A Visit to Ravenstonedale

Ravenstonedale is a quaint old village on the north side of the Howgill Fells, just off the main road from the M6 at Tebay to Kirkby Stephen and Brough. Until better roads were built in the second half of last century this must have been a very remote place – although at that time it did have access by railway (the station was at neighbouring Newbiggin-on-Lune).


I’ll write more about this area as time goes on. Ravenstonedale is an excellent base for walking in the Howgills. For the moment, though, I’ll just include these three photos from a day or two ago – the main street through the village looking toward the north, and the parish church.


Maybe in a later post, or in an addition to this one, I’ll give and explain my answer to the question of whether Ravenstonedale should be considered as Eden or Lunesdale. It depends on whether we’re talking about the village or its wider parish. If you don’t know the answer to this puzzler check the Ordnance Survey map carefully. Either way I’d say that Ravenstonedale belongs to the Howgills, but Eden or Lune?

Scandal Beck as it arrives at Ravenstonedale

Oh, and by the way, the sky really was blue this past week. It’s changed again today, back to a misty grey. In fact, already, on the picture of Scandal Beck here on the left there are clouds to be seen in the direction of Wild Boar Fell (just visible in the distance). Incidentally, Scandal Beck is in my opinion the key to the puzzle in the previous paragraph. Here it’s arriving as a small stream after several very dry days. Further down the village it receives a lot more water as the accumulation of several other becks joins it. But where does it go next, and where does it end up?

Another clue relates to Newbiggin. Yes, I’ve already referred to it as Newbiggin-on-Lune, but does this make Ravenstonedale part of Lunesdale? You must be the judge – after scrutinising the map!

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A Westmorland Landscape: Grayrigg from Lambrigg

This photograph was taken yesterday, not on a photographic outing but just an opportunistic shot as I spotted how amazingly clear the atmosphere was in the early afternoon, stopped the car and pulled out my camera. In fact I was so hurried and careless about the shot that I didn’t notice that my camera was set to f/5 aperture; as a result the speed was 1/4,000 second – definitely not the best settings for a landscape shot but nevertheless I think the result gives a fair idea of the area. (The zoom was at 165mm because I wanted Grayrigg village to occupy a reasonable proportion of the picture).

Westmorland - Grayrigg from Lambrigg

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Brougham Castle by the Rivers Eamont and Lowther

Brougham Castle

Yes, Brougham was in Westmorland. Only just! The castle stands on the southern bank of the River Eamont near Penrith. The northern bank and the town of Penrith were in Cumberland. From where it leaves Ullswater to its junction with the Eden the river formed the boundary between the two counties.

Brougham Castle was in the seventeenth century owned by the Clifford family and it was here that the great northern castle restorer, Lady Anne Clifford, died in 1676. In addition to Brougham, during the later years of her life she substantially rebuilt and renovated her Westmorland castles of Pendragon, Brough and Appleby.

River Eamont from Brougham Castle

As you can see, this second photo was taken from high up in the keep. And no, I was not trespassing when I took it. English Heritage, who care for Brougham Castle, do allow visitors to climb the narrow twisting stairway up to the top of the keep. I wouldn’t advise it for anyone suffering from anything other than the very mildest of vertigo but if you can get there the views in all directions are well worth the climb. The river seen flowing into the Eamont below the castle is the Lowther.

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River Lune at Lincoln’s Inn Bridge near Sedbergh

The stretch of the River Lune near Sedbergh, although now wholly in Cumbria, used to be the boundary between Westmorland and Yorkshire.

Lincoln’s Inn Bridge is on the A684 between Sedbergh and Kendal. It still has a foot in each of two civil parishes, Lambrigg (ex Westmorland) to the west and Sedbergh (ex Yorkshire) to the east – left and right respectively on the photo below.

Lincoln's Inn Bridge over the River Lune near Sedbergh

Lincoln’s Inn Bridge, named after a nearby Inn (no longer an inn) is thought to date from the 17th century although there was probably a predecessor. By today’s standards it is very narrow. Traffic lights allow vehicles in only one direction at a time.

The River Lune - looking upstream at Lincoln's Inn Bridge near Sedbergh

The above photo shows the River Lune looking upstream from Lincoln’s Inn Bridge. Sorry about the cable; I’ll try to avoid it next time I go there. Further upstream is a marvellous old (disused) railway viaduct and the Crook of Lune Bridge. Downstream the river flows on past Casterton and Kirkby Lonsdale to Lancaster and the sea.

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Appleby in Westmorland

Appleby, in the heart of the Eden Valley, was traditionally the county town of Westmorland although ever since a severe fourteenth century attack by the Scots when many of its population were slaughtered it has not been the largest town. Kendal was the administrative centre, but Appleby still kept the ceremonially dignity. When the county was absorbed into Cumbria in 1974 the people appealed to have the name changed so as to retain its Westmorland identity – hence, although Appleby in day-to-day conversation, “Appleby in Westmorland” is its full title.

