The Lake District – A National Park Please NOT A Theme Park

Adventure park proposed for quarry

Plans for the redevelopment of a quarry at Elterwater in the Langdale Valley have reignited fears of the National Park turning into a theme park. Quarry operator Burlington Stone has described its plans as an adventure tourism experience. The plans are to involve a high ropes course, zip wire, ‘alpine coaster’, car-parking for at least 200 cars and an interpretation facility.

Deep concerns has been expressed with common themes emerging: Traffic and the inappropriateness of this type of attraction in such a rural location near a small village in the Langdale valley, in the heart of the Lake District. Impacts on local character, tranquility and views from surrounding fells, biodiversity and public rights of way have also been highlighted.

This type of proposal further adds to concern that our National Park remains very much at risk of becoming a theme park.

We need your support so that we can continue to ensure that the Lake District is protected from developments that would damage its fabric, its character and its integrity. That it is loved but not exploited. Let’s stop this in its tracks and make it clear to Quarry operator Burlington Stone that its plans are unacceptable and encourage it to abandon any intention of submitting them to the National Park planning authority for consideration.

How you can help A planning application has not yet been submitted to the National Park planning authority so we would ask that you refrain from contacting the National Park directly at this stage. You can still make your concerns heard and let Burlington Stone know that these plans are inappropriate at this location by taking any of the following actions: Sign the Online Petition: Sign the Online Petition> Write to Burlington Stone: Let them know your views> Write to Lakes Parish Council, your local Councillor and/or local MP: 

If you live locally, let them know your views and your concerns about these plans

Share your views with Friends of the Lake District: If you have not done so already, as this will help to inform our response if and when a formal consultation takes place, Email: planning@fld.org.uk

Spread the word on social media: Share and reply to our Facebook and Twitter posts about the plans

Send us your images: We need images of Elterwater and the surrounding area so that can show people just what is at stake. Submit your images>

Please tell your friends, colleagues and on social media using the links below. Every person that takes any of these actions makes our voice a little louder, our message more likely to be heard and the submission of this proposal to the National Park Planning Authority less likely. More information about these plans and Friends of the Lake District’s response is available via our website>

Join Us By becoming a member of Friends of the Lake District you can help our specialist staff challenge unsuitable developments like Elterwater Quarry and give something back to the Lake District we all love. The more members we have, the more people we represent, meaning the louder our collective voice is.
  


Our mailing address is:
Friends of the Lake District Murley Moss Oxenholme Road Kendal, Cumbria LA9 7SS United Kingdom

A Beginner’s Guide to Rights of Way and Access Law

This courtesy of the Ramblers Association – worth printing out for reference.

A beginner’s guide to rights of way and access law

25 May 2022

Can you tell a bridleway from a BOAT? Do you know what that pink patch on your map means? And is it really impossible to commit trespass in Scotland? Find out all of this and more with our handy guide.

A man walking towards a gate

What is a right of way?

Whether a stony track, a grassy field- crossing or an alley between houses, a right of way is a path that anyone has the legal right to use on foot – and sometimes using other modes of transport.

There are four types of right of way in England and Wales: 

  • Public footpaths are just for use by pedestrians, although you can have a ‘natural accompaniment’. This 19th-century legal term describes anything a person might usually walk with: a dog, pram or suitcase, for example.
  • Public bridleways, or bridle paths, may be used by people on horseback or leading horses, and (since 1968) by cyclists, as well as walkers. Cyclists must give way to pedestrians and horse riders. 
  • Restricted byways have similar rules to bridleways, but you can also take a horse and carriage along them. 
  • Byways open to all traffic (BOATs) are paths accessible to cars, motorbikes and other motor vehicles, but generally used like a bridleway or restricted byway.

Wheelchairs and mobility scooters are allowed on any right of way. Bear in mind, however, that sometimes the surface may not be wheel-friendly, and that stiles or kissing gates could make access difficult.

All these rights of way are part of the Queen’s highway in law. They have the same legal protections as trunk roads and your local high street.

Are there other types of path? 

