A Stroll in the Westmorland Dales

The village of Orton’s original name was Sker-Overton, changed to Orton in the local dialect. I found this out when I was researching my novel Villain  – the third in the series which brings some reality back to the legend of Robin Hood. My book starts on the wild moorlands above Orton, before my villains return to Sherwood Forest.

Looking to Orton (c) John Bainbridge 2020

Curiously, there are a lot of Robin Hood links in this part of Cumbria. His “grave” is high above the village. It was a visit to that a couple of years ago which inspired the start of my book. There were a lot of outlaws in these parts in medieval times, not least Adam Bell in nearby Inglewood Forest.

The Knott (c) John Bainbridge 2020

Interestingly, the old manorial rights in Orton now belong – equally – to the freeholders of the village rather than some big-wig at the manor house. A Manor Court is still held, run really as a democratically elected committee, so no forelock-tugging to the squire in this parish.

Gamelands Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2020

And Orton now lies in the heart of the Westmorland Dales – part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, despite the village being in Cumbria and in Westmorland if you champion the old counties as I do.

The Jubilee Cross (c) John Bainbridge 2020

We had a short stroll out to the Gamelands stone circle, along what was once the main highway to Kirkby Stephen, usually a quiet road, but busy yesterday as farm tractors bustled along – the workers on the land labouring long hours to get their field grass cut and taken away.

The Gamelands Stone Circle is situated on what was once open moorland, but the circle was first ploughed out in 1863. A wall was constructed nearby and most of the stones have been tumbled over time, probably deliberately in the course of agricultural works. At one point there was probably a burial kist within the circle. It was certainly visible in Victorian times, but has long gone.

Despite these interferences, the stone circle, one of the largest in the north, is still impressive. You can stand there and wonder about its purpose. There are many proposed solutions. It is, they say locally, not often visited.DSCF2062

Climbing the track nearby, we crossed the skirts of The Knott – the highest summit in these Westmorland Dales. We’ve climbed its modest height a couple of times and it’s well worth while, offering superb views across the Lune Valley to the northern boundaries of the Howgill Fells.


Passing through an old stone wall to the top of Beacon Hill, we came to the cross built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Here you get all round views, the Howgills, the Shap Fells, the hills of Lakeland and the long stretch of the North Pennines. All grand walking country.

Coast to Coast into Orton (c) John Bainbridge

We took the route of the Coast to Coast Path – interestingly not Wainwright’s original route, he succumbed to landowner resistance – back to Orton. The farmer on the route laughed that it must be the rush hour, as several walkers had passed through in a few minutes.

I commend the Westmorland Dales to you if you want some quieter walks through very scenic countryside. If you are visiting then Orton or Appleby make great centres for accommodation. There is free parking in Orton.




Return to Sedbergh

Not long before Lockdown we went for our regular low-level ramble from Sedbergh, out to the Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House with its lovely garden, then up the gorgeous bridleway by Ingmire Hall, returning by Under-Winder and then a pleasant stroll down the lanes back into Sedbergh.

Sedbergh Parish Church (c) John Bainbridge 2020

It was a beautiful winter’s day for a morning walk. Afterwards we went to Sedbergh’s star fish and chip shop, The Haddock Paddock, and then spent a couple of hours browsing in the bookshops of this Cumbrian book town.

Winder Fell (c) John Bainbridge 2020

Although there were rumours of the virus, we couldn’t imagine that within a couple of weeks there’d be Lockdown, the horrifying death rate, the blundering of politicians and their idiot advisers. The whole world changed in days.

The Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2020

So, yesterday, we returned to Sedbergh for the first time since then. And Sedbergh is open, though sadly the Haddock Paddock was evenings only so we had to forgo one of the best chippies in England.DSCF2041

We did however get into a couple of the second hand bookshops. It was the first time we’d worn masks, then only really for the comfort of the shop-keepers, we didn’t wear them round the town. I hate masks, though I’ve worn such coverings in the past – no, I was never a bank robber!

Path near Ingmire (c) John Bainbridge 2020

We did the same walk, out to Birks and then to the Quaker Meeting House, which is still closed, though you can stroll in their beautiful garden – surely one of the most peaceful places to linger in England. In the nearby burial ground rests the Modernist poet Basil Bunting, who wrote a long autobiographical poem Briggflatts (note the extra g).

