A Walk to Smardale Gill

An Elizabethan deer park, a wicked landowner, a 15th century bridge, a drovers’ path, and the site of an inn where an historical conspiracy began. Not bad in one morning’s walk from Ravenstonedale.

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Smardale Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Last Sunday was a good day for a walk, lots of sunshine and clear blue skies. And the bluebells are still out which always adds much delight to a Springtime walk.

We set out from Ravenstonedale, taking the footpath across Breakyneck Fell (lovely name that!) and down to the Scandal Beck (Scandal is Old Norse meaning a short valley) at Smardale Bridge.

There are some long earthen banks here, once the boundary of Lord Wharton’s deer park. We can date its construction to the year 1560, when Wharton evicted the villagers from their homes, which once stood nearby, for the benefit of his sport.

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On the old railway (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Smardale packhorse bridge dates back to the 1400s, though there was probably always a crossing here. Apart from the medieval strip lynchets on the neighbouring hillside, there are the remains of Romano-British settlements. It marks the crossing of the beck on a really well defined drovers route.

I’ve walked a lot of drovers’ routes in my time and this is a good one, probably in use from medieval times right up the early years of the last century. I’ve written a little more about drovers in my book Wayfarer’s Dole, where I describe a Scottish route. Click on the link above if you’d like a copy.

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Smardale Hall (c) John Bainbridge 2017

But this drovers’ road is now used only by walkers and riders enjoying themselves. The long lines of driven beasts and the colourful droving folk are no more.

There’s no trace of the Scotch Inn now, though it once stood nearby. It was the launching place of the Kaber Rigg Conspiracy in 1663, an attempt to bring Charles II to heel by parliamentary plotters led Captain Atkinson and some rather well known veterans of the recent Civil War. They failed and many of the plotters were hanged, including Atkinson. Interesting how the quiet spots of England feature in national history.

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Smardale Gill Viaduct (c) John Bainbridge 2017

A short climb brought us up to the disused railway line, which we followed to the Smardale Gill Viaduct, an airy ninety feet above the valley. A very pleasant walk now with excellent views not only down into the valley, but over to the Pennines and back to the Howgill Fells.

The viaduct was built in 1860 to the design of Sir Thomas Bouch, who designed many of these northern viaducts. Sadly, he died a broken man when the Tay Bridge, which he’d also designed, was blown away during a violent storm with great loss of life.

As the wind blew across the railings on the viaduct, they played a strange kind of music, rather like an Aeolian Harp. A strange and almost hypnotic noise as we crossed the viaduct.

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The Scandal Beck (c) John Bainbridge 2017

On the way, we passed two abandoned railway workers’ cottages, now homes only for birds and bats, and a massive double lime kiln.

We followed the route of the railway, the woods rich with bluebells now, to Smardale Hall, a strange mixture of designs, which began its existence as a medieval tower house, though much of what you see is a later date.

We returned much the same way, though we followed a track on the eastern side of Scandal Beck, rather than the railway viaduct.

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The old droving route (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Very beautiful wild countryside, through which now passes Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Walk, its journeyers following very much in the footsteps of history.





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