No Man’s Land

The concept of No Man’s Land seems strange in relation to country walking. Surely it’s a military term, the terrain between two opposing armies, such as on the Western Front in the Great War?

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Appleby Fair Hill (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Seventy-five years ago, my father was stationed near Battle Abbey in Sussex, waiting to participate in the Normandy Landings. The last minute briefings would have been taking a long hard look at the military concept of No Man’s Land. Interesting, I always think, that he was at a place so associated with the Norman Conquest in 1066, when he was about to go the other way and invade Normandy.

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Our Land (c) John Bainbridge 2010

But in fact No Man’s Land has its origins a long way from military battlefields. No Man’s Land was literally that – those odd patches of land scattered around the edges of highways and heathlands that either had no owner, or had an ownership that didn’t realise they were included in a domain or places were two parishes met and no one could define the exact boundary.

It’s an old term – there are references in Domesday Book to land lying just outside the city walls of London. The term No Man’s land – historically nonesmanneslond, which the Oxford English Dictionary dates to 1320.

Sometimes, the term was applied to land subject to a legal dispute. George Borrow, in his wonderful book Lavengro, relates how he camps in Mumper’s Dingle, a deep valley embroiled in litigation.

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On the Flashing Lane (c) John Bainbridge 2019

When I was a boy, we often visited a family of Gypsies who used such a stretch of land on the rural edge of the industrial Black Country. They were relatively safe, for the authorities couldn’t prove that anyone owned their site.

No Man’s Land offered the opportunity to camp and reside – at least temporarily – in the countryside when the barriers were being put up during the dreadful times of the Enclosure Acts, when the majority were being robbed of their rights to the land. A situation that has not changed to this day, when 1% of our population own 50% of the lands in England.

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Vardo (travelling wagon) in Appleby (c) John Bainbridge 2019

There’s also the thought that the No Man’s Lands of old represented in-between places, the stretches of land between the jealously-guarded private properties and the public highway, one of the few places you could safely access at a time of man-traps and spring guns. Places that were somehow in between what is lawful and what is not lawful. Another reason why the very idea was hated by the Establishment.

Ramblers and country walkers often found themselves in the forefront to reclaim some rights to the captured landscape. The iconic Kinder Scout Mass Trespass in 1932, which saw ramblers sent to jail by a loaded jury and a biased judge, shows how one has to fight hard to access our own land.

Those bits of No Man’s Land that survive are a hugely important part of our social history – they deserve preservation orders so that they might stay wild and free.

Up in Cumbria next week is the New Fair at Appleby (once the county town of Westmorland), the most important date in the Gypsy Calendar, attracting Romany travellers from all over Britain and beyond, who come to trade in horses and race horse-drawn sulkies in the “flashing lane” above the town to prove their worth. As you watch the horses being washed in the River Eden, you are seeing a little bit of an older England brought vividly to life.

This coming week, if you are travelling around the North Pennines, around places like Barnard Castle and Kirkby Lonsdale, you can see the Gypsy wagons and tents drawn up on the roadsides leading to the fair. Some of these atchin-tans or campsites have been used for generations. Some are bits of No Man’s Land still in use.

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Jubilee Ford, Appleby (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Sadly, with road widening, some of these important parts of our history are being swept away. The grubbing out of hedgerows, building developments and mercenary raids on open spaces are taking away a lot more. And there is – certainly in England – a presumption against people using our bits of No Man’s Land for traditional purposes.

Which is a pity, I think…

The Appleby New Fair starts next Thursday, though Friday and Saturday are the best days. The horse are washed in the town itself, but the fair and the flashing lane are up on the hillside on the far side of the A66. If you want to go and have a look at the fair, do get there early, as traffic can be very bad and parking places are taken up very quickly. You can always get there by train on the Settle to Carlisle Line.

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A Walk to Robin Hood’s Grave

Since we first discovered the area, we often walk up from the village of Orton, in Westmorland, to visit Robin Hood’s Grave. It’s of particular interest to me because I have a great interest in the Robin Hood legends and have written four historical novels about his adventures. So impressed was I with the area around this supposed grave, that I started my novel Villain up on these wild northern fells.

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Robin Hood’s Grave (c) John Bainbridge 2019

It’s a grand place for a country walk of several miles, with good clear views of the Lakeland mountains and the Pennines.

We left Orton early, passing the ancient pillory, where wrongdoers, or perhaps just the
unfortunate poor, would have been subjected to punishment and humiliation, and the even older parish church, taking the footpath that eventually leads to Crosby Ravensworth, crossing a number of old stiles in stone-walled fields.

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The Pillory in Orton (c) John Bainbridge 2019

After a long ascent we reached an old lime-kiln and then the edge of Orton Scar. Thankfully, this area of moorland, with some outstanding limestone pavements, has now been put into a National Park – not before time.

At this point the old track becomes more defined, wider and you can see the wheel ruts of carts, which perhaps carried the refined lime down to Crosby.

You follow this track through some splendid heather moorland, keeping in the hollow and ignoring cross tracks until you reach the pile of stones that is Robin Hood’s Grave.
It almost certainly isn’t, but it is a very dramatic setting. If you read the best historical work on the outlaw, by J. C. Holt, you will discover that Robin Hood, or more often RobinHood as one word, became a generic term for many an outlaw.

