Best wishes for all who have followed the blog this year. I hope you all have a great Christmas and a peaceful new year.
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!
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…
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.
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.
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…
Enjoy and celebrate our walks but stand up and be counted when our rights to walk and our countryside are threatened…
A village where the locals attacked a common land intrusion by their landowner, following a path where the “big house” servants walked to church, and tea importers with a sideline in opium dealing. The history you encounter on a five-mile walk in the countryside of Westmorland.
We set out from the village of Crosby Ravensworth, walking to Flass House. This path, running along the banks of the pretty River Lyvennet, was used by the servants of Flass each sunday as they made their way to church in Crosby Ravensworth. To facilitate their passage, the owners of Flass built two beautiful step stiles in the drystone walls. They’re still there today, and I hope they remain safe from the zealots who want every stile destroyed in favour of gates.
A pretty path, the river a delight and the autumn colours quite beautiful. A heron stood as still as a sculpture in the water, looking for fish. It took off after a while, flapping like something out of prehistoric times, its weird cry echoing across the landscape. I’ve always liked herons. There’s something so wonderful about these riparian denizens.
As we walked, I thought a lot about the servants of Flass, obliged to go to church in their few hours of leisure. Programmes like Downton Abbey give the impression that being a servant was great fun. It wasn’t. It was darned hard work, with little time for yourself and appalling pay. I’m old enough to remember lots of old people who’d been in service – it was a huge chunk of the British population until World War Two. I can’t recall one who looked back fondly on their days of servitude, or felt particularly charitable towards their so-called “masters”.
The Dent family, who owned Flass, made their money from tea and opium importing – though we should note that opium was perfectly legal in those days. Hence all the opium dens around the country (I put one in my novel Deadly Quest – those of us who write Victorian crime stories love the idea), and, of course, poets like Wordsworth and writers like de Quincy spent most of the time high on the stuff and its derivative, laudanum.
Interestingly, given its history, a more recent occupier of Flass was raided and jailed for running a cannabis factory from the premises – sort of appropriate in a way.
The path goes through a tunnel just before you reach the high back wall of Flass, carrying a track into the owner’s pheasant preserves. The path beyond was beautiful in the autumn light, like an Atkinson Grimshaw painting, or something out of a ghost story by MR James.
Flass House, built in 1851, is currently empty and being renovated. We thought the house was an ugly pile, a long way from its Italianate or Palladian influences. But you can see the back gate in the surrounding wall through which the servants would emerge every sunday for their walk to church.
A few hundred yards on brought us into the pretty village of Maulds Meaburn, one of only three left in England where sheep still graze on the village green. This was once the village “waste”, land common to all. It was the scene of a modest rebellion way back in 1585 (October 22nd, to be precise), when the villagers fought off an attempt by their landlord to build on their waste.
The landowner, Christopher Lowther, built a little court-house in the middle of the green, an intrusion into the villagers’ ancient rights. The village wives abused the workmen Lowther had hired and Lowther himself. They threw stones at them, but the building went on. On the night of 28th October, a number of Lowther’s tenants, led by one James Fletcher, armed with pitchforks, axes, long-piked sticks, swords, dagger and other “unlawful engines”, attacked the building and razed it to the ground.
It all led to a court case in York, where the villagers argued that, according to the indentures, the lord couldn’t build on the waste without the villagers consent. That if they ignored the intrusion, he might further encroach on their common ground. They said that Lowther refused to listen.
Taking on a landowner in 1586 was seldom a good idea. Lowther won compensation of £8, and the attacking villagers were fined between 40 shillings and £3 as a punishment. Still Lowther wasn’t satisfied, bringing the matter to trial again. He managed to obtain a decree to have a piece of the ground to build his court house.
The Lowthers had incredible power over the populace (some might argue the family still do!) His tenants in Maulds Meaburn were obliged to carry sixty loads of coal, paying themselves in advance, from the pits on Stainmore, and having to haul it the many miles to Lowther Hall. This too led eventually to a legal dispute. The ruling still came down on Lowther’s side, though the tenants were granted the right to take the coal only as far as Meaburn Hall, instead of Lowther.
Today, the green is peaceful, the river idyllic and the cottages picturesque. There can’t be a village in the land that isn’t able to tell similar bitter stories.
To get a view over the whole valley, we followed the footpaths and lanes up to Brackenslack, then paths back down to Maulds Meaburn, before walking back past Flass to Crosby Ravensworth, now walking in the direction the servants would have taken on their way to church.
In the churchyard, we examined the graves of some members of the tea and opium dealing Dent family. The two villages have really changed very little since they lived here, and their servants walked the old ways of the Lyvennet valley.