Centre of Appleby in Westmorland

Above is the centre of Appleby, at the foot of Boroughgate with the Parish church in the background. Turn right there onto Bridge street, and go over the bridge to find The Sands. Here a good number of ducks and gulls are enjoying some winter sunshine on the bank of the River Eden. (No, there’s not much sand to be found but when the water is low there is often a good pebbly “beach”).

River Eden at Appleby

For a week in early June the town is taken over by the gypsy fair. This is the ancient Appleby gypsy horse fair. As in the picture here there are horses everywhere (except that theoretically at least they’re not allowed on Boroughgate). Buying and selling of horses goes on for days and Fair Hill above the town is a popular spot with the many thousands (actually tens of thousands) of visitors who enjoy the sights of traditional gypsy caravans.

Horses at Appleby gypsy fair

The crowds also enjoy watching the horses being washed and swum in the river, and the young gypsy lads enjoy showing off their prowess on their mounts, riding bareback.

Horses in the River Eden Appleby

In the photo above the river level is quite low. The shingle can be seen at the side. After heavy rain on the fells the river can rise by several feet, and on occasions the horse washing and swimming is stopped by the police and RSPCA. This next photo, from May 2013, shows a much higher water level. There certainly could have been no horse swimming on that day (fortunately it wasn’t fair week). The bridge here is “Appleby New Bridge”, although “New” could be somewhat misleading; it’s been there since the nineteenth century.

Appleby New Bridge with the River Eden high

From the hill above the town we can look down onto the river to get a different view, showing another of Appleby’s three bridges over the Eden.

Looking down on the River Eden at Appleby

Then if we go upstream a little to Bongate Mill we find the third bridge (actually the first if we count in the direction of the river’s flow) with a glimpse of the castle on its hill above the river. Like nearby Brough Castle this was one of Lady Anne Clifford’s residences in the 17th century. (She’s buried in the parish church here). However unlike Brough, which is a ruin in the care of English Heritage, Appleby Castle is still a private home and not currently [mid-2013] open to the public. Hopefully this will change shortly; it used to be popular with visitors to the town and the owner is working towards once again being able to welcome the public.

Glimpse of Appleby Castle at Bongate

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Brough Castle in Westmorland’s Medieval North

Brough Castle was built and rebuilt in the medieval period as a strategic fortress at the western end of the Stainmore Pass over the Pennines. Bowes Castle, and the nearby mighty Barnard Castle, were on the eastern side. This was not the first time, though, that this low hill at Brough had been used as for military purposes. A thousand years earlier Roman legions had their fort on the same site. English Heritage who now care for the castle’s remains explain the history well on a series of display boards. Locally it is important as one of four Westmorland castles owned in the seventeenth century by Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, and restored by her after the Civil War.

Brough Castle Westmorland

The first photograph above is taken from a field close to the A66 trunk road, from which Brough Castle is seen on the left hand side by many thousands of motorists driving over the Pennines in the direction of Appleby, Penrith and the Lakes. From this angle the ruined domestic block to the left seems so much smaller than the keep on the right, but when viewed from the keep is seen to be more extensive than appeared at first sight from a distance.

Brough Castle Domestic Buildings

For many people, including most of my grandchildren and my wife, there’s an even more important building alongside the castle – the Brough Castle Ice Cream Parlour & Tea Room! And yes, the ice cream is very good.

Brough Castle Cumbria Ice Cream Parlour

And so also are the views. Here we look to the north toward the North Pennines AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

Looking out to the North Pennines from Brough Castle

And turning to the south we see Wild Boar Fell in the hazy distance, towering over the valley of Mallerstang, where the infant River Eden flows by another of Lady Anne’s rebuilding projects, Pendragon Castle. The Eden near Brough, though, has now become more than a minor stream. It has already received Scandal Beck and the River Belah and will shortly be taking in the waters of the two streams seen merging at the foot of the photo above (Swindale and Augill Becks). This is the Eden Valley but we don’t actually see the river from the castle; it is down in the valley behind the mown field (below).

Wild Board Fell seen from Brough Castle

The castle may be a ruin, but it’s an interesting one. Entry is free (except for the ice cream!). It has an interesting history. As with other English Heritage properties Brough Castle history is well displayed.

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Haweswater – Westmorland’s Manchester Reservoir

To give this item the title that I have is maybe a little ugly sounding, but it’s done deliberately to highlight the sad fact that Haweswater is not what it was. In some respects it is more than before, at four to five miles in length rather than two and a half; and almost a hundred feet deeper. But this is not the lake that prior to what Wainwright called “The Rape of Mardale” was renowned (at least among those in the know) as a place of remote but ravishing beauty.

Having said all that Haweswater still has its splendour, as is shown by the autumnal photograph above, but see how the Mardale valley used to be, albeit in black and white. The old Dun Bull Inn is at the left of the picture, the church and houses on the right.

Mardale Before The Haweswater Flood

Mardale Green and Mardale Head – Photo copied from “A Backwater in Lakeland”, Isaac Hinchcliffe, 1927
Apologies if I’m wrong but I’m pretty certain this photo by Abrahams, Keswick, is out of copyright.

