Up onto the Carneddau – Drum, Foel Fras and Carnedd Gwenllian

The third day of my break in North Wales and I was keen to get up into the mountains. The weather forecast predicted cloud high up early on but that it would clear so I had a leisurely breakfast, packed my rucksack and set out late morning. There aren’t many access points to the Carneddau plateau from the north, so I’d decided to repeat a walk I’d done during my holiday the previous July, heading up towards one of the Welsh 3000 footers, Foel Fras via Drum. It’s a fair way up to there (almost 6 “map miles”) and I was going to be starting from only a few feet above sea level so it was going to be a significant ascent too. From the summit of Foel Fras there’s a number of options for the return and I’d decide which I’d take depending on how the day went and how I felt once I got up there.

The start of the walk retraced my steps from the previous day’s amble, along Gwylt Road, but this time I turned off the path up onto the moors just after I’d joined the Terrace Walk.

I passed Garreg Fawr that I’d climbed the previous day. This time I was heading for higher pastures.

Views of the mountains ahead

and, looking back, the sea

carrying along the track, the pylons came into view indicating that I wasn’t far from the Roman road

I reached the fingerpost

this time following the path towards Drum (pronounced ‘Drim’, it means ‘Ridge’ in English) my first objective of the day.

I passed a small herd of ponies – they wouldn’t be the last ones I’d see during the walk

Climbing gradually uphill towards Drum, I was on a broad track, which seems a little out of place given the remote nature of the territory. It was apparently constructed in the 1950’s by the army for a secret project testing a radar system known as the “Blue Joker”. Paul Shorrock has some details and photographs about the project in one of the posts on his excellent blog, which has a good number of posts featuring walks on the Carneddau.

Carrying onwards and upwards, Lynn Anafon in the valley below Llwytmor came into view

and looking back views over the foothills to the sea and Anglesey had opened up

There’s the summit of Drum. It’s also known as Carnedd Penyborth-Goch, but I’ll stick with Drum for this post – it’s a lot easier to type and I’ve a lot more Welsh spellings to try to cope with! The pile of stones is a prehistoric round cairn that has been demolished and hollowed out to form a shelter. It’s welcome for shelter on a windy day (very common up here) but it’s a pity that a prehistoric structure has been seriously compromised.

Time to stop for a while for a bite to eat and to take in the views. There’s Foel Fras, my next objective

Looking north towards the sea

east to the Conwy valley

There’s Tal-y-fan and Foel Lwyd

A couple passed on the track, making their way down the mountain – the first I’d seen since I set out

Setting off to Foel Fras, the military track was no more but there was a clear path which descended about 150 feet before climbing steeply up to the summit. The ground here was potentially wet and boggy and stepping stones had been laid over the worst sections to help keep boots dry and minimise erosion. The ground was relatively dry during my walk, though, following a drier spell of weather.

Looking down towards Lynn Anafon and Llwytmor Bach with Anglesey just about visible in the distance.

I found it a little hard going climbing the path up “the broad bald hill” (the English translation of Foel Fras) and had to take frequent short stops to regain my breath – a sign of getting older combined with, probably, a lack of “fell fitness” – but I eventually made it to the top.

Up to now I’d been walking on grassy slopes, but the summit is a landscape of shattered rock. Walking over to the trip point care is definitely needed to avoid breaking an ankle!

the summit of Foel Fras

At 942 metres (3090 feet), Foel Fras is the northernmost of the Welsh 3000 foot peaks and from it’s summit I had views over the high Carneddau plateau to several of the others including Carnedd Llywelyn, Carnedd Dafydd, Yr Elyn, Foel Grach and Carnedd Gwenllian. It had been a fair climb given that I’d started from only about 50 feet above sea level

I’d really have liked to complete a circular route, heading down over a few more peaks and then down to Abergwyngregyn but although there were several hours of light left, I knew that that would probably have been pushing things a bit beyond my capabilities and, in any case, I hadn’t enough supplies with me and the last thing I would have wanted would be to have a hypo up on this isolated plateau. So, I was going to return the way I’d come up. But I felt I could push myself a little more. The minor peak of Carnedd Gwenllian wasn’t so far away and from there I’d get a closer view of some of the other high mountains, so after a short rest I carried on along the path which descended a little, leaving the rocky summit and continuing over the grassy (and potentially boggy) ground.

Moving swiftly with no need for “blows” – it was easy walking – I made it to the summit of Carnedd Gwenllian in about 20 minutes

It was previously known as Carnedd Uchaf, but a campaign by the Princess Gwenllian Society led to a change of name in 2009 to honour the only daughter of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, after who the nearby Carnedd Llywelyn is named. Although the summit is 3035 high it isn’t always included in the list of Welsh 3000 footers, as it only rises slightly above the plateau. But I’m going to count it!

The extra mile (or thereabout) was worth it for the views over to the nearby mountains across the plateau to the south

The view from Carnedd Gwenllian towards Foel Grach, Carnedd Llywelyn, Carnedd Dafydd and Yr Elyn,
zooming in on Carnedd Llywelyn, Carnedd Dafydd and Yr Elyn

After soaking up the views it was time to set off to retrace my steps back to LLanfairfechan. A circular route is usually preferable but a “there and back” allows you to get a different perspective and this one is a case in point as going down provides excellent views down to the sea.

