Fawe Park v The Trespassers

On a scorching Monday morning, we walked the north-west corner of Derwent Water, passing Fawe Park, in Victorian times the scene of access battles and trespassing protests. Battles long over, though, interestingly, there is still an appalling lack of public access on that corner of a very beautiful lake.DSCF1456

Not that there aren’t rights of way – there are. But not as many as along the other banks of Derwent Water. And there is a strong presumption that walkers shouldn’t stray from the signposted tracks. And even as you walk through the beautiful woodland, you are often corralled in between unnecessary fences.DSCF1459

When we think of the need to trespass, we tend to dwell on the battles in the Peak District and the Forest of Bowland – though the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) has remedied some of these problems.

But the Lake District has had periods were traditional access has been denied. Before World War Two, the Lowther Estates tried to deny access to much of the hill country east of Angle Tarn.

But back in Victoria’s reign, when the rich took to building new houses in the most picturesque corners of the Lake District, there were considerable battles. Newcomers to the district closed at least twenty-two footpaths around Ambleside, there was an attempt to restrict access to the Stockghyll Force waterfall, landowners tried to deny access to the summit of Latrigg Fell – all places were people had traditionally walked.

Even earlier, William Wordsworth, by then a pro-landowning Tory, was so incensed by the blockage of an ancient path that he tore away the obstruction, as I’ve related in my book The Compleat Trespasser.

In the 1850s, James Spencer-Bell built the house of Fawe Park on the shores of Derwentwater. Riders and walkers had used the nearby ancient track going through the estate for generations. He died in 1872, leaving the property to his wife and eldest son. In 1885 access to the path was blocked on the grounds that its use invaded their privacy.  Discussions were held with Mrs Spencer-Bell, after the death of her son, but she was unwilling to compromise.DSCF1467

In 1887,  the Keswick Footpaths Association, compiled a report on the evidence supporting the public’s right to use the footpath across Fawe Park and this was submitted to Counsel for legal opinion. The lawyers opinion supported the existence of the right of way. On the 30 August of that year, local campaigners Mr Jenkinson and Mr Routh Fitzpatrick led a protest group to Fawe Park where they were confronted by Mrs Spencer-Bell who refused to remove the barriers.  Mr Routh Fitzpatrick ordered the barricades down and proceeded to lead his walkers along the path.

Undaunted, Mrs Spencer-Bell restored the barriers.

Equally undaunted, the footpath association declared that they would remove the barriers again on on 28 September. At least of 500 protestors – many of them leading members of the local community – marched on Fawe Park, removing the barriers and taking the old track.

This time, Mrs Spencer Bell yielded to pressure and no further attempts were made to close the footpath.

But, the thought occurred to me as we walked, this is still the area around Derwent Water with the least access. There are Private – Keep Out signs on either side of the Derwent Water circuit path. There are, if you are walking north from Hawse End, only a couple of places where you can access the lake, the most prominent being by the boat station at Nichol End.DSCF1466

The other is at Lingholm, where – by grace and favour – you can walk down to the lake courtesy of the owners of the cafe. And very beautiful it is too, with its connections to Beatrix Potter, who stayed there and Fawe Park, and used both as settings for her delightful stories. You can also visit the impressive walled garden there.

But some of the countryside around is still out of bounds.DSCF1455

I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it, England and Wales needs the kind of Land Reform, with the massively increased access rights, that we enjoy every time we go walking in Scotland.

No more piecemeal access!

We want the real thing!

(c) Text and pictures John Bainbridge 2019

 

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A Walk on Kerrera

Just a five minute ferry ride across from near Oban is the island of Kerrera. Delightful coast and moorland walking, fantastic views across to the Argyll mainland and out towards several Hebridean islands. Our walk took place on one of the hottest days I have ever known in Scotland. A perfect day for a walk.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

We chose to do the southern circuit of the island, from the ferry landing, so that we might see Gylen Castle and the views towards Jura. The walk around the island is on a good track, with reasonable gradients. There are many reminders that Kerrera was once part of the kingdom of Norway. It is not difficult to imagine Viking longships slipping into the quiet coves of this island.

