This other Eden, demi-paradise,I’d been trying for weeks to persuade a friend that he needs to take more exercise, and yesterday I was finally able to get him out for a decent walk. You might think that with the Lake District only a few miles to the west I’d have chosen a walk in the mountains, but I decided that a more gentle introduction was appropriate, opting instead for a walk linking historic sites on the east bank of the River Eden.
This fortress, built by Nature for herself
Against infection, and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
William Shakespeare, Richard II, Act II, Scene 1.
On the way to our starting point in the village of Little Salkeld, we were reminded of the awesome power that the river is capable of wielding. Bridges along this stretch of the river are several miles apart, and one of the most important carries the A686 Penrith–Newcastle road across the river at the village of Langwathby. The current bridge is a steel-framed Bailey bridge; it was erected in 1968 as a ‘temporary’ replacement for the original sandstone bridge, which is recorded in official documents from 1686 but which had been swept away a few months previously, in the early hours of Sunday, 25th March. A build-up of flood debris on the upstream side of the bridge is likely to have produced the pressure that would have been needed to bring the bridge down. As a postscript, I’ve listened to quite a few locals over the years who claim to have been ‘the last person across’.
From Little Salkeld, we followed a narrow lane that runs alongside the Midland Railway’s main line from Leeds to Carlisle until we reached the disused sidings of the Long Meg gypsum/anhydrite mine (gypsum is a soft mineral that consists of calcium sulphate and water of crystallization; anhydrite, a hard mineral, is also a form of calcium sulphate, but without the water). Mining operations commenced in 1885, and the mine was finally closed in 1976, but not before five million tons of material had been extracted.
Soon after passing the mine, the railway swings across the river and out of sight, and for the next few miles there is nothing but the tranquillity of water and trees, the buzzing of flies the only sound. However, there is one notable landmark:
After a further two miles or so (the previous three photographs were taken along this section), the riverside path reaches a minor road, which we followed for a short distance until we came to a path that turned off through the woods. This one led eventually to the Church of St Michael and All Angels at Addingham:
The final landmark on our circular route is Long Meg and her Daughters, which is the largest Bronze Age stone circle in the north of England: