Coombs Wood Carvings

Coombs Wood and Ainstable

Walk Summary

A fine walk from Armathwaite through Coombs Wood and then on to Ainstable via the small hamlets of Longdales and Bascodyke before returning via the banks of the River Eden.

Distance: 6 miles
Total ascent: 1030ft
Walk Rating: ****
Parking: Armathwaite Bridge, Armathwaite
Route: Download Route [GPX]

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Walk Report

I’d booked a cottage in the village of Armathwaite for me and family for a week over the Easter holidays. It proved to be a good base, not only for some walks on the East Fellside of the North Pennines, but also for exploring some of the villages in this part of the Eden valley.

This particular walk started right from the doorstep of the cottage. For simplicity’s sake though the above GPX file and route description below starts from Armathwaite Bridge where there is ample roadside parking. The route is largely taken from Paul Hannon’s walking guide ‘Eden Valley’. If it were not for this book I would not have known about the rock carvings in Coombs Wood. Without doubt these are the highlight of the walk. At the same time they are not easy to reach and probably nigh on impossible if the river levels are high after rain. If you do attempt the detour to the carvings please do take care.

“Dotted around the poem are a number of faces carved out of the rock. These may pre-date the verse by a couple of hundred years and seem to be rather mysterious.”

Whereas Hannon’s route accesses Coombs Wood via the Fox and Pheasant, we turned down some steps at the eastern end of Armathwaite Bridge to then pass under the bridge and head south alongside the riverbank. After a short while we got a glimpse of Armathwaite Castle on the opposite bank. Originally a 15th century pele tower and later turned into a mansion it is privately owned.

After the path began to climb higher above the river I kept my eyes peeled for the detour down to the rock carvings. The first thin path I tried was too soon. Instead there was a more obvious junction almost opposite Mill Farm in an area of small waterfalls. The path slanted nicely down past a ruin, described by Hannon as an old kiln. Once at the riverbank I left Lisa and Rhiannon to go and see if I could find the carvings.

A very thin path brought me to a spot where there was a lot of modern graffiti carved into the red sandstone crags. Squeezing between the river and the crags I came to another spot of high crags but no carvings. Trying my luck a bit further on I got a few scratches squirming between the rocks and a tree to reach a tiny sandy beach below the rocks. Directly ahead of me carved into the rock was a verse from the poem ‘The Compleat Angler’ by Izaak Walton. The carving is said to be the work of William Mounsey of Rockcliffe on Solway and is dated 1855. Dotted around the poem are a number of faces carved out of the rock. These may pre-date the verse by a couple of hundred years and seem to be rather mysterious.

Returning the way I’d come both Lisa and Rhiannon declined the opportunity to take a look at the carvings. Instead we loitered a while by the riverbank so Rhiannon could indulge in attempting to skim stones. When this didn’t work we just tried to make the biggest splash we could with the rocks at hand.

Finally returning to the path above we nearly continued on and missed the main track which was just above us. Once again on the main track we soon came to some more carved rocks. These were the ‘Vista’ sculpture by Graeme Mitcheson, part of the Eden Benchmarks series of sculptures. Continuing on the path began to climb gently and swing away from the river below. Finally it brought us out on to the quiet road between Armathwaite and Staffield.

Here we stopped on the grassy verge to eat out picnic. It was not the most scenic of stopping points but both Rhiannon and Lisa were getting hungry and for the sake of everyone’s enjoyment it is best not to make them wait too long to eat. After our picnic we turned left along the road for a short distance before taking the minor road on the right for the small hamlet of Longdales.

After passing a few buildings we turned left on an enclosed path between hedgerows. An easy to miss right turn then led us across more open pastures to gain a dirt track descending to the farm at Bascodyke Head. Gaining the farm’s access road we then passed Bascodyke House and Bascodyke Foot and on to the road between Ainstable and Ruckcroft. Turning left we followed the road down into Ainstable.

Ainstable seemed quite a well-to-do kind of place and, as with so many of the villages in the area, featured houses built from the local red sandstone. Continuing straight on at the village crossroads we walked up to the Church of St Michael and All Angels. The church featured a nice double bell-cote and a good view over the local area.

On the opposite side of the churchyard we gained a footpath that led us alongside fields and the edge of a wood to reach a road at Townfoot. Crossing straight over we then followed the edge of several pastures. One featured some cows with very heavy udders who were a bit skittish when we tried to walk past them. Having survived the cows we came to a path that slanted nicely down to another road. A short distance to the left we finally regained the riverbank for a nice final section back to Armathwaite Bridge.

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