A Waste Land Rebellion, walking to church and opium dealing

A village where the locals attacked a common land intrusion by their landowner, following a path where the “big house” servants walked to church, and tea importers with a sideline in opium dealing. The history you encounter on a five-mile walk in the countryside of Westmorland.

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Crosby Ravensworth Church (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We set out from the village of Crosby Ravensworth, walking to Flass House. This path, running along the banks of the pretty River Lyvennet, was used by the servants of Flass each sunday as they made their way to church in Crosby Ravensworth. To facilitate their passage, the owners of Flass built two beautiful step stiles in the drystone walls. They’re still there today, and I hope they remain safe from the zealots who want every stile destroyed in favour of gates.

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A stepstile for servants (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A pretty path, the river a delight and the autumn colours quite beautiful. A heron stood as still as a sculpture in the water, looking for fish. It took off after a while, flapping like something out of prehistoric times, its weird cry echoing across the landscape. I’ve always liked herons. There’s something so wonderful about these riparian denizens.

As we walked, I thought a lot about the servants of Flass, obliged to go to church in their few hours of leisure. Programmes like Downton Abbey give the impression that being a servant was great fun. It wasn’t. It was darned hard work, with little time for yourself and appalling pay. I’m old enough to remember lots of old people who’d been in service – it was a huge chunk of the British population until World War Two. I can’t recall one who looked back fondly on their days of servitude, or felt particularly charitable towards their so-called “masters”.

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The pheasant-shooters tunnel (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The Dent family, who owned Flass, made their money from tea and opium importing – though we should note that opium was perfectly legal in those days. Hence all the opium dens around the country (I put one in my novel Deadly Quest – those of us who write Victorian crime stories love the idea), and, of course, poets like Wordsworth and writers like de Quincy spent most of the time high on the stuff and its derivative, laudanum.

Interestingly, given its history, a more recent occupier of Flass was raided and jailed for running a cannabis factory from the premises – sort of appropriate in a way.

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The bounds of Flass House (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The path goes through a tunnel just before you reach the high back wall of Flass, carrying a track into the owner’s pheasant preserves. The path beyond was beautiful in the autumn light, like an Atkinson Grimshaw painting, or something out of a ghost story by MR James.

Flass House, built in 1851, is currently empty and being renovated. We thought the house was an ugly pile, a long way from its Italianate or Palladian influences. But you can see the back gate in the surrounding wall through which the servants would emerge every sunday for their walk to church.

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Flass House (c) John Bainbridge 2018

A few hundred yards on brought us into the pretty village of Maulds Meaburn, one of only three left in England where sheep still graze on the village green. This was once the village “waste”, land common to all. It was the scene of a modest rebellion way back in 1585 (October 22nd, to be precise), when the villagers fought off an attempt by their landlord to build on their waste.

The landowner, Christopher Lowther, built a little court-house in the middle of the green, an intrusion into the villagers’ ancient rights. The village wives abused the workmen Lowther had hired and Lowther himself. They threw stones at them, but the building went on. On the night of 28th October, a number of Lowther’s tenants, led by one James Fletcher, armed with pitchforks, axes, long-piked sticks, swords, dagger and other “unlawful engines”, attacked the building and razed it to the ground.

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Maulds Meaburn Green (c) John Bainbridge 2018

It all led to a court case in York, where the villagers argued that, according to the indentures, the lord couldn’t build on the waste without the villagers consent. That if they ignored the intrusion, he might further encroach on their common ground. They said that Lowther refused to listen.

Taking on a landowner in 1586 was seldom a good idea. Lowther won compensation of £8, and the attacking villagers were fined between 40 shillings and £3 as a punishment. Still Lowther wasn’t satisfied, bringing the matter to trial again. He managed to obtain a decree to have a piece of the ground to build his court house.

The Lowthers had incredible power over the populace (some might argue the family still do!) His tenants in Maulds Meaburn were obliged to carry sixty loads of coal, paying themselves in advance, from the pits on Stainmore, and having to haul it the many miles to Lowther Hall. This too led eventually to a legal dispute. The ruling still came down on Lowther’s side, though the tenants were granted the right to take the coal only as far as Meaburn Hall, instead of Lowther.

Today, the green is peaceful, the river idyllic and the cottages picturesque. There can’t be a village in the land that isn’t able to tell similar bitter stories.

To get a view over the whole valley, we followed the footpaths and lanes up to Brackenslack, then paths back down to Maulds Meaburn, before walking back past Flass to Crosby Ravensworth, now walking in the direction the servants would have taken on their way to church.DSCF0796

In the churchyard, we examined the graves of some members of the tea and opium dealing Dent family. The two villages have really changed very little since they lived here, and their servants walked the old ways of the Lyvennet valley.

