A Low-Level Walk from Sedbergh

Sedbergh – and you lift up your eyes to the wonderful Howgill Fells. A favourite range of hills for me. But the lower ground, in the river valleys below Sedbergh makes for grand walking as well. Just into the New Year we fancied a short walk in the area, so that we could spend some time browsing in the Sedbergh bookshops afterwards – it is after all a book town.

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Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Sedbergh is also the home of an English public (private) school. They were mowing the grass on the sports fields as we wandered through, for the pupils were due back later in the day.

As always, I think of one particular ex-pupil when I pass by the school – F. Spencer Chapman, whose books were everywhere when I was young. Spencer Chapman was a considerable mountaineer and arctic explorer in his younger days. He was on Gino Watkins’ last expedition in Greenland. He then spent over three years organising resistance groups behind the Japanese lines in World War Two. He wrote some memorable books, which are still worth reading, such as Watkins’ Last Expedition, Memoirs of a Mountaineer, The Jungle is Neutral and Living Dangerously.

There’s no doubt that his years as a soldier behind enemy lines affected him greatly. He seemed to have difficulty in settling down to domestic life in the post-war years. In modern terms he probably suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His experiences and ill-health led him to suicide.

These places around Sedbergh must all have been known to him, perhaps fuelling his love of adventure.

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The Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Our walk led us down to the picturesque hamlet of Birks, before we took footpaths across the fields to Brigflatts. An interesting hamlet, for here is a Quaker meeting house dating back to 1874, visited and inspired by Charles James Fox. I’m going to do a walk soon in the steps of the Quakers so I’ll leave it there for now. All I will say, is that the Meeting Place is a building of great peace with a restful garden to sit in. Across the lane is the peaceful Quakers’ Burial Ground – the last resting place of the poet Basil Bunting.

We walked up to the road and then up a very beautiful bridleway past Ingmire Hall, though there are few glimpses of the building from the path.  Ingmire Hall is a 16th Century house built around the remains of a pele tower. It was enlarged in the early nineteenth century, partially destroyed by fire in the 1920s and partially remodelled in 1989.

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Ingmire Bridleway (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A short road walk brought us to a farm track leading up to the old farming hamlet of Underwinder – appropriately named for it stands hard under the great hill of Winder, then a steep climb up to Howgill Lane, which we followed downhill back into Sedbergh. Then a delicious hour browsing in the second-hand bookshops. A heavenly way to spend a day.

But glancing up at the Howgill Fells – and there are splendid vistas of Winder as you do this walk – reminds us that it’s a while since we’ve climbed their beautiful rounded slopes. No wonder the Sedbergh school song celebrates this fine landscape:

Oh Eton hath her River and Clifton hath her down,
And Winchester her cloisters and immemorial town.
But ours the mountain fastness, the deep romantic ghylls,
Where Clough and Dee and Rawthey,
Come singing from the hills!

Refrain
For it isn’t our ancient lineage, there are others as old as we.
And it isn’t our pious founders, though we honour their memory.
‘Tis the hills that are stood around us, unchanged since our days began.
It is Cautley, Calf and WINDER, that make the Sedbergh man.

(Winder to sound a bit like window, rather than winding something up).

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Heartstart Courses – Save a Life

Heartstart – Emergency Life Support Programme – So you’re out walking in the countryside, or even in the streets of a town or at home, and you come across someone having a heart attack. They may or may not be breathing.

Do you know what to do?

We’ve recently attended a Heartstart course run jointly by the North-West Ambulance Service and the British Heart Foundation. Our instructor was a First Responder in our little Cumbrian town – an essential aid in a place where it can take an ambulance fifteen minutes to arrive.

Now it must be over twenty years ago since I last did a first aid course. There were definitely things I’d forgotten. So it’s a good idea to have a refresher course of some kind.

