The Start of Wayfaring

A stormy dawn on Dartmoor and I was mightily glad of the huge granite boulder that protected me from the worst of the rain. The rocky heights of Laughter Tor loom out of the mist, causing me to crawl even deeper into my sleeping bag, reflecting on the momentary madness that inspired me to seek shelter on the exposed summit of  Bellever.

I should have brought a tent, instead of this flimsy waterproof flapping in the wind. I don’t often use a tent. The true tramper sleeps out in fine weather and seeks cover in the wet. But no tramper in his right mind would ever seek shelter on top of a storm-blown tor. There have been some strange bedrooms on my tramps around Britain, but few as wet and cold as Bellever in April.

I’d tramped across northern Dartmoor the day before, rain-lashed most of the way, not seeing a soul. I’d watched the clouds break across the highest summits in southern England, and heard the curlew’s cry echo across the peat-bogs of Cranmere and Cut Hill.

On that solitary ramble I had the feeling,  familiar to all who wander in wild places, that I was the only human left in the world.

The rain cleared as I strode the last few miles along the Dart river, its white water forcing through rocky channels and tearing at grass and moss on its banks. Then I saw the rocky crown of Bellever in the distance, the tor that stands high and proud at the very heart of the moor, visible for miles from all directions.  Where better to sleep on a long Dartmoor tramp?

A clear sky gave me an hour or two to sit on the very top of the rocky hill, to reflect on my journey there, a long walk from one end of Dartmoor to another. I’d wandered the British countryside since childhood and had come to know Dartmoor well.

The route I took from Okehampton to Ivybridge would be thirty-one miles in all, across some of the loneliest country in the land. In years to come I would do the walk in a day, but then I broke my travels in half, Bellever being the midpoint of a glorious exploration.

I was sixteen, rootless, dreading endless years of wage slavery. That day I’d negotiated rock-clittered hillsides, lonely river valleys and acres of mire and bog. I’d not seen a soul all day, and I was content. I wanted more of this. More solitude, more freedom, more joy, a sense of relationship with the great walkers of the past, read about in the considerable literature of rambling, who walked, like ghosts, through my life.

I crawled into a niche between the rocks and settled down to sleep, thinking of those walkers who had come before, a great vision of vagrom men and women – the pilgrims, the literary tramps, the gentle ramblers, the brave souls who had fought for access to our countryside. As I looked up at the stars, I made a vow to devote my life to exploring my country on foot, writing my own account of my travels, trespassing across denied landscapes, skirmishing for the freedom to roam, fighting for my own liberty.

I would walk, mostly, alone, but would seek the company of rambling friends so that I might share their greater knowledge of people and places. I had been a wanderer since childhood and would make the wandering life my personal mission, walking the wild places of Britain until the last breath.

I descended from Bellever on that rainy dawn, with my whole life mapped out. I felt peace of mind, something only ever achieved during rambles in those youthful days. The descent from the heart of the moor was the beginning of my journey.

I’ve described some of my subsequent adventures in my book Wayfarer’s Dole, which is now out in paperback and as an e-book. Click below for more details.



Trespassing To See The King’s Well

It seems a pity that you have to trespass to see the King’s Well, on the edge of Crosby Ravensworth Fell.

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The King’s Well (c) John Bainbridge 2018

But you do… so we did.

Like most Britons, I’m an inveterate trespasser. Of course, if we had the same access legislation that the Scots enjoy, there’d be no need. But we haven’t. All we get are the crumbs from the access table.

Oh, yes, the King’s Well. I can’t discover why it’s called that, though it’s not far from where King Charles II paused for a drink at Black Dub on the Lyvennet Beck. But the well is substantial and my personal belief is that it’s an ancient sacred well.

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White Had Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2018

On our walk last Sunday, we also looked at the White Hag stone circle and revisited Robin Hood’s Grave (now there was a trespasser for you!), where the famous outlaw almost certainly isn’t buried. I like this grave so much I used it in the opening chapters of my Robin Hood novel Villain.

We set out from a quiet Crosby Ravensworth, taking the familiar path up Slack Randy (why is it called that?) and then followed the wall round as it climbed towards the head waters of the Lyvennet.

The White Hag stone circle, which we’d missed on previous trips, is a kerb circle of interestingly large but fallen stones. It’s hidden amidst lank moor grass and not all that easy to see. Very atmospheric, though I suspect some of it – and what I suspect were burial cairns nearby – were filched to provide the stones for the long wall across the fell.

We crossed the Lyvennet and followed the wall round to the King’s Well. Now you do get the feeling that you are not encouraged to visit. There’s even chest-high barbed wire to discourage you getting even close to the wall surrounding the intake. Then you have to get to the other side of the wall to see the well.

