Eskdale Mill Trails, by Alan Cleaver

Eskdale is a beautiful valley with the mill at its heart. And once you’ve visited the mill you might like to explore the surrounding countryside further by walking one of the following historic trails.

Three-foot Path and Beckfoot Lonning:
Grade: Easy and family friendly
Time: 40 minutes

Head up  from the mill and through the fell gate. Turn immediately left and you’ll follow a well-made path heading backtowards Dalegarth. This track gets its name from the size of the rail track that used to run along here servicing the Nab Gill mine which was on the side of the fell (Boot Bank) to your right. Iron ore was mined and taken by train to Ravenglass and from there by ship to south Wales. The path at one point goes through the ‘back gardens’ of the houses near to Dalegarth station. Don’t worry – it’s a public footpath! Continue along the track and you’ll pass through Beckfoot Lonning. ‘Lonning’ is local dialect term for a short country lane. The path runs beside the railway line so watch out for the Ratty! In a short while, you will reach Beckfoot Station where you double-back along the main road to Dalegarth Station. Take care walking on the narrow but sometimes busy road.

Ticklebelly Alley and Church Lonning
Grade: Easy and family friendly
Time: 40 minutes

Walk back over the mill bridge past the ‘Old Post Office’ gift shop and Boot Inn. We are heading to St Catherine’s Church but how about a short diversion through Ticklebelly Alley?! To be honest it’s a rather short and non-descript path but who can resist such an intriguing name? It’s the first footpath on your left as you leave the village and essentially just cuts the corner off if you are heading towards the campsites or Woolpack Inn. At the end of Ticklebelly Alley, turn right to reach the crossroads with the Brook House Inn. One suggestion for the origin of the name Ticklebelly is that it was a place where pigs were kept and in the summer the long grass would tickle their belly.

Back at the Brook House Inn crossroad, take the single track (directly opposite the road to Boot) down Church Lonning. This is in fact also the old corpse road which was used in medieval times to bring the dead from Wasdale to St Catherine’s Church for burial. On your right halfway down Church Lonning is Parson’s Passage (also known as Vicar’s Walk) – this path was the route taken by the vicar from the vicarage (now a private house). Take time to explore the historic church and well-kept graveyard before perhaps taking a walk along the river. Or if you are really brave, going across the stepping stones!

Peat-cutter’s Path to the stone circles
Grade: Moderate
Time: Allow 90 minutes there and back

Peat – decomposed plant matter – was a vital natural resource for the people of Eskdale (and elsewhere) until the late 19th Century. It was used as a fuel for heating the mill’s drying rack, domestic fires and sometimes as roofing material. Peat is found on the top of the fells and this path was used by the peat-cutters. Head uphill from the mill through the fell gate and continue straight on up the fell (following the signpost pointing to Miterdale). After a while you will reach the ruins of the peat-cutters’ huts. The local name for these are ‘Scales’. They were needed because it took several weeks for peat to dry so the peat was stacked here until it was ready for use.

Once on the fell top you will need to take a map, compass and know how to take a bearing to find the stone circle as they are not sign-posted. But don’t panic! Taking a map bearing is an essential skill for walking in the Lakes. It’s a skill that is quick to learn but could save your life. What’s more it’s easy enough for even young members of your family to try out and finding the White Moss and Brat’s Hill stone circles is a good starter lesson. Take a few minutes to learn this skill as a family and practise it to find your path to the stone circles.

You will find details here:

Re-trace your steps to return to the peat ‘scales’ and then back to the mill.

The Corpse Road
Grade: Moderate
Time: To do the whole length of the corpse road to Wasdale takes two-and-a-half hours but you can just walk it for a short length before turning back.

Corpse roads were used in medieval times to carry the dead from remote parishes to the mother church for burial. Only certain churches had licences for burial. Hence the parishioners in part of Wasdale had to be brought over the fell for burial at St Catherine’s Church, Eskdale. And prior to St Catherine’s being licensed for burial, the bodies were taken to St Bees – a journey of some 20 miles!

Head up from the mill through the fell gate and turn right on the stony track (the corpse road) following the signpost pointing to Wasdale. This can be a bit tough under foot but after a few hundred yards the stones give way to a softer path. The path is well marked and easy to follow. After about a third of a mile, you will turn right through a gate onto the corpse road proper. It will take two-and-a-half hours to reach Wasdale Head and you will need map, compass and know how to take a bearing so only attempt it if you are experienced and well prepared (it can be quite a boggy path near Burnmoor Tarn). But for the family, just walk it until you have had enough and then turn round. You can enjoy some fantastic views over the valley from this path.

The Ghost Story: There is a famous ghost story associated with this corpse road. A young man died and his corpse was tied to the back of a horse to be taken on the corpse road to Eskdale (the body was only put in a coffin when it reached the lynch-gate at the church). Near Burnmoor Tarn the horse was startled and ran off into the mist. A lengthy search failed to find horse or corpse. A few months later the deceased’s mother – no doubt still distraught from the event – also died. As her body was being taken over the fell, again the horse was startled and ran off. The search party eventually found a horse and body by Burnmoor Tarn but it turn out to be the young man’s lost corpse. It is said the rotting body of the mother became merged with the rotting body of the horse and this mangled ghost still haunts the corpse road!

If you wish to learn more about the history of Cumbria’s corpse roads and explore more of them, look out for “Corpse Roads of Cumbria” by Alan Cleaver & Lesley Park available from the gift shop at Eskdale Mill, Dalegarth Station or other local bookshops.

The Postman’s Path
Grade: Moderate
Time: Allow 90 minutes to reach the end at the Woolpack Inn

Today the post is delivered to rural farms and homes by van but in the 19th and 20th Centuries the postman more frequently had to rely on doing on bike or on foot. This led to the creation of a number of “Postman’s Paths” – routes made or used by the postman as short-cut s between farms. HH Symonds noted the Postman’s Path from Boot in his 1933 book Walking in the Lake District.

We start of course at the Old Post Office in Boot – now the village gift shop just before the mill bridge. From the old post office, look towards the mill (but don’t cross the bridge) and turn right along the footpath heading up hill behind the mill. This will take you past a couple of houses before rising steeply towards Gill Bank Farm. This very steep stretch is mercifully quite short. We turn right onto the fell (signposed Eel Tarn and Scafell) just before Gill Bank farm. The postman would of course have delivered the post to Gill Bank and we suspect this path is his short cut to the Woolpack Inn, saving him returning to Boot and doubling back along the valley road. The path leading to the fell is well made and easy to follow. It peters out once on the fell as you walk past the crags of Little Pie. You will soon be adjacent to Eel Tarn but – typically of tarns in the Lake District – you won’t be able to see it! These tarns fill the dips in fell tops and and therefore hard to see until you are right on top of it. Turn right off the path and cut through the slight rise and Eel Tarn will be laid out before you. It’s a good spot to stop for your bait (bait – Cumbrian dialect for lunch). Continue on the western side of the tarn and you’ll slowly drop down towars the Woolpack Inn. The path passes a disused stone hut where you bear south-east and follow a fell wall until you reach the gate that drops you down to the Woolpack Inn. Enjoy some refreshment at the Inn and you can return by the main road – or of course by the Postman’s Path.

To find out more about the history of this Postman’s Path and other ancient paths, see “Get Lost” by Alan Cleaver & Lesley Park, available from the gift shop at Eskdale Mill, Dalegarth Station or other local bookshops.


Watch this space for Eskdale Mill’s downloadable trail leaflets in the future.

You can find other suggested walking trails around Eskdale at and on the Lake District National Park website.