BB1223:   St George and the Squirrel

Wednesday 11th July 2012

As you hurtle northwards at 100 mph on your motorbike along the A6 towards Shap, you might not notice the sign on your right for Shap Wells Hotel.  Even at walking speed, you will not see the hotel from the road, so far set back that it is.  

Those of us who live locally tend to be rather dismissive of the area (wrongly as will become clear).  Comments such as “They eat their young up there!” have been known to have been uttered.

Things would have been a little different in Queen Victoria’s day.

Shap Wells then was very much a high society destination, partly for its peace and solitude (except when shooting of course), partly for its spa waters.

Subsequently, its history has been more checkered, having been converted to a Prisoner of War camp for officers in WW2'

Perhaps its greatest claim to fame is that one of its inmates might have been Rudolph Hess, the German Deputy Fuhrer who flew to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United Kingdom, but was arrested.

Or then again, perhaps he didn’t stay there.  

No-one seems certain!

Rudolf Hess

Now once more restored to being a hotel, most of us have been to the odd function on occasion.  Indeed, one member of today’s party (nameless, to spare my his embarrassment) had to have the bus stopped on the way back after attending a lawyers’ dinner there at the generous invitation of, and liberal supply of port by, another of our group today.  None of us had been there recently, though we were aware that it is well used as a staging post for coach parties.

As the forecast for the higher peaks was not at all promising, the concept of a circular walk from the hotel seemed attractive.

I derived the thought from a book called Curious Cumbrian Walks in which such a walk is described.

That was not today’s outing other than it brought to our attention a monument and another feature that we had not previously visited.

Instead, it seemed possible to produce a longer, interesting circular walk down and round Birk Beck- a major tributary of the River Lune.

On phoning the hotel to ask if we might park in their grounds whilst undertaking the walk, I was greeted kindly and agreement was readily forthcoming.

The day was not looking too clever as we turned down the lane to the hotel to be confronted by an exiting coach.  However the dampness in the air more or less disappeared as we left the car and, although we saw showers passing by elsewhere, for us the day just got better and better.

The coach party leaving .....

..... Shap Wells Hotel

Regular readers will know that Tony is interested in historical memorials but even he was not aware of this monument erected to honour Queen Victoria’s coronation.  Located just behind the hotel, in an open field but flanked by conifers that would not have been there a century ago, it is a statue of Britannia on a high column.

Mike spots Britannia.

Britannia Waives the Rules

On one side the base had engraving commemorating the accession of Queen Victoria to "The Throne Of These Realms" in 1837.  

Shap village has an interesting website that includes a page dedicated to the History of Shap Wells.  Regarding the other sides of the plinth, it advises that on the north panel is a wreath of palm and olive and the Lowther coat of arms, on the west panel is a British lion with its paw resting on a globe and on the east panel the goddess Hygeia pouring medicinal waters from a goblet into a shell held by an aged invalid.

The Lowther panel

The British Lion

The goddess Hygeia

Down by the beck we found another structure that would have been familiar to Victorians, albeit in their time it would have been a heated spa bath by the stream.  Today only the canopy and a pump remain.  

The beck

The Spa

What else was to be seen here took us by surprise.  More red squirrels in this one place than I have seen in the whole of my previous existence.  They are clearly well looked after as the plethora of feeding stations verified.  But by whom?  Presumably the Shap Wells Hotel.

Red number three

Squirrel woods

Red number eight

Train and motor ways

We could have stayed here much longer or, indeed, wandered upstream as suggested in the Curious Walks book, but our way led to the south, parallelish with the rail and motor ways whilst the Howgills and Lune Gorge could clearly be seen in the distance.

Howgills and Lune Gorge

We had anticipated a walk that would be somewhat boggy and damp underfoot and were not disappointed!  Sadly for the purpose of this report, nobody fell in or got seriously inconvenienced!

Roger, bog dodger

Man in the mire

We progressed through various fields on the east side of Birk Beck, past a number of fell ponies with their young.

Shergar with Lord Lucan

White Beauty with Snow Black

A closer view of Howgills and Lune Gorge

Some of the property we encountered was derelict, some tastefully restored.

A challenge for Tony?

Tastefully restored Scout Troop barn

South of Scout Green, we crossed the beck, re-crossing just before Steps where we patriotically paused by a Union Jack for our Comitibus photo.  

Comitibus :  Steps

Still the ways to go!

At Bridge End, we returned to the west bank and, aided by a signpost that had seen better days although the destinations had not yet moved, explored the hamlet of Greenholme, featuring an old chapel converted into a village hall but still with an earth closet.  

The old chapel

Earth privvy

We lunched on the steps of the hall where, directly opposite, we discovered St George with his tamed dragon behind him.  No sign of squirrels, red or otherwise, to be seen here. Had the dragon scared them off?

St George

The dragon

At Low Whinhowe there was some interesting, derelict farm machinery.  High Whinhowe was a long abandoned ruin.  

High Whinhowe

John tests the farm  equipment

Bryan puts us right

Had we known at the time what we would know half an hour later we could have saved ourselves the only steep climb of the day but we didn’t.  As we descended towards the valley, I offered the team the choice of returning north to the hotel or, alternatively, first exploring Bretherdale.  

Not Bretherdale

The trouble was that we weren't’t quite where I thought we were; Bryan determined, correctly, that my navigation had taken us too far south before meeting the road.  The wasted time let to us aborting the Bretherdale mission and, annoyingly, climbing up the steep road to emerge just by the High Whinhowe ruins that we had so recently explored.

Tony on the steep climb

Mine Host- Shap Wells Hotel

Washing photo for Margaret

A little further on was a display of washing that the boys insisted I photo for Margaret!

The route back northwards, mostly on the west side of Birk Beck, was without further incident and soon we were returned to the Hotel.  

Removing boots, as quite reasonably,we had been requested so to do when I telephoned, we entered the hotel and found the bar, the friendly hotel manager and a very tasty pint of Theakston's best bitter to round off a good day's outing.

On re-reading the above, the route sounds somewhat bland but that is unfair.  This is really pleasant countryside.  Not in itself particularly spectacular but with long open views to Mallerstang, the Howgills and the Lune Gorge.  Although we mostly travelled parallel with both the motorway and the Glasgow mainline, neither interfered with the enjoyment.

And the Shap Wells Hotel, although primarily designed for a very different type of customer, made us and the squirrels feel very welcome. I am sure they would do the same for St George.  Those who hurtle by at 100 mph don't know what they are missing!

Don, 11th July 2012


A Strickland Update

Regarding the Stricklands and the Hornyolds at Sizergh Castle (BB1203), Simon Hornyold recently e-mailed me to advise that the Stricklands ran out of male heirs.  Henry Hornyold married the Strickland heiress. He was the younger son of the Hornyold family, at Blackmore Park, Hanley Swan, Worcestershire. where the Hornyold family have been in residence since the 11th century - one being hanged in 1068 as a Saxon terrorist/freedom fighter!


What Sort of Plane is this?

To the question posed in BB1222, "What sort of plane is this?" our military expert, John S, responded:

One moment, whilst I don my Anorak.

The aircraft you saw was a Lockheed C5 Galaxy, America's largest transport plane. They've flogged a few to the R.A.F.

Click on the link above, watch the video then have a stab at answering the following question: "How much would a set of 28 tyres cost for this Plane?"

Answers on an e-mail please.





Wednesday 11th July 2012

Distance in miles:


Height climbed in feet:




Other Features:

Shap Wells, Birk Beck


Bryan, Don, John H, Mike, Roger B, Tony


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