A few blogs ago, I reported that Beacon Hill in Penrith was under threat from plans by the Lowther family to build on this grand high place. I’m pleased to report that public protest has persuaded the Lowther estate to withdraw their plans – at least for the high points of the Beacon.
I’m appalled that the Ministry of Defence is applying to deregister Hilton, Murton and Warcop Commons near to Appleby -in what Commons campaigner Kate Ashbrook has described as “the biggest threat to Common Land Since the Enclosure Movement”.
Now we walk a great deal on these threatened lands, which are part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s stunning scenery and offers real wild walking of the finest quality.
I hope this will be vigorously resisted.
Friends of the Lake District say:
Cumbria County Council has announced a two day public inquiry into the applications by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to deregister Hilton, Murton and Warcop Commons, near Appleby in Westmorland.
These commons represent 3% of the stock of common land in Cumbria. 15 years ago the MoD applied to extinguish the common rights over the land to give them more control and flexibility. At that time, they stated categorically that they would not apply to deregister the land as common land. This is now precisely what they have done, with little or no evidence as to why. The applications are strongly opposed by ourselves, the Open Spaces Society (OSS), the Foundation for Common Land, the Federation of Cumbrian Commoners, and the local residents.
The inquiry will take place on 12 – 13 September and will be Barrister led. It will only focus on the legal issues surrounding the applications. This is very complex and the OSS has engaged their own Barrister to present their case which we support. There are issues of principle at stake here, namely the fact that the applications are completely at odds with Government policy on common land, that the MoD expressly undertook not to deregister the commons, and also that we believe the applications do not meet the legislative requirements.
Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary – The Open Spaces Society writes:
Local and national organisations(1) are campaigning to stop the Ministry of Defence from destroying a vast area of Cumbria’s cultural history. The MoD wants to deregister three large upland commons(2)and turn them into private land. Objectors say the deregistration would be unlawful and flies in the face of undertakings made by the MoD, at a public inquiry, to keep the commons registered in perpetuity(3).
MoD will privatise around 1% (4,500 hectares) of England’s total common land(4) if Cumbria County Council grants it permission(5). This would be the largest enclosure since the major enclosures of commons in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The threatened commons are to the north-east of Appleby-in-Westmorland, in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
If the land is deregistered, it will bring to an end hundreds of years of tradition of upland commoning, and the farming community, which used to have vital grazing rights over this land, would be denied any opportunity in future to graze their stock there.
The land would also lose protection against encroachment and development since works on common land require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in addition to any planning permission.
William Patterson of the Hilton Commoners’ Association said: ‘When the MOD negotiated the buy-out and extinguishment of the commoners’ grazing rights (known as ‘stints’) on Hilton Fell, Murton Fell and Warcop Fell, one of the fundamental issues was MoD’s agreement to leave the fells on the commons register. On the strength of this undertaking, the commoners accepted the buy-out. It is a breach of trust that the MoD now wants to cancel that undertaking without making a further agreement. I believe that to safeguard the future of these fells the land must remain on the commons register.’
Julia Aglionby of Foundation for Common Land commented: ‘Common land is the most valuable and protected type of land in England, an immensely precious resource for society that has already been reduced to a mere 3% of England’s area. The MoD’s arguments for deregistering 11,000 acres of commons at Warcop are spurious, legally contestable and not in the national interest.’
Viv Lewis of The Federation of Cumbria Commoners said: ‘The Federation is very much opposed to the MoD’s proposal to de-register Hilton, Murton and Warcop commons. Common land is important to hill farmers and makes up some of our most treasured landscapes. If the hills stop being common land and the commoners lose their rights to graze and the sheep leave the hills, what’s to become of the uplands?’
Jan Darrall, of Friends of the Lake District added: ‘The three commons of Warcop, Hilton and Murton amount to 3% of Cumbria’s common land. There is no foundation for the MoD to deregister our commons and destroy our cultural heritage and to deny local use. They gave undertakings during the 2001 Inquiry that the land would remain as common land and are now reneging on this so as to have total control over the land for who knows what? We need to fight for our rich common land to remain for all to enjoy.’
Hugh Craddock, of the Open Spaces Society commented: ‘For too long, the MoD has wasted taxpayers’ money ruminating on theoretical risks to the future of the Warcop training estate which have no substance in reality. Now the MoD is wasting more money, and other people’s time, on pursuing an application for deregistration of the Warcop, Hilton and Murton commons which is not only unnecessary and misguided, but entirely contrary to undertakings it previously gave. We shall fight the MoD in its pointless campaign which has dragged on for too long. We hope that the MoD sees sense and withdraws its application, and focuses its resources on managing the Warcop commons in accordance with the commitments it gave in 2002.’
