Both Westmorland Dales Day and the Westmorland County Show had to be cancelled in 2020. All the more reason to celebrate this year’s Westmorland Day on Tuesday 29th September 2020. On this day in 1397, Ralph Neville was created the first Earl of Westmorland by Richard II. This date was chosen in a public vote at the Westmorland county show in 2013.
Westmorland was one of the last of the English shires to be formed. The Normans conquered the area in 1092 during the reign of William II and created the baronies of Kendal and Westmorland. The Barony of Kendal covers the south-western part of the county, including the towns of Kendal and Kirkby Lonsdale. The Barony of Westmorland covers the northern part of the county, including Appleby-in-Westmorland. These were originally distinct jurisdictions with separate sheriffs, but were formed into a single county of Westmorland in 1226/7.
The north-west of the county forms part of the Lake District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Westmorland includes the famous fells of Helvellyn, Bow Fell and Nethermost Pike and the great lakes of Windermere, Ullswater, Grasmere and Rydal Water. To the east of Lakeland, separated from it by the valley of the Birk Beck and the Lune Gorge, are the Westmorland Dales, comprising the Howgill Fells, the Orton Fells, Lunesdale and Mallerstang. To the north-east of the Westmorland Dales, most of the county forms part of the Vale of Eden. In the far north-east of the county, the Pennines stretch into Westmorland. The south of the county is a relatively low lying area including the valleys of the rivers Kent and Lune. Westmorland has a short coastline with Morecambe Bay, around the Kent estuary.
Westmorland is famed as one of the Lake Counties. Many of the Lake District’s greatest treasures lie within its borders. Ullswater lies along Westmorland’s northern border with Cumberland. Ullswater is the second largest lake in the Lake District and one of the most beautiful. Ullswater became a fashionable holiday destination for the British aristocracy in the 19th century, thanks to the options of sailing on the lake or shooting on the fells. Ullswater’s attractions include the steam boats which offer trips around the lake. From Ullswater the county border takes to the fells, climbing to the peak of mighty Helvellyn, Bow Fell and across many peaks and ridges to the precipitous Wrynose Pass. The Three Shire Stone marks where Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire meet.
From the Westmorland side of Helvellyn is Striding Edge, a long knife-edge ridge walk, both famous and infamous. South of Helvellyn is the most celebrated part of the Lakes, by Rydal Water and Grasmere. The lakes lie among the fells in the beautiful dale of the River Rothay. Grasmere is a green delight, a restful, cooling, pretty place that has attracted poets and painters down through the ages. The Grasmere Lakeland Sports and Show, held annually since 1868, is a major event for the ancient sport of Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling.
This intensely picturesque area is Wordsworth Country, the home and inspiration of one of our finest lyric poets. William Wordsworth lived with his wife Mary and his sister Dorothy in Dove Cottage on the edge of Grasmere from 1799 to 1808. During this period, Wordsworth wrote much of his best-known poetry, including “My Heart Leaps Up” and “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”. The Wordsworth Museum is adjacent to Dove Cottage and exhibits manuscripts, landscapes and portraits. Wordsworth lived in Rydal Mount in the small village of Rydal from 1813 to his death in 1850.
At the western end of Rydal Water, steps lead to Wordsworth’s Seat,
considered to have been the poet’s favourite viewpoint in the Lake District.
West of Grasmere is the beauteous valley of Great Langdale. The Langdale Pikes are the most famous mountains in Westmorland and present a spectacular sight from Great Langdale as vast rockfaces soar precipitously to the twin peaks of Harrison Stickle and Pike o’Stickle. The only way to savour their essence, however, is to climb them!
From Rydal Water, the Rothay flows south into Windermere, the largest natural lake in England. It has been one of the country’s most popular places for holidays since 1847, when the Kendal and Windermere Railway built a branch line to it. The lake is entirely in Westmorland, though the western shore and the southern part of the eastern shore are in Lancashire.
Ambleside, at the head of Windermere, is a delightful town hard up against the mountains. The town’s most famous building, Bridge House (NT), was built over Stock Ghyll more than 300 years ago, probably as a summer house and apple store for Ambleside Hall. Waterhead Pier is a boarding point for cruises on Windermere. At Waterhead too are the remains of the Roman fort of Galava, dating from AD 79. From Ambleside a wee lane runs steeply up to the famous Kirkstone Pass, a bleak, sheer rock pass across the mountains to Patterdale.
