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…

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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.

The Stopping Places

Damian Le Bas, The Stopping Places: A Journey through Gypsy Britain (London: Chatto and Windus 2018). ISBN: 978178471037. Hardback, price £14.99. A review by John Bainbridge. The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain by [Bas, Damian Le]

In this fascinating and well-written book, Damian Le Bas overturns many of the public perceptions about modern Gypsies and their way of life, but carefully references Romany heritage and the old travelling traditions.

The stopping places of the book are the atchin tans, the places where Gypsies and Travellers – and Le Bas is rightly insistent that those are ethnic descriptions and should be capitalised – rested up in the past, and sometimes still do. Inspired by family stories, Le Bas set out to visit some of the best known of these in Britain – with a brief diversion to the Camargue for the Romany pilgrimage celebrating Saint Sara. Le Bas sets out not in a horse-drawn vardo, or even a modern caravan, but in a transit van.

But the journey is not just some Gypsy travelogue, which merely details places visited. It’s an examination of what it means to be Romany in the 21st century. As he journeys between stopping places, the author discovers as much about himself as the stretches of countryside where his forebears often lingered.

The wider public have a perception of just what a Gypsy should be. Damian Le Bas doesn’t immediately fill that stereotypical description. He is particularly fair in looks, went to public school, has a first-class degree in theology from Oxford University. He acts, writes poetry and is an artist. It demonstrates a great deal about how misunderstood this one minority group is, that any of the above should seem strange at all. One of the joys of this book is that it banishes so many public perceptions and prejudices.

Le Bas is a most self-effacing author, not the least boastful, often admitting to finding life on the road difficult. He is nervous about spending the nights alone in remote places. He has trouble being accepted by other Gypsies as one of their own. There’s a telling example where he’s ‘faced out’ from the traditional camping ground at the Appleby Horse Fair by an aggressive opponent who questions his very right to be there. He’s looked on with suspicion by some of the Romanies at the Feast of St Sara. But opposition is often removed by Le Bas’s considerable knowledge of Anglo-Romani. Interesting too that, because of that understanding, he finds he can relate easily to the Roma who have settled in Britain in recent years.

His passages on Romanes, and how the language is used today are very relevant to anyone with an interest in the language. George Borrow gets a too-brief mention, but there’s a good account of that great Rai John Sampson’s researches into the pure Romani of the Welsh Gypsies. There’s a useful glossary in the book for beginners, interestingly with some word variations I haven’t encountered before.

The book is beautifully written. Le Bas has the true writer’s gift of being able to summon up the atmosphere of a place in just a few lines, whether the particular atchin tan is in some beautiful location or somewhere hideous or threatening. He has a similar skill in describing the people he encounters. They come alive from the page, often in just a few words.

If you are near Keswick in March, the author will be giving a talk at the theatre there, during the Words on the Water Literary Festival.

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.

A Waste Land Rebellion, walking to church and opium dealing

A village where the locals attacked a common land intrusion by their landowner, following a path where the “big house” servants walked to church, and tea importers with a sideline in opium dealing. The history you encounter on a five-mile walk in the countryside of Westmorland.

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Crosby Ravensworth Church (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We set out from the village of Crosby Ravensworth, walking to Flass House. This path, running along the banks of the pretty River Lyvennet, was used by the servants of Flass each sunday as they made their way to church in Crosby Ravensworth. To facilitate their passage, the owners of Flass built two beautiful step stiles in the drystone walls. They’re still there today, and I hope they remain safe from the zealots who want every stile destroyed in favour of gates.

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A stepstile for servants (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A pretty path, the river a delight and the autumn colours quite beautiful. A heron stood as still as a sculpture in the water, looking for fish. It took off after a while, flapping like something out of prehistoric times, its weird cry echoing across the landscape. I’ve always liked herons. There’s something so wonderful about these riparian denizens.

