Martindale has an otherworldly atmosphere which belies its proximity as the crow flies to one of England’s main north-south traffic arteries over at Shap (not to mention the Roman Road up on busy High Street!). Even in the Lake District it is hard to find such a tranquil spot, far from the crowds of visitors on the west shore of Ullswater.
The best way to approach it is by the historic steamer from Glenridding or Pooley Bridge to Howtown, for this immediately transports you back in time – by at least 100 years – and both young and old can effortlessly explore the dead-end dale on foot. Once across the picturesque one-arched bridge and above the tree line, the serpentine bends would do credit to the nearby Kirkstone Pass, yet the walker simply saunters up them thanks to the spectacular views opening up all around and traffic is seldom encountered.
First stop is St. Peter’s Church, where my great grandfather on my mother’s side of the family, Rev. Richard James Lord Fox, was the Anglican vicar from 1896 until 1904; he came up here from Cheshire soon after the church had been consecrated in 1892. Where did all his parishioners live, I often wonder, for еven considering the abandoned buildings (such as the former primary school) there are precious few dwellings in the vicinity.
Further along the valley, and the highlight of any tour for me, is St. Martin’s Church (aka Martindale Old Church, founded in AD 1220). At the rear of the churchyard stands an ancient yew tree (estimated to be over 1300 years old); it is so solid that, even if the church doors were bolted, the hiker could find cover from any Lakeland storm (such as the violent one said to have blown the church roof away in 1882) under its sturdy boughs. Churches were often built at sites where hitherto meetings had been held under the shelter of what were deemed sacred yew trees. It doesn’t surprise me that the oldest tree in England is claimed to be a yew, or that William Wordsworth was inspired to write a poem by the Borrowdale Yews (“Yew Trees”, 1803):
This solitary Tree! – a living thing
Produced too slowly ever to decay’
My grandmother Muriel Lucy Fox spent 8 happy years of her childhood in Martindale Vicarage. In 1931, as a 7-year old girl, my mother had been taken back to the vicarage by Muriel and when I was born in 1953, remembering how her own mother had been so delighted to tell her about those childhood years in this place, my mother evidently decided to give me two middle names in memory of that felicitous piece of family history and thus pass them on for posterity.