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!

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…

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.

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…

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.


Walking the Lowther Estate Tracks


There’s something really interesting in walking the tracks of one of the country estates of the so-called landed gentry. We did it the other day on the Lowther Estate near to Penrith on the edge of the Lake District.

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Lowther Castle Ruins (c) John Bainbridge 2018

What I find fascinating is that so many rights of way continue to exist in such places, particularly in the north of England. It’s often a different story in other parts of Britain.

It was not unusual for the landowning upper classes to close paths near to their stately homes. As most of the landowners were also magistrates, Justices of the Peace, and it only took two of them to close a right of way, many of the old ways were lost in recent centuries. Closing old paths was, as Victorian country writer Richard Jefferies noted, very unpopular amongst the surrounding peasantry.

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Askham Hall (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Whether to court that local hate was a calculated decision by the squirearchy.

But wander down to the south and parts of East Anglia and you’ll find many a country estate with nary a path across them. I’ve spent many a long day trespassing on these forbidden lands.

But you can get a fair idea of the Lowther Estate by walking the surviving rights of way. We set out from Askham, that beautiful little village on the edge of the estate. Lowther Castle has been a roofless ruin since 1957 and the family now live at Askham Hall, which is a much more attractive building anyway.

The family were the Viscounts and then the Earls of Lonsdale, and over the centuries many well-known names visited them, including William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and – just before the Great War – Kaiser Wilhelm II. The two poets endowed the estate with some poor but oft-quoted examples of their verse.

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The Church and Mausoleum (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The walk through the Askham side of the estate and the old deer park on rights of way is very pretty, especially on a Spring day. Passing Askham Hall, we followed a bridleway and then a footpath down to Heining Wood and then down to the River Lowther – quite something to have a river named after you!

We walked up through Lowther Park up towards the ruin of the castle, and out to the estate church and the mausoleum where members of the family lie. The church is not particularly attractive on the outside, through the interior is rather charming in its way.

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Askham (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Then a footpath alongside the river, through the deer park to the oddly-named hamlet of Whale. Rather beautiful in the warm weather. We saw no deer on our day out, though there are some left out on the neighbouring fells – it was the deer that Kaiser Bill came to shoot on his pre-war visit.

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In the Deer Park (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The fifth Earl of Lonsdale, who used to enjoy his billing as “England’s premier sportsman” was a keen stalker. He also hated walkers exploring the Lakeland Fells within his estate (more or less everything east of Ullswater), and attempted to bar access by fellwalkers, branding everyone who rambled for pleasure as thieves, vandals and arsonists. Fortunately, his attitude didn’t prevail and the fells are now open for all to enjoy.

Crossing the river below Whale, we took a most delightful enclosed bridleway up to Helton, before following the lane back to Askham.

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The Bridleway to Helton (c) John Bainbridge 2018

On the way back I remembered how William Wordsworth, on his way to dine at Lowther Castle one day, took direct action against a neighbouring landowner who’d obstructed a right of way. I related the tale in my book The Compleat Trespasser:

The Tory poet William Wordsworth took direct action to break open a blocked right of way on the land of Sir John Wallace, when journeying to Lowther Castle for a dinner held in the poet’s honour.

During the meal an apoplectic Sir John complained that his wall had been broken down and, if he ever found out who was responsible, he would get out his horsewhip.

At which point Wordsworth got to his feet, saying “I broke down your wall, Sir John. It was obstructing an ancient right of way, and I will do it again. I am a Tory, but scratch me on the back deep enough and you will find the Whig in me yet”. A witness to Wordsworth’s action stated that the poet attacked the obstructing wall “as if it were a living enemy”.

I’m not Wordsworth’s greatest fan, but you’ve got to have some admiration for anyone happy to disrupt a dinner party with such a sentiment. Nothing like a bit of direct action – we should all do it more often…The_Compleat_Trespas_Cover_for_Kindle

The Compleat Trespasser is still available in paperback and as a Kindle eBook, if you wish to read more. Just click the link for more information…https://www.amazon.co.uk/Compleat-Trespasser-Journeys-Forbidden-Britain/dp/1494834928/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1521288001&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=The+Compleat+Trespasser