In a couple of hours, we went through the procedures for dealing with someone having a heart attack. And how to do CPR if they are not breathing, with dummies to practise on. We were even instructed in how to use a defibrillator to shock someone’s heart back to beating if they are not breathing – defibrillators are now starting to appear in towns and villages around us.

I’ve seen people die with heart attacks – I’ve had two men collapse and die on walks I’ve been on.

So these are vital skills to learn.

We were also taught how to deal with someone who was choking or suffering severe blood loss from an injury.

So do find a Heartstart session – it could be the most useful couple of hours you’ve spent in a long time.

Heartstart courses near to you? – inquire through the British Heart Foundation at https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/how-to-save-a-life/how-to-do-cpr/heartstart-training

or the British Red Cross at: https://www.redcross.org.uk/first-aid/book-a-first-aid-course

Please don’t delay – you might need these skills at anytime…

And you can watch the famous video of  Vinnie Jones doing it at:

https://www.nhs.uk/video/Pages/vinnie-jones-how-to-perform-cpr.aspx?searchtype=Tag&searchterm=Heart_vascular&

And, if you are a British walker, register your mobile phone so that you can send a text message to the 999 or 112 emergency number – a text message will often get through when there’s no signal for a voice call. To register your mobile just click on the website below:

http://ngts.org.uk/esms_index.php?bookmark=setup

Walking A Corpse Road

On Dartmoor is the Lich Way from the middle of the Moor to Lydford – the parish church that once covered the entirety of Dartmoor Forest. There are several minor Dartmoor burial paths as well, including the one going up Dartmeet Hill on the way to Widecombe church, which includes – on Dartmeet Hill – the inscribed Coffin Stone. There are several good corpse routes in the Lake District – the one from Ambleside via Rydal to Grasmere is worth checking out.
But a very atmospheric corpse road, little changed since it was first used, runs down Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales.

There was a thick mist as we made out way over from Kirkby Stephen to Keld in Swaledale, but by the time we reached the tiny village, which is on both the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast Path, it had melted away, leaving clear views down the dale and over the lonely and seemingly endless stretches of moorland.

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We had come to walk part of the corpse road, along which the dead of Keld were carried the twelve miles to the parish church of Grinton, to be buried. And a wild journey it must have been in bad weather, for the stretch that we walked, between Keld and Muker is both high and exposed.

Keld itself feels like the village on the edge of the world. As Wainwright says in his Coast to Coast Guide “a sundial records the hours, but time is measured in centuries in Keld.” On the lane out of the village is the war memorial, commemorating the four men of the district who died in the Great War. But were they to come back they would hardly believe they had been away at all, so unchanged in this village.

The Corpse Road on Kisdon Hill (c) John Bainbridge 2015

The corpse road is a well-defined track climbing the western side of Kisdon Hill, offering grand views over this quiet and unspoilt land.  I have a great interest in corpse roads. This seems a particularly unspoiled example.

If you met a corpse-carrying party who’d wandered in from the Middle Ages you wouldn’t feel terribly surprised.

But this day we saw no ghosts. Just a solitary shepherd feeding his sheep and a great many lapwings.

The path goes steeply downhill to the little village of Muker (pronounced Moo-Ker). A tad bigger than Keld, but not much bigger. The church is delightful in its simplicity. Built in the 1580s – one of the few in England dating from the reign of Elizabeth I – and thus making much of the corpse road redundant, offering a decent burial ground for the people at the head of Swaledale. We liked the stained glass, showing Christ as a shepherd and the appropriate 23 sheep – all of the Swaledale Breed. This is where we left the Corpse Road, though we hope to resume it one day.

Muker from the Corpse Road (c) John Bainbridge 2015

On then to the River Swale itself. Here there are lots of signs of lead-mining, though nature has healed the scars. The miners, who would work a long day at the mining and then farm as well, used the system of mining known as hushing. Holding back water in huge dams on the hill-tops. Then releasing it in one mighty surge to wash away the topsoil, making the ore more visible.

