It’s rather pleasant to retrace the footsteps of years ago, seeing if your memories measure the lie of the land – and even better to do so when you use an ancient track, and a very picturesque one at that.
On a bright but rather blowy day, we set out from Ambleside to walk up to the Scandale Pass, before passing on to Little Hart Crag, then returning over Dove Crag and the last bits of the Fairfield Horseshoe – High and Low Pikes.
I haven’t walked the Fairfield Horseshoe in its entirety for a dozen years, and it was twenty-two years since I last stood on the top of Little Hart Crag.
Actually, I remember that occasion well – it was 26th June 1997, on a very wild day.
I noted that:
The rain had eased off, but the wind was ferocious as I climbed this Dartmoor tor plonked on top of a Lakeland mountain – a wonderful brooding guardian of the fells. I had to climb over the summit crouched down to avoid being blown off. A brilliant rocky world is revealed from the top.
I remember very well being buffeted as I returned to Ambleside, and dripping with rain in a tea-shop afterward. As it was my last day in the Lake District, I bought a rather pricey rucksack to take away with me.
The weather was a tad calmer the other day, though there was enough easterly wind to make it interesting. We followed the path to High Sweden Bridge, surely one of the most picturesque river spans in Britain, and sat there for a while admiring the Scandale Beck. This path, from Ambleside to the top of the Scandale Pass, is particularly old, used for centuries by people passing over the fells to Patterdale. It is, in itself, well worth walking, though we followed it only to the head of the Pass.
The track runs through some very fine scenery, first alongside the beck in woodland, then through intakes, where it is enclosed by stone walls, then out on to more open fellside as it crests the ridge.
Little Hart Crag was as magnificent as I remembered, a good burst of rock coming from a dramatic position on the ridge – a good viewpoint too, over Brothers Water and towards Place Fell. And it’s a very good viewpoint for the stunning cliffs of Dove Crag, where so many rock climbers put up routes over so many years.
We climbed there before turning down to High Pike and then Low Pike, admiring the views over the northern end of Windermere. The descent took longer than I remembered, perhaps because I’ve got older and was bothered my arthritic ankle. Rougher too than I recalled. Funny how the memory plays tricks.
But the two Pikes are the usual end (or beginning) of the Fairfield Horseshoe and worthy tops for that adventure – though trampers in the earlier years of the last century favoured finishing the route down Red Screes to the east.
However, the Pikes do offer terrific views down into Scandale, and it was interesting seeing the way we had come earlier in the day.
And grand too visiting a top I hadn’t been to for twenty-two years – Little Hart Crag.
I recall that last time as if it were yesterday. Where have all those years gone?
I’ve noticed that whenever I walk somewhere I haven’t been for years, it doesn’t seem possible that so much time has fled by…
One such historic route was uncovered just outside Bolton, in the shadow of the West Pennine Moors. Identified by comparing the current path network with historic maps, reinstating this path would open up a fantastic walking route around Rumworth Lodge Reservoir, enabling local people to enjoy the amazing wildlife in the area.
Last week, Ramblers President Stuart Maconie spoke to BBC Breakfast on this route, about the importance of saving historic rights of way – “The right to walk paths like this is hard fought for and we should not give them up lightly.”
Finding hidden paths requires some detective work, but there are thousands of miles of paths out there waiting for you to discover them. You can find paths through looking at old maps, looking for gaps in modern maps, or even looking for clues on the ground.
Our guide easily talks you through the process – if you’ve lost your copy, you can download it again.
We’ll keep you updated in the coming months about the progress we’re making together and will be sharing your paths, stories and contributions to this vital project.
Thank you for joining the search for lost paths.
Don’t Lose Your Way
Ps. We’d love to hear about the stories behind the paths you’ve found – All routes, walks and paths have significance, either personal or historic, significance for the local community, or even gave birth to an old legend. Let us know your stories.