Foel Fras with Llwytmor to the left

On the way back to Foel Fras I passed another herd of ponies with their foals

Approaching the summit of Foel Fras
Looking down towards the sea and Puffin Island
Looking down the mountains towards Anglesey
Looking over towards Drum

I started the descent from Foel Fras. It was easier than the climb up!

More ponies!

Reaching the Bwlch I had the option of varying my route by descending “off piste” down the grassy slopes towards Lynn Anafon. I could then make my way back to LLanfairfechan, but I’d be walking down a valley and would be missing the views down to the sea so I decided to keep following the high track.

On the way down from Drum

Another option I had to vary the route was to take the fork off the military track over to Drosgyl. I seriously considered this but decided against it as it would have added a little extra distance to the route and, after my diversion to Carnedd Gwenllian I was beginning to flag a little.

More ponies, probably belonging to the herd I’d seen on my way up
Approaching the Roman road

I carried on taking the now familiar path past Garreg Fawr stopping to chat with a father and daughter out for an evening walk with their dog. They were the 12th and 13th people I’d seen during my walk.

Looking back towards the mountains

I carried on along the grassy path down off the hills rejoining the minor road and then made my way back to my accommodation. It had been a long day but a good one! Time for a brew then a soak in the bath before making an easy meal and settling down for the evening.

I had another full day in Llanfairfechan to come and the weather forecast looked promising.


I’d planned on having a brew and a bite to eat at Blackwell, but the house, and cafe, were busy, so I decided to drive the short distance to the Windermere Jetty Museum (also part of the Lakeland Arts Trust) where I had a warming bowl of cullen skink and a pot of tea

There was an exhibition of photographs of Forty farms in Cumbria, based on the book by  Amy Bateman published by local company Inspired by Lakeland.

Looking out from the cafe at the Windermere Jetty Museum

After looking round the exhibition, it was time to head off to where I was staying for the next 3 nights. I’d been late organising the trip and as it was being during the school holidays the Lakes were pretty booked up. I prefer self catering accommodation to a traditional B and B and was lucky to find somewhere – a flat over the annex to the village pub (the Horse and Farrier) in the village of Dacre, near Pooley Bridge. It was a little further out than the area where I’d usually stay but there was some potential for walks from the door or a short drive away.

The Horse and Farrier
My flat was on the first floor of the annex to the pub.

After unpacking the car and settling myself in, as it had stopped raining, I popped out to have a mooch around the small village.

It’s a pretty place with whitewashed cottages, probably once occupied by agricultural workers but now converted into desirable homes and holiday lets.

Dacre is alleged to be the site of a monastery where a gathering of kings from throughout Britain took place on 12 July 927 when Athelstan the grandson of Alfred the Great, was proclaimed king of all England. Other versions of the story locate the meeting a few miles away at Eamont Bridge, on the outskirts of modern Penrith. Who knows the truth? It’s so long ago that it’s lost in the mists of time.

I wandered over to the castle a grade I listed building. Originally one of many fortified tower houses, or Pele Towers in what was a wild and lawless border region, it was modified in the 17th century by the fifth Lord Dacre, who added the large windows. Today it’s owned by by the Hassell-McCosh family who rent it out as a private home. 

Nearby, and just across from the pub (I could see it through the lounge window) is St Andrew’s church, which probably stands on the site of the former monastery where the meeting of kings may, or may not, have taken place. It was built in the 12th century and still has Norman features, although many modifications have taken place since then. It’s a listed building.

Exploring the grounds I spotted what I first thought to be a strange tombstone.

Then I spotted another one on the other side of the church drive.

A little research on the net on returning to the flat revealed that they were the Dacre Bears and that there were actually four of them.

Here’s the other two which I sought out later during my stay. They are round the back of the church

It’s possible that they are pre-Saxon and may originally have marked the boundaries of a pagan sacred site.

A walk in the snow

“and didn’t it snow” (with apologies to Sister Rosetta Tharpe)

On Thursday morning of our holiday I wandered over to the Co-op to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was cold and the sky looked threatening. While I was in the shop it started to snow, fine flakes that didn’t settle. It continued to snow for the rest of the day, detting heavier, but didn’t settle. It was a day to stay indoors reading and relaxing. Come about 4 o’clock the temperature had dropped and the snow started to settle . The next morning we woke up to this

Several inches of snow were covering everything, including the path to our accommodation, our car and the road. There wasn’t a shovel or spade in the house but mid morning the owner turned up to dig us out and clear the path. The sun had come out too, so the snow started to thaw. It was turning into a pleasant day so we decided to venture out, heading over Frank’s Bridge and up to the viewpoint on top of Kirkby Hill

where there extensive views over to the Northern Pennines

Hartley Fell

and Wild Boar Fell

Descending from the hill we had a short walk along the river

Before returning to the town centre where we had a look round inside the Parish Church

after which we decided to treat ourselves to a pub lunch

Well fed, J decided she’d had enough of walking through the snow and headed back to the house. I popped back with her to pick up my rucksack and then set out for a walk through the snow covered fields behind our accommodation from where there were excellent views over to the fells

I decided on a route that took me through the fields to the west of the town heading south and then cutting across to Stenkrith Park, following the path along the river to the Swingy Bridge and then cutting back along the track and road to our accommodation

A view across the fields towards Wild Boar Fell
Cutting across the fields below the embankment of the former Croglam Castle
The view towards the old station on the disused railway
A snow covered “Devil’s Mustard Mill” 
the River Eden limestone / brockham pavement covered with snow
Approaching the Swingy Bridge
Looking back down the lane towards the fells

This was the last day of our holiday so that evening, after tea, we made a final visit to La’l Nook where we spent some time chatting with a couple of locals who told us about the local Rugby Union team who had made it to the final of the Cumbria Cup the following Saturday when they were playing Penrith, a team from a higher division.

The next morning there was still snow on the ground but the road was clear as was the A685 so we had a trouble free drive back to the M6 at Tebay and down the motorway. We were home around midday. We’d had a great break in an area we’d never visited before and which we’ll certainly return to. There’s lots more to explore and some good walks that are now on my ever increasing list.

A train ride

The weather forecast for the end of our week promised some fun. Warm, wet air coming in from the south was due to collide with cold air that had come in from the north earlier in the week resulting in a promise of some serious snow. Kirkby Stephen was on the edge of the Amber warning area. But we woke to a fine Wednesday morning

so took the opportunity to do something we meant to do during a couple of breaks in 2022 but never got round to – travel on the Settle Carlisle line – considered to by many to be the finest and most scenic route in England.

The line runs from Settle in Yorkshire, up Ribbledale and then across the heads of Dentdale and Garsdale then on through Mallerstang and the Eden Valley. The kirkby Stephen is about half way on the route. We chose to travel south through the most dramatic scenery to Settle. The train carries on the Leeds, but we weren’t going that far.

The station at Kirkby Stephen is almost a couple of miles out of the town so we drove over in the car. There’s a large car park there. We bought our tickets and waited for the train to arrive. It was busy but we managed to get seas are were able to take in the views from the window. I managed to get a few shots photos and videos – the best of which I’ve included in this post, but they don’t do the scenery justice.

Travelling down Mallerstang
Garsdale station

Crossing the Ribblehead viaduct

Looking over to Ingleborough from the Ribblehead viaduct
Pen y Ghent

The sky darkened as we got nearer to Settle – the weather was coming in, and we experienced some snow flurries while we were in the town. It got heavier during the day and the grey skies and clag which had descended during the few hours we were in Settle seemed to be following us up the valleys on the return journey. When we arrived at Kirkby Stephen we were glad to get back into the car and return to our warm and cosy accommodation. The next day would be quite different.

Hartley fell and the Nine Standards


The forecast promised good weather on the Tuesday, so that was the day I decided on the long walk I was hoping to include in our holiday. From our accommodation we could just about make out the Nine Standards on the top of Hartley Fell silhouetted against the skyline.

The Nine Standards are a collection of massive cairns, several metres high (the largest is 3.5 metres tall) – nine in total, as the name indicates – standing a little to the north of the summit of the fell, making them visible from miles around. I first heard of them when visiting and then researching the Raisbeck Pinfold, part of   Andy Goldsworthy’s Cumbrian sheepfolds project. Inside the Raisbeck sheepfold Goldworthy included a conical stone structure and there are several other of these cone pinfolds at other sites around the Eden Valley. On the project website he explains how the shape of these structures was inspired by the Nine Standards.

The origins and purpose of the Standards is unknown and subject to a raft of theories. However one theory, that seems sensible to me given their location, is that they mark the boundary between Westmorland and Swaledale. Dick Capel devotes a chapter of his book to the Standards and he was responsible for a project to restore them (against some opposition) back in 2005.

Steve Allan, Cumbria’s premier dry stone wall builder, with two assistants and meticulous reference to the photographs, worked for eight days rebuilding the five cairns, which had been in a ruinous state and refurbished the other four. Their work won the North Pennines AONB Conservation Award 2005.


So a visit to see the structures close up for myself had to be made!

Hartley Fell and the nearby hills are relatively featureless moorland but I expected, and found, excellent views during the climb and from the top, and I’m very much at home on bleak moorland. Although I would gain about 1600 feet to the summit, it was a relatively gradual climb most of the way with the hardest pull up the road from Hartley. The first couple of miles were on tarmac, which wasn’t great (although the views looking back compensated) before I reached the open moorland. The going on the moors was good at first but the final section up hill to the standards was very boggy and not good walking. The Standards are on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route which, despite seasonal variations, won’t have helped with the erosion. It’s difficult also to devise a good circular route so I had to return the same way I’d gone up. But visiting the Standards more than made up for any disadvantages and on the way up the best views are behind – they’re right in front on the way down.

It was bright and sunny as I set out mid morning, leaving J to spend a peaceful day on her own. I passed the statue of a youthful Lady Anne on the main street – she appeared to be striding of in the same direction.

I walked down to the Eden and crossed over Frank’s Bridge

and took the path along the river

and then turned off up the slope heading towards the small village of Hartley

View across the fields and over to Wild Boar Fell from the path to Hartley

There was a steep climb out of the village up the road but at he top of the slope, I turned round to be greeted by views of the Northern Pennines, where even Cross Fell was free of cloud

over the Eden Valley to the Lakeland Fells

and, in the other direction, over to the moors where I was heading.

