Over Dunmail Raise

In a car you hardly notice the steep climb over Dunmail Raise, as you drive the busy Loughrigg Circuit February 2014 023tourist route from Grasmere to Keswick. Just another hill on a fast stretch of road, widened in recent years so that motorists might overtake struggling lorries and holiday coaches. Not considered one of the classic Lake District mountain passes, despite the dramatic crags and summits all around. The great stone cairn, between the two carriageways, looks interesting but flashes by in an instant.  Motorists probably don’t know that the Raise once marked the southern boundary of the kingdom of Strathclyde or the division between Westmorland and Cumberland.

But looked at from the surrounding summits of Steel Fell, Helm Crag or Seat Sandal, you get a perspective of Dunmail’s importance as a mountain pass giving access through the surrounding high ground.  Its significance as one of the few easier routes across the Lake District confirmed by the presence of a World War Two Pillbox, guarding the pass from both directions. A wise precaution. Armies have marched this way for thousands of years.

     The Raise gets its name from just such a warrior, Dunmail,  Norseman and King of Cumberland, defeated in battle here by the Saxon King Edmund in 945 AD. The giant cairn, or raise, now hemmed in between  two modern carriageways, is said to be his last resting place, the stones laid over his body by his surviving troops.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the cairn has been  repositioned on several occasions by road-builders, absorbing rocks from a drystone wall that once marked the county boundary.

Legend says Dunmail’s golden crown was taken from the pass to nearby Grizedale Tarn and thrown into its dark waters, until Dunmail might rise to lead his men again. Once a year his phantom army appears to take the crown from the tarn down to the Raise only to hear Dunmail’s voice moan in the wind “Not yet, my warriors. In a little while. Not yet!”  On dark stormy days, as you follow in their footsteps, you can almost believe it.  The legend is rather compromised by the fact that Dunmail apparently died on pilgrimage to Rome many years after 945.

The old tale was often in William Wordsworth’s mind, as he walked the once narrow road over the Raise, a route he took by day and night, whatever the weather.  During the Napoleonic Wars he would come this way in the dark with Thomas de Quincy, author of The Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, so that they might waylay the courier bringing news from Keswick of Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain. There must have been sad memories for Wordsworth when he made this journey in later years. It was in the hills above the Raise that he had taken a last walk with his brother John, who drowned when his ship was wrecked in the English Channel in 1805.

Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge would regularly tramp ‘over the Rays’ to Keswick and back, sometimes diverting via the summit of Helvellyn. Towards the end of her life, Dorothy Wordsworth could still mount the steep hill at a steady four miles an hour, such was the conditioning brought about by many years of hard fellwalking. In the Wordworth’s time, travelling on foot or horseback was the regular way to travel the road leading up to the Raise, so much so that Dorothy commented in her journal on the unusual sight of someone making the journey in a chaise.

The arrival of the railway from Kendal to Windermere encouraged a regular stagecoach service onwards to Keswick, Dunmail Raise representing quite a challenge to coachmen. On the northward  journey the coach driver would sometimes make fitter passengers disembark and walk up the steep hill, so that his horses could cope with the gradient. The descent could be equally perilous, great skill being needed to prevent the coach running away.  The Lakeland writer William Palmer, recalling Victorian days, tells how the road was scored by the skid marks of coaches as drivers hauled on their brakes during the descent.

At Town Head, on the Grasmere side of the Raise, was the toll bar, where the toll-keeper would take the fee for using this stretch of road. In 1851, John Hawking, a man well-known to Wordsworth, was still working away at this unpopular job at the age of 76, aided by his 52 year old wife Betsy.  Most of the tolls he collected would have been taken from carriages of early Lake District tourists, or the occasional carrier’s cart. Wilier Lakelanders, droving sheep or cattle, or moving goods by pack-pony, would  bypass Dunmail Raise altogether to avoid paying the toll.  Coach fares would have been well beyond the pockets of working people. Horse-drawn coaches for tourists continued to come through the Raise as recently as the 1920s.

In Victorian times this bleak pass was well known as an atchin tan (camping place) for Romanies. Why choose such an exposed place to halt?  Possibly to avoid conflict with the farmers and villagers of Grasmere. The Lake District writer William Palmer recalled pulling a Gypsy lad from under the wheels of a horse-drawn coach at this point, earning the gratitude of an ancient fortune-teller, who told him he would only prosper with a lifetime of hard work. Palmer noted that she spoke pure Romani and that her words had to be interpreted by a cheroot-smoking younger woman

During its days as a county boundary, the head of the Raise was considered very much a frontier between the north and south of the Lake District, residents on each side holding the belief that little good came from the opposite end of the pass, a prejudice broken down only with easier access to cars and travel.

By the 1930s, Dunmail Raise was starting to become the busy motor road that we see today, deterring the traveller on foot or on horseback.  William Palmer, who had known the road from Victoria’s reign, noting that many of the old hummocks had been ironed out by successive road builders. More recently, the Raise has become the only Lakeland pass with an effective dual carriageway, the two opposing lanes trapping King Dunmail’s cairn on an island that can be hazardous to anyone who wants to walk there.

