Drove roads in the Lake District

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An important component of the local economy was the rearing of cattle, which were then driven to the ever growing towns further south. There were two quite distinct aspects of this trade; Scots cattle being driven through or around the Lake District, with local cattle joining them en route. From Scotland cattle came across the Solway or through Carlisle, and converged on Penrith before moving on into Lancashire or Yorkshire. Just north of the Lake District there was an important cattle fair at Rosley, where local cattle from the Solway coast joined those from Scotland. There were also spring fairs at various places along the coast (such as Arlecdon, Boonwood and Bootle) for cattle which had been kept over winter.

Spa hotel lake district

Some cattle were driven across Hardknott and Wrynose passes to Ambleside and Trout¬beck, then over the Garburn Pass into Kentmere and finally across to Longsleddale before turning to join the main droving routes. The main drove road to the south led from Penrith to Shap and then into the Lune Gorge. Once past Low Borrow Bridge it climbed up the west side of the valley along a section described as early as the late twelfth cen¬tury as Galwaithegate (ie the Galloway Road) and known later as Scotch Lane. The trade clearly has a long history which continued until it was abruptly curtailed by the construction of the railways.

Originally the drove roads were wide open tracks running from one overnight pasture to the next. As much of the area was not enclosed until the years around 1800 (see below), these roads simply traversed open land, and where they did pass through farm land, became wide winding lanes between walls, following the lie of the land. Today such roads can still be seen, though most are now enclosed; they usually still have wide grass verges with a recent narrow strip of metalling down the middle.

The two southern peninsulas of Cartmel and Furness had always been difficult of access; the usual way to reach them was to travel across the sands at low tide. The route is known to have been in use in the Middle Ages, and continued to flourish until the coastal railway was completed in 1857; indeed, for eighty years before that date, a daily public coach ran across the sands. The reason for the use of this route was simple from Ulverston to Lancaster on the hilly packhorse route via Kendal (later turnpiked in 1763) was 41 miles (66 km); across the sands it was a mere 19 (30 km) (Fig 23). The sands were so commonly used that West's Guide (1778) began its tour of the Lakes by that route, noting that it was 'a journey of little more danger than any other', and adding that 'On a fine day there is not a more pleasant sea¬side journey in the Kingdom.'

The route left the 'mainland' at Hest Bank, and after some eight miles (13km) came ashore between Kent's Bank and Grange, the precise route changing with the shifting channels of the Rivers Keer and Kent. The route next traversed the Cartmel peninsula via Flookburgh (then a place of some importance due to the sands traffic) and crossed the Levens sands (passing Chapel Island) for Ulverston. Travellers wishing to continue around the Cum brian coast would then cross Low Furness, and take to the sands again at Ireleth, this time crossing the Duddon estuary. Before the mideighteenthcentury road improve¬ments, anyone travelling from Lancaster to Whitehaven would probably go via this route instead of going through the hills. But not everyone enjoyed it; John Wesley writing in 1759 said that he would 'advise no stranger to go this way. He may go round by Kendal and Keswick, often in less time, always with less expense, and far less trial of his patience.'

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Drove roads in the Lake District

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This article was published on 2010/10/08