On a scorching Monday morning, we walked the north-west corner of Derwent Water, passing Fawe Park, in Victorian times the scene of access battles and trespassing protests. Battles long over, though, interestingly, there is still an appalling lack of public access on that corner of a very beautiful lake.
Not that there aren’t rights of way – there are. But not as many as along the other banks of Derwent Water. And there is a strong presumption that walkers shouldn’t stray from the signposted tracks. And even as you walk through the beautiful woodland, you are often corralled in between unnecessary fences.
When we think of the need to trespass, we tend to dwell on the battles in the Peak District and the Forest of Bowland – though the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) has remedied some of these problems.
But the Lake District has had periods were traditional access has been denied. Before World War Two, the Lowther Estates tried to deny access to much of the hill country east of Angle Tarn.
But back in Victoria’s reign, when the rich took to building new houses in the most picturesque corners of the Lake District, there were considerable battles. Newcomers to the district closed at least twenty-two footpaths around Ambleside, there was an attempt to restrict access to the Stockghyll Force waterfall, landowners tried to deny access to the summit of Latrigg Fell – all places were people had traditionally walked.
Even earlier, William Wordsworth, by then a pro-landowning Tory, was so incensed by the blockage of an ancient path that he tore away the obstruction, as I’ve related in my book The Compleat Trespasser.
In the 1850s, James Spencer-Bell built the house of Fawe Park on the shores of Derwentwater. Riders and walkers had used the nearby ancient track going through the estate for generations. He died in 1872, leaving the property to his wife and eldest son. In 1885 access to the path was blocked on the grounds that its use invaded their privacy. Discussions were held with Mrs Spencer-Bell, after the death of her son, but she was unwilling to compromise.
In 1887, the Keswick Footpaths Association, compiled a report on the evidence supporting the public’s right to use the footpath across Fawe Park and this was submitted to Counsel for legal opinion. The lawyers opinion supported the existence of the right of way. On the 30 August of that year, local campaigners Mr Jenkinson and Mr Routh Fitzpatrick led a protest group to Fawe Park where they were confronted by Mrs Spencer-Bell who refused to remove the barriers. Mr Routh Fitzpatrick ordered the barricades down and proceeded to lead his walkers along the path.
Undaunted, Mrs Spencer-Bell restored the barriers.
Equally undaunted, the footpath association declared that they would remove the barriers again on on 28 September. At least of 500 protestors – many of them leading members of the local community – marched on Fawe Park, removing the barriers and taking the old track.
This time, Mrs Spencer Bell yielded to pressure and no further attempts were made to close the footpath.
But, the thought occurred to me as we walked, this is still the area around Derwent Water with the least access. There are Private – Keep Out signs on either side of the Derwent Water circuit path. There are, if you are walking north from Hawse End, only a couple of places where you can access the lake, the most prominent being by the boat station at Nichol End.
The other is at Lingholm, where – by grace and favour – you can walk down to the lake courtesy of the owners of the cafe. And very beautiful it is too, with its connections to Beatrix Potter, who stayed there and Fawe Park, and used both as settings for her delightful stories. You can also visit the impressive walled garden there.
But some of the countryside around is still out of bounds.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it, England and Wales needs the kind of Land Reform, with the massively increased access rights, that we enjoy every time we go walking in Scotland.
No more piecemeal access!
We want the real thing!
(c) Text and pictures John Bainbridge 2019