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Turnpike road: Tebay to Ravenstonedale

Friday 13 March, 2020, by Karen Griffiths

On our way to meet up with members of the Ravenstonedale Parish History Group yesterday, we took the opportunity to drive along part of the route of the eighteenth century turnpike road from Tebay to Kirkby Stephen. This replaced an older packhorse/drove route apparently but was then superseded by the modern A685 built after the M6 was opened, and which in its turn overlaid the route of the nineteenth century railway line between Tebay and Kirkby Stephen which closed in 1962. A complex history indeed!

The turnpike survives today as a meandering thread which crosses the A685 several times as it picks its way along the better ground through the Lune valley. It leaves Tebay south of the A685 roundabout, runs to Gaisgill, crosses the A685 and continues north of the main road, through Rayne; Kelleth and past the turning down to Wath. It rejoins the A685 briefly before swooping south into Newbiggin, back up to the A685 and then south again in a loop through Ravenstonedale and then on to Kirkby Stephen having joined with the route of the A685 again.

The turnpike was one of three roads in the area which were designated by acts of parliament as follows:

“A combined Act was obtained for these three roads in 1 George III, c. 43, 1760; a second Act in 22 George III, c. 3, 1782; a third Act in 44 George III, c. 60, 1804; and a fourth Act in 5 George IV, c. 15, 1825. All these Acts were repealed when new provisions were made by the fifth and last Act of 13, 14 Victoria, c. 13, 1850. ” John F Curwen, ‘North Westmorland: Main roads’, in The Later Records Relating To North Westmorland Or the Barony of Appleby (Kendal, 1932), pp. 3-8British History Online [accessed 13 March 2020].

The road has several interesting features which speak to its long history. We stopped and took photographs where we could. The first aspect which would have been one of the major upkeep expenses are the number of bridges along this short section. From low, single span bridges across streams to the fine red sandstone bridge crossing the River Lune at Rayne.

Rayne Bridge  © Copyright Ian Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Rayne Bridge © Copyright Ian Taylor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Heather Ballantyne tells us that Rayne Bridge was in decay in 1891 and several stones in the abutment needed replacing, but this did not solve the problem and it was decided in 1902 that it was to be re-constructed at a cost of £2200.

The wide, relatively straight road climbs uphill and then clings to the side of the valley once it crosses the Lune at Rayne.

Heather Ballantyne has sent us a summary of newspaper article about an accident on this part of the route in 1858:

” A lady called Mrs Martha Davidson from Derby arrived at Tebay station one Wednesday in July 1858 and wanted to visit her brother Mr Thomas James who was a farmer in Kirkby Stephen so she needed to find a carrier to take her there. Luckily for her the carrier George Steel was about to leave for that town. She asked if she could have a ride on one of his carts (obviously he had more than one) and the driver agreed. When they got to the hill near Kelleth Mrs Davidson attempted to alight from the cart while the horse was still moving and she fell. The cart wheel went over her right arm and chest.

The driver gave her some gin that he had with him, lifted her onto the back of the cart and continued his journey. They had gone about 2 ½ miles to Newbiggin-on-Lune before she became so ill he had to leave her at Mr John Potter’s. Here she was given restoratives and she rallied sufficiently to continue her journey to her brothers in Kirkby Stephen. She had a broken arm and complained about pains in her chest. She only survived 2 days and died on the Friday. She was 48 years old.”

Kendal Mercury July 10th 1858 Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (
Kendal Mercury July 10th 1858 Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (

Beyond Kelleth the road looks to have been re-built at some point higher up the valley side and the number of roadside quarries are noticeable here leading us to wonder if the original lower course of the road proved hard to maintain and had to be moved higher and onto a more solid foundation.

Section of turnpike between Kelleth and Wath
Section of turnpike between Kelleth and Wath

There is evidence for the earlier route the road replaced. The farm at Kelleth Rigg End lay on a packhorse and cattle droving route and is “where an Inn and extensive stabling refreshed both man and beast.” ibid

Kelleth Rigg End
Kelleth Rigg End

The old route headed south from here to the Lune, and the hamlet of Wath is named for where the route forded the river, ‘wath’ coming from the Old Norse word for ford.

When the maintenance of the turnpike road was handed over to the parishes it crossed, several boundary stones were erected along its length so there was no dispute about who was responsible for which bits. We found the one marking the border between the parishes of Orton and Ravenstonedale. These roadside parish boundary markers date from around the middle of the nineteenth century.

A short while later we also found the last surviving ‘Angle Stone’ marking one of the boundaries of the four ‘Angles’ making up Ravenstonedale Parish, but by that time it was raining so hard we thought better of getting out of the car!

Bowderdale Angle Stone  ©  Martin and Jean Norgate: 2016
Bowderdale Angle Stone ©  Martin and Jean Norgate: 2016

Ravenstonedale was subdivided into ‘Angles’ as follows:

  • “THE TOWN ANGLE forms the north-east division of the parish, and includes the neighboring HAMLETS of Cross-bank, Lockholm, and High and Low Stenner’s Keugh, distant from 1 to 2 miles SW. of the town.
  • BOWDERDALE, the south-western “Angle” of the parish, includes the village and deep dale of its own name; and also WEASDALE, distant from 2 ½ to 4 miles WSW. of the town.
  • FELL-END ANGLE, the south-east quarter of the parish, includes the Hamlets of Backside, Dovengill, Murthwaite, and Wandale distant from 2 ½ to 4 miles S. of the town.

At various points along the route we had to rejoin the A685. As noted above, this modern road follows along the line of the 1861 railway linking Tebay to Kirkby Stephen and on to Darlington. The only clues to this railway heritage are the embankment the road sits on and the surviving railway stations alongside it like the Station House at Gaisgill. The station’s timber down platform Waiting Room survives and is now a holiday let!

Station House, Gaisgill.
Station House, Gaisgill.

Having reached Ravenstonedale we explored a little. Members of the local history group told us where to find a pair of cast iron cart stops, placed outside the Black Swan Hotel to stop clumsy carters and carriers driving their wheels into the old inn’s walls. A real piece of hidden history!

It reminded us of the many trips the Nelson family would have made with their carts through the village on their way between Kirkby Stephen and Kendal.

Our final stop was to visit the gravestone of carrier Elizabeth/Betsy Nelson who lies peacefully in the village churchyard along with her ‘son’ Robert Bousfield and his wife Agnes.

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Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


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