Walking Leyburn Shawl

One of the finest paths in Yorkshire runs along the two-mile limestone terrace of Leyburn Shawl, which offers such fine views up through Wensleydale. We walked its length again this week, on a beautiful day in this very wet June, starting from the town of Leyburn.

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On Leyburn Shawl

Legend relates that Mary, Queen of Scots, escaping from captivity in Bolton Castle, dropped her shawl along the way, giving this long hillside its name. That’s not actually true. Shawl is almost certainly a corruption of an old English word meaning Settlement. Whatever its origins it is a stunning vantage point, and the flowers were quite wonderful as we followed the path through woodlands and outbreaks of limestone.

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Wensleydale

The views are truly magnificent and the path divine. The first part of the Shawl, nearest to Leyburn,  was laid out as a promenade, with seats and shelters in 1841. A gala, known as the Leyburn Shawl Annual Festival was held there, attracting over two thousand folk in 1844.

The local newspaper remarked that the visitors were people “of the highest respectability.” That might seem like a throwaway remark by a local journalist, but let’s not forget that the 1840s were a particularly lawless decade, with a considerable amount of justified political agitation.

In the following years, grottos were provided for visitors, and annual tea parties were held.

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A path properly restored

There were no crowds as we walked the Shawl, just a few ramblers and dog-walkers. Towards the end of the Shawl, the path dips down to the fields below towards Tullis Cote. So pleased to see here that a good farmer has properly restored the public footpath after ploughing, an excellent example to others.

Tullis Cote is a scattering of houses, but the lower slopes are dominated by the ruins of the Preston Smelt Mill – a reminder of the lead mining that was once prevalent in this dale. Centuries ago, lead was smelted around here to provide the roof for nearby Jervaulx Abbey (see blogs passim). Now the industry has gone, following a great flourish during the Industrial Revolution, but the echoes of that hard-working past are there – at Tullis Cote and other places.

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Preston Smelt Mill

We crossed the railway line and the main road through the dale, and followed a long path through Wensley Park, where we took the driveway leading between the village of Wensley and Bolton Hall, built in 1678 by the Marquis of Winchester, who married the daughter of Lord Scrope – whose family had held these lands since medieval times.

Wensley itself is now a tiny village, but was much more important centuries ago, being the principal market town of the dale. Granted its charter in 1306 by Edward I folk would have used the paths we now walk on market days. However, a disastrous plague struck in 1563. The place never recovered and its decline led to new markets and the growth of population in the nearby towns of Leyburn and Hawes.

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Wensley Church

The great joy of Wensley is its parish church, one of the most interesting in England, so historically stunning that I’m going to devote my next blog to it. There’s just too much to say here. It’s not used for regular worship, but is maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust. If you love our old churches, put it on your “to visit” list.

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The Gateway to Bolton Hall

Interestingly, Wensley gives a name to this entire dale, despite being situated at its foot, and despite the fact that the river is the Ure or Yore. Some still call it Yoredale or Uredale, and quite properly too.

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Sundial at Wensley Church

We followed Low Lane, a quiet lane that runs alongside the river, making our way up the Low Wood Lane track back into Leyburn – the town that grew because of the plague wiping out much of the population of the once important market town of Wensley.

 

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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.

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.

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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.

The Gentle Art of Tramping

In Ambleside the other week, in Fred Holdsworth’s wonderful independent bookshop, where we always have a browse if we are walking in the vicinity, I was thrilled to spot a brand-new and beautiful edition of Stephen Graham’s classic work on vagabonding, The Gentle Art of Tramping (Bloomsbury).Gentle Art of Tramping

Now I already have a first edition of the book, but I couldn’t resist this beautifully produced new copy, with a perceptive introduction by Alistair Humphries.

I suspect not many present day walkers have read Stephen Graham (1884-1975). Graham gave up life as a young civil servant to go tramping across Russia before the Great War. He tramped thousands of miles across that vast country, mostly alone but sometimes in the company of Russian vagabonds and pilgrims. In later years he walked America with the jazz poet Vachel Lindsay, and walked in most countries of the world. His books, such as Undiscovered Russia, A Vagabond in the Caucasus and A Tramp’s Sketches have been too long neglected.

He distilled much of this tramping knowledge into The Gentle Art of Tramping. While giving useful advice about the kit of the time – and do bear in mind that the book was first published in 1927 – the book is much more about a tramping philosophy. While there are chapters on boots, knapsacks and what clothes to wear, there are philosophical chapters on the art of idleness, the fire, the bed, seeking shelter, drying after rain, what books to take and bathing in rivers. There are chapters on scrounging , drying after rain, long halts and keeping a notebook, and carrying money – the less you carry the more you’ll see.

Stephen Graham invented Mindful Walking a century before it became fashionable.

He also suggests the merits of the Zig-Zag and the Trespasser’s Walk, which have certainly been an inspiration to me. My own books Wayfarer’s Dole and The Compleat Trespasser might never have been written had I not read Stephen Graham when I was young.

I first encountered Stephen Graham as a lad, and I remember the difficulty I had then in finding copies of his books. I was a walker and rambler already – but this book turned me into a tramper, leading to the long tramps of weeks and months I took across the English countryside. I’ve recorded some snatches of my experiences in my own writings, but Stephen Graham was the master of the tramping philosophy.

Very well worth a read in this beautiful new edition.