Walking Sacred Landscapes

There’s no doubt that the people who lived in this country in what we call prehistory regarding the land as sacred. Just look around and see the stone circles, henges and stone rows they left behind. It is hard for us to enter their mindset, though most folk still experience a sense of wonder when they visit these historic sites.

The Cockpit Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2019

The question that often occurs to me is whether the places where the circles, rows etc. now stand were in some way held to be sacred before those structures were erected. That might explain why, in some cases, stones for these antiquities were often brought considerable distances to the sites where they now stand. Why bother? Why not just use the stones of the local area, or erect these monuments close to where the source stones were?

I’m an amateur antiquarian and not an archaeologist, so I’m not qualified to give an opinion. If you are please comment below with your thoughts…

But just look at the surviving sites – the great monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the rich archaeology of Dartmoor, the many stone circles of Aberdeenshire, the wonders of Kilmartin Glen in Argyll – the list goes on.

The Copstone (c) John Bainbridge 2019

I was considering this the other day when we were taking one of our regular walks on the edge of the Lake District, across the fells of Askham and Moor Divock.

There’s no doubt that this wide stretch of moorland was one of these sacred stretches of landscape – the evidence is there for all to see with the remnants of rows, an excellent stone circle now called The Cockpit, banks and ditches. In my Dartmoor days we would have described it as a sanctuary.

And where these ancient people went – and we should think of them not as savages but as human beings as mentally sophisticated as we are – we have a multiplicity of trackways. The ways that these men and women took not only to survive day to day, but to access sacred sites.

On the fells around Moor Divock, there are a great many tracks. Some undoubtedly of recent origin, but others which must have existed for thousands of years.

Crossing the hillside is the Roman road known as High Street. Was it built by the Romans? I don’t think so. I think it was a prehistoric way across the eastern Lake District fells, that the Romans adopted and probably improved.

High Street (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Take a walk along it and consider that – High Street not a relatively recent Roman road, but one of the oldest roads in Britain. Perhaps dating back to Neolithic times when the men and women who dwelt in these hills first felt the need to travel regularly, unlike their ancestors, the hunters who had no defined routes, but simply followed the herds of animals they needed for food.

When we walk the old ways, we are often walking in the steps of the most ancient of our ancestors. So take a walk along the old tracks and visit these old sites – the circles, henges and row. Take a walk and wonder as well as wander.



Penrith Beacon, Barbed Wire and hemmed out of the woods

For some reason we’d never walked up to Penrith Beacon (937 feet) until last Sunday, when our little ramble – a short distance after our recent expedition to Cross Fell – was accompanied by the sound of church bells.

The Monument (c) John Bainbridge 2018

This was the place where beacon fires were lit throughout history, to warn of the possibility of invasion. The beacon dates back to at least 1296,  and there was a watching house there for centuries. The present monument dates back to 1719.

No Freedom to explore the woods (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The views over Penrith towards the Lakeland fells are very impressive. You can imagine how good beacon fires were as warnings on clear days. The views the other way, towards the Pennines are blocked by tree growth.

A steep path leads up to the beacon from Penrith, but we got the feeling that our presence was just tolerated. Much of the path through the woodland is hemmed in by barbed wire fencing.

At the Beacon (c) John Bainbridge 2018


Surely it would do no harm whatsoever if the Lowther family let the people of Penrith roam freely through these woods?

Even worse, there are attempts to get the draft Penrith Local Plan altered so that houses might be built across this precious woodland. I’m pleased to see there is considerable resistance to this outrage and desecration of an historical site by the residents of Penrith.

They should light the beacon – the heritage of Penrith is under attack!

I hope to bring you more on this…

Other news:

My new novel, Dark Shadow, set in Victorian York, is published on Thursday in paperback and on Kindle. But order online before the end of Publication Day and you can get it cheaper. Just click on the link below to find out more… https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dark-Shadow-William-Victorian-Thriller/dp/1722416890/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1532426261&sr=1-2&keywords=Dark+Shadow

Dark Shadow Cover copy.jpg

John Lardiner runs down a street in the ancient city of York and vanishes off the face of the earth. In a dangerous race against time, Victorian adventurer William Quest is summoned to York to solve the mystery – what has happened to John Lardiner? Forced into an uneasy alliance with the city police, William Quest finds his own life in peril. Men who pry into the disappearance of John Lardiner end up dead. In York’s jumble of alleys and narrow medieval streets, William Quest finds himself pursued by a sinister organisation. Can he solve the mystery of John Lardiner’s vanishing before his enemies bring his adventurous career to an end? By the author of The Shadow of William Quest and Deadly Quest.


On St. Sunday Crag

On a fresher day in this long heatwave, we left Patterdale for the dramatic height of St. Sunday Crag (and does anyone know how it acquired such a lovely name?)

Deepdale Hause and Grisedale Tarn (c) John Bainbridge 2018

There was an absence of the now familiar blue skies, but clear views across the Lake District as far as Morecambe Bay.

In fact, as we ascended Arnison Crag, there were about twenty intermittent – and very welcome – drops of rain. These soon vanished like a sorceror’s illusion, though a pleasant light breeze was very welcome.

Summit Fever (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Arnison Crag’s a modest height, and easily attained from Patterdale, but it does offer some splendid views over Ullswater. It must be a couple of years since we were last up there – and I must be a lot fitter for we made the little height in half the time.

Then on to Trough Head, where we followed the ruined wall up to the top of Birks, admiring the scene over Deepdale and Hartsop. So many fells – so many memories.

Onwards up the steep and rocky path to the top of St Sunday Crag.

St Sunday Crag from Birks (c) John Bainbridge 2018

There were just a couple of fellwalkers about – surprisingly few given that we’d seen hordes on the road between Glenridding and Patterdale.

St Sunday Crag doesn’t have the most dramatic of Lake District summits, but the views from the top are wonderful, particularly towards Fairfield and Helvellyn, with its rocky cliffs.

We wandered a little way down the narrowing ridge to Deepdale Hause, so that we might drink tea with a view over Grisedale Tarn. This tarn was supposedly where King Dunmail threw his sword and treasure before his battle death and burial on what is now Dunmail Raise.

A Terrific story, though old Dunmail probably died in his bed in Rome…

Ullswater from the ridge path (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Deepdale Hause is very dramatic – indeed it was a popular ascent for Victorian travellers in the Lakes. My 1872 guidebook, Jenkinson’s Practical Guide to the English Lakes, suggests that this ridge between St. Sunday Crag and Fairfield “is in places very narrow, but not dangerous to one accustomed to mountain work.”

We strolled back to the summit, then to the more dramatic subsidiary height of Gavel Pike, which offers good views down into Deepdale.

We descended by the path leading around the flanks of Birks to Thornhow End, passing several fellwalkers coming up for the afternoon. We usually start early in the mornings, and find that we get the fells more or less to ourselves. I commend the practice to you if you don’t like crowds.

An easy path, with views down into Grisedale, and then Patterdale. It steepens as it descends to Glemara Park, where we encountered our first larger group of walkers – young people out for a day on the fells.

I sometimes look at the young and wonder what their lives will be like when they get to my age? I’m glad I had the youth I did in the times I’ve lived through. I’m glad I’m not young any more.

Young ramblers never seem anywhere like as militant about the countryside and access as my generation did…

And yet these lovely wild places are under more threat than ever…




Wainwright’s Forbidden Fell

For many years The Nab, at the heart of the Martindale Deer Forest, was the Wainwright you weren’t supposed to visit, lest you disturbed the hunting preserves of the Martindale Deer Forest owners.

The Nab from Rest Dodd (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The myth was put about that it was the deer they were all keen to save from disturbance. It was never true. It was the value of the sporting estate that was at peril. Heaven forbid that the peasants should try to roam around its closely-guarded acres.

Even Wainwright urged caution; under pressure he suggested that walkers shouldn’t intrude, but then went on to include the route description in his The Far Eastern Fells book, admitting that he’d trespassed there itself, getting away with it “due to his remarked resemblance to an old stag”.

