On Gibbet Hill

To the west of Dartmoor is Gibbet Hill, a rounded prominence offering good views and grim memories.. For it was here that criminals who were hanged were gibbeted after death – as an example to others tempted to stray off the straight and narrow. Beamish April 2018 010

There were many gibbets across the land – for execution was not uncommon in the old days, and lots of men, women and children were left to swing after the hangman had “turned them off”. Most executions didn’t take place actually at the gibbet. The dead were brought there for prominent display where they might overlook the roads and tracks used by others who might be similarly tempted.

Interestingly, Dartmoor’s Gibbet Hill was an exception. It seems that execution and slow tortuous deaths might have taken place there as well. The great Dartmoor chronicler William Crossing relates that:

The modern road passes over the shoulder of Gibbet Hill, the highest point of Black Down, the scene, as some stories say, of the death by burning of the wicked Lady Howard. Tales are also related in the neighbourhood of unfortunate wretches being confined there in an iron cage and left to die, as a punishment for their crimes on the highway. It is told of one that he existed for a considerable time in the cage, the country people supplying him with food, and that he was sometimes so ravenous that he had been known to devour candles, when the market folk going homeward had nothing better to offer him, It may be remarked that one of the gates of Black Down, at the end of Burn Lane, is still known as Ironcage Gate. A Hundred Years on Dartmoor.

Our ancestors might have been tough on crime, but they cared little for the causes of crime. Poverty, starvation even, drove desperate people to break the law. You could be hanged and gibbeted for offences that would just get you a police caution these days. And the system was socially biased – the rich could get away with lots, the poor paid a terrible price for the most modest stepping over of the legal boundaries.Man Trap 3

The great place for London executions was, of course, Tyburn (present-day Marble Arch). I never used to walk down London’s Oxford Street without remembering that this was the way that the condemned were brought from Newgate Gaol on their way to execution – a journey that could take two or three hours, despite it only being two miles distant. The grim procession would stop frequently at every tavern so that the doomed criminal could indulge in refreshments.

There were usually eight hanging days at Tyburn a year, and they were great social occasions. Far from having a deterrent effect that attracted thousands of onlookers for a day out. The hangings were a popular entertainment for London folk.

Apart from gibbeted people, the countryside was fraught with danger of the casual walker. Stray off the path and you might well be peppered by shot from a gamekeeper’s spring gun or caught in a landowner’s man trap. Rights of way, public highways – the footpaths and bridleways we walk today – are fortunate to survive. Landowners generally looked askance at wanderers and vagabonds. Some, of course, still do!Man Trap 2

Overlooking Ballachulish in Scotland is the site of the gibbeting of James of the Glens, executed for the murder of Colin Campbell, a act of vengeance in a vicious clan war, though James was almost certainly innocent. Robert Louis Stevenson used the Appin Murder and its consequences as the plot for his great novel Kidnapped. There is a moving memorial to James on the spot now, just up from the Ballachulish Bridge.Joe the Quilter

The last gibbetings took place in England as recently as 1832. Durham miner William Jobling was executed for murder and gibbeted at Jarrow Slake:

The body was encased in flat bars of iron of two and a half inches in breadth, the feet were placed in stirrups, from which a bar of iron went up each side of the head, and ended in a ring by which he was suspended; a bar from the collar went down the breast, and another down the back, there were also bars in the inside of the legs which communicated with the above; and crossbars at the ankles, the knees, the thighs, the bowels the breast and the shoulders; the hands were hung by the side and covered with pitch, the face was pitched and covered with a piece of white cloth.

James Cook of Leicester met a similar fate, gibbeted close to the Aylestone Tollgate. The Newgate Calendar records that

Thousands of persons were attracted to the spot, to view this novel but most barbarous exhibition; and considerable annoyance was felt by persons resident in the neighbourhood of the dreadful scene. Representations were in consequence made to the authorities, and on the following Tuesday morning instructions were received from the Home Office directing the removal of the gibbet.

