Pre-amble: Sedbergh – Orton

Day Four completes the journey along the Lune. The Roman road provides the basic route along Howgill Lane and Fairmile Road, set above the River Lune. Eventually at Salterwath Bridge the  road crosses the Lune to the site of the Roman Fort at Borrowbridge (ON borgar a – dale – fort river valley). This is also the confluence of the Borrow beck flowing through Borrow dale. The Roman fort (an ‘auxiliary) shows up slightly on land by the railway.

This is a mid point in what is probably one of Britain’s most obvious major hill ‘passes’. The Kendal routes (road, rail, ancient and modern) merge with the Lune valley routes in a narrow space between the fells. There are other options – but they are higher and less convenient – so all routes squeeze into the valley – the London Glasgow railway (engineered by Joseph Locke and constructed by Thomas Brassey) seeming to jostle for ground space with the more recent M6 motorway which uses a split level cutting above the railway. The railway from Lancaster to Carlisle was constructed in less two and half years. Their achievement is underlined by the 3 years it took to construct the motorway over 120 years later.

Wordsworth was not in favour!

The projectors have induced many to favor their schemes by declaring that one of their main objects is to place the beauties of the Lake District within easier reach of these who cannot afford to pay for ordinary conveyances…..

Utilitarianism, serving as a mask for cupidity and gambling speculations…

a vivid perception of romantic scenery is neither inherent in mankind, nor a necessary consequence of a comprehensive education…..

……There cannot be a doubt that the Sabbath day in the towns of Bowness and Ambleside, and other parts of the district, would be subject to much additional desecration….

….As for holiday pastimes, if a scene is to be chosen suitable to them for persons thronging from a distance, it may be found elsewhere at less cost of every kind

All quotes from:

The Duke of Wellington put similar objections more succinctly

‘Railways would allow the lower orders to go uselessly wandering about the country’.

The issue that Wordsworth highlights is alive and well – what do we allow in areas we regard as having special beauty or function? A battle was in recent years fought and won by objectors in precisely the same area – but regarding a series of Wind driven Turbines.

For a Daniel Defoe there would probably be no difficulty regarding railways – he would have delighted in easier travel. But he wrote in a time when ‘beauty’ did not relate to high hills and other such natural obstructions. The battle that Wordsworth fought is again being joined & with very similar arguments (including the issues of exclusivity of access)  in relation to the latest proposal for High Speed rail travel in the south of England.

At the northern end of the Lune Gorge is Tebay (‘raised area in wet ground’ – probably land more suitable to cultivation – and the personal name ‘Tibba’). ‘Old Tebay’ is to the north of the main settlement which developed as a railway town. It was  junction for a line traversing the Pennines from Barnard Castle via Kirkby Stephen and destination for trains on the Lune valley line from Clapham Junction & Ingleton.

Tebay’s most important function as a railway town was to be the base for ‘banking’ engines attached to the rear of heavy trains (usually freight) that had to use the four mile stretch of a 1:75 gradient up to Shap summit.

The following link explains more and also provides very impressive and dramatic video clips of steam trains climbing (‘roaring over’) ‘Shap’.

The day finishes with its own climb, broadly parallel & to the east of Roman Road, railway and motorway, to Orton.

‘In the churchyard sleeps William Farrar, an 18th-century doctor well known in the hills, where people believed he practised black magic.’ (Mee; Lake Counties)

Unbeknown to Mee  (who also calls Farrar a ‘sham wise man’)when he wrote, such people were still obtaining a living from such work in the Welsh Border. They were the last of a long line of ‘conjurors’ – which is what ‘Dr’ William Farrar seems to have been. Such people were once to be found in many communities both rural and urban and for their skills in removing the effects of bewitchment, made a charge.

In the Monthly Magazine and British Register of 1803 are details.

