A Walk to Great Asby Scar

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’s in the county of Cumbria, this landscape has recently been added to the Yorkshire Dales National Park – and deservedly so.

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Limestone Pavement on Great Asby Scar (c) John Bainbridge 2017

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 new novel – the third in the series which brings some reality back to the legend of Robin Hood. My new one 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 forthcoming 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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The Beacon Hill Cross (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We walked through the churchyard, before following 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.

Here, we left the open moorland, waved to a friendly farmer, and 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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Gamelands Neolithic Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2017

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.

A footpath took us across a field to Bland House. if anyone knows how it got its name please let me know. 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. I shall revise the opening chapter of my Robin Hood novel with that in mind.

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