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A Path near Orton (c) John Bainbridge 2019

There’s quite a tradition of Robin Hood in Westmorland and Cumberland. Where the stories originate is debateable. The old ballads suggest Barnsdale, but they are the first versions actually written down – it’s likely there were earlier oral ballads, probably with a different location.

They might have first gained ground here or in Sherwood Forest or Wakefield or wherever. The great local outlaw in Inglewood Forest, nearer to Carlisle, is Adam Bell, some of whose adventures are very similar to Robin Hood’s.

There are several purported Robin Hood graves scattered across England, some more dubious than others. But I suppose Robin Hood never really died – he lives on in the hearts and minds of devotees. The whole subject of medieval outlawry is fascinating, the outlaws of old would have walked many of the tracks we now follow as public footpaths and bridleways.

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Robin Hood’s Grave (c) John Bainbridge 2019

From the grave we followed the Coast to Coast Path, created by the almost legendary Alfred Wainwright, an easy walk across some wild countryside, following the trail back into Orton.

A good walk this and interesting to see another reminder of the Robin Hood legend.

 

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My novels about Robin Hood, which make up the four novel sequence The Chronicles of Robin Hood are all now out in paperback and as a Kindle Ebook. Just click on the link for a sneak preview or to order.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Bainbridge/e/B001K8BTHO/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Echoes of the Past

When I walk I always see more than one landscape. There’s obviously what you see out on your walk today, but there are all those other landscapes too. The landscapes of the past, and those are all merged together in the present lie of the land – a glorious palimpsest.

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Stepping Stones at Crosby Ravnsworth (c) John Bainbridge 2019

For the observant walker, this is a joy, for it brings our history to life, many periods of that history, and all there to be considered.

When I see ancient plough marks I can almost see the ancient ploughman who made them, rather like an illustration on a modern paperback of Piers Plowman. See that ruined cottage and think of the people who lived there perhaps a century or two ago. Walk the old paths and think of the way they were used in past times. You can almost visualise the users.DSCF1246

These thoughts crossed my mind the other day when we walked out from Crosby Ravensworth – (once in Westmorland, now in Cumbria and also part of the Westmorland Dales portion of the Yorkshire Dales National Park just to confuse you completely.)

These are lands once farmed by Saxons and Viking Settlers. I imagine they’d still feel at home in this winding valley of the Lyvennet. Drovers came this way too, all through the long centuries, taking their beasts to distant markets.

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On the Lyvennet (c) John Bainbridge 2019

If you’ve read past blogs, you’ll know we’ve been discovering the many footpaths and bridleways in the area around Crosby Ravensworth and the neighbouring community of Maulds Meaburn. Worth exploring too, for these paths wander through some beautiful countryside and are little walked compared to the nearby Lake District.

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On the Servants’ Path (c) John Bainbridge 2019

The paths too are in mostly good condition, reasonably waymarked and passing through some very interesting places. The Yorkshire Dales National Park people, who have taken on this corner of old Westmorland, have already been busy with route-marking and have produced a splendid leaflet featuring two good introductory walks in the district – you can pick up a leaflet free from the shelters in the two villages.

I’ve described before the Servant’s Path (see blogs passim), between Flass House and Crosby Ravensworth parish church, along which the servants from the big house used to walk each Sunday. There are some beautiful stone stiles, works of art which must never be destroyed, to facilitate their and now our journeys. We use this paths to Maulds Meaburn a lot, and very beautiful it is too, first by the waters of the River Lyvennet, then along the back wall of Flass House. So atmospheric that you can almost sense the servants on their way to church.

Then Maulds Meaburn, a community of picturesque and ancient cottages clustered around a village green, one of only three left in England where sheep still graze freely. History too for it was the scene of a rural rebellion in 1585 – see my blog of October 24th 2018 for the full story and for more about this fascinating place.

We followed the footpath up through the fields above, crossing Scattergate Gill, which had hardly any water, to Brackenslack Lane. A quiet lane with no traffic in the mile or so of our ascent. Some grand views too, over Crosby Ravensworth Fell, and with the North Pennines and Lake District mountains in the distance.

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Cowslips (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A beautiful lane too adorned with the last of the bluebells, and the treat of cowslips, which are not so common here. I’m always reminded of Shakespeare’s lines in A Midsummer Night’s Dream –

And I serve the Fairy Queen
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours.
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

Shakespeare was undoubtedly an observant country walker.

We took a footpath from Trainlands, along a very defined track up past Trainlands Plantation – hard won fields at some point in history, leading up to rougher grazing which must have been wilder fell once upon a time. We came out on to the main Appleby to Orton road by the St Croix Plantation – now there’s an interesting name for an English wood. Why St Croix?

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The Ruined Cottage (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A long footpath led down past Hull Barn back to Crosby Ravensworth. Close to the top is Cottage Plantation, now mostly cleared. Hidden behind a stone wall are the ruins of the cottage which gave the wood its name. A haunting place, long deserted I suppose, and you wonder who lived here and why they gave up their home.

