The Cumbria Way – Day 8

July 18, 1985: Overwater Hall to Bustabeck

Overwater Hall

Overwater Hall

The misery that a long day of rain can bring to a walk had now been well demonstrated. I was therefore quite anxious about the weather when I rose on the morning of Thursday, July 18, our next-to-last day on the Cumbria Way. I was heartened to see a few patches of blue sky when I peeked out at some unearthly early hour – there was some light in the sky as early as 3:30 at this time of year. Our clothes were pretty well dried and to get the last of the dampness out of my green cords I wore these as soon as I got up. The newspaper stuffed in our boots had done a god job of absorbing moisture but my left toe, at the joint, was now so sore that it was a struggle to get the foot into the boot.

I took Bertie for his morning walk. At Pond Cottage I could tell that the cascade had lost its emphasis after several hours of dry skies. Breakfast was served at 8:30, our last chance to be waited on by a phalanx of uniformed youngsters. Mrs. Kent sent one of them to the boiler room to get our wet suits while another went to the kitchen with a last minute order for lunches. We were ready to leave by 9:40. Overwater Hall had been the great surprise of our journey and we were sorry to move on. Though her spirits were very much restored Dorothy could now spend a day worrying about the bed and breakfast accommodation at the farm we were headed for near Sebergham. Would they really make her sleep in the hayloft? Did they actually have indoor plumbing?

The sun was hardly radiant but it did make an occasional appearance. Things were very much brighter today – visibility was excellent and there seemed to be no threat of rain. A dog appeared at the cottage on the corner of the Overwater Hall access road and its owner emerged to wish us good morning. We turned once again along the road that paralleled the north shore of the lake. Yesterday we hadn’t encountered a single automobile on this stretch but today several raced by. At the Stonedale Junction we turned north, climbing a steep hill to Lowthwaite Farm – where a sheepdog with red flecks on its paws came out to see us off. Chapelhouse Reservoir was now in sight below us.

At the bottom of the hill we arrived at a beck and left tarmac in favor of the Longlands Farm track. This was inaugurated with a gate advising us to keep our dog on lead, a stricture we always obey. There were indeed many sheep dotting the grassy foothills over which this track ran. There were excellent views behind us now, Skiddaw on the left, Overwater on the right. The gradients were quite gentle and, although the farmland scenery was not as grand as that seen on previous days, I found it quite pleasant.

The track curved around a hill as we changed our line of march from north to east, winding down to Charleton Gill. Tosh and Dorothy went upstream to find a crossing but I leapt from one bank to the next slightly downstream. We then followed farm tracks in an easterly direction, past Holborn Farm, and turned right at a junction near Greenheads. Farmers and their dogs were moving sheep and cows about as we walked these tarmac stretches and we inadvertently herded a small spooked flock up the road in front of us. Harold had just about succeeded in rounding them up when they were scattered by a hustling lorry. They ran ahead to the next access road and we were able to pass them on our way to Branthwaite. There were some lovely gardens amid decaying farm buildings and a little country schoolhouse here. We escaped the road only at Fell Side, where we were able to rejoin the moorland on a high track paved with concrete blocks. This petered out at a farm and we had a good deal of difficulty trying to figure out how to proceed. Evidence of an ancient track in the grass had been choked out by thistles. While we circling about trying to decide how to continue Tosh broke into the lunch and two dogs from the nearby farm came up to investigate us. One was an adorable Labrador puppy with a silky black coat.

I decided to proceed overland to the beck that we could now see descending through Potts Gill Farm. We weren’t quite certain which side to follow as we made our descent along this stream, but when we reached the farm a gentleman in his garden directed us to the opposite side. Two gates put us out on his access road. From here we continued on a farm track to Nether Row – where the other branch of the Cumbria Way joins up after its descent from High Pike. We were now back on tarmac as we headed downhill toward Caldbeck in the valley below. After we crossed the Hesket Newmarket Lane I began to look for an off-the-road path but by the time I figured out where to re-enter the field on our right the others were far down the hill. Tosh was impatient for a loo and I had promised a pub in Caldbeck so there was no calling her back. We walked through Upton, which seemed to specialize in kitsch-filled sitting rooms (ceramic cats climbing ornamental brandy snifters). At 1:00 we pulled up outside the John Peel Inn.