If you weren’t gibbeted your corpse was often handed over to the surgeons for medical research.

It’s interesting that when you think of people wandering the tracks, roads and footpaths, before the 1830s, including some of our greatest chroniclers such as Charles Dickens and George Borrow, that the sight of gibbeted corpses must have been so familiar that they scarcely mentioned it.

Nearly all the gibbets have gone now, though a few replicas have been erected, such as the one in my picture above at the Beamish Living Museum. But the memories linger on…

The late-medieval French poet Francois Villon, wrote the following about gibbets when he was waiting to be hanged -fortunately he was spared…

Dried by the sun are we, black from its ray;

Washed clean and spotless, for the rains come nigh.

Close hang the ravens and the vultures grey,

To feast upon and hollow out each eye.

Even for beard and eyebrow they will sigh.

No rest for us, spinning ceaselessly,

Only the wind and pay the law’s last fee,

More pecked of birds than fruit on garden wall.

Therefore, in mercy, look not scornfully,

But ever pray that God will pardon all.

L’Epitaphe Villon, Trans. Lewis Wharton.

Beamish April 2018 010

 

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Walking from Dartmoor’s Lustleigh

One of the first areas of Dartmoor I ever walked was through Lustleigh Cleave, that deep valley of the River Bovey on eastern Dartmoor. Not long before we left Devon, we walked there again. It was a dry and frosty day, though the views were limited by low cloud.Lustleigh 2

It is a place full of memories for me. I first sought out the Cleave nearly fifty years ago. A pal and I caught the bus from Newton Abbot to Lustleigh village.

Mapless, we walked up and down paths but never quite seemed to get there. But in time I got to know the area really well.

It has changed in those forty years. The sides of the Cleave are now far more wooded – in my youth there were bare slopes falling down to the tumbling river. I was pleased to see that someone was making an effort to tackle the scrub and bracken.

We walked through the orchard at Lustleigh, the trees wrapped with the last of the mistletoe, then through those fields of great boulders that are such a feature of the district. At Sharpitor, we sought out the cave under a huge rock just below the summit. Many years ago, I used to sleep there, my camp fire sending seemingly prehistoric shadows around the surrounding granite.

The path along the edge of the Cleave is a really pleasant mile of walking, though the clouds denied us the grand views. Only as we passed the enclosure and fort near to Hunter’s Tor did the cloud give way, the cold breeze easing as we descended to Peck Farm. Then on to Foxworthy, along what is clearly a very ancient trackway. Though mid-morning we heard a tawny owl cry across the valley.

Foxworthy itself a hamlet far away from the world, I always think. It has changed somewhat since I first knew it. It all looked a bit more modern, though the yell of the swift-flowing river is just the same.Lustleigh 1.

We returned along the path that climbs gradually above Foxes Yard, and then through the hamlet of  Pethybridge and back to Lustleigh. We explored the church, with its 6th century memorial stone to a long-dead landholder, and seeing the memorial to the statesman Leo Amery who, amidst his other accomplishments, was a renowned hillwalker and climber.

We used to hold ramblers’ meetings in the old church hall, though few of those who participated are alive today. But the memories of old friends who once walked in ancient sunlight are still vivid.

If you would like to really get to know the area around Lustleigh Cleave, then please do seek out William Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor. First published in 1909, and still the best guide to the neighbourhood. Do all of the walks in it and you will get to know Dartmoor very well indeed!

 

Dartmoor Bogs

Think of Dartmoor and you think of bogs?

Well, I don’t, but some folk do – and that’s a bit unfair as Dartmoor has many other delights. And what’s wrong with bogs anyway? They help store carbon and are a homeland for a great deal of fauna and flora.

Okay, you might get stugged – as they say on the Moor – but it’s usually temporary and messy and really never fatal. Now, we all hear stories about people lost in Dartmoor bogs, and certainly sheep and ponies sometimes perish therein, but is there any real evidence that anyone has actually, provably died in one?

