A Walk to Robin Hood’s Grave

Since we first discovered the area, we often walk up from the village of Orton, in Westmorland, to visit Robin Hood’s Grave. It’s of particular interest to me because I have a great interest in the Robin Hood legends and have written four historical novels about his adventures. So impressed was I with the area around this supposed grave, that I started my novel Villain up on these wild northern fells.

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Robin Hood’s Grave (c) John Bainbridge 2019

It’s a grand place for a country walk of several miles, with good clear views of the Lakeland mountains and the Pennines.

We left Orton early, passing the ancient pillory, where wrongdoers, or perhaps just the
unfortunate poor, would have been subjected to punishment and humiliation, and the even older parish church, taking the footpath that eventually leads to Crosby Ravensworth, crossing a number of old stiles in stone-walled fields.

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The Pillory in Orton (c) John Bainbridge 2019

After a long ascent we reached an old lime-kiln and then the edge of Orton Scar. Thankfully, this area of moorland, with some outstanding limestone pavements, has now been put into a National Park – not before time.

At this point the old track becomes more defined, wider and you can see the wheel ruts of carts, which perhaps carried the refined lime down to Crosby.

You follow this track through some splendid heather moorland, keeping in the hollow and ignoring cross tracks until you reach the pile of stones that is Robin Hood’s Grave.
It almost certainly isn’t, but it is a very dramatic setting. If you read the best historical work on the outlaw, by J. C. Holt, you will discover that Robin Hood, or more often RobinHood as one word, became a generic term for many an outlaw.

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A Path near Orton (c) John Bainbridge 2019

There’s quite a tradition of Robin Hood in Westmorland and Cumberland. Where the stories originate is debateable. The old ballads suggest Barnsdale, but they are the first versions actually written down – it’s likely there were earlier oral ballads, probably with a different location.

They might have first gained ground here or in Sherwood Forest or Wakefield or wherever. The great local outlaw in Inglewood Forest, nearer to Carlisle, is Adam Bell, some of whose adventures are very similar to Robin Hood’s.

There are several purported Robin Hood graves scattered across England, some more dubious than others. But I suppose Robin Hood never really died – he lives on in the hearts and minds of devotees. The whole subject of medieval outlawry is fascinating, the outlaws of old would have walked many of the tracks we now follow as public footpaths and bridleways.

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Robin Hood’s Grave (c) John Bainbridge 2019

From the grave we followed the Coast to Coast Path, created by the almost legendary Alfred Wainwright, an easy walk across some wild countryside, following the trail back into Orton.

A good walk this and interesting to see another reminder of the Robin Hood legend.

 

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My novels about Robin Hood, which make up the four novel sequence The Chronicles of Robin Hood are all now out in paperback and as a Kindle Ebook. Just click on the link for a sneak preview or to order.

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

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Echoes of the Past

When I walk I always see more than one landscape. There’s obviously what you see out on your walk today, but there are all those other landscapes too. The landscapes of the past, and those are all merged together in the present lie of the land – a glorious palimpsest.

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Stepping Stones at Crosby Ravnsworth (c) John Bainbridge 2019

For the observant walker, this is a joy, for it brings our history to life, many periods of that history, and all there to be considered.

When I see ancient plough marks I can almost see the ancient ploughman who made them, rather like an illustration on a modern paperback of Piers Plowman. See that ruined cottage and think of the people who lived there perhaps a century or two ago. Walk the old paths and think of the way they were used in past times. You can almost visualise the users.DSCF1246

These thoughts crossed my mind the other day when we walked out from Crosby Ravensworth – (once in Westmorland, now in Cumbria and also part of the Westmorland Dales portion of the Yorkshire Dales National Park just to confuse you completely.)

These are lands once farmed by Saxons and Viking Settlers. I imagine they’d still feel at home in this winding valley of the Lyvennet. Drovers came this way too, all through the long centuries, taking their beasts to distant markets.

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On the Lyvennet (c) John Bainbridge 2019

If you’ve read past blogs, you’ll know we’ve been discovering the many footpaths and bridleways in the area around Crosby Ravensworth and the neighbouring community of Maulds Meaburn. Worth exploring too, for these paths wander through some beautiful countryside and are little walked compared to the nearby Lake District.

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On the Servants’ Path (c) John Bainbridge 2019

The paths too are in mostly good condition, reasonably waymarked and passing through some very interesting places. The Yorkshire Dales National Park people, who have taken on this corner of old Westmorland, have already been busy with route-marking and have produced a splendid leaflet featuring two good introductory walks in the district – you can pick up a leaflet free from the shelters in the two villages.

