BB1126 : The Gunpowder Trail

Wednesday 7th September 2011

Perhaps we should have saved this outing for 5th November!  Although there is no known connection to Guy Fawkes (nor likely to be given the difference in centuries and geography), the central theme this week was Gunpowder.

Time was a little tight so we had decided to stay local.  I have lived in this area for over forty years but was quite taken aback when John L suggested that we follow the gunpowder tramway. I knew nothing about it.

I was aware that this had been an important area for the manufacture of gunpowder, that there were the ruins of a gunpowder factory by the River Kent at Sedgwick, that there were other former gunpowder manufacturing sites up near Gatebeck and that the rather grand Sedgwick House was built by William Wakefield in 1868 out of the profits of gunpowder and banking. 

Also, that a descendent of his, Wavell Wakefield, had captained Sedbergh School, Harlequins and England at Rugby Union (a distinction later shared by Will Carling) before becoming 1st Baron Wakefield of Kendal.

But a gunpowder tramway was news to me.

Wavell Wakefield

According to Ian Tyler in his publication Gunpowder Mills of Cumbria, it was a 3ft 6in tramway from the Gatebeck Gunpowder Mills, via Crooklands Wharf on the Lancaster Canal, to Milnthorpe railway station. It was authorised by Westmorland County Council in 1874, completed 1875 and passed for use in 1876. Using horsedrawn wagons only (the horses were fitted with special copper shoes to prevent sparks), this railway was not subject to the Railway Act and needed no act of Parliament.

Allegedly, at one stage the gunpowder mill produced 60% of the gunpowder in England but I have heard that claim before about other such places!

Milnthorpe Station is not in the village of that name but at "Libby's Level" where the road from Milnthorpe to Crooklands crosses the mainline. It was closed in 1968, as part of the Dr Beeching cuts.  Close-by was the Station Inn.  I thought the landlady was known as "Aunty" who was exceedingly old and kept very long and illegal opening hours. John thinks she was called Mabel.  Aunty Mabel perhaps?  Either way, I don't recall ever going in and my understanding is that it is a pub no more although John thinks otherwise. There's one way to find out!

The gunpowder tramway closed in 1937 when the gunpowder works also closed.

History lesson over, let's get on with the walk!

Given the weather forecast a few days before, what I was expecting was running rain.

Something which, funnily enough, Pete managed to provide through this video of his son, Craig, in concert with his band, Joker's Dozen. To find out more, click on Running Rain.

Not for those of a sensitive disposition!

In fact, when John picked us all up it was not just running rain, it was positively teeming.  

Craig McLaren with Joker's Dozen

Fortunately it had stopped by the time we reached Endmoor to begin the inspection of the first gunpowder site (or chronologically, the last).  Disappointingly, there was very little left of it to view.  There was a Nissan Hut converted to an office and a building that appeared as if it were iron clad but on closer inspection the panels turned out to be polystyrene awaiting rendering!  However, there was one old building that looked as if it belonged to the gunpowder era plus the factory manager’s house with the inscription IW 1852- the W presumably being a Wakefield.

Nissan Hut manager's office

An authentic building!

Not iron clad building!

Manager's house, as was.

Back into the car and on to John’s house where we started the walk proper.  We dropped down through parts of Endmoor I had never previously seen and picked up the line of the old tramway by the side of Peasey Beck.  There was not a lot of evidence of it having been a tramway but this we followed as best we could as far as the A65 and the Crooklands Wharf.

Peasey Beck

The line of the old tramway

Is this where the tramway crossed Peasey Beck?

Wakefield's Crooklands Wharf

Our route then lay to the north, following the canal until it ran out of water at Stainton. Here the rain started so we used the bridge over the filled-in canal as a convenient lunch shelter until it passed by.

Waterwitch- the only boat on this section

Looking north along the canal

Vegetation taking over

Preparations for the County Show

Dry stone walling competition

Swans with six cygnets

And again!

Lunch shelter at the end of the water

Next we trod the line of the canal to the south end of the 378 yard long Hincaster Tunnel where it is still filled with water.  Here in days gone-by (1819 onwards) the horses were unhitched to be taken overland whilst the boats were propelled by boatmen’s feet on the tunnel walls.  At the far end we took the team picture.

The canal tunnel south end

Comitibus: at the north end of the tunnel

John showing the height of the horse path bridges

Sedgwick House

The canal, once again filled-in, then heads north towards Kendal and we took the towpath as far as Sedgwick where we dropped down into the village and passed the splendour that is Sedgwick House.

I remember looking round this building in about 1987 after it had closed as a school. I was working for Prolific Life & Pensions (an offshoot from Provincial Insurance) and we were looking for new offices to cope with our expansion.  I think Stan was with me.  It was a rabbit warren of a place, quite unsuitable for modern office accommodation, so we declined the opportunity, later to take over the Bridge Mills sock factory, demolish it and build the new offices on that site by the River Kent in the centre of Kendal.  Today Sedgwick House comprises rather smart apartments.

On reaching the River Kent near where the murdered Shafilea Ahmed's body was found, we headed upstream as far as the footbridge that crosses over to reach the National Trust Caravan Site that used to be the first of the gunpowder factories. There were the remains of several old buildings to be seen plus a still partially working mill race.

Crossing the River Kent

Gunpowder buildings

Mill race

And more gunpowder buildings

Mill race feeder stream in spate

At the far end the path was blocked by a sign refusing entry into the field.  I have walked this path for the best part of forty years.  For some of that time it was supposedly closed to the public but the public still regularly used it.  More recently it has been an open path with latched gates.  I think all that makes it a right of way but the owner obviously thinks differently. It was good to see from the marks on the ground that the public do not agree with him and, similarly, we were not deterred, pressing on to the Hawes Lane Bridge where there is a tree with strange fruit.

Hawes Lane bridge

View from the bridge- click to see the strange fruit

Here we turned up the hill towards Natland then at the canal bridge turned south before heading for home.

A question that remains unanswered is why this area was so favoured for the making of gunpowder?  True, we have water and carbon (from burnt trees) in great quantity but so have a lot of places.  Sulphur and saltpetre are not indigenous.  So why was gunpowder manufactured in such quantities so far from the major conurbations? John undertook to look into this and report back.  In the process he found a detailed article about the Gunpowder Mills of South Cumbria. It can be found on pages 8 to 14 of the hot-linked document.

Don, 7th September 2011


PS For those who would like a bit more of Joker's Dozen, here is their latest release: Soho Spirit.



Guy W wrote to me after this report was first published to point out that there was a problem with the link to the Gunpowder Mills of South Cumbria.  He added:

I rented one of the cottages at Gatebeck for a few months in 1987. I have a recollection of finding an odd tower whilst wandering in some woodland to the north of the Cooperage (Greggy's scrapyard) which I was told was a Shot Tower. They dropped molten lead through a sieve from the top of the tower and it formed into the right sized lead pellets as it fell, landing in a pool of water at the bottom.  Seems an appropriately related industry to go with gunpowder works.

I also remember reading that the UK produced something like 90% of the world’s gunpowder. This sounds very war-like, but apparently by far the bulk of it was used in blasting – creating cuttings for the world’s railways which we were also rather good at building at one time!  Now, if I could get that link to work I could verify if any of these random memories of mine are actually supported in print!

After the link was repaired and visited, he responded:

Interesting, although the way it is written it presumes a lot of knowledge (lacking, in my case) about the process involved in gunpowder manufacture so it is a bit lost on me! But it does confirm my comment that the powder was largely used for blasting rather than warfare.

But the bit about the Higher Gatebeck site doesn’t mention my Shot Tower. So perhaps it wasn’t one after all.

Can anyone throw any light on the Shot Tower?






Wednesday 7th September

Distance in miles:


Height climbed in feet:




Other Features:



Don, John PL, Pete, Stan, Tony


BOOTboys routes ares now being put online in gpx format which should work with most mapping software. You can follow our route in detail by downloading BB1126.

To see which Wainwright top was visited on which BB outing see
Which Wainwright When?

For the latest totals of the mileages and heights see: BB Log.



E-mail addresses on this web site are protected by

 Spam Trawlers will be further frustrated by
 Spam Blocker: help fight spam e-mail!  



BOOT boys

If you want to join
he BOOTboys
Fan Club
let us know and
you will receive
of new
BOOTboys reports.

Click on
to contact us.


Home Page











2011 Outings

BB1101 :
Wasnfell Revisited
Tuseday 11th January

BB1102 :
Recuperation Scar!
Thursday 17th February

BB1103 :
A Promenade of Pensioners
Thursday 24th February

BB1104 :
The B Team
Thursday 3rd March

BB1105 :
  A Little Bit Of Wind
Thursday 10th March

BB1106 :
A Linthwaite Round
Thursday 17th March

BB1107 :
Home From The Pulpit
Thursday 24th March

BB1108 :
Taking The Brunt
Thursday 31st March

BB1109 :
Up The Spout
Wednesday 6th April

BB1110 :
Not The Royal Wedding
Friday 29th April

BB1111 :
Kentmere Parts 1 & 2
Thurs 5th, Saturday 7th May

BB1112 :
Five Unknown Tarns
Wednesday 11th May

BB1113 :
Gurnal Dubbs Revisited
Thursday 19th May

BB1114 :
A March Through The Mist
Wednesday 1st June

BB1115 :
Brief Encounter
Wednesday 8th June

BB1116 :
Extraordinary and
Lesser Mortals
Wednesday 15th June

BB1117 :
Farewell David Daw
Wednesday 29th June

BB1118 :
West Side Story
Thursday 7th July

BB1119 :
st Side Story
Wednesday 13th July

 BB1120 :
All The Way From Barrow
Wednesday 20th July

 BB1121 :
Suitable For The Guests!
Thursday 28th July

BB1122 :
Graylings In Flagrante
Wednesday 3rd August

BB1123 :
The First Indecision Outing
Wednesday 24th August

BB1124 :
The Second Indecision Outing
Thursday 25th August

BB1125 :
The Tale of Tony's Triumph
Wednesday 31st August

BB1126 :
The Gunpowder Trail
Wednesday 7th September

BB1127 :
Four Lords a-Leaping
Thursday 15th September

BB1128 :
Heversham Head and Mhor
Thursday 22nd September


The Way Of The Roses
12th - 14th September



 Click on the photos
for an enlargement
or related large picture.


To see which Wainwright
top was visited on which
BB outing see
Which Wainwright When?.

To download a log of heights and miles and which Wainwrights
have been done by which BOOT
boy in the"modern" era, i.e. since the advent
click on BB Log.