I blame Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Hound of the Baskervilles. The idea of your villain slipping into the mire is quite a wonderful end – I wish I could do that with one of the characters in the Dartmoor novel I’m writing at the moment. But it’s been done so there. My villain will croak in a very different way…

In many years of Dartmoor walking I’ve only ever once nearly come a cropper and that was entirely my own fault. Back in the 1970s, backpacking on north Dartmoor, I was coming down off the hills with a mighty packframe on my back. Feeling lazy, I decided to cut a corner – across Raybarrow Pool, a valley mire of some reputation.

It was a silly thing to do, particularly as there had been a lot of rain. I sank down almost to my shoulders, and the pack on my back made it difficult to extricate myself. Eventually I did, emerging Grendel-like from the swamp and having to douse myself in the Teign before returning to civilisation.

Not that I was exactly traumatised by the event – bog-trotting and Dartmoor go together. They are just one of those things, like the wind and the rain.

In fact they are fascinating. When I was a young member of the Ramblers Association, I used to go out on group walks with a lovely old lady called Pam Lind, who looked just like a Dresden doll and seemed as fragile. Her great talent was leading groups on botany walks into the heart of the Dartmoor bogs. She knew the name of every flower that grew in these secret places and made the oft-messy journeys well worthwhile.

Inspired by her example, I found myself seeking out the bogs and mires, finding the little paths across and working out just how tough the raim – (ream – the surface) – was. I found lots of ways across Fox Tor Mires, near Princetown, the valley mire that gets hauled out so often by writers and broadcaster seeking a representative bog. Interestingly, the paths I knew first all changed after the Great Drought of 1976, and I had to learn them again. Fox Tor is said to be the inspiration for the Great Grimpen Mire of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel. There’s no doubt it was perhaps more ferocious until it was partially drained in Victorian times.

I have to admit, I’ve never walked a boggier land than Dartmoor. Other bogs in other landscapes never seem to compare. It amuses me up here in the Lake District, when the great Wainwright says a walk is boggy going – the examples he cites would simply be classified as mud patches or surface water on Dartmoor.

I used to find that the small boggy patches on Dartmoor were messier than the valley mires, though the feather beds are fun. You can bounce up and down with great enjoyment, seeing if you go through the raim. And just as much fun to stick your walking stick down to gain some idea of the depth…

So look kindly on the bogs of Dartmoor, or elsewhere. Seek them out and explore them, for we are darned lucky to have them. So what if you get wet feet? Mine got soaked on thousands of Dartmoor expeditions, and I don’t blame those bogs for my arthritic ankles.

And if anyone can give me ONE single example – not anecdotal – of anyone drowning unwillingly in a Dartmoor bog please do let me know…

Dartmoor Path in Peril

One of Dartmoor’s oldest paths is under threat of being stopped up – and you have just a few days to object.

The footpath, running through Okehampton Battlecamp, on the northern boundary of the Dartmoor National Park, is facing closure by the Ministry of Defence, despite the fact that it existed long before the battlecamp was built. The path has never been closed, even when the battlecamp was fully garrisoned. Now the camp is only used sporadically when troops train on Dartmoor.

 The proposed new path, mostly running around the edge of the battlecamp, is not as commodious to users as the present route. It is longer, nowhere near as attractive and not as convenient to walkers who wish to access the open moorland beyond the camp. Walkers would be obliged to walk further to regain the point they would have used by following the original path. Some of the proposed alternative is already accessible to walkers.

The MoD and Defence Estates have not made out the case as to why the path should be stopped up. This path existed long before the camp and has been there throughout the camp’s history. It was NOT deemed inconvenient when the path had almost a permanent garrison, nor was it removed during the IRA emergencies. The former commandant of the camp told me in the 1990s that he didn’t consider the path to be a problem.