I’ve described before the Servant’s Path (see blogs passim), between Flass House and Crosby Ravensworth parish church, along which the servants from the big house used to walk each Sunday. There are some beautiful stone stiles, works of art which must never be destroyed, to facilitate their and now our journeys. We use this paths to Maulds Meaburn a lot, and very beautiful it is too, first by the waters of the River Lyvennet, then along the back wall of Flass House. So atmospheric that you can almost sense the servants on their way to church.

Then Maulds Meaburn, a community of picturesque and ancient cottages clustered around a village green, one of only three left in England where sheep still graze freely. History too for it was the scene of a rural rebellion in 1585 – see my blog of October 24th 2018 for the full story and for more about this fascinating place.

We followed the footpath up through the fields above, crossing Scattergate Gill, which had hardly any water, to Brackenslack Lane. A quiet lane with no traffic in the mile or so of our ascent. Some grand views too, over Crosby Ravensworth Fell, and with the North Pennines and Lake District mountains in the distance.

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Cowslips (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A beautiful lane too adorned with the last of the bluebells, and the treat of cowslips, which are not so common here. I’m always reminded of Shakespeare’s lines in A Midsummer Night’s Dream –

And I serve the Fairy Queen
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours.
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

Shakespeare was undoubtedly an observant country walker.

We took a footpath from Trainlands, along a very defined track up past Trainlands Plantation – hard won fields at some point in history, leading up to rougher grazing which must have been wilder fell once upon a time. We came out on to the main Appleby to Orton road by the St Croix Plantation – now there’s an interesting name for an English wood. Why St Croix?

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The Ruined Cottage (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A long footpath led down past Hull Barn back to Crosby Ravensworth. Close to the top is Cottage Plantation, now mostly cleared. Hidden behind a stone wall are the ruins of the cottage which gave the wood its name. A haunting place, long deserted I suppose, and you wonder who lived here and why they gave up their home.

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Hull Barn (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Through fields of sheep and cows we descended, all the time the church tower of Crosby Ravensworth in view.

So much English history in so little space…

 

Mostly about Bluebells

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Around this time of the year they appear, and draw crowds of admirers. And I’m one. I look forward to seeing the bluebells and can’t wait until they make their first appearance of the year.

They are a stunning sight, whether as part of a woodland floor, or covering bare hillsides.

On Sunday we walked up to Flakebridge Wood, near to Appleby in Cumbria. A pleasant walk up Well House Lane, a quiet no through road, its own banks lined with the flowers. Flakebridge has some of the best bluebells in Cumbria and it is worth the trip if you are nearby. You can walk out the way we went, or start from Dufton, rambling through the bluebell-rich Dufton Gill on the way.

If you are in Devon, at the other end of the country, try looking at the lower banks of the River Mardle on south-east Dartmoor, or the southern slopes of Fire Beacon above Sidmouth.

Why are we so stunned by the sight of flowers? Why do we pause for a while to admire that great view across the countryside? What is it in our human make up that makes us appreciate such things?DSCF1150

I don’t have any answers. Only that life would be poorer if there were no bluebells. If they were about for much of the year, perhaps we’d take them for granted. It’s the brief glimpse that makes us admire them and miss them when they’ve gone.

So get out there into the countryside and enjoy them while you can – and fight to preserve the woodlands where they grow. The thought that future generations might not see such sights is thoroughly despairing – yet many of our ancient woodlands are under terrible threat from developers and exploiters.

Britain has lost much of its ancient woodlands – we should make sure that this destruction ends. So please support at least one group that is fighting for our countryside.

Over the next couple of weeks we are going out to seek more bluebells.

 

Exploring Unknown Footpaths

Richard Jefferies, the Victorian country chronicler, was always full of praise for country footpaths – “always get over a stile” was his motto. And he was right. You never know what you might find when you take a walk down a public footpath or bridleway that you haven’t been down before.

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The Modern Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A few blogs ago, I mentioned that we had started to explore public footpaths to the west of the Cumbrian (properly Westmorland) village of Maulds Meaburn. We just scratched the surface last time. This time we walked further into unknown countryside.

And what did we see? Well, how about two modern stone circles? A house lived in by a Victorian artist? A quiet and peaceful hamlet with a coal-mining history? Not to mention some very peaceful and, I suspect, mostly untrodden countryside – and I mean that. While locals may use these paths, there were few signs that ramblers from further afield come here very often.

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Snowdrops in the lane (c) John Bainbridge 2019

We set off from Crosby Ravensworth, following the now familiar Servants’ Path (see blogs passim) past Flass House to Maulds Meaburn, that charming village where sheep still graze on the village greens.