Ridgeways – those magnificent and ancient tracks that often run for miles across our countryside. I shall be writing about them soon, though no one has ever done that as magnificently as the Victorian country character Richard Jefferies. I do urge you to seek out his writings. You can find out more athttp://www.richardjefferiessociety.co.uk
You can watch an online film about his countryside on the society site. Now here are the words of Richard Jefferies from his book Wild Life in a Southern County.
A broad green track runs for many a long, long mile across the downs, now following the ridges, now winding past at the foot of a grassy slope, then stretching away through cornfield and fallow. It is distinct from the wagon-tracks which cross it here and there, for these are local only, and, if traced up, land the wayfarer presently in a maze of fields, or end abruptly in the rickyard of a lone farmhouse.
It is distinct from the hard roads of modern construction which also at wide intervals cross its course, dusty and glaringly white in the sunshine. It is not a farm track—you may walk for twenty miles along it over the hills; neither is it the king’s highway. For seven long miles in one direction there is not so much as a wayside tavern; then the traveller finds a little cottage, with a bench under a shady sycamore and a trough for a thirsty horse, situate where three such modern roads (also lonely enough) cross the old green track.
Far apart, and far away from its course, hidden among their ricks and trees a few farmsteads stand, and near them perhaps a shepherd’s cottage: otherwise it is an utter solitude, a vast desert of hill and plain; silent, too, save for the tinkle of a sheep-bell, or, in the autumn, the moaning hum of a distant thrashing-machine rising and falling on the wind.
The origin of the track goes back into the dimmest antiquity; there is evidence that it was a military road when the fierce Dane carried fire and slaughter inland, leaving his “ nailed bark “ in the creeks of the rivers, and before that when the Saxons pushed up from the sea. The eagles of old Rome, perhaps, were borne along it, and yet earlier the chariots of the Britons may have used it—traces of all have been found; so that for fifteen centuries this track of the primitive peoples has maintained its existence through the strange changes of the times, till now in the season the cumbrous steam-ploughing engines jolt and strain and pant over the uneven turf.
To-day, entering the ancient way, eight miles or so from the great earthwork, hitherto the central post of observation, I turn my face once more towards its distant rampart, just visible, showing over the hills a line drawn against the sky. Here, whence I start, is another such a camp, with mound and fosse; beyond the one I have more closely described some four miles is still a third, all connected by the same green track running along the ridges of the downs and entirely independent of the roads of modern days. They form a chain of forts on the edge of the downland overlooking the vale.
At starting the track is but just distinguishable from the general sward of the hill: the ruts are overgrown with grass—but the tough “ tussocky “ kind, in which the hares hide, avoids the path, and by its edge marks the way. Soon the ground sinks, and then the cornfields approach, extending on either hand— barley, already bending under the weight of the awn, swaying with every gentle breath of air, stronger oats and wheat, broad squares of swede and turnip and dark-green mangold.
Plough and harrow press hard on the ancient track, and yet dare not encroach upon it. With varying width, from twenty to fifty yards, it runs like a green riband through the sea of corn—a width that allows a flock of sheep to travel easily side by side, spread abroad, and snatch a bite as they pass.
Dry, shallow trenches full of weeds, and low, narrow mounds, green also, divide it from the arable land; and on these now and then grow storm-stunted hawthorn bushes, gnarled and aged. On the banks the wild thyme grows in great bunches, emitting an exquisite fragrance—luxurious cushions these to rest upon beneath the shade of the hawthorn, listening to the gentle rustle of the wheat as the wind rushes over it. Away yonder the shadows of the clouds come over the ridge, and glide with seeming sudden increase of speed down-hill, then along the surface of the corn, darkening it as they pass, with a bright band of light following swiftly behind. It is gone, and the beech copse away there is blackened for a moment as the shadow leaps it
OUT NOW IN PAPERBACK AND AS A KINDLE EBOOK – My Walking Autobiography
In a series of solitary journeys on foot the writer and novelist John Bainbridge explores the ethos of rambling and hiking in rural England and Scotland.
