air. The chalk was frozen hard and slippery, walking had to be done with care. I was following an ancient track, leading up from Burpham and the valley of the Arun the important track that followed the ridge of the higher Downs.

I find it humbling, walking the ways people have journeyed for countless millennia. These tracks, now the recreational delight of walker and rider remain functional – farmers still use them. Sheep are driven here, as they have been since man first farmed the Downs. They grazed beside me, making an occasional sound to add to the singing of the larks. I watched them as the combatants of past wars, the pedlars, the pilgrims and other travellers of times gone must have done.

There is a timelessness about so much of our countryside, as though you could glance sideways and see history relived all around. In a sense you can, for the traces of the past are everywhere. Within view of these old tracks are prehistoric flint mines, field systems and burial mounds. An hour’s wandering brought me to Rackham Banks, an immense earthwork of deep trenches and mighty ramparts. Its purpose is debatable, but as I sat there in a freezing breeze I could not help but consider how much work was involved in the construction.

The slight haze from the early frost had lifted. I could see for many miles. Amberley Wild Brooks were flooded, offering an irregular silver sheen in the plain at the foot of the hill. In another direction were the downs and borstals of Arundel Park, white with ice. A herd of Friesian cattle huddled together out of the wind on the leeward slope of Amberley Mount.

Tearing myself away I climbed on to the ridge path running over Rackham Hill, now part of the South Downs Way national trail. Despite a height of just a few hundred feet it seemed as though I was on top of the world. And in a sense I was for every trace of the stress which comes with everyday living had vanished.Wayfarer's Dole: Rambles in the British Countryside by [Bainbridge, John]

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wayfarers-Dole-Rambles-British-Countryside-ebook/dp/B019B4Y4HU/ref=sr_1_23?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1545813416&sr=1-23&keywords=John+Bainbridge

Let’s have more militancy in the rambling movement in 2019

Best wishes for all who have followed the blog this year. I hope you all have a great Christmas and a peaceful new year.The_Compleat_Trespas_Cover_for_Kindle

We’ve had some splendid walks this year. I have no “walk of the year”, for we’ve enjoyed them all. But our first ascent of Cross Fell – the highest top in the Pennines – has to be up there on the list. A terrific ascent and we hope to do it again this coming year from a different direction.

But one of the joys this past year has been our exploration of the countryside of County Durham. County Durham doesn’t seem to score highly on destinations when you talk to walkers, which is a great pity. It offers a terrific variety of scenery, some excellent footpaths and bridleways and lots of good, remote countryside. Do look at some of the blogs to see where we’ve walked.

There have been some disasters for walkers this year, notably the de-registering of common land in the Pennines, where the MoD has snatched the fells above Murton and Hilton. If they think that’s going to deter yours truly from walking there, well, they’re in for a shock!

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From Kidsty Pike (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Time, this coming year, for a bit more militancy in the rambling movement. Where was the big rally on Murton Pike against the thieving of common land? I’ve been active in the rambling movement for over fifty years, but it seems to me that rambling organisations have become too much part of the Establishment…

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In the High Pennines (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Where has the fight gone?

I remember the happy days of Forbidden Britain campaigns and trespasses. Where did it all go wrong? With our wild countryside and national parks and AONBs under threat why aren’t they out there battling? Apart from the worthy Open Spaces Society, I hear very little about actual active campaigning.DSCF0344

So this coming year I intend to be far more critical of threats to our countryside and our right to walk across it. It’s important not just to walk but to put something back. Our great outdoors is not just some vast gymnasium, but a precious resource that needs protecting.

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The threatened Murton Fells (c) John Bainbridge 2018

I salute the good folk of Brighton who are fighting to stop building over their precious nature reserve. I applaud the farmers and villagers of Murton and Hilton who took on the MoD. Neither battle is over.

So lets get militant, folks…

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The threatened Whitehawk Nature Reserve.

Enjoy and celebrate our walks but stand up and be counted when our rights to walk and our countryside are threatened…

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

John B.

And do check out my writing blog at www.johnbainbridgewriter.wordpress.com if you are looking for something to read over the holiday.

George Borrow’s Scottish Tour

George Borrow, the Victorian writer and traveller, had links with Scotland long before he undertook his great tour of the country in 1858. As a boy he had studied at the High School in Edinburgh during the winter months of 1813-14, arriving in the city with his father’s regiment, the West Norfolk Militia, garrisoning the Castle towards the close of the Napoleonic Wars.

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Oban Harbour (c) John Bainbridge 2018

These were wild times for the young Borrow. When not at school he was caught up in boyish battles between the Old and New Towns. He made the acquaintance of the militia’s drummer boy, David Haggart, who deserted soon afterwards to become a notorious burglar and footpad, hanged in 1821 for killing his gaoler at Dumfries. Borrow spent much of his youth on the march with the regiment, giving him a taste for a life of vagabondage.

Despite an adventurous adulthood, spent living with Gypsies in England and touring Spain as a missionary – expeditions that inspired his books Lavengro and The Bible in Spain – he never forgot this youthful time in Scotland. In Lavengro he was to recall the excitement of crossing the Tweed into the northern kingdom and gaining a first view of the Highlands.