As I said, we did…

This fascinating structure is well worth a visit, even though the well-head structure is in a parlous state and has a pallet rammed in the entrance. A poor way to treat something that was important to generations gone by.

Our mild trespass over, we climbed the slope to revisit Robin Hood’s grave. A lonely spot, though not far off the Coast to Coast path.

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Robin Hood’s Grave (c) John Bainbridge 2018

We followed footpaths back to Crosby Ravensworth, via Cross Lodge and then the valley of the Lyvennet to Holme Bridge.

A grand walk in very cold weather.

Crosby Ravensworth Fell is now part of the Westmorland Dales part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Given the National Park status of this area, more should be made of the history around the fell and the access improved.

If you want to read more trespassing adventures, do try my book The Compleat Trespasser, out now in paperback and as an e-book. And if you want to read a fictional account of Robin Hood in this very place, do try my novel Villain. Links below if you want to find out more.


Inversions Around Glenridding Dodd

After several days of heavy rain, we chose the first dry morning to go up Glenridding Dodd, that minor but picturesque summit above the village of the same name. One of Lakeland’s easier ascents, but with some of its grandest views.Glenridding Dodd 020

To increase the length of the walk, we started from Glencoyne Bay and followed the Ullswater Way along the shores of the lake towards Glenridding, heading up by the public footpath that cuts the corner to Greenside Road.

Once the road is reached, we took the path up The Rake from just before the second line of cottages – I’m spelling this out in detail, because even Wainwright seemed unsure of the way up from this side. It certainly puzzled me a couple of times in the past as we went by.Glenridding Dodd 021

The sun’s heat after the rain produced some fleeing inversions, plunging us into cloud and then sinking to turn the valley below us white. The higher summits were covered in glistening fresh white snow. The tip of Catstycam looked like some Alpine height in this snowy glory.


The heathery top of Glenridding Dodd, the larches on the Mossdale Beck side climbing almost to the highest points, make this a very pretty top, with superb view over much of the length of Ullswater and across to Place Fell.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

We were the only people on Glenridding Dodd – and yet, if you look at old guide books, it was a popular climb in Victorian times.

We went back the same way, now in brighter sunshine. A very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

My Walk of the Year

As 2017 comes to an end, I’ve been looking back on some memorable walks. There have been a lot of interesting rambles: a memorable day on Schiehallion, the whole of the Ullswater Way, a number of Lake District fells and explorations in the Eden Valley.

But the walk that stays in my mind is one of the easiest we did. On the last day of May we went across to the Scottish island of Lismore, one of those perfect sunny days in what has been a very wet year.

Lismore is a beautiful and historically fascinating place – well worth a visit. I’m reblogging the original post below.

I hope you have some great walks in 2018.


We caught the early foot-ferry to Lismore, in beautiful weather on the last day of May. If you want a peaceful day off from the world I commend this lovely Scottish island to you, unspoiled and with some of the best views in Scotland.

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After very heavy rain the day before, we were apprehensive that the weather would be rough, and we had come to Appin particularly to visit the nearby island of Lismore. But like a miracle, it cleared into one of those quite perfect Scottish walking days, with absolutely clear views for miles.

Even before we left on the ferry from Port Appin, I’d spotted an otter through a pair of binoculars borrowed off a waiting bird watcher.

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The ferry takes just a few minutes to take you across the Lynn of Morn to The Point on Lismore. The sea was as calm as glass.

The views from Lismore were quite superb. We’d often seen the island from our many trips across the CalMac ferry to Mull. I’d imagined it a flat and barren. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Lismore has quite a variety of landscapes, and is much more wooded than I’d thought.

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We followed the very quiet lane to Clachan, where stands the island’s lovely church. There was once a cathedral here in the early days of Scottish Christianity. The present church is calm and peaceful, with some excellent stained glass – outside there is a display of fascinating medieval grave slabs, and a sanctuary stone opposite, marking the boundary of the distance you might wander if you’d claimed the protection of the church.

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On the way down the lane we watched a farmer pull in at a gate. He had several bottles of warm milk with him. He stood by the gate and began to call out, doing an incredibly good impression of a ewe. Surely, after a few moments two lambs, either abandoned or orphaned, trotted up to him.

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We ambled on up the lane to the heritage centre and cafe run by the local community – and excellent it was. I recommend the locally-made ice cream. There’s a splendid little museum too, illustrating the life of the island. Well worth a visit.

The friendly lady there told us that it seldom snows on Lismore, though they get a lot of rain and high winds. She added that the mountains on Mull and the surrounding mainland look magnificent from this island viewpoint.

The island is thriving, she said. Young people who had left were now returning. There were currently three new babies on the island.

