After a very heavy night’s rain, I set out from Appleby to walk part of the Hoff Beck and the River Eden – a walk I’ve done several times before. I first did this the other way round a dozen years ago, on a day of pouring rain. I wrote a chapter on that in my book Wayfarer’s Dole.
But this time I headed for the Hoff Beck first. Interestingly, much of this part of Westmorland was once part of Scotland, for not even William the Conqueror could make his mark in this wild country – one reason why there’s no mention of it in the Domesday Book.
The rain cleared early, though the grass was still wet as I made my way across the fields to Bandley Bridge. The Pennines glowered darkly in the distance, capped by a long bar of cloud. The fields were grazed by herds of contented cows, their numbers parting as I made my way through their midst. The sun broke through as I took the steep descent to the bridge, accompanied by the sad cry of a curlew.
Peaceful spot, Bandley Bridge, with the waters of the Hoff Beck (two good Viking words) flowing beneath. I saw a kingfisher here once, though not on this day. A footpath leads to a steep bank of the beck called Cuddling Hole. I don’t know for sure why it’s called that, but I can speculate!
I followed the Hoff Beck upstream to the hamlet of Hoff, seeing only a red squirrel on the path as I journeyed on.
Lots more herds of cattle in the fields between Hoff and the waterfall of Rutter Force. A herd walked slowly down from Low Rutter Farm, presumably after milking, just as cattle must have done since the Vikings settled these lonely valleys – though the breeds have changed. Some stayed with me and others wandered across the footbridge to the other bank.
Rutter Force is a charming little waterfall, just made for picture postcards. Only sad that the little tea shop, where the proprietor once kept the tea and toast coming for me on that first wet day, has gone.
On then up through the fields to the cottage known as Donkey’s Nest (it has a more prosaic name on the OS map). Then down a long lane to Great Ormside, where I sat on the stone steps which once surrounded a cross rather than the present tree.
I’m convinced that the track leading away from Great Ormside was once a drovers’ route, it is so broad and green. Drovers often came this way, bringing the beasts not only from neighbouring Dales villages, but out of Scotland. I saw no one, but another squirrel cavorting in a tree just a few feet above my head.
The sandstone here is a most vivid red and was quite slippery after the rain as I made my way to the banks of the River Eden. The footpath winds high above the river for a while, before descending to the water – a real poacher’s path if ever there was one. Only the noise of the birds and the river, echoing across the valley.
In the fields beyond the woods are remnants of what must have been the park for Appleby Castle, once the home of the diarist Lady Anne Clifford, whose recordings should be read by anyone interested in the England of the Seventeenth Century and the English Civil War.