The part of Cumbria south of Kendal may not be as famous as its illustrious neighbour to the north, the Lake District National Park, but it still offers beautiful countryside and some lovely walks. The only problem is the weather: it rains a lot…I mean a lot. It doesn’t really matter what time of year, you should always expect rain.
There have been a couple of good (i.e. only light rain) days since I’ve been here, and luckily I’ve been able to go walking. In an ironic twist, I even got sunburnt on my walk up Farleton Knott.
What I find most interesting in this predominately rural landscape, is the evidence of historical industries which used to thrive here. One sign of this is the Lancaster Canal - itself cutting edge technology when it was constructed in 1819 - which slices through this area between Lancaster and Kendal. Lancaster was an important port linking this isolated region to the world and the canal was a nineteenth century superhighway.
While today this peaceful landscape gives few hints of its history, the route of the canal was largely dictated by the need to connect centres of industry, including the important gunpowder industry. Strolling the towpath is to take a walk through history – a history that linked this region to countries which once formed part of the British Empire.
Starting on the canal close to the village of Holme, you soon arrive at Holme Mills which, in the nineteenth century, was home to a jute mill. Jute, an important natural fibre, was brought from India via the port at Lancaster and manufactured into hessian sacking. In a typical colonial trade-triangle, the sacking was then shipped back to the colonies to be sold.
At this time of year the canal is overgrown with plants and the hedgerows are full of beautiful wild flowers, adding a splash of colour to my walk.
Leaving the canal behind, I headed up Farleton Knott. The weather had cleared up and the climb provided tremendous views over the surrounding countryside. The higher you climb the more the landscape changes, the pasture land beneath the Knott gives way to a more rugged landscape and, finally, to a magnificent limestone pavement. The top of Farleton Knott is an exposed place with a harsh beauty, but it is somewhere that draws me back time-and-again.
The Knott is classed as ‘open country’ and people can wander wherever they choose, whether there is a public footpath or not. This is a new concept in England, the legislation creating this type of access only arrived in 2001. Regardless, this land is still farmed, as it has been for centuries, as sheep farms, with the hardy Herdwick being the sheep of choice.
Problems between farmers and general public are fairly rare, but with a significant increase in population over the last twenty years, and far more people using the land for leisure, they are not unheard of – as the handmade signs seem to indicate.
Coming off the fells I descended towards the village of Burton-in-Kendal. I’d heard that, amidst the wholesale destruction of the country pub in rural Britain, there was a pub, The King’s Arms, in the village that had bucked the trend. Not only that, a rumour was abroad indicating that they served traditional regional ales. After all that walking I figured I’d earned a pint, possibly two.
En route to the pub I also passed by the village church. Dedicated to St. James, the church dates from the seventeenth century and is a pleasant place to stroll around for a few minutes. Typically it wasn’t open – open churches get all their valuables stolen these days.