We followed a lane down to the long island loch called Baile a’ Ghobhain – a rather beautiful stretch of water, reedy at this end. Just before the farm of Balnagown, we took of across country, scrambling across walls and through fences, to Trefour Castle. Not a castle as such but a broch.

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The fallen walls of the broch are about fourteen feet high and it must have been an intimidating structure during its Pictish heyday. It seems to have been used for several centuries, possibly even by the Vikings whose long ships were once a familiar sight in these waters.

We followed another lane back up to the island’s main road – oh, that all main roads were so quiet and peaceful, heading off to see Port Ramsey, a long row of cottages by the sea, built originally for workers in the limestone quarries. Apparently, some of the islanders still commute by boat to work at the quarry on nearby Morven.

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Back then along the lane to The Point and our homeward ferry, admiring once more the many flowers common on Lismore – primroses, rhododendrons, flag irises, and so many more. During the day we also saw a shrew and a hare – the latter were reintroduced to the island some thirty years ago.

Lismore is a very peaceful and spiritual island – it nearly became the religious centre of the area instead of Iona. A wonderful place to relax and potter around.

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A Winter Walk in Eden

I set out before dawn on a very cold and frosty morning. The ground was rock hard, which was good because it hardened the mud. A perfect day for a winter walk.

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The Track To Bandley Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2017

From Colby Lane in Appleby three parallel paths run down to Bandley Bridge, that delightful crossing of the Hoff Beck. The northernmost path is a bridleway, beginning as a green lane before winding its way across fields. It’s many years since I used this nice old green track, and then only in the opposite direction. I remember the occasion well – it was a boiling hot day in July and I stopped to talk to the farmer and his wife, who were getting in an early harvest.

But on this frozen morning, with the first glimmer of light, there were long views across to the snowy Pennines and Shap Fells. The snow hadn’t yet touched the Eden valley where I was walking.

I wandered down through Rachel’s Wood, where frost and ice clung to each individual twig and every inch of the tree bark. The Hoff Beck had flooded recently at Bandley Bride, leaving pools with ice as hard as Plexiglass.

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Dawn (c) John Bainbridge 2017

It was here that the dawn broke, a rich orange illuminating the trees on the neighbouring heights.

The Hoff Beck is more of a river than the name implies, a charming stretch of water in a landscape that can have changed very little since the Viking Halfdans settled in its valley. There was nobody about, just a solitary heron that kept changing its fishing pitches as I walked the banks of the beck, my boots crunching the hardened and frosty ground.

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Rachel’s Wood (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Apart from the barking of a dog, my presence through the hamlet of Hoff went unnoticed. Crossing the road, the beck was still my companion as I walked the long mile down to the waterfall of Rutter Force. I miss the tea-shop that used to be here, a place where I lingered on a very wet days walking many years ago – I put an account of that expedition in my walking memoir Wayfarer’s Dole.

Then up across the field to the isolated house marked on the map as Porch Cottage, but these days called Donkey’s Nest. A quiet lane runs from there into the village of Great Ormside, which has the good fortune to have one of the best churches in Cumbria.

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Bandley Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2017

A place full of history too. Orm, who gave the place its name, was one of the Halfdan Viking settlers who came to this place in around 915 AD. We say Vikings, but we should say Danes really, for Viking was a name to be used only when the Norsemen went a-raiding.

The church is set on a great mound, which was almost certainly a burial ground for these early settlers. The Ormside Bowl, (now in York Museum) and dating to the 7th/8th century, was discovered in the churchyard in 1823. In 1898, a Viking warrior was found buried in the mound, complete with his sword (now at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle). Nearby is Ormside Hall, with an altered defensive Peel Tower. This was a debateable land in the long conflict between the Scots and the English.

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The Frozen Land (c) John Bainbridge 2017

According to the map, a bridleway runs from the church across the fields to Appleby. I went to look and it’s certainly well signposted but – unless you are feeling bold – completely impassable. There is no bridge across the River Eden, and few signs that there ever was. No obvious ford either, though I suspect horse riders simply plunged into the waters of Eden whenever they felt like crossing.

I took the familiar path on the left bank of the Eden, which runs through woodland and climbs above and then falls back to the river. This is a real poacher’s path, with hidden places where someone not averse to raiding fishing rights might dip for a salmon or trout. A good place for herons and otters too – not so long ago we saw an otter just downstream of here.

The footpath reached Appleby in the shadow of its ancient castle. Once all of this land was part of Scotland – one reason why it doesn’t feature in the Domesday Book. It had a bloody history too, the Scottish king William the Lion besieged the place. Appleby, as the “by” at the end of its name implies was a Viking settlement. These invading Danes sought out the pastoral loop of its river in what are known to us as the Dark Ages. Earlier Romans bypassed the location by following the important Roman road to the north of the town as they marched to the Stainmore Gap.