Our party in Caldbeck

Our party in Caldbeck

We sat at an outside table. There was a little sun to be enjoyed and no doubt here was another country pub that didn’t allow dogs. You could hear John Peel, Britain’s most famous huntsman, spinning in his grave in the nearby churchyard – not so much because of this but because the pub named in his honor had turned itself into a Mexican restaurant! We ignored this side of the menu (especially the chili quiche soufflé) in favor of more simple fare, though I did have an open-faced Danish prawn sandwich and some of Harold’s chips. We each downed a pint of lager and had a good relaxing time. Food was slow in coming – the kitchen kept running out of ingredients and one of the bar girls was dispatched to the village store to make good the shortage. She would burst through the doors, sprint like a madwoman around the corner, and return a moment later clutching three onions. The second time she did this I put my watch on her. “Two minutes, five seconds,” I reported as she reached home base. Obviously we were witnessing the last stages of a dying enterprise. By 1987 The John Peel Inn had resumed its former identity as the village pub and its old name, The Oddfellows Arms.

While the ladies had a peek into the store I stayed on the corner with Bertie, who was eager to make the acquaintance of a tough village cat. We then followed a lane by the church, crossed Parkend Beck, and turned right past the sewage farm. Here was entered Parsons Park Wood. There was a mucky track near the beck and then a fork to the left that began a climb away from the water along a greasy forestry track. This leveled off after a while but it was hard going – churned up, wet in patches, covered in fallen pine boughs. Even Bertie had trouble extricating his legs from the scratchy needles. We reached the end with relief and crossed a wire fence into an open field with no visible path. Trevelyan advises walkers to continue on the same contour but there was an impediment. A large herd of frisky steers was eager to check us out. I had noticed that cows are quite sociable beasts; in particular they seemed delighted by little Bertie who, of course, is always on lead when they are loose. Dorothy, however, was quite alarmed by these attentions and scrambled up a bank to escape. “Don’t worry,” farm girl Tosh assured her, “They won’t stampede.” “Oh yeah,” squealed my wife, “I’ve seen Red River!

Harold did his best to turn back the herd as we walked east. Directions were not easy to follow. Trevelyan notes that halfway along there is a woodland below but such a direction (“half”) implies that one is already familiar with the whole. Then we were asked to enter a screen of deciduous trees but one of the virtues of a screen is that it not only disguises the conifer plantation behind it but also its own role as a screen. As I wandered around in a grassy field punctuated by thistles (much disapproval from Tosh) the rest of the party kept waiting to plunge into every deciduous bower in sight. I held out to the end of the field and sure enough there was a stile in a stone wall. Once we were inside the forest other guesswork was required. There seemed to be a number of possible exits, but Trevelyan was only able to tell us to look out for one on the right after half a mile. Distance was hard to gauge as the ruts, puddles, mud, and woodland detritus of this section were worse than in Parsons Park Wood.

Harold was beginning an uphill section (which Trevelyan warns against) when I spotted what I thought was the right turnoff. Harold had to be called back and I lead a desperate, hopeful scramble down a submerged track – narrow, dark, damp, vegetation-clogged. We had to clamber up the side of the bank to escape a morass, hanging on to tree branches and sliding about in the mud. I used my cane to get others though this patch, though later Harold, trying to right himself, pulled a leg muscle. The sunken lane began a right-hand curve, which I found encouraging, and I reached the promised junction of two overgrown paths. The left one had no stile, as advertised, but it did lead us up to the banks of the Caldew. Here there was a path though a jungle of bushes and wildflowers. Tosh and I pushed forward, Bertie satisfied for once to take second place in the file, with Dorothy and Harold bringing up the rear. Much of the route had to be accomplished with arms in the “I surrender” position. “I’d feel better about this,” a tired Harold noted, “if I thought I was really helping to win the war in the Pacific.” After an interminable battle we reached a fence and climbed over it into the calm of a grassy field, where we had a rest and some liquid. It had been quite warm in the jungle.