But then came the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW), which gave a right to roam across this sacred fell. And yes, there’s been not the slightest indication that the deer have been much disturbed by the visiting ramblers. In truth, the herd was never much up on The Nab itself, preferring the woodlands around the Rampsgill Beck, where walkers seldom tramped.

The Kaiser’s Bungalow (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Even early last century, the deer forest proprietors were iffy about the common herd (us) coming for a stroll in this part of the Lake District. The Earl of Lonsdale (1857-1944), who liked to bill himself as England’s premier sportsman, went positively apoplectic at the thought of any feet but his own treading this ground. In a lifetime devoted to ostentatious pleasure, a rambler or fellwalker was obviously Lonsdale’s particular bete noire.

On my bookshelves, I have a charming little volume entitled Wayside Pageant by W.L. Andrews and A.P. Macguire, which is full of the joys of exploring the English countryside. It was published in 1933.

The authors obviously thought it a good idea to invite Lord Lonsdale to write one of those nice introductions to their book, the kind which famous men contribute from time to time to enliven such works. They probably regretted the invitation. The Right Hon. The Earl of Lonsdale KG GCVO  sent them back a furious screed condemning all fellwalkers as trespassers and upstarts who vandalise and set fire to the countryside.

Martindale from The Nab (c) John Bainbridge 2018

His lordship gave ramblers the kind of write-up the early Vikings might have got from displaced locals when they first raided the vales of Lakeland.

The authors, perhaps in a spirit of ironic contempt, published his lordship’s views as they stood. Reading it today you have to chuckle. It’s a wonder Lord Lonsdale didn’t burst a blood vessel.

Not that everyone was unwelcome in the vicinity of The Nab. Just before World War One, they had Germany’s Kaiser Bill over to stay, so that he could take pot shots at the deer. The bungalow he stayed in is still there, below The Nab. You can rent it if you have pots of cash.

All this by way of introduction, for on a glowery day we walked out from Harstop and climbed Rest Dodd before taking a gentle stroll down the ridge to The Nab. We sat at the highest point and looked down at the bungalow where the Kaiser stayed. A splendid if uneventful walk. It would have been even nicer to dodge keepers and gillies, but that’s the price of progress.

The views, down Martindale towards Ullswater, are staggeringly dramatic. The Nab is certainly a hill that all ramblers should seek out and visit. It’s rather beautiful in itself too, particularly when you view its bulbous mass from the vicinity of Hallin Fell.

And nice that we’ve progressed so far that the barbed wire and “Keep Out” notices of Wainwright’s day are no longer there as a blot on the landscape. Distant memories of a darker age in the Lake District.

A Longer Way to Bonscale Pike

Wainwright suggests routes up to Bonscale Pike above Ullswater from Howtown, but there is a pleasant longer route from Askham, which has the advantage of showing the walker some of the important archaeological remains on Askham Fell and Moor Divock.

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On Bonscale (c) John Bainbridge 2018


We did this eleven mile walk on Easter Sunday morning, on a bright day of good clear views that still gave us a shower of very fine snowflakes. The mountains towards Helvellyn were coated in snow on their summits, but our walk was clear of all but the slightest remnants of our long winter.

Askham is such a picturesque village and walking up from there usually offers a glimpse of some of the now rare fell ponies, which used to negotiate with their loads so many of the ancient paths of the Lake District.

A good bridleway leads up on to Askham Fell and Moor Divock. I’ve written on previous blogs about some of the important archaeology of this corner of the Lake District – cairns, stone circles and rows, standing stones. Undoubtedly, our prehistoric ancestors held this land to be sacred.

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Fell Ponies (c) John Bainbridge 2018


Here too is part of the route of High Street, the Roman road along which the legions marched from the Eden Valley to Ambleside

You can spend a fascinating day just walking its ancient acres.

But we walked on past the Cockpit stone circle, to hit a small stretch of the Ullswater Way, before taking the path past White Knott to the top of Arthur’s Pike. Bursting with energy, we soon got to the top, admiring the long views over Ullswater.

