Ambleside to Kirkstone


This latter road from Ambleside over Kirkstone ended near Whit¬barrow, where it joined the second eastwest road through the hills. This road ran from Old Penrith to Troutbeck, and then probably con¬tinued via Keswick and the Whinlatter Pass to Papcastle (Cockennouth); here it joined the network of roads along the Solway coast. The road direct to the coast at Maryport is still followed by footpaths and roads for over half its length, whilst the main road from Papcastle northwest to Carlisle is now largely overlain by the A595.

Lake District Honeymoon Hotel

After the departure of the Romans, no new roads were to be built in the Lake District for almost 1500 years and yet, during this long period, it is certain that most of the roads in the area came into being. These were not the engineered and metalled roads of the Romans, but roads which made and maintained themselves by the continual passage of man and beast. For the Dark Ages there is virtually no historical record of roads, but it is clear that as the whole area became more densely settled, tracks would have been created piecemeal from one farm to the next, and then from one village to the next, simply in order to enable the in¬habitants to trade and barter. Thus by the end of the medieval period most of what are now the minor roads of the Lake District had come into being.

‘In the twelfth century the monasteries were established, and their records show some of the roads they used to reach their farflung estates; other evidence from this period includes various charters, grants, and deeds which mention roads as boundaries to plots of land. However, the thirteenth century saw the first real urban growth, based on an upsurge of trade; the bulk of the goods had to be carried from town to town by road, there being few navigable rivers in the area. Apart from Keswick, these towns lay around the edge of the Lake Dis¬trict, the most important being Kendal, Ulverston, Egremont, Cocker¬mouth and Penrith. The one solid piece of historical evidence for the main roads at this time is the Gough Map, often dated at c1360, but probably originally compiled eighty years earlier. It shows a road from Carlisle south to Penrith, Shap, Kendal and Lancaster with various routes off to the east, but no roads entering the central Lake District. Equally, the various monarchs, whose travels are increasingly well recorded, saw no reason to visit this mountainous area.

In fact the roads in the Lake District remained narrow and unim¬proved until the mideighteenth century; the best impression of what they were like can be gained from looking at the condition of tracks in the mountains today. The passes through the hills must have been used from a very early date in order to avoid very long journeys around the hills, and most of them have engineered zigzags to ease the gradient for their use by packhorses.

No one knows when these zigzags were made a likely date is the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but this probably represents the only serious road construction between the departure of the Romans and the mid-eighteenth century turnpikes. Typically, the tracks are only a few feet wide, and often have quite sharp corners; there are many good examples, including the southern side of Styhead Pass (the old route), the Rossett Gill pony track, the Langdale side of Stake Pass (recently repaired) and the northern side of Gatescarth Pass.
These last two passes were described by Thomas West in his Guide to the Lakes first published in 1778; Gatescarth is described as ‘winding, steep and narrow’, whilst Stake Pass has a longer description: ‘Whoever chooses an Alpine jour¬ney, of a very extraordinary nature may return …. over the Stake …. The ride is the wildest that can be imagined …. The road makes many traverses so close, that at every flexure it seems almost to return into it¬self, and such as are advancing in different traverses, appear to go different ways.’