I’ve used this path for over fifty years, and I don’t judge that my presence has been any sort of inconvenience to the military. Nor them to me.

The stopping up will increase the amount of road traffic going up to Moor Gate, as walkers seek to cut down the length of the proposed alternative.

When the battlecamp was built the people of Okehampton were promised that the path would remain as it is. It is one of Dartmoor’s ancient paths.

The Ministry of Defence never cease to baffle me. They are underfunded by over seven billion pounds, they are having difficulties recruiting and can hardly afford to properly equip our troops. We now have the smallest standing army since the Crimean War, yet they are holding on to almost as much land – at great expense – as they had at the height of National Service.

Yet they seem to be prepared to blue taxpayers’ cash pursuing footpath stopping up orders like this one. And only recently they seized the Commoners’ Rights of farmers in the parishes of Hilton and Murton in Cumbria in a shameful bit of land-grabbing.

Shouldn’t this underfunded government department be getting its priorities right?

You have just four days from now to register an objection. You can email an objection to the Secretary of State at nationalcasework@dft.gov. uk

Or you can write (as soon as possible please) to National Transport Casework Team, Tyneside House, Newcastle upon Tyne NE4 7AR. Please note that all objections must be in by 7th March.

 

 

Devon – Walking the River Webburn

 The Webburn might not be the first river that comes to mind when you think of Dartmoor rivers, but I think of it as one of the best.

The Webburn is surely Dartmoor’s most secret river, even if one of its branches does flow through Widecombe in the Moor – the Moor’s most popular tourist village. It is an elusive flow, occasionally encountered but rarely followed from its twin sources to its end in the swirling waters of the River Dart, below New Bridge.

To seek out its hidden places involves much trespass or the omission of great stretches of its waters. So come trespassing with me.

Rather like those pioneers of British exploration it makes some sense to follow the Webburn upstream, not least because the end of the river – at Buckland Bridge – is easily accessible and following the first section of the river presents no problems. The bridge spans the Webburn immediately above its confluence with the Dart and was rightly described by William Crossing as a charming scene.

It was here that the Widecombe authoress Beatrice Chase liked to linger and about which she wrote on a number of occasions. The lovely wooded valley upstream is a nature reserve, a haunt of otters and water birds. A path takes the wanderer upstream to the joining of the East and West Webburns at Lizwell Meet.  All of this is land declared open to roam under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.  On the hillside above is the fine viewpoint of Blackadon Down, with the stony piles of Blackadon Tor and Logwell Rock. It is a seldom visited area in comparison with other parts of Dartmoor.

The wooded valley splits here, one branch following the West Webburn upstream to Ponsworthy Bridge and then along the East Webburn to Cockingford Bridge. There are good paths by the banks of both of these rivers, but though well used they are not rights of way and you will be trespassing. I’ve walked them often over the years and all the tracks pass through delightful scenery. A good excuse to exercise your freedom to roam.

Let us follow the western river first. At Ponsworthy, the Webburn is easily walked using a public footpath which is now part of the Two Moors Way. It is a rough and stony track, often very near the edge of the water, a very good place for a lunch break. The river bends to the north west at the hamlet of Jordan.

It was near here that I often met the actor and fisherman, the late Sir Michael Hordern, a great champion of freedom to roam, who spent his boyhood nearby and often returned. Sir Michael walked and fished the Webburn and neighbouring rivers at all hours of the day and night and few people had a greater knowledge of the local waters.

A bridleway takes the tramper above a further stretch of the Webburn, below the hill known as Jordan Ball to the appropriately named Shallowford. From above here the West Webburn drains a broad and marshy valley. Those Dartmoor walkers who have explored the old mineral workings around Vitifer and Birch Tor will have already seen the headwaters of the West Webburn, but before we proceed thither, let us look at where some of the tiny streams around Broadaford actually pass.

