Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
The Old Ways of Cumbria: History & Landscape by Beth and Steve Pipe. Amberley. £14.99
At Bowness on Solway there’s a sign marking the end of Hadrian’s Wall. One arm indicates that Seattle is a mere 6246 miles away. Beth and Steve Pipe aren’t that ambitious. They confine themselves to walking ten of the old ways in Cumbria.
One route follows Hadrian’s Wall from Carlisle to Bowness. It was an ancient Roman route on the very edge of the Roman Empire. For Beth, “The Solway coast is a magical place full of fascinating history and folklore.”
She feels that, “Rather like an episode of Grand Designs the original plan for the wall was altered . . . Kevin McCloud would, no doubt, have been ‘deeply worried’ about how this would affect their budget.”
Another significant budget was the £90,000 spent on the construction of the canal between 1819 to 1823. Today’s equivalent would be £7.5 million and it was money that was largely wasted, since, within a comparatively short time, the ships were diverted to Silloth and the canal bed was filled in so that it could carry a railway track.
Along their route are three fine churches, St Mary’s at Beaumont, St Michael’s at Burgh and another St Michael’s at Bowness. The bells of the church at Bowness were stolen by Scottish raiders in 1626, and the people of Bowness stole bells from Scotland in retaliation. The parishioners of Bowness still refuse every request from vicars in Annan to return their bells.
Beth and Steve – Steve takes the pleasantly atmospheric photographs – follow a further Roman road when they take the route from Penrith to Ambleside and then over the Hardknott Pass to Ravenglass.
The Cistercian Way from Grange Over Sands to Furness Abbey offers a glimpse into medieval monastic life. Their route through Patterdale and Martindale begins at St Patrick’s Well.
One of their most attractive routes follows the 6.6 miles beginning at Kentmere Church and going over Sadgill to Longsleddale and back.
A further route follows the round of the three passes, Garburn, Nan Bield and Gatescarth taking the walker all the way from Troutbeck to Sadgill via the head of Haweswater. Wainwright, who inspired the Pipes with his book on The Old Roads of Eastern Lakeland, thought it was “too arduous to be done ‘there and back’ by walkers of only average ability.”
Their two final routes end in Shap. One takes the old quarrying roads in Longsleddale and Wet Sleddale and the other follows the old corpse road from Haweswater to Shap.
Cumbria is full of walks and walkers. This is not the usual walking book full of meticulous directions. It is a far more attractive offering. The routes cross a variety of inspiring scenery, but they also have that additional atmosphere that comes from knowing something of their history.