The Land of the Lune

Chapter 6:  Middleton Fell

  The Introduction
  The Previous Chapter (Lower Rawtheydale and Dentdale)
  The Next Chapter (Middle Lunesdale and Leck Fell)

Middleton Fell at Brown Knott

The Lune from the Rawthey ...

The Lune and the Rawthey meet as the arms of a Y to form a deep pool and then proceed south. The rivers are of comparable size, as the catchment areas of the Lune up to this point and the Rawthey are much the same. The headwaters of the Rawthey on Baugh Fell, Wild Boar Fell and Whernside are higher than those of the Lune on Green Bell but the western branch took precedence because, I assume, it was the obvious continuation of the lower Lune for early Britons travelling north towards what we now call the Lune Gorge. At all events, the Lune is now established as a mature river and flows more sedately as the valley opens out. Beyond a wide curve, the Lune is joined by Hall Beck from the west and Middleton Hall Beck from the east.
rawthey and lune

The Rawthey (from the right) joins the Lune (from the middle distance)

orchid Left: Orchid on New Park, Killington

      Hall Beck begins life in the marshes on New Park near Lily Mere. New Park is a wilderness area of heather and bracken, with small islands of conifer plantations. It is an area of rare flowers: well, most flowers seem rare to me, for I can only identify the bluebell, daffodil and perhaps a dozen others. Outside that set I have to pick the flower and take it home to look up in a book. No, of course not: I take a photograph. The flower shown to the left is, I believe, a hybrid of the heath spotted orchid and common spotted orchid, and therefore probably not rare at all, although very pretty, to my inexpert eyes.
      Hall Beck runs beside the Old Scotch Road, the drove road that left us at Low Borrowbridge, and by Three Mile House, a drover’s service stop. It then drops down through Springs Wood to Killington, a village whose size today does not reflect its past importance.

killington hall Right: Killington Hall

      Not long ago, Killington had a school and a pub, as well as the still-active All Saints Church. Killington Hall half-survives. The older part is in ruins but the part dated 1640 (and 1803 and 2003) is still occupied. It used to belong to the Pickering family and also passed through the hands of the Morlands (of Capplethwaite) and Uptons (of Ingmire). The front door bears the black horse of the Ingmire coat of arms.
      The history of our old halls is all well and good but I like to know what the halls are up to nowadays, which, short of knocking on the door and asking, may be hard to determine. But, in the case of Killington Hall, through stumbling across it on the web, I deduce that it is the base for Farm-Smart, which organises specialist exhibitions and events for the serious farmer, a suitable kind of meta-farming activity, I suppose.
      Today, the road to Killington from Three Mile House has grass in the middle, which is always a good sign. Killington Park to the north and Killington Common to the south are no longer on the map but the name remains familiar through the Killington Reservoir and the M6 service station. The old common, now called Park Hill, provides scenery that is not typical of Loyne, with hummocky little hills and rocky outcrops. It is noticed only because of its prominent aerial and is rarely visited although much of it is CRoW land providing good views of the Lune valley and the Howgills. You could explore it from the disused Hills Quarry, south of Three Mile House, but wait for a dry spell out of late summer in order to avoid the bogs and bracken that otherwise make it difficult terrain.
      Across the road from Hills Quarry is a gate giving access to a footpath around Burns Beck Moss Nature Reserve, owned by Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Up to 6m of peat now fill an old upland tarn, providing a raised mire habitat, with areas of grassland, reed bed and willow shrubs. These support a large variety of plants (including sixteen species of sphagnum moss), insects and birds (such as reed bunting and sedge warbler). Despite man’s determined efforts to ruin the site – by cutting the peat, straightening the beck, digging drainage channels, planning to create a reservoir, building dams and weirs to slow the beck, removing them, putting them back – the reserve now appears to be a natural habitat, in safe hands.
      Naturalists cannot, however, rest on their willow and sphagnum moss: man is still determined to challenge nature. In 2008 planning permission was given for six wind turbines on the hill to the south-west of the nature reserve. Maybe the flora and fauna of the reserve will be unaffected by the turbines but certainly no human visitor could continue to consider the reserve a retreat from the 21st century.
      [Update: The turbines are now there.]
      Middleton Hall Beck is also named after a hall but unlike Hall Beck has the courtesy to tell us which one, which is as well as there are two halls on its short length. The higher, Beckside Hall, was the birthplace of the Sir John Otway of Ingmire Hall we met earlier. The lower, Middleton Hall, is the more interesting. From the 14th to the 17th century it was the manorial home of the esteemed Middleton family. Their manor was large and dispersed (like the the parish of Middleton today). The Middleton men distinguished themselves mainly through their military activities and in due course also extinguished themselves. The male line died out, leaving a sister with the familiar name of Mrs Hebblethwaite as the last surviving heir in the 1690s.
      The extinction of the Middletons was hastened by the Civil War, which wrought havoc along this stretch of the Lune. Like all the halls and castles along the valley, Middleton Hall was a royalist stronghold but was unfortunately not strong enough. After the war, Middleton Hall was never rebuilt. As a result, the remains of Middleton Hall provide a good illustration of medieval, fortified, domestic architecture. The high, 1m thick wall used to enclose an inner and outer courtyard. The damage to the wall is supposed to have been caused by Cromwell’s cannon balls. There was also a gatehouse and probably a chapel.
middleton hall

Middleton Hall

Stockdale Beck

high stockdale br milestone Left: High Stockdale Bridge
Right: A683 milestone near the Swan Inn

Stockdale Beck gathers much of the water from the hinterland of Middleton Fell, via Luge Gill, Wrestle Gill and Thirnbeck Gill, running from Calf Top (609m), the highest point of the fell. Middleton Fell is, like the Howgills, west of the Dent Fault and has similar topography. It has rolling grassy slopes but with more heather, higher up, and bracken, lower down, than the Howgills. The bedrock seems closer to the surface, judging by the exposures on paths and the occasional outcrops.
      Above the pastures, Middleton Fell is all CRoW land but, although the slopes in Dentdale and Barbondale have their excitements, in the 15 sq km to the west of the ridge wall the OS map marks nothing apart from two sets of grouse butts and, by the western wall, seven sheepfolds. Nonetheless, Middleton Fell is excellent walking country because of the terrain and the views it affords of the surrounding hills. As you walk the ridge heading southeast and then southwest, the Howgills, Wild Boar Fell, Baugh Fell, Rise Hill, Great Knoutberry Hill, Whernside, Crag Hill and the top of Ingleborough parade before you. To the west there is the Lakeland skyline and from Calf Top the Lune estuary and Morecambe Bay glints ahead.
      Emerging from Luge Gill, Stockdale Beck runs under High Stockdale Bridge, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and Low Stockdale Bridge, by the Swan Inn, where there is a milestone. These simple facts bear some interpretation. That the High Bridge, over the narrow, quiet lane called the High Road, is the ancient monument, rather than the Low Bridge, over the A683, suggests that, in olden times, the lane was the more important route. This is supported by the fact that most of the old farmsteads, such as Ullathorns (which bears a date of 1617), Tossbeck and Borwens, are reached from the High Road rather than from the A683.
      The Swan Inn milestone is one of nine between Sedbergh and Kirkby Lonsdale, a complete set, which is unusual. They are all in situ, although some are suffering from neglect. Milestones were made compulsory on turnpike roads in 1744. The A683 was made a turnpike road in 1762, to run from Kirkby Stephen to Greta Bridge, where it joined the 1751 Richmond-Lancaster turnpike. The last house on the A684 before the A683 turning is called Toll Bar and south of Casterton there is a fine Toll Bar Cottage, a listed building.

Walk 13: Middleton Fell

Map: OL2 (please read the general note about the walks in the Introduction).
Starting point: A lay-by on the east side of the A683, just north of where it swings away from the line of the Roman road, at Jordan Lane (631892).
      Walk south a short distance and cross a field to join the road east to Fellside (demolished and rebuilt in 2007). Beyond Fellside you are on the open fell and will probably see nobody for the next three hours or so. There are many tracks but follow one east to reach the ridge near Brown Knott, for a view of Sedbergh and the Howgills beyond.
      Follow the ridge wall southeast. Above Combe Scar there is a new slab stile in the wall that is worth crossing for a short detour to peek at the scar and gain a bird’s-eye view of Dent. Return by the stile.
      Continue round the ridge, with a continuously evolving panorama of hills, eventually heading southwest, to reach Calf Top. From Calf Top, turn at right angles right, walking slightly north of west. It is important to take the correct ridge. Aim for the aerial that can be seen across the Lune valley on Park Hill. You need to reach the wall where there is a thin wood alongside Brow Gill. (If you swing too far south you may be tempted to head for Mill House, where the OS map shows an apparent exit from CRoW land. There are however a few metres of adamantly private land separating CRoW land from the public footpath. Which is a pity. If you go too far north you may as well continue back the way you came, past Fellside.)
      Follow the wall north for 200m to reach a gate (at 642868) where a sign says that a permissive path begins. This path goes by Brow Gill, north along the old railway line for 300m, and then by Stockdale Beck to reach the quiet High Road.
      Walk north for 500m to Middleton Hall Bridge, with the hall to your right. Cross the A683 and take the path across the field and between Low Waterside and the Lune. Continue on this path, which eventually rises through a wood to the A683.
      [Update: The walk description here does not correspond to the red-dotted walk shown on the map at the end of this chapter. Sorry about that. I found out about the permissive path just before the book was published and changed the walk description to use it but forgot to change the red dots as well. For the walk as described the start point is at the north-west corner of the red dots and the red dots should proceed west, not south, from Calf Top. Unfortunately I am no longer able to change the map.]

Short walk variation: Follow the long walk to Brown Knott. Now head southwest over pathless ground to reach the wall corner where Luge Gill leaves CRoW land. Follow the wall at the boundary of CRoW land for 1.5 km until you reach the gate (at 642868) where the sign indicates the start of the permissive path. Then return to the lay-by as for the long walk.

low waterside

The Lune at Low Waterside

The Lune from Stockdale Beck ...

roman milestone Left: The Roman milestone near Hawking Hall

On a hill south of the Church of Holy Ghost (that’s what its sign says) stands a column nearly 2m high carved with the letters M P LIII. This is a Roman milestone indicating that this point is 53 Roman miles from, it is presumed, Carlisle. This provokes speculation. Was this apparently unremarkable point special in some way? Did it mark a junction in the Roman highways? Or were there perhaps 52 other milestones, now all lost, between here and Carlisle?
      [Update: The Roman milestone no longer stands in this field. I have read that it has been re-erected near to the church.]
      Also carved on the column (in Latin) are the words “Restored from the soil by Giles Moore 1836”, which seems a clear admission to an act of vandalism, for the said Giles Moore obviously knew the significance of what he had found. For some reason, he re-erected the column 200m east of where he found it, where the Roman road is thought to have run.
      After a long meander the Lune is joined beyond Treasonfield by Black Beck, which is the product of many becks that hurry off the western slopes of Castle Knott before crossing the quietest High Road in the country and then flowing gently over green pastures to the Lune. Ashdale Gill is the largest of these becks, running in a deep gully past the Three Little Boys, which are upright slabs about 1m high.
      There are remains of an ancient homestead near Borwens, with roughly circular ramparts 30m in diameter. Borwens itself has an interesting old barn, ornately dated 1718. These datestones, usually placed above main entrances, were fashionable when stone buildings began to replace impermanent dwellings in the 17th and 18th centuries. Apart from the date, there is usually a triangle of letters: husband and wife initials below and family name initial above.

kitmere Right: Kitmere

      Meanwhile, on the anonymous but rich, green slopes above the west bank are two of Loyne’s rural estates, Rigmaden and Mansergh. The architect George Webster of Kendal built Rigmaden Park in the 1820s for Christopher Wilson, a banker of that town. Wilson was known as a breeder of turf ponies, which are derived from fell ponies and intended for racing. His grandson, Christopher Wyndham Wilson, continued the tradition so successfully that the breed became known as the Wilson Pony (it is now called the Hackney Pony and considered the world’s best harness pony). He was also High Sheriff of Westmorland and a noted wrestler, which sounds a useful combination.
      Above Rigmaden Park is Kitmere, a reservoir for Rigmaden Farm. The lake and its boathouse are difficult to see for they are shrouded by hundreds of thick, high rhododendrons. These led to an interesting test case. At first, the Kitmere region was mapped as CRoW land but, after appeal, it was agreed that the rhododendrons meant that the land did not meet the legal definition of ‘moor’. As is their custom, the rhododendrons are spreading over the surrounding land so perhaps it too will need to be excluded soon.

terrybank tarn Right: Terrybank Tarn

      Directly below Rigmaden Park is the relatively new, metal Rigmaden Bridge. This is a favourite put-in spot for canoeists, who can paddle 10km downstream, round sweeping bends, by shingle islands and beaches, and over relatively gentle rapids to Kirkby Lonsdale. Before attempting this, you should read the long list of conditions helpfully displayed at the bridge by the British Canoe Union: the first, for example, says that it must be within the months from November to March.
      Christopher Wilson took over the manor of Mansergh, a name that appears in the Domesday Book and that is still the parish name. St Peter’s Church was built in 1880, with an oddly shaped tower, to replace an old chapel in an isolated location overlooking the Lune valley and Middleton Fell. It is directly below the village of Old Town, on the Old Scotch Road.
      The largest building in Old Town is the gaunt Terry Bank, which bears an enigmatic datestone reading “EC 1542-1910”. The Westmorland Church Notes record the death of an “Edward Conder of Terry Bank” seven times between 1542 and 1843. It is unlikely that any of the present building dates from the 16th century: the central part shows a date of 1846. Nearby is the rather attractive Terrybank Tarn. Old documents say that the beck from this tarn powered Kirkby Lonsdale’s mills although this is now doubted.
      Mansergh Hall, which is a farm specialising in organic lamb and sausages, is to the south, and directly below the hall the Lune is supplemented by the substantial tributary of Barbon Beck.

Barbon Beck


Barbondale from Barbon Low Fell

barbon beck Right: The head of Barbondale

Barbon Beck flows for 10km through the magnificent valley of Barbondale, with the steep scree and grass slopes below Calf Top to the west and the less steep, peaty moorland below Crag Hill (682m) to the east. The beginnings of Barbon Beck are interesting to explore although what exactly is seen depends upon the amount of recent rain. Normally, the beck appears to arise hesitantly as Barkin Beck, 3km within the Yorkshire Dales boundary, beside the road to Dentdale. Before reaching the boundary it usually disappears and restarts a few times. Our suspected explanation for this is confirmed by an examination of the Short Gill tributary, which forms the Dales boundary from Crag Hill.
      [Update: Barbondale is now all within the Yorkshire Dales.]
      Short Gill runs contentedly in a deep gorge of grey slate, stained brown with peat, over a series of waterfalls until, 100m above Barkin Beck, it crosses a clear ridge of limestone and enters a canyon that is eerily silent. All the water disappears through the limestone. The line of limestone continues on the eastern slopes of Barbondale but there is no limestone to be seen on the western slopes, the grey scree being of the Silurian slate that we saw in the Howgills. The transition from limestone to slate can be clearly seen in the walls by the roadside, from the white-grey limestone to the north to the dark-grey slate to the south.
      We are on the continuation of the Dent Fault, as you may have anticipated. Here, the upheavals of 300m years ago turned the limestone beds into a roughly vertical position and today Short Gill provides the best examples in England of caves formed in vertical limestone. About 200m south of Short Gill Bridge, a large resurgence from under a limestone outcrop joins Barkin Beck, which is usually dry at this point. This I assume to be the lost waters of Short Gill, which therefore ought to be regarded as the major source of Barbon Beck, which is at last properly established.
      The beck here is a favourite haunt of the wren, which we tend to think of as a bird of the garden and woodland. They delight in flitting in and out of the crevices and small caves around the rocks at the beck’s edge, as befits its proper name of Troglodytes troglodytes.
       To the east, above the limestone outcrops, not visible from Barbon Beck but prominent from Calf Top, a large area has been set aside for heather, perhaps to provide a home for grouse. On visiting in 2006 I was pleased to see this had been successful in attracting black grouse. Black grouse have become extinct in many counties of England, including, it is believed, Lancashire, which is only a few kilometres away. In 1998 there were only 800 breeding males left in England. The North Pennines Black Grouse Recovery Project reported that the English population of male black grouse increased to about 1200 by 2006, although the bird is still on the red list of endangered species and in fact declined again after the wet summers of 2007 and 2008. The male black grouse or blackcock is much too fine a bird to shoot, with its glossy, purple-black plumage, red eye patches, and colourful mating displays. But since writing the above words I have heard no reports of black grouse in Barbondale: I am increasingly suspecting that I imagined it, although this scarcely seems possible.
crag hill

