Post 133: April 1997. On Foot from Settle to Hadrian’s Wall: Hadrian’s Way.
Throughout history Hadrian’s Wall has fascinated many people, not least William Hutton who in 1801, at the age of 78 with an umbrella to keep him dry, walked from Birmingham to Hadrian’s Wall, along it twice, then back home; the 601 mile walk being described in his book The History of the Roman Wall published in 1802.
In 1938, at the age of 31, Alfred Wainwright, the ‘master’ fell-walker, walked from Settle to Hadrian’s Wall and back, his experiences on the walk being described in his book A Pennine Journey published many years later in 1986. Whilst waiting for my daughter at her ballet classes, I was fascinated by the book, describing a time just before the Second World War broke out.
Having pored over Ordnance Survey maps, I decided that his general route – passing through and by named towns, villages and landmarks – was so good, it could not be significantly improved and decided to use it as the basis of my next walk.
It had been some three years since I had started to research the route from Settle to Hadrian’s Wall. I was now ready to try the route out for the first time in its entirety. It is important that the start and finish of a walk must be definite, interesting and inspiring. Hadrian’s Way has these attributes, starting on the Settle – Carlisle railway line, scenically the most dramatic line in England, and finishing at the awe inspiring Hadrian’s Wall. Eric Treacy, Lord Bishop of Wakefield between 1968 and 1976, said that the three man-made wonders of the north of England were the Settle – Carlisle railway line, Hadrian’s Wall and York Minster; the first two of these are on the walk
5 April 1997: Day 1 – Settle to Stainforth Youth Hostel – 3½ mile
Just after lunch Dick and myself arrived in Settle and, with only 3½ miles to walk, spent some time looking around the outdoor shops for a new map case. I think if anyone could make a waterproof map case that lasts for more than a couple of ‘wet seasons’ they would make a fortune.
Settle lies at the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales and, situated as it is beside the largest outcrop of limestone in Britain, is an interesting starting point for a walk to Hadrian’s Wall. It is the start of the famous Settle to Carlisle scenic railway line.
The region has many scars, cliffs, caves, underground streams, and potholes and is a geologist’s delight. Prior to the building of a by-pass in 1988 the town was heavily congested with traffic and even now it can get quite busy on Bank Holidays.
Settle has a number of attractions including its folly, its shambles, its small courtyards, narrow streets and alleyways. The Folly, built in 1675, has a considerable number of Jacobean windows as well as elegant masonry. A Georgian warehouse overlooks Cheapside in the centre of the town and other Georgian buildings testify to Settle’s growing importance when the Keighley-Kendal turnpike road brought the coaching traffic to the town. There was resultant need for hotels and inns, which Settle still has to this day. The town also has the unusually named Naked Man Café on the west side of the market place, so named because of the relief figure of a man modestly holding a plaque dated 1633! The Naked Man was originally an inn and two miles away at Langcliffe, also on our route, there is his companion – The Naked Woman.
Near the centre of the town is Settle Church and in the entrance is a marble memorial commemorating those killed during the construction of the Settle – Carlisle railway. The memorial was erected at the joint expense of the Midland Railway Company and fellow workmen of those who died. On your left, as you leave the church, is a grave stone dedicated to the blacksmith Luke Ralph of Settle whose wife Agnes died in 1830 aged 29. The inscription on the stone reads:
My Sledge and Hammer both declined
My Bellows they have lost their wind.
My Fire extinct my Forge decayed
And in the dust my Vice is laid.
My Coals are spent my Iron gone.
My Nails are drove my work is done.
The mind boggles as to what will be put on my gravestone.
My Feet and Legs both declined
My Lungs have lost their wind.
My Spirit extinct my Teeth decayed
And in the dust my Compass is laid.
My Muscles are spent my Energy gone
My Boots are drove my work is done.
Leaving the churchyard, we climbed Constitution Hill to emerge on the lush green grass of the Yorkshire Dales. After a brief visit to see Catrigg Force, we descended to Stainforth to locate the youth hostel. The village of Stainforth is delightfully situated near where Stainforth Beck joins the River Ribble and has charming quaint corners, picturesque cottages, a church, delightful stepping stones over the beck, as well as a 17th-century inn. The village derives its name from the ‘stony ford’, which linked Little Stainforth and Stainforth together on opposite sides of the banks of the River Ribble. The village used to be a possession of Sawley Abbey and later a halt on a medieval trade route.
On our arrival at the youth hostel, the warden apologised for the fact there was a christening party in residence. The apology was unnecessary as, if there is one thing you want to liven up a long-distance walk, it is a party or two. A christening party seemed a little tame until we entered the lounge to immediately be offered free wine, an encouraging sign. In addition, the warden had put on a ‘special’ meal, with the party guests providing the drink; we had dropped lucky on this, our first night. There was one place we needed to visit later in the evening, The Craven Heifer Inn, deriving its name from a exceptionally large cow that the Duke of Devonshire owned in the 18th century in this area known as Craven; there is an engraving above the fireplace recording the details of the heifer.
We noticed on returning to the hostel that one of the rooms was full of rockets and planetarium information. We began to wonder if we had drunk too much. In reality the husband of the warden was a rocket fanatic and on occasions launches eight-foot rockets. I hasten to add, not in the vicinity of the hostel. After a couple of hours of drinking, the chances of being woken up in the night by a crying baby seemed less likely than us landing on the moon.
The youth hostel, situated in attractive grounds on the edge of Stainforth, is an elegant listed Georgian House, built between 1831 and 1848. It featured in the hilarious Victoria Wood programme on camping and youth hostelling; fortunately, the stern, disciplinarian warden featured in the programme was only fictional! The video is available for screening in the hostel. Initially a private residence, it has been a hostel for over 50 years and, in recent years, has been significantly improved. Mike Harding, the comedian and author of walking and travel books, came here from Manchester at the age of fourteen with a friend on a cycling and walking holiday. It was to change his life as he eventually settled in the Yorkshire Dales and trekked to many parts of the world including the Himalayas (Update – sadly the building is no longer a hostel).