On his journey he seeks out the remaining wild places and ancient trackways, meeting vagabonds and outdoors folk along the way and follows in the footsteps of writers, poets and early travellers.
This is a book for everyone who loves the British countryside and walking its long-established footpaths and bridleways. And for the armchair traveller…Wayfarer’s Dole takes its title from an ancient tradition – In medieval times pilgrims travelling the road through Winchester to Canterbury would halt at the St Cross Hospital, a place of rest and refuge for those on holy journeys, and demand the Wayfarer’s Dole – small portions of ale and bread to ease the hunger and thirst incurred on their travels.
The Sedbergh Quaker Trail is an eleven mile walk through some very attractive countryside, close to Sedbergh, exploring the world of the early Quakers, the Westmorland Seekers in the 17th century, when Quaker meetings had to be held in secret because of religious intolerance. This splendid trail has been devised by the Sedbergh Area Walking and Cycling Group with the support of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.
The group has produced a splendid pamphlet to the trail, which is available from the local tourist information centre. Well worth getting and only £1.50 and worth every penny.
Walk this trail and you’ll be treading in the footsteps of George Fox and William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. You’ll also find yourselves in beautiful and wild countryside along the banks of the River Lune and the high ground beyond, with splendid views of the Howgill Fells and up into Dentdale.
I’m not a Quaker, but I find the history of the movement fascinating. Men like George Fox marched to the beat of a different drummer in those troublous days of the 17th century, when politics and religion were closely entwined.
We walked first to Sedbergh Church, where George Fox preached, standing on a bench under a yew tree, in the churchyard in the Whitsun week of 1652, refusing to go inside the building on the grounds that a church is the people and not the building. We followed country paths across to the Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House, which I blogged about on January 9th. The Meeting House was built in 1675, though there was a strong Quaker tradition in the area.
We walked on to Ingmire Hall and then along some paths to Lincoln’s Inn Bridge. We had a bright day for our walk, with just a couple of light showers, but there has been a great deal of rain lately and we skirted several pools of standing water in the fields. Lots of lambs about, though, and a real feeling that spring is in the air.
From Lincoln’s Inn, where there is a magnificent bridge, we climbed steeply up to Hawkrigg Wood (looks like it’s going to be great for bluebells in a couple of months) and then high up to the wilder fell country around Master Knott and Firbank Fell.
Just off the lane is Fox’s Pulpit, the rock where George Fox preached for three hours to over a thousand of the Westmorland Seekers, and Yorkshire Seekers too, in 1652, at the secret meeting which is thought to be the beginnings of the Quaker Movement. There’s a plaque on the rock which declares:
Let your lives speak
Here or near this rock George Fox preached to about one thousand seekers for three hours on Sunday, June 13, 1652. Great power inspired his message and the meeting proved of first importance in gathering the Society of Friends known as Quakers. Many men and women convinced of the truth on this fell and in other parts of the northern counties went forth through the land and over the seas with the living word of the Lord enduring great hardships and winning multitudes to Christ.
Or as George Fox recorded in his journal: ‘While others were gone to dinner, I went to a brook, got a little water, and then came and sat down on the top of a rock hard by the chapel. In the afternoon the people gathered about me, with several of their preachers. It was judged there were above a thousand people; to whom I declared God’s everlasting truth and Word of life freely and largely for about the space of three hours.‘
It’s a moody, atmospheric place, when you think what happened there. You wonder what the weather was like and whether Fox could see the wide range of views we did. Strange that something happened there that changed the world a bit, when you think of the persecutions that led not only to the growth of the Quaker Movement, but to religious exile and, in particular, its influences in the growth of the USA.
Nearby, once stood a chapel, now gone and rebuilt in nearby Firbank, and there is a Quaker burial ground adjacent to the spot where Fox spoke.
