An English Historian – A Walk to Chapel Stile

One of the loveliest and easiest routes in the Lakes is along the old corpse route from Chapel Stile to Grasmere. Some beautiful scenery and a wonderful paved path some of the way. Until the church at Chapel Stile was built, the dead of the Langdale Valley would have been carried to Grasmere for burial.

A Glimpse of Grasmere

It’s a short route, so with a minor variation, we walked it in both directions, from Grasmere to Chapel Stile and then back again.

We walked up the lane from Grasmere to Huntingstile, where almost immediately you arrive at the paved section of the path. It seems almost miraculous to me that such old paths have survived as much as they have. It’s why we really must fight to preserve the original lines of our ancient rights of way. Take them away and you take away a hugely important part of our social history.

The Paved Corpse Road

What I love about this path most are the views. So many familiar places, so many memories of walks in ancient sunlight.

The Corpse Road (c) John Bainbridge 2020

The View Back

In the steep graveyard at Chapel Stile is the grave of George Macauley Trevelyan, one of our greatest social historians, and perhaps the founder of the discipline of social history as we know it. “Historian of England”, his gravestone reads. What a wonderful epitaph.

In Chapel Stile

Reading Trevelyan’s books on social history inspired my own studies, and prompted me to do the degree I did at the University of East Anglia. It led me to the historical writings of G.D.H Cole, E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm and Patricia Hollis – the latter a wonderful teacher who became my history tutor at UEA.

Trevelyan’s Grave – Historian of England

Too often these days, our politicians try to knock social history off the agenda, in favour of big names and kings and queens. All worth knowing no doubt, but important to remember the majority of us are descended from the workers of the world. In my time there has been a carefully constructed plot by some politicians to rewrite our history to excise working people from the agenda, Please don’t fall for it!

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A Lovely Old Stoop

It was my study of social history that made me look again at the history of our old ways, the paths that tell so many stories.

The Grave of Cornelius Soul

And if you want to get a good slant on real British history, rather than the Establishment’s view of what you should know, then do read Trevelyan, and then Thompson, Cole, Hollis, the Hammonds and Hobsbawm.

Then, if walking is important to you, seek out the historians of walking and paths. GM Trevelyan was a grand fell-walker from a famous political and fell-walking family. He also used to participate in Lakeland “man-hunts”, where a volunteer would try to get from one point in the fells to another, evading a crowd of pursuers. I once did something similar on Dartmoor, where I had to get from Belstone to South Brent over two days without being captured. Grand fun…

Near to the grave of Trevelyan lies the last resting place of the wonderfully-named Cornelius Soul, who – the stone says – finished his days out on the Langdale Fells.

Spring Lambs

We had refreshments in Brambles cafe in Chapel Stile, then followed the lane back to Red Bank, once a gentleman’s residence but now the youth hostel. I was for many years a member of the YHA, in those days when hostelling was cheap and cheerful, when you slept and eat simply, couldn’t arrive by car, had sing-songs in the common room, and when hostels were so close together you could do walking tours from one hostel to another (you still can in the Lake District). Happy days!

Not sure I could afford YHA prices anymore!

We walked down to the start of Loughrigg Terrace, then down through the woods back to Grasmere. I often wonder what the old-timers like GM Trevelyan and Cornelius Soul would make of the Lake District of the 21st century?

Thinking of so many of the places I’ve walked, such as Dartmoor, I’m rather glad that I first knew them fifty years or more ago.