There are the ruins of a smelting mill with some delightful waterfalls at Swinner Gill, with fine views back over Kisdon Hill. Then past Crackpot Hall, now a ruin, abandoned due to subsidence in 1953.

The name Keld comes from the old Norse word for water, and there’s certainly a lot of it about. There are a great many waterfalls on the Swale itself and its tributary becks. Just before you hit Keld again are a beautiful series of falls known as East Gill Force – a lovely spot to linger.

East Gill Force (c) John Bainbridge 2015

If you fancy a walk that’s lost in time with a great deal of history, then this is the walk for you.

A Walk to the Occupation Road

During the period of the Land Enclosures, mostly around 1500 to the late 1800s, many of the old ways, the ancient tracks, were either lost for ever, or survived as paths running between the hedges and stone walls of the enclosed land.

On the Occy (c) John Bainbridge 2015
The Occupation Road  (c) John Bainbridge 2018

However, you look at it, and it can be argued that there was an inevitability about the creation of some enclosures, the vast majority of them comprised land theft from the common people on a grand scale.

Where Parliamentary Enclosure Acts were thrust upon an unwilling populace they often came as a huge shock to country dwellers – most of whom would have been illiterate and unable to read the warning notices, object or otherwise participate in the legal process – the overwhelming majority wouldn’t have had the vote anyway.

Read the poetry and prose writings of John Clare – who was literate – to understand the shock and awe of the Enclosure Acts.

One of the reasons I support an universalist Right to Roam is because I believe justice demands a redress of the balance.

The Occupation Road above the village of Dent is well worth a walk to gauge the impact of upland enclosure. The track was originally an old droving route linking Barbondale and Kingsdale.

But in  1859, at the time of the Parliamentary Enclosures, the previously common and open fellside was divided up into large allotments for grazing –  ‘occupied’ land, hence the name of the track.

Flintergill Track and Dent (c) John Bainbridge 2015

Flintergill Track and Dent (c) John Bainbridge 2018

 The Wishing Tree at Dent (c) John Bainbridge 2015

The Wishing Tree at Dent (c) John Bainbridge 2018

In Dentdale – through which flows the River Dee – the dale was clear but the cloud was low higher up.

We set out from Dent

We took the steep and rocky path up Flintergill, the gill itself is an increasingly deep chasm, its waters running in part over beds of absolutely flat rock. The track is lined with some interesting trees, particularly the Wishing Tree – a particularly fascinating example of root growth and erosion – almost as though it is standing on wooden legs.

By the time we reached the top we were in cloud. Here is the junction with the Occupation Road – or Occy as it’s popularly known. A track that is said to date back to the Enclosure Acts of the 1850s. It runs from Barbondale to Kingsdale and served the farmers responsible for enclosing the moorland here.

The Occy more or less contours the hillside until the lane to Barbondale is reached. Then we walked over the slopes of Stone Rigg, following a public footpath marked to Underwood. Easy grassy going at first, then a stretch of boggier ground alongside a half-fallen wall, until a stony path leads down to Combe – a restored farmhouse – and the neighbouring property of Tofts.

An old Path near Combe House (c) John Bainbridge 2015

This in turn leads past Bower Bank until the hamlet of Gawthrop is reached. An attractive settlement on the side of the dale.

Just past Mill Dam Farm we followed a path past some very pretty waterfalls down to Barth Bridge, and then took the Dales Way back into Dent.

And if you are in that village do please visit the church with its Jacobean pulpit and boxed pews, marked with the initials of the families that owned them, either carved into the woodwork or impressed with nails.

A Box Pew in Dent Church (c) John Bainbridge 2015

The clouds robbed us of the otherwise spectacular views, but it was still worth doing. Walking in a mist can be a very atmospheric experience. Especially, when you are walking in the footsteps of history.

Dent Village Street (c) John Bainbridge 2015