Monk Coniston, Tarn Hows, Bluebells and Arthur Ransome

In about 1908, Arthur Ransome, future author of the Swallows and Amazons novels, was wont to stay at Low Yewdale Farm in the valley above Coniston, sometimes camping out in a bell tent by the Yewdale Beck or further up by Raven Crag. He was a fledgling author at this point, with just a few small contributions to the world of literature. His involvement in reporting the Russian Revolution – he married Trotsky’s secretary – and his grand series of novels were yet to come.

Tarn Hows Cottage

He spent some time in that tent learning Romany, from George Borrow’s classic book Romano Lavo-Lil and the writings of John Leland, for this was the period of the great Borrovian revival. Ransome even befriended some Romany folk – a pal was Arthur Stanborough, who was a bit out of favour for marrying outside the blood. Ransome also befriended other folk of the road – tinkers and showmen, and heard tales of the Romany wintering place up at Millom.

A glimpse of Coniston

As an admirer of the writings of both Ransome and Borrow, it wasn’t hard to picture Ransome in his tent or strolling up by the beck to Lower Yewdale on similar fine days to the ones we enjoyed yesterday. And even in the changed Lake District of this rather unpleasant century, it isn’t hard to picture the world Ransome portrayed so vividly in his books.

Gazebo at Monk Coniston

I learned my first words of Romani in Gypsy camps in the Black Country of the English Midlands sixty years ago, and – like Ransome – I learned more in the pages of Romano Lavo-Lil. (If you want to make a study of Romanes, it’s still well worth reading Borrow, but I’d particularly recommend James Hayward’s more recent Gypsy Jib.)

Monk Coniston

All that is by the by, for we went out to walk from Coniston to Monk Coniston, up through the woods of Hill Fell to Tarn Hows and then back down the Cumbria Way through Tarn Hows Wood mostly in search of bluebells.

The Marshalls and their friend Tennyson

We started from the Coniston Sports and Social Club (£4 to park all day), walking round the head of the Lake to Monk Coniston. The grounds are in the hands of the National Trust and there’s a path through, though I’m always baffled as to why the National Trust can’t dedicate much of its land under CRoW (the Countryside and Rights of Way Act). Surely that would be in line with the intentions of its founders?

The Dog’s Home

There was a house here called Waterhead from the 1600s, but the Monk Coniston of today (the house isn’t open) was very much the construction of the Leeds Flax Mill owner James Garth Marshall – a reforming politician who favoured extending the franchise, votes for women, education for the poor, allotments etc. All the more baffling, then, that the National Trust should misleadingly try and portray him as a typical ‘trouble at mill’ landowner on one of their information boards! Marshall had a keen interest in geology and was a pal of John Stuart Mill, Alfred Tennyson and John Ruskin.

The view towards Coniston Old Man, Wetherlam and the Yewdale Fells is quite superb as you climb up through the park. There was a dash of colour from the rhododendrons along the way.

By the Yewdale Beck

A good track leads up through the woods to Tarn Hows. Once three separate tarns, but transformed into one great tarn by Marshall. A place designed so he could walk up his visitors and have something to show them. I’m never quite convinced by Tarn Hows. It always has an artificial look to me and perhaps it might have been nicer if Marshall left the place alone. But then most people adore it, and it regularly features in those irritating Ten Best Landscapes lists that lazy journalists hack together to feed the pages of the broadsheets on days when news is in short supply.

I think the lane down towards Tarn Hows Wood offers one of the best views in the Lake District, and surely the very best view of Wetherlam. We passed a young lady strolling up the lane, her horse trotting behind her. A sight that both Borrow and Ransome must often have seen.

As we descended Tarn Hows Wood, the bluebells got better and better as we walked lower. Every year I long to see the bluebells and there’s a sadness as they go over. Each year you cross your fingers and hope you’ll last another twelve months to see them again.

Monk Coniston

By the Yewdale Beck, looking up at the Yewdale Fells, we came near to where Arthur Ransome stayed at Low Yewdale. I mentally spoke a few words of Romani as we went past.

Following the Cumbria Way, we came to the Dog’s Home (not the same one that Ransome writes about in his book The Picts and the Martyrs – that’s further down the eastern bank of Coniston, near the Heald, where Ransome lived later in life.) The one here was a place were the foxhounds were kept. It was here that the misleading comments about James Gath Marshall were posted.

A Walk Through the Woods

Another field path brought us back to Coniston. A lovely walk, one of the best rounds for views in the Lake District. I’m fond of Coniston, not least because the Coniston Fells were the first I ever walked, so many years ago in ancient sunlight.