George Borrow visited Scotland in 1858, mourning the recent death of his beloved mother. He had found the grief difficult to cope with and his wife suggested a palliative walking tour ‘to recruit his health and spirit’. Even in middle age Borrow was an indefatigable tramper. In younger days he had walked the 112 miles from London to Norwich in a single day. In 1854 he had undertook a vast pedestrian exploration of Wales in search of that land’s ancient literature, immortalised in his classic book Wild Wales. This inveterate walker would often remark to his long-suffering wife ‘I’m just going for a walk’ and then disappear for weeks at a time.

Writing to a friend he was to recall that ‘in the latter part of the year ’58, I visited the Highlands and walked several hundred miles amongst them’. Borrow’s notebooks and letters suggest that he had thoughts of turning his experiences into a book, a companion to Wild Wales, but depression and the ill-fortune of a writing life meant the project was abandoned. It is, however, possible, using the notes he made, to recreate the route Borrow took during this extensive Scottish tour.

Borrow started out from his old stamping ground of Edinburgh, after coming much of the way by ship from Yarmouth. He was not particularly impressed. He wrote to his wife that the city was ‘wonderfully altered since I was here, and I don’t think for the better’. A winding route took him through Glasgow and on to Inverness.

These early days were not happy, for Borrow, argumentative at the best of times, had fallen foul of a ferryman whilst crossing the Firth. ‘The other day,’ he complained to his wife, ‘I was swindled out of a shilling by a villain to whom I had given it for change.’ Borrow had wanted to recourse to law but, he reported, the ferryman ‘had a clan about him…and I should have been outsworn’.

Once on the move, Borrow was much happier. He took a steamer from Inverness to Fort Augustus, amidst what he describes in his notebook as ‘a dreadful hurricane of wind and rain’. Despite the weather he was more in his element, meeting a woman from Dornoch who, though having no Gaelic herself, showed him a Gaelic book of spiritual songs by ‘one Robertson’ and talked to him about Alexander Cumming, ‘a fat blacksmith and great singer of Gaelic songs’. Borrow was a polyglot who could speak over twenty languages and had more than a nodding acquaintance with the Gaelic.

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Melrose Abbey (c) John Bainbridge 2018

He spent four days in Fort Augustus, exploring the locality. He records that ‘the first day I passed over the Corryarrick…nearly up to my middle in snow. As soon as I had passed it I was in Badenoch. The road on the farther side was horrible, and I was obliged to wade several rivulets, one of which was very boisterous and nearly threw me down’.

On October 22nd Borrow left Oban for Mull which in his own words he ‘traversed in every direction’, commenting that the scenery was ‘very wild country, perhaps the wildest in Europe’. From his notes and letters it is clear that he climbed Ben More, where he gathered some moss for his step-daughter Henrietta, and visited Salen, Iona and Tobermory, whilst staying with Ann Petrie at the Mull Hotel for a shilling a night. On the conclusion to this visit, Borrow noted that ‘the best Scottish Gaelic is said to be spoken in the Isle of Mull, which, however, is very thinly inhabited’.

According to his notes, Borrow left Oban for Greenock via the ‘Mull of Cantire’ (Kintyre) finally arriving in Glasgow, the whole journey accomplished in one day on November 3rd, though by what means of transportation is unclear. From Glasgow he returned to Inverness by train.

This journey was the occasion of another Borrovian argument. Stretching his legs during a ten minute break in the journey at Huntly, the train went without him. ‘Purposely,’ he complained to his wife, almost as though the locomotive had a life of its own.

He telegraphed ahead to Keith so that his luggage might be rescued. A reply came that it could not be found. ‘I instantly said that I would bring an action against the company, and walked off to the town, where I stated the facts to a magistrate. He advised me to bring my action. I went back and found the people frightened. They telegraphed again – and the reply came back that the things were safe’. Borrow in full ire could be a threatening prospect, over six feet tall and trained in the art of boxing.

By 21st November Borrow was in Thurso, writing to his wife that since his last letter to her he had walked 160 miles. ‘I have been to Johnny Groat’s (sic). I had tolerably fine weather all the way, but within two or three miles of that place a terrible storm arose; the next day the country was covered with ice and snow. There is at present a kind of Greenland winter, colder almost than I ever knew the winter in Russia’.

After having to wait impatiently for a steamer, Borrow crossed over to Orkney where he visited the cathedral in Kirkwall and Hoy. Here he had a chance to revel in his status as a famous author. ‘I have been treated here with every kindness and civility. As soon as the people knew who I was they could scarcely make enough of me’. On the 28th November he crossed to Shetland, buying ‘shawls, veils and hosiery’ in a shop in Lerwick, before returning by boat to Aberdeen, then back to Inverness.

