Echoes of the Past

When I walk I always see more than one landscape. There’s obviously what you see out on your walk today, but there are all those other landscapes too. The landscapes of the past, and those are all merged together in the present lie of the land – a glorious palimpsest.

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Stepping Stones at Crosby Ravnsworth (c) John Bainbridge 2019

For the observant walker, this is a joy, for it brings our history to life, many periods of that history, and all there to be considered.

When I see ancient plough marks I can almost see the ancient ploughman who made them, rather like an illustration on a modern paperback of Piers Plowman. See that ruined cottage and think of the people who lived there perhaps a century or two ago. Walk the old paths and think of the way they were used in past times. You can almost visualise the users.DSCF1246

These thoughts crossed my mind the other day when we walked out from Crosby Ravensworth – (once in Westmorland, now in Cumbria and also part of the Westmorland Dales portion of the Yorkshire Dales National Park just to confuse you completely.)

These are lands once farmed by Saxons and Viking Settlers. I imagine they’d still feel at home in this winding valley of the Lyvennet. Drovers came this way too, all through the long centuries, taking their beasts to distant markets.

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On the Lyvennet (c) John Bainbridge 2019

If you’ve read past blogs, you’ll know we’ve been discovering the many footpaths and bridleways in the area around Crosby Ravensworth and the neighbouring community of Maulds Meaburn. Worth exploring too, for these paths wander through some beautiful countryside and are little walked compared to the nearby Lake District.

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On the Servants’ Path (c) John Bainbridge 2019

The paths too are in mostly good condition, reasonably waymarked and passing through some very interesting places. The Yorkshire Dales National Park people, who have taken on this corner of old Westmorland, have already been busy with route-marking and have produced a splendid leaflet featuring two good introductory walks in the district – you can pick up a leaflet free from the shelters in the two villages.

I’ve described before the Servant’s Path (see blogs passim), between Flass House and Crosby Ravensworth parish church, along which the servants from the big house used to walk each Sunday. There are some beautiful stone stiles, works of art which must never be destroyed, to facilitate their and now our journeys. We use this paths to Maulds Meaburn a lot, and very beautiful it is too, first by the waters of the River Lyvennet, then along the back wall of Flass House. So atmospheric that you can almost sense the servants on their way to church.

Then Maulds Meaburn, a community of picturesque and ancient cottages clustered around a village green, one of only three left in England where sheep still graze freely. History too for it was the scene of a rural rebellion in 1585 – see my blog of October 24th 2018 for the full story and for more about this fascinating place.

We followed the footpath up through the fields above, crossing Scattergate Gill, which had hardly any water, to Brackenslack Lane. A quiet lane with no traffic in the mile or so of our ascent. Some grand views too, over Crosby Ravensworth Fell, and with the North Pennines and Lake District mountains in the distance.

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Cowslips (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A beautiful lane too adorned with the last of the bluebells, and the treat of cowslips, which are not so common here. I’m always reminded of Shakespeare’s lines in A Midsummer Night’s Dream –

And I serve the Fairy Queen
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be.
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours;
In those freckles live their savours.
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.

Shakespeare was undoubtedly an observant country walker.

We took a footpath from Trainlands, along a very defined track up past Trainlands Plantation – hard won fields at some point in history, leading up to rougher grazing which must have been wilder fell once upon a time. We came out on to the main Appleby to Orton road by the St Croix Plantation – now there’s an interesting name for an English wood. Why St Croix?

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The Ruined Cottage (c) John Bainbridge 2019

A long footpath led down past Hull Barn back to Crosby Ravensworth. Close to the top is Cottage Plantation, now mostly cleared. Hidden behind a stone wall are the ruins of the cottage which gave the wood its name. A haunting place, long deserted I suppose, and you wonder who lived here and why they gave up their home.

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Hull Barn (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Through fields of sheep and cows we descended, all the time the church tower of Crosby Ravensworth in view.

So much English history in so little space…

 

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Maytime by the Rawthey

I like all seasons of the year, but there is something really special about walking through the English landscape in May. The month gives us a rebirth of the countryside after a long winter. And there is such a delicious freshness about it all – the  leaves on the trees, out at last, look so beautifully new and clean.

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Near Ingmire Hall (c) John Bainbridge 2019

On a sunny day like yesterday there’s nowhere better to be than walking the footpaths and bridleways through an unspoiled land.

We walked out from Sedbergh taking the familiar route to Brigflatts and Ingmire Hall, before returning down Howgill Lane back to the book town, where we spent a couple of hours in the antiquarian bookshops.

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Sedbergh Parish Church (C) John Bsinbridge 2019

This time we varied our journey to the Quaker meeting house by walking through the grounds of Sedbergh School down to the hamlet of Birks and then the River Rawthey.

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A Friendly Frog (c) John Bainbridge 2019

The Rawthey is a quite beautiful stretch of river, with gleaming white rocks and grand stretches of white water. A little way along its course the River Dee comes in on the opposite bank.

