LANGDALE VALLEY

 

Langdale

LANGDALE is made up of two valleys - Great Langdale and Little Langdale.  Great Langdale is a U-shaped valley formed by glaciers while Little Langdale is a hanging valley - a tributary valley with the floor at a higher level than the main channel into which it flowed.

The mouth of the valley is located at Skelwith Bridge and the valley contains 2 villages; Chapelstile and Elterwater and a hamlet at Highclose.

One of the best known features of Great Langdale is the Langdale Pikes, a group of peaks on the northerrn side of the dale. From below they appear as a sharp rocky ridge, though they are only precipitous on their southern side: to the north the land sweeps gently to High Raise the parent peak of the range. The Pikes themselves include (from west to east) Pike of Stickle, Loft Crag, Harrison Stickle, and Pavey Ark. Langdale's highest fell is Bowfell, other notable fells are crinkle crags at the head of the Oxendale valley and Pike O'Blisco

GEOLOGY

The valley is underlain by the Borrowdale volcanic group with stony fluvio-glacial soils on the valley floor.  Langdale and Elterwater were centres of the Lake District slate industry with two slate workings still in operation at Elterwater Quarry and Spout Cragg Quarry both operated by Burlington Stone.

During the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries iron ore is reported to have been mined in the fells around Langdale. In 1709 Thomas Robinson wrote that “Langdale and Cunningston mountains do abound most with Iron veins; which supplies with Ore, and keeps constantly going, a Furnace at Langdale”

FARMING HISTORY

The 2006 Lakeland Shepherd’s guide records sheep flocks belonging to the following farms:

Cockley Beck, Seathwaite
Birk Howe Farm, Little Langdale
Fellfoot, Little Langdale
Wall End, Great Langdale
Robinson Place, Great Langdale
Harry Place. Great Langdale
Stool End Farm, Great Langdale
Baysbrown Farm, Great Langdale
Middle Fell Farm, Great Langdale
Millbeck Hall, Great Langdale

 

FLORA & FAUNA

Important ‘woodland’ features of the valley are numerous pollards - trees which have had their branches cut back at an approximate height of 10 feet on a regular cycle to encourage bushy growth.  In the past, this growth would have been used for fuel and animal fodder.  There are pollards throughout Great Langdale, especially at the head of the valley.

ARCHEOLOGY & HISTORY

The first evidence of human activity in Great Langdale is associated with Neolithic axe factories high among the Langdale Pikes which are thought to date from around 4000 BC.  Stone tool manufacture appears to have been a major industry with a thriving export market, tools from Langdale having been found at sites throughout Britain and Ireland. The axes produced were highly efficient, suitable for tree felling and killing animals.

It is unlikely that there existed any permanent settlement in the Langdale valley at this time.  Occupation is likely to have been sporadic and part of some form of summer transhumance, with people travelling in from the surrounding lowlands and coastal areas to quarry stone to make ‘rough-outs’ that were then taken away for finishing and polishing. 

The Langdale Valley probably remained uninhabited until the arrival of Norse settlers via Ireland after the tenth century.  Norse influence in the valley can be seen the place names such as Thrang, Rossett and Oxendale, as well as in the name Langdale itself which means ‘long valley’. 

By this time a ‘ring garth’ had been set up to enclose the arable land on the valley bottom which was presumably farmed in common by the tenants.  A document of 1216 refers to the ‘inclosed land of Great Langden’ in which the ‘land of Basebrun’ was granted to Conishead Priory.

A water mill, probably for corn, is recorded in Great Langdale from as early as 1283.  In the 1570s four mills were recorded and mill rents were still being collected in the eighteenth century

After the disasters of the fourteenth century, the period between 1450 – 1600 saw a massive resurgence of the rural economy and population.  It was around this time that much of the low lying land outside the ring garth and on the valley side was enclosed.  The majority of these enclosures or ‘intakes’ on the valley sides would have been used to provide additional grazing for cattle and sheep.  A survey of the land conducted by the Earl of Cumberland in 1573 recorded ten farms in the valley.  These were listed as Wall End, Sidehouse, Ash Busk, Rossett, Whitegill, Thompson, Bowderston, Pye Howe, Robinson’s and Thrang. 

The number of farms was to decline in the proceeding centuries as farms began to be amalgamated and reorganised into larger holdings, leaving many farm buildings redundant.  This creation of larger farming holdings or estates by the more affluent yeoman farmers after the sixteenth century is often referred to as the ‘Age of Statesman Farmers’.  This period also saw a widespread rebuilding of rural vernacular architecture so recognisable and distinctive today. 

The discovery of the Lake District by writers and artists in the late-eighteenth century lead to more visitors arriving in the valley and later the development of the early tourist industry.  Great Langdale has long been one of the most popular Lake District valleys with many Picturesque tourists and later Romantic writers choosing to visit the valley. 

The Langdale Estate began life as a small woollen mill where wool from local flocks was processed with the mill driven by the fast flowing water of Great Langdale Beck.  In 1823, a local entrepreneur with an interest in quarrying saw the potential for the making of gunpowder on the site.  Within a few years the works was exporting to North America and north Africa.  The powder works closed in 1930 – a victim of the depression and the development of other explosives such as dynamite.

In February 1929 the National Trust acquired its first property in Great Langdale, with the Old Dungeon Ghyll hotel and farm.  The other farms were acquired between 1929 and 1974.  The bequest of the Lonsdale Common in 1978 put most of Great Langdale Valley above Chapel Stile, with the exception of Baysbrown and the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, under the protection of the National Trust.

VISITOR INFO

A wealth of information about tourist facilities in Langdale is on www.amblesideonline.co.uk

Farm Bed and Breakfast facilities are located at:-

Fell Foot Farm
Little Langdale
Millbeck Farm
Great Langdale

There is a caravan and camping site and B&B at Gill Head Farm Langdale Leisure Limited is based in Great Langdale and consists of a hotel, timeshare lodges and leisure facilities.

The Old Dungeon Ghyll pub and hotel in the Great Langdale valley has a long association with climbing.  Originally a farm and inn, it was sold to the historian Professor G.M. Trevelyan in the early 20th century who donated it to the National Trust. It is named after the nearby waterfall, Dungeon Ghyll Force.