Crag Hill from Calf Top, with a glimpse of Whernside to the left and Ingleborough to the right

      Running north to south across the heather and moor of Barbon High Fell is a line of disused coal pits, barely detectable on the ground. This again indicates that Barbondale crosses a geological line. Below the popular picnic site at Blindbeck Bridge, Barbon Beck is joined by Aygill (or Blind Beck), which has a mildly curious property. As it crosses limestone, some of its water falls into the Aygill pothole: the water underground runs south to emerge on Leck Fell to join Leck Beck; the water above ground runs north to join Barbon Beck.

wood barbon manor milestone Left: The wood near Barbon Manor
Right: Barbon Manor

      Barbon Beck then runs through woodland, where there is a pleasant footpath passing below Barbon Manor. The path provides no glimpse of the manor but from afar it can be picked out as a white island within the dark plantation. This is one building that cannot be said to blend unobtrusively into its surroundings. Barbon Manor was built in the French Renaissance style for the Kay-Shuttleworth family in 1863. James Kay was a doctor and social reformer known for his treatment of cholera in Manchester in 1832, after which he wrote an influential book, The Moral and Physical Condition of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester. In 1842 Kay married Janet Shuttleworth, daughter of Robert Shuttleworth of Gawthorpe Hall, Burnley, who had long owned land in Barbondale. Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth, as he became, retired here in 1872 after his wife died.
      Since 1910 the curving drive up to Barbon Manor has been the site for the Barbon Sprint Hillclimb, which is part of the British Hillclimb Championship. The aim is to drive a vehicle up the 800m course as fast as possible. While no doubt a challenge for mechanics, it seems to be a sport of great simplicity and (I imagine) great noise.

barbon church Right: St Bartholomew’s Church, Barbon

      Below the manor Barbon Beck passes behind the neat village of Barbon. Barbon is ancient, being listed in the Domesday Book as Berebrune, but hides its heritage. St Bartholomew’s Church was built in 1893, on the site of a 17th century chapel, all sign of which was thereby removed. It was built in the perpendicular style by the Lancaster-based firm of Paley & Austin, which had a national reputation for its ecclesiastical buildings.
      There is a distinctive quality about the buildings of Edward Paley and Hubert Austin, featuring majestic towers, recessed spires and well-lit naves, but, according to The Victorian Society, “The later work of the Austin and Paley era took on a squared-off Gothic look and became stereotyped and conventionalised … There was a loss of zest though still much to admire”. Since Paley died in 1895 this may be thought to apply to the Barbon church. But probably the quotation is referring not to the afore-mentioned gentlemen but to the firm of Paley & Austin, which continued, through their sons, until 1942.
      More recently, new buildings have hidden traces of the Lowgill-Clapham railway line and station, which only closed in 1966. The 17th century Barbon Inn still survives, however, and the sheep still graze, if rather tweely, in the paddock by the memorial cross.
      Below Hodge Bridge, Barbon Beck passes under no less than four functional footbridges that enable golfers to get from one part of Kirkby Lonsdale golf course to the other. These bridges lack the charm and, I am sure, the durability of the narrow packhorse bridge by Beckfoot Farm. It is natural to wonder where the packhorses were heading: did they use the two bridleway fords across the Lune marked on the map? Today the fords seem usable only very rarely.
ch6 map
  The Introduction
  The Previous Chapter (Lower Rawtheydale and Dentdale)
  The Next Chapter (Middle Lunesdale and Leck Fell)

    © John Self, Drakkar Press