It was stunning down by the Rawthey, one of those rivers just made to linger by, the bluebells lining the banks, the full song of the birds, and the gentle sounds of the water.

The path we were on is part of the Dales Way – the 81 mile route running from Ilkley to Windermere, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. I’ve never managed to do the whole thing, but I’ve walked some enchanting stretches. And these stretches around Sedbergh, with the views up towards the Howgill Fells take a lot of beating – the Howgills are favourites of mine and it reminded us that we must climb them again soon.

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Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

On reaching the road, we doubled back to the Quaker Meeting House at Brigflatts (see blogs passim), where we sat in the peaceful garden for a while in the sunshine. These moments of rest are an essential part of any walk. Let those who wish to race on do so.

The path beside Ingmire Hall is one of the most photogenic I know. If you want to know what the Old Ways are all about, go and walk up it. There was a mind-blowing stretch of bluebells nearby and the beech trees were at their Springtime best.

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The Path near Ingmire (c) John Bainbridge 2019

We crossed the road and took the farm track up to Underwinder and climbed steeply through the fields to Howgill Lane, under the brown slopes of Winder, wandering gently down the lane to Sedbergh.

Do get out into the countryside if you can while May is at its best and the British weather seems settled for once. A walk in May-time is probably better for the mind than anything a doctor can recommend.

Bluebells at Rannerdale

The bluebells at Rannerdale are some of the very best in the country, featuring quite regularly in even the national media. And quite rightly. These open hillside bluebells are stunning and now is a good time to take a look at them, though the area does tend to get crowded later in the day and particularly at weekends.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

We are early risers and were there well before any crowds on Friday. We set out for just a stroll from Buttermere, in driving rain, which stopped even before we reached Butterdale Hause, giving way to beautiful blue skies, playful summit clouds and clear views over Crummock Water and Buttermere itself.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

A simple little stroll, for we were on our way to Keswick. But I don’t measure walks in distance. And the bluebells of Rannerdale deserve their fame. And leaving the bluebells aside, this is a beautiful place to be. So we wandered up through the valley along the Squat Beck before circuiting Rannerdale Knotts back to Buttermere.  The scent of the bluebells and the may was quite intoxicating – and it looks like the foxgloves are going to be magnificent in a while.

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Legend has it that it’s the site of a battle – the Battle Of Rannerdale. The tale goes – there’s not much evidence for it – that fifty years after the Norman invasion of 1066 – the Normans tried to grab this bit of the far north. It took a long time for Cumberland and Westmorland to succumb – one reason that most of this land is not included in the Domesday Book.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

Anyway, the dastardly Normans were given a sound thrashing – the bluebells are said to grow in such profusion because of the spilt Norman blood.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

A grand tale, and even if there’s a shred of truth in it, Rannerdale’s a peaceful place now. Do go and see them if you can…VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

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Pictures and text (C) A and J. Bainbridge

The Gentle Art of Tramping

In Ambleside the other week, in Fred Holdsworth’s wonderful independent bookshop, where we always have a browse if we are walking in the vicinity, I was thrilled to spot a brand-new and beautiful edition of Stephen Graham’s classic work on vagabonding, The Gentle Art of Tramping (Bloomsbury).Gentle Art of Tramping

Now I already have a first edition of the book, but I couldn’t resist this beautifully produced new copy, with a perceptive introduction by Alistair Humphries.

I suspect not many present day walkers have read Stephen Graham (1884-1975). Graham gave up life as a young civil servant to go tramping across Russia before the Great War. He tramped thousands of miles across that vast country, mostly alone but sometimes in the company of Russian vagabonds and pilgrims. In later years he walked America with the jazz poet Vachel Lindsay, and walked in most countries of the world. His books, such as Undiscovered Russia, A Vagabond in the Caucasus and A Tramp’s Sketches have been too long neglected.

He distilled much of this tramping knowledge into The Gentle Art of Tramping. While giving useful advice about the kit of the time – and do bear in mind that the book was first published in 1927 – the book is much more about a tramping philosophy. While there are chapters on boots, knapsacks and what clothes to wear, there are philosophical chapters on the art of idleness, the fire, the bed, seeking shelter, drying after rain, what books to take and bathing in rivers. There are chapters on scrounging , drying after rain, long halts and keeping a notebook, and carrying money – the less you carry the more you’ll see.

Stephen Graham invented Mindful Walking a century before it became fashionable.

He also suggests the merits of the Zig-Zag and the Trespasser’s Walk, which have certainly been an inspiration to me. My own books Wayfarer’s Dole and The Compleat Trespasser might never have been written had I not read Stephen Graham when I was young.

I first encountered Stephen Graham as a lad, and I remember the difficulty I had then in finding copies of his books. I was a walker and rambler already – but this book turned me into a tramper, leading to the long tramps of weeks and months I took across the English countryside. I’ve recorded some snatches of my experiences in my own writings, but Stephen Graham was the master of the tramping philosophy.

Very well worth a read in this beautiful new edition.