A few blogs ago, I reported that Beacon Hill in Penrith was under threat from plans by the Lowther family to build on this grand high place. I’m pleased to report that public protest has persuaded the Lowther estate to withdraw their plans – at least for the high points of the Beacon.

 

 

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A Place Called Robin Hood

We all associate Robin Hood with Sherwood Forest, but as far as place-names go, the outlaw appears all over England. I was minded of this the other day, as we were strolling around Richmond Castle in Yorkshire. Or Richmondshire, if you prefer. There’s a ruined tower in the castle named after the old wolfshead.

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Robin Hood’s Grave, Westmorland. (c) J Bainbridge

As it happens, there’s little historical basis for the name. Popular thought decrees that romantic Victorians called it Robin Hood’s Tower.

 

I suspect the same happened with lots of other Robin Hood links, the names are either there through the efforts of recent romanticism and…

Then there were lots of Robin Hoods. As some of you might know, I’ve spent the last couple of years writing a series of novels in which I’ve tried to root Robin in medieval reality. I’ve set my books in Sherwood Forest, though my Robin makes excursions into Westmorland, where there are lots of Robin sites, briefly Barnsdale, Fountains Abbey, Hathersage in Derbyshire.

My own belief is there was once an original Robin Hood. Who he was and where and when he lived, we shall never know. But rest assured, he wasn’t the romantic outlaw of legend. But he obviously made a name for himself, for I believe that that Robin Hood became a generic name for lots of other, possibly bold, outlaws.

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Robin Hood’s Tower (c) A Bainbridge 2018

And that’s why you find the place name in so many places across the land. They were named after their local Robin – lots of successors to the original.

 

Walking on the Westmorland fells, we often visit Robin Hood’s Grave – it’s obviously a cairn of questionable age. At Fountains Abbey, there’s a Robin Hood’s Well and Wood. (I used it as a setting for my Robin Hood novel Villain). Tradition alleges – with little evidence – that the monk called Friar Tuck trained at Fountains Abbey, though as far as the old ballads go, Tuck was a late arrival. Much later in the Middle Ages, a robber-monk called Tuck appeared in reality at Lindfield in Sussex. Nothing to do with Robin Hood, though you wonder if the Sussex monk was named after an earlier legend.

You get little help from the Robin Hood ballads. Only a few are very early, the first claiming Barnsdale as Robin’s hideout, though interestingly it also has the Sheriff of Nottingham as a character. I must say that had I been a medieval outlaw, I wouldn’t have chosen Barnsdale as a refuge. It was a place then of open heaths and small woods – not a very good place to hide if you are literally outside the law and anyone can bring you down.

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Fountains Abbey (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The problem is, the ballads that we have were probably written down from original oral sources, and the person writing them down localised them so that they referred to places his audience might know. So the original Robin could have come from anywhere. Just fill in the blanks as you rewrite the old verses.

But other place names – there’s a strong tradition that Little John hailed from Hathersage in Derbyshire – you can still see his purported and very massive grave. There are several other Robin Hood graves, including the famous and currently threatened one at Kirklees.

We also have Robin Hood’s Bay on the Yorkshire coast, where the outlaw saw off some pirates. There are also several Robin Hood pubs, including one in Penrith in Cumbria – though – as you are getting nearer to Carlisle, you are really entering the territory of the outlaw Adam Bell, whose adventures and crew are very similar to Mr Hood’s. There’s Robin Hood’s Stride in the Peak and a lot of other Robin features across the north and Midlands. Geographically, he got about as much as King Arthur.

And, of course, there is Robin Hood International Airport – a sight that would probably have overwhelmed the original ballad writers.

So if you have another Robin Hood location, do leave a comment, especially if it’s not one of the famous ones.

I’m currently working on the fourth and final novel in my Robin Hood series. The first three are out in paperback and on Kindle if you fancy a read (Just click on the link below for more information).

Interesting, I think, that a legend can have a validity for nigh on a thousand years, and that a medieval peasant could come into our very different 21st century and we could still both relate to the character of Robin Hood.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00WMJXRUC/ref=series_dp_rw_ca_1

 

The Case of the Vanishing Waterfall

No, this is not another plug for one of my mystery novels, but a notice that – at present – the lovely little waterfall by the old mill at Rutter Force no longer exists. Where the waters used to tumble there is now just bare and very dry rock.

