A Low-Level Walk from Sedbergh

Sedbergh – and you lift up your eyes to the wonderful Howgill Fells. A favourite range of hills for me. But the lower ground, in the river valleys below Sedbergh makes for grand walking as well. Just into the New Year we fancied a short walk in the area, so that we could spend some time browsing in the Sedbergh bookshops afterwards – it is after all a book town.

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Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Sedbergh is also the home of an English public (private) school. They were mowing the grass on the sports fields as we wandered through, for the pupils were due back later in the day.

As always, I think of one particular ex-pupil when I pass by the school – F. Spencer Chapman, whose books were everywhere when I was young. Spencer Chapman was a considerable mountaineer and arctic explorer in his younger days. He was on Gino Watkins’ last expedition in Greenland. He then spent over three years organising resistance groups behind the Japanese lines in World War Two. He wrote some memorable books, which are still worth reading, such as Watkins’ Last Expedition, Memoirs of a Mountaineer, The Jungle is Neutral and Living Dangerously.

There’s no doubt that his years as a soldier behind enemy lines affected him greatly. He seemed to have difficulty in settling down to domestic life in the post-war years. In modern terms he probably suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. His experiences and ill-health led him to suicide.

These places around Sedbergh must all have been known to him, perhaps fuelling his love of adventure.

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The Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Our walk led us down to the picturesque hamlet of Birks, before we took footpaths across the fields to Brigflatts. An interesting hamlet, for here is a Quaker meeting house dating back to 1874, visited and inspired by Charles James Fox. I’m going to do a walk soon in the steps of the Quakers so I’ll leave it there for now. All I will say, is that the Meeting Place is a building of great peace with a restful garden to sit in. Across the lane is the peaceful Quakers’ Burial Ground – the last resting place of the poet Basil Bunting.

We walked up to the road and then up a very beautiful bridleway past Ingmire Hall, though there are few glimpses of the building from the path.  Ingmire Hall is a 16th Century house built around the remains of a pele tower. It was enlarged in the early nineteenth century, partially destroyed by fire in the 1920s and partially remodelled in 1989.

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Ingmire Bridleway (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A short road walk brought us to a farm track leading up to the old farming hamlet of Underwinder – appropriately named for it stands hard under the great hill of Winder, then a steep climb up to Howgill Lane, which we followed downhill back into Sedbergh. Then a delicious hour browsing in the second-hand bookshops. A heavenly way to spend a day.

But glancing up at the Howgill Fells – and there are splendid vistas of Winder as you do this walk – reminds us that it’s a while since we’ve climbed their beautiful rounded slopes. No wonder the Sedbergh school song celebrates this fine landscape:

Oh Eton hath her River and Clifton hath her down,
And Winchester her cloisters and immemorial town.
But ours the mountain fastness, the deep romantic ghylls,
Where Clough and Dee and Rawthey,
Come singing from the hills!

Refrain
For it isn’t our ancient lineage, there are others as old as we.
And it isn’t our pious founders, though we honour their memory.
‘Tis the hills that are stood around us, unchanged since our days began.
It is Cautley, Calf and WINDER, that make the Sedbergh man.

(Winder to sound a bit like window, rather than winding something up).

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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.

 

 

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

 

A Walk to Jervaulx Abbey

I always think that you should walk to one of the great abbey ruins of England, giving your walk something of the feel of a medieval pilgrimage – even if you are just walking a few miles.

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Jervaulx Abbey

And to visit Jervaulx Abbey in this way, I very much recommend going there from the beautiful Yorkshire village of Thornton Steward – the village where ramblers are so welcomed.

Not least, because the start of the walk is down a quiet track to the lovely pre-Norman church of St Oswald, which stands alone and peaceful a half-mile from the village. It is a place of tranquillity – a church to explore and longer in. An archaeological dig in the area in 1996, revealed the resting place of early Christians buried in around 680 AD. They were re-buried in the churchyard with great reverence.

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Thornton Steward Church

A path leads across the fields to Danby Hall, said to be haunted, and the ancestral home of the Scrope family, who feature so much in English history. Although much of what you see is Victorian, the origins of the house date back beyond the 14th century.DSCF0595.JPG

This is another northern house where the landowners through history didn’t seem to mind having a public footpath running close to the house. Even today, the path bears a “walkers are welcome” sign. Walking through the park of the great house, you get magnificent views over the valley of the River Ure towards the hills of Wensleydale.

