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.

Smardale Gill 006

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.

Smardale Gill 014

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.

Smardale Gill 022

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.

Smardale Gill 024

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.

Smardale Gill 028

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.

Smardale Gill 029

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.




Bluebells on Loughrigg

The bluebells are magnificent around Loughrigg Fell at the moment, both in the little woods surrounding the hill and on the fell itself. I like their ethereal blue and look forward to seeing them every year.

Bluebells at Loughrigg 014.JPG

Grasmere below the bluebells (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Sadly, my camera never does justice to their colouring. Look at an individual bluebell. It’s pretty enough, but the combination of thousands set against the green and brown of the vegetation, produces something so magnificent that it seems to be almost unbelievable and not of this earth.

Two days ago, we walked one of my favourite Lakeland rambles, from Rydal church, along Under Loughrigg Lane and then up through Brow Head to Lily Tarn.

Bluebells at Loughrigg 009.JPG

Lily Tarn with Windermere (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Under Loughrigg Lane is a joy in itself, particularly for lovers of English literature. Thomas de Quincey lived along it at Fox Ghyll, the Wordsworths and Coleridge often came this way. Harriet Martineau and Charlotte Bronte stepped this way.

And Dr Thomas and his son, the poet Matthew Arnold, lived at Fox How. You really feel close to these writers as you wind along the lane, looking down at the waters of the River Rothay and across to the hills to the Fairfield Horseshoe.

Bluebells at Loughrigg 004.JPG

A View from Loughrigg (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Climbing up to Lily Tarn then through woodlands with delicate patches of bluebells. Lily Tarn is a delight, because of its setting alone, though we were saddened to see that the lone silver birch on its little island was blown over.

This is a modest ramble, though I confess to cracking two ribs the last time I walked it, with a simple trip. You cannot be too careful.

Loughrigg is a modest height, but its setting makes it a marvellous all-round viewpoint – there are so many similar fells; the Farirfield range, the Langdales, Wetherlam and Coniston Old Man. And on this day the long reach of Windermere, its waters showing as blue as the little flowers.

Bluebells at Loughrigg 016

Loughrigg Terrace (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We followed the track down to Loughrigg Tarn, so big I think it almost qualifies as a small lake, then up to Deerbolts Wood and out on to Loughrigg Terrace.

And here the bluebells were at their very best, great sweeps of them coming down the fell to the waters of Grasmere. The woodlands around Banerigg and White Moss giving a woodland variation of their blue.

We returned around Rydal Water, so familiar to the writers I mentioned earlier. They too must have seen the bluebells as we did.

So if you are anywhere near the Lakes, try and get out this week and see the bluebells at their best. They are a calming sight in a troubled world.


On the Ullswater Way

The Ullswater Way very pleasantly links up paths to provide a route around this beautiful Lake. We’ve decided to walk bits of it from time to time, not necessarily in any particular order.

Walk to Watermillock 004

Ullswater from Gowbarrow Fell (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Last Monday was a beautiful day as we set out from Aira Force to walk to Watermillock church and back. The pleasant Spring weather here has lasted (though as I write this, the rain is falling at last).

The first part of the walk is along the terrace path on the lakeside of Gowbarrow Fell – well worth walking for the superb views not only over Ullswater but so many mountains around. This was the approach we used when we first went to the summit of Gowbarrow, but even if you’re not going to the top it’s worth a ramble.

Walk to Watermillock 005

The Path around Gowbarrow Fell (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Just as the path turns a corner is the Memorial Bench dating back to 1905, a splendid place for a rest, for it’s a terrific viewpoint.

I’ve never known just what the Memorial Bench commemorates. If you know please do leave a comment below.

Ullswater was a deep blue and the boats and steamers looked like toys from this height.

Walk to Watermillock 006

The Memorial Bench (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The narrow path winds above some lovely tree-filled gullies as it makes its way to Swinburn’s Park – one of the nine medieval deer parks surrounding the lake. Sadly, in the twentieth century, much of it was planted with light-defying conifers. Happily these are being cleared, offering much better view than previous walkers might have seen.

Walk to Watermillock 008

Northern Shores of Ullswater (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Beyond the trees, the path crosses open moorland of heather and gorse, offering dramatic views of the Priest’s Crag. Just below is Watermillock Church.

Although there was an earlier church at Watermillock dating to at least 1218, the original was demolished and the present building dates to 1881. But for a Victorian church it is rather fine, with some wonderful stained glass, near Pre-Raphaelite in design – among them a memorial to Mr Spring-Rice, who wrote the words to I Vow To Thee My Country.

We talked to the gentleman maintaining the churchyard, who’d worked on the farms in this area since 1950. He told us much about the church and the village. The church is made of local stone – set watershot – with sandstone trimmings from the Eden Valley.

A sad tale too, some of what we heard. Barely sixty years ago there were thirty-one small farmers and smallholders working the fields around Watermillock – now there is just one farmer.

Walk to Watermillock 014

Watemillock Church (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We walked back to Aira Force the way we had come – worth doing because of the views over Ullswater open up as you descend Gowbarrow.

The Ullswater Way is a pleasing addition to the walks in the Lake District.

A River Walk With Bluebells

A beautiful day today, as we set out from Sedbergh for a morning walk along the River Rawthey. A gorgeous spring morning, with the fresh leaves on the trees and the shady woodland floor bearing the lovely shade of bluebells and the scent of the wild garlic.

Sedberh River Rawthey Walk 007

The River Rawthey (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Sedbergh is a book town, though I’ve noticed that some of the bookshops have shut down in recent years – though there’s still enough to make a visit worthwhile for any bibliophile.

