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.



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…




Heartstart Courses – Save a Life

Heartstart – Emergency Life Support Programme – So you’re out walking in the countryside, or even in the streets of a town or at home, and you come across someone having a heart attack. They may or may not be breathing.

Do you know what to do?

We’ve recently attended a Heartstart course run jointly by the North-West Ambulance Service and the British Heart Foundation. Our instructor was a First Responder in our little Cumbrian town – an essential aid in a place where it can take an ambulance fifteen minutes to arrive.

Now it must be over twenty years ago since I last did a first aid course. There were definitely things I’d forgotten. So it’s a good idea to have a refresher course of some kind.

In a couple of hours, we went through the procedures for dealing with someone having a heart attack. And how to do CPR if they are not breathing, with dummies to practise on. We were even instructed in how to use a defibrillator to shock someone’s heart back to beating if they are not breathing – defibrillators are now starting to appear in towns and villages around us.

I’ve seen people die with heart attacks – I’ve had two men collapse and die on walks I’ve been on.

So these are vital skills to learn.

We were also taught how to deal with someone who was choking or suffering severe blood loss from an injury.

So do find a Heartstart session – it could be the most useful couple of hours you’ve spent in a long time.

Heartstart courses near to you? – inquire through the British Heart Foundation at https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/how-to-save-a-life/how-to-do-cpr/heartstart-training

or the British Red Cross at: https://www.redcross.org.uk/first-aid/book-a-first-aid-course

Please don’t delay – you might need these skills at anytime…

And you can watch the famous video of  Vinnie Jones doing it at:


And, if you are a British walker, register your mobile phone so that you can send a text message to the 999 or 112 emergency number – a text message will often get through when there’s no signal for a voice call. To register your mobile just click on the website below:


John Ruskin on Footpaths

In 1885 John Ruskin wrote a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette:Wray Castle and Brantwood 021

“Sir, Will you kindly help me to direct general attention to the mischief now continually done by new landowners in the closing of our mountain footpaths? Of all the small, mean, and wicked things a landlord can do, shutting his footpath is the nastiest…”

The picture above shows the view through Ruskin’s study window near Coniston…

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.

Bonscale Tower 014
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.

Bonscale Tower 002
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.

Bonscale Tower 007
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.

Bonscale Tower 003
 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.

Bonscale Tower 010
Howtown Wyke and Hallin Fell (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Do click on any of the pictures to enlarge them…