Sending on his possessions, Borrow undertook one last magnificent tramp through the Highlands, from Inverness to Dunkeld and then to Stirling. ‘I never enjoyed a walk more – the weather was tolerably fine, and I was amidst some of the finest scenery in the world’. From Stirling he took the fashionable walking tour into the Trossachs to see Loch Katrine and Loch Lomond ‘thirty-eight miles over horrible roads’. He had read about the area in the novels of Walter Scott, whose books he admired even though Borrow couldn’t ever stomach the promotion of what he called ‘Charlie-over-the-waterism’, being a confirmed anti-Jacobite.

At the end of his long journey, Borrow wrote to his wife ‘I have now seen the whole of Scotland that is worth seeing, and walked 600 miles; a person here must depend entirely upon himself and his own legs’.

He died at Oulton in Suffolk in 1881, mostly forgotten and with his books out of favour. Only with the renewed interest in country walking at the turn of the 20th century did George Borrow become popular again. It is one of the tragedies of walking literature that Borrow did not write a book on Scotland to match Wild Wales. His interest in the Scottish people and the Gaelic language might have provided a classic of Scottish travel.

I’ve written a short eBook about my interest in George Borrow (out now for just 99 pence/cents.) Here’s a link if you want to have a look.

 

And do visit the website of the George Borrow Society for lots more about this fascinating author at http://georgeborrow.org/home.html

Help Save Our Unrecorded Paths

This from the British Horse Society:

(and it applies to footpaths as well…)

2026: Why is it important?

In 2000, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was introduced in England and Wales. Section 53 of the Act provides for a cut-off date in 2026, which means that many historic routes of use to horse riders and carriage drivers will be extinguished if they are not formally recorded as a bridleway or restricted byway.

These unrecorded routes actually exist in law but have been temporarily lost to the public and are in danger of having their rights extinguished. Our aim is to safeguard them for public use so that equestrians today and in the future have safe off-road routes to ride and carriage drive on.

Just because you currently ride on a route doesn’t mean it’s recorded and protected from extinguishment.

We need your help!

The BHS is committed to protecting and preserving the equestrian off-road network. However, there’s only so much we and our volunteers can do. Working together we can ensure that routes used by horses in the past are accurately recorded and reinstated as safe off-road routes to ride and carriage drive according to the evidence.

We’ve created a 2026 Toolkit detailing how you can ensure your routes are recorded so they won’t be lost after 2026. With generous support from Sport England through the British Equestrian Federation, we are now also able to offer a grant to volunteers to help cover the costs of making Definitive Map Modification Order applications to their local authority.

Find out more information about our 2026 Toolkit at the BHS website at: https://www.bhs.org.uk/

Walking the Corpse Roads

The Lich Way on Dartmoor, running from Bellever to Lydford was the first corpse road I ever followed, a long stretch across some of the wildest parts of the Moor. In fact, I helped to identify a probable early part of the route, correcting the way marked on the Ordnance Survey map, during my time at the Dartmoor Preservation Association. It’s a track well worth seeking out. 51f383GvkwL._SY362_BO1,204,203,200_

I’ve walked a number of corpse paths since in various parts of the country, including some of the best-known in Cumbria. But in the past couple of weeks I’ve learned about a great many more – including some we’ve walked without even realising it…

All thanks to a splendid new book on the subject by Alan Cleaver and Lesley Park – The Corpse Roads of Cumbria (Chitty Mouse Press ISBN 9781985190344) which I absolutely recommend.

A fortnight ago, we went to a talk by Alan at Penrith Library. If he repeats the talk near to you do go and listen. Alan’s a terrific speaker who shares his enthusiasm for these ancient paths in a very informative way. Walking the ways that the folk of old used to convey their dear departed to their last resting places makes you look at the whole countryside and its paths in a new way.

Alan and Lesley’s sumptuously illustrated book is well-worth getting. Worth reading even if you live a long way away from Cumbria, for the wealth of knowledge not only about the paths themselves, but on the tales and legends that go with them.

Did you know, for instance, that you can have bridal paths as well as bridlepaths? And what does happen if you encounter corpse candles or death lights? And just what was the death-chair of Brampton? Want to know how to identify a coffin-rest?  And do you really want to hear a death-rap?

Even if you are not superstitious, these old paths take you into the very heart of some great walking country, and the authors have provided some excellent maps to help you follow in their footsteps. There are lots of new walks for us listed and we’re looking forward to seeking them out over the coming months.

One particular path of interest is the oft-walked and well-signposted corpse road between Ambleside and Grasmere. But is it? As the authors point out, William Wordsworth, who had two homes adjacent to it and who walked it every day, never mentioned it as a corpse way. Intriguing!

To go back to Dartmoor – apart from the Lich Way (you’ll find the route described in William Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor) there were other shorter corpse roads. On Dartmeet Hill is the Coffin Stone, a natural boulder inscribed with crosses and the initials of the dead whose corpses were rested upon it on their way to Widecombe Church – legend has it that the great crack in it appeared when the body of some evil-doer was placed upon it – and retributive lightning split it in two?

The Corpse Roads of Cumbria is available through all good bookshops, other stores in Cumbria and online. Do read it!