1 The organisations are: Hilton Commoners’ Association, Cumbria Federation of Commons, the Foundation for Common Land, the Friends of the Lake District, and the Open Spaces Society.
2 Common land is land subject to rights of common, to graze animals or collect wood for instance, or waste land of the manor not subject to rights. The public has the right to walk on nearly all commons, and to ride on many. Any works on common land require the consent of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, under section 38 of the Commons Act 2006, in addition to any planning permission.
The three registered Commons are Hilton, Murton and Warcop. The applications to Cumbria County Council are listed as CA14/3 -CL26 Murton; CA14/4 -CL27 Hilton Fell; & -CL122 Burton Fell and Warcop Fell.
3 A public inquiry, held in Appleby in 2001, led to all grazing rights on the commons being bought out by the MoD. In return the MoD created some additional access opportunities on Murton Common and undertook not to deregister the Commons. It also undertook to create new common rights to ensure that the commons would exist in perpetuity. These limited rights were never delivered by the MoD.
4 Cumbria contains around 31% of the registered common land in England which is mostly in the uplands—the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and North Pennines. The area covered by commons in Cumbria is 112,786 ha and these three commons cover some 4,500 ha.
5 Cumbria County Council is the commons registration authority for the county and has received three applications from the MoD to deregister the commons of Murton, Hilton and Warcop. The Council will determine the applications but the objectors believe that if it approves them, it would not be in accordance with the Commons Act 2006.
A fantastic karst landscape, terrific views and a Neolithic stone circle made this a wonderful morning walk from the little village of Orton. Although this ramble is in the county of Cumbria, this landscape has recently been added to the Yorkshire Dales National Park – and deservedly so.
Perhaps one day we’ll get our old county boundaries restored. Politicians should never have fiddled with them in the first place!
We set out from the village of Orton, where you can park for free in the village square. Buses are, to say the least, infrequent. The village itself is a bit of a gem, a grand old church and quite a selection of ancient buildings.
The original name of the place was Sker-Overton, changed to Orton in the local dialect. I found this out quite recently when I was researching my novel Villain – the third in the series which brings some reality back to the legend of Robin Hood. My book starts on the wild moorlands above Orton, before my villains return to Sherwood Forest.
Curiously, there are a lot of Robin Hood links in this part of Cumbria. His “grave” is high above the village. It was a visit to that a couple of years ago which inspired the start of my book. There were a lot of outlaws in these parts in medieval times, not least Adam Bell in nearby Inglewood Forest.
We followed the Coast to Coast long-distance path up through Broadfell Farm up to Orton Scar and the Beacon Hill. From here there are superb views across to the Lake District in one direction and the Howgill Fells in another, the valley of the River Lune in between.
Following the wall to the top of Beacon Hill, we came to the cross built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Here you get all round views, the ones I’ve mentioned before with the addition of the long heights of the northern Pennines.
The karst landscape of limestone pavement had already begun, intensifying in its splendour as we gained height. Walking north-east, following an impressive stone wall, we came to the entrance of the Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve.
Great Asby Scar is one of the best limestone pavements in Britain. There’s something almost unearthly about this landscape. I can’t even describe what it is. You need to go there and look for yourself. It’s almost as though you’ve stepped outside time.
A good path leads out of the nature reserve to a cross-ways on the far-eastern edge of Beacon Hill. A wide track leading around the Knott, one of the highest points on the walk.
As the Knott is the highest hill in the Westmorland Dales, we thought we should climb it at last. It’s a modest height, surmounted by a trig point and crossed by a stone wall. An easy ascent, but well worth it for the excellent views.
We descended a track called Knott Lane – and here’s another impressive sight. A stone circle from the Neolithic period.
The Gamelands Stone Circle is situated on what was once open moorland, but the circle was first ploughed out in 1863. A wall was constructed nearby and most of the stones have been tumbled over time, probably deliberately in the course of agricultural works. At one point there was probably a burial kist within the circle. It was certainly visible in Victorian times, but has long gone.
Despite these interferences, the stone circle, one of the largest in the north, is still impressive. You can stand there and wonder about its purpose. There are many proposed solutions. It is, they say locally, not often visited.
It’s possible to return to Orton on footpaths from there, but we chose the lane back to the village, a very old road indeed.
A walk that lives in my mind as I think back, because of the strange landscape and that old stone circle.
These Westmorland Dales make an excellent addition to the National Parks Family. Away from the route of the Coast to Coast path, this is a very quiet area – you can walk all day and hardly see anyone. If you are staying in the district, Orton, Appleby and Kirkby Stephen or the villages thereabouts, are good places to find accommodation. There are buses to Appleby and Kirkby Stephen and sometimes Orton as well.
