Wordsworth described a twisty road that “mounts . . . in mazes serpentine”. Today, the road over Dunmail Raise is a broad highway of cars battling for position after the restraints of the road up past Thirlmere.
Over a thousand years ago a far fiercer dispute took place. “Here occurred the final ignominious defeat of Dunmail by the Saxon hoards in 950 AD”. King Dunmail was, in fact, not overcome by Saxon wealth, but by the hordes of men who, before the battle each placed a stone on the cairn at the head of the valley. Dunmail’s defeated soldiers buried his body beneath the cairn and cast “his mystical crown” into the waters of Grisedale Tarn. Each year, so legend has it, the crown is retrieved and presented to the spirit of Dunmail calling for him to return and rule Cumbria. “thus far, the muted cry has been . . . ‘Not yet, not yet, the time has not yet come. Wait awhile.’”
Graham Dugdale would have us follow the route from the king’s grave to the buried crown. We might crouch behind the wall that once divided Cumberland from Westmorland and “shelter from the keen westerlies that howl their sad lament across the exposed tops”. Perhaps, like the over-imaginative Miss Attenborough of Ulverston, we can hear “Sandulf, the old Norse shepherd” as he “roams this lonely pasture in search of his lost flock”.
Graham’s quest for the curious and intriguing has led him to compile an account of forty walks throughout Cumbria. History is hidden in every fold of the hills and each hidden valley tells a darker tale. The story is only an excuse to wander far and wide, to discover new places, many away from the regular route marches described by many walking guides.
He is drawn to the peaceful valley of the Lyvennet by one of the most infamous assassinations in English history. The Lord of the Manor of King’s Meaburn was Hugh de Morville who, in 1179, “was implicated in the dastardly slaying of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket”.
The remote Quaker settlement at Woodend and the small austere gravestones attract him to Devoke Water, which is “Satisfyingly remote in fine weather, it quickly becomes a bleak and inhospitable wilderness to trap the unwary when mists descends to cloak the hills in its cloying embrace”.
St John’s in the Vale inspires memories of Sir Walter Scott’s Triermain and the Hospitallers of Jerusalem and the dialect poet John Richardson.
A walk along High Spy and down through Borrowdale leads to Low Haws Woods. “Somewhere in the sylvan enclave is Kidham Dub, although I have never been able to positively identify the site . . . the infamous wooded glade where blood was spilt during an uncontrolled frenzy.” The uncontrolled frenzy was that of Chung Yi Miao who murdered his honeymoon bride because “she was unable to participate in connubial relations”.
Neat sketch maps of the routes and friendly photographs – the author’s wife willingly poses on bridges and rocks and cairns – and a good detailed text that is always enthusiastic and never gets bogged down in the essential details of directions makes for an entertaining and useful guide.
The best thing about Graham’s book is that, in searching out the curious and intriguing and invariably the bloodthirsty and the macabre, he finds walks that are different. He covers the length and breadth of the county, even though, since the walks were originally described in the Lancashire Guardian, he favours the south of Cumbria.
Curious Cumbrian Walks offers a hoard of walks without hordes of walkers.