Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Peace Of The Sheep Country

No refreshment stop on this walk I’m afraid, but it’s such a peaceful ramble that it is well worth the effort to carry the flask and make your own stops. The walk starts about 7 miles from Wetheral Cottages.

Park the car in Renwick, there are some quite good places near the Church, on the main street. Set off up the road signed Outhwaite but as you climb the hill reflect on the fact that this peaceful village was once a hive of mining activity – coal was the product, and the production was such, that the village had a coaching inn, as well as a number of pubs and blacksmiths to service the horse draw transport. All this gradually drew to a halt as better and cheaper coal was able to be brought in to the area with the opening of the railway in about 1880.

Peaceful though the church on your left may now be, but in 1733 legend has it that the church had become in a poor state of repair, so the villagers club together to offer their skills and make the necessary repairs. Suddenly whilst rebuilding they were frightened by a monster, which had the body of a cockerel and the tail of a dragon, it flew up from the ruins. The Cocktice** scattered the villagers except one, John Tallentire, who armed himself with a Rowan bough (Google Rowan Tree and you’ll find many fascinating facts) with which he killed the monster. For his good deed he was given his house and exempted from tithes for himself and his descendants.

Walk on up the hill passing the road to Outhwaite a small display board describes the area “The North Pennines” further up the hill, further on we took a style to out right then walked across the fields to Outhwaite, through the farmyard, then following the footpath signs, which eventually brought us to a small river, where just before crossing the bridge, the river bank affords an ideal location for lightening the flask and biscuit box.

Many of the fields around Renwick and Outhwaite will be stocked with Swaledale ewes with Mule lambs at foot. The east side of Cumbria is renowned for breeding the Mule or Greyfaced sheep, these sheep are across between the Swaldale or Herdwick Ewe and the Bluefaced Leicester Ram (a Tup in these parts) and thousands of them are sold to go to all parts of Britain. Lazonby, Penrith and Kirby Stephen marts are particularly famous for the large numbers they sell each autumn. The Greyfaced ewe is a good mothering sheep with plenty of milk for 2 lambs and when crossed with one of the meatier breeds (Suffolk, Texel, Charollais, Beltex etc) produces an excellent lamb for the butcher. This area is also renowned for the quality of its sheep dogs and this year sees the World Sheepdog Trials being held on the Lowther Estates just outside Penrith in September.

Comfortably refreshed the longest uphill part of the walk takes us to Haresceugh Castle Farm, turn left at the road, up the hill to Selah Bridge.You are bound to encounter some mule lambs as joining the road, many of these fields belong to Haresceugh Castle Farm a well known breeder of Mule lambs. Those who watched the BBC programme "Lambing Live" saw the Marston familys farm near Kirby Stephen where they rear Mule lambs as well as Bluefaced Leicester and Beltex sheep.

Great views of the Lake District Mountains from Selah Bridge, where we turn right making a descent along a lovely old lane that leads down to the Unthank to Renwick Road. If it weren’t for the cars descending the A686 behind us, you could envisage yourself in rural England 150 years ago walking this old road.

On reaching the road turn right and follow the road until you arrive at a T junction. Turn left over the bridge, the woods around here are full of Red Squirrels often to be seen sitting on the bridge. Follow the road back into Renwick and you car.

The area is more fully described in a booklet “Domain of the Cockatrice” produced by the East Cumbria Countryside Project, which inspired this walk - distance about 4 miles.

** A fictitious creature the Cockatrice is believed to be hatched from a cock's egg (probably a hen that crowed) by a serpent. Reportedly an ugly creature with a crested head, large glittering eyes, a barbed tongue and a dragon’s tail. The Cockatrice is mentioned in several places in the bible. It is probably derived from the hermaphroditic fowl - a crowing hen - which does occur in nature. In 1474 a Basel cock was sentenced to death for laying an egg but I remember my father killing a hen because it crowed as he considered it very bad luck to keep it.

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