One thing is certain. Those thousand Westmorland Seekers walked up to the pulpit using the old ways, the ancient tracks, we were now walking. Indeed, Fox walked up there probably along the very paths we were now taking from Draw Well, now part of Bramaskew Farm, where he was staying with the Blaykling Family. Jumping ahead, the barn there was the scene of a further meeting, when – in 1665 – the militia were sent out to arrest worshipping Quakers. In 1676, a further conference was held there which was attended by William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. How history is made in such quiet places.
We descended down to the farmhouse with the lovely name of Goodies, and crossed the River Lune by the recently restored Fishermen’s Bridge. The original crossing was washed away in Storm Desmond, and this replacement was built last year at the cost of £110,000 pounds – restoring access to the rights of way network, given that it is the only crossing for miles – a big thank you to the many organisations that contributed to the costs. It has been beautifully done by real craftsmen.
From Hole House, where the path, now part of the Dales Way, runs through the back yard of the house, before climbing through the fields to the farmstead of Nether Bainbridge, and then along to Bramaskew, which I mentioned earlier.
We returned to Sedbergh by way of Howgill Lane, though there’s an alternative route which skirts the foot of Winder, that attractive Howgill Fell. As Sedbergh is a book town, we spent a pleasant hour browsing in the booshops – always a delight.
But my mind wandered back to the wild and lonely countryside we had tramped through, and to those persecuted Westmorland Seekers who had had to use wild countryside and these secret paths as they endeavoured to worship without persecution.
THE COMPLEAT TRESPASSER Journeys into the Heart of Forbidden Britain by John Bainbridge
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.
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.
Walk the old paths near the coast and you are almost certainly walking in the footsteps of smugglers. I’ve walked a great deal in Devon and Dorset, using paths, tracks and hollow ways which would certainly have known the passage of smugglers – for smuggling was a boom industry until recent times. As late as the 1960s, a smuggling gang was busted in the town of Teignmouth in Devon.
I was there at the time. I remember the arrests. Several old Teignmouth families were involved, and I was at school with some of their children. Whatever the law thought, many of the folk of Teignmouth shrugged and smiled, for the smugglers were following a long local tradition. A cheeky smuggler appeared on the “Welcome to Teignmouth” signs, and some childhood friends of mine won first prize in the local fete’s fancy dress as Teignmouth smugglers.
The Teignmouth smugglers’ methods were different to the ways used by the smugglers of old – no longer landing cargo at lonely coves and using packhorses and donkeys to bring the goods inland. Transference from ship to boat is the more unromantic and modern method.
But look around our coastline and walk the paths leading up from the quiet beaches and you can understand how it was done in older times. The traces are still there. There’s a lane at Holcombe, close to Teignmouth, still called Smugglers Lane. And it was certainly used for that purpose, coming to the end of its “working” life only when the railway line was built along its coastal end in Victorian times. Walk many of the paths on the present-day Teignmouth and Dawlish Way and you are using smuggling paths.
These Devon paths were much used by the great smugglers of the 18th and 19th centuries – John ‘Jack’ Rattenbury of Beer, who lived to write his memoirs and to enjoy a small pension given to him by the local landowner Lord Rolle – a gent who’d probably benefited from smuggled goods. Then there was ‘Resurrection’ Bob Elliott of Brixham, who faked his own death so that smuggled goods could be transported in his very large coffin.
When I first explored the paths of Devon and Dorset, I’d discuss the smugglers with many an old man or woman in the villages. A few times I was taken to see some old smugglers’ hiding places in cottages in places like Beer and Branscombe. I often wonder if their present-day owners are even aware of them? All along the English coast are coastguard cottages, such as those at Birling Gap in Sussex and East Prawle in Devon, built right on the coast as a deterrent and so the Revenue men were right on the spot.
