Monday, 11 July 2011

another eden

This other Eden, demi-paradise,
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.
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.

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:

Lacy’s Caves are a series of five chambers carved into a soft sandstone cliff that overlooks the river. I used to think that they were the work of mediaeval hermits, but the interconnectedness of the chambers makes that explanation implausible. They are in fact the work of Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Lacy of Salkeld Hall, who commissioned their excavation in the eighteenth century. The reason for their creation is unknown, although they are known to have been used by Lacy for the entertainment of guests: the area was originally set out as an ornamental garden.

“The tranquillity of water and trees”.

A view north (downstream) along the river.

Looking upstream from almost the same point.

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:

This church is located about a mile south of the village of Glassonby. Addingham was originally an Anglo-Saxon settlement that adjoined its Viking neighbour, but the river dramatically altered its course in the fourteenth century, washing away the village in the process. The church was rebuilt, but not the village.

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:

Long Meg, which stands outside the circle, is the tallest stone in this photograph. All the other stones, many of which are no longer upright, are glacial erratics, but Long Meg is sandstone and probably predates the circle: it has several examples of megalithic art carved into its surface. Not surprisingly, there are many local legends associated with the circle. The best known is that it is a coven of witches that was turned to stone by a Scottish wizard. Another is that it is impossible to count the stones twice and come up with the same total each time (hint: there are fifty-one, although there may have been more at one time).


  1. Wow. I hope the locals don't take for granted having such amazing history in their bark yards!

  2. I wonder if the circle is haunted. I can see it on a wild and windy night, with a huge full moon appearing and vanishing through the torn curtain of storm clouds. Eeeeeek! What was that?

  3. I don’t know about the stone circle being haunted Melody, but I imagine that the atmosphere would be quite different in the kind of conditions you suggest compared with those on a sunny day.

  4. Splendid photos, Dennis. It's good to point out to people that there's more to Cumbria than just the Lake District!


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