Just past Low Bridge, we took the footpath to Howebeck Bridge, where there is a splendid and ancient stone step stile out on to the lane. At the foot of Morland Bank, we took the footpath past the charmingly named Prickly Bank Wood towards Reagill hamlet. Judging by the lack of footprints, not many people walk this way, though the path runs through charming countryside with good view over the Pennines. There are also some splendid old agricultural buildings along the route.

Before we got to Reagill, below Beechwood Farm, we noticed that someone had built a small but well made stone circle, to a prehistoric design. And not much further on, just before we struck the Reagill lane, we saw another modern circle, inscribed with mystical words. I’d be fascinated to know more about these and why they were built. if you know, please comment below.

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Old Agricultural Building (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Reagill seems to be one of the hamlets that time forgot, though it has an interesting history. It was once called Renegill, and the nearby Grange was the home of the 19th century artist and sculptor Thomas Bland, who decorated the neighbourhood with some of his sculpted work. In centuries past, the rich seem of coal that runs underground here was worked on a small-scale, though there a record of at least one fatality.

But now Reagill is a place of peace, clinging to its hillside, high above the Eden valley, with vast views across to the Pennines. Apart from locals, you wonder who ever comes here? Yet there are a number of public footpaths around the place, which deserve to be better known and used.

We followed the lane down past Reagill Grange, once the home of Thomas Bland, taking the bridleway and then a footpath to the very small hamlet of Witherslack (lovely name!) which is little more than a working farm.

Although you can walk back to Crosby Ravensworth by paths, we chose to follow the quiet lanes, as they offer wide views across the valley of the River Lyvenett.

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River Lyvenett (c) John Bainbridge 2019

All through our walk we didn’t see another walker, despite this being unspoiled and very attractive countryside. Yet walking the old ways is important. Without regular use, they may simply be lost.

How splendid if guidebook writers would abandon the well-walked areas and turn their pens to writing up walks on the little-used footpaths and bridleways…

Land Beyond Domesday

The Domesday book was William of Normandy’s great survey of England, as he consolidated his realm after his invasion of England in 1066 – though the Domesday Book wasn’t begun until 1085. As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has it:

Then, at the midwinter, was the king in Gloucester with his council … . After this had the king a large meeting, and very deep consultation with his council, about this land; how it was occupied, and by what sort of men. Then sent he his men over all England into each shire; commissioning them to find out “How many hundreds of hides were in the shire, what land the king himself had, and what stock upon the land; or, what dues he ought to have by the year from the shire.”

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Bandley Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Contrary to popular belief, William the Bastard (as he was better known at the time) didn’t achieve victory in 1066. It took several bloody years to subdue England. In some parts of the country – in the north and the west – his troops carried out what can only be described as ethnic cleansing of the Anglo-Saxon and Norse populations.

Nevertheless, the Domesday Book is very useful for historians. I often referred to it when I was writing topographical books and articles in the past. But, in reality, the Domesday Book is a snapshot of late Anglo-Saxon England, for the Normans were had only just begun to make their mark by 1085.

So it always comes as a surprise that you can walk in parts of England that get no mention at all in the Domesday Book, as we did the other day. For much of what we now call Cumbria doesn’t feature in Domesday at all. Why Not? Because at the time they were not in England at all – they were in Scotland. And even then they were mostly settled by Norsemen. The Vikings who had gone beyond raiding, settling instead.

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Bandley Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A couple of blogs ago, I mentioned the Hoff Beck (two Norse words) and the fact that the Eden Rivers Trust has established a walk along some of its length, describing our walk from Bandley Bridge (first recorded as a crossing place in 1292) to Rutter Force. (Force – another Norse word).

The other day, we strolled the other part of the Hoff Beck walk to the settlement of Colby – another place, like nearby Appleby, settled by the Norse folk. Look at the -by at the end of those names. A clear indicator of a place-name of Norse origins. Appleby might have gone on to be the County Town of Westmorland, and, even though a Roman road ran by it, it probably didn’t exist before the Vikings settled there.

Bandley Bridge is interesting, for though the footbridge is relatively modern, there must probably have always been a bridge there, for there is no obvious ford and the 1292 record specifically refers to a brig or bridge.

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Bandley Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2019

It’s in lonely countryside, walked mostly by locals and those ramblers who’ve sought out the Dales High Way track across and around the Pennines. It’s a place full of atmosphere too, probably not changed that much since those ancient times.

We followed the Hoff Beck down to Colby, where the little river becomes the Colby Beck, before seeking out the greater waters of the River Eden. A long drawn-out hamlet, Colby, of cottages of varying ages. No doubt many built on sites that were used a thousand years ago. And, in a gap between the settlements, there’s a field full of bumps and mounds, which might repay some archaeological investigation. I often wonder if it was the site of the original Norse settlement.

We crossed the Colby Beck at a bridge over what was clearly an ancient fording place, and took the farm track towards Colby Laithes. Go beyond the farm and there’s a set of large stepping stones not marked on the Ordnance Survey map, but which look as though they’ve been there for centuries. You can cross them and follow the River Eden much of the way back to Appleby.

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The Track To Thistley Hill (c) John Bainbridge 2019

We didn’t, preferring the higher path over Thistly Hill, which offered fine views over the snow-covered Pennines. An old track this, for although it seems to be a headland path around the edges of fields, it is wider than most headland paths and distinct on level and vegetation from the neighbouring fields, suggesting that this is a old way, from which the hedge on one side has been removed.

It eventually enters woodland just before Appleby, at an interesting junction with another old track coming up from the river. Paths that have almost certainly existed for centuries, and perhaps for the thousand years when this was all the territory of the Norsemen, part of Scotland, and way outside William the Bastard’s Domesday Book.

 

 

A Land of Peaceful Footpaths

I never walk a public footpath without wondering why it’s there? We’re fortunate to have so many of these fascinating tracks to explore, many of them deep-rooted in our social history.

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Path west of Mains Wood (C) John Bainbridge 2019

We’ve walked several times from Crosby Ravensworth in the Westmorland Dales (although now in Cumbria, the Dales are part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park). It shows in the quality of the footpaths. National Park staff have been busy waymarking the paths in the area and producing a leaflet of some suggested walks.) We’ve often gone up on to Crosby Ravensworth Fell, glorious wild country, and I blogged a walk to Maulds Meaburn via Flass House on October 24th last year.

We repeated the first part of that walk on Sunday, taking the path past Flass House – built by Victorians on the profits of the opium trade – to reach Maulds Meaburn. As I noted in my October blog, this path by the River Lyvennet was made-up by the owners so that their servants might more easily access Crosby Ravensworth church every Sunday.

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The Servants’ Path (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A fascinating path in so many ways, but we’d really come to look at the paths west of Maulds Meaburn village. Looking at the map, we saw quite a network of paths criss-crossing the area. Too many to explore on one walk, so we thought we’d sample a few to get the lie of the land.

Maulds Meaburn’s a fascinating village in so many ways. It’s one of the three villages in England where sheep are still grazed on the village green.

Many of the cottages show evidence of the crofts and tofts grazing system, where each house had its own narrow strip of arable land to the rear – a common practice in medieval times. These segments of land still exist, and the map indicates earthworks running along the furthest-most boundary, undoubtedly offering protection to the crofts in earlier times. It was also a village with a rebellious nature, as I related on my October blog.

Just beyond Low Bridge, at the northernmost point of the village, we headed west up a footpath to Mains Wood. This long strip of woodland probably originated as a hunting or shooting covert (you don’t pronounce the t) and there was some evidence that it is today, as it appears to be owned by the ubiquitous Lowther Estates.

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Old Road Sign in Maulds Meaburn (c) John Bainbridge 2019

In the midst of the wood there’s a wider access track, and here we met a friendly farmer on his quad bike – farmers in these areas seem to be particularly welcoming to walkers, which is nice. Emerging from the wood, the path ran beneath a splendid avenue of trees. They were rumbling and groaning in the fierce wind that was sweeping the valley and hill slopes.

The path offered a fine view over a lot of splendid and unspoiled fields, all the way to the distant and snow-capped Pennine heights around High Cup Nick and Roman Fell…

And there were several enticing footpaths, heading in several directions across this attractive and I suspect seldom-visited countryside. A temptation for another day.

We took a path heading south past a well-kept stone-barn (technically you should, I suspect, describe it as a ‘cow ‘us’ – cow house). We glimpsed inside. The stalls were intact and though it didn’t appear to be in use, you could see an interior that has probably not changed for several generations.

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Cow ‘Us (c) John Bainbridge 2019

South of the barn was a bridleway, sometimes enclosed – suggesting that it is particularly ancient – and often just along the edges of fields, where agricultural improvements have removed one of the enclosing hedges.

The track wound down to Crake Trees – we didn’t take the path to the ruins of the 12th century manor, as we’re saving that for another day, and soon found ourselves back on the lane leading back into Crosby Ravensworth.

A walk of less than five miles, undertaken on a gusty and freezing January day, but in that short space history dating back a thousand years or more.

The Victorian naturalist Richard Jefferies (do read his books) said somewhere that every footpath is worthy of exploration and has something interesting along its route. He was right – another reason why we should preserve our paths along their original routes.

They are the old ways back into our history.

The Hoff Beck Walk

I was pleased to see that the Eden Rivers Trust has created a formal walk – the Hoff Beck Walk – along the lovely little river of that name close to Appleby in Westmorland. The new trail follows the Hoff Beck from Colby to the picturesque Rutter Falls, passing through peaceful and uncrowded countryside.

Rutter Falls (C) John Bainbridge 2019

I’ve walked the Hoff Beck many times over the years, starting from Appleby. It really is a grand stretch of river and you rarely see any other walkers. While I’ve walked the length of the new trail, I usually complete a circuit via the village of Ormside, returning along the River Eden.

The Eden Rivers Trust has placed informative noticeboards at several points along the walk, giving details of local history and riparian wildlife – the Hoff Beck is particularly good if you want to watch herons. I saw a kingfisher once near Bandley Bridge, and there are otters too – though you have to be lucky to see one. If you want a better chance do the walk just after dawn or in the late evening.

The other day, we walked out from Appleby, taking the attractive bridleway through Rachel’s Wood to Bandley Bridge. You can stroll downstream to Colby and back from here if you wish to. Although the footbridge at Bandley is relatively modern, the crossing place is ancient. The first record of a crossing here dates back to 1292, where it is described at Bangelmibrigg.

The crossing here probably dates back a long time before that, to the time when the Vikings settled around Appleby, giving the name to this river, Hoff and Beck are both Norse words in origin.

Following the Hoff Beck upstream, we descended to Cuddling Hole. Now I’ve always puzzled as to the origins of that name, my mind going off in various lascivious directions. I’ve been wrong in those assumptions and I should have known better, for I was well acquainted with a very similar word.

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The Hoff Beck (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Cuddling is a local expression for tickling trout, a way of catching them by hand. I really should have guessed, for guddling is a well-known expression in the Lake District (Arthur Ransome used it in his novel The Picts and the Martyrs – a terrific read which I recommend to you). Interestingly, the word used to be current on Dartmoor, very familiar with an old poacher I used to know there. Arthur Ransome used to fish in the nearby Eden – perhaps he tried the Hoff Beck as well?

A walk across the fields brought us to the hamlet of Hoff, where there’s a pub if you need refreshment. Some lovely ancient barns here. A place lost in time. The next few fields below Low Rutter farm can be muddy after wet weather, but on the frosty day we walked it they were fine.

I’ve done this walk in pelting rain, snow and in last summer’s heatwave and it offers something new each time. In last summer’s drought, the waterfall of Rutter Force had dried up altogether. Now the water was back, making the picturesque falls a delight to see. The building next to the force started out as a corn mill and was latterly a bobbin mill. With its footbridge and ford it must be another ancient crossing place, though I miss the tea shop that used to be there. It marks the official end of the Hoff Beck River Walk.

We walked up to the lane and crossed the fields to the house marked on the map as Porch Cottage, though now called the Donkey’s Nest. From there a quiet lane took us down under the Settle to Carlisle railway line to the peaceful village of Great Ormside.

The church here, standing next to a farmhouse with a Pele Tower, is one of England’s gems, built on a defensive mound that was used by both Saxons and Vikings. I’ve written in praise of it in my walking book Wayfarer’s Dole. As with many Christian buildings it began its existence as a Pagan site, used as a burial ground by the Vikings. Much of what you see today dates to the late 11th-century.

In 1823, the Ormside Bowl, Anglo-Saxon in origin and dating to the 7th or 8th century was found in the churchyard. It’s now in York Museum. In 1898 the body of a Viking warrior, complete with sword, was unearthed in the churchyard. You can see his sword at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.

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Great Ormside Church (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Sadly, cracks have appeared in the church tower and expensive repairs are needed. If you can send a donation to help please do.

The parishioners are certainly rallying round with fundraising measures. We bought a delicious jar of home-made marmalade, which was on sale in the church. So if you do visit take some spare cash to support this worthy cause!

Leaving the village, we went under the Settle-Carlisle railway once again, to follow the River Eden back to Appleby. This path starts in woodland high above the river, before descending to its banks, giving more chances to see wildlife. A peaceful stretch of river, now part of the Lady Anne’s Way trail – which follows in the steps of Lady Anne Clifford, the well-known diarist of the 17th century.

After the woodland ends, the path follows the river through water meadows, emerging at Jubilee Ford at Appleby – a popular crossing place for Gypsies during the Appleby Horse Fair week in June.

A grand walk of about eight miles – and it is good that the Eden Rivers Trust has delineated some of it as the Hoff Beck Walk – a Westmorland river that deserves to be better known.