While out walking, you may also use: 

  • Permissive paths, which a landowner has given the public permission to use. These are not rights of way, and many are closed for one day a year to prevent them legally becoming such through continuous use.
  • Towpaths alongside canals and rivers. Some are rights of way, but walkers are often welcome even on those that aren’t. Most are permissive paths managed by the Canal & River Trust.
  • Cycle tracks – these designated routes for cyclists and other non-motorised transport are sometimes also shared with pedestrians.

A signpost showing three paths, beside a fence and stile

What are my rights as a walker on a public right of way?

By law in England and Wales, you are allowed to:

  • Pass and repass along the way.
  • Stop for a short break to rest, have refreshments or enjoy the view.
  • Take photographs.

Does Scotland have rights of way? 

Access law in Scotland is far more progressive than in England and Wales. Walkers enjoy rights of access to most land and inland water, thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Ramblers Scotland staff and volunteers campaigned for years to secure these world-leading access rights.

Ramblers (and cyclists, horse riders and canoeists) can cross or spend time on most land and inland water throughout Scotland, provided they do so responsibly. There’s guidance on responsible access in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which has three main principles: 

  • Respect the interests of other people.  
  • Care for the environment. 
  • Take responsibility for your own actions.

Such broad access means rights of way are less relevant in Scotland. They’re still useful where access rights don’t apply though, such as farmyards or urban alleys.

Sounds great. Are there any downsides to this approach?

Scottish rights of way have different legal protection to those in England and Wales, and sadly many have been lost over the years to building development, farming or overgrowth. Without the same protection, paths are also less likely to be mapped than in England and Wales. Even many core paths and other popular routes don’t appear on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps. 

When the Land Reform Act was introduced, Scottish authorities had to designate a network of core paths to give the public ‘reasonable access’. There are around 21,000km/13,050 miles of these (generally the most well-used paths), but this is only around a quarter of Scotland’s path network.

To address this issue, Ramblers Scotland is developing the most comprehensive digital map of Scottish paths ever. The Scottish Paths Map shows tens of thousands of miles of paths, including many missing from OS maps. More than 200 volunteers are expanding and refining the map data, which will be free for people to download.

Is there anywhere in England or Wales that I’m free to roam in the same way?

Generally, you can’t roam freely in the countryside in England or Wales; you must stick to public rights of way (of which there are 225,000km/140,0000 miles to explore). There are, however, areas of open access land, including most mountain, moor, heath, down and common land and large parts of our national parks. Some woodlands managed by the Forestry Commission and National Nature Reserves managed by Natural England also have open access, and the England Coast Path project is adding further access along the English coastline. Open access land is marked on OS maps with a yellow wash. You can also walk anywhere in the coastal margin, shown with a magenta wash.

A Thames Path waymarker on a post with two people walking behind

What can I do on open access land?

Open access land in England and Wales is designated for recreation on foot. You can walk, run, climb, bird watch and picnic (just take your rubbish home). You may also walk a dog, although you must keep it on a short lead near livestock, and canine access may be restricted between 1 March and 31 July.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW Act) prohibits activities that could damage the land. This means no horse riding or cycling, camping or lighting fires, water sports, shooting, foraging or flower-picking, metal detecting, organised games or commercial activities.

What are landowners’ responsibilities?

Most rights of way in England and Wales cross land belonging to a landowner. We often imagine a farmer, aristocrat or charitable body such as the National Trust – but utility and water companies, councils, the Ministry of Defence, Network Rail, churches, schools and universities, corporations and the Crown Estate are also major landowners.

No matter whose land it is, if there’s a right of way across it, the landowner must:

  • Keep the path clear of obstructions (eg overgrown vegetation, locked gates and broken stiles). 
  • Remake the path after ploughing or cropping.
  • Provide and maintain structures for access (eg gates or stiles).

In addition, they shouldn’t:

  • Keep a lone adult bull, or other dangerous animal, in a field with a path through it.
  • Install stiles or gates without permission from the highway authority.
  • Plough a field-edge path.
  • Put up misleading or off-putting signs.
  • Attempt to discourage walkers from using public paths.
A "no entry" sign with barbed wire

Do landowners in Scotland have the same responsibilities?