A hard-frosted day of a kind that must have been familiar to these first settlers. The ground was just as unyielding as I finished my walk.

Probably my last walk of the year and a memorable day. Today the snow fell in the Eden Valley, h

About 8 miles

In the Steps of the Green Knight

Most years at this time, I dwell on the epic medieval poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It’s an appropriate one for journeyers through our countryside as Gawain makes a winter journey to keep a date with destiny with the green knight.

It’s very much a story of the Staffordshire moorlands, for the story comes to a climax in the great fallen cavern of Ludchurch. The poem is wonderfully descriptive of wild countryside and a terrific adventure. One for every walker who loves the challenge of the great outdoors.

I was born in Staffordshire, though the other end. But from childhood I knew those north Stafforshire moorlands very well. Re-reading the poem is a joy to me. If you love the writings of Alan Garner, Tolkien, Pratchett et al, it will resonate with you.

Many years ago I struggled through it in the original Middle English, which I think is hard work even if you can manage quite well with Chaucer and Langland – as I could at the time.

A good translation is by the poet and Oxford don Bernard O’Donoghue (Penguin 2006). This translation concentrates on the tale itself and the rhythm of the original, veering away from the alliteration and half lines of the original. I think O’Donoghue captures the spirit of the poem well. As a variant, you might like to try the version by the poet Simon Armitage, who brings the local links very much to life. Ideally, you should try both, but if your Middle English is holding up do try the original.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a beautiful tribute to the English countryside. As Sir Gawain rides on his quest to the castle of the Green Knight we get wonderful pictures of the landscape of England, and possibly Wales, grand vistas of nature and the seasons, with a bit of sexual seduction, courtly love and romance – in the historic sense of the word – thrown in.

The poet is unknown but his words live on.

And this is a very good time of the year to read his words.

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Please Sign the petition for this new footpath at Caldbeck

Caldbeck Parish Council has set up a petition asking Cumbria County Council to support the establishment of a footpath which would give a safe, direct link between the villages of Hesket Newmarket and Caldbeck.  The funds for the construction of the footpath have been made available by a very generous gift.  Ten landowners agreed to the footpath but two have changed their minds.  The County Council has the powers to help but does not wish to get involved.  The Parish Council has set up a petition which went live on Monday and has already attracted 600+ signatures.  Please take a minute to look at the website and see if you would add your support.

Caldbeck Parish Council has prepared detailed plans for a footpath and has the resources to construct it, thanks to a generous gift of £100,000 specifically for the construction.  But it needs Cumbria County Council to support the project through a Footpath Creation Order.  Eight of ten landowners are happy with the proposals. Having initially agreed to the route, two landowners have now said no.

A footpath alongside the 1 mile lane between Caldbeck and Hesket Newmarket was the main request from a referendum which informed the Caldbeck Parish Plan 2005 – 2015, identified by 173 of 200 households.   This winding country road, regularly used by pedestrians, is barely wide enough for two cars to pass, with no verges along most stretches, making it dangerous for people on foot with reports of near misses. The proposed path would provide a safe, direct, easy to walk footpath between the two villages, which would also be wheelchair friendly and suitable for cyclists.

Since requesting support, Cumbria County Council officers have been reluctant to get involved, showing a negative attitude. Whilst sympathetic to the merits of the footpath, County Council officers have said ‘no’ to any support: they point out they have a power but not a duty to pursue an Order, they have other high priority work, and they are concerned that an Order might be challenged. The County Council would prefer all landowners to be in agreement but if there were such agreement then there would be no need for an Order. The Parish Council has sought agreement at all points but without success to date.

Caldbeck Parish Council says it’s now essential for the County Council to give support, using its powers where necessary, and work with the Lake District National Park and ourselves. The National Park would provide the staff resources but in the event of an Inquiry, the County Council would need to fund legal costs. Defending the Order would incur costs of costs of up to £10,000 and if the Order were not confirmed costs might be up to £30,000. These sums are relatively small for the County Council and by working together costs and risks would be minimised. Working collaboratively for the footpath meets the County Council’s aspiration to be an organisation that: ‘listens to communities and involves people in the decisions that affect their lives’ and ‘works in partnership’.

The Parish Council’s objective is to establish a lasting asset largely funded by a gift for the benefit of the local community and visitors for generations to come. A Footpath Creation Order is now required for the project to proceed. Please add your weight to our request that Cumbria County Council supports the Footpath Creation Order and underwrites possible legal costs. Without this support the £100,000 donation will be returned and pedestrians using the road will continue to be at risk.