The village of Orton’s original name was Sker-Overton, changed to Orton in the local dialect. I found this out when I was researching my novel Villain – the third in the series which brings some reality back to the legend of Robin Hood. My book starts on the wild moorlands above Orton, before my villains return to Sherwood Forest.
Curiously, there are a lot of Robin Hood links in this part of Cumbria. His “grave” is high above the village. It was a visit to that a couple of years ago which inspired the start of my book. There were a lot of outlaws in these parts in medieval times, not least Adam Bell in nearby Inglewood Forest.
Interestingly, the old manorial rights in Orton now belong – equally – to the freeholders of the village rather than some big-wig at the manor house. A Manor Court is still held, run really as a democratically elected committee, so no forelock-tugging to the squire in this parish.
And Orton now lies in the heart of the Westmorland Dales – part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, despite the village being in Cumbria and in Westmorland if you champion the old counties as I do.
We had a short stroll out to the Gamelands stone circle, along what was once the main highway to Kirkby Stephen, usually a quiet road, but busy yesterday as farm tractors bustled along – the workers on the land labouring long hours to get their field grass cut and taken away.
The Gamelands Stone Circle is situated on what was once open moorland, but the circle was first ploughed out in 1863. A wall was constructed nearby and most of the stones have been tumbled over time, probably deliberately in the course of agricultural works. At one point there was probably a burial kist within the circle. It was certainly visible in Victorian times, but has long gone.
Despite these interferences, the stone circle, one of the largest in the north, is still impressive. You can stand there and wonder about its purpose. There are many proposed solutions. It is, they say locally, not often visited.
Climbing the track nearby, we crossed the skirts of The Knott – the highest summit in these Westmorland Dales. We’ve climbed its modest height a couple of times and it’s well worth while, offering superb views across the Lune Valley to the northern boundaries of the Howgill Fells.
Passing through an old stone wall to the top of Beacon Hill, we came to the cross built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Here you get all round views, the Howgills, the Shap Fells, the hills of Lakeland and the long stretch of the North Pennines. All grand walking country.
We took the route of the Coast to Coast Path – interestingly not Wainwright’s original route, he succumbed to landowner resistance – back to Orton. The farmer on the route laughed that it must be the rush hour, as several walkers had passed through in a few minutes.
I commend the Westmorland Dales to you if you want some quieter walks through very scenic countryside. If you are visiting then Orton or Appleby make great centres for accommodation. There is free parking in Orton.