One of the first places you come to, walking southwards, is Horseshoe Bay, where in 1249 Alexander II of Scotland began his campaign to reclaim the Hebrides from Norwegian control. His campaign never got off the ground. He was taken ill and died in a field nearby; called Dail Righ, the king’s field to this day. In 1263, a fleet of one hundred and twenty longships, under the command of Norway’s King Haakon I, moored here on the way to defeat at the Battle of Largs.  Kerrera is so unspoiled it feels like it all happened yesterday.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

At the next inlet, Little Horseshoe Bay is a row of
delightful cottages, once the homes of quarry workers, before becoming the centre of the local lobster industry.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

A mile further on is Gylen Castle, standing gaunt and mysterious on its clifftop above the swirling waters of the Atlantic. Okay – I admit they weren’t swirling when we got there. In fact the Atlantic was still and blue. But the atmosphere of this old ruin sinks into your imagination. Gylen Castle is a place haunted by bloody deeds. It could have come straight out of a story by Scott, or Neil Munro, or John Buchan. It cries out to be in a novel. In 1647, it was besieged by Leslie’s covenanters, who forced the garrison of clan MacDougall to surrender, slaughtering all the defenders, except one youth, as they came out. The castle was put to the torch, and has been abandoned ever since. We sat for a while on the stony beach nearby. All was perfect peace. It felt like the edge of the world. Souls can grow calm in places like that.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

Nearby we found refreshment at a tea garden before continuing our journey. They have a bunkhouse as well, if you are tempted to spend some time on this jewel in the Firth Of Lorne.

The western side of the island became wilder as we made our way northwards, the track narrower, but with superb views towards Mull and Morvern. At Bar-nam-Boc-Bay are the remains of what was once a port, a crossing point to Mull, a place where thousands of cattle a year were brought from the islands by drovers. You can almost hear the cry of the men and the lowing of the cattle amidst its ruins.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

Here we began to cross the island, back to the ferry, taking in the highest grounds of the walk. This high stretch is called Am Maolan – the Wild Place – and wild it is, seeming far higher and more remote than its contours would suggest. A long descent brought us back to Kerrera’s Victorian schoolhouse, and to the four o’clock ferry, which we caught with just half a minute to spare. If you haven’t been to Kerrera, then I can recommend it. The memories are priceless. A day out of the madness that we call modern life.

Text and pictures (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

 

A Stroll near Oban

There’s a popular belief that you have to walk miles and go into the wild blue yonder to find interesting places. It’s not true of course. A short stroll can give you lots of history and some grand scenery as well.

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Dunollie Castle (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Nor do you always need a footpath or bridleway. For this stroll we mostly used the road, a relatively quiet road too, for it comes to a dead end – though there are footpath continuations.

A week ago, we were in Oban in Scotland, a place very familiar to us. But we decided to walk along to Ganavan Bay, somewhere we hadn’t been for a few years. Now this is just the sort of stroll a tourist might do. But it’s interesting, for this couple of miles embraces hundreds of thousands of years of history, legend, folklore and wartime exploits.

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The Dog Stone (c) John Bainbridge 2019

This walk below Dunollie Castle even has the blessing of Sir Walter Scott, who admired the scenery hereabouts “Nothing can be more wildly beautiful than the situation of Dunollie.”

He was right. So many times, returning on the ferry from Mull, I’ve admired Dunollie’s Tower as the ship comes into Oban harbour. Once it was green with ivy, though restoration has swept much of this away. There used to be a free path to the tower from the road, but this has now been closed – access is now from the more recent mansion of the Chief of the Clan MacDougall.  The original castle dates to at least 685 AD, though what you can see is probably mostly 14th century.

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The Carriage Drive (c) John Bainbridge 2019

This house itself is now open to the public, housing a little museum regarding the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. When we went last week, it was also hosting an interesting display about Scottish Tinkers – more of which in another blog,

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Dunollie House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

We approached the castle by way of its original carriage drive, now a pleasant green track which passes the great stone of clacha’ choin, or the Dog Stone, where legend has it that the giant Fingal used to chain up his equally huge hound Bran.

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Oban Harbour (c) John Bainbridge 2019

From the castle we headed back along the road, admiring the views across to Kerrera, Morven and Mull. On the other side of the road are great rocky cliffs covered in trees. Search among them and you may discover the caves used by dwellers in the Stone Age, who lived by hunting in these woods and moors or scavenging on the beach. Many more caves were destroyed when the Victorians expanded the town of Oban. But the views across the seascape would have been as familiar to Stone Age men and women as they are to us.

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(c) John Bainbridge 2019

And like us they would have seen deer as they walked along the edge of the sea.

The road winds round to Ganavan Bay, sadly partially disfigured by the kind of ghastly modern architecture that should never have got planning permission. But our thoughts were on the past. During World War Two, Ganavan was used as a base for the seaplanes that went far out into the Atlantic to guard shipping convoys and destroy enemy U-Boats. Only a simple signboard relates this history, though there is more information in the Oban Military Museum.

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Dunollie Tower (c) John Bainbridge 2019

What a pity that Ganavan Bay couldn’t have been left in a state that might have been recognised by those wartime aviators. These luxury homes are just a massive intrusion and a disfigurement of a fine coastline.

Years ago we followed the coast from here for several miles on an extremely wet day. But this time we returned to Oban, via a cup of tea stop at Dunollie. Reflecting on so much Scottish history.

 

 

 

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