BENTHAM HERITAGE TRAIL

 


Summary

Date - 20th October 2011 Distance - 5.25 miles
Map - OL2/OL41 Start point - Main car park, High Bentham (SD 667693)

 

Preface

After a warming mug of tea accompanied by chocolate biscuits, Allen, Grizzly, Shaun and Little Eric, were sitting quietly reading, when Tetley came hurrying into the room.

"Would you like a cuppa, pal?, asked Allen.

"Yes please", he replied accepting the mug gratefully. "I come bearing news of a walk. Dad has spoken with Uncle Eric, and they have agreed to do a walk from High Bentham, called the Bentham Heritage Trail."

"That's just great", exclaimed Grizzly. "It is months since we walked with Uncle Eric, due to him not being well, so it will be great to have his company again.

"It will be nice to have a rest from the mountains, especially as the recent walks have been pretty demanding", added Shaun. "Also it is not a long drive to Bentham."

"Roll on Thursday", cried Tetley, holding his mug out for a refill.

"You are nearly getting as bad as me", laughed Allen, as he poured the tea into his mug.

 

The Walk

We met in Uncle Eric, who had arrived before us, at the car park in High Bentham, situated behind the main street. As far as the weather was concerned we were to enjoy a dry day with quite a lot of sunshine, our timing being quite impeccable, as it started to rain, just as we got back to the cars, at the end of the walk.

Ready, and us settled in the rucksack, Uncle Eric and Dad walked through an alley to the main street, then right at the junction to cross the Morecambe to Leeds railway line, at the station.

The "Little" North-Western Railway Company, opened this line in 1850 with five trains daily each way. In 1859 the line was taken over by the Midland Railway, builders of the mighty Settle-Carlisle line.

Hitherto, haulage to Bentham has been by packhorse, as in this hilly country they were more practical than carts. Strings of sturdy local ponies travelled along the ancient trackways, carrying panniers of wool or lime, coal, flagstones etc, accompanied by Drovers, a rough, hard-drinking crew. Livestock also walked to city markets along these upland drove roads often a journey of months, grazing on the way.

The coming of the railway changed everything, and by 1880 Bentham Goods Yard was busy with Silk Mills products, great bales of yarn and bundles of finished fabrics, plus livestock, coal, stone - all manner of imports and exports. Local coal and river water fuelled the steam engines. The station was staffed by twenty six men - signalmen, porters, wheel tappers and plate-layers, not forgetting the Stationmaster himself. Besides too, there was a small army of carters to shift the goods to their final destination.

The railways brought wealth and energy, speed, ease and pleasure. City tycoons commuted from their homes in airy Carnforth to their smoky mills in Bradford, and workers from there could escape to the seaside or the country. By the 1910s Bentham had a famous and thriving Holiday Camp, with gents in tents on one side of the river, ladies and children on the other. It was served by nineteen passenger trains at day, so popular was it.

From 1923 the London Midland & Scottish railway ran the line, and from 1948 British Railways. Today the yards are gone and the Railway's potential is under-used. While there are few trains daily each way, they still run on one of the prettiest lines in England. East or West, it is a pleasant ride, and the line still provides a vital link to the wider world.

The above notes, which we acknowledge gratefully, are reproduced from one of a number of information boards we encountered on our walk. As well as the railway, they dealt with wildlife, industry, quarrying and mining.

The road descended to cross the River Wenning, seen here as it runs downstream. A few miles on it passes through the pretty village of Wennington (no need to say how that got its name), then through Hornby, where it soon joins the River Lune, that runs into Morecambe Bay after passing through Lancaster.

"We now turn left along that narrow road", said Uncle Eric, who was carrying the Heritage Trail leaflet.

As we strolled along, Allen commented, "that will make a nice picture of the church bathed in sunlight."

Soon the road turned sharp right, and it was here that we crossed the signed gap stile, and headed off over the wet and muddy pasture. Hardly surprising after all the rain in the last few weeks.

The route was clearly signed. A depiction of a curlew contained within a white arrow on a green background. However whilst the walk can be done either way, it became apparent that it was normal to do it the opposite way, as the signs were on the wrong side of the stiles and gates etc, for us.

The way led on to Staggarth, where there is a caravan site. To enter and leave the actual farmyard, we climbed sturdy metal ladderstiles.

Beyond we crossed more fields, with the River Wenning quite close by at times, and were again rewarded with a nice view, just before its course turned sharply left on its way downstream.

Turning our backs on this scene, the path climbed up to and over the gap stile in the stone wall. Shaun called out, "look here, there's large information board. I wonder what it is about."

In fact, as we mentioned earlier this was the first a number we were to encounter today, and added a great deal of extra interest. Here is the one, by this stile.

This told us that due to the geology, the area is blessed with many sorts of stone, that have been exploited over the centuries. Although not top quality for building and carving, nonetheless the limestone has been used in the construction of many farmhouses and countless miles of dry stone walls. Also when burned and slaked, quicklime was produced for spreading on the land and made lime mortar. Nowadays much is crushed for road-chippings, exported nationwide.

Most of Bentham's other buildings are sandstone that probably originated from an old quarry near Lairgill. At Grey Stone a larger quarry also yielded sandstone, that was maybe exported as the railway passed close by. Nearby ancient coalpits suggest that the quarry may also have has coal seams, handy for topping up the steam trains as well as for domestic use.

Millstone grit made millstones, of course, for the mills and querns, the manual version. Whernside, Quernmore and Ingleborough are notable local outcrops. These millstones, whether powered by water, horse, wind or human hand, were for millennia the only way to grind grains to make them edible as flour. Without a quern you might easily have starved. Lumps of this stone which is incredibly tough, were a valuable trading commodity from ancient times until recently.

"How fascinating", said Tetley. "It just goes to show how ingenious our ancestors were, and how much use they made of local resources."

Continuing, then we came to a point where the path divided. One branch went left, while ahead we could see a further waymarked stile.

Studying the map, Shaun said, "we want to go left here."

"I agree", replied Uncle Eric who had consulted the guide leaflet.

Soon we arrived at a forlorn and long abandoned ruin that was once Dawson Close Farm.

"It looks so sad", remarked Allen. "I wonder what stories those walls could tell, if only they could speak."

Beyond the gate, the path led down, along a sort of shelf by Gill Brow Wood. Uncle Eric can be seen here, heading on down to the footbridge over a stream.

Over the bridge the path bent right to a stile in a wall and into a field, occupied by sheep, one of which was good enough to pose for Dad. Yes, we know, more sheep, and we apologise, but we just had to allow Dad to put this picture in, as after all it his fingers that are dancing over the keyboard.

Soon now we reached the road at New House. "It's left here, then left again at the next junction", said Uncle Eric.

After the junction the road descended quite steeply to arrive at the bridge over the railway line. Just before a convenient seat provided a sheltered place, for our lunch stop.

"Get the sandwiches out Allen", said Shaun.

"OK pals", he replied. "I'll also pour the tea, as I don't know about you, but I am ready for a warming mug."

"No surprise there", said Tetley laughing.

A little later, Little Eric said, "we will have to appear in the story."

"Of course", replied Dad. "Now just settle yourselves on that moss covered wall."

Jumping into the rucksack, it was off again, crossing the railway then Greystonegill Bridge, to take the stile left into the fields of the return leg. Immediately over the stile was another information board, this about the wildlife in the area. What was interesting too, was that by most of these was a stone seat, into which was carved something relating to it. In this case it was an otter.

After another stile or two, the path swung right to a gate and on along by the woods, the muddy way leading over more stiles, where we were lucky to see some deer.

This finally led into a ploughed field. The map indicated that the path was diagonally across this, but knowing full well how mucky and muddy this would be, we kept to the edge, and even so Dad and Uncle Eric's boots were thick with soil and mud. Having rounded the corner of the field, it was about half way along the wall that the stile was reached, and over this thankfully was a grassy pasture. Coming to a gate, we walked on through the buildings of Low Linghaw & Ridding Lane. At the latter, the waymarks were a plenty, and we turned left along a reinforced track.

We had only walked a short distance when Uncle Eric said, "we are going the wrong way, as this leads across to the other side of the valley."

As he had been saying this, we spotted a farm cat, who was obviously doing his job, from the mouse or the like he had caught. (if you are squeamish, shut your eyes and page down quickly).

Turning back we soon found the correct path, that led to near Sunnyfield Farm and here on to a reinforced path to a junction, where we crossed the stile in the wall on the left.

"Look", called out Little Eric, "there's another of those excellent information boards, this one about mills."

"There's a seat too", added Allen. "This one has a picture of a mill carved into it."

Having been further educated, it was off again, descending to cross the railway line, looking carefully each way before we went over the track. Beyond was the last of the information boards, about the railway, extracts from which were included at the beginning. We were nearing the end now, the path leading us along above the railway track, to pass by the church of St Margaret of Antioch, where Dad took a few pictures, of which the one below we judged to be the best.

Now we were back to the road we had started out along, so we turned right to follow it over the railway bridge. On the right was the Tourist Information, but unfortunately we were just too late as the office had closed a little while before. However there were a number of leaflets outside. Dad picked up one about food in the Bowland area, and a tea shop list too. Can't think why he should decide the take the second one!!

It began to rain, but we were soon at the cars, and we dived in to keep dry and have the rest of our picnic and another mug of tea, which pleased Allen. The tea shop leaflet proved its worth, as it indicated there was one at 37 Main Street. Just a short walk, so this is where Dad and Uncle Eric went for refreshment, and so keeping dry out of the rain. Pot of tea of course, and Uncle Eric had a nice piece of chocolate cake, while Dad had a fruit scone with butter and jam.

Thanks Uncle Eric for taking us on such an interesting walk, and we hope it will not be too long before we walk together again.

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