And for much of the way the magnificent Howgill Fells, which we haven’t been up for far too long. Some of the grandest hills in England.

One of my favourite paths (c) John Bainbridge 2020

Some of this walk is part of the Quaker Trail – see my blog of March 20th 2019, if you fancy walking the whole thing. A great walk of up to eleven miles through beautiful countryside which will still give you time to browse those Sedbergh bookshops,


Walking the old railway at Kirkby Stephen

One of the loveliest short walks from Kirkby Stephen is along what was once a stretch of the line of the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway, devised in the 1850s to take coke over Stainmore from the North-East coalfields to the iron furnaces of Furness.

Franks Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2020

The railway line closed around fifty years ago, and a good portion of it is now a walk across a series of splendid viaducts owned by the Northern Viaducts Trust.

Merrygill Viaduct (c) John Bainbridge 2020

We walked it on a beautiful though very hot morning last week. As I said a short walk, not more than an hour or two, but through some very pretty scenery, all so green in high summer.DSCF2021

I always have mixed feelings when I walk these remnants of what used to be a fine railway system. Super to walk, of course, but how much better if the railways had been kept open.

Podgill Viaduct (c) John Bainbridge 2020

Instead of bluing billions of pounds on vanity projects like HS2 and the government’s renewed mania for new dual carriageways and road widening schemes, how much better to restore these old railways lines that the majority of folk might actually use.

We don’t need to cross Britain half an hour faster. What we do need is a viable and affordable public transport system as an alternative to the motor car.DSCF2025

But where these disused railways etc. exist then they should surely all be routes you can walk.

And this railway line is just that. A very accessible walk leaving the main street of Kirkby and going down to Frank’s (or Franks) bridge, a little foot crossing of a lovely upper stretch of the River Eden. Frank, or Franks,  is thought to have been the manager of the brewery which once occupied the building nearby.

On Podgill Viaduct (c) John Bainbridge 2020

On then to Hartley, before accessing the railway line at Merrygill Viaduct. Easy walking now over these wonderful Victorian viaducts – after Merrygill comes the Podgill Viaduct, built under the direction of the engineer Thomas Bouch around 1860 – though built by skilled working class navvies whose names are mostly lost to history.

We always have the names of the famous – those who actually risk life and limb doing the labour tend to be forgotten.

On the Railway Line (c) John Bainbridge 2020

Along the line are the remains of signal boxes and platelayers’ huts. The Northern Viaducts Trust have placed inside these remnants some excellent display boards, with photographs showing the railway line as it was. Several old bridges cross the line, mostly carrying the lines of older footpaths and bridleways.

Waterfall at Stenkridge (c) John Bainbridge 2020

All too soon we came to the end of our stretch of line at Stenkrith Bridge, where there’s a spectacular waterfall on the Eden, the rocks worn and sculpted by the force of the water, some bearing round holes where the river has carved circular holes by whirling pebbles around over countless millennia.

Footbridge over the Eden (c) John Bainbridge 2020

A pleasant walk through meadows brought us back to Kirkby Stephen, that lovely little town that stands proudly on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Path. How sad that in these trying times only local stretches of that magnificent route can be done.

The Old Signpost (c) John Bainbridge 2020

And in the town is a splendid old signpost, showing local distances in miles and furlongs… a rare treasure.

Another walk on to the high fells from Kirkby Stephen features in my walking memoir “Wayfarer’s Dole”, now out in paperback and e-book. Do take a look…

Let’s Celebrate Lake District Trespassers

Lake District Trespassers Should Be Celebrated, says Cumbrian Author John Bainbridge

The Victorian protestors whose mass trespasses led to the freedom to roam in the Lake District should be celebrated with plaques in Keswick and Ambleside and commemorative walks, says the walking writer and novelist John Bainbridge.

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Keswick from Latrigg (c) John Bainbridge 2020

“Everyone has heard of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass, but fewer people know of the mass trespasses that secured access to Latrigg Fell and Fawe Park, near Keswick, and the fight for Stock Ghyll waterfall at Ambleside,” John says. “Yet these very public actions led the resistance against many landowners who, in Victorian times, had closed off public footpaths and stretches of open fellside.”