First down to Millthrop Bridge on the Rawthey, where we picked up the Dales Way which we followed for the first part of our walk. The Rawthey deserves to be better known, for the river scenery is very lovely – the water crystal clear, singing merrily as it runs over shillets and around boulders, with the occasional deeper pool where the fish hide.

Soon after passing through the pretty hamlet of Birks we passed the Rawthey’s confluence with the little River Dee. Then under the old railway line – and how good it would be to have them running again, far better than wasting the money on the HS2 millionaire’s high-speed line.

Sedberh River Rawthey Walk 005.JPG

Birks (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The river path narrows below the hamlet of Briggflatts – worth a diversion here to see the quaker meeting house. You have to do it from the nearby road, as there is no access from the river bank, which is a pity.

We followed the road for a few yards before following a stunning green lane up past Ingmire Hall – a path lined with beech trees and some more bluebells. You can only really see Ingmire Hall from the bottom of the path, though you can admire the grounds beyond the slightly tumbled estate wall.

Sedberh River Rawthey Walk 001

Bluebells along the way (c) John Bainbridge 2017

Ingmire Hall is mostly 16th century, built around an older peel tower. It was badly damaged by fire in 1927 but restored. It was the ancestral home of the Upton family.

Sedberh River Rawthey Walk 013

The Green Lane at Ingmire (c) John Bainbridge 2017

We followed a footpath up through Underwinder Farm – well named for Winder Hill on the Howgills is in view for much of this walk. A steep path leads through a gate on the right, with opening up views over the valley of the Rawthey and Dentdale as you climb.

The quiet Howgill Lane leads back to Sedbergh, with far views much of the way.

Spring – at last – seems to have sprung in Cumbria – though this walk was once and should be again in Yorkshire. Please restore the old county boundaries.

If you can do walk in our countryside this next week and see the bluebells!

On Raven Crag

High above Thirlmere stands Raven Crag, stern and dramatic and beautiful, easily distracting the eye from the planted conifers all around. Once it would have been surrounded by bare moorland and hardwood trees, but the coniferisation of the 20th century swept all that away.

Raven Crag 004

Raven Crag from Thirlmere Dam (c) John Bainbridge 2017

It is actually better now than when Wainwright wrote his Central Fells guide sixty years ago. He wound his way up through a dark forest path, hemmed in by conifers. Now the top part of that path has been mostly cleared offering views which he never saw, and precious daylight too.

Below is Thirlmere, Manchester’s reservoir, built by hundreds of navvies who encamped in nearby Legburthwaite. A damned hard life they had too. But then it was the working class who made Britain great. You can see their Mission building on the road to Stanah, part church, part meeting place and part hospital.

Raven Crag 007

Raven Crag (c) John Bainbridge 2017

To add a little distance we walked out from Stanah village hall (£2 honesty box), round to Smallthwaite Bridge and then across the dam itself. A very pretty approach, because you get such superb views of Raven Crag most of the way.

The path up the side of the crag is steep but clear. The crag itself is magnificent. It’s many years now since I rock-climbed as opposed to going scrambling, but I still automatically look for routes on a rocky face like this. All a bit beyond me these days, I fear.

Raven Crag 017

The View from the Top (c) John Bainbridge 2017

The top of Raven Crag now offers wider views that in Wainwright’s day, though I fear it has been a bit over-nannified with wooden steps and walkways and a viewing platform, presumably so people don’t fall down the crag. I rather prefer my tops left alone.

We walked back around The Benn, following a forestry track of ups and downs. Towards its conclusion it offered once more some stunning views of Thirlmere.

Raven Crag 020

Thirlmere (c) John Bainbridge 2016

A pleasant morning out.

A Walk to Wharton Hall

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.

Wharton Hall Walk 013

Wharton Hall Gatehouse (c) John Bainbridge 2017

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.

Wharton Hall Walk 001

Franks Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2017

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.

Wharton Hall Walk 007

Nateby (c) John Bainbridge 2017

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.

Wharton Hall Walk 009

The Old AA Sign at Nateby (c) John ainbridge 2017

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.

Wharton Hall Walk 024

River Eden at Stenkrith Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2017

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). 

A Walking Memoir

I’ve always loved those walking books, usually written before the Second World War, where the authors recount their adventures tramping through the fields, hills and mountains of the British Isles.Wayfarers_Dole_Cover_for_Ko

I’ve built up quite a collection over the years: books by authors such as A.J. Brown on Yorkshire, W. H. Palmer on the Lakes and virtually everywhere else, Matt Marshall on Scotland – the list goes on.

I’ve always wanted to write a book giving an account of some of my own country walks. Last year I did. It’s called Wayfarer’s Dole – the name comes from the portion of bread and ale given to pilgrims at St Cross who passed on their journey from Winchester to Canterbury Cathedral.

In my own book I cover a fair bit of ground, Dartmoor and Dorset, the Lakes and Pennines, Norfolk and Scotland.

Along the way I walk in the steps of walkers long gone – the pilgrims and drovers, literary tramps such as George Borrow, John Buchan, Edward Thomas and Richard Jefferies; the navvies who marched across Scotland seeking work, the vagabonds who wander through our hills and meadows.

There are also chapters on maps, the art of the roadside fire, stravaiging and summit fever.

Wayfarer’s Dole, the third book in my walking trilogy – the others are The Compleat Trespasser and Rambling: Some Thoughts on Country Walking – gives an account of how I took to the pathways and wild places of Britain. Hopefully, my adventures might inspire you to seek out some of the walks I’ve enjoyed.

My book is now out in paperback. However, until Sunday night, it’s available for just 99 pence/cents on Kindle. And you don’t even need a Kindle device. When you order a copy you can download a free APP. So just click on the link to order.