I like all seasons of the year, but there is something really special about walking through the English landscape in May. The month gives us a rebirth of the countryside after a long winter. And there is such a delicious freshness about it all – the leaves on the trees, out at last, look so beautifully new and clean.
On a sunny day like yesterday there’s nowhere better to be than walking the footpaths and bridleways through an unspoiled land.
We walked out from Sedbergh taking the familiar route to Brigflatts and Ingmire Hall, before returning down Howgill Lane back to the book town, where we spent a couple of hours in the antiquarian bookshops.
This time we varied our journey to the Quaker meeting house by walking through the grounds of Sedbergh School down to the hamlet of Birks and then the River Rawthey.
The Rawthey is a quite beautiful stretch of river, with gleaming white rocks and grand stretches of white water. A little way along its course the River Dee comes in on the opposite bank.
It was stunning down by the Rawthey, one of those rivers just made to linger by, the bluebells lining the banks, the full song of the birds, and the gentle sounds of the water.
The path we were on is part of the Dales Way – the 81 mile route running from Ilkley to Windermere, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. I’ve never managed to do the whole thing, but I’ve walked some enchanting stretches. And these stretches around Sedbergh, with the views up towards the Howgill Fells take a lot of beating – the Howgills are favourites of mine and it reminded us that we must climb them again soon.
On reaching the road, we doubled back to the Quaker Meeting House at Brigflatts (see blogs passim), where we sat in the peaceful garden for a while in the sunshine. These moments of rest are an essential part of any walk. Let those who wish to race on do so.
The path beside Ingmire Hall is one of the most photogenic I know. If you want to know what the Old Ways are all about, go and walk up it. There was a mind-blowing stretch of bluebells nearby and the beech trees were at their Springtime best.
We crossed the road and took the farm track up to Underwinder and climbed steeply through the fields to Howgill Lane, under the brown slopes of Winder, wandering gently down the lane to Sedbergh.
Do get out into the countryside if you can while May is at its best and the British weather seems settled for once. A walk in May-time is probably better for the mind than anything a doctor can recommend.
The Sedbergh Quaker Trail is an eleven mile walk through some very attractive countryside, close to Sedbergh, exploring the world of the early Quakers, the Westmorland Seekers in the 17th century, when Quaker meetings had to be held in secret because of religious intolerance. This splendid trail has been devised by the Sedbergh Area Walking and Cycling Group with the support of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.
The group has produced a splendid pamphlet to the trail, which is available from the local tourist information centre. Well worth getting and only £1.50 and worth every penny.
Walk this trail and you’ll be treading in the footsteps of George Fox and William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. You’ll also find yourselves in beautiful and wild countryside along the banks of the River Lune and the high ground beyond, with splendid views of the Howgill Fells and up into Dentdale.
I’m not a Quaker, but I find the history of the movement fascinating. Men like George Fox marched to the beat of a different drummer in those troublous days of the 17th century, when politics and religion were closely entwined.
We walked first to Sedbergh Church, where George Fox preached, standing on a bench under a yew tree, in the churchyard in the Whitsun week of 1652, refusing to go inside the building on the grounds that a church is the people and not the building. We followed country paths across to the Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House, which I blogged about on January 9th. The Meeting House was built in 1675, though there was a strong Quaker tradition in the area.
We walked on to Ingmire Hall and then along some paths to Lincoln’s Inn Bridge. We had a bright day for our walk, with just a couple of light showers, but there has been a great deal of rain lately and we skirted several pools of standing water in the fields. Lots of lambs about, though, and a real feeling that spring is in the air.
From Lincoln’s Inn, where there is a magnificent bridge, we climbed steeply up to Hawkrigg Wood (looks like it’s going to be great for bluebells in a couple of months) and then high up to the wilder fell country around Master Knott and Firbank Fell.
Just off the lane is Fox’s Pulpit, the rock where George Fox preached for three hours to over a thousand of the Westmorland Seekers, and Yorkshire Seekers too, in 1652, at the secret meeting which is thought to be the beginnings of the Quaker Movement. There’s a plaque on the rock which declares:
Let your lives speak
Here or near this rock George Fox preached to about one thousand seekers for three hours on Sunday, June 13, 1652. Great power inspired his message and the meeting proved of first importance in gathering the Society of Friends known as Quakers. Many men and women convinced of the truth on this fell and in other parts of the northern counties went forth through the land and over the seas with the living word of the Lord enduring great hardships and winning multitudes to Christ.
Or as George Fox recorded in his journal: ‘While others were gone to dinner, I went to a brook, got a little water, and then came and sat down on the top of a rock hard by the chapel. In the afternoon the people gathered about me, with several of their preachers. It was judged there were above a thousand people; to whom I declared God’s everlasting truth and Word of life freely and largely for about the space of three hours.‘
It’s a moody, atmospheric place, when you think what happened there. You wonder what the weather was like and whether Fox could see the wide range of views we did. Strange that something happened there that changed the world a bit, when you think of the persecutions that led not only to the growth of the Quaker Movement, but to religious exile and, in particular, its influences in the growth of the USA.
Nearby, once stood a chapel, now gone and rebuilt in nearby Firbank, and there is a Quaker burial ground adjacent to the spot where Fox spoke.
One thing is certain. Those thousand Westmorland Seekers walked up to the pulpit using the old ways, the ancient tracks, we were now walking. Indeed, Fox walked up there probably along the very paths we were now taking from Draw Well, now part of Bramaskew Farm, where he was staying with the Blaykling Family. Jumping ahead, the barn there was the scene of a further meeting, when – in 1665 – the militia were sent out to arrest worshipping Quakers. In 1676, a further conference was held there which was attended by William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. How history is made in such quiet places.
We descended down to the farmhouse with the lovely name of Goodies, and crossed the River Lune by the recently restored Fishermen’s Bridge. The original crossing was washed away in Storm Desmond, and this replacement was built last year at the cost of £110,000 pounds – restoring access to the rights of way network, given that it is the only crossing for miles – a big thank you to the many organisations that contributed to the costs. It has been beautifully done by real craftsmen.
From Hole House, where the path, now part of the Dales Way, runs through the back yard of the house, before climbing through the fields to the farmstead of Nether Bainbridge, and then along to Bramaskew, which I mentioned earlier.
We returned to Sedbergh by way of Howgill Lane, though there’s an alternative route which skirts the foot of Winder, that attractive Howgill Fell. As Sedbergh is a book town, we spent a pleasant hour browsing in the booshops – always a delight.
But my mind wandered back to the wild and lonely countryside we had tramped through, and to those persecuted Westmorland Seekers who had had to use wild countryside and these secret paths as they endeavoured to worship without persecution.
I was pleased to see that the Eden Rivers Trust has created a formal walk – the Hoff Beck Walk – along the lovely little river of that name close to Appleby in Westmorland. The new trail follows the Hoff Beck from Colby to the picturesque Rutter Falls, passing through peaceful and uncrowded countryside.
I’ve walked the Hoff Beck many times over the years, starting from Appleby. It really is a grand stretch of river and you rarely see any other walkers. While I’ve walked the length of the new trail, I usually complete a circuit via the village of Ormside, returning along the River Eden.
The Eden Rivers Trust has placed informative noticeboards at several points along the walk, giving details of local history and riparian wildlife – the Hoff Beck is particularly good if you want to watch herons. I saw a kingfisher once near Bandley Bridge, and there are otters too – though you have to be lucky to see one. If you want a better chance do the walk just after dawn or in the late evening.
The other day, we walked out from Appleby, taking the attractive bridleway through Rachel’s Wood to Bandley Bridge. You can stroll downstream to Colby and back from here if you wish to. Although the footbridge at Bandley is relatively modern, the crossing place is ancient. The first record of a crossing here dates back to 1292, where it is described at Bangelmibrigg.
The crossing here probably dates back a long time before that, to the time when the Vikings settled around Appleby, giving the name to this river, Hoff and Beck are both Norse words in origin.
Following the Hoff Beck upstream, we descended to Cuddling Hole. Now I’ve always puzzled as to the origins of that name, my mind going off in various lascivious directions. I’ve been wrong in those assumptions and I should have known better, for I was well acquainted with a very similar word.
Cuddling is a local expression for tickling trout, a way of catching them by hand. I really should have guessed, for guddling is a well-known expression in the Lake District (Arthur Ransome used it in his novel The Picts and the Martyrs – a terrific read which I recommend to you). Interestingly, the word used to be current on Dartmoor, very familiar with an old poacher I used to know there. Arthur Ransome used to fish in the nearby Eden – perhaps he tried the Hoff Beck as well?
A walk across the fields brought us to the hamlet of Hoff, where there’s a pub if you need refreshment. Some lovely ancient barns here. A place lost in time. The next few fields below Low Rutter farm can be muddy after wet weather, but on the frosty day we walked it they were fine.
I’ve done this walk in pelting rain, snow and in last summer’s heatwave and it offers something new each time. In last summer’s drought, the waterfall of Rutter Force had dried up altogether. Now the water was back, making the picturesque falls a delight to see. The building next to the force started out as a corn mill and was latterly a bobbin mill. With its footbridge and ford it must be another ancient crossing place, though I miss the tea shop that used to be there. It marks the official end of the Hoff Beck River Walk.
We walked up to the lane and crossed the fields to the house marked on the map as Porch Cottage, though now called the Donkey’s Nest. From there a quiet lane took us down under the Settle to Carlisle railway line to the peaceful village of Great Ormside.
The church here, standing next to a farmhouse with a Pele Tower, is one of England’s gems, built on a defensive mound that was used by both Saxons and Vikings. I’ve written in praise of it in my walking book Wayfarer’s Dole. As with many Christian buildings it began its existence as a Pagan site, used as a burial ground by the Vikings. Much of what you see today dates to the late 11th-century.
In 1823, the Ormside Bowl, Anglo-Saxon in origin and dating to the 7th or 8th century was found in the churchyard. It’s now in York Museum. In 1898 the body of a Viking warrior, complete with sword, was unearthed in the churchyard. You can see his sword at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle.
Sadly, cracks have appeared in the church tower and expensive repairs are needed. If you can send a donation to help please do.
The parishioners are certainly rallying round with fundraising measures. We bought a delicious jar of home-made marmalade, which was on sale in the church. So if you do visit take some spare cash to support this worthy cause!
Leaving the village, we went under the Settle-Carlisle railway once again, to follow the River Eden back to Appleby. This path starts in woodland high above the river, before descending to its banks, giving more chances to see wildlife. A peaceful stretch of river, now part of the Lady Anne’s Way trail – which follows in the steps of Lady Anne Clifford, the well-known diarist of the 17th century.
After the woodland ends, the path follows the river through water meadows, emerging at Jubilee Ford at Appleby – a popular crossing place for Gypsies during the Appleby Horse Fair week in June.
A grand walk of about eight miles – and it is good that the Eden Rivers Trust has delineated some of it as the Hoff Beck Walk – a Westmorland river that deserves to be better known.
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.
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.
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 1674, 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.
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).
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.
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:
There’s a popular myth that a right of way is created when a corpse is taken for burial along a track. It’s not true. But, nevertheless, there are a number of corpse roads, lich or lyke ways, burial routes scattered across our countryside.
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.
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 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.
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.
If you fancy a walk that’s lost in time with a great deal of history, then this is the walk for you.
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.
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 2018
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.
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.
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.