Legend tells us that in the fourteenth century the good people of Kirkby Lonsdale wanted to build a bridge across the River Lune. They didn’t have the means to build it, so the Devil appeared to a local woman and promised to build the bridge for them. In return, the Devil wanted possession of the first soul to cross the bridge.
The town folk agree to the Devil’s terms and overnight the Devil built the bridge. The following morning the woman came to the bridge and, outwitting the Devil, threw bread onto it for her dog to chase. The dog crosses the bridge and the Devil has to accept its soul instead of a human soul.
This legend isn’t unique, there are many similar folk tales across Europe. When I was at school in Kirkby Lonsdale an alternative version of the tale told of how a local farmer drove a herd of sheep over the bridge. In this predominately sheep farming community, this version seems more appropriate, and fits with the tradition of the canny, or even cunning, farmer.
To reach Kirkby Lonsdale I walked over Holme Park Fell and Hutton Roof Crags, two beautiful areas of protected landscape. The weather wasn’t great, with regular showers, but the forecast was for sun and by the time I reached Kirkby Lonsdale it had broken through the clouds.
Kirkby Lonsdale is an historic market town with Roman origins. Mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086, it gained market town status by Royal Charter in 1227. By then several cross-country packhorse routes converged here as a strategic crossing point on the River Lune. The current St. Mary’s Church dates from Norman times, but is built on an earlier church. Queen Elizabeth School, founded during the reign of Elizabeth I, dates from 1588.
A walk through St. Mary’s churchyard brings you to an impressive viewpoint over the Lune Valley known as Ruskin’s View, after the famous Victorian art critic. John Ruskin is credited with standing in this spot and proclaiming it the “finest view in England, and therefore the world”. No patriotic chauvinism there then.
From Kirkby Lonsdale its possible to walk down the Lune Valley, all the way to the coast at Lancaster. I set off along this route, at some point crossing from Cumbria into Lancashire, until I reached the lovely village of Arkholme-in-Cawood. From here it is possible to take footpaths back to Burton-in-Kendal.
Of course the English countryside isn’t without its dangers. Those chocolate box pictures can give a false image of the perils that await the unwary. At this time of year there are a lot of young cows in the fields. Generally this is fine, but on occasions can be hazardous to life.
As I crossed a field with young bullocks I saw the herd mentality at work: skittish and excited, they charged towards me. Like this bullocks can easily trample a person to death, so I was delighted to be chased by the group of idiot cattle below – the one on the left definitely has a satanic look in its eyes.
I was born the county of Westmorland. A few years after my birth the Government abolished Westmorland and combined it with the county of Cumberland (famous for its curly sausages), to create Cumbria. However, you can still see some of the old Westmorland road signs dotted around.
I always felt irritated that Westmorland had been abolished. Yet, the name ‘Cumbria’ dates back to more ancient times in the history of the British Isles. It comes from pre-Roman Celtic tribes that inhabited this part of the Isles and who spoke Cumbric, a language closely related to Old Welsh. Cumbria is an corruption of the Welsh word, Cymru. This whole area was the heartland of the old Celtic kingdom of Rheged prior to the Roman invasion.
Seems like a good replacement after all….this history is covered brilliantly in Norman Davies’ excellent The Isles: A History.