John first encountered the stories of the mass trespasses at Keswick and Ambleside while working on the revised and expanded edition of his book The Compleat Trespasser. John had never heard of the trespasses until he moved to Cumbria, despite regularly trips to walk the Lakeland fells.

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Derwent Water from Latrigg (c) John Bainbridge 2020

“The trespassers were both local folk and famous visitors to the Lakes. But for their endeavours, Latrigg, Fawe Park and the beautiful waterfall at Stock Ghyll might still be closed to the public, and many other areas of the Lake District might have been lost.”

John believes that this important chapter in Lake District history shouldn’t be forgotten. “How wonderful it would be to see plaques put up in Keswick and Ambleside, and perhaps an annual commemorative walk from Keswick to Latrigg along the route taken by the trespassers.”

You can read more about the Lake District Mass Trespasses in my book The Compleat Trespasser. Out now in paperback and on Kindle. Just click on the link for more information.


A North Pennine Ramble

For a while I could almost have thought I was back on northern Dartmoor in the old days when, apart from the ancient tracks, there were fewer paths. In recent years, paths have sprung up on Dartmoor, from tor to tor and from antiquity to antiquity etc.

High Cup

In those golden olden days we used to have to find our own way across pathless and rough countryside, navigating in good weather on distant landmarks, or in bad on compass bearings.

High Cup

Anyway, a long way from Dartmoor as I thought back to those days. Though the geological roots are different, the long and peaty stretch of the North Pennines reminded me greatly of the plateau of North Dartmoor.

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Foxgloves on the Track from Dufton

We set out from Dufton intending only to walk up the old lead miners track into the Pennines to visit Great Rundale Tarn. A walk we’ve done a couple of times and which I’ve blogged in the past.

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Dufton Pike from the Miners Track

A lovely walk too, with grand views as you climb the miles up to Threlkeld Side, first along an enclosed lane and then out on to open fellside with increasing views across the Eden Valley to the mountains of the Lake District. The lane was lined with beautiful foxgloves by the stone walls separating the track from the distinctive height of Dufton Pike.

Miners Track

We watched a hare as he shot up almost the entire height of the Pike in just a few seconds – oh that I had that energy!

It’s hard to imagine Threlkeld side as it must have been at the height of the lead mining. Noisy and dusty I suspect, as you look at the industrial disturbances that nature hasn’t yet healed.

Threlkeld Side

Great Rundale Tarn is a broad sheet of water situated among the peat hags of the Pennine plateau. And it was here that we changed our plan for simply returning the same way.

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Bog Cotton

I’ve often visited the Whin Sill geological marvel that is High Cup Nick, usually going there in a circuit from Dufton. Now if you look at the OS map you won’t see any paths marked between Great Rundale Tarn and the Nick.

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Valley of Dereliction

But they are there, firstly a stalking track down the side of the beck (Tarn Sike) and then rougher paths between the beck and the peat hags as Tarn Sike becomes the Maize Beck, a deeper flow of water with some splendid little waterfalls. And it was on this black peaty stretch of the Pennines that I was reminded of Dartmoor.

Except for the wooden grouse butts, of course. And there were lots of them. The first stretch of path from the tarn (where there is a shooting box) was obviously created to cater for the grouse shooting industry, not something you ever see on Dartmoor. Now, whether these grouse butts are used these days I’m not sure. In all our long walk we didn’t put up a single grouse so perhaps not. I hope not.

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Great Rundale Tarn

But the Maize Beck is a delight. A lovely gurgling river that comes within a whisker of tumbling down into the great canyon of High Cup Nick, but in fact doesn’t – swinging eastwards at the last moment to cross the Pennines to add its waters to the wild River Tees hard by the great waterfall of Cauldron Snout.

We left the Maize Beck at a footbridge over a tiny and picturesque gorge and set out on to the open fellside.

Maize Beck

It was sweltering hot as we walked the Pennine Way to High Cup Nick. And it was only here that we came across fellow walkers. In fact, being a hot Sunday afternoon, High Cup was positively crowded. We even had to socially distance as we passed walkers coming in the other direction from Dufton.

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Footbridge Over the Beck

I wondered how many intended to walk beyond the famous Nick to the wild peaty moorland beyond?

I suspect not many.

(c) Text and pictures J and A Bainbridge