Sometimes we walk in the footsteps of people who trod the hills thousands of years ago. The other day – a blazing hot morning – we walked up from the Cumbrian village of Orton to seek out the Castle Folds Romano-British settlement – a rare defended position set out amidst the limestone pavement of Great Asby Scar, re-used as a shieling in medieval times.
It is now, thankfully, though in the county of Cumbria, in the Westmorland Dales section of the Yorkshire Dales National Park – and every one who values our wild landscapes should approve of this improved level of protection.
We walked up from the village of Orton, using the bridleway to Street lane – and a joy that was in itself, with its profusion of wild flowers, including the increasingly rare ragged robin. Up then past Scarside Farm and then out on to the Great Asby National Nature Reserve.
This extensive area of limestone pavement was looking at its best and most dramatic, with its wide views over the Eden valley to the great ramparts of the Pennines. Good easy walking too, as we made our way along the walls of Asby Winderwath Common.
Then at last to Castle Fold. The defended settlement is set on a long knoll rising out of the surrounding limestone pavement – which undoubtedly provided the rocks for the rampart walls. When intact, it must have been a most impressive structure. There are other Romano-British settlements not far away, but Castle Folds was built purely for defence – not just against casual raiders, but perhaps some specific major threat, hence its considerable proportions.
Built not by the Roman occupiers of this land, but by the natives who existed alongside them.
Archaeologists believe that its once mighty walls were deliberately torn down, though in medieval times the ruins were used once again as a shieling, summer grazing for livestock.
It’s a deeply atmospheric place, and you could sit there for a long time contemplating its, perhaps bloody, history.
All through our walk the weather had been scorching hot, but as we prepared to leave Castle Folds, we felt the first hint of moisture in the air. Then a positive downpour as we retraced our footsteps into Orton. We saw no other walkers all day, though a frog greeted us as we walked down by the Orton Beck.
Castle Folds is a fascinating place – rare, archaeologically, and well worth the several miles of walk. Even as I write this I dwell on the men and women who sought shelter behind its high walls.
Who was their enemy? What was the fear that made them build such an elaborate structure? And was the medieval stockman, who dwelt there centuries later, at all superstitious about the blood that might have been spilled there?
The other day we walked out from Kirkby Stephen to have a look at Dukerdale, the dramatic valley which doesn’t quite scrape into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, though – even though it’s in Cumbria – it ought to. (There are precedents – the Westmorland Dales between Appleby and Orton are now part of the YDNP.)
A walk of two halves this, the first all pastoral through woods of ash and blackthorn, where the primroses grow and the spring lambs gambol: the second a long and hard moorland tramp where the only signs of life are the calls of the hill birds and the occasional disturbed grouse.
Starting by the sparkling waters of the River Eden at Frank’s Bridge, familiar to walkers of the Coast to Coast path, we crossed the disused railway line, and walked up to the mighty and dramatic Ewbank Scar, a great chunk of limestone, worn down over the ages by the tiny but very pretty Ladthwaite Beck. We saw deer not far away, red squirrels and a passing fitch. A good area for wildlife.
Beyond Ladthwaite Farm, the whole tone of the walk changes. What is a relatively pastoral landscape walk is transformed into a wet and occasional boggy moorland tramp – first across stone-walled intakes and then across open fellside, as we followed a long wall to the slopes of Tailbridge Hill.
The first part was a trudge through lank moor-grass and heather. Heavy going, the initial brightness of the day vanishing into light rain and hail. These fells, though, have an interest of their own – particularly for the walker who likes moorland birds and the lover of wild open spaces.
Hard going though, until a track opened up nearer to the summit. There was a time in my long ago Dartmoor days, when I could do thirty miles across such country and not think twice about it. Older age has calmed me down a trifle.
But when you come to the edges of Dukerdale you do get a gasp of excitement – it’s like a miniature version of the famous High Cup Nick, though limestone and not Whin Sill. Well worth going to have a look at.
We circled Dukerdale, crossing at the beck which pours down into this once-glaciated valley – a good place to halt for a tea-break. Then up across wilder moorland towards Rollinson Hags.
Superb views here, right across the great valley of the Eden to the North Pennines in one direction, with the Lakeland and Howgill Fells in the other.
We cut across to the track leading up from Kirkby Stephen to the Nine Standards, though we didn’t go up to those dramatic cairns on this occasion. Instead we followed the path and then the lane down the three miles back to Hartley and then Kirkby Stephen itself – a lovely gentle descent with equally terrific views, so familiar to walkers on the Coast to Coast.
A walk of two halves across countryside where, apart from at the end on the long-distance path, we hardly saw a soul.
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.