Proposed designation of Orton Fells as a National Park: reasons for extending the northern boundary to the rivers Leith and Lyvennet.

by O.J.Weaver, Secretary,
Leith-Lyvennet Conservation Group.

A pdf of the response form is available for download from Natural England’s website at www.lakestodaleslandscapes.org.uk (click on ‘Lakes to Dales Consultation page’ link and scroll down to ‘Consultation Documents’), or you can download it directly from this link: http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/L2DFurtherResponseFormApr11_tcm6-26230.pdf.

We strongly agree that the Orton Fells should be designated within a National Park but we believe, equally strongly, that there are compelling reasons for the boundary to be extended to the natural boundary formed by the rivers Leith and Lyvennet.  This boundary is easily definable.  It respects communities.  It embraces an area that is recognisable, consistent, and of outstanding interest.

On the western side of the area bounded by the two rivers, the Higher Limestone continues as a prominent ridge from the high moors in the designated area further south to the vicinity of Great Strickland.  There is a gradual lessening in height but no significant difference in character.  Along its length is the same landscape of exposed limestone outcrops, large-scale fields of improved or semi-improved pasture, a scatter of prehistoric monuments, and a historic pattern of dry-stone walls.  From the ridge are breath-taking views of both the Pennine Fells and the Lake District peaks.

To the east the land slopes gradually in a series of small, well-wooded valleys whose streams and rivulets gather themselves before reaching the dominant valley of the river Lyvennet on its eastern side.  The underlying geology is the same throughout the area so field walls, farmsteads, villages and hamlets are all of carboniferous limestone giving the total area a remarkable cohesion, as yet largely undisturbed by modern intrusions.  Away from the wooded valleys much of the land is pasture and for those with an eye for historic landscape it is not difficult to see, under the smaller rectangular fields and straight Surveyors’ roads of the Enclosure Awards, the once open stretches of moor,  grazed communally by the tenant farmers of the local villages and still recorded in land names : Reagill Common, Newby High Moor, In Moor, High Moor, and Shap Common.  Administered by the Courts Baron of the manors, the common grazing of these large areas can be traced in great detail by court records, bringing to life the patterns of life of the mediaeval countryside.  Visually and in historical record the landscape of the area is a remarkable survival and worthy of preservation.

Equally remarkable are the villages of this area.  Two of them, Morland with its eleventh-century west tower, unique in Cumbria, and Crosby Ravensworth are ancient settlements.  Others are planned villages of twelfth-century date, built deliberately to settle the land and increase its population.  Each follows an arranged pattern of individual farmsteads, usually along a single street, and each allocated with strip fields stretching back from the street and often to a nearby stream. Much is still visible today and maps and aerial photographs reveal more evidence of this highly organised pattern of mediaeval settlement.  Planned villages are rare.  To have such a group in one area is of exceptional interest and has been described by a leading landscape historian,            Dr Brian Roberts of Durham University, as “important on both a national and a European scale”.  Most of the villages have vestiges of their original field system but at Reagill, Newby, Great Strickland, and Maulds Meaburn, the evidence is particularly strong.  The boundary proposed by Natural England would include only one of these, Maulds Meaburn.  A Leith-Lyvennet boundary would include all and preserve the unity of the area.

The boundary proposed would also have the unfortunate result of dismembering one of the key elements in this landscape, the river Lyvennet.  In its upper part, which would be included, are the sites and monuments of prehistoric and Romano-British occupation.  In its lower part are the villages, farmsteads, and watermills of a predominantly mediaeval landscape, little altered by modern development.  The river moves gradually from the wind-swept slopes of its upper reaches to the greater tranquillity of its middle and lower parts where its banks are clothed in attractive woodland.  It is, for those who have explored it, a river valley of outstanding natural beauty with a history of human settlement that is of exceptional interest and eloquence.  The proposed boundary would sever the river in two.  A Leith-Lyvennet boundary would preserve its natural unity.

The history of the area can be read in its manor houses, farmsteads, cottages, and barns which give the villages their dominant character, still largely untouched by modern intrusions.  Many of the buildings are of seventeenth and eighteenth century date and traditional in style.  But while this is a predominantly agricultural area, evidence of an industrial past is to be found in its abandoned quarries and limekilns, and, of particular interest, the former coal pits of Reagill, Sleagill, and Newby, worked from the late seventeenth century to the coming of the railway in the mid-nineteenth, and whose grassed-over miniature spoil heaps are an unusual feature of the landscape.  Details of the output of coal, its transport to places in the locality, and the names of the colliers who worked in the pits, researched and published by Dr Blake Tyson, give a vivid picture of a small but flourishing industry of former times.

Outstanding among the people who once lived in the area is Thomas Lawson, Quaker schoolmaster of Great Strickland, born in 1630 and buried in the Quaker burial ground at Newby on his death in 1691.  A leading botanist of his time, his work is recognised as of national value. His notebook recording his research is in the library of the Linnean Society, London.   Of more local renown is Thomas Bland of Reagill (1799-1865) who created the celebrated Image Garden in Reagill, built the monument to Charles II at the source of the Lyvennet in 1851, ‘Black Dub’, and whose drawings of the antiquities, manor houses, mills, cottages, and landscapes of north Westmorland are now preserved in his notebooks in the museums and libraries of Penrith, Carlisle, and Kendal. His nephew, Thomas Salkeld Bland is the author of ‘The Vale of Lyvennet’.

It is a much visited area.  It is well provided with footpaths, bridleways, and quiet lanes which are popular with walkers, riders and cyclists.  It has a national cycle route passing through its centre.  The principal roads, M6, A6, and A66, pass close by but do not intrude.  Nor is there any other major blemish.  From many parts of the area the Pennine Fells form an ever-changing background and from the western ridge the mountains of the Lake District  are in view.  In contrast,  the small wooded valleys in the heart of the area give a more intimate beauty.  For its natural beauty, its cultural heritage, and its recreational value, this area bounded by the Leith and Lyvennet is a natural extension of the Orton Fells area and fully deserving of National Park designation.

O.J.Weaver,
Secretary,
Leith-Lyvennet Conservation Group.

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