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Hull Barn (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Through fields of sheep and cows we descended, all the time the church tower of Crosby Ravensworth in view.

So much English history in so little space…

 

Maytime by the Rawthey

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.

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Near Ingmire Hall (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

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Sedbergh Parish Church (C) John Bsinbridge 2019

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.

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A Friendly Frog (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

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Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

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The Path near Ingmire (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

Mostly about Bluebells

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Around this time of the year they appear, and draw crowds of admirers. And I’m one. I look forward to seeing the bluebells and can’t wait until they make their first appearance of the year.

They are a stunning sight, whether as part of a woodland floor, or covering bare hillsides.

On Sunday we walked up to Flakebridge Wood, near to Appleby in Cumbria. A pleasant walk up Well House Lane, a quiet no through road, its own banks lined with the flowers. Flakebridge has some of the best bluebells in Cumbria and it is worth the trip if you are nearby. You can walk out the way we went, or start from Dufton, rambling through the bluebell-rich Dufton Gill on the way.

If you are in Devon, at the other end of the country, try looking at the lower banks of the River Mardle on south-east Dartmoor, or the southern slopes of Fire Beacon above Sidmouth.

Why are we so stunned by the sight of flowers? Why do we pause for a while to admire that great view across the countryside? What is it in our human make up that makes us appreciate such things?DSCF1150

I don’t have any answers. Only that life would be poorer if there were no bluebells. If they were about for much of the year, perhaps we’d take them for granted. It’s the brief glimpse that makes us admire them and miss them when they’ve gone.

So get out there into the countryside and enjoy them while you can – and fight to preserve the woodlands where they grow. The thought that future generations might not see such sights is thoroughly despairing – yet many of our ancient woodlands are under terrible threat from developers and exploiters.

Britain has lost much of its ancient woodlands – we should make sure that this destruction ends. So please support at least one group that is fighting for our countryside.

Over the next couple of weeks we are going out to seek more bluebells.

 

The Sedbergh Quaker Trail

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.

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Fox’s Pulpit (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

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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.

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Lincoln’s Inn Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.DSCF1084

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.

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The Footpath through Hole House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

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Nether Bainbridge (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

 

Exploring Unknown Footpaths

Richard Jefferies, the Victorian country chronicler, was always full of praise for country footpaths – “always get over a stile” was his motto. And he was right. You never know what you might find when you take a walk down a public footpath or bridleway that you haven’t been down before.

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The Modern Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A few blogs ago, I mentioned that we had started to explore public footpaths to the west of the Cumbrian (properly Westmorland) village of Maulds Meaburn. We just scratched the surface last time. This time we walked further into unknown countryside.

And what did we see? Well, how about two modern stone circles? A house lived in by a Victorian artist? A quiet and peaceful hamlet with a coal-mining history? Not to mention some very peaceful and, I suspect, mostly untrodden countryside – and I mean that. While locals may use these paths, there were few signs that ramblers from further afield come here very often.

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Snowdrops in the lane (c) John Bainbridge 2019

We set off from Crosby Ravensworth, following the now familiar Servants’ Path (see blogs passim) past Flass House to Maulds Meaburn, that charming village where sheep still graze on the village greens.

Just past Low Bridge, we took the footpath to Howebeck Bridge, where there is a splendid and ancient stone step stile out on to the lane. At the foot of Morland Bank, we took the footpath past the charmingly named Prickly Bank Wood towards Reagill hamlet. Judging by the lack of footprints, not many people walk this way, though the path runs through charming countryside with good view over the Pennines. There are also some splendid old agricultural buildings along the route.

Before we got to Reagill, below Beechwood Farm, we noticed that someone had built a small but well made stone circle, to a prehistoric design. And not much further on, just before we struck the Reagill lane, we saw another modern circle, inscribed with mystical words. I’d be fascinated to know more about these and why they were built. if you know, please comment below.

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Old Agricultural Building (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Reagill seems to be one of the hamlets that time forgot, though it has an interesting history. It was once called Renegill, and the nearby Grange was the home of the 19th century artist and sculptor Thomas Bland, who decorated the neighbourhood with some of his sculpted work. In centuries past, the rich seem of coal that runs underground here was worked on a small-scale, though there a record of at least one fatality.

But now Reagill is a place of peace, clinging to its hillside, high above the Eden valley, with vast views across to the Pennines. Apart from locals, you wonder who ever comes here? Yet there are a number of public footpaths around the place, which deserve to be better known and used.

We followed the lane down past Reagill Grange, once the home of Thomas Bland, taking the bridleway and then a footpath to the very small hamlet of Witherslack (lovely name!) which is little more than a working farm.

Although you can walk back to Crosby Ravensworth by paths, we chose to follow the quiet lanes, as they offer wide views across the valley of the River Lyvenett.

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River Lyvenett (c) John Bainbridge 2019

All through our walk we didn’t see another walker, despite this being unspoiled and very attractive countryside. Yet walking the old ways is important. Without regular use, they may simply be lost.

How splendid if guidebook writers would abandon the well-walked areas and turn their pens to writing up walks on the little-used footpaths and bridleways…