In Scotland, the Land Reform Act requires landowners and managers to:

  • Respect access rights in managing land and water (eg not hindering or deterring people, and taking access into account when planning management tasks).
  • Act reasonably when asking people to avoid land management operations (eg keeping their precautions to the minimum area and duration required for people’s safety).
  • Work with the local authority and other bodies to help integrate access and land management (eg show people are welcome and manage access positively).

What is trespassing?

Someone who strays from a right of way in England or Wales, or uses it other than for passing and repassing, is committing trespass against the landowner. Cyclists and horse riders commit trespass if they use footpaths without permission.

North of the border, there are places where Scotland’s broad access rights don’t apply, such as airfields and school grounds. But as long as a rambler in these places is acting responsibly and doesn‘t cause damage, they are not committing an offence.

In fact, throughout most of England, Wales and Scotland trespass is a civil matter, not a criminal offence. If someone walks off a footpath it’s not generally a problem unless they are on Ministry of Defence or railway land or cause damage. Signs saying ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ are, therefore, largely meaningless.

What if I come across an obstruction while walking?

An obstruction is anything that interferes with your right to access or travel along a path. This could be barbed wire across it, a heap of manure dumped on it, crops grown over it, or a locked gate blocking it. Or, as one rights of way manager found, a giant cuddly toy!

If you come across an obstruction on a right of way in England or Wales, the law permits you to move or remove as much as is necessary to continue your journey. Alternatively, go around the obstruction if you can do so easily without entering the neighbour’s land. Return to the public path as soon as you can.

Under the Highways Act 1980, it’s illegal to block a right of way in England or Wales, so always report obstructions to the relevant highway authority (usually the county council or unitary authority). Take photos, note the date and time, and record the location accurately to help them tackle the problem.

In Scotland, local authorities and National Park authorities have a duty to remove obstructions. You should report any blocked paths, locked gates and intimidatory signage to the local access officer.

Overgrown brambles and branches are not normally treated as obstructions but as a path maintenance issue. Again, contact the highway authority or access officer to report them.

What other responsibilities do highway authorities have?

In England and Wales, the highway authority must erect and maintain signposts wherever rights of way leave a ‘metalled road’ (ie one with a hard, smooth surface). They must also provide waymarking where it would otherwise be difficult to follow the route.

Highway authorities can create, divert or extinguish public paths and have a duty to maintain and update the definitive map of paths in their area. In Scotland, access authorities have a duty and powers to remove obstructions and create a core paths plan.

What if a path isn’t shown as a right of way on the map?

In England and Wales, a path can be claimed as a right of way either because it has been used uninterrupted by the public for more than 20 years, or because of historical evidence a public path exists (sometimes both!).

In 2020, as part of our Don’t Lose Your Way campaign, Ramblers volunteers and the general public found over 49,000 miles of paths that have potentially been missed off definitive maps. We have been prioritising these paths and developing resources and guidance to support volunteers to get the most important ones back on the map.

The recent announcement that the UK government intends to repeal the 2026 date for recording these paths in England is a fantastic victory for walkers (the deadline is already set to be scrapped in Wales). Without an arbitrary deadline, we can ensure more of these vital paths are legally protected for generations of walkers to come.

Want to know more?

Check out our pages on Rights of Way and Scottish access law.

The Truth About Appleby Horse Fair

I blogged about this just as this year’s horse fair was starting. Predictably, the tabloid press (including one or two papers that spent much of the 1930s supporting Adolf Hitler and Oswald Mosley) did their usual trick of using the horse fair as an opportunity to bash Gypsies and travelling folk in the most appalling attacks and misrepresentations about litter etc.

A load of guff! On the link below is what actually happened re litter etc. Please click on the link to this excellent article in Travellers Times and be enlightened.

https://www.travellerstimes.org.uk/news/2022/06/media-rush-and-take-pictures-we-have-chance-clear-billy-welch?fbclid=IwAR0ysZhGoosPuRWTtrpZ7tgSexNhjypfTm5JExdykkZOQWB9AUZuicO0uKg

I’ve been a journalist off and on for fifty years and I’m horrified at how low the tabloids are prepared to stoop to demonise a section of the community that just wants to be left alone to live their lives. Not journalism, more alleged hate crime. No other section of our community would have to put up with such naked hatred and misrepresentation.

