The Sedbergh Quaker Trail is an eleven mile walk through some very attractive countryside, close to Sedbergh, exploring the world of the early Quakers, the Westmorland Seekers in the 17th century, when Quaker meetings had to be held in secret because of religious intolerance. This splendid trail has been devised by the Sedbergh Area Walking and Cycling Group with the support of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.
The group has produced a splendid pamphlet to the trail, which is available from the local tourist information centre. Well worth getting and only £1.50 and worth every penny.
Walk this trail and you’ll be treading in the footsteps of George Fox and William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. You’ll also find yourselves in beautiful and wild countryside along the banks of the River Lune and the high ground beyond, with splendid views of the Howgill Fells and up into Dentdale.
I’m not a Quaker, but I find the history of the movement fascinating. Men like George Fox marched to the beat of a different drummer in those troublous days of the 17th century, when politics and religion were closely entwined.
We walked first to Sedbergh Church, where George Fox preached, standing on a bench under a yew tree, in the churchyard in the Whitsun week of 1652, refusing to go inside the building on the grounds that a church is the people and not the building. We followed country paths across to the Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House, which I blogged about on January 9th. The Meeting House was built in 1675, though there was a strong Quaker tradition in the area.
We walked on to Ingmire Hall and then along some paths to Lincoln’s Inn Bridge. We had a bright day for our walk, with just a couple of light showers, but there has been a great deal of rain lately and we skirted several pools of standing water in the fields. Lots of lambs about, though, and a real feeling that spring is in the air.
From Lincoln’s Inn, where there is a magnificent bridge, we climbed steeply up to Hawkrigg Wood (looks like it’s going to be great for bluebells in a couple of months) and then high up to the wilder fell country around Master Knott and Firbank Fell.
Just off the lane is Fox’s Pulpit, the rock where George Fox preached for three hours to over a thousand of the Westmorland Seekers, and Yorkshire Seekers too, in 1652, at the secret meeting which is thought to be the beginnings of the Quaker Movement. There’s a plaque on the rock which declares:
Let your lives speak
Here or near this rock George Fox preached to about one thousand seekers for three hours on Sunday, June 13, 1652. Great power inspired his message and the meeting proved of first importance in gathering the Society of Friends known as Quakers. Many men and women convinced of the truth on this fell and in other parts of the northern counties went forth through the land and over the seas with the living word of the Lord enduring great hardships and winning multitudes to Christ.
Or as George Fox recorded in his journal: ‘While others were gone to dinner, I went to a brook, got a little water, and then came and sat down on the top of a rock hard by the chapel. In the afternoon the people gathered about me, with several of their preachers. It was judged there were above a thousand people; to whom I declared God’s everlasting truth and Word of life freely and largely for about the space of three hours.‘
It’s a moody, atmospheric place, when you think what happened there. You wonder what the weather was like and whether Fox could see the wide range of views we did. Strange that something happened there that changed the world a bit, when you think of the persecutions that led not only to the growth of the Quaker Movement, but to religious exile and, in particular, its influences in the growth of the USA.
Nearby, once stood a chapel, now gone and rebuilt in nearby Firbank, and there is a Quaker burial ground adjacent to the spot where Fox spoke.
One thing is certain. Those thousand Westmorland Seekers walked up to the pulpit using the old ways, the ancient tracks, we were now walking. Indeed, Fox walked up there probably along the very paths we were now taking from Draw Well, now part of Bramaskew Farm, where he was staying with the Blaykling Family. Jumping ahead, the barn there was the scene of a further meeting, when – in 1665 – the militia were sent out to arrest worshipping Quakers. In 1676, a further conference was held there which was attended by William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. How history is made in such quiet places.
We descended down to the farmhouse with the lovely name of Goodies, and crossed the River Lune by the recently restored Fishermen’s Bridge. The original crossing was washed away in Storm Desmond, and this replacement was built last year at the cost of £110,000 pounds – restoring access to the rights of way network, given that it is the only crossing for miles – a big thank you to the many organisations that contributed to the costs. It has been beautifully done by real craftsmen.
From Hole House, where the path, now part of the Dales Way, runs through the back yard of the house, before climbing through the fields to the farmstead of Nether Bainbridge, and then along to Bramaskew, which I mentioned earlier.
We returned to Sedbergh by way of Howgill Lane, though there’s an alternative route which skirts the foot of Winder, that attractive Howgill Fell. As Sedbergh is a book town, we spent a pleasant hour browsing in the booshops – always a delight.
But my mind wandered back to the wild and lonely countryside we had tramped through, and to those persecuted Westmorland Seekers who had had to use wild countryside and these secret paths as they endeavoured to worship without persecution.