Eskdale Walk – Stanley Ghyll


Short, medium or long? Your choice on these fine circuits of middle Eskdale, with combinations of about one, two, or three hours. There are several holiday cottages in the lake district which would be an ideal base to enjoy this wonderful walk.

Start at Fisherground, and walk down the lane, straight across the road, through the left hand gate, across the field and over the swing bridge to Milkingstead, now owned by the National Trust as their maintenance outpost for the Western valleys. Turn left over the bridge, and set off up the river, following the lane. The path goes through the gate at the field entrance and across to the gate opposite, and then through the ruins of Red Brow farmstead and so on up the side of the river Esk. Judging from the stone foundations of one or two of the sections, and its position, this is almost certainly the remains of the Roman road down the valley from Hard Knott fort (Mediobogdum) to Ravenglass fort, bath-house and port.

The clear path leads you through Dalegarth woods, a tribute to Colonel Stanley who planted well over a million trees here, and behind the stately round chimneys of Dalegarth Hall, the Stanley family seat. These sturdy, round chimneys are typical of the Lakeland architecture of the yeoman houses, and you will see many examples throughout the Lakes. Presently the path comes to a wide lane which runs up from Dalegarth to the lonely farms on Birker Moor, and here’s your first choice.

Dalegarth waterfalls are well worth the diversion (about half an hour). To see them, go right, up the lane, for about 100 metre then through the gate on the left, marked –helpfully- ‘Waterfalls’ then on the obvious path that wends upwards through the woods to the falls themselves.

You can climb up the right hand side as far as you like before turning back, and the views of the falls just go on getting better, till at the top, if you are brave enough, you can lie on your front and peer over the straight 120 feet drop. (Not for the faint-hearted!)

Retrace your steps down into the woods, and pick up the path up the valley. (Don’t bother going back through the gate). If you gave the falls a miss, then you will have crossed the Birker Moor lane and gone through the gate marked footpath, through the lovely little field to the opposite gate, and through into the lower section of the waterfall woods. The path now carries on up river to the stepping stones across to St. Catherine’s Church, which you’ll pick out as a goal. If they are above water, cross here: otherwise carry on upriver a further 200 metres to cross via the upgraded Ratty ‘girder bridge’, over a lovely pool. Thirty years ago, when Sally was a girl, there were just two girders crossing, and one of her earliest memories is of her foolhardy father hoisting her on his shoulders and carrying her over the nine inch wide girder!

Drop into St. Catherine’s, both for the peace and gentle spirituality of its interior and to view the ornate gravestone commemorating Tommy Dobson, the most famous of the Eskdale Masters of Foxhounds. He has many songs of his own, sadly not as famous as ‘D’ye ken John Peel’ but gems in their own right, and to be heard at every Eskdale Show (last Saturday in September). Standing at the church door, looking down the valley, his stone is ten metres away, slightly left.

Leaving the churchyard, turn left up the lane for 50 metres, then bear left along ‘Parson’s Plod’, the direct route from vicarage to church, and follow it to the metalled lane. Turn right, up the lane to the main road up Eskdale, and your second choice.

If time or energy is at a premium, turn right and walk up the road to Dalegarth terminus, the end of the Ratty. Here’s a café, toilets, children’s playground, and if you wish a train back to Fisherground or Eskdale Green. Tell the guard where you’d like to be dropped off, or it’s a long walk back from Ravenglass!

If you want to finish with a flourish, though, turn left and down the road past the vicarage, to Beckfoot, a large guest house on the left, and a small train halt on the right. Cross the railway just before either of the Beckfeet and go through the gate and then ever upwards on the old track that used to be the peat track up to Eskdale Common. Every farm had its rights to cut peat for fuel (called the right of turbage) and we’ll see lots of evidence further on. You will also catch glimpses of the old water pipe that used to bring water from Blea Tarn down to a tank to serve Beckfoot and the vicarage.

This is a major pull up out of the valley, but the view as you breast the top is well worth the effort. Blea Tarns are all over the Lake District, the name associated with the bleaberries that are also common, but this one is the biggest, and sits almost overhanging the valley below. Use the excuse of its charms to sit awhile and get your breath back, before setting off along its left bank, across the stream issuing, and follow the somewhat indistinct path over to Siney Tarn. This is a very reedy, overgrown area but a magnificent wildlife sanctuary, nesting place for hundreds of gulls. Be sure to keep the tarn on your right making your way down westwards; otherwise you will have to go all the way round to the right of it. You will see plenty of evidence of the peat cutting referred to here, as large boggy areas where all the topsoil, the peat, has been removed. This peat is the accumulation of ten thousand years of fallen woodland, rotted down to a burnable peat.

Whichever track you use, as long as you keep going generally west, you will come to a fence across the fell keeping sheep out of ‘Low Fell End’, an area covered in bracken, scrub and bleaberries where any sheep are vulnerable to attack by blowfly and ticks. Through the gate, and down the obvious track that leads level along at first before dropping down to the valley again. After 50 metres, if you look to your right, you will see a vast depression in the ground. This is where the iron ore quarry fell in late in the 19th Century; by great good fortune on a Sunday when there were no miners inside. There used to be a tramway right down from this quarry to the Ratty, where the full wagons of stone pulled the empty wagons back up and there are still traces to be seen (if the bracken isn’t growing).

Follow the track and as it begins to descend you pass a peat hut on your left. The cut peat was first piled to dry, then carted to these peat huts to be stored for the winter. It was tipped in from the high ramp on the back side, and removed from the low door at the front. Whenever more was needed, a horse and cart could come up and take a load from the hut. They were high on the fell to save carting time in the hard-pressed summer; in winter there was always time for the occasional load.

Follow on down the peat trod, through the gate in the wall, and on a further 50 metres, then turn left on the path that goes through another gate, and through the wood down to Fisherground, crossing the Ratty again.

This walk is from Fisherground but the walk can be accessed on foot from several Lake District cottages in the Eskdale area.