Arnside, Storth and the Fairy Steps

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At the moment, looking out of the window, Storm Barra is arriving and it’s wet and windy outside. Not a good day for a walk. But it was quite different a couple of weeks ago when I took the train to Arnside for the second walk of my long late autumn weekend.

Although I’ve been walking around Arnside and Silverdale quite a few times over the years, I’d plotted out a route where I hadn’t ventured before, to the east of the village following the old coffin road to Beetham. It was a beautiful sunny day, cold, but with no wind so I soon warmed up as I set off walking.

Leaving the station I turned left instead of turning right towards the prom. After a short stretch of road I turned left down a track and then over the level crossing.

There was reasonable path throught he fields, although a bit muddy underfoot.

The next stretch, however, was more than a bit muddy. The clue was in the name really – Arnside Moss. Although agricultural land this would once have been part of the flood plain of the River Kent and I found myself wading through boggy land, sinking at times so that the mud covered the top of my boots. Luckily I got across this stretch unharmed except for boots completely coated with muck. (Perhaps I should have got some advice from Mark of Beating the Bounds – this is his patch!)

I crossed a couple more fields, much drier underfoot, heading towards Hazelslack Tower, an old, ruined Peel Tower, one of several in the area (I’ve passed another, Arnside Tower, many times during my wanders around here)

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I walked past the tower, which is next to a farm, took the path across a field and then passed through a gate into the woods, following the signs for Beetham and the Fairy Steps.

I was in limestone country now so much drier underfoot.

After walking through pleasant woodland, I reached what looked like a dead end

but there was a way through – I’d reached the Fairy Steps – a flight of naturally occuring stone steps in a narrow passage between two sheer rock faces. Allegedly if you you climb or descend the steps without touching the sides of the narrow gully the local fairies will appear and grant you a wish.

Well, you’d have to be a lot slimmer than me to achieve that. It was a real squeeze – I had to take off my rucksack or I wouldn’t have got through! There is a diversion to avoid the steps for those of wider girth, or who otherwise don’t fancy the challenge. Amazingly the steps are part of the “coffin route” between Arnside and Beetham.

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Before Arnside had a church and graveyard, the dead had to be transported to Beetham for burial in consecrated ground. In those days there wasn’t a road alongside the river and this would have been the main route between the two villages. It seems impossible to get a coffin up through the narrow gap but I suppose that in those days the corpse would have been wrapped in a shroud rather than put in a wooden box. But I certainly wouldn’t have liked the job of carrying the body.

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I stopped for a bite to eat and a hot drink from my flask at the top of the steps with views through the trees across to the Kent Estuary and Arnside Knott on the other side of the moss.

Refreshed, I carried on through the woods, down the hill in the direction of Beetham

but turned off in the direction of Storth. I reached a minor road and followed it a short distance before turing onto a path through more woodland

eventually emerging near the small village of Storth

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I passed through the village arriving on the banks of the Kent Estuary.

It was still a glorious bright sunny day and the Lake District Fells from Coniston to Red Screes were clearly visible in the distance

I joined the path that followed an old railway line along the banks of the river towards Arnside. The bright sun was very low preventing me from taking photos in th edirection I was walking, but I grabbed a few snaps looking back towards Storth and across the river.

There were sheep grazing out on the marsh. Salt Marsh lamb is a delicacy yet, along with flounder and shrimps from Morecambe Bay, you never see it on the menu of the local hostelries in Arnside which serve up the usual formulistic “pub grub”.

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The path terminates behind the station and as it was about 3 pm there was a direct train back to Wigan due in less than half an hour. But I had an idea. So instead of waiting on the station, I crossed the footbridge and headed towards the prom.

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To be continued….!

A walk in the Westmorland dales

A couple of weeks ago I drove up the M6 to the Westmorland Dales near to Orton, which I’d last visited back in June. I fancied a walk somewhere relatively quiet and I knew this area in the north of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (despite being in Cumbria) would fit the bill. It was forecast to be a fine day and I knew that the Lakes and the more popular parts of the Dales were likely to be busy. It’s not far off the motorway and only just over an hour’s drive from home – at least when the traffic isn’t so heavy on the M6.  The terrain is different from most of the lakes too – it’s limestone country. I parked up in a small rough parking area a couple of miles north of Orton village, donned my boots and set off. I had a route in mind, longer than during my last visit, treading over some of the same ground.

It was a fine, bright morning – a little chilly after a cloud free night in autumn. Looking over to the Pennines in the distance there was cloud over Cross Fell (the highest point in England outside of the Lake District), Great Dun Fell and High Cup Nick.