Appleby’s Railway Path and Claiming Rights of Way

There’s a well-used path running alongside the railway line just along by the station at Appleby-in-Westmorland. Despite its use, it is NOT a public right of way, though everyone in the town considers it to be. In fact, as part of the mapping exercise in the Ramblers Association’s Don’t Lose Your Way campaign I added it. But when I looked at their final map, this popular path wasn’t listed. Why not?

I do hope every resident and walking visitor will support this path being added to the Definitive Map of rights of way. It would be very easy to produce evidence of twenty years use.

And that applies to paths near you. If you know of a local path that everyone uses, but which isn’t a right of way on the map please do try and get it added. You only need to produce evidence of twenty years clear use by the public. It doesn’t have to be the last twenty years. Any period of twenty years in history will do.

If you look at The Ramblers website, or that of The Open Spaces Society, you can seek advice on how to claim that missing path.

Appleby railway station is on the Settle and Carlisle line and is an admirable way to come to the town for a walk. It is very much a walkers’ railway line, with many splendid walks from every stop along the way.

Bluebells from Sedbergh

A few years ago, when we were walking the Quaker Trail from Sedbergh, we came across a little wood that was clearly going to be grand for bluebells. We were there at the wrong time of the year, but always promised ourselves that we’d come back to see the bluebells. So the other day we did.

The first part of our walk was a reprise of the Quaker Trail (you can get a leaflet from the Sedbergh Tourist Information Centre, or online). Down through Sedbergh School to the pretty hamlet of Birks, then along field paths to the hamlet of Brigflatts.

The Quaker meeting house at Brigflatts dates back to 1675 and is situated in a most peaceful garden. It features is a lovely poem by the modernist poet Basil Bunting, who is buried in the nearby Quaker burial ground.

Quaker Meeting House at Brigflatts

It is still in use for Quaker meetings on Sunday mornings. The area around the Howgills has a strong Quaker tradition. George Fox, the founder of Quakerism held a packed meeting not far away on the slopes of Master Knott, using the rocks now known as Fox’s Pulpit – see the Quaker Trail information if you want to extend this walk to get there.

Mounting Block at Brigflatts

Brigflatts is certainly a place where you can sit quietly and contemplate.

Up to the road then, to Ingmire Back Lane, one of the most picturesque paths in the district, especially last week with bluebells and fresh green leaves on the beeches. Here there are two paths, The public Back Lane and the private way to Ingmire Hall. The private way looking almost as delightful as the right of way.

We then faced a stretch of road walking to St Gregory’s Church in the valley of the River Lune. What you see today is mostly from the 1860s, and was used for scripture readings for the navvies who were building the Ingleton Branch railway line. It is redundant now and maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust. The glorious stained glass windows show local scenes of nature.

Ingmire Back Lane
Private Path to Ingmire

But what a pity that you have to walk along the road to get there, without making a lengthy rights of way detour right around the policies of Ingmire Hall. Could not the landowner create a footpath inside their boundary from the top of Ingmire Back Lane? There isn’t continuous traffic, but it is bendy and narrow for pedestrians and vehicles.

On then to Lincoln’s Inn Bridge, which dates to the 17th century, crossing the River Lune at a place which was once the boundary between Westmorland and Yorkshire. The nearby building was once an inn but is now a farm. Cross the bridge carefully, avoiding cars – it’s very narrow.

St Gregory’s Church

Just past the old inn a footpath heads steeply uphill through the fields and over a rise, crossing another minor road. A further path leads up to Hawkrigg Wood – and this is where we found our bluebells.And glorious they were, the camera lens doesn’t do them justice. A very narrow path leads up through the wood – please do stick to it and don’t trample the bluebells. Every bit as good as we anticipated.

We returned the same way, past Lincoln’s Inn Bridge and St Gregory’s, just into Slacks Lane, taking the footpath up through Underwinder and then down Howgill Lane back into Sedbergh. A quiet lane, well worth walking because of the wonderful view you get across the district.

And there was a bonus in the second-hand bookshop at the tourist information centre. We found two lovely walking guides (to the Peak District and South-East England) dating from the 1930s at bargain prices. I collect walking and trespassing memorabilia and these were very welcome and readable additions to my collection.

The bookshops of Sedbergh are well worth a browse.

Walking Through Ancient Landscapes

There’s no doubt that the people who lived in this country in what we call prehistory regarded the land as sacred. Just look around and see the stone circles, henges and stone rows they left behind. It is hard for us to enter their mindset, though most folk still experience a sense of wonder when they visit these historic sites.

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The Cockpit Stone Circle (c) John Bainbridge 2019

The question that often occurs to me is whether the places where the circles, rows etc. now stand were in some way held to be sacred before those structures were erected. That might explain why, in some cases, stones for these antiquities were often brought considerable distances to the sites where they now stand. Why bother? Why not just use the stones of the local area, or erect these monuments close to where the source stones were?

