Ullswater packhorse routes

from The Chronicles of Patterdale (1957)

Banner image: Old Print 1849, from The Chronicles of Patterdale

This Extract is from Chronicles of Patterdale, by Miss Elizabeth A. Little (1957)

WIth thanks to Patterdale WI

Until the latter part of the 18th century, the pack horse roads, some bridle paths, and boats and rafts on the Lake were the only means of reaching Patterdale. The Turnpike roads created by Acts of Parliament of 1760 and onwards did not reach the Lake District until the early 19th century. Steamrollers were not used here until 1889 so that the surface was very rough and uneven and when the small sharp stones were used by McAdam in 1824 the farmers protested that their horses would be lamed. I remember how we motorists protested when the Kirkstone pass was tarred - we said the tyres would never be able to grip for the climb. Now the modern motorist scarcely has to change gear.

With thanks to James Sowerby

The ways in and out of Patterdale by bridle pass and packhorses were quite numerous and as most people kept fell ponies for riding, people could get about if they wished. The pack horse tracks were only 5 feet wide and the bridges no wider.

Celia Fiennes said that ‘There could be no carriages but only very narrow ones like wheelbarrows, that with a horse, they convey their fuel and all things else. They also use horses on which they have a sort of Pannier, some closed some open, that they strew full of hay, turf, lime or dung, and everything they would use, and the reason is plain from the narrowness of the roads; where there is good lands they will lose as little as they can, and where it is hilly and stony no other carriage can pass so they use these carriages and an abundance of horses.

The little carts, whose wheels are fastened to the axletree and so turned altogether, they hold not above what 5 barrel loads would carry. Little boys and girls and women does go about with, drawn by one horse to carry anything they want’

Grace and Charley Dixon at Sykeside, from Chronicles of Patterdale, with thanks to Patterdale WI

For the journey from Patterdale to Penrith they could take:

  • the pack horse road over Stybarrow crag to Glencoyne and then by boat to Pooley Bridge and on via Dalemain to Penrith.

  • the bridle path by the side of the Lake under Place Fell to Howtown and then on to Penrith by pack horse road higher than the present road.

  • the bridle path over Boardale Hause from the pack horse road from Hartsop making easy gradient behind Beckstone farm and a zig zag path to the top, down to Boardale and onto Howtown and Penrith.

In 1840 the pillion was in constant use and in the 70s the packhorses still travelled over some of the most remote parts of the district. At the fairs, strings of these came over the hills with the bells ringing and sheep and cattle also following. It must have been a fine sight and a lovely noise when such a cavalcade was moving.

Then there is a bridle path to Mardale via Hayeswater which was in those days an important place for the farmers to meet for the return of lost sheep to their owners. They still hold a shepherds’ meet there.

Other paths are:

  • To Scandal up Caiston Beck

  • To Grasmere via Glenamara park and Grisedale. This is an old woolpack road.

  • To Keswick by the Mines road from Greenside mines

To Troutbeck and Windermere from Hartsop up Pasture beck and over by Thornthwaite pillar

There is a lovely bridge in Hartsop over which the pack horse road goes to Ambleside over Kirkstone pass on the western side of the Valley

Another picturesque bridge is said to be a Roman bridge, takes a bridle path from Hartsop to Wallend, the last house up the Deepdale Valley. This used to be a shop long ago which served the needs of Patterdale and Hartsop there are a number of people in the dale now who have never seen Wallend or the bridge .

Until quite recently before she died in 1952 Miss Tina Scott of Boardale used to walk over Boardale Hause to catch a bus at Patterdale for a day's shopping in Penrith. She also used the mountain pass to visit friends, go to the Wesleyan Chapel at Glenridding and after supper walked back alone, with a lantern, as a matter of course, with no thought of bothering with modern transport.

Walker Bridge Hartsop, Peter Morgan. From Chronicles of Patterdale, with thanks to Patterdale WI

From Chronicles of Patterdale by Miss Elizabeth A. Little (1957)

Other Topics you may find interesting