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Research into droving history

Tuesday 28 January, 2020, by Karen Griffiths

We have been getting thoroughly immersed in the history of droving in Scotland and the North of England as we start the process of research for the ‘A Way Through’ project. We began with a scrappy photocopy of a leaflet produced in Kirkby Stephen called ‘The Droving Tradition of the Upper Eden Valley’ which we’ve now found an online copy of here, it mentions an archive which we are currently trying to track down.

The text also led us on to some more general works including A R B Haldane’s ‘The Drove Roads of Scotland’ and Peter Roebuck’s ‘Cattle Droving through Cumbria 1600-1900’ which are providing some fascinating detail, though most of it only really touching on the Westmorland area we will be looking at.

Books on droving

It’s led us to start thinking about what physical remains might we be looking for in the landscape, the routes themselves obviously, but also the ‘stances’ where cattle were pastured overnight and the roadside inns and other places where the drovers refreshed themselves on their long and physically demanding journeys.

Francis William Edmonds 1865 'The Thirsty Drover'
Francis William Edmonds 1865 ‘The Thirsty Drover’

Descriptions of drovers are not always very complimentary. An eighteenth century traveller through the Yorkshire Dales, The Hon. John Byng, later Viscount Torrington, was horrified when he visited Gearstones in Ribblesdale : “Crossing a ford, Mr Blakey led me to a public house – called Grierstones, the seat of misery, in a desert; and tho’ filled with company, yet the Scotch fair held upon the heath added to the horror of the curious scenery: the ground in front crowded by Scotch cattle and the drovers; and the house cramm’d by the buyers and sellers most of whom were in plaids, fillibegs [kilts] etc.”

< Previous ‘A Way Through’ blog post A Way Through project begins

Next ‘A Way Through’ blog post Pack horses and their routes >

Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


6 Replies to “Research into droving history”

  1. Maurice E Hall says:

    I am doing something similar for Teesdale U3a, but in the form of a presentation. I am concentrating on drove routes which became roads.
    I have heard Peter Roebuck speak, and he made me wonder if there might be some family connection to the droving tradition. My father’s maternal grandparents lived & farmed at Lukes House, Skellgill on Low Abbotside. I have no records or documents, but it seems feasible to believe that they were involved in the droving or pasturing of transient cattle on their way from Brough Fair to (perhaps) the Vale of York.
    I have a lot more work to do, but don’t mind sharing it if it is of use.

  2. Martin Partington says:


    Extremely interesting reading. At present i live in Killington at the side of Old Scotch Rd which is a well known Old drovers track. Unfortunately United Utilities want to send extremely heavy machinery down this C road for up to 4 years meaning it will be destroyed for ever in its current form which is a real shame. Have you got any advice for me to go back to them reguarding this scheme.

    • Hi Martin – apologies for the delay in replying. I suggest you need to speak to your county historic environment team. I think your road is outside the national park otherwise you should definitely speak to our HE people. Good luck

  3. Margaret Wilson says:

    Hi Karen,

    Your article was really enjoyable and informative! I have been looking up info about Drove Roads myself, because l live at Rigmaden in the parish of Mansergh , and part of the Old Scotch Road (the section UU are calling the ‘Swarther ‘section) runs through our land.

    The boundary between land still administered by South Lakeland District Council( the ‘Kendal side’) and land now part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (the ‘ Sedbergh/Kirkby Lonsdale side’) actually runs down the middle of this section of the Old Scotch Road!
    We too are very concerned about the possible impact of the proposed works traffic on this quiet ,beautiful and historic road, a loved and cherished part of our local area. I hope to speak to one of your Historic Environment team , and will try to find their contact details on the YDNP website.
    In the meantime, if you are ever able to get over to the very edge of the YDNP’s patch, do make a brief visit to this lovely road, its wide verges a mass of wildflowers.

    Kind regards,

    Margaret Wilson

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