A Walk to the Four Stones

Four Stones? Well, actually, there are only two. But the setting of those two prehistoric standing stones is magnificent – with terrific views over Haweswater and the eastern fells – and in a part of the Lake District that is quieter than most. We only saw two walkers at the end of the ramble. And little indication that many people take to these hills very much at all.

What are the Four (Two) Stones? I think they are the remnants of a stone row winding around Four Stones Hill to the nearby cairn. Where the other stones went who knows? Perhaps there are other stones buried under the turf? Indeed, there are a few recumbent boulders which could just possibly be remnants of a row.

There are several other cairns scattered along the hillside, suggesting that this was a landscape that our prehistoric forebears held as sacred. It may well be that other antiquities have vanished over the years. It’s an area we intend to go back to for further exploration.

The Despoiled Cairn

We walked from Bampton (village hall car park: £2 honesty box), strolling up past the newly re-opened Mardale Inn – an inspiring community buy-out. A hundred yards up the lane, a public footpath goes off on the right, running roughly south-west.

Two of what were at least Four

After a steady climb through meadows we reached more level high ground, with wide views across the Lowther valley to Knipe Scar. The high ground has some wonderful oak tree groves. A good place to linger.

The Oak Grove

We followed the path to above Drybarrows Farm where we were out on open fellside. This is where we abandoned the public right of way and took the less distinct fell path to Four Stones Hill. This is a winding path, and you need to keep a close eye on the path. At this time of the year it was very dry, but I’d imagine it might get boggier in the winter or after very heavy rain. So go now, if you are tempted. One of the joys of the walk was to see the first heather out.

The cairn above the stones has been fiddled into a stoney shelter. It shouldn’t have been. This is NOT some summit cairn, but a presumably scheduled antiquity. It would be a good idea to knock the shelter down and restore the cairn into something like its original form.

The Measand Beck

As I’ve said before, the view from the Four Stones is wonderful.

The path leads downwards from the stones into the valley of the Measand Beck, becoming a little bit indistinct as you head through the bracken. When you come near the beck ignore the hunting gate through the deer fence to the left and continue on, to where a footbridge crosses the water.

Haweswater

A path then follows the beck as it tumbles down towards Haweswater in a series of waterfalls called, appropriately, The Forces. Not that you can see much of them as you descend, so deeply are they buried below rocky cliffs and concealed by bracken and rowan trees.

The Forces

The path emerges on to the wider track that runs down to the Haweswater Dam, now the route of the Coast to Coast Path. Hard to imagine that this narrow path was once the main road to the lost village of Mardale. Think of the traffic that once came this way – ancient fellwalkers, flocks of sheep, jaggers with their pack-ponies. A track that was once a road.

The Old Road to Mardale

We soon reached the bungalows of Burnbanks, the remnants of the settlement lived in by the navvies who built the Haweswater Dam. Now a very peaceful settlement, tucked away from the world.

We strolled the lane back to Bampton, holding up a car on the way so that a caterpillar might cross the road without getting squashed. He was a bit slow so I had to carry him.

Burnbanks

Note how this lane has several places called Walm – Walmgate Head, Walmgate, Walm How, Walmgate Foot. Interesting in themselves as these names link to Old English (Anglo-Saxon) and Middle English. Walm – boiling and bubbling of water, so perhaps springs or wells . (The Old English is wælm or wielm  Old English weallan, wyllan to bubble, well up – the root of our word well). Howe is a mound or hill. Interesting that in one stretch of lane we can find place-name derivations going back over a thousand years. The word gate from gata or geta, meaning a lane, rather than a gate – a not unfamiliar word in the north.

A fascinating walk into territory that mostly evades the crowds. And if you still have energy left you could combine it with the walk up to Knipe Scar that I wrote about a couple of blogs ago.

Do try them both – an uncrowded corner of the Lake District.

Return to Knipe Scar

If you have just a couple of hours to spend in the Lake District and want to be away from the crowds, I think the little ramble from Bampton to Knipe Scar has a lot to recommend it. An easy stroll too, ideal for the less fit and beginners. Knipe Scar also has the great merit of being one of the best viewpoints in the Lake District.

Knipe Scar

After a night of heavy rain, it turned out to be a bright morning of lovely sunshine and clear blue skies. And with those views you need nice weather to appreciate the joys of Knipe Scar.

