Wainwright suggests routes up to Bonscale Pike above Ullswater from Howtown, but there is a pleasant longer route from Askham, which has the advantage of showing the walker some of the important archaeological remains on Askham Fell and Moor Divock.
We did this eleven mile walk on Easter Sunday morning, on a bright day of good clear views that still gave us a shower of very fine snowflakes. The mountains towards Helvellyn were coated in snow on their summits, but our walk was clear of all but the slightest remnants of our long winter.
Askham is such a picturesque village and walking up from there usually offers a glimpse of some of the now rare fell ponies, which used to negotiate with their loads so many of the ancient paths of the Lake District.
A good bridleway leads up on to Askham Fell and Moor Divock. I’ve written on previous blogs about some of the important archaeology of this corner of the Lake District – cairns, stone circles and rows, standing stones. Undoubtedly, our prehistoric ancestors held this land to be sacred.
Here too is part of the route of High Street, the Roman road along which the legions marched from the Eden Valley to Ambleside
You can spend a fascinating day just walking its ancient acres.
But we walked on past the Cockpit stone circle, to hit a small stretch of the Ullswater Way, before taking the path past White Knott to the top of Arthur’s Pike. Bursting with energy, we soon got to the top, admiring the long views over Ullswater.
Heading around the top of the Swarth Beck, we went on to Bonscale Pike with its two (little) stone cairn towers.
Bonscale really is a terrific viewpoint – such grand vistas across to Hallin Fell, down to Howtown Wyke and across the lake to the mighty tops around Glenridding and Patterdale.
We walked back across Barton Fell to the prehistoric sanctuary of Askham Fell and Moor Divock, before descending down to Askham.
The crowds were out by now, being the Easter holidays, people enjoying a sunny day out after the long winter. These fells above Askham offer easy walking in good wide tracks – some of which are probably ancient and others of more recent origin, perhaps created to facilitate grouse shooting in more recent times gone by.
There’s something really interesting in walking the tracks of one of the country estates of the so-called landed gentry. We did it the other day on the Lowther Estate near to Penrith on the edge of the Lake District.
What I find fascinating is that so many rights of way continue to exist in such places, particularly in the north of England. It’s often a different story in other parts of Britain.
It was not unusual for the landowning upper classes to close paths near to their stately homes. As most of the landowners were also magistrates, Justices of the Peace, and it only took two of them to close a right of way, many of the old ways were lost in recent centuries. Closing old paths was, as Victorian country writer Richard Jefferies noted, very unpopular amongst the surrounding peasantry.
Whether to court that local hate was a calculated decision by the squirearchy.
But wander down to the south and parts of East Anglia and you’ll find many a country estate with nary a path across them. I’ve spent many a long day trespassing on these forbidden lands.
But you can get a fair idea of the Lowther Estate by walking the surviving rights of way. We set out from Askham, that beautiful little village on the edge of the estate. Lowther Castle has been a roofless ruin since 1957 and the family now live at Askham Hall, which is a much more attractive building anyway.
The family were the Viscounts and then the Earls of Lonsdale, and over the centuries many well-known names visited them, including William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and – just before the Great War – Kaiser Wilhelm II. The two poets endowed the estate with some poor but oft-quoted examples of their verse.
The walk through the Askham side of the estate and the old deer park on rights of way is very pretty, especially on a Spring day. Passing Askham Hall, we followed a bridleway and then a footpath down to Heining Wood and then down to the River Lowther – quite something to have a river named after you!
We walked up through Lowther Park up towards the ruin of the castle, and out to the estate church and the mausoleum where members of the family lie. The church is not particularly attractive on the outside, through the interior is rather charming in its way.
Then a footpath alongside the river, through the deer park to the oddly-named hamlet of Whale. Rather beautiful in the warm weather. We saw no deer on our day out, though there are some left out on the neighbouring fells – it was the deer that Kaiser Bill came to shoot on his pre-war visit.
The fifth Earl of Lonsdale, who used to enjoy his billing as “England’s premier sportsman” was a keen stalker. He also hated walkers exploring the Lakeland Fells within his estate (more or less everything east of Ullswater), and attempted to bar access by fellwalkers, branding everyone who rambled for pleasure as thieves, vandals and arsonists. Fortunately, his attitude didn’t prevail and the fells are now open for all to enjoy.
Crossing the river below Whale, we took a most delightful enclosed bridleway up to Helton, before following the lane back to Askham.
On the way back I remembered how William Wordsworth, on his way to dine at Lowther Castle one day, took direct action against a neighbouring landowner who’d obstructed a right of way. I related the tale in my book The Compleat Trespasser:
The Tory poet William Wordsworth took direct action to break open a blocked right of way on the land of Sir John Wallace, when journeying to Lowther Castle for a dinner held in the poet’s honour.
During the meal an apoplectic Sir John complained that his wall had been broken down and, if he ever found out who was responsible, he would get out his horsewhip.
At which point Wordsworth got to his feet, saying “I broke down your wall, Sir John. It was obstructing an ancient right of way, and I will do it again. I am a Tory, but scratch me on the back deep enough and you will find the Whig in me yet”. A witness to Wordsworth’s action stated that the poet attacked the obstructing wall “as if it were a living enemy”.
I’m not Wordsworth’s greatest fan, but you’ve got to have some admiration for anyone happy to disrupt a dinner party with such a sentiment. Nothing like a bit of direct action – we should all do it more often…