I’m an amateur antiquarian and not an archaeologist, so I’m not qualified to give an opinion. If you are please comment below with your thoughts…

But just look at the surviving sites – the great monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the rich archaeology of Dartmoor, the many stone circles of Aberdeenshire, the wonders of Kilmartin Glen in Argyll – the list goes on.

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The Copstone (c) John Bainbridge 2019

I often consider this when we are taking one of our regular walks on the edge of the Lake District, across the fells of Askham and Moor Divock.

There’s no doubt that this wide stretch of moorland was one of these sacred stretches of landscape – the evidence is there for all to see with the remnants of rows, an excellent stone circle now called The Cockpit, banks and ditches. In my Dartmoor days we would have described it as a sanctuary.

And where these ancient people went – and we should think of them not as savages but as human beings as mentally sophisticated as we are – we have a multiplicity of trackways. The ways that these men and women took not only to survive day to day, but to access sacred sites.

On the fells around Moor Divock, there are a great many tracks. Some undoubtedly of recent origin, but others which must have existed for thousands of years.

Crossing the hillside is the Roman road known as High Street. Was it built by the Romans? I don’t think so. I think it was a prehistoric way across the eastern Lake District fells, that the Romans adopted and probably improved.

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High Street (c) John Bainbridge 2019

Take a walk along it and consider that – High Street not a relatively recent Roman road, but one of the oldest roads in Britain. Perhaps dating back to Neolithic times when the men and women who dwelt in these hills first felt the need to travel regularly, unlike their ancestors, the hunters who had no defined routes, but simply followed the herds of animals they needed for food.

When we walk the old ways, we are often walking in the steps of the most ancient of our ancestors. So take a walk along the old tracks and visit these old sites – the circles, henges and row. Take a walk and wonder as well as wander.

Forbidden Kinder – the 1932 Mass Trespass Re-visited by Keith Warrender

Last Sunday week was the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass – one of the most iconic acts of direct action in our history, certainly in the history of land access in Britain. It’s true there were protests in Victorian times where more people turned up, such as Winter Hill in Lancashire and Latrigg in the Lake District. But those were essentially protests about disputed rights of way.

The Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout was about more than regaining a right of way. It was a protest about regaining those huge bits of country stolen from the many by the few, the vast moorlands claimed for grouse-shooters to the exclusion of all others. The places taken in under the Enclosure Acts, those immoral thefts by the powerful to the disbenefit of the powerless.

The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass was a protest that helped massively in the fight to gain better access, leading to the creation of our National Parks, the recording of rights of way, the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW).

Typical then, during the anniversary week marking the Mass Trespass, that the few – in the shape of the British government – struck back, shelving any plans for increased access to our countryside. Despite the fact that we all subsidise the great landowners through our taxes. A kick in the teeth for the British public who have found, during covid, how important the countryside is.

We have access to just 8% of the English countryside through CRoW. Stick all our footpaths and bridleways together, and that might add around 0.3% more. Nothing compared to the free access existing in many European countries, let alone neighbouring Scotland, which has some of the best countryside access in the world.

So there’s still a lot of battling ahead, as vested interests seek to exclude the majority from the countryside. So this 90th anniversary year is a good time to take stock of where we are and what needs to be done in the future.

Keith Warrender’s new book on the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass is essential reading – a work (written with Roly Smith and Tom Waghorn) that gives us the most detailed and definitive account of what really happened on the April day in the Peak ninety years ago.

Some myths that have got about in those ninety years are shed. We hear about the origins of the trespass, what actually happened as the trespassers marched up to Hayfield, and the consequences of the Mass Trespass; the trial at the Assizes, which resulted in five young men being sent to jail for daring to demand access to land stolen by enclosers and shooters.

Some of you will be familiar with Benny Rothman’s own account of the Mass Trespass. But in this book we also hear the voices of the other four hundred trespassers. What I found fascinating in the book are the biographies of a number of the trespassers, not only a look at their backgrounds but what happened to them afterwards. So many of them contributed massively to building a fairer society that went beyond trespassing on the moors of the north. In our present “me first. no such thing as society” modern Britain these voices are quite inspiring.

A few years ago I wrote a novel called Balmoral Kill. I created a hero who had been a Kinder trespasser and who then went out to fight against fascism in Spain. When I wrote my book, I had no idea that a number of the real trespassers did just that – nine of the Kinder Scout Trespassers were killed in the Spanish Civil War, that prelude to World War Two, fighting the odious forces of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini.

Forbidden Kinder is magnificently illustrated, with photographs not only of the trespass, but pictures of the locations where this impressive bit of direct action took place. And, pictures in the biographies put faces to the names. Years ago I met Benny Rothman and I recall one or two more veterans of that day, still fighting for access and human rights.