Bowness-on-Windermere lies on the eastern shore of Windermere. During the 19th century it grew from a small fishing village to a major tourist town, especially after the arrival of the railway in 1847. Blackwell is a large house designed in the Arts and Crafts style by Baillie Scott with gardens by Thomas Mawson. Built in 1889-1900, the house has survived with almost all its original decorative features intact.
The Westmorland Dales are effectively separated from the fells of the Lake District by the Birk Beck which rises near Shap and flows south, meeting the Lune at Tebay. South from Tebay, the Lune separates the Westmorland Dales from the Lakeland fells as it flows through the spectacular Lune Gorge. The M6 motorway and major rail line follow the Lune and Birk Beck between the fells giving travellers spectacular views.
The Howgill Fells are a small range of hills which stretch across the border between Yorkshire and Westmorland. The fells are much appreciated by travellers on the motorway and railway passing through Lonsdale. Unlike the Carboniferous Limestone Yorkshire Dales they are made of Ordovician and Silurian slates and gritstones.
North of the Howgill Fells, and separated from them by Lunesdale, are the Orton Fells. These are a limestone plateau with a mix of limestone pavements, upland heath and grassland. The fells are open, exposed and sweeping, with panoramic views out to the skylines of the adjacent uplands.
There are several areas of limestone pavement, areas where the limestone rock has been eroded by an overlying ice sheet and then fissured by rain to form a flat rocky pattern which resembles man-made pavement. Great Asby Scar and Orton Scar are examples little damaged by subsequent mining. At Castle Folds on Great Asby Scar is the remains of a Romano-British walled settlement.
Several prehistoric stone circles can be found on the Orton Fells, collectively known as the Crosby Ravensworth stone circles. They include the Oddendale stone circle and the Gamelands stone circle near Orton. The Gunnerkeld stone circle, on the moorland near the Shap Summit, consists of two concentric circles.
The River Eden and its tributaries dominate the north-east of Westmorland. The river rises as Red Gill Beck in the peat bogs below Hugh Seat. A little further downstream it becomes Hellgill Beck; and it traditionally takes the name ‘Eden’ below the waterfall Hell Gill Force. Here it flows through the steep-sided dale of Mallerstang. Pendragon Castle is a majestic ruin standing above a bend in the River Eden, overlooked by Wild Boar Fell to the south-west and Mallerstang Edge to the east. According to legend, the castle was built by Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur, who is said to have unsuccessfully tried to divert the river to provide its moat. Despite the legend, the castle was built in the 12th century by Ranulph le Meschin, 1st Earl of Chester.
The Settle–Carlisle Railway, built between 1869 and 1876, runs along the dale. Twenty-five of those who died during the construction of this section were buried in unmarked graves in the churchyard of St. Mary’s in the hamlet of Outhgill. A monument now marks the site of their graves. North of Round Hill, the dale opens out into the broad Vale of Eden.
Although the Vale of Eden is formed by the course of the River Eden, it is of much greater extent than the actual valley of the river. It forms a broad vale between the Westmorland Dales and the Pennines. The whole area is gentle and pastoral, undulating and attractive but with the bleak, barren and impressive hills on either side.
From where it leaves Mallerstang, the River Eden runs a few miles north to the small market town of Kirkby Stephen, a popular base for tourism. The ruins of the 14th century Hartley Castle are near the town. From Kirkby Stephen the river continues north amongst gentler country, receiving several other rivers coming off the Westmorland Dales and the Pennines.
The village of Brough lies on the Swindale Beck to the east of the Eden. The village is on the site of the Roman fort of Verterae, on the Roman road linking Carlisle with Ermine Street. Brough Castle (EH) was built in the 11th century within the northern part of the former fort. The castle was built by William Rufus around 1092 to protect a key route through the Pennine Mountains. Nearby is Augill Castle, built in 1841 by John Bagot Pearson as a weekend retreat.
The Eden passes the foot of the village of Warcop. The Eden Valley Railway Society run a heritage railway along a section of the former Eden Valley Railway. Soon afterwards the river reaches the county town of Appleby-in-Westmorland.
Appleby’s main industry is tourism, a gift of its history, remote location and scenery. Overlooking Appleby is Appleby Castle. Its most famous resident was Lady Anne Clifford, the 17th-century daughter of the Earl of Cumberland who having striven to reclaim her inheritance, spent of her
fortune restoring several churches, almshouses and castles to their former glory. Appleby Horse Fair, held each year in early June, is a huge traditional gathering of Gypsies and Travellers with hundreds of horse-drawn vehicles. The earliest known record of it appears in a 12th-century charter from King Henry II. Appleby railway station is on the famous Settle-Carlisle Line which runs down the Eden Valley and onwards into Cumberland.
Near to Temple Sowerby the Eden is joined by the Lyvennet, whose own little dale holds much hidden history. North of here the Eden becomes the Westmorland-Cumberland border for a little way before heading into Cumberland. The border continues west up the Eamont. Mayburgh Henge (EH) is a large prehistoric henge monument on a knoll just outside the village of Eamont Bridge. The site consists of a single circular bank possibly built using cobble stones from the rivers. Contained within it is a single monolith 9 feet high. King Arthur’s Round Table (EH) is a 100 yard wide henge monument situated 400 yards to the east.
In the village of Brougham just south of Eamont Bridge is Brougham Castle. The castle was founded by Robert de Vieuxpont in the early 13th century. The site is near the confluence of the rivers Eamont and Lowther, a place which had been chosen by the Romans for a fort called Brocavum. Nearby is Brougham Hall which dates back to Tudor times. The Eamont flows on to Pooley Bridge at the head of Ullswater. South and west of here are the Lakes.
The Pennines stretch into the far north-east of the county, east of the Vale of Eden. Here lies Great Dun Fell (2,782 feet), the second highest mountain in all the Pennines.
The south of Westmorland is dominated by the rivers Kent and Lune and their tributaries. The River Lune runs down from the Orton Fells, its valley being known as Lonsdale in the south-east of the county. Kirkby Lonsdale lies on the Lune close to the border with Lancashire. The 14th-century Devil’s Bridge spans the Lune here. Ruskin described the view of the Lune from St Mary’s churchyard as “One of the loveliest views in England”.
The River Kent rises at Kentmere in the Lakeland fells and flows south for around 20 miles into Morecambe Bay. The river passes through Staveley and Burneside to Kendal. Kendal is a centre for tourism and the home of Kendal mint cake. Its buildings, mostly constructed with the local grey limestone, have earned it the nickname the Auld Grey Town. The ruins of Kendal Castle stand on a drumlin to the east of the town. The castle was probably built in the late 12th century as the home of the Lancaster family who were Barons of Kendal.
From Kendal, the Kent flows south to Sedgwick, near which the river passes through a rock gorge which produces a number of low waterfalls. Nearby Sizergh Castle (NT) dates from the 14th century, with a 1,600 acre estate and gardens with an award winning rock garden. Close by is Levens Hall, an Elizabethan era manor house with a celebrated topiary garden. The river then broadens to a wide estuary and enters Morecambe Bay. The village of Arnside lies alongside the Kent estuary. Arnside Peel tower is an achingly lovely ruin that dominates its little valley between Arnside and Silverdale. The tower, one of many peel towers across Westmorland, was built in the 14th/15th century as a refuge against raids from Border Reivers.
The large village of Milnthorpe lies on the River Bela close to where it joins the Kent estuary. The Grade I listed Dallam Tower, with an estate known for its deer, is just south-west of Milnthorpe. The Westmorland County Showground lies near the village of Crooklands, north-east of Milnthorpe. The Westmorland County Show takes place here on the second Thursday of September. The county show began in 1799 and is the biggest event in the county’s social calendar.
Westmorland is famous for its damsons. The orchards of the Lyth Valley, south-west of Kendal, are unique, surrounding each small farmstead and growing along every hedgerow in the valley. Each April the orchards and hedgerows become snow white with blossom, a wonderful sight in a county filled with natural wonders.
The Westmorland flag comprises two red bars, from the arms of the de Lancaster family, Barons of Kendal. Superimposed on these is a stylised apple tree, from the thirteenth-century seal of the Borough of Appleby. Hence, the flag represents the two parts of the county. It is a popular symbol of Westmorland, being used in the logos of many county organisations such as the Westmorland County Football Association.