A walk from Kirkby Lonsdale

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I had a week in Ireland this week cancelled and as I hadn’t anything particularly urgent that needed doing, I thought that, weather permitting, we might get out for a walk one day. Checking the forecast, Monday looked the best bet as it was expected to be a decent day, so that clinched it. Where to go? Given the limited hours of light in December we decided not to go to far and stick to a low level route, limiting the mileage. We’d not been to Kirkby Lonsdale before, even though it’s not so far away (just over an hour’s drive, M6 willing!), so after a little research decided on a route starting from there.

Kirkby Lonsdale is a picturesque market town in Cumbria, close to the boundaries of both Lancashire and North Yorkshire and just inside  the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s noted for it’s olde worlde town centre, a viewpoint beloved of Ruskin and Turner and an old bridge. 

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There’s plenty of free parking on the edge of town, either side of the “Devil’s Bridge” but when we arrived on a Monday morning in December, I was surprised to see how many cars were parked up. However, there were a few spaces left so we parked up and donned our boots ready for a walk. I was expecting it to be muddy so we’d brought our gaiters and a couple of walking poles – it turned out that this was a good move!

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Before setting off we had a look at the Devil’s Bridge which was built in the 12th or 13th century, and is now a scheduled ancient monument.  At one time it was the only bridge over the Lune for miles around.

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There are quite a few Devil’s Bridges around the country, all built around the same period and all have a story associated with them explaining the name.  At Kirkby Lonsdale the tale goes that one night a cow belonging to an old woman strayed across the river and as there was no crossing point on the wide, fast flowing river, she couldn’t get it back. The devil then appeared and offered to build a bridge overnight t if he could have the soul of the first one across. However, the old woman fooled him by sending her dog across first. The devil was so angry he disappeared in a cloud of smoke never to return. 

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The bridge is a popular spot over the River Lune for “tombstoning”, which involves leaping from height into water. Over the years a number people have been killed here and there’s a local bye-law forbidding the practice, but, apparently, this doesn’t stop some foolish thrill seekers. So perhaps the Devil has had the last laugh.

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We set off , crossing the main road and then heading off south through the fields. There was a good view over to the Kentmere horseshoe.

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Passing a small group of cottages we followed the track which led towards Sellet Mill. 
The narrow footpath passed between two stonewalls and was clearly an old right of way which looked like it had been cobbled at one time. About a third of the way down a stream came in from the left and the path continued alongside it. “I wonder if it ever gets flooded?” We soon found out. Not much further on the path was covered with a fast running stream. Should we turn back or chance it and continue? We took the latter option. We almost regretted this decision as the water was quite deep in places and  it wasn’t easy to avoid getting our boots submerged or slipping and falling over. The walking poles now came in very handy and we managed to stay upright and not get too wet thanks to the gaiters. After what seemed a long way the path re-emerged on the right hand bank and we were able to continue on dry land until we reached Sellet Mill. 

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From here we took the path heading west through the fields until we reached the road and then followed a narrow minor road towards Whittington, a pleasant old village. There were good views over the fields across to Ingleborough and other hills in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

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and we passed some interesting old buildings.

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Reaching the old church, which stands on the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle, we decided to stop and have a bite to eat. We had a quick look inside the church. The oldest part is the tower, which dates from the early 16th century. The rest was largely rebuilt in 1875 in the usual Victorian Gothic revival style. 

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There was some rather nice stained glass.

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Afterwards we found a bench in the graveyard and sat down to eat our pork pies, taking in the view on a pleasant, sunny, afternoon.

Well nourished we resumed our walk, taking the road through the village and then followed a path that cut eastwards across the fields towards the River Lune.

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After recent heavy rains, the river was deep and flowing fast and the banks were muddy and slippy. In a few places it was close to the river and we were once again glad I’d put our walking poles in the boot of the car that morning.

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We followed the river bank back to Devil’s Bridge and then continued on the riverside path as we wanted to have a look around the small town and also to visit the viewpoint known as “Ruskin’s View”.

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After about a mile we reached the “Radical Steps” that would take us up to the viewpoint. The steps were built in 1819 by Francis Pearson, a local Liberal. The locals came to call them the Radical Steps on account of his political leanings. There are allegedly 86 stone steps, although we didn’t count them. They were rather steep and uneven and probably easier to go up than down.

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At the top of the steps we reached the edge of the churchyard and were able to take in “Ruskin’s View”. Painted by Turner, in 1875, John Ruskin described the panorama as ‘one of the loveliest views in England, therefore in the world’.

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Even though the river valley was now in the shade, it was certainly a lovely view, but I think Ruskin was rather overstating it.

After taking in the view we walked through the church yard and had a quick look around inside St Mary’s church

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and then wandered into town where we found a cafe to have a brew before heading back to the car for the drive home. It was only 5 o’clock but the winter sun having already set it felt much later. But we’d had a good day out.

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