I was still on tarmac

as I passed the massive quarry, which is still being worked. I tried to avoid looking at it, keeping my eyes on the moorland and pretending it wasn’t there.

I soon put it behind me, but still had a good distance to walk on the tarmac

before I finally passed through a gate and turned off the tarmac onto a dirt track – much better for the feet! I notice a car parked up by the gate – there was room for two or three. Later I passed a couple of women – a mother and daughter I think – who were on the way down as I climbed – it was their car. (They were the last people I saw until I got back down to the tarmac on the road down when I spotted one other person – a “twitcher”. I bet it gets a lot busier during the Coast to Coast season) .They’d cut out a good stretch of walking on tarmac and shortened the walk by 2 miles each way. But I still preferred to walk.

I think they’re the Howgills in the distance. I’m not used to seeing them from this direction!

Looking up across the moor I could just make out the Nine Stands on top of the hill.

Looking back to the Lakeland Fells

and to the North Pennines

On the way up, just off the path I spotted this circular structure which looked like it had been constructed fairly recently.

Carrying on those Standards don’t seem to be getting any closer!

I reached a fork in the road and took the path climbing up Faraday Gill

It wasn’t too bad at first

but then it got very wet and boggy underfoot

I was glad that I’d brought my gaiters with me and donned them at the end of the tarmac, but it was difficult finding a way to avoid becoming submerged in wet peat, mud and water as I continued on my way.

Eventually (!) I was getting closer to the Standards.

And then I was there.

The photographs don’t do them justice at all, you need someone standing by them to give a proper sense of scale and there was only me up there. This one is the largest – 3.5 metres tall and 3.7 metres in diameter at its base, tapering to the top with two intermediate ledges around its circumference.

They’re all different in size and shape

A cold wind had picked up and the air temperature was probably below freezing, but I was well wrapped up so didn’t feel too cold as I took in the views

Looking west
The Howgills
Over the Eden Valley towards the Lakeland Fells. I could see snow on Skiddaw (But none on Blencathra)

The Standards are not on the summit of the fell, that was a short distance away to the south and there’s a topograph part of the way there across the top of the fell. I reckoned that as I’d come this far I might as well go the whole hog to the summit, which was marked by a trig point.

The peat was very badly eroded and it would normally be a quagmire bog hopping over to the summit. However, the ground was frozen so I didn’t end up with my boots swallowed in the mire – but be warned if you go up there in warmer, wet weather.

Here’s a few shots looking back tot he Nine Standards and the topograph on the way back from the top

It was time to eat now before I set off back down. The cold wind seemed to be strengthening but I sheltered by sitting on the leeward side of the largest of the Standards, it’s shelf making a handy seat.

Then it was time to start making my return journey retracing my steps.

As I mentioned I only saw one more person until I reached Hartley, but both on the way up and down I could hear the distinctive call of one of my favourite birds, the curlew. Just before I reached the tarmac I stopped for a rest on a handy seat and three curlews flew by overhead. That was a treat.

It was still sunny when I got back to Kirkby Stephen. It was mid afternoon and I was ready for a brew.

It had been a cracking day, cold in the wind but warm in the sunshine, and wrapped up well was perfect walking weather. We were expecting another decent day but a change was in the air!

Brough Castle and church

The Monday of our holiday in Kirkby Stephen was wild and windy. It rained most of he morning but, despite threatening skies, there was a break in the rain, so we decided to get out for a short drive over to Brough to visit the castle.

Brough sits at the foot of the Northern Pennines and is split in two by the busy A66 trans-Pennine road. It’s effectively two villages – Church Brough, with the castle and St Michael’s Church, to the south of the A66 and Market Brough, to the north. The latter is built around the original route of the trans-Pennine road, which was a major route to Scotland, and has a wide high street that used to be lined by more than coaching inns in the 18th and 19th Century. It was by-passed in 1977 by the current trunk road.

We were visiting the castle so parked up in the sleepy village of Church Brough. The rain had stopped but we could see some wild weather over the Pennines.

Brough Castle was built in the 11th century by the Normans on the site of a Roman fort. It’s in a strategic location on the Stainmore Pass, one of the main routes into England from Scotland and was intended keep a look out and defend the pass from marauding Scots invaders. Consequently it was attacked and put under siege many times. It was one of a chain of castles in the area, including Brougham Castle to the north near Penrith (also just off the A66), which we visited during our stay in Appleby last October.

Along with Brougham , Brough Castle came under the control of Roger Clifford, in about 1268 when he married Vieuxpoint’s great granddaughter. Subsequently it passed down to Lady Anne Clifford who restored the structure making a number of changes and additions in the 17th century Today the castle is under the stewardship of English Heritage. 

The ruins are less substantial than Brougham, and, unlike the former, entry is free.

Here’s some photos I took during the visit.

