In this blogpost Jan Hicks explores an early trade route called ‘Breasthigh’ which runs west from Greenholme via Bretherdale (where the medieval wool weight was found) ending up in Borrowdale:
“Kendal was an important centre of trade, particularly for wool and woven fabric. Packhorse trains are documented between Kendal and Newcastle, London and Southampton as early as the 14th and 15th centuries (Vickers, R. (1998). ‘Country carriers in Victorian Lakeland’ Transactions of the Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society 98 (series 2). Vol 98, pp. 277-286. https://doi.org/10.5284/1061392).
There are several routes between Kendal and Orton, including via Grayrigg and Tebay, the line of the present A685. There were inns at both of these villages. The old route was changed with the building of the M6, but the old road to Tebay went through Roundthwaite, and a bridge between Tebay and Roundthwaite was mentioned in 1380.
Tebay was also on the North-South route which, before the mid-16th century, was up the Lune valley and over Crosby Ravensworth fell, not through Shap (according to Relph). From Tebay there was a route to Orton, a decent sized village, with pubs, a market and a church. From Roundthwaite there also a route along the edge of Loups Fell to Greenholme. The routes from Greenholme extend to Shap, Orton, and over the fells to Borrowdale and the road which is the current A6.
It is worth remembering that while routes may be called “drove roads” or “packhorse routes” they may have originated long before these activities were in place, and once a routeway was established it will have been used by all sorts of people for all sorts of purposes.
The route west from Greenholme is particularly interesting. The track is made up as a farm track as far as the now uninhabited Low Whinhowe farm, from where it climbs and crosses some fields. Here it is evident as a hollow way but soon disappears on the ground. However, at the point where you cross the track which leads to High Whinhowe farm (derelict) there is the remains of a stone gate stoup. The1st edn OS map shows a track across the fields, and it can be detected on GoogleEarth images.
Once out of the improved fields, the track becomes obvious again, crosses the minor road which descends to Bretherdale, and is then a beautiful wide green lane, terraced out of the hillside, which runs to Bretherdale Head.
This lane has had a bank along it, and a substantial hedge, and has obviously been an important routeway. Bretherdale used to belong to the monks of Byland Abbey, and was managed by lay brothers as a sheep ranch – the name Bretherdale is thought to derive from the ‘Valley of the Brothers’. As well as a route for moving livestock, perhaps this was a way used by the visiting monks? It will certainly have been the way for visiting pedlars and packmen.
The farms at the end of the track, at Bretherdale Head are now all derelict, and in recent times would have been accessed by the modern road along the bottom of the valley.
The bridge over Bretherdale Beck is now made of huge stone flags and metal rails. But look at the banks and there is arching stonework which suggests that it may have once been a stone packhorse bridge. Beside it is a cobbled ford.
After passing along the farm track and crossing the valley road (which ends here) a rough lane can be seen which climbs to the top of fell. This is Breasthigh Road. This is probably the road cited in a presentement of 1754 at Kendal Assizes regarding the blocking of a route which states ”…that from the time whereof the memory of man is not to the contrary there was and yet is a certain common and ancient highway leading from the town of Selside to the market town of Orton”. It is now a rough stony track, which has been subject to many repairs and is currently used by off road motorbikes, mountain bikes and walkers.
After about 1km there is a ruined building in an enclosure, another possible stopover for a packman and his horse. This farm was called Breasthigh, and was inhabited in the 1851 census.
At the highest point of the fell it crosses the parish boundary [marked by a ‘Thunderstone’ on the 1898 25″ OS map] and descends into Borrowdale, meeting the top of the valley at Hucks Bridge, on the present A6, where there used to be an inn.
[Editor’s note – notice the single room building beside the route called Knott House (now in ruins). Prof Paul Carling commented on the blogpost Packhorses and their Routes that the strange location, exposed and with no ready water supply may imply that it was “…a road house offering shelter and sustenance to travellers”]
The fells from here carry many tracks, some leading to Long Sleddale, Shap and Kendal. Another route runs down the Borrowdale valley and eventually takes you back to Tebay or Roundthwaite.”
It is likely that ‘Breasthigh’ was an early packhorse route rather than a drove route as explained by Jean Scott-Smith in an email to Jan: “Breasthigh wasn’t a drove route so far as I know; it would be a direct link as you describe. The main drove route from Scotland, the Galloway Gate came across Crosby Fell to the Galloway Stone and then via Salterwath, Greenholme and on through the Lune Valley to places such as Barbon. The one from the west came across the fells from Ravenglass, via Ambleside, Troutbeck, Kentmere, Long Sleddale and Wet Sleddale, one of the big mustering points was Lambrigg Park. The section from Kendal up Long Sleddale and down Wet Sleddale is also referred to as the Assize road, between Kendal and Appleby; a route for judges and all their entourage to travel between the two towns for the quarterly assizes. This makes no sense to me as it is not direct, there is no big house that could provide hospitality, and covers some very rough terrain; there was a much easier route form Kendal via Grayrigg, Tebay and Orton.”
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