The Old Ways of Cumbria by Beth & Steve Pipe
A book for nosey hikers
Surely every hiker, at some point or another, has pondered about the path they’re treading. Who walked here before? Why is the path here? What’s that building for? It can’t just be me who is a fully paid up member of the nosey hikers club. Over the years we’ve walked thousands of miles and most of those miles involved one or the other of us noticing something of interest, so we decided to delve deeper into some of our favourite routes in Cumbria and put them together in a book.
In my teens I never for one moment expected I’d ever write a history book. I didn’t enjoy history at school, I couldn’t see its relevance to me, and sitting in a classroom never really worked for me as a method of learning. But now I find that discovering local history gives me the chance to be Sherlock Holmes, piecing together bits of evidence from lots of different places to build a picture of what might have happened in the past.
The original inspiration for this particular book came from another book; Wainwright’s ‘Old Roads of the Eastern Fells’, a largely forgotten about tome, which describes the history of the old trading and communication routes around the eastern fells of the Lake District. To help us cover the entire county we added a few longer routes of our own to explore – Hadrian’s Wall Path from Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway (which we walked in a face melting heatwave), the Roman road from Penrith to Ravenglass (where, despite it being the middle of August, we were pelted with hail) and the Cistercian Way – a once incredibly popular route across the south of Cumbria which is now largely ignored.
But what exactly is a ‘nosey hiker’? Well, for me, it’s someone who has an interest in their surroundings and enjoys learning about who, or what, went before them. We nosey hikers can’t always remember all the exact names and dates when we don’t have a book in front of us, but we do love a good story, and perhaps learning a fascinating factoid that we can impress someone down the pub with later.
Writing a book like this is an absolute pleasure as it combines many of my favourite things; hiking, researching, poking around a hillside looking for landmarks described in old books and, of course, being nosey.
We go to a lot of trouble to get our facts straight too – here’s just one example. In chapter 6 we explore the social routes around Martindale and, as often happens, I get drawn in to a particular nugget, in this case the naming of Chapel-in-the-Hause. How and why did it get its name? Was there ever really a chapel there? Wainwright says so but can we prove it? There’s a building there but how do we know it was ever a chapel?
I started with a cursory search of the internet (not Wikipedia – but sites like British History Online) to see what they had to say. Not a lot it seems, the site is described, but not evidenced. Then I notice how lots of sites have pretty much copied word for word what someone else has said. But that still doesn’t give me any proof. Now what? Next up is the local history society (Paterdale Today in this case, who were incredibly helpful). Then it’s time to delve into the library to see what they can turn up; still nothing definitive.
After that it’s time to think laterally; if there was a church there then surely the Church of England would have a record of it? And, if not them, then perhaps the Quakers, or the Methodists, or the Catholics might know something? Then there were lots of emails, the occasional phone call and a trip down to London to spend time in Lambeth Palace Library to see what else I could find.
Continuing my alternate line of thinking I even chatted to the nice folks at the Ordinance Survey to learn where they got their place names from and then spent hours poring over old maps to see when the name first appeared.
Eventually I put everything together and came to a conclusion that I’m happy with. I’m not giving that away here, you’ll have to read the book to find out just what I discovered, plus there are plenty more stories like that in there too; perfect for nosey hikers everywhere.
Beth & Steve Pipe's book The Old Ways of Cumbria is available for purchase now.