So the next time you hear people slagging off the Appleby Horse Fair given them this link please.

VLUU L110, M110 / Samsung L110, M110

Announcing The Two Toms Trail

Tom Stephenson (1893-1987) not only campaigned for 30 years to create the Pennine Way – Britain’s first official long distance path – he spent his whole career dedicated to improving access for all to the great outdoors. Journalist and secretary of the Ramblers Association he helped shape the groundbreaking legislation of the post-1945 Attlee government that created our national parks, AONB’s, moorland access agreements and protected our public rights of way network. Brought up in Whalley in the Ribble Valley his inspiration for the long green trail along the Pennine backbone of England was inspired by his teenage wanderings on Pendle Hill. He also fought for improved access to the grouse moors of Bowland and the Peak District.

Tom Stephenson’s legacy remains so relevant today. After over a decade of austerity and further cuts to the public sector planned, the maintenance and protection of our public rights of way network

is severely under threat. Meanwhile recent developments in the Dartmoor and Lake District National Parks – restrictions on wild moorland camping and intrusive development plans – could turn the clock back on everything Tom Stephenson fought for.

This is a good time to remember Tom and his achievements, So why not join us on a walk celebrating him on Saturday 9th July as we walk part of our new ‘Two Toms Trail’ from Whalley to the Clarion House at Roughlee. Return transport will be provided back to the start. Book a free place on Eventbrite.

Saturday 9th July.

Meet 10:00 am at Vale Gardens, Whalley, for 10:30 am walk start.

Walk Distance: 9 miles (approx. 4-5 hours)

Route: Whalley-Spring Wood-Nick of Pendle-Spence Moor-Newchurch-Clarion House

Packed Lunch required.

Refreshments at the Clarion at the end of the walk. Return transport to Whalley.

There are plenty of transport options to Whalley and the walk starts right next to the bus station.

Remembering the important part Lancashire played in the campaign for countryside access and the opportunity for working class people to enjoy the great outdoors.

Sumer is icumen in

Yesterday was the first walk we’ve done this summer that actually felt like a summer’s day. We walked from Sizergh, up to St John’s Church at Helsington, then back through Brigsteer Wood. Really warm day and a real feel of summer. I’ve blogged about this walk before (see blogs passim) so won’t repeat myself here. Sadly, there was no cuckoo to be heard – we’ve only heard one distant cuckoo this year, which is very concerning.

But I never walk in Summer without thinking of the medieval song that gives this blog its title. Sumer is icumen in is a roundelay, a polyphony, sung by several voices all coming in at different points. I give it here in the original Middle English and an updated take on the old song.

It is at least 800 years old, and one of the first songs for which we have the tune given, thanks to a manuscript owned by William of Winchester, a monk from Reading, who allegedly – liked to put it about a bit. Naughty William was brought before the Bishop of Hereford in the 1270s to investigate charges that he’d slept with a number of women, including a nun! William’s manuscript is now in the British library.

Interestingly, the song may not be as innocent as it sounds. Some academics have speculated that it may not just be a song about the joys of nature, but a subtle take on adultery, cuckoo not being that different from cuckold. It also contains the first mention of fart in English, for which Geoffrey Chaucer in later years was no doubt duly grateful.

There are lots of versions of people singing the old song online, so do seek them out. It is, of course, used with great effect in the cult film The Wicker Man, where Christopher Lee leads it in lusty chorus as the wicker man goes up in flames.

Do enjoy your summer and belt out the song at some point in your rambles…

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.
Pes:
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Summer has come in,
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, cuckoo!
The ewe bleats after the lamb
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock stirs, the goat farts,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo;
Don’t ever you stop now,

Ground:
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

A Stroll to the Appleby Horse Fair

One of the delights of the year is the annual horse fair at Appleby-in-Westmorland, and we usually have a stroll around the town to see this bit of old England. Technically, it’s the Appleby New Fair but in more recent decades it has been rebranded as the Appleby Gypsy horse fair – it even gets a mention in the television series Peaky Blinders.