I walked over the moor and turning south and made my way over the limestone pavement towards the monument on Beacon Hill.

There was a small group of cyclists sitting by the monument. I sat down a few metres away from them and had a coffee from my flask.

Looking back over the limstone pavement towards the Pennines

and over to the North Lakes – there’s Blencathra with its distinctive “saddeback” in the distance

I carried on down towards the extensive limestone pavement of Grat Asby Scar

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There were very few people about.

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Quite a few sheep, mind

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After a while the path turned into a track and then joined a minor road. I continued along the tarmac about half a kilometre then turned south along a path through the fields. I watched a couple of shepherds herding a small flock into the back of their trailer. There were more sheep further on and some cattle too.

Looking over farmland towards the Pennines

At the end of the fourth field my I turned right beside the drystone wall heading south west. Last time I was up here there were cattle in the field close to the path that were eying me up. I’d felt a little nervous. There were cattle here again, with their calves, but further back from the path. One of them was making quite a bit of noise so I made my way briskly to the gate into the next field. I carried on eventually reaching more limestone pavement. Reaching a junction I turned south down the route of the long distance trail, the Dales High Way – a path I hadn’t followed during previous visits.

I carried on down the Dales High Way, through fields

passing stunted trees

heading towards Sunbiggin tarn, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

with views of the Howgill Fells in the distance

Time to stop for a little while to eat my packed lunch and drink another coffee. It’s quite a lonely place, off the beaten track. There were a couple of horse riders just up the hill and a couple of cars parked up on the road, but their owners must have been off on a walk.

I retraced my steps for about a kilometre and then turned west towards the small settlement of Sunbiggin

I was now on the route of the Coast to Coast path and passed a few walkers heading in the opposite direction, at least some of them following the long distance route.

I walked on a short section of tarmac before turning west across more fields.

I spotted these unusual spotted sheep in a field from the road

I’d never seen sheep like them before and a little research on the Internet revealed them to be Dutch Spotted Sheep. An unusual breed in the UK.

There were good views over to the Howgills

Back onto softer ground which was muddy in places, especially by the gates, following some recent heavy rain.

There were sheep in some of the fields I had to cross, which wasn’t a worry. I could see some cattle in adjacent fields, and was hoping I’d be able to avoid them. However, there were a few young beasties along with sheep in the final field I had to cross. It looked like they might have been bullocks and they weren’t so far off the path. Half way across the field I made the mistake of turning my head to check were they were and met the eye of one of them which immediately started to charge directly toward me! Definitely a bullock then. I stared to shout and wave my arms and, fortunately, it veered off a short distance from me. A close shave as I would certainly have sustained some injuries if it had made contact. I didn’t hang around but made my way as quickly as I could across the field, through the mud and over the stile onto the track on the other side of the wall.

My route required a right hand turn now but I made a short diversion. Turning left, in the field to the left of the track there’s the Gamelands stone circle, one of the largest circles in Cumbria.

The last time I was over here, in April 2017 it wasn’t possible to access the stones and we had to peer at them over the wall. However, since then a gate has been installed and it was possible to get in amongst them for a closer look.

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Unfortunately the stones have all been knocked over and some have been removed but the circle was impressive enough and definitely worth my minor detour.

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Back on the track I headed north, passing an old lime kiln

and then making my way through more fields (no cattle this time, only sheep!)

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The cloud had really come in now, killing the bright light from earlier in the day.

Looking west towards the Shap Fells

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I made my way back over Beacon Hill and then took the path across the limestone untoil I reached a gravel track. Turning left, a short walk and I was back at the car.

After changing out of my boots and dumping them along with my rucksack into the boot of the car I set off down the road to Orton. Rather than head straight down to Tebay and the the Motorway Junction I decided to take the minor road towards Shap and joined the Motorway at the junction there. This allowed me to pay a visit to the Tebay services and stock up with some goodies from the farm shop.

The traffic on the M6 was quite heavy from Lancaster down to the M61 Junction, so it took me a little longer to get home than my morning journey up to the start of my walk. But I was still home in good time for my tea!

The weather wasn’t so good last Sunday so I didn’t get out and since then Greater Manchester has joined Lancashire County by having Tier 3 Covid restrictions placed on us. This half baked lockdown means that it looks like it’s going to be local walks for a while.

