I’ve always enjoyed walking from the little town of Kirkby Stephen, a staging post on the Coast to Coast walk. A splendid location for exploring the local fells and the tramp up to Nine Standards Rigg is a bit of a classic.
But I’ve never really explored many of the footpaths to the south of Kirkby, and there are some impressive locations to be found in that direction.
Not least Wharton Hall – a very atmospheric 14th century tower house, which is still lived in, though the equally impressive gatehouse and remaining section of curtained wall is ruined.
Wharton Hall was built by Sir Thomas Wharton in 1436, though there are earlier and later parts of this grand old building.
During the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, the fortified hall was besieged by the forces of Robert Aske – it’s so peaceful now, it’s hard to believe that this quiet place, overlooking the River Eden, could ever have known such times.
Lord (Thomas) Wharton, commander of Henry VIII’s forces at the Battle of Solway Moss and the Rough Wooing in Scotland, extended the buildings not long afterwards.
We set off from Kirkby Stephen taking the old familiar path to Franks Bridge – itself on the old coffin route from the neighbouring settlement of Hartley. Then a delightful stroll along the banks of the River Eden before striking a very good old trackway to Nateby – a quiet and peaceful hamlet.
Field paths took us across the Eden – Wharton Hall well in view now, dominating a height above the river. The path emerged on to the drive to the house, which is itself a bridleway. Interesting that the landowners in this part of Cumbria never tried to get these old rights of way closed, the usual practice of country gentlemen in other parts of Britain.
The bridleway gave us an excellent opportunity to see the house, and very dramatic it is. The gatehouse, though ruined, being in a good state of preservation.
We walked back along the drive to Halfpenny House, once an overnight resting place for drovers and the beasts. The halfpenny was the fee charged for their rest. High on the hillside to the south-west is a pill-box from World War Two – built around the time of the expected invasion of 1940. Fortunately, unlike in previous centuries, attackers never bothered this quiet corner of England.
Good view too of the Nine Standards cairns on their distant hillside.
A field path took us back down to the Eden at Stenkrith Bridge. Here the little river gives a fiercer turn in its progress. Over time its waters have carved out an impressive gorge, sculpting massive rock pools in the soft rocks, the river thundering between, sending out a mighty noise. Nearby was once the railway line from Kirkby over to Stainmore, its disused route now a peaceful haven for walkers.
But we walked back down to the Eden below Stenkrith Hill, following the footpath back into busy Kirkby Stephen.
An interesting ramble not just into lovely countryside bearing the early signs of Spring, but into history as well.
(Do click on the pictures if you want to enlarge them).