One tiny stream heads up towards Blackaton Manor and Gamble Cottage. Older ramblers on Dartmoor will remember when the latter was the home of Dr Alan and Mrs Gwenna Barwell, wonderful leaders of moorland walks. I walked with both of them on many occasions; expeditions which often concluded with sumptuous feasts at Gamble Cottage, which went on long into the night. Alan and Gwenna have passed on now, but I have fond memories of them both and enjoy looking at the painting of Bowerman’s Nose that Gwenna painted for me as a calendar one Christmas many years ago.

A westwards stream goes near to Cator, once the home of Dartmoor’s greatest conservationist, (Lady) Sylvia Sayer. How she is missed in these days when Dartmoor preservationists seem more interested in preserving the Dartmoor Establishment rather than Dartmoor itself.

The principal waters of the Webburn flow on under Challacombe to the mineral workings at Vitifer. A good bridleway and open moorland gives good access to the river from this point and there is a great deal of fascinating industrial archaeology in the vicinity.

Back then to Lizwell Meet, where a woodland path (private) leads to Cockingford Bridge.

If you are averse to trespassing, a footpath cuts the corner from Cockingford to the lane into Widecombe, offering limited views of the next stretch of the East Webburn as it heads towards the village.

It passes below Venton Farm, once the home of Olive Katherine Parr, or Beatrice Chase as she was better known. This once-famous authoress is buried in Widecombe churchyard, where her gravestone bears both names. She crossed swords with many people, not least the archaeologist and DPA secretary Richard Hansford Worth. In the days when I worked for the Dartmoor Preservation Association, I used to delight in reading their often vitriolic correspondence, which is housed in the DPA archive. It should be made available to a wider readership.

What can one say about Widecombe-in-the-Moor? Despite the crowds, the hype, and the occasional tackiness, I still think it a delightful place in one of the most beautiful of settings.

The Webburn slips by all this hustle and bustle and is scarcely noticed. But the valley beyond is truly dramatic, mountainous in aspect, and perhaps deserving of a mightier river. Access to the Webburn is again limited until open moorland is reached at Natsworthy Gate. Here the main branch of the Webburn makes a sharp turn to the west, climbing the steep slopes of Hameldon to a source near to the Blue Jug boundary stone, scarce a mile from the headwaters of its sister river the East Webburn.

If you like your river sources to be in stark and beautiful places, then this will do for you as the head of the Webburn.  But a case can be made for the tiny brook that proceeds up the valley past Heathercombe, below Barramoor and up to near Lettaford Cross as being the final flow of the Webburn. This may be followed, with a subsidiary watercourse up on to Shapley Common.

The first part of this may be seen from the footpath through the woodlands of Heathercombe Brake and the Shapley tributary from the Mariners Way. In dry weather some of the highest parts dry out, but it is surely the highest flow of this elusive river.

If you have been a bold trespasser and followed much of the two courses of the Webburn you will have passed through a quiet and secret landscape. The Webburn deserves to be better known and perhaps in future years increased access legislation or new rights of way will make this lovely river far more accessible.

This is an extract from my Devon book, now out in paperback and on Kindle…   
Here’s the blurb…411C+iYtNWL._AC_US218_
“The novelist John Bainbridge has walked in the Devon countryside for over fifty years, and is well known as a writer and broadcaster on the county.
In this miscellany of country essays, he explores many of the quiet corners of Devon, from the wild moorlands of Dartmoor and Exmoor to its spectacular coastline and peaceful pastoral landscapes.
John Bainbridge is the author of the country books The Compleat Trespasser and Wayfarer’s Dole.

“As a rambler, I’ve spent much of the past half century roaming through the Devon countryside, exploring the county’s quiet villages, winding footpaths and bridleways, lonely moorland and dramatic coast. I’ve had the privilege of leading walking groups to share what I know of this land. For much of that time I’ve also written and broadcast about Devon – in a number of books and many newspaper and magazine articles and for a local radio station. In fact, my first published work was an article about Dartmoor, written and sold when I was sixteen.

Devon has changed a great deal since I began my walks there – not altogether for the better. Ill-thought out development has blighted some of the countryside I knew. I salute those campaigners who are fighting to protect what remains. I spent nine years as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, so I appreciate the hard work involved in saving the beauties for future generations to enjoy.

But even with all these changes there are still the quiet secret places there to discover, and what better way to seek them out than on foot? I’ve enjoyed my Devon walks, both alone and in the company of other ramblers.

I’ve written about Devon in my two earlier walking books Wayfarer’s Dole and The Compleat Trespasser, which give accounts of some of my longer walks.  But there are some shorter pieces I’ve written, many previously published as magazine articles, which didn’t fit into the themes of those titles – fugitive pieces which I thought might make a collection on their own, hence this little volume.

This is no definitive account of Devon, nor yet a walks guide, though there are snippets of history, legend and topography in the pages which follow. Footloose in Devon is rather a bedside book, a volume to be dipped into when the reader has a quiet moment.  I hope the places mentioned might inspire some rambles and expeditions into the heart of this very lovely county.”

To read more or to order just click on the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Footloose-Devon-John-Bainbridge/dp/1981692096/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1530172277&sr=8-1&keywords=Footloose+in+Devon

I’m writing a novel set on Dartmoor at the moment, a sequel to my book Balmoral Kill,  so I’m having many thoughts about my past walks in this area. 

Walking Sacred Landscapes

There’s no doubt that the people who lived in this country in what we call prehistory regarding the land as sacred. Just look around and see the stone circles, henges and stone rows they left behind. It is hard for us to enter their mindset, though most folk still experience a sense of wonder when they visit these historic sites.

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The Cockpit Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2019

The question that often occurs to me is whether the places where the circles, rows etc. now stand were in some way held to be sacred before those structures were erected. That might explain why, in some cases, stones for these antiquities were often brought considerable distances to the sites where they now stand. Why bother? Why not just use the stones of the local area, or erect these monuments close to where the source stones were?

I’m an amateur antiquarian and not an archaeologist, so I’m not qualified to give an opinion. If you are please comment below with your thoughts…

But just look at the surviving sites – the great monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the rich archaeology of Dartmoor, the many stone circles of Aberdeenshire, the wonders of Kilmartin Glen in Argyll – the list goes on.

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The Copstone (c) John Bainbridge 2019

I was considering this the other day when we were taking one of our regular walks on the edge of the Lake District, across the fells of Askham and Moor Divock.

There’s no doubt that this wide stretch of moorland was one of these sacred stretches of landscape – the evidence is there for all to see with the remnants of rows, an excellent stone circle now called The Cockpit, banks and ditches. In my Dartmoor days we would have described it as a sanctuary.

And where these ancient people went – and we should think of them not as savages but as human beings as mentally sophisticated as we are – we have a multiplicity of trackways. The ways that these men and women took not only to survive day to day, but to access sacred sites.

On the fells around Moor Divock, there are a great many tracks. Some undoubtedly of recent origin, but others which must have existed for thousands of years.

Crossing the hillside is the Roman road known as High Street. Was it built by the Romans? I don’t think so. I think it was a prehistoric way across the eastern Lake District fells, that the Romans adopted and probably improved.

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High Street (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Take a walk along it and consider that – High Street not a relatively recent Roman road, but one of the oldest roads in Britain. Perhaps dating back to Neolithic times when the men and women who dwelt in these hills first felt the need to travel regularly, unlike their ancestors, the hunters who had no defined routes, but simply followed the herds of animals they needed for food.

When we walk the old ways, we are often walking in the steps of the most ancient of our ancestors. So take a walk along the old tracks and visit these old sites – the circles, henges and row. Take a walk and wonder as well as wander.

 

The Hoff Beck Walk

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.

Rutter Falls (C) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

hoff beck
The Hoff Beck (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

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Great Ormside Church (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.