 

 

Mostly about Bluebells

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Around this time of the year they appear, and draw crowds of admirers. And I’m one. I look forward to seeing the bluebells and can’t wait until they make their first appearance of the year.

They are a stunning sight, whether as part of a woodland floor, or covering bare hillsides.

On Sunday we walked up to Flakebridge Wood, near to Appleby in Cumbria. A pleasant walk up Well House Lane, a quiet no through road, its own banks lined with the flowers. Flakebridge has some of the best bluebells in Cumbria and it is worth the trip if you are nearby. You can walk out the way we went, or start from Dufton, rambling through the bluebell-rich Dufton Gill on the way.

If you are in Devon, at the other end of the country, try looking at the lower banks of the River Mardle on south-east Dartmoor, or the southern slopes of Fire Beacon above Sidmouth.

Why are we so stunned by the sight of flowers? Why do we pause for a while to admire that great view across the countryside? What is it in our human make up that makes us appreciate such things?DSCF1150

I don’t have any answers. Only that life would be poorer if there were no bluebells. If they were about for much of the year, perhaps we’d take them for granted. It’s the brief glimpse that makes us admire them and miss them when they’ve gone.

So get out there into the countryside and enjoy them while you can – and fight to preserve the woodlands where they grow. The thought that future generations might not see such sights is thoroughly despairing – yet many of our ancient woodlands are under terrible threat from developers and exploiters.

Britain has lost much of its ancient woodlands – we should make sure that this destruction ends. So please support at least one group that is fighting for our countryside.

Over the next couple of weeks we are going out to seek more bluebells.

 

Dartmoor Bogs

Think of Dartmoor and you think of bogs?

Well, I don’t, but some folk do – and that’s a bit unfair as Dartmoor has many other delights. And what’s wrong with bogs anyway? They help store carbon and are a homeland for a great deal of fauna and flora.

Okay, you might get stugged – as they say on the Moor – but it’s usually temporary and messy and really never fatal. Now, we all hear stories about people lost in Dartmoor bogs, and certainly sheep and ponies sometimes perish therein, but is there any real evidence that anyone has actually, provably died in one?

I blame Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The Hound of the Baskervilles. The idea of your villain slipping into the mire is quite a wonderful end – I wish I could do that with one of the characters in the Dartmoor novel I’m writing at the moment. But it’s been done so there. My villain will croak in a very different way…

In many years of Dartmoor walking I’ve only ever once nearly come a cropper and that was entirely my own fault. Back in the 1970s, backpacking on north Dartmoor, I was coming down off the hills with a mighty packframe on my back. Feeling lazy, I decided to cut a corner – across Raybarrow Pool, a valley mire of some reputation.

It was a silly thing to do, particularly as there had been a lot of rain. I sank down almost to my shoulders, and the pack on my back made it difficult to extricate myself. Eventually I did, emerging Grendel-like from the swamp and having to douse myself in the Teign before returning to civilisation.

Not that I was exactly traumatised by the event – bog-trotting and Dartmoor go together. They are just one of those things, like the wind and the rain.

In fact they are fascinating. When I was a young member of the Ramblers Association, I used to go out on group walks with a lovely old lady called Pam Lind, who looked just like a Dresden doll and seemed as fragile. Her great talent was leading groups on botany walks into the heart of the Dartmoor bogs. She knew the name of every flower that grew in these secret places and made the oft-messy journeys well worthwhile.

Inspired by her example, I found myself seeking out the bogs and mires, finding the little paths across and working out just how tough the raim – (ream – the surface) – was. I found lots of ways across Fox Tor Mires, near Princetown, the valley mire that gets hauled out so often by writers and broadcaster seeking a representative bog. Interestingly, the paths I knew first all changed after the Great Drought of 1976, and I had to learn them again. Fox Tor is said to be the inspiration for the Great Grimpen Mire of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel. There’s no doubt it was perhaps more ferocious until it was partially drained in Victorian times.

I have to admit, I’ve never walked a boggier land than Dartmoor. Other bogs in other landscapes never seem to compare. It amuses me up here in the Lake District, when the great Wainwright says a walk is boggy going – the examples he cites would simply be classified as mud patches or surface water on Dartmoor.

I used to find that the small boggy patches on Dartmoor were messier than the valley mires, though the feather beds are fun. You can bounce up and down with great enjoyment, seeing if you go through the raim. And just as much fun to stick your walking stick down to gain some idea of the depth…

So look kindly on the bogs of Dartmoor, or elsewhere. Seek them out and explore them, for we are darned lucky to have them. So what if you get wet feet? Mine got soaked on thousands of Dartmoor expeditions, and I don’t blame those bogs for my arthritic ankles.

And if anyone can give me ONE single example – not anecdotal – of anyone drowning unwillingly in a Dartmoor bog please do let me know…

The Sedbergh Quaker Trail

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.

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Fox’s Pulpit (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

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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.

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Lincoln’s Inn Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.DSCF1084

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.

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The Footpath through Hole House (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.

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Nether Bainbridge (c) John Bainbridge 2019

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.