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Danby Hall

Passing the old mill and the Victorian church at Ulshaw, we arrived at Ulshaw Bridge, over the Ure, once a crossing point for drovers travelling between York and Kendal. In one of the sanctuaries on the bridge is a splendid sundial, dating back to 1674.

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The Sundial on Ulshaw Bridge

Just beyond is the Coverbridge Inn, a coaching tavern which goes back to at least the 16th century. Crossing the bridge over the River Cover, a narrow path follows the river back to its confluence with the Ure. Very pleasant woodland walking and fine riparian scenery. The Ure one moment rushing along its course, then more tranquil with deep fish-haunted pools.

A mile of walking brought us to the ruins of Jervaulx Abbey, founded by the Cistercians in 1156. Jervaulx meaning the Ure Valley in their original Norman French. If you’ve ever eaten Wensleydale Cheese it had its origins with the monks who settled in this quiet place.

Their life of contemplation came to a sorry end in 1536, when Henry VIII seized the place. Its last abbot, Adam Sedbar, was executed for his part in the rising known to history as the Pilgrimage of Grace. Much of the abbey stone was taken away to be used in local buildings.

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Jervaulx Abbey

Jervaulx Abbey is one of the few abbey ruins in England to be privately owned, but is open for a very modest charge of £3 on most days of the year. As ruins go, Jervaulx is particularly beautiful – very peaceful and hard to tear ourselves away. The nearby family-run tearoom is just as attractive – offering some of the best baking you can imagine. We certainly took advantage.

We walked on through the grounds of the old abbey to Kilgram Lane, then along the lane to Kilgram Bridge over the Ure. This bridge is probably pre-Elizabethan – the locals will tell you that it was built by the devil in a single night. But you are safe enough! There is one stone missing from the bridge to hold back the evil of Old Nick – but they do say that if the stone is ever replaced, a most dreadful curse and spell will be enacted.

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Kilgram Bridge

Perhaps best not to tempt fate…

A few pleasant field paths took us up from the bridge back to Thornton Steward, following this ramble through a considerable span of English history. How fortunate we are that we have the old ways – our ancient path network – there to faciliate such explorations.

(c) Text and pictures J and A Bainbridge

Teesdale Way to Cotherstone

A splendid walk along the Teesdale Way to the village of Cotherstone. From Barnard Castle the path by the Tees was particularly scenic, sometimes very rough, narrow above the water, suddenly ascending and then dropping back to the river edge. Then wider stretches through very pleasant woodland. A wild bit of river too, the kind of water where birds and otters lurk.DSCF0344

Soon after Tees Bank Wood, the Teesdale Way took us high above the river, then along the headland paths of airy fields through the two old farms of East and West Holme.

From Cotherstone Crag, there were grand views over the river towards the village of Cotherstone. We wandered down to the water and crossed on the footbridges before strolling up to the village itself. A charming little place, though little sign of the old castle that once dominated the river gap. One of those quiet villages where time seems to pass very slowly. The residents were holding a scarecrow festival, and many of the gardens had splendid examples.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

We walked out to the Tees Railway Path – another old train line that should really have been kept. The route of the single-track line was quite overgrown, with just room for single-file walkers. Hard to imagine the steam locomotives, blustering and noisy in the nicest possible way coming along where we now walked through such quiet countryside. The wild flowers – and there was a quite a variety – bringing colour against the fresh green of the trees.DSCF0341

We left the track and crossed it by an old railway bridge before walking to Grise Beck Wood. The waymarking was rather poor here, and we had to rely on the map a great deal to find our way along the footpaths – all duly reported on the Ramblers Association website (please do use it if you come across similar problems – it’s very easy to use.)DSCF0349

At Towler Hill Farm, we hit one of the alternative versions of the Teesdale Way, down through the very pleasant Pecknell Wood and then through the Tees end of Lartington Park. Soon the castle of Barnard Castle came into sight, on its high point above the town. A good ten mile walk which gave glimpses of countryside places still to be explored.

And here’s some Cotherstone scarecrows:

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(c) J and A Bainbridge

Teesdale Way to Whorlton

After rain in the night, we set out on a clearing morning from Barnard Castle, following the River Tees downstream to Abbey Bridge and then following the Teesdale Way. A strong scent of wild garlic as we wandered down the river bank.

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River Tees near to Whorlton

A very pleasant stretch of woodland walking, then out on to more open country as we entered Rokeby Park, although the house – the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s famous poem – is not in view.

