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From Eskdale to Miterdale

Discovering peaceful hills that were once a Norman hunting preserve.

Distance 6.8 miles (10.9km)

Minimum time 4hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,312ft (400m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Good paths in valleys, but often indistinct on hills, 4 stiles

Landscape Heath and moor with views across surrounding valleys

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

Start/finish NY 173007

Dog friendliness On lead as sheep roam moors

Parking Car park beside Dalegarth Station (pay-and-display)

Public toilets At Dalegarth Station

Notes Not advised in poor visibility

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1 Follow the lane down the valley towards Beckfoot Bridge. Immediately before the railway halt, cross the line to a gate from where a zig-zag path to Blea Tarn is signed up the hillside. Approaching the tarn, go left crossing a stream emanating from its foot.

2 A vague path maintains the firm ground, right of Blind and Siney tarns, then, at a fork, bear left. Beyond a lone tree, go left again. Although the way is marshy, old sleepers span the worst patch around Sineytarn Moss. Eventually, the route joins a wall, dropping beside it to level grass.

3 Bear right to a fence stile by a forest and continue along its edge below Fell End. Keep going near the wall, eventually reaching its corner before another plantation. A short track on the right descends to a junction, and another right turn takes you into Miterdale.

4 Emerge on to a tarmac lane at the bottom and go through a gate opposite into Miterdale Forest. Drop over the river and then bear right on an undulating, weaving path above its far bank. A lateral wall shortly forces you uphill on to a forest track. Turn right and follow it out of the trees, joining a track from the right to continue up the valley to Low Place farm.

5 Walk past the farmhouse and through a second yard, leaving by the right-hand gates, signed 'Wasdale'. Follow the river upstream before crossing a bridge to a track that continues along its opposite bank. Keep ahead for nearly ¾ mile (1.2km) until you cross a stile at the far end of a plantation. Here, leave the track and climb the hill beside the trees to another stile at the top.

6 Bear left above Black Gill and continue parallel to a wall towards the higher ground of Low Longrigg. After 400yds (366m) strike right on a barely-visible path, making for the stone circles, which briefly break the horizon.

7 Bear right at the second circle and, after passing beneath a rocky outcrop, fork left. The way is still vague, but now drops towards stone huts where a clear path descends by them to the right.

8 Follow it down Boot Bank and into Boot, and cross Whillan Beck by Eskdale Mill to continue through the village. At the end turn right to Dalegarth Station.

Although William the Conqueror arrived in England in 1066, much of the North remained controlled by the Scots, and it was not until William II took Carlisle in 1092 that Norman influence spread through Lakeland. Some settlement was encouraged and land granted to found monastic houses, but much of the mountainous area remained undeveloped. The main reason for this lay in the Normans' almost fanatical devotion to the hunt, an activity, exclusively reserved for the King and a few favoured subjects. Vast tracts of this northern 'wasteland' were 'afforested', not in today's sense with the planting of trees, but set aside as wild game reserves and subject to special regulation, the Forest Law.

The area around Eskdale lay within the barony of Copeland, a name which derives from the Old Norse 'kaupaland' meaning 'bought land', and was granted to William de Briquessart in the early 12th century. His forest, together with the neighbouring Derwentfells Forest, extended all the way from the Esk to the Derwent and remained under Forest Law for more than a century. The forest was not devoid of settlement, but the few peasants who lived within its bounds were subject to many draconian laws that affected almost every aspect of their meagre existence. The clearance of additional land for grazing or cultivation, known as 'assarting', was forbidden and it was illegal to allow cattle or sheep to stray into the forest. Felling a tree for timber to repair a cottage or fencing required special permission and even the collection of wood for fuel was strictly controlled.

The estate was policed by foresters, who were keen to bring malefactors before the forest courts for punishment. The penalties were often severe and ranged from a complex system of fines for minor infringements to flogging, mutilation or even death for poaching. Often near to starvation themselves, the commoners were required to assist as beaters, butchers and carriers for the hunts, and watch their overlords kill, perhaps, more than 100 deer in a single day. Yet if game animals broke through the fences around their allotments and destroyed the paltry crop, they were powerless to do anything other than chase them away. The hunting preserve gradually diminished during the 13th century, as ever larger areas were turned over to sheep farming, and constant nibbling has prevented the regeneration of natural woodland and left the open landscape now so characteristic of the area.

Where to eat and drink

There is a café at Dalegarth Station, but if you want something more substantial, call at either the Burnmoor Inn or the Brook House Inn, in Boot.

While you're there

A watermill still stands beside the packhorse bridge in Boot. It was built to grind corn in 1578 and worked by successive generations of the same family for almost 350 years. The mill has since been restored and is now open as a fascinating museum.

What to look for

Scattered across Brat's Moss are the remains of stone huts and a field system as well as five impressive circles of standing stones. They were erected during the Bronze Age, perhaps 5,500 years ago, and suggest quite a large settlement on what is now an almost desolate landscape.

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