John Peel's Fells at Bassenthwaite

A visit to the killing fields of legendary huntsman John Peel.




7.5 miles (12.1kms)

1213ft (370m)

About the walk

This part of the Lakes, at the 'Back o'Skiddaw' and across the fells of Uldale and neighbouring Caldbeck, is where John Peel and his pack of hounds galloped in pursuit of foxes. Although possibly the world's most famous huntsman, he was far removed from the stereotypical red-coated country gentleman. Peel was a tall, rough-spoken Cumbrian farmer with a loud voice. His coat of grey was made from everyday cloth. He wore knee britches, long stockings and shoes and a battered, well-worn beaver hat. To complete his outfit he carried a riding crop and a hunting horn. He liked nothing better than to spend a long day riding to hounds with his companions, returning home at dusk for a simple meal. Then they'd sit round the fire and indulge in an evening of heavy drinking before falling asleep in their chairs only to rise at dawn for another day on the fells.

John Peel was born at Caldbeck in 1776. At the age of 20 he fell in love with an Uldale girl called Mary White. They arranged to be married, but when it came time for the banns to be read out in church, Mary's mother forbade the wedding because 'They're far ower young'. Undeterred, Peel rode to Mary's house at midnight. She escaped from her bedroom window and they made for Gretna Green where they were married 'over the anvil' by the village blacksmith. Mary's mother accepted the situation and the marriage was ratified in the church at Caldbeck in December 1797. Mary inherited a property in Ruthwaite where the family lived and farmed. However, John Peel had taken to hunting at an early age and married life did not interrupt his ardent pursuit of the fox.

He died in 1854 and was buried in Caldbeck churchyard. That would have been the end of the story had not his friend John Woodcock Graves written a song about Peel. To the tune of Bonnie Annie, he dashed off D'ye Ken John Peel. He joked, 'By jove Peel, you'll be sung when we're both run to earth'. Peel might still have been consigned to oblivion had not William Metcalfe, choir master at Carlisle Cathedