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Sedbergh and the Quakers

A gentle walk from Sedbergh to the Quaker hamlet of Brigflatts.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 131ft (40m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Mostly on field and riverside paths, 7 stiles

Landscape Playing fields give way to rich farmland, dominated by fells

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL19 Howgill Fells & Upper Eden Valley

Start/finish SD 659921

Dog friendliness Keep dogs on lead when animals in fields

Parking Pay-and-display car park just off Sedbergh main street (which is one-way, from west)

Public toilets By car park

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1 From the car park, turn right along the main street, continue to the junction with the main road and turn left. At the churchyard turn right signed 'Cattle Market or Busk Lane'. At the next signpost, go left behind the pavilion, then straight ahead through two kissing gates and out on to a road. Cross and go through another metal kissing gate, signed 'Birks'. Follow the path through another gate to Birks House.

2 Go through a kissing gate beyond the house and turn left along the lane. Opposite the Old Barn go right, through a metal kissing gate and follow the Brigflatts sign roughly half left to a waymarker. Go through four gates and under the gated railway arch. Continue ahead and go through, in turn, a gate in a crossing wall, a metal kissing gate, and a farm gate on to a quiet lane opposite the Quaker Burial Ground.

3 Turn left to visit the Meeting House, then return to the gate, continuing on up the lane to the main road. Turn left. Just beyond the bend sign, go through a signed metal kissing gate in the hedge on the left. Follow the riverside path through two gates to another gate, to the left of a large railway bridge over the river.

4 Go through the gate and over the embankment to another gate. Continue along the riverside, passing through a gate near the confluence of two rivers, then two more gates to reach a metalled lane by an old mill.

5 Follow the lane back into Birks. Go right, though the kissing gate signed 'Rawthey Way' (you went through this gate the other way earlier in the walk). By the hedge around Birks House, bear right towards the river and over a stile. Follow the river to another stile, then climb slightly left to a stile by a gateway and then past a folly, to the left of a wood, through a kissing gate. Walk through the wood to a stile. Cross the field to a metal gate then a stile on to a road by a bridge. Turn left. By the '30' sign, go right, though a stile. Cross the field to another stile, then bear left alongside the building to another kissing gate.

6 Cross a drive to another kissing gate. Continue downhill to another, and go straight on along the lane to the main road. Cross the road and walk behind the row of houses, along Sedbergh's main street to the car park.

The solid, stone-built town of Sedbergh, one of the largest settlements in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, was once in the West Riding of Yorkshire, but has been part of Cumbria since 1974. Two things - the Howgill Fells, especially the southernmost peaks of Winder and Crook, and Sedbergh School, which wraps itself around much of the town's south side - dominate this friendly town. Among its most notable old boys are the geologist Adam Sedgwick and the international rugby player Will Carling. Brilliant mathematician John Dawson taught Sedgwick and a group of other gifted scholars at the school in the late 18th century, and is commemorated with a bust by the sculptor Flaxman, high on the south nave wall in Sedbergh parish church. Almost opposite the church is the school's oldest building, built in 1716, now the school library.

The Sedbergh area is noted for its Quaker associations. In 1652 the founder of the Society of Friends, George Fox, came to the town and preached from a bench beneath a yew tree in the churchyard to a great crowd of people attending the Hiring Fair. On Firbank Fell, north west of Sedbergh, Fox again preached to a large crowd, this time from a large stone, still known as Fox's Pulpit. This meeting is said to mark the inception of the Society of Friends. Fox wrote, 'This was the place that I had seen a people coming forth in white raiment; and a mighty meeting there was and it is to this day near Sedbergh which I gathered in the name of Jesus.'

The best reminder of the early days of the Quakers in the area is to be found in the tiny hamlet of Brigflatts. Fox stayed here with Richard Robinson in a farmhouse in 1652, and in 1674 the Friends of the district decided to build a Meeting House. It still survives, and is the oldest in the North and the third oldest in England. From the outside it looks like a typical whitewashed cottage of the period, though, unlike most cottages, it had a stone roof from the start. Each winter the cracks in the slate were stuffed with moss to stop the rain getting in. George Fox was there in 1677, noting 'a great concourse... there were about 500/600 persons present. A very good meeting it was.' Around the beginning of the 18th century a schoolroom was built over the stable and the gallery was put up to accommodate the large gatherings. At the foot of the gallery stairs look out for the dog pen that was provided for the sheepdogs accompanying their masters to the meetings. Just up the lane from the Meeting House is the small and peaceful Burial Ground, first used in 1656.

What to look for

The Howgill Fells, very different from the rest of the Yorkshire Dales, are huge, rounded humps of hills that seem to crowd in on each other like elephants at a watering hole. They are formed from pinkish sandstone and slates, 100 million years older than the limestone that underlies much of the rest of the National Park. The hills have few of the stone walls you will see elsewhere in the Dales - they are mostly common grazing land for the local farms and escaped the passion for enclosure in earlier centuries. One of the spectacular sights of the Dales, the great ribbon of waterfalls known as Cautley Spout is worth the drive from Sedbergh in the direction of Kirkby Stephen - park by the Cross Keys, a temperance inn. You can view the falls from there or walk part of the way towards it on a good path.

Where to eat and drink

Two of Sedbergh's pubs - the Bull and the Dalesman - offer meals at lunchtime and evenings, while the Red Lion has lunches (not Mondays). There are two cafés in the town, too; locals recommend the Post Horn, opposite the church.

While you're there

Spend a few quiet minutes in Queen's Gardens in Sedbergh. Described as 'a forgotten Victorian Park', the gardens are west of the town centre, just off the Kendal road. Presented to Sedbergh in 1906 by the splendidly named Mrs Upton-Cottrell-Dormer of Ingmire Hall in memory of Queen Victoria, there are shady trees and specially created glades for wildlife.

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