Fell Life
"The Hidden Fort"     More Tales by Paul

by: Paul Buttle who is the author of several Walking Guides to the Lake District. Cumbria, with its fells (mountains), and the Lake District are near England's West Coast, across from Ireland.

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Last week I discovered an ancient British fort. It was quite the best example of such a fort I have come across in Cumbria, yet I don't ever recall having seen a picture of it nor any one ever mentioning it. Which is all very surprising for it is not even four miles from where I live.

I discovered it by mistake - a double mistake. My first mistake was thinking that I had to correct one of my guide books. The most difficult directions to compose are for those paths which cross valley floors and pass through a series of fields. One such direction I had carefully crafted some years back I knew had become totally redundant since the local farmer had grubbed out a hedge and made two fields in to one large one. Whatever confusion these changes had caused though, walkers seemed to have surmounted them - no one had ever written to complain - nevertheless I thought it incumbent on me to get the directions corrected. I was sure I had let two or three reprints go already.

So off I went last Friday morning to check it out; to see how I could alter the directional paragraph involved to fit the circumstances that now appertained. But as I plodded across the fields in question, guidebook in hand, to see how the words would need changing, I made a staggering discovery: I had already done it - and must have done it some years ago. How odd to remember something needed putting arights but to not to remember ever having done it!

This mistake put me where I would never have been otherwise, and due to this, I set off on a walk I would never have done otherwise - from Dale Bottom to Rosthwaite. The route took me in to Shoulthwaite valley: a small but impressive glen sadly wrecked due to one side of it being planted with conifers. I could only recall ever being in it once before. Before setting out I had noted a path I could use but once in the valley I found it better to follow a forestry trackway which paralleled the path but at a slightly higher level. The added height was what made it better to follow - it was in the sunshine. Though really I never like plodding along forestry tracks as I find them too brutal.

I had walked about a mile along this track when I came to a wooden sign pointing to a footpath leading off to the right through the conifers. I thought it would link on to the right of way I'd initially intended to use, which would now be in sunshine - so I followed it. It didn't. The path was a cul de sac. It linked to no other path but instead it lead to this remarkable fort.

Castle Crag Fort it is called, the same name as the ancient fort that sits in the middle of Borrowdale. It is set atop a small hillock which drops away quite steeply on two sides to the valley floor. Compared to other hillforts I've come across it is very small - it covers much less than an acre. Unlike the other two such forts I know of in the Lake District, in Borrowdale and on Carrock Fell, here there is unmistakable evidence of fortification - two embankments and ditches roughly circled the hillock. They must have taken a great effort of labour to build out of such unyielding rock.

What sort of threat prompted people to create a structure like this? One imagines a few thousand years ago the Lake District was fairly wild terrain: who could have thought it worthwhile plundering? I would guess the fort could only have been used in times of peril - Shoulthwaite valley is too narrow and cramped a dale to imagine many people living there. That probably added to its defensive nature of the site: it was secretive. With luck marauding invaders wouldn't notice it. In thirty years I hadn't noticed it.

One of my other guides certainly did need changing - my guide to walks round Ambleside. I mentioned turning right at a certain bank and now the bank was become a coffee shop! Nearly always something needs changing each time a book is reprinted. The number of a bus service changes or a phone number gets altered (one year BT, of course, obligingly changed every phone number in the land by putting a 1 after the initial 0) - things like that.

Perhaps I should be like Wainwright and plainly tell readers the guide was correct at the time of publication and there will no attempt to update in future. One farm gate Wainwright described as being green thirty years ago has long since been red. It was actually Wainwright's guide which precipitated the change. The gate's owner read Wainwright's description and thought he would vex future walker's by changing its colour. He probably succeeded but he didn't vex Wainwright; he was indifferent. Sometimes I wish I could adopt the same attitude.

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