Ravenglass, Muncaster and Eskdale
Sat 18 Mar 2017
The green fields and woodlands of the valley of Eskdale, complete with the sparkling thread of the river Esk, penetrate deep into the central Lakeland fells. In the heart of this lovely valley is the small village of Boot, home to a working corn mill, three real-ale pubs and a micro-brewery.
A little inland stands Muncaster Castle, ancient family seat of the Pennington family with colourful spring gardens, a renowned owl centre, a celebrated ‘fool' and ghosts aplenty to keep visitors amused for hours.
Seascale is a small coastal town in the Western Lake District. Situated between Whitehaven and Millom it is the perfect stop off when exploring this beautiful part of the Lake District.
The mountains around Wasdale Head are arguably one of the finest mountain landscapes in Britain and grandest of all of these fine mountains are the twin peaks of Scafell and Scafell Pike.
Although Neolithic flints have been found in the sand dunes around Ravenglass, it is Bronze Age settlers who provided evidence of their occupation of the higher ground. For the Romans the natural harbour at Ravenglass, became an important port around 79 BC. Little remains of the fort as much of its stone was used to build Ravenglass and was further despoiled when the Furness Railway was driven through the western defences, but the remains of the old bath house are still standing at Walls Castle. A Roman road advanced through Eskdale to link with Hardknott (Mediobogdum) at the head of the valley thereafter continuing through Little Langdale to the fort at Ambleside (Galava). Its position on an elevated spur hemmed in by mountains inspired a description of ‘an enchanted fortress in the air'.
During the Dark Ages, Celts and Angles lived in the area; the latter leaving their legacy in the form of intricately patterned stone crosses. It was Norsemen who established homesteads and enclosures for their livestock. Waberthwaite is of Norse origin (Wyburgh's clearing) as is Brotherilkeld at the head of Eskdale. The Norse also left their mark in the form of carved crosses and distinctively shaped hogback tombstones - the best examples being at Gosforth Church. Just above the village of Boot, a gully in the fellside marks the site of Nab Gill iron ore mine (NY 175 015), which exploited a wide vein of haematite (iron ore). The ore was commercially mined from the 1870s but enjoyed only a short period of prosperity. The remains of an incline, mine office and smithy can be seen from the track above Eskdale Mill.
At the base of the slope, a disused trackway and platform of the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway can still be discerned. This much-loved railway (or La'al Ratty) was first opened in 1875 to carry iron ore from the mine at Boot to Ravenglass (where its freight was transferred to the Furness Line), but had a chequered history. After closure in 1913, it was re-opened as a narrow gauge railway in 1916 and found a new market carrying granite. The quarries closed in the 1950s and the line once again fell into disuse, but in 1960 a group of railway enthusiasts stepped in to save it. The Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway has since become one of Lakeland's most loved attractions, providing an unforgettable experience through the glorious Eskdale countryside.
This is the oldest working corn mill in England, first referred to in 1578 but likely to have been in existence much earlier. The largely 18thC building still retains its wooden machinery, hoppers and grindstones. Outside, a system of sluices provides a head of water to drive two huge waterwheels. Open 11.30-5.30 on most days Easter-end of September for guided tours, but best to ring in advance. Open other times by prior arrangement. Small admission charge. Parking at Dalegarth Station.
Ravenglass Roman Bath House
The bathhouse, formerly known as Walls Castle, where legions of Roman soldiers came to wash and spruce up,is one of the best-preserved Roman buildings in the north of England. The walls are surprisingly high at nearly 4 metres (12 ft), with traces of original Roman plaster in situ. Two rooms survive but excavations have revealed more rooms, with hot, warm and cold baths. The earthworks of the adjacent fort can be seen in the field opposite.
Hardknott Roman Fort
This far-flung outpost of the Roman Empire (known as Mediobogdum) guarded the military road between Ravenglass and Ambleside and is magnificently sited on a rocky spur overlooking Eskdale. It was completed in the 2nd century during the reign of Hadrian and garrisoned by troops recruited from Dalmatia, present day Croatia. The ruins are well preserved, thanks to their remote setting, and comprise four gateways and corner towers.
World Owl Centre
Over 100 species of owl can be seen here at Muncaster's owl conservation centre, which is also the headquarters of the World Owl Trust. The collection is one of the largest in the world, with species ranging from tiny Pygmy Owls to huge Eagle Owls. Daily displays at 2.30 (April-Oct), with the chance to ‘meet the birds' and learn about Muncaster's vital conservation work. Waiting in the wings are the residents of a nearby heronry, who swoop down for a free feast every afternoon at 4.30 pm (3.30 pm during winter season).
The Japanese Garden, Eskdale Green
Within Giggle Alley Wood is the surprising discovery of a Japanese Garden. The garden was designed on the principle of ‘borrowing the landscape', utilising natural features and views to create a beautiful setting, enhanced by winding pathways, stone steps, rockeries, pools of water and judicious plantings. The garden was completed in 1914. The garden is now being restored to something of its former glory. Free admission.
The gardens, first laid out around 1780, are internationally known for their spectacular display of rhododendrons and azaleas in the spring. Exotic plants and specimen trees, including Tom Fool's Tree (an ancient sweet chestnut), are dotted around the gardens. A long terrace provides stunning views over Eskdale. For young children the MeadowVole Maze brings to life the perils of being a small creature in a wild flower meadow. Gardens open all year except January, 10.30-6.00 (or dusk). Admission charge.