“Fortunately however for this part of the country during the life of Mr Fairer, the people were provided with an anti-conjuror who was able to defeat the combined efforts of them and their able patron. His fame became widely discussed and wherever the account of his actions was reported he seemed like Virgil’s allegorical figure crescere eundo. If the spouse was jealous that the heart of her husband was estranged from her, she immediately consulted the anti-conjuror, and desired him to restore the affections of her bewitched partner. If a friend or relative was confined to the bed of sickness, relief and convalescence could not be expected without the supernatural assistance and balsamic medicines of Mr Fairer. If a person became deranged in his intellects the injured cells of the brain were to be healed and adjusted by the magic charms of this celebrated man. If a farmer happened to lose his cattle it was necessary to purify the walls of the house with water sprinkled by this famous conjuror; and in endeavouring to account for the latent cause of this disaster, he generally found small parcels of heterogeneous matter deposited in the walls and consisting of the legs of mice and the wings of bats; which he affirmed to be the work of witches. If a person was desirous of knowing the issue of any event he repaired to Mr Fairer who failed not to satisfy him in this particular.”

The original article contains the following footnote

The Orton and Tebay Historical Society contain a variety of interesting stories relating to local people and events some of which underline the nature of popular belief, with the potential for being ‘bewitched’. From the tone of the article of 1803 it is clear that such attitudes were regarded as archaic but the evidence of conjuring activity (and personal accounts heard by this writer) demonstrate that people still maintained a ‘pre-modern world view’ until the C20th.

One example quoted is of Mary Baines of Tebay

Many  strange things that happened were laid at her charge and thoroughly believed by the people . Ned Nisson, of the Cross Keys Inn had a mastiff which worried Mary’s favourite cat. The owner decided to have the cat respectably buried in her garden and a man named Willan dug a grave for it. Old Mary handed an open book and pointed to something he was to read, but Willan, not thinking it worth while  to read anything over the cat, took pussy by the leg and said:

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Heres’s a hole and in tha must

Mary grew angry and warned her companion he would fare no better than his levity. Soon afterwards Willan was ploughing his field when the implement suddenly bound up and the handle struck one of his eyes causing blindness. Mary Baines was given credit for having bewitched his plough.”

The research into what are rather dismissively called ‘folk-beliefs’ has increased and with it our understanding of the deeper mental and belief ‘structures’ of our comparatively recent ancestors. One writer has  stated that ’cunning-folk… have often been airbrushed out of representations of the past’.(Owen Davies ‘Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History p XIV. Hambledon Continuum London 2003 pbk 2007 1 84725 036 X)

As well as the grave of Farrar there is that of Thomas Hunter who was murdered in 1837. William Wills, accused of his death had no evidence presented against him – and no one else was ever arrested. At the trial the judge commented:

‘it was very much to be regretted the police establishment in the rural districts was composed of persons whose educations and habits rendered them inadequate for their duties. ‘

George Whitehead, one of the most important early Quaker leaders was born in Orton

‘He called on Kings to Set the Quakers Free’ is the headline Mee gives him. ‘Fox was the creator… George Whitehead was the law-giver, the Moses of his creed. He stood before seven sovereigns unabashed, and gained concessions that were fused in the Quaker’s Magna Carta of 1696’. He is buried in Bunhill Fields next to George Fox and close to other non-conformist creative visionaries such as William Blake, John Bunyan and Thomas Newcomen. Very appropriate.

Orton is one of the few places where the ancient manorial court survives, still collecting certain fees and dues and maintaining an interest in the appropriate development of the area it oversees.

Pevsner (Cumbria) highlights a minor architectural delight on the Orton Liberal Club ‘A frowning gentleman with wind collar and sideburns holds the name, as in a Beano cartoon’ (frowning, no doubt, due to the present, 2011, political ‘coalition government’ with the Tories).

These pilgrimage walks have always been serendipitous and Orton, with all its various connections, proves to be one of those delightful discoveries made even before starting to crawl the trail.

20th April

Sedbergh dep: 08.30

Via Howgill Lane, 640931, 630975, Salterwath Bridge (12+kms), ftpth 613010, A685 613030, ftpth, Tebay, Tebay Bridge, ftpth 623060, road, ftpth 624070 to

Orton (20+kms)

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