Eden Way: From Vista to Cypher

6.24 miles 3h 7m 184m ascent

Armathwaite to Eden Bridge

Blue skies and sunshine above, crisp newly fallen golden leaves underfoot. This was as beautiful a day as autumn can muster. This section took us between two eighteenth century bridges, from Armathwaite to Eden Bridge. A week earlier there had been torrential rain (driving us elsewhere) and perhaps we appreciated the weather more keenly for that.

There are four parts to this section: woodland paths through Coombs Wood; a quiet country road; a pathless parkland; and a walk in the fields beside the B6143. We parked on Armathwaite Bridge to begin where our last section had ended. Stone steps took us down to the riverside and under the bridge. The ‘gateway’ to these steps was crossed by several fixed iron bars, easy enough for us to step over but more of a hurdle for the dogs. A foreshadowing of the many stiles we would be manhandling the dogs over later in the day.

The first half mile of our walk was a woodland path close to the river. A beautiful setting. Rays of sunlight glinted on leaves drifting to the ground with a soundtrack of dogs swishing through fallen leaves and soft gurgling from the river. I was ‘becoming one with my surroundings’ and missed where the track turned away from the river but I am glad I did. We soon ran out of riverside path but found ourselves in a pretty hollow in sandstone cliffs. It was a place that could inspire verse.

Back on the “true path” we climbed above the river in Coombs Wood and came to our next Eden Benchmark sculpture. The picture at the start of the post and those below show some of it.

There are nine large boulders, the largest of which is carved with boots, clothes and a rucksack. This is Vista by Graeme Mitcheson. “ It is a hot day and he removes his clothes and goes for a swim. This sculpture is about walking in the countryside and being at one with nature. The largest of the stones is carved with representations of various items of clothing and a map, which also functions as a sundial. A tiny face depicted on the cap is reference to a series of faces carved on the cliffs below in 1885 by William Mounsey who famously walked the length of the Eden.

The river Eden is visible through the trees but I found myself thinking that I wouldn’t have called the view from here a vista. But I turned to the dictionary and found vista described as “a view, especially a beautiful view from a high position”. I will have to accept that. Perhaps I was thinking of more of ‘panorama’. But it would seem that the sculpture has had its desired effect. I stopped and stared…

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Leisure by W H Davies (1911)

Later, as we walked, I would not have noticed the acorns by my feet had Audrey not mentioned them. And had I not seen them I would not have recalled a childhood memory of excitedly collecting acorns and painting them with my godmother, with her nail varnish I think! All because I was caused to pause. And speaking of acorns, the one squirrel we saw was grey.

After Coombswood we walked a couple of miles along a country road. There was hardly any traffic and when cars did pass there was enough verge to stand on. The road was up and down but looked worse than it really was and we did get some views of Blencathra (Audrey recognised it) and Skiddaw in the distance. The road signs look quite new, with not a speck of rust, but are styled to look like older signs I remember from the 1960s.

A finger post “Public Footpath” indicated where we left the road to cross Staffield Park. There was no discernible path so we made our way as best we could, correcting our route to find the most appropriate stile. The Eden Way book talks of finding a hidden stile. I had headed for a kissing gate, only to find it blocked by boulders. I could see the stile from there. It’s not really hidden, it’s just in a wee dip. Most of the stiles were rickety and decorated with barbed wire.

Christy didn’t seem too bothered walking through fields full of sheep, but when he saw a pheasant, that was a different story. He nearly disarticulated my shoulder. I suppose I should have expected it from a spaniel.

I didn’t notice cobwebs as we walked but there must have been lots on the ground. I had already pulled a handful of cobwebs off Mabel before I took the picture above.

We reached the road at Kirkoswald which seemed a pleasant little village. It has this name since Saint Oswald’s body is said to have been carried through the village. He was King of Northumbria from 634-642. We had crossed his path before, at Heavenfield, on our Hadrian’s Wall Trail, where he had defeated Cadwallon who led a combined Bernician and Welsh army. Oswald is unusual for royal saints being regarded as saintly for his life while ruling, in contrast to a king who gives up the kingship in favour of religious life, or who is venerated because of martyrdom.

The thing that caught my attention in the village was that it had three pubs standing together.

We passed by the church of St Oswald as we left the village, walking along a ‘permissive path” in the fields beside the road leading to Eden Bridge. A tower on a hill 200 yards from the church is its belltower. Parts of the church date from the 12th century with later additions in Norman and Tudor times. The bell-tower is 19th century but a Pele tower is thought to have stood there much earlier and is more likely to have warned villagers of raiders, than called them to prayer.

Our walk had brought us back to the River Eden. The last adventure was helping a woman with even more mismatched dogs (by size) than ours. We found her trying to get a Vizsla and a miniature Jack Russel over a stile and were able to give some aid. And I got a hug for my trouble (from the Vizsla).

Eden Bridge was built in 1762 and is just about wide enough for a modern vehicle and has traffic lights each end. But there are gaps for pedestrians to stand in when cars are passing. We got across as quickly as we could and there was a path off the road (leading to the back of a recycling centre). Past the car park is a small grassy area with picnic tables and what looks like a rocky mound, but is in fact one of the Eden Benchmarks.

Cypher Piece is by Frances Pelly. “The combined stones mimic the river landscape and contain various references to human history. A sun and moon have been carved at one end of the sculpture representing the winter solstice and a variety of images are portrayed elsewhere, including a fish, a Roman 1996, a Celtic horse’s head, a rams horn and decorations taken from a Norse tomb.

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