Bampton Grange
Bridge over the Lowther

We set out from Bampton village hall (£2-honesty box) and strolled the lane to Brampton Grange, crossing the Haweswater Beck and the River Lowther, and then a mile up the lane to Scarside Farm and out on to the open fell.

The Distant Scar

Rather lovely up there, with views across to Haweswater and Kidsty Pike, and then right up to Blencathra. We didn’t see a soul away from the villages. Very peaceful.

Up towards the Scar
The Track up to the Scar

There are antiquities on Knipe Scar. A ring cairn, though you’ll have a heck of a job seeing it. Just a few obvious stones. And a nice Ordnance Survey trig point, that is flush with the ground and not a pillar.

Wander right along the edge of the Scar to get the best view, then as you approach the climaxing wall you’ll see a diagonal path heading dead towards Bampton Grange, down across the Scar’s grassy scope.

View from the Scar

A few very small butterflies about, which we couldn’t identify, harebells on the fell, and bloody cranesbill along the lanes.

On the way down

We reached the lane and followed it back through Bampton Grange to Bampton.

Just a couple of peaceful hours of walking.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

An Hour on Binsey

We went to Keswick yesterday via Binsey Fell, spending a pleasant hour going up and down from Binsey Lodge. Keswick was heaving with people but Binsey, probably because we were so early, was quiet, bar one fell-runner and his dog that we passed on the way up.

Top of Binsey

The ascent of Binsey is dead easy, perhaps a mile up a wide and gently sloping track. But for all its hilly modesty, the fell has not only a lovely cairned summit but a staggeringly grand view across the Solway into Scotland, around Criffel in one direction, and back towards Skiddaw and its subsidiary summits and Bassenthwaite in another. Some of the best walking countryside in England.

Blue Sky over Binsey

Apart from the waters of Bass, you get some glimpses of Over Water. It was once owned by the huntsman Norman de Courcy Parry, the chap who – in his younger days – may or may not have shot dead Percy Toplis, the Monocled Mutineer and sometime bandit, on the old Carlisle road leading out of Penrith.

The View over Bass

Whether he shot Percy or not, and he tended to deny it, he did sell Over Water for £500, something he later regretted. Apparently, he was drunk in a Welsh pub one night when he heard someone declare how much they’d like to own a lake in the Lake District. The inebriated de Courcy Parry muttered that he had one to sell – hence Over Water changed hands.

A Glimpse of Over Water

de Courcy Parry very much wanted to change his mind as he sobered up, but considering himself a gentleman couldn’t bring himself to renege on the deal.

Top and Skiddaw

We had been meaning to go up Binsey in January, but all the roads were closed for ages. Now they are mostly open, though I notice the road along Bassenthwaite is closed for the day on April 26th.

You can read more about Norman de Courcy Parry and Percy Toplis in The Monocled Mutineer by John Fairley and William Allison.

The Back Way to Castlerigg

The view from the rocky tor in Castlehead Wood, just south of Keswick, offers one of the best views in the Lake District – right across Derwent Water to Catbells and down to the Jaws of Borrowdale.

The View from Castlehead Wood

And in the fine spell of weather we’ve just had the conditions for getting the perfect view couldn’t have been better.

Another View

We’d decided to walk up to the Castlerigg stone circle the back way – via Cockshott Wood, Castlehead Wood and Castle Lane. A really pleasant few miles, and a change to go up to the circle along country paths, rather than just up the lane from the town.

Catbells from Crow Park

The stone circle, with those magnificent views towards Blencathra and Skiddaw in one direction and Naddle Fell in the other, richly deserves its frequent mentions as one of the best-sited antiquities in England, perhaps only surpassed by the magnificent Avebury.

The Victorians, who came to Keswick and turned it into the mountain resort, which it still is today, found Castlerigg and fell in love with it. In fact they loved it so much they weren’t averse to chipping bits off as souvenirs of their stay. A practice that led to the early protection scheduling of the monument.

In the Woods

Nobody knows exactly why Castlerigg was built. But it’s there to wonder at.

Castlerigg

We wandered back to Keswick down the lane, probably the most popular route for Victorian visitors. Needless to say we left the stone circle intact!