But despite these changes, today’s traveller is seeing much the same views of wild mountains and the broad vale of Grasmere as Wordsworth, William Palmer’s Gypsies, and the coach passengers who visited the Lake District during Queen Victoria’s reign. Every wanderer through this Lake District pass adds a tale to the long history of Dunmail Raise.

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No Man’s Land

The concept of No Man’s Land seems strange in relation to country walking. Surely it’s a military term, the terrain between two opposing armies, such as on the Western Front in the Great War?

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Appleby Fair Hill (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Seventy-five years ago, my father was stationed near Battle Abbey in Sussex, waiting to participate in the Normandy Landings. The last minute briefings would have been taking a long hard look at the military concept of No Man’s Land. Interesting, I always think, that he was at a place so associated with the Norman Conquest in 1066, when he was about to go the other way and invade Normandy.

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Our Land (c) John Bainbridge 2010

But in fact No Man’s Land has its origins a long way from military battlefields. No Man’s Land was literally that – those odd patches of land scattered around the edges of highways and heathlands that either had no owner, or had an ownership that didn’t realise they were included in a domain or places were two parishes met and no one could define the exact boundary.

It’s an old term – there are references in Domesday Book to land lying just outside the city walls of London. The term No Man’s land – historically nonesmanneslond, which the Oxford English Dictionary dates to 1320.

Sometimes, the term was applied to land subject to a legal dispute. George Borrow, in his wonderful book Lavengro, relates how he camps in Mumper’s Dingle, a deep valley embroiled in litigation.

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On the Flashing Lane (c) John Bainbridge 2019

When I was a boy, we often visited a family of Gypsies who used such a stretch of land on the rural edge of the industrial Black Country. They were relatively safe, for the authorities couldn’t prove that anyone owned their site.

No Man’s Land offered the opportunity to camp and reside – at least temporarily – in the countryside when the barriers were being put up during the dreadful times of the Enclosure Acts, when the majority were being robbed of their rights to the land. A situation that has not changed to this day, when 1% of our population own 50% of the lands in England.

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Vardo (travelling wagon) in Appleby (c) John Bainbridge 2019

There’s also the thought that the No Man’s Lands of old represented in-between places, the stretches of land between the jealously-guarded private properties and the public highway, one of the few places you could safely access at a time of man-traps and spring guns. Places that were somehow in between what is lawful and what is not lawful. Another reason why the very idea was hated by the Establishment.

Ramblers and country walkers often found themselves in the forefront to reclaim some rights to the captured landscape. The iconic Kinder Scout Mass Trespass in 1932, which saw ramblers sent to jail by a loaded jury and a biased judge, shows how one has to fight hard to access our own land.

Those bits of No Man’s Land that survive are a hugely important part of our social history – they deserve preservation orders so that they might stay wild and free.

Up in Cumbria next week is the New Fair at Appleby (once the county town of Westmorland), the most important date in the Gypsy Calendar, attracting Romany travellers from all over Britain and beyond, who come to trade in horses and race horse-drawn sulkies in the “flashing lane” above the town to prove their worth. As you watch the horses being washed in the River Eden, you are seeing a little bit of an older England brought vividly to life.

This coming week, if you are travelling around the North Pennines, around places like Barnard Castle and Kirkby Lonsdale, you can see the Gypsy wagons and tents drawn up on the roadsides leading to the fair. Some of these atchin-tans or campsites have been used for generations. Some are bits of No Man’s Land still in use.

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Jubilee Ford, Appleby (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Sadly, with road widening, some of these important parts of our history are being swept away. The grubbing out of hedgerows, building developments and mercenary raids on open spaces are taking away a lot more. And there is – certainly in England – a presumption against people using our bits of No Man’s Land for traditional purposes.

Which is a pity, I think…

The Appleby New Fair starts next Thursday, though Friday and Saturday are the best days. The horse are washed in the town itself, but the fair and the flashing lane are up on the hillside on the far side of the A66. If you want to go and have a look at the fair, do get there early, as traffic can be very bad and parking places are taken up very quickly. You can always get there by train on the Settle to Carlisle Line.

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

On Helm Crag

Helm Crag near Grasmere is of modest height, but splendid proportions – a good craggy hill so impressive as you come up the road towards Dunmail Raise or gaze at it from the outskirts of the village.

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Helm Crag (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Its rocky summit is one of the best in the Lake District, much admired by Wainwright, with its impressive protuberances – the Lion and the Lamb (a couple of those actually), the Lady Playing the Organ, and the dramatic Howitzer. Only the latter looks much like the description to me.

Helm Crag has an advantage in that it only takes a little while to get up, so, if you have things to do in Grasmere, as we did the other day, it fills in the day beautifully.

It was a gorgeous day too, clear blue skies and long distant views.

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Wordsworth Monument at Lancrigg (c) John Bainbridge 2019

I first climbed up Helm Crag on June 29th 1997 and have been up many times since, often extending the walk along the ridge to Gibson Knott and Calf Crag, returning down Far Easedale. But Helm Crag is a beautifully easy climb if you just want a good viewpoint over Grasmere.