Approaching the castle
The remains of the gatehouse
The impressive Norman Keep.
The ruins of the hall against the south curtain wall
Looking across the courtyard from the Keep
The Pennines viewed from the castle
Looking south towards the fells, including Wild Boar Fell

There’s a cafe next to the castle, but being out of season it was closed, so no change for a comforting and warming brew. Instead we decided to have a look at St Michael’s church

The church dates from the 12 th Century, but, as usual, there have been many alterations and additions over the years, particularly during the 14th and 16th Centuries, with the tower was constructed by Thomas Blenkinsop of Helbeck in 1513 .

We had a look around inside. It was relatively plain with not a lot to see, but there was an interesting little an exhibition about the region

and a rather nice old stone pulpit

As we left the church, the rain was coming back in so we decided to call it a day, return to the car and drive back to our accommodation. The weather promised to be better the next day

Kirkby Stephen Poetry Path, Stenkrith Park and the Viaducts

Frank’s Bridge

Sunday was the first full day of our break in Kirkby Stephen and in the morning we took it easy. But by midday I was feeling restless and the weather looked reasonably promising so it was time to get our boots on a set off for a walk.

A couple of years ago I read a book about the Eden Valley – The Stream Invites us to Follow: Exploring the Eden from Source to Sea – by Dick Capel, who was Countryside Manager for the East Cumbria Countryside Project from 1992 to 2008. In the book he follows the course of the Eden and it was reading it that inspired me to visit and explore an area I’d largely neglected, resulting in our out of season breaks in Kirkby Stephen and, last October, in Appleby. (I was also influenced by reading the descriptions of Sharon’s “adventures” in Eden on her blog).

Dick Capel had been involved in three arts projects as part of his role – The Eden Benchmarks, Andy Goldsworthy’s Cumbria sheep fold project and also the Poetry Path in Kirkby Stephen. For the latter, twelve blocks of stone were installed at intervals along a route on both sides of the river Eden a mile or so to the south of where we were staying. On each of these stones lettering artist Pip Hall has carved a poem by Meg Peacocke together with a small decorative motifs which illustrate activities associated with the months of the hill farmer’s year. There are stones at 12 locations; one for each month of the year. Although the brief was to represent the farming year, this has been interpreted loosely with some of the poems describing nature and landscape.

As we’re both avid readers and interested in both poetry and sculpture I devised a route that would take us down to the Poetry Path, which we then followed, before returning to Kirkby Stephen via the small village of Hartley, along the disused track bed of the Stainmore Railway which crosses two restored viaducts.

We cut down the ginnel opposite our accommodation, and then through the town centre and down to the river, where we crossed over Frank’s Bridge. We then took the path that followed the right bank of the Eden

on through fields, passing this old barn

After a mile or so we reached the Poetry Path which starts with the January stone at ‘Swingy Bridge’. However due to the route we’d taken the first stone we came across was the one for March. So we carried on from there. We’d bought a small booklet from the Tourist Information Centre in Kirkby Stephen when we arrived. It only cost £2.00 and was a great help in locating the stones – some of them are installed in walls and others are easy to miss. It also provided background information and photographs of some of the stones from when they were installed back in 2004. Since then they have weathered and some overgrown with lichen, moss and other vegetation making them difficult to read. Luckily there’s a blog where you can see the text of all the poems in full and I’ve used this as a source for the poems reproduced in this post. Most of the motifs were impossible to make out.

The March stone was installed in a stream and had a good covering of vegetation making it impossible to read the full text.

“From field and fell run cols run small. I am the rain tear in the eye blood in the vein I am the sea.”

Jim Capel, in his book has an account of the fun had when installing the stone here!

The contractor used a low loader with a telescopic arm……. As we hesitated, mesmerised by the dangling stone, one of the straps snapped, and it plunged with a mighty splash into the beck. There it wedged itself in an upright position against the sandstone outcrop at the back of the pool.

Jim Capel, The Stream invites us to follow

The next stone was incorporated into a dry stone wall and easy to walk past

April – Lambing time
“Coltsfoot, celandine, earliest daisies. Twin lambs race to the mother, baby cries, Mam! Mam! Jolt out of them and now they jostle the ragged ewe, boosting each split hoof high off the bitten turf. Pinching jaws and hard curled coats are braced against these April suns and sleets.”

The May stone was also embedded in a wall, just before the bridge over the former railway line.

“Penned in a huddle, the great tups are clints of panting stone. The shepherd lifts a sideways glance from the labour of dagging tails. His hands are seamed with muck and sweat runs into his eyes. Above us, a silent plane has needled the clear blue. Paling behind it a crimped double strand of wool unravels.”

The countryside here was very pleasant and, surprisingly, it wasn’t too muddy underfoot

There were good views, too, over some of the fells – including the distinctive Wild Boar Fell

When we arrived at the June stone a family with two young boys and a baby were resting near and on the stones, with the mother using one of the stones as a support while feeding the baby. So we carried on past on to the former railway track and the next stone. We returned later for a proper look as we had to retrace part of the route to join the track on the return leg of our walk.

In this case there were two stones, gritstone blocks that had previously used in an indusrtial process according to the booklet. Both carved with text

“Light drops like honey from branch to branch. Elders balance their dishes of cream, while fledgelings try small quivery leaps, testing the buoyancy of the air.”

The July stone was a short distance along the railway path

“Silage. Tractor incises the first green furrow. Skillful geometrician, the driver judges an arc of weather.”

