I am blessed, for to live in The South Lakes of Cumbria is a joy.
To the south there will be found the beauty of Morcambe Bay, a wonderful place, it is the largest expanse of inter-tidal mudflats and sand in the United Kingdom, covering a total area of 310 km2. Although a place of beauty, it is perilous for the estuary and the bay is an area full of serious and immediate danger. Fast tides, deep channels and quicksands mean that it is would be folly for folk to venture there without an expert guide.
Just north is the Lake District National Park famous for its forests, lakes and fells. Established in 1951 the park covers an area of 2,362 km2, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017 and is home to Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. Here you will also find Wast Water and Windermere, the deepest and largest natural lakes in England.
Over to the east, just a little way and not too far, you will find the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Covering 2,178 km2 the park was established in 1954 and extended in 2016 to include part of Cumbria and Lancashire. Home to bleak & windswept moors, waterfalls, castles, enchanting towns & villages and, of course, Wallace and Gromit, the Yorkshire Dales are well worth a visit.
Spring is upon us and, a day or two back, I felt the Dales calling me. When such a call is made it’s impossible to refuse and so, along with a group of friends, an adventure was planned. I like adventures – they are times of new experiences, times to see sites and vistas not seen before, times to scramble over fells and moors, times to venture into hidden forests where you can talk to ancient trees and hear stories of their life and times to just ‘be’.
Over Sedbergh way we went and we went with a plan. It’s always good to have a plan because it’s so much fun to ignore it and make things up as you go along.
Nestling in the West Dales at the foot of the Howgills, Sedbergh, on the banks of the River Rawthey, is a town of narrow streets and quaint houses which, until the arrival of the railway in 1861, was pretty much isolated and remote. So remote that, until then, it was reachable only by walking over some fairly steep hills. The railway to Sedbergh was closed in 1965, a sad victim of Dr. Beeching.
The Howgills are steep, very steep and perhaps not suitable as a first excursion after a long winter of inactivity and stupor. An easier path was needed, a gentle path of meandering and maybe just a short climb or two to prepare for longer treks in the coming weeks and months. A walk through fields, forest glades and along streams and babbling brooks. A walk to meet and greet animals and feathered critters and to see the new life of springtime.
We were not disappointed, for we met sheep and gambolling new born lambs, cattle, fierce geese, working dogs and even an alpaca or two!
There comes a time though, when a trek must draw to a close and then it is time to sit and rest and take refreshment. Whether it be a country inn or a cosy cafe, a tea-room or a roadside stall, it matters not for all are equally enticing.
At the end of our travels on this day we paused awhile at Farfield Mill, a 19th century woollen water mill. Now a craft and heritage centre, the mill has an excellent tearoom.
Opened in 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne, Farfield Mill was the last woollen mill to operate in the Western Dales and houses a fine exhibition of looms and historical artefacts.
There are stories too – stories of the folk who worked at the mill, stories of how hard life was in the 19th century when the mill was producing goods made from local wool. Stories of folk like William Stainton who started work at the mill aged 8 not long after it opened. Working from 6am until 7:30pm the life was hard – William often went truant and tracker dogs were sent out to find him.
It was this William who contacted tuberculosis aged 17 from the dust and cotton fibres encountered in the mill. William subsequently became a horse and wagon driver for the mill transporting woollen goods and materials as far afield as Kendal, Dent and Hawes. This is the William who died, aged 94, shortly after retiring from the mill after 86 years service. 86 years of toil and pain – pretty hard to imagine isn’t it? Mind you the mill owner did award William a medal when he retired!
There were no health and safety regulations in those far off days, only hard work and punitive regulations governing the behaviour of employees, such as they ‘will wash themselves at least twice every week and failure to do so will incur a fine of 3d’! How far we have come since such terrible times.
So, my journey has ended…
… until the next time.