Dorothy helps to win the war in the Pacific.

Dorothy helps to win the war in the Pacific.

Our route now lead us away from the river, first along the edge of a field, then on a track that emerged at the Sebergham Bridge. We were briefly dusted by a fine drizzle on this stretch, but it was not necessary to don rain gear. We crossed the bridge and found a path that climbed steeply along a hedge. At the top the path continued but I suggested we try an unmarked gate, which, sure enough, lead us along a lane straight to our next landmark, the spire of Churchtown’s chapel. Here a muddy lane continued with the Cumbria Way to the north – but it was time to find our evening’s accommodation. “Don’t tell Dorothy we have to start on mud tomorrow,” I asked Tosh – but she did anyway.

Some girl guides were completing an exercise as we neared the church. Their leader was eradicating an arrow made of pebbles. I asked if they knew of a footpath to our farmstead but they were nonplussed. A builder’s mate at the bottom of the road was not much better – though he did have a look at our map in order to advise us how to proceed through the nearby fields. We tried the direct route, marked on the map, but nothing worked: there was no path and fences blocked our progress – England had lost another of its endangered public rights of way. We retreated to Churchtown and sat somewhat disconsolately on the verge while Harold went to phone our landlady for directions. The villager, whose phone he asked to borrow, knew our hostess and offered us instructions on how to reach her farm herself. Unfortunately this all had to be done on tarmac, and once again I had to revise my estimate of the day’s total – from twelve to thirteen miles.

We took the Stockwell Hall Road and turned left at the end, then trekked north and at last found the access road to our farm. Bertie had to be helped over the first cattle grid but he found a way of scrambling over the second. Part of the farmhouse facing us was very old, but all had been modernized efficiently. The primitive surroundings that Dorothy had feared turned out, in Bustabeck, to be a farmstead of considerable charm and pristine cleanliness. However there was one sour note sounded as we were diving into the front door to escape a sudden shower. Our landlady cocked a cautionary eye at our Bertie and said, “Usually I like the dogs to stay in the car – but seeing as you have no car, I guess it’ll be all right.”

Although we had arrived shortly after 6:00 and dinner was waiting, Dorothy and I had to turn our immediate attention to the problem of protecting our counterpane from the slightest hint of dog dirt. This goal required us to put the dog into the shower for a quick rinse with my shampoo. Then we dried him off, left him his food, and rushed down to table. We were served meat pie and veg, filling but unexciting. Tosh waxed rhapsodic over the boiled potatoes – but Dorothy cut her short with a withering glance. The ice cream and fruit jelly dessert was very nice.

After our meal we each took a shower as well. Fortunately our room was next to the bathroom-toilet, which gave us first crack. But a family of Finns, with two small children, arrived to put a further strain on the conveniences. Limping about on by gimpy left foot I took Bertie on his evening stroll. There were lots of animals about, geese in the garden, kittens on the front porch, an old sheep dog, and, down the access lane, cows. These dutifully followed Bertie’s progress while an electric wire kept them at some distance. Nevertheless their lumbering attentions quite put him off the business at hand and it was some time before we were able to return to the house. We had been invited to use the TV lounge but the prospect of sharing this with the Finns and the forbidding “No Smoking” signs (though none of us smoked) seemed daunting. Instead we shared some clandestine whiskey with the Lees in our room and retired early.

To continue with the next stage of this walk you need:

Day 9: Bustabeck to Carlisle