If you’ve ever walked all or part of the South West Coast Path, then you are using paths not just used by smugglers, but also the Revenue men whose job it was to catch them. A dangerous profession at times. In Branscombe Churchyard is the tomb of a Revenue man who was found dead at the foot of the local cliffs. Another was found drowned in the marshes at Dawlish Warren. Smuggling gangs like those operating out of Hawkshurst in Kent were particularly vicious.
But many a Revenue man probably turned a blind eye in exchange for a consideration from the smugglers. Local landowners, magistrates and even vicars were often in the smugglers pay.
Some even went further. Places like Otterton and East Budleigh in east Devon were hotbeds of smuggling, with probably all the villagers involved, much of it run by the local vicars the Reverend Mundy and Ambrose Stapleton, notorious smuggling churchmen, rather like the fictional Doctor Syn in Russell Thorndike’s famous smuggling novels set in Kent on Romney Marsh (do read them, they are quite wonderful, and were one of the inspirations for my own William Quest novels.)
This was no makeshift industry, smuggling was run on a very commercial basis, with active workers, shareholders and customers from all sections of society, including shipowners and inland transporters, who would move and, where necessary, conceal contraband in well-prepared hiding places. In the Poldark novels of Winston Graham, that author portrays – very accurately – the activities of the smuggling leader Mr Trencrom. That’s how it would have been.
Walk up the old paths in places like East Devon and Dorset and you can well imagine what it must have been like, as smugglers brought contraband up for secret coves for distribution inland. Many a local would have been told to “watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by” as in Kipling’s famous poem.
Another poet, who would have heard the tales, was Thomas Hardy, who captures the mood in his poem Winter Night in Woodland:
Out there, on the verge, where a path wavers through,
Dark figures, filed singly, thrid quickly the view,
Yet heavily laden: land-carriers are they
In the hire of smugglers from some nearest bay,
Each bears his two ‘tubs’, slung across, one in front, one behind,
To a further snug hiding, which non but themselves are to find.
Many a time I’ve walked these old tracks at night, when only the foxes and badgers are about. You can almost sense the phantoms of the old smuggling gentry if you explore our old ways when nobody else is about.
Smuggling seems to appeal to the lawless side of the British character, people who wouldn’t tolerate other crimes. I can remember walking a path up from Beer with an old walking pal when we half-seriously discussed resurrecting the old smuggling methods. We did both live in Teignmouth, after all!
On reflection we decided against it, which was probably just as well.
But many years later, in a Cornish village, not far from the coast, I found myself in an interesting situation where something morally right was being done, even though it was infringing the law of the land. Two old ladies telephoned their fellow villagers, insisting that they “didn’t look out of their windows for a couple of hours, lest they see something they shouldn’t.”
The villagers obliged and there were no witnesses.
For a while I felt I was living in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ASmuggler’s Song:
IF you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet, Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street, Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie. Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.
Five and twenty ponies, Trotting through the dark – Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk. Laces for a lady; letters for a spy, Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by!
Running round the woodlump if you chance to find Little barrels, roped and tarred, all full of brandy-wine, Don’t you shout to come and look, nor use ’em for your play. Put the brishwood back again – and they’ll be gone next day !
If you see the stable-door setting open wide; If you see a tired horse lying down inside; If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore; If the lining’s wet and warm – don’t you ask no more !
If you meet King George’s men, dressed in blue and red, You be careful what you say, and mindful what is said. If they call you ” pretty maid,” and chuck you ‘neath the chin, Don’t you tell where no one is, nor yet where no one’s been !
Knocks and footsteps round the house – whistles after dark – You’ve no call for running out till the house-dogs bark. Trusty’s here, and Pincher’s here, and see how dumb they lie They don’t fret to follow when the Gentlemen go by !
‘If You do as you’ve been told, ‘likely there’s a chance, You’ll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France, With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood – A present from the Gentlemen, along ‘o being good !
Five and twenty ponies, Trotting through the dark – Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk. Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie – Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by !