Limestone Pavement and a Romano-British Fortress

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Last Sunday (14 June) I decided I needed to get out to clear my head after what had been a stressful week. After the experience at the start and finish of my last walk starting from Rivington on a Sunday I decided I’d stray a little further afield to somewhere where I’d be much less likely to encounter crowds of day trippers. The Westmorland Dales near to Orton looked like a good bet. It’s just over an hour’s drive away, usually very quiet and the countryside, dominated by an extensive limestone pavement, is quite different to the peat moorlands and pleasant woodland closer to home.

The Westmorland Dales became part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in 2016 (although they’re in Cumbria) but are still relatively unknown. The area has the most extensive area of limestone pavement in the UK outside the Ingleborough area in Yorkshire. They would have been more extensive at one time as the limestone has been exploited in the past. Former limestone kilns, used to create lime for construction and agriculture, are dotted across the landscape – I spotted one in the distance during my walk – and limestone has also been removed for use as garden ornaments. As an important site for a variety of wildlife and plantlife the area is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

I drove up the M6, turning off an Tebay and then up the quiet road through Orton and parked up in a small rough parking area a couple of miles north of the village. There were another three cars parked up there, but nobody in sight.

I set off on a path heading north east across the moor and soon encountered the first traces of the limestone pavement

It was almost silent other than the call of the birds, including a couple of curlews circling overhead. It was good, too, to hear the song of the skylarks.

I carried on along the lonely path, passing a herd of long horned cattle

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There were the high Pennine fells – including Cross Fell and High Cup Nick – in the distance

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reaching a dry stone wall

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I followed its course until I reached a minor road. My route took me along the tarmac for a couple of miles. It was quiet, although I was passed by three cars as I sauntered down the lane

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I had a peek over the wall at some of the locals munching on their breakfast

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As I carried on down the lane, there was more evidence of the limestone in the landscape

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I turned right off the tarmac and took a track through the fields heading towards Sunbiggin

then after about a kilometre I took the path to the right through the fields. The OS indicates that there used to be some sort of settlement here, but I didn’t stop to look. There was a herd of cows with their cattle standing by the path and, although they moved out of my way, they stood close by looking at me rather suspiciously.

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The path carried on along the edge of the fields, running parallel to the wall

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Eventually the landscape became dominated by the slabs of limestone

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I was now on open access land so diverted off the path to explore the limestone pavement which meant hopping over the clints while avoiding getting my foot stuck in one of the grykes.

Clints (sometimes called by their German name, flachkarren) are the blocks of limestone that form the pavement. They are chemically weathered so that their surface is covered by a series of pits and hollows (called karren).

Grykes are fissures separating the clints in a limestone pavement. They may be well over a metre in depth, and formed when the joints in the limestone were widened by chemical weathering.

British Geological Survey
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The vegetation is very different than on the acid peat on the Pennine moors nearer to home

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I made my way, carefully, until I reached my objective – the former Romano-British settlement at Castle Folds, where I stopped for a bite to eat.

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It didn’t look much on the ground – limestone blocks surrounding more open ground – but it’s a historic site, the location of a defended position used by members of a Romano-British tribe

The monument is an unusual example in Cumbria of a heavily defended Romano-British stone hut circle settlement. Unlike many Romano-British settlements which were enclosed or ‘defended’ in such a way as to protect both inhabitants and stock from casual marauders, Castle Folds appears, by the very nature of its inaccessible location and strongly defended stone enclosure wall, to have been constructed in response to a threat of much greater proportions. 

Historic England

In Medieval times it was used as a shieling – a place for shepherds to stay in grazing season. and some of the ruined structures reflect the modifications made during this period.. 

It’s difficult to make out much from ground level, but the outline can be more clearly seen from the air, as in this photo sourced from Wikipedia (looking south with the Howgill Fells in the background)

By Simon Ledingham, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13152478

After a break, I carried on hopping over more limestone

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I clambered over a drystone wall to the summit of the hill to take in the views towards the Howgills

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and the Shap Fells to the west

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My next objective was Beacon Hill, across the valley

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I set off down the hill to join the path down intot eh valley and then up the hill towards the monument at the summit of the hill

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The monument at the summit had been erected to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria

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I stopped for a break and took in the 360 degree views

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then it was to head back across the moor to the car.

The car park was busier than when I arrived, but wasn’t full. There were three people sitting next to their cars in fold up chairs eating a picnic. I’m always amazed by people who do this. Drive to a car park an sit there having a picnic. There was a decent view from their seats, albeit surrounded by cars. It they’d only walked a few metres they’d have had an even better view.

Here’s a shot I took looking north west from the car parks. there’s the distinctive shape of the saddle back of Blencathra in the distance

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