We took the permissive path through Lancrigg – a place beloved by the Wordsworth clan who frequently interloped in the woods of that house, and up the classic ascent of Helm Crag itself.

And that climb, I maintain, offers some of the best views in Lakeland, right down Grasmere to Windermere, over to the Coniston Fells and the Langdales. Terrific. Usually there’s a wonderful view over Sour Milk Ghyll, but there was so little water coming down that waterfall that you would hardly have known it was there.

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Looking down at Grasmere (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Wainwright was right- the top never fails to impress, such a lovely long cluster of rock. The Howitzer – Barrow, the Victorian explorer calls it the “Mortar” in his 1888 book Mountain Ascents; he was a military man and was right. I’ve clambered up the thing a few times, but increasing age and a bad back gave me an excuse not to do it on this expedition.

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Howitzer (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Many people doing just Helm Crag tend to go down the way they went up. We didn’t. We went down the far side to the Green Burn, a lovely zig-zag path, with fine views to Steel Fell and Seat Sandal. If you haven’t been that way I commend it to you.

We followed the lane back from Helmside, a pretty route with the River Rothay in sight most of the way.

An easy few miles in Lakeland, and familiarity only increased my enthusiasm for the hills above Grasmere.

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…

 

Pilgrimage to Easby Abbey

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Sowing the Seed (c) John Bainbridge 2019

It’s not a long walk from the Yorkshire town of Richmond to the ruins of Easby Abbey, but you do go back a long way into medieval history. And there’s some fine scenery along the River Swale along the journey. Not to mention the chance of seeing some particularly fine medieval wall paintings in the church at Easby.

The town of Richmond is a wonderful place to just stroll around, with one of the best castles in England – I mentioned it in my blog of September 27th last year. I won’t say much about Richmond here, as I intend to describe a town walk in the near future, but enough to say it’s worth a visit.

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The Drummer Boy’s Stone (c) John Bainbridge 2019

 

 

We walked down to the River Swale and took the path to Easby. Not far along the way is the Drummer Boy Stone. Legend has it that towards the end of the 18th century soldiers in Richmond Castle discovered a tunnel under the keep. As it was very tiny, they selected a drummer boy to explore its depths, telling him to keep drumming as he walked, so that they could track his progress by following him above ground.

After half a mile, in Easby Wood, they heard no more drumming and the drummer boy was never seen again. The stone marks the place where the drumming ceased. Is it true? Who knows?

A footpath leads on to the ruins of Easby Abbey. The Abbey of St Agatha, is a Premonstratensian house right on the banks of the Swale. founded in 1152 by Roald, Constable of Richmond Castle. The white canons must have led a very quiet life here in general, though there were interruptions to the tranquillity. An English army camped on their way north to the Battle of Neville’s Cross and caused a great deal of damage.

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St Agatha’s Church and the Abbey (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Unfortunately for the canons, they opposed Henry VIII during the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1537. The vengeful king instructed the duke of Norfolk who was leading the royal army to crush the rebels to “at your repair to … St Agatha and such other places as have made resistance … you shall without pity or circumstance … cause the monks to be tied up [hanged] without further delay.”

It’s unclear whether the canons were so executed or not, but their resistance did strengthen Henry’s hand during the suppresion of the monasteries. The possession of the monastery was handed back to the Scrope family of Castle Bolton and by 1539, the abbey had already had the lead stripped from the roof.

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The Abbey (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Even so, this romantic ruin gives a good idea of the layout of the abbey and monastery. Turner painted it (he seems to have gone everywhere!) and there’s still a lot to see.

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Easby Abbey and Monastery (c) John Bainbridge 2019

The parish church of St Agatha, once part of the religious complex, and almost certainly pre-dating the abbey, remains as a place of worship. A modest church building, it retains some quite excellent wall paintings, dating back to around 1250. Very well worth making the journey to see. They were rediscovered during the Victorian restoration of the church, having been covered up during the Reformation.

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Adam and Eve (c) John Bainbridge 2019

They were, of course, probably never intended to be permanent, and might have been replaced from time to time by journeyman painters. They were an instruction to probably illiterate worshippers of the Christian message.

The wall paintings show the birth of Christ and the resurrection, the Annunciation, the fall of Adam and Eve and expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

But the paintings that get to you the most are those illustrating early medieval life. There’s a gentlemen out hawking, labouring peasants back-breakingly digging the land.

My favourite is the painting of a labourer sowing seed, watched by a hungry crow even as he scatters the seed.

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Arrow Scratches? (c) John Bainbridge 2019   

It’s like time-travel, you are looking back almost through a window at the medieval world. You could study these paintings a thousand times and always find something new. It was hard to tear ourselves away.

But as you leave, on the side of the church door, are some very clear scratch marks. I may be wrong, but I suspect they were made by medieval archers sharpening their arrow heads.

We crossed the Swale and followed the course of the disused railway line back to Richmond, enjoying the walk but rather mourning the fact that Dr Beeching scrapped the railway line – a source of regret, though the old station has been imaginatively transformed into a rather pleasant community centre, complete with cafe and cinema.

You wonder what the Richmond drummer boy, the white canons and the journeyman painter of the medieval wall painters would have made of that?

 

 

 

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.