The August stone, a naturally curved rock, was a little further along. The text was carved on both sides

“Crabapples tart on the tongue, Hazelnuts milky, Rosehips cool in the hand, Thistledown silky.”

The September stone was the third and final one on the old railway track and referenced the former use of the location

“Revetted banks, a concrete post. Rabbits tunnel the cinder waste. Angle iron, link of a broken chain. Listen, and catch the hiss of steam again.”

A little further on we crossed over the river on the Millennium footbridge below the road bridge. We looked down on the river where we had a good view of “The Devil’s Grinding Mill” also known as “The Devil’s Mustard Mill” and the “Coopkarnel” (from a Danish word mean “cup shaped cavern”).

The river here passes through a narrow gorge and  the dramatic potholes have been carved in the Brockram rock (formed of fragments of Carboniferous limestone set in red siltstone and sandstone) by the force of the water and the abrasive action of small stones and rocks carried by the current.

“The Devil’s Mustard Mill” – upstream of the bridge
Looking downstream from the bridge

We now descended into Stenkrith Park, following the path along the river. Almost immediately we came across the next Poetry stone. In fact there were a pair of stones – one of limestone and one of sandstone – the two components of the Brockram.

“Sandstone. A desert wind, grain by grain, laid down these rocks. How did we trace a path through ancient dunes?
Limestone. A million million blanched and compacted shells. How did we swim through the drift and not perish?
Looking back towards the bridges
Water swirling through wierdly eroded rocks on the riverbed

Carrying on along the path we reached the next pair of stones.

“Through hazels and alders, softly or in spate, Eden moves in the valley it has hallowed from Mallerstang to the shifting Solway sands.”

It was noticeable that these had been cleaned up, making it easier to read the text, and, for the first time, the motif was legible.

The other stones along this stretch of the trail seemed to have been cleaned up too – probably because this is the most frequented section of the trail being in the Stenkrith Park, which is a popular tourist attraction.

On the hillside, a short distance before the “Swingy Bridge” we found the December Stone. The poem here is a Haiku, carved across the three rocks

“There sails the heron drawing behind him a long wake of solitude”

There’s the Swingy Bridge ahead. The river here was very placid and calm compared to the turbulent waters upstream.

The “Swingy Bridge”. An unusual name that suggests there was once a swing bridge here

The January stone was located at the bottom of the lane, just before the bridge. The lane was designated a bridleway and the bridge was far too narrow to be crossed by horses but it looked like there was a ford below the bridge.

The sky’s harsh crystal, wind a blade, trees stripped, grass dull with cold. Life is a kernel hidden in the stone of winter.”

Again it looked like the stone had been cleaned up fairly recently.

For most people following the trail this would probably be the start of their walk following the Poetry path, but we still had another stone to see so we crossed the bridge and carried on along the path until me reached the large February Stone comprised of four rectanular blocks piled on top of each other across from a derelict barn.

“Snowlight peers at the byre door. Neither day nor night. Four months ago we fetched the cattle in, safe from reiving wind and rain, months of standing and shifting, burdened with patience. When will winter end?
Thin strakes of run on the byre door. Fork a load of silage out, straighten your back to watch them shove their muzzles in, and wonder if they crave the hazy nights when they can roam among tall summer grasses, sleek and sound and warm.”

The motif showing a farmer feeding his cattle with hay during the winter was just about legible.

Carving on the February stone depicting Cattle brought indoors for the winter being fed

We carried on along the track – it had once been the main route from Kirkby Stephen to Mallerstang apparently – passing the March, April and May stones and then the June stone which we were now able to look at properly. We then rejoined the railway track, turning right this time to head towards Hartley. It was easy walking now on the disused track of the Stainmore Railway, a single line between Barnard Castle and Tebay, opened in 1861, built to transport Durham coke to furnaces in Cumberland and iron ore back to Cleveland. It was also used to transport limestone from the quarry at Hartley.

Two of the platelayers huts on the line have been restored and contain information panels about the history of the line.

Like most tracks on former railways lines, sections passed through cuttings but there were a number of places where there were good views over to the north Pennines. 

The path passes over two viaducts. The first we crossed was the Podgill Viaduct,

The views from the viaduct were impressive.

The viaduct is a listed Grade II structure built of local limestone with 11 arches, each of 30 feet span, and a maximum height of 84 feet above the valley floor (information from here). We descended down some steps to a viewing point to get a proper look. It was a good time of year to do this as the view wasn’t obscured by the leaves on the plentiful trees.

Carrying on we crossed over the Merrygill viaduct which spans the narrow Hartley Beck valley

The viaducts are owned and maintained by the Northern Viaduct Trust, a small charity, established in 1989. The trust also look after the Smardale Gill Viaducts and Drygill Bridge on a branch line passing through the disused Kirkby Stephen East statio.n as well as the Millennium Bridge we crossed earlier during our walk, and the track bed between Stenkrith and Merrygill Viaduct.

The path ended just after the Merrygill viaduct and we descended down the steep road to the small village of Hartley where we took the path leading back down to Frank’s Bridge

The village cricket field is near to the bridge and on the other side of the field is a small hill – Kirkby Hill. We decided to climb it and take in the views of the fells

The Northern Pennines
Over towards Hartley Fell
Wild Boar Fell in the distance
Kirkby Stephen

Walking back to our accommodation we noticed that the La’l Nook was opened, so we popped in for a drink – a good way to end the walk.

A week in Kirkby Stephen

A year ago I retired from my main job and transitioned to part time working and increased opportunities to do other thing. As it happened I’ve done rather too much of the former meaning not as much of the latter as I’d like, but I intend to adjust the balance this year. To mark the change, last year in early March we took a week’s break in Settle on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. We’d enjoyed getting away for some walking, reading and relaxing and a change of scenery, so decided to mark the anniversary (and another significant birthday) with another week away. This time we stopped in Kirkby Stephen in Westmorland (now in Cumbria) which lies just north of the Yorkshire Dales and a few miles to the south and west of the Northern Pennines. Like Settle, it only takes about an hour and a half to drive there, but it really feels like a different world.

It’s always a gamble booking a holiday in Northern England in early March, but unlike this week (which has been pretty awful) we had some decent weather. There were only two days when we didn’t really venture out (other than walking the short distance to the Co-op to pick up supplies and a short drive to Brough on one day) and we took those as a day to relax and do some reading. On Friday, the last full day before returning home, we woke up to snow several inches deep,

but then it turned into a sunny day and we enjoyed getting out for a walk in the snow covered fields. We managed a few local walks and a trip to Settle on the Settle Carlisle Railway down Mallerstang and Ribbledale. So it worked out well for us.

The small town is very remote. Wikipedia describes it well

surrounded by sparsely populated hill country, about 25 miles (40 km) from the nearest larger towns: Kendal and Penrith. The River Eden rises 6 miles (9.7 km) away in the peat bogs below Hugh Seat and passes the eastern edge of the town. At the 2001 census the parish had a population of 1,832.[2][1] In 2011, it had a population of 1,522.

It has a butcher’s, bakers, independent grocers, a bookshop (limited opening hours) a medium sized Co-op supermarket and a few other shops, and, probably because it’s on the route of the Coast to Coast path it’s able to support several pubs, cafes, gift shops, two walking equipment shops and an independent hostel.

It’s in “Lady Anne Clifford country” – one of her castles, Pendragon Castle, is a few miles away in Mallestang. There’s a statue of her in front of the tourist information centre on the main street

Statue of Lady Anne Clifford

We stopped in Oscar House, a superb property – an “upside down” converted barn close to the centre but also on the edge of the town, overlooking fields. There were views in every direction and we could see the fells including the North Pennines and Wild Boar Fell from the upstairs windows. I neglected to take photos but there are plenty on the Sykes website page for the property. Being out of season we were able to rent for a good price.

Sunset seen one evening from Oscar House

Just across the road and down a short ginnel we found our favourite little pub, the La’l Nook. It’s tiny and is only open Friday to Sunday.

We called in on Saturday night then popped in after a walk on Sunday and made a final visit on our last night. I don’t drink alcohol but beside the selection of real ales (which changes every week) they had three non-alcoholic beers. We got chatting with the landlord who it turns out was from our part of the world having grown up in Atherton and Hindley.

It always seemed busy, especially as it can only accommodate a small number of customers. There was a band of regulars, all of whom were rugby addicts (sadly, the 15 a side code) and we had a good chat with a couple of them on our last visit.

Nine tall stone structures, the Nine Standards, overlook the town from high up on Hartley Fell, one of the nearby fells. Their origin and history is disputed so no-one really knows who built them and what they were for. We could see them on the skyline from one of the widows in our property. I managed to get up close on a solo walk on a sunny Tuesday during our stay.

Most of the older, vernacular buildings are constructed from brockram, a local stone composed of fragments of limestone in a cement of red sandstone, so they have a dull grey look about them. Nevertheless they had their own charm and the stone looked good on a sunny day.

One building that stood out, was Barclay’s Bank. Built in 1903 in an Arts and Crafts style, it’s a Grade II listed building. (I think someone who reads this blog used to work here once). It was orignally a branch of Messrs Wakefield, Crewdson’s Kendal Bank and then a branch of Martin’s bank which was taken over by Barclays in 1969.

Some other distinctive structures include the red sandstone cloisters in front of the church

The Parish Church , built of soft red sandstone – which, very unusually, is used for both Anglican ad Catholic services

and the old bridge, known as “Franks Bridge” over the Eden

There is definitely more to see and do in this area which we’d only ever passed through before after taking the A66 route back from the North East. A return needs to go on to my ever increasing list!

Grisedale Pike

When I woke up on the Sunday morning of my recent short break in Braithwaite, looking out of my bedroom window I could that Skiddaw was cloud free. The forecast was promising too – a high probability of cloudless summits up Coledale (although a grey day on the cards) – so after breakfast I checked out and, leaving my car at the B and B, I set out to climb Grisedale Pike. It’s a shapely fell, described thus by the blessed Wainwright

a graceful peak piercing the western sky ……. conspicuously in view from Keswick, it is one of those fells that compels attention by reason of it’s shapeliness and height.

The North Western Fells

The profile of the mountain means that the ascent from Braithwaite, (the most popular route up), involves a steep initial climb followed by a long gradual ridge, then another steep section, a short easier ridge and a final steep pull involving a little scrambling.