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Rutter Force dry (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The reason, of course, is the current heatwave and drought, which is really effecting the lakes, rivers and becks of Cumbria.

Back in the winter I undertook several walks from the town of Appleby to the village of Ormside via Rutter Force. Days of lying snow with the ground frozen hard with ice and snow – just a memory now.

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On the Hoff Beck (c) John Bainbridge 2018

But yesterday, we did the same walk in very hot and sticky weather, following the path to Bandley Bridge, the footbridge over the Hoff Beck (there’s two grand Viking words for you). Not that there was much water in the beck. If you’ve ever read Arthur Ransome’s wonderful book Pigeon Post, you’ll get the kind of landscape we were wandering through.

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Ormside Church (c) John Bainbridge 2018

As we followed it up, the Hoff Beck got drier and drier. Even the deep pools were shallow, and the once-shallower areas completely dry. We did see a red squirrel, carrying a nut – he walked within a yard of us, not bothered by our presence. Like us, he was no doubt feeling the heat.

Then we came to Rutter Force. Such a picturesque spot – I wrote an account of my first visit to it, many years ago, in my walking book Wayfarer’s Dole. That was on a day of torrential rain.

But now – no waterfall at all. Just the slab of rock. Almost as though it had never been. You could almost have crossed the nearby ford without getting your feet wet.

We wandered on up the fields to Donkey’s Nest Cottage and down into Ormside. Some road-menders were patching the lane – a thankless task, as the tar certainly didn’t seem to be setting in this ferocious heat.

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Rutter Force as it usually is (c) John Bainbridge 2018

There was some coolness in the old church, built on a defensive mound that was used by both Saxons and Vikings. But even here there was some evidence of the dry climate. Great cracks in the church tower, subsidence. A note inside the church said that repairs of this lovely old building might cost £75000. If you’ve any spare cash I’m sure they’d appreciate it. It’d be a shame to lose this historic old building.

We followed the River Eden back to Appleby, the woodlands feeling as hot as rain forest.

There was a thunderstorm last night and a brief interlude of heavy rain. I doubt it made any difference to the dried-up Rutter Force.

 

Walking to Castle Folds – A Romano-British Settlement

Sometimes we walk in the footsteps of people who trod the hills thousands of years ago. The other day – a blazing hot morning – we walked up from the Cumbrian village of Orton to seek out the Castle Folds Romano-British settlement – a rare defended position set out amidst the limestone pavement of Great Asby Scar, re-used as a shieling in medieval times.

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Castle Folds (c) John Bainbridge 2018

It is now, thankfully, though in the county of Cumbria, in the Westmorland Dales section of the Yorkshire Dales National Park – and every one who values our wild landscapes should approve of this improved level of protection.

We walked up from the village of Orton, using the bridleway to Street lane – and a joy that was in itself, with its profusion of wild flowers, including the increasingly rare ragged robin. Up then past Scarside Farm and then out on to the Great Asby National Nature Reserve.

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A Wild Flower Meadow near Orton (c) John Bainbridge 2018

This extensive area of limestone pavement was looking at its best and most dramatic, with its wide views over the Eden valley to the great ramparts of the Pennines. Good easy walking too, as we made our way along the walls of Asby Winderwath Common.

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Ragged Robin (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Then at last to Castle Fold. The defended settlement is set on a long knoll rising out of the surrounding limestone pavement – which undoubtedly provided the rocks for the rampart walls. When intact, it must have been a most impressive structure. There are other Romano-British settlements not far away, but Castle Folds was built purely for defence – not just against casual raiders, but perhaps some specific major threat, hence its considerable proportions.

Built not by the Roman occupiers of this land, but by the natives who existed alongside them.

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Limestone Pavement (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Archaeologists believe that its once mighty walls were deliberately torn down, though in medieval times the ruins were used once again as a shieling, summer grazing for livestock.

It’s a deeply atmospheric place, and you could sit there for a long time contemplating its, perhaps bloody, history.

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Castle Folds Knoll (c) John Bainbridge 2018

All through our walk the weather had been scorching hot, but as we prepared to leave Castle Folds, we felt the first hint of moisture in the air. Then a positive downpour as we retraced our footsteps into Orton. We saw no other walkers all day, though a frog greeted us as we walked down by the Orton Beck.

Castle Folds is a fascinating place – rare, archaeologically, and well worth the several miles of walk. Even as I write this I dwell on the men and women who sought shelter behind its high walls.

Who was their enemy? What was the fear that made them build such an elaborate structure? And was the medieval stockman, who dwelt there centuries later, at all superstitious about the blood that might have been spilled there?