Heading around the top of the Swarth Beck, we went on to Bonscale Pike with its two (little) stone cairn towers.

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Ullswater (c) John Bainbridge 2018


Bonscale really is a terrific viewpoint – such grand vistas across to Hallin Fell, down to Howtown Wyke and across the lake to the mighty tops around Glenridding and Patterdale.

We walked back across Barton Fell to the prehistoric sanctuary of Askham Fell and Moor Divock, before descending down to Askham.

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 The Cockpit Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2018


The crowds were out by now, being the Easter holidays, people enjoying a sunny day out after the long winter. These fells above Askham offer easy walking in good wide tracks – some of which are probably ancient and others of more recent origin, perhaps created to facilitate grouse shooting in more recent times gone by.

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Howtown Wyke and Hallin Fell (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Do click on any of the pictures to enlarge them…


Sticks Pass to Raise and White Side

Sticks Pass is the second highest mountain pass in the Lake District, one of those old ways used in past days to link Glenridding and Patterdale with the areas around St Johns-in-the-Vale and Wythburn. The ancient track takes its name from the sticks used to mark the route – though none survive today.

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Going up to Raise (c) John Bainbridge 2018

As you walk these mountain passes, particularly in wild weather, you can see just why they came about. It doesn’t take much to imagine herders driving sheep and cattle across them, or mineral workers bringing fell ponies through, loaded with mineral ore from the area’s mines.


Sunday was a fine day for walking, the Lake District looking magnificent with the mountains still dappled with broad fields of glistening snow.

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We set out from Stanah Village Hall (£2 honesty box parking) to walks up to the topmost part of the Sticks Pass, then along the ridge towards the two Wainwright heights of Raise and White Side.

The first part of the track is undoubtedly quite steep, a hardy task for herders and ponies. But it does offer wonderful views over Thirlmere and the Northern Fells. The dramatic gully of Stanah Gill runs alongside and it wasn’t long before we glimpsed the placid waters of Bassenthwaite.

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Head of the Pass (c) John Bainbridge 2018


Thirlmere itself was half-frozen, the long stretches of ice stilling its water.

The last time we walked up to Sticks Pass I was incredibly unfit and it seemed to give the impression of going on for ever. But the fitter and lighter me did much better this time, feeling much as I did over twenty years ago.

A good sunny day as we hit the top of the Pass, just a few other walkers about. A bit more snow here, adding to the excitement of the day.

The lingering clouds cleared as we followed the path up to Raise, with some nice stands of snow to negotiate on the way.

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Raise Summit (c) John Bainbridge 2018


Grand and very clear views from the top, right across Lakeland to Gable and Scafell Pike in one direction, Skiddaw and Blencathra to the north, then across Ullswater to the North Pennines. So many familiar and walked heights.

The three quarters of a mile across to White Side, offers some of the easiest walking in the district. A delight walking in this southerly direction because of the fine views you get towards Helvellyn and its Lower Man – still looking positively Alpine with its greater stretches of snow.

From White Side we descended along the line of the bridleway to Brown Crag, a minor summit that has some nice craggy rocks on its northern edge. The remnants of cairns on its top are clearly prehistoric. Another terrific viewpoint over the head of Thirlmere.

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A View from Raise (c) John Bainbridge 2018


The bridleway winds back on itself down towards Thirlspot. This too was a track for men and women with fell ponies in times agone.

We crossed the little wooden bridge across Fisherplace Gill, with its dramatic waterfalls, and then the footpath to Stanah.

Walking in the footsteps of so many journeyers along the old ways, who would, even today, recognise this landscape – even if the reservoired Thirlmere is bigger than it once was.

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Helvellyn and Lower Man (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Walking the Lowther Estate Tracks


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

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Lowther Castle Ruins (c) John Bainbridge 2018

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

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

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Askham Hall (c) John Bainbridge 2018

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

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

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

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

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The Church and Mausoleum (c) John Bainbridge 2018

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

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

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Askham (c) John Bainbridge 2018

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

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In the Deer Park (c) John Bainbridge 2018

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

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

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The Bridleway to Helton (c) John Bainbridge 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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