As we walked, I thought a lot about the servants of Flass, obliged to go to church in their few hours of leisure. Programmes like Downton Abbey give the impression that being a servant was great fun. It wasn’t. It was darned hard work, with little time for yourself and appalling pay. I’m old enough to remember lots of old people who’d been in service – it was a huge chunk of the British population until World War Two. I can’t recall one who looked back fondly on their days of servitude, or felt particularly charitable towards their so-called “masters”.

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The pheasant-shooters tunnel (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The Dent family, who owned Flass, made their money from tea and opium importing – though we should note that opium was perfectly legal in those days. Hence all the opium dens around the country (I put one in my novel Deadly Quest – those of us who write Victorian crime stories love the idea), and, of course, poets like Wordsworth and writers like de Quincy spent most of the time high on the stuff and its derivative, laudanum.

Interestingly, given its history, a more recent occupier of Flass was raided and jailed for running a cannabis factory from the premises – sort of appropriate in a way.

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The bounds of Flass House (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The path goes through a tunnel just before you reach the high back wall of Flass, carrying a track into the owner’s pheasant preserves. The path beyond was beautiful in the autumn light, like an Atkinson Grimshaw painting, or something out of a ghost story by MR James.

Flass House, built in 1851, is currently empty and being renovated. We thought the house was an ugly pile, a long way from its Italianate or Palladian influences. But you can see the back gate in the surrounding wall through which the servants would emerge every sunday for their walk to church.

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Flass House (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A few hundred yards on brought us into the pretty village of Maulds Meaburn, one of only three left in England where sheep still graze on the village green. This was once the village “waste”, land common to all. It was the scene of a modest rebellion way back in 1585 (October 22nd, to be precise), when the villagers fought off an attempt by their landlord to build on their waste.

The landowner, Christopher Lowther, built a little court-house in the middle of the green, an intrusion into the villagers’ ancient rights. The village wives abused the workmen Lowther had hired and Lowther himself. They threw stones at them, but the building went on. On the night of 28th October, a number of Lowther’s tenants, led by one James Fletcher, armed with pitchforks, axes, long-piked sticks, swords, dagger and other “unlawful engines”, attacked the building and razed it to the ground.

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Maulds Meaburn Green (c) John Bainbridge 2018

It all led to a court case in York, where the villagers argued that, according to the indentures, the lord couldn’t build on the waste without the villagers consent. That if they ignored the intrusion, he might further encroach on their common ground. They said that Lowther refused to listen.

Taking on a landowner in 1586 was seldom a good idea. Lowther won compensation of £8, and the attacking villagers were fined between 40 shillings and £3 as a punishment. Still Lowther wasn’t satisfied, bringing the matter to trial again. He managed to obtain a decree to have a piece of the ground to build his court house.

The Lowthers had incredible power over the populace (some might argue the family still do!) His tenants in Maulds Meaburn were obliged to carry sixty loads of coal, paying themselves in advance, from the pits on Stainmore, and having to haul it the many miles to Lowther Hall. This too led eventually to a legal dispute. The ruling still came down on Lowther’s side, though the tenants were granted the right to take the coal only as far as Meaburn Hall, instead of Lowther.

Today, the green is peaceful, the river idyllic and the cottages picturesque. There can’t be a village in the land that isn’t able to tell similar bitter stories.

To get a view over the whole valley, we followed the footpaths and lanes up to Brackenslack, then paths back down to Maulds Meaburn, before walking back past Flass to Crosby Ravensworth, now walking in the direction the servants would have taken on their way to church.DSCF0796

In the churchyard, we examined the graves of some members of the tea and opium dealing Dent family. The two villages have really changed very little since they lived here, and their servants walked the old ways of the Lyvennet valley.

A few blogs ago, I reported that Beacon Hill in Penrith was under threat from plans by the Lowther family to build on this grand high place. I’m pleased to report that public protest has persuaded the Lowther estate to withdraw their plans – at least for the high points of the Beacon.