Maybe I’m just being sentimental, but an expanded reservoir (even to supply Manchester where I had offices for fifteen years from 1976-91 and no doubt drank the Haweswater water) doesn’t do the same for me. I do have a personal reason for this. Back in the 1860s my great-great-uncle, elder brother of my mother’s paternal grandfather, lived in the valley with his young family and farmed Flake How, close by the vicarage before later moving over the hill to a larger farm in Swindale. Anyway, sentimentality or not, I would greatly prefer to see a smaller lake. Here is one view painted by Alfred Heaton Cooper.

Haweswater, by A. Heaton Cooper

The viewpoint for this is close to the foot of the lake and the delta which almost cut it in half is clearly seen on the right.

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Grasmere – Lake of Poets

Grasmere more than any other of Westmorland’s Lake District waters is associated with the Romantic poets who, in the early-19th century, shaped society’s view of Lakeland so profoundly that probably the majority of visitors have seen this region through their mental lenses right up to the present day. They brought a sentimental romanticism to this part of Westmorland, and to the wider Lake District, in sharp contrast to what had previously been the typical traveller’s view of “terrible” mountains and the native population’s focus on the practicalities of survival. Grasmere was at the heart of this.

Glimpse of Grasmere - A Heaton Cooper - Westmorland LakesA Glimpse of Grasmere – A. Heaton Cooper

Wordsworth wrote much of his best poetry while living at Dove Cottage on the eastern side of the lake, and is buried in the churchyard at Grasmere village. His poetry, the works of Coleridge, De Quincey and others, not forgetting Dorothy Wordsworth, continue to mould minds and shape attitudes to the Lakes even today.

Many artists have congregated here over the years, not least among which was Alfred Heaton Cooper whose descendents, artists themselves in the family tradition, still run Grasmere’s Heaton Cooper Studio. This view looks out from Red Bank over the lake and the village toward Dunmail Raise, flanked by Helm Crag and Seat Sandal leading on toward Helvellyn.

The following photograph of my own, taken in October 2012, shows the view from close to the same location, a little further down the Langdale road toward Grasmere village and therefore missing the island, a little over a century later.

Grasmere – Photo by David Murray, 2012

Grasmere is fed by the River Rothay which flows through it and out at the southern end of the lake taking its waters on to Rydal and eventually to Windermere.

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Orton Common and the Upper Lune Valley

This first photograph, taken from the Orton-Appleby road, close to the cattle grid at the top of the climb, looks southwards over Orton (in the trees) and Orton Common to Tebay and the Lune Gorge in the distance. To the far left is the start of the Howgills, leading on to the Pennines. In the centre and right are the Birkbeck and Shap Fells. Behind the camera and to the left (east) is the start of limestone country, Orton Scar and Great Asby Scar.

Orton Common, Tebay and the Shap Fells - WestmorlandOrton Common, Tebay and the Shap Fells
Photo, David Murray, June 2013

Not only is this close to the geographical centre of Westmorland but it lies between the different geological areas that make up this varied county. The next two shots were taken two or three weeks earlier from roughly the same spot. The first looks over Orton and the Lune valley to the Howgills beyond.

Orton Common, the Lune Valley and the Howgills - WestmorlandLooking Over Orton and the Lune Valley to the Howgills Beyond
Photo, David Murray, May 2013

For the final photo, taken within a minute the previous one, we swing further round and look up the Upper Lune valley in the direction of Ravenstonedale, with the limestone outcrops of Orton Scar clearly visible on the left of the picture.

Orton Scar and the Upper Lune Valley - WestmorlandOrton Scar and the Upper Lune Valley
Photo, David Murray, May 2013

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Longsleddale – Long Beautiful Westmorland Valley

Longsleddale is, to my mind, the most beautiful valley in Westmorland if you discount those with the added advantage of lakes. I’m biased, of course, for it was to this valley that one of my eight 2xgreat-grandfathers came as a young man from Sedbergh. He married a local girl and started a family that continues in the valley to this day. During the 1970s I visited often, but for a long time until very recent years have not had the same opportunities. These photographs were taken on a return trip shortly after moving back north in 2011.

Approaching Longsleddale valley from the A6 - Westmorland valleys
Entrance to the Valley from the A6 North of Kendal

Longsleddale from the churchyard - Westmorland valleys
Looking up the valley from the churchyard

Looking towards Sadgill - Longsleddale - Westmorland valleys
Beyond the church, and looking up toward Sadgill

The head of Longsleddale - Westmorland valleys
Beyond Sadgill; the head of the valley and the infant River Sprint

Sadgill packhorse bridge Longsleddale - Westmorland valleys
Looking back to the old packhorse bridge at Sadgill

Someday I must take the time for another photographic expedition. My 1970s black and white photographs of many of the farms seemed good at the time but don’t impress me now. And I’d like to get shots of the abandoned slate quarries, apart from farming Longsleddale’s only industry. Or is that true? Today there’s the tourist industry; not here the hoards of day trippers but walkers heading for the paths over to Mardale, Kentmere and High Street.

More on Longsleddale

The Longsleddale Community website
Article on my Around-England site (including different photos from the same visit)

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