The present fair began in around 1775 as a livestock fair for farmers, becoming a fair with traveller links around 1900.

It’s hard to say who exactly runs the fair, though Cumbria County Council provides some facilities. There is no fair charter, just a prescriptive right by tradition. There is no charge to attend, for this is very much a people’s fair – one reason some members of our present government would like to see the back of it. Under home secretary Priti Patel’s new policing act, Gypsies coming to the fair risk having their homes confiscated, plus jail sentences and unlimited fines.

Like all rotten laws I hope Patel’s Act is tested to destruction – technically even ordinary campers and ramblers could become victims of this vicious legislation. I look forward to breaking this law myself as often as possible. I sometimes wonder why my late father gave up five years of his life to fight Hitler?

Around 10,000 travellers come to the fair each year, among them British Romanichals, Irish Travellers, Scottish Gypsy and Traveller groups and Kale (Welsh Romanies). The visitors camp up on Gallows Hill just outside the town, where the horses are tested on the Flashing Lane and goods are traded, fortunes told etc. All the fun of the fair! In the town horses are washed in the River Eden.

Today, as we walked by there was even a piper playing on the river bank, a sound that would have been very familiar in medieval Appleby.

A liaison committee now plans and runs the fair. Billy Welch, the Shera Rom (head Romani) – does a grand job representing the travelling community.

So if you want to see a bit of old England before the unimaginative suits in politics ban it altogether, get to Appleby either tomorrow or Saturday, which are the best days. If you are driving it’s best to get there early for a parking space (around 40,000 visitors come to the fair) or better still use public transport – there’s bus service from Penrith and a railway station on the Settle to Carlisle line.

Two Tarns and a Top

A few years since we last walked up to Easedale and Codale Tarns, so yesterday we went up there again. We don’t normally go to popular Lake District areas on a bank holiday, but Grasmere was quiet enough when we got there, though busier at the end of the day.

Sour Milk Gill

Tarn – I mentioned Viking words in my last blog and there’s another. Old Norse for Tear, and you can see why – especially when viewed from far away.

New Bridge over the Easedale Beck

Easedale Tarn has always been popular with Lakeland visitors. I refer you to Henry Irwin Jenkinson’s (Jenkinson was one of the Keswick trespassers who fought for access to the disputed Latrigg Fell) Practical Guide To The English Lake District of 1872: The best short walk from Grasmere, and one which no tourist ought to neglect, is that to Easedale Tarn, situated in a wild and secluded mountain recess… a pony can go the whole journey; carriages only half way.

Looking Back

Like Mr Jenkinson and his readers, we went up the well-known and much used path alongside Sour Milk Gill Force. A lovely waterfall, but Mr Jenkinson thought it had its limitations – This is a fine fall; but owing to the want of wood and overhanging rocks, it reminds the on-looker of the beauty which is bold and showy, rather than that which is modest and refined. The surrounding scenery is wild and beautiful. Erratic blocks and smooth rocks are mute evidences of a past era of glacial action.

Easedale Tarn
Remnants of the Refreshment Hut
Looking Back To Easedale Tarn

We wandered in his Victorian footsteps up to Easedale Tarn. Henry Jenkinson had his reservations – Many persons will be annoyed on finding a small hut erected in this mountain nook, which retreat seems dedicated to solitary, pleasing reverie. Refreshments are provided by the person in charge of the hut, and a boat can be hired for a row, or a little trout fishing on the tarn. The charge for boat is 1 shilling per hour, and 5 shillings per day.

Climbing the Beck

Anyone who has walked up the rocky path to Easedale Tarn can only speculate on the effort involved in hauling a boat all the way up there. The hut and its attractions are long since gone, though you can see its rocky remains and the twisted remnants of a metal bench.

Codale Tarn

On then around along the tarn, up a rocky scramble and around the mini peak of Belles Knott to Codale Tarn – one of those lost, lonely stretches of water where you half expect to see a hand clutching a sword emerging from the depths. Mr Jenkinson remarks that you can catch trout there. He has very little else to say, perhaps because only his more energetic readers were likely to attempt the journey.

Little Tarn on Tarn Crag and Windermere in the distance.

We returned over Tarn Crag, that sprawling rocky mass that takes its name from Easedale Tarn itself. Mr Jenkinson gives it only a passing mention, usually describing it only in the context of getting deeper into the fells. His successor, Alfred Wainwright was a tad more enthusiastic. We breasted its top and went down alongside the stunning crags of Deer Bield, taking the winding path into Far Easedale.

Descending by Deer Bield

Whatever your thoughts on Tarn Crag, it’s certainly a lovely viewpoint. The view over Grasmere and down towards Windermere is very impressive. Mr Jenkinson thought the setting of the village to be quite lovely.

We crossed the Far Easedale Beck at Stythwaite Steps and took the track alongside that sprawling, brawling water for much of the way back into Grasmere. A splendid path, though it always seems much longer in distance that my memory recalls.

A Short Walk from Appleby

Appleby was just Appleby before they fiddled with the county boundaries and abolished the old county of Westmorland. The aggrieved townsfolk in a spirit of rebellion promptly renamed the place Appleby-in-Westmorland. Well done! And please can we have our old county names back

Appleby Castle

As the “by” on the end of the name implies, Appleby began its existence as a viking settlement – there was probably just a small Roman post there before on a temporary basis. Mind you, we use the word viking a bit too freely.

Friendly Calves

Going Viking (pirating etc and all the things you expect) was an activity rather than a racial description. Danes, the Norse etc, went viking. “beware the wrath of the Northmen” as the old chroniclers had it. North-women too, modern historians believe. They all went viking, in the same way these days we go tourist, whatever their nationalities. But when they settled in Westmorland’s Eden Valley they became farmers and brought some good Norse words with them. On this walk we wandered through a landscape they were familiar with.

Across the Fields – notice how this grand farmer has left a splendid headland path

Interestingly, Appleby is NOT in the Domesday Book. The reason being that it was actually part of Scotland at the time. The Scots have come down and besieged Appleby Castle more than once.

Colby Beck

There’s a path from the town leading up the Banks, overlooking the River Eden, surfaced at first, but then becoming a wilder path as it leaves the houses behind and heads across fields to Dowpits Wood. We passed through a herd of curious young calves who kept up company as we crossed their field and over a stile.

Colby

As you wander the next fields, over Thistley Hill to Limekiln Hill. There are some wonderful views across to the North Pennines in one direct and towards the Lakeland Fells and Blencathra in the other direction. Our journey was enlivened by the cries of curlews. Later we put up a brace of partridges. A good farm for wildlife.

Nether Hoff

We didn’t this time turn down past the farmhouse of Colby Laithes, though it’s worth doing for a glimpse of the massive stepping stones crossing the Eden. Instead, we followed the farm track into the hamlet of Colby – note the viking “by” again. On the way we crossed what is there called the Colby Beck, though further upstream it bears the name Hoff Beck. Hoff is a good old Norse word, meaning a hall or possibly a farm.

Hoff Beck

We walked down the long lane running through Colby, a very pleasant and quiet hamlet, turning past the huge farmhouse of Nether Hoff, the present house dating from 1685. Cresting the hill, we came down to the valley of the Hoff Beck, which we crossed at Bandley Bridge – there’s been a crossing point here for a long time, though the footbridge there now is last century and due to be replaced. But a bridge was recorded here for the first time as Bangelmibrigg in 1292. But that was the first recorded mention. It’s likely there was a crossing point here in viking times.

Bandley Bridge

On the far side of the Hoff Beck is Rachel’s Wood. Often we walk up through this relatively new plantation, but today we crossed through the wall and took the footpath down through Parkinhill and out on to Coby Lane. You can turn right here and get a closer look at Appleby Castle, once a home of the incredible Lady Anne Clifford.

Coming into Appleby

Appleby is on three long-distance trails: Lady Anne’s Way, Wainwright’s Pennine Journey and the Dales High Way.

Appleby Horse Fair will be held this year on June 9-12. Bear in mind the town will be busy that weekend. Best to come by bus or train. If you want a car parking space arrive early!

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.