Walking & Wildlife

“Martindale offers some of the most unspoilt walking and wildife
in The Lake District

The best walks & wildlife in the Martindale area, The Northern Lake District

Martindale is named after the pine marten or “sweet mart” for which the valley was known in the Middle Ages. Sadly, this animal was hunted for its beautiful fur until it became one of Britain’s rarest mammals and it has not been seen in Martindale since the 1890s.

By contrast, the great red deer of medieval “Martindayle Chace” have thrived and multiplied over the centuries and a walk to the head of the dale will reward you with a sight of these magnificent creatures browsing on the fellside. During the autumn rut the roaring of the stags echoes from side to side of the valley and from Hallin Bank you can hear their battle cries by day and by night. The wild Martindale herd comes from an original blood-line that goes back to the first appearance of deer after the Ice Age.

Closer to home, look out for our red squirrels. These are found nowadays only in remote corners of Britain. With their bushy tails and long tufty ears you are sure to be captivated by them. We have put up squirrel feeding boxes on trees around Hallin Bank and they are regularly visited. However, not content with his own supply, you are likely to see Squirrel Nutkin helping himself to the birds’ peanuts too!

The bird feeders outside The Fold attract a great variety of colourful song-birds, some of which, like the yellowhammer, you may not easily see elsewhere. The list of birds in the garden and surrounding fields includes the greater pied woodpecker, green woodpecker (or “yaffle”), nuthatch, tree-creeper, mistle thrush, blackbird, redstart, spotted fly-catcher, pied wagtail, chaffinch, goldfinch, dunnock, robin, swallow, blue-tit and great-tit.

“Down at the beck you might surprise a dipper or a heron. In spring you can’t fail to hear the cuckoo calling, and through the summer the house martins swoop all day long to their nests in the eaves of the house. In the evenings they compete for insects with pipistrelle bats. And when the rest have gone to bed, there are the owls.”

Walks in Martindale, The Lake District

Walking is the main reason for most visits to Martindale. ‘Martindale Common’, as it is properly called, consists of not one but three valleys: Fusedale, Howgrane and Boredale. Hallin Bank faces toward the last two of these and is the ideal point at which to start and end a U-shaped walk along the ridges, the complexity of the landscape allowing you to make it longer or shorter according to your energy. Strong walkers will want to reach the great High Street ridge, named after the Roman road that runs at over 2,000 feet from near Penrith to Ambleside, and they will probably take in jewel-like Angle Tarn on the way.

Less ambitious targets would be the summit of Pikeawassa, Beda, or Sleet Fell, visible from your windows. Most visitors begin on the doorstep, as it were, with Hallin Fell itself – just a 20 minute climb straight up from Hallin Bank for an amazing view to the Pennines in one direction, Helvellyn and the central fells in the other, and the whole of Martindale and lake Ullswater spread before you like a map.

Walking out on the fells you will catch sight of other birds: kestrels, buzzards, maybe a peregrine falcon or a sparrowhawk, curlew, plover, wheatear and stone-chat. As well as the deer there are hares and foxes, and badgers come out in the evening.

The sheep that range freely over the fells are either the horned, black-faced Swaledales or the white-faced Herdwicks, classed as a rare breed but native to the Lake District ever since the Vikings brought them here in the 10th century, and one of the commonest sights on the Lakeland fells. Herdwick lambs are born black and gradually turn grey, starting around the eyes, so that for a while they look as if they’re wearing goggles!

For centuries their wool was the cornerstone of Cumbria’s economy. The paint-mark on the fleece shows which farm they belong to, according to a system of symbols developed by a farmer – from Martindale – which was then adopted throughout the Lake District.

If your legs complain of too much uphill work, you could follow a circular path around the base of Hallin Fell – dropping down to the lake at Sandwick and pausing at the small beach before setting out through the oak woods, and back via Howtown. This route takes you past the Martindale ‘Poetry Stones’, our local contribution to the series of installations along the Ullswater Way. Lines from poems by Kathleen Raine, who once lived in Martindale, have been engraved on three natural rocks in the woods. These reflections on the spirit of nature offer a moment of thought in a most beautiful and tranquil setting: Visit website »

From Sandwick you can follow the lakeside path in the opposite direction towards Glenridding at the head of Ullswater, with the lake on your right, the waterfall at Scalehow tumbling down the fellside on your left, and views of Helvellyn and the high fells ahead. This was Alfred Wainwright’s favourite walk. It is part of the set of paths encircling the lake which are nowadays designated the Ullswater Way.

You can also follow this trail northwards to Pooley Bridge at the foot of the lake. However, you don’t have to walk all the way round (Ullswater is nine miles long!) because one of the picturesque Ullswater ferries will carry you from either Glenridding or Pooley Bridge back to the pier at Howtown.

The ferries are still known as steamers, although modern engines have long since replaced steam-power. The oldest of them, ‘Lady of the Lake’, dates from 1874 and ‘Raven’ is only a little younger than the Lady. These elegant old launches might tempt you to a longer voyage, in which case treat yourself to a round-the-lake ticket: Visit website »

Some of them stop at Aira Force on the opposite side of the lake, and if you keep an eye on the time-table it’s possible to walk up to the impressive Aira waterfall and return for a later boat home.

Away from the waterside, you will enjoy an easy stroll along the valley roads, following the line of the beck (the local word for stream) in each valley, past a series of traditional, white-washed farmhouses. Nearly all the houses in Martindale date from the 17th century, when the long wars between England and Scotland had finally ended and the people of Cumbria, relieved from many years of Scottish raids and compulsory service on the border, re-built their homes and settled down to more peaceful and prosperous times. Hallin Bank is a typical example of such a house, preserving most of its original architecture and features.

The Old Church of St Martin, halfway along the Howgrane valley, likewise dates from the 17th century though it was built on medieval foundations and is first mentioned in 13th century documents.

This is a memorable place which you should certainly visit. With its plain flagged floor, dark oak panelling against white walls, and deep set windows framing views of the fells, the church gives a unique sense of simple strength. The east end of the church is shaded by a massive yew tree, estimated to be 1,300 years old and one of the glories of Martindale. Evensong is held at St Martin’s six times a year – in the summer months only, since the church has no electricity.