First of all, taking the Whinlatter Pass road out of the village up a steep slope as far as a small car park (already full at 10 o’clock)

then up some steps for the start of the steep climb at the start of ascent

Stopping to look back is always a good excuse for a little rest and in this case it was justified by the view over to Scafell & Co.

an over to the Dodds in the east

The climb eased off and the summit, with a clearly defined path to the top, came into view

No cloud hiding the summits of the other fells of the Coledale valley today

Getting closer to the summit now, the hidden valley of Grisedale, from which the fell takes its name, was revealed. There’s another Grisedale, one with an eponymous tarn, at the foot of St Sunday Crag in the Eastern Fells, of course, plus Grizedale (with a z) forest between Windermere and Coniston Water. They origin of the name for all of them is “the valley where young pigs graze” and so these were all places where there once would have been wild boar.

I had to take a rest and refuel, though, as the steep climb had reduced my blood sugar and the low alarm from my sensor was beeping away. It took a little while to recover before I could continue.

Now for the start of the final pull

A little scrambling required. This stretch reminded me a little of the final section of the Watkin Path on Yr Wyddfa (formerly known as Snowdon)

Finally reaching the summit, the views were excellent in every direction and I could even see as far as Scotland and the profile of the Isle of Man on the Horizon

Time to carry on down an easier slope than on the ascent. Looking back –

As I descended I could see over to Hopegill Head. I had in mind climbing up there too but my blood sugar was dropping and I was running low on carbs so thought it best to leave that for another day. I didn’t want to hypo when there was still a way to go back to Braithwaite down Coledale. I hadn’t managed my carbs too well today – the climb had been tougher than I’d expected and I wasn’t fell fit. I had some sugary snacks in my pack but didn’t feel comfortable that they would see me through. I usually pack more food than I think I’d need for a walk, but this one had been tougher than I’d expected and it’s better to be safe than sorry and have to be carried back down by Mountain Rescue. (I did make it back down to the village before my sugar level had dropped to the point where an intake of carbs was needed, but I’d made the right decision).

So I carried on descending making my way to Coledale Hawse where I was greeted by this view down the valley

I started chatting with a couple of other walkers who were also admiring the view. I recognised the accent of one of them – he was from the town where I grew up.

The path descended steeply towards the bottom of the valley down a rocky path. The old mine soon became visible.

Force Crag Mine was the last working metal mine in the Lake District, finally closing in 1991. Initially mining lead from 1839 until 1865, and then zinc and barytes from 1867. The abandoned mine is now owned by the National Trust who host open days from time to time. The water running out of the mine workings is heavily polluted with toxic metals including zinc, cadmium and lead and the Coal Authority, the Environment Agency, National Trust and Newcastle University and have developed and implemented an innovative pilot scheme to reduce the levels of metal pollution.

Looking back from near the bottom of the valley

I crossed the river and then joined the old mine road. It was a long, relatively easy but not very exciting walk back to Braithwaite

In the morning I’d passed a sign for the Braithwaite Orthodox church. Curious, on returning to the village I went to take a look.

It was originally a Methodist Chapel but really is being used as an Orthodox place of worship.

I then made my way to the village shop where I was able to replenish my carbs and buy a take away coffee. It was a short walk back to the B&B and my car.

I’d had an enjoyable few days in the North Lakes but it was time to set off on the drive back home. I’ll be back up here again before too long. But I’ll make sure I’ve more than enough carbs with me next time!

A weekend break in the Lakes

It’s been a surprisingly busy start to the year and I felt like I could do with a break. Wife and daughter had already taken themselves for a weekend in Venice in January (leaving me and son behind). I thought I could do one better ( 😁, well maybe not! ) and headed up to the Lakes last weekend.

The weather forecast wasn’t so great, but I’d booked my B & B and a bit of rain wasn’t going to put me off. I rescheduled a couple of commitments and set off late morning. On the M6 I ran into rain near Preston and it continued to get heavier as I drove north. It eased off as I approached Penrith but it continued to rain on and off along the A66 to Keswick. I drove down Borrowdale and parked up in the Great Wood car park and weighed up my options. It looked fairly miserable up on the fells so decided I’d just take a walk along the lake to Keswick.

First stop was Calf Close Bay, only a short distance from the car park, and the Hundred Year Stone, the monument carved by by Peter Randall-Page, marking the centenary of the National Trust which owns much of the land around the Lake.

I’ve been here in all sorts of weather – it’s almost a traditional stop during a visit to the north Lakes – and photographed these stones many times, sometimes with them partially covered with water when the lake level was high.

It continued to rain on and as I carried on walking along the lake

approaching Keswick

It was quiet when I reached the small town, just a few bedraggled visitors (including me, of course!) wandering the streets. I had a mooch around the walking gear shops and then went for a sit down with a coffee in Java, a favourite cafe on Main Street.

reenergised by a strong coffee I set off back along the lake. The rain had eased off and the fells were becoming visible

I’d dried off by the time I reached Great Wood. I debooted (is that a real word?) and drove back into Keswick, stopping off at Booths to pick up a few supplies, and then on to Braithwaite and the B & B where I would be spending the next two nights. I was looking forward to some walking up on some fells I’d never explored before.