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The Meeting of the Waters

But below the house is The Meeting of the Waters, where the River Greta meets the Tees. A delightful spot. If there was a road anywhere near it’d be a honeypot for tourists. Fortunately there isn’t. You have to walk and make an effort to see it – and all the better for that. Above is Dairy Bridge which crosses a deep gorge of the Greta – a place that was painted by both Turner and Cotman.

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Mortham Tower

On then through the estate parkland of Mortham Tower – the house a very attractive stately home, complete with Peel Tower. The path winds across fine and airy country, looking across fields to the River Tees. I find it quite interesting that many of the grand houses of the north preserved public rights of way. In some parts of Britain the landed gentry did all they could to keep the peasants (most of us!) out. Not here, happily.

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Whorlton Suspension Bridge

We crossed the River Tees on the Whorlton Suspension Bridge, which was opened on the 7th July 1831 – a toll bridge until 1914. We stood where, during World War Two, Winston Churchill stood to inspect troops training on an assault course on the steep cliffs of the northern bank, in those days when we fought fascism. The original toll house, still displaying its original charge board, stands empty on the far side.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

Up a stretch of steep steps to Whorlton village, originally Querington, a very peaceful and attractive place, though the church only dates to 1853, when it replaced a chapel of ease, which dated back to Norman times.

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The Old Toll House

We returned to Barnard Castle, following the Tees upstream along the opposite bank to our journey out, though mostly high above the river, following the headland paths of fields. There were lots of sheep lazing in the sunshine and very long views across the dale.

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On the Teesdale Way

At one point, the path crosses the Sledwich Gill, where the waters of a tiny beck have carved a very deep gorge through the limestone, making the parish boundary between Whorlton and Westwick, with impressive parish boundary markers made by the artist Richard Wentworth.

After several fields the Teesdale Way plunges back into woodland on the northern side of the Tees at Tees Bank Plantation.

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Detail from a tomb in Barnard Castle Churchyard

A stretch of garlic smelling woodland brought us back to Abbey Bridge – another toll crossing in its day, where we crossed the road and took our original path back to Barnard Castle. At the Demesne, at the start of the town, we cut up through the churchyard, reading some of the ancient gravestones – the last resting place of men and women who would have known so well these same fields, woodlands and river banks.

Text and pictures copyright A and J Bainbridge

 

A Walk in the Westmorland Dales

A fantastic karst landscape, terrific views and a Neolithic stone circle made this a wonderful morning walk from the little village of Orton. Although this ramble is in the county of Cumbria, this landscape has recently been added to the Yorkshire Dales National Park – and deservedly so.

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Perhaps one day we’ll get our old county boundaries restored. Politicians should never have fiddled with them in the first place!

We set out from the village of Orton, where you can park for free in the village square. Buses are, to say the least, infrequent. The village itself is a bit of a gem, a grand old church and quite a selection of ancient buildings.

The original name of the place was Sker-Overton, changed to Orton in the local dialect. I found this out quite recently 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.

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We followed the Coast to Coast long-distance path up through Broadfell Farm up to Orton Scar and the Beacon Hill. From here there are superb views across to the Lake District in one direction and the Howgill Fells in another, the valley of the River Lune in between.

Following the 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 ones I’ve mentioned before with the addition of the long heights of the northern Pennines.

The karst landscape of limestone pavement had already begun, intensifying in its splendour as we gained height. Walking north-east, following an impressive stone wall, we came to the entrance of the Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve.Great Asby Scar 006

Great Asby Scar is one of the best limestone pavements in Britain. There’s something almost unearthly about this landscape. I can’t even describe what it is. You need to go there and look for yourself. It’s almost as though you’ve stepped outside time.

A good path leads out of the nature reserve to a cross-ways on the far-eastern edge of Beacon Hill. A wide track leading around the Knott, one of the highest points on the walk.

As the Knott is the highest hill in the Westmorland Dales, we thought we should climb it at last. It’s a modest height, surmounted by a trig point and crossed by a stone wall. An easy ascent, but well worth it for the excellent views.

We descended a track called Knott Lane – and here’s another impressive sight. A stone circle from the Neolithic period.

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.

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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.

It’s possible to return to Orton on footpaths from there, but we chose the lane back to the village, a very old road indeed.

A walk that lives in my mind as I think back, because of the strange landscape and that old stone circle.

These Westmorland Dales make an excellent addition to the National Parks Family. Away from the route of the Coast to Coast path, this is a very quiet area – you can walk all day and hardly see anyone. If you are staying in the district, Orton, Appleby and Kirkby Stephen or the villages thereabouts, are good places to find accommodation. There are buses to Appleby and Kirkby Stephen and sometimes Orton as well.