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Count the Stones at Swinside

Discover Swinside Stone Circle hiding in a hollow above the Duddon.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 820ft (250m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Good paths, some can be muddy, farm roads, 6 stiles

Landscape Wooded slopes, mostly rough pasture surrounded by hills

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL 6 The English Lakes (SW)

Start/finish SD 197882

Dog friendliness On lead where sheep graze and on roads

Parking Parking space at Duddon Iron Furnace, near Duddon Bridge

Public toilets None on route; nearest at Broughton-in-Furness

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 The Duddon Iron Furnace is on the left of the Corney Fell road, soon after the turning from Duddon Bridge. A public bridleway sign points up a track beside the substantial ruins. At the last building, turn left up a woodland path marked by a bridleway sign hidden among brambles.

2 Cross a narrow access road and continue uphill. Turn right at a junction of paths and keep climbing. A track is joined, leading further up the wooded slope, but watch for a gate in a wall on the left. Go through and follow a deep, narrow path flanked by bracken, crossing a low gap in the hills.

3 Turn right to reach a gate. Go through and follow a walled track. When another gate is reached, go through and turn left. A path running roughly parallel to a tall wall passes an old quarry near a farm called Thwaite Yeat. The path is vague on a moorland slope, but look ahead to spot a signpost at a road junction.

4 Turn left down a narrow road signposted 'Millom', and then turn right along a farm track. It crosses a dip and leads to a gate marked 'Fenwick'. Go through and follow the track almost to the farm, but turn left as indicated by a public footpath sign. Cross three stiles as the path leads down through fields to Black Beck.

5 Cross a footbridge and climb uphill, looking ahead to spot Swinside farm. Keep to the right of the buildings, but turn left to join and follow the access road away from the buildings. Swinside Stone Circle is in a field on the left.

6 Walk down the farm access road and continue along a tarmac road to a white building. Just before the building is a stile and public footpath signpost. A field path and stile lead to Black Beck and stepping stones lead to Beck Bank Farm. Two tracks lead from the farm to a nearby road. Use the one on the left.

7 Turn left along the road and left again along a busy main road. Walk round a bend to find two farm roads signposted as public bridleways. Take the second one to Ash House. A narrow footpath leads away from the buildings and a stile leads into woods. Walk uphill, then down to reach a marker post at a junction.

8 Turn right and walk downhill, then turn left at a junction. Keep right at another junction, following a path that was used earlier. Cross a narrow access road and walk down to the Duddon Iron Furnace.

This is a quiet walk in one of the quietest corners of the Lake District. Most of the people you meet around the Duddon Valley have travelled no great distance; tourists are rarely noticed and local folk have a high regard for its hidden delights. The walk stretches almost all the way from a tidal estuary to the flanks of the high fells, taking in old coppice woodlands and pastures where sheep and cattle are grazed.

Blast furnaces and charcoal burners once belched smoke into the clean air, and ships laden with pig iron sailed from the narrow estuary, but that was a couple of centuries ago. Tucked away in a natural amphitheatre in the hills, and seldom visited, Swinside Stone Circle has stood silent over the scene for the past 4,000 years or more.

Dating from 1736, the Duddon Iron Furnace was one of eight rural blast furnaces in the area. Apart from the addition of an extra charcoal store, the structure has hardly changed from the day it was built. Information boards show the layout of the site, which included charcoal and iron ore stores, a wheelhouse, furnace, blowing house, casting house, office and slag heap. Ore and charcoal were fed into the furnace from the top of the site and pig iron left at the bottom. Ships sailing out of the Duddon Estuary transported the iron to Bristol and Chepstow for use in the shipbuilding industry. The small rural furnaces simply went out of business when bigger blast furnaces were constructed. The ruins are managed by English Heritage and are always open for inspection.

The lovely Swinside Stone Circle sits in a quiet hollow in the hills high above the estuary of the River Duddon. It is a late neolithic or early Bronze Age structure, with its stones closely packed together. It appears to be aligned on the Midwinter solstice and is about 95ft (29m) in diameter. Locally it is called 'Sunkenkirk'; the name being drawn from a legend relating how a church was once being built on the site, but the Devil kept pulling the stones down into the ground. Like many such circles around the country, it is also said that anyone counting the stones more than once will find that they arrive at a different number each time. With that in mind, it's probably best to say that there are over 50, but less than 60 stones in the circle! There is also a series of standing stones near Ash House towards the end of the walk, but there is no public access to them.

While you're there

The nearby village of Broughton-in-Furness has a splendid central square, though it is often crammed full of cars. A prominent obelisk commemorates the jubilee of King George III. The old stocks survive, as well as stone fish slabs. Most of the houses around the square are Georgian and the town hall was once a market hall and currently houses the tourist information centre.

What to look for

Habitats range from estuary to woodland, and from lush pastures to moorland slopes. Expect to find plenty of bird life, including curlews that are equally at home on the estuary and the high moorlands. Dippers frequent the rushing streams, while lapwings and skylarks are occasionally observed over the pastures. Treecreepers and nuthatches can be spotted in the woods, and buzzards may soar overhead on broad wings.

Where to eat and drink

The nearest pubs are at Broughton-in-Furness. The Manor House on the square offers a half-dozen real ales, as well as meals and accommodation. If you happen to be driving up through the Duddon Valley, then the Newfield Inn is a wonderful country pub with great meals based around local produce.

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