A fairly straightforward walk up and down Raven Beck from the lovely red sandstone village of Kirkoswald with optional detours to visit an old church and the scanty remains of Kirkoswald Castle.
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On the way to our cottage in Armathwaite for our Easter holiday we enjoyed a super walk from Little Salkeld visiting Long Meg and Lacy’s Caves. After the walk we then continued on to Armathwaite passing through the village of Kirkoswald on the way. I was immediately impressed by its red sandstone houses and the unusual feature of a belltower on a hill just outside the village.
I hadn’t planned to do a walk from Kirkoswald over the course of the week but the more I thought about the village the more I wanted to go back and explore more of it. Quite handily I had this walk available to me in Paul Hannon’s walking guide ‘Eden Valley’. Therefore after a day out with the family to Penrith I took advantage of the fine weather to head back out and do this walk.
“In the field immediately beyond the farm I was suddenly confronted by three billy goats. They came up to take a look at me but as soon as I began walking toward them they then ran off. “
The route is largely the same as Hannon’s except that I did a couple of optional detours at the start of the walk. These were to enable me to visit the church and castle. I parked my car on the side of the road that enters the village from Staffield. Walking past the Methodist Church I headed downhill to pass the Fetherston Arms and the Crown Inn. Crossing the bridge over Raven Beck I then turned right to reach an iron gate, the entrance to the flagged path to the hidden Church of St Oswald’s. Just above me on the hill was the detached bell tower while on the opposite side of the road were the remains of the old gate to the medieval college.
The village name Kirkoswald literally means ‘The Church of St Oswald’. The dedication of the church is to St Oswald, a 7th century Northumbrian king. On the outside of the west wall of the church is a well also dedicated to Oswald. Parts of the church date to the 12th century whilst there are gravestones that date back even earlier to Saxon times. There are also some very old crosses leaning against the outside of the building. The church is well worth a visit and inside there were also interesting wooden carvings. My only disappointment was that I missed the gate at the back of the churchyard that apparently carries a path up to the belltower.
After having a look around the church I returned to the road junction to take the road heading east out of the village. A few minutes up this I took a footpath signposted to the right. This path passes a stand of trees that largely hides the scanty remains of Kirkoswald Castle. The castle was rebuilt in 1317 having been destroyed by a Scottish raid three years earlier. It was then expanded and the moat added in 1485. It was eventually abandoned and largely dismantled in the 17th century. One tower, made of red sandstone, and the remains of the moat can still be seen. The tower is in a very poor state though so it is best not to go poking around too closely.
After taking a few photos of the castle I returned to the village to finally begin the walk proper. Crossing back over the bridge I left the village by a road called Ravenghyll. This soon led past a GP surgery to turn into a path at the side of a mill. Continuing on alongside an old mill race the next feature of interest was a weir. Just before the weir an information panel announced that I was about to walk below Millie Bank. According to the panel the bank is a rare example of a traditional Eden valley pasture. To me it looked just like a steep grassy bank with some pylons but apparently in the summer it is full of wild flowers.
After walking below Millie Bank I entered Common Wood for a nice section of woodland walking. There were plenty of bluebells up to the left of the path while there was also a lot of wood anemone. I didn’t see much else in terms of flowers although I did spot a couple of violets.
Emerging out of the far side of the wood the path then continued alongside several sheep pastures. At the end of these I came to a footbridge over a side stream. I’d be returning to this point later in the walk. Continuing alongside the beck I entered the woods of Howscales Banks. This was another nice section of walking which ended at a stile before a wooden footbridge. It is interesting to note that Hannon describes this as a stone bridge. Either that is an error or the original bridge was destroyed at some point in the last 20-odd years since the book was published.
Without crossing the stile I took a sharp left to slant up alongside a line of hawthorns and gorse to reach a gate. Looking back I now had views across the houses at Park Head towards Fiend’s Fell and Melmerby Fell. Continuing on along the field side I could also faintly make out the silhouettes of Blencathra and Skiddaw. Not for the first time during the week I was left cursing the haze that had settled on the Eden valley.
Coming to an access road I turned left to pass the farm at Nether Haresceugh. In the field immediately beyond the farm I was suddenly confronted by three billy goats. They came up to take a look at me but as soon as I began walking toward them they then ran off. Probably embarrassed by this they then proceeded to butt horns with each other in order to prove their machismo. It was quite amusing but at the same time I was glad that they were butting each other and not me!
The route of the ‘path’, which didn’t really exist on the ground, continued alongside a fence above Nether Haresceugh Gill. Towards the bottom of the bank I came across some nice patches of primroses growing alongside the fence. Shortly afterwards I arrived back at the footbridge I’d crossed earlier. Following Hannon’s route I then retraced my steps from this point all the way back to Kirkoswald.
This walk featured some nice sections in Common Wood and in Howscales Banks. It was a shame though that so much of the route had to be retraced. Perhaps a slightly longer walk returning via Scales rather than Nether Haresceugh would be an alternative. I guess it might depend on how many farmyards you’d have to pass through and whether any of the fields contained cows! As it was I probably found my explorations around the village and the visits to the church and castle more memorable than the actual walk. That said I’d be interested in going back sometime to see if Millie Bank really is covered in flowers in the summer.