There are also brief biographies of the Kinder landowners, other access campaigners who were not there on the day but who contributed to gaining better access to our countryside. There is a combative foreword by Kate Ashbrook, and thoughts on land and access rights by some of today’s leading campaigners.

If you care about access to our countryside – and you really should if you ever enjoy even the briefest excursion on to the moors, fields and forests, then you should read this book. As I said above, the definitive account of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass.

I hope it might inspire a new generation to join us in the Fight for the Right to Roam!

Forbidden Kinder – The 1932 Mass Trespass Re-visited by Keith Warrender. Willow Publishing, ISBN 9780946361489. £17.95

On Branstree, Artlecrag Pike and Selside Pike

If you want some Lakeland fells much to yourself, try Branstree and Selside Pike early on a Monday morning. True, we did pass a couple of nice American visitors walking a very British dog, but that was it – though the car park at the head of Hawes Water was busier when we got back. Still, an interesting way to spend a morning. And apart from the old track leading up the Gatescarth Pass we also enjoyed a bit of the old corpse road from Mardale to Shap along the way.

The Head of Mardale

Personally, I dislike Haweswater. In fact I dislike most reservoirs with their artificial shorelines and unnatural feel – but Haweswater in particular. The original Haweswater, with the now lost village of Mardale, must have been a delight. But Manchester’s creation is a dammed disaster, drowning so much of the valley, all crammed in and unpleasant. And a village gone – centuries of slow development and human social experience all thrown away in less than a decade.

From Gatescarth

All right, people have to have water to drink, but wrecking a beautiful, iconic landscape is never the answer. When I first came into the world of Dartmoor politics, great campaigners like Sylvia Sayer were still fighting the proposed destruction by reservoir of the Swincombe bowl – a reservoir that would have torn the heart out of Dartmoor. Happily that was a successful campaign. But Meldon, probably the most beautiful valley on Dartmoor, was lost.

On Branstree

Long before there was a road between Kendal and Penrith over the Shap Fells, goods were brought over the old ways crossing the Nan Bield Pass and the Gatescarth Pass. When you walk that rough track that zig-zags up to the Gatescarth Pass, try to picture the lines of heavily-laden packhorses that once travelled that way. It’s a long, steady climb of incredible gaunt views, which the packhorse men and women, the jaggers of the north, would have travelled in all weathers.

Cairn on Artlecrag Pike

At the head of the pass you turn off, first through a muddy bit of bog, and follow the fence-line up to Branstree (properly Branstreet). An easy enough slog, enlivened by the views across to Nan Bield. The top of Branstree is not as interesting as Artlecrag Pike, just beyond with its stone-men cairns, which add some drama to this long and grassy landscape.

Artlecrag Pike

A good track then to Selside Pike, very easy walking. There’s a stone shelter on the top to shield you from the wind, and very good views across to the Pennines.

Waterfalls

Another easy track leads down to the old corpse road, along which the folk of Mardale took their dead for burial at Shap, before they got their own church. And now Mardale and its church are gone for ever, lost beneath the waters of the reservoir.

Human History in Ruins

We followed the corpse road down to the Mardale road and wandered back to the head of the reservoir, picking up odds and ends of litter as we went.

There’s something haunting and sad about Haweswater, redeemed only by the drama of the mountains at its head.

Kinder Scout Mass Trespass 90 years on – Government Declares War on Free-Roamers

90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass. Please celebrate and keep up the fight. This Land is Your Land!

We have access to just 8% of the English landscape. Our combined footpaths and bridleways make up just 0.3% of our land mass.

This week the British government announced that it was shelving its report on further Right to Roam, effectively telling us all to get stuffed!

We are still paying – through our taxes – access-denying landowners a fortune in subsidies, even for their hunting and shooting estates. So we pay the cash and won’t even now get more crumbs in return.

No access on the Scottish model of rights with responsibilities, which would have been ideal.

Sadly, the formal outdoor organisations, such as the Ramblers Association, are doing next to nothing in the way of a campaign. I was pleased to see their president Stuart Maconie praise the Kinder Scout trespassers, but that isn’t quite a campaign is it? The RA – and I’ve been a member for about fifty years – really need to wade into this battle, or risk being overtaken by newer groups.

Given the lack of enthusiasm by Establishment groups, it seems we’ll have to fight on without them.

So please campaign for the Right to Roam. Please support the Mass Trespasses now being organised across our countryside. Please ignore the barriers and continue to roam responsibly across the Land. Read the Scottish Access Code and just treat the landscape as if you were north of the border.

Keep watching this blog for updates…

This Land is Our Land.