by Tim Clarke
A casual, but observant walker, climbing up from Glenridding village, past Lanty’s tarn – and its very special ice house hidden near the dam sluice, will emerge on the northern side of the spectacular Grisedale valley.
From a vantage point looking south east towards Grisedale beck in the valley bottom, the walker will see the kennels of the Ullswater Foxhounds, established in 1873. The Dobson family, who farmed the valley for 500 years, lived at Grassthwaite How, a group of 5 houses, 4 of which are now owned by the Ullswater Foxhounds. The mythical Huntsman Joe Bowman, who was Master of the Hounds for 41 years, used to live at number 1.
The valley had been bestowed on the Dobsons for services rendered in protecting the Abbeys in Westmorland from the ravages of the Scottish Raiders. Lancelot was a common family Christian name, and Lanty’s tarn is named after a Dobson. The family ultimately left Patterdale and moved to Bolton, Lancashire in 1789.
From the same vantage point the walker will see a high boundary wall stretching right around the whole valley. It is known as a 'ring garth', separating the pastures on the valley floor from the fells above. This was probably constructed some time during the medieval period (1100-1600), then upgraded after the Marshall family purchased the valley and properties in 1824. In some places there are 50 stones on top of each other!
From the same vantage point, on your left- hand side, you will see an outcrop of rocks, now clothed in Scots Pine. An access gate has an old notice attached to it, named Castle Plantation. It seems that the site may have been a hill fort dating back to the late prehistoric period, whose likely function was to oversee the movement of people and animals in and out of the valley. It is now in ruins and has apparently never been properly investigated.
If you turn now south west and walk up the valley towards Grisedale tarn at the head of the valley, sandwiched at the base of Fairfield and Dollywagon Pike, more of the mysteries of the valley will be revealed.
Across the valley, you will see the Thornhow barn, built in 1889. On the semi-vertical slopes of Birks you can see the ancient zig-zag marks tracing an old packhorse route, probably used as well to bring peat cut from the fell tops down on sledges to the valley bottom. Look carefully at the undulations of the soil, showing ancient ploughing contours and earthworks. These are particularly visible on the other side of Grisedale beck, opposite Braestaeds farm which currently raises Swaledale sheep and some cattle. On the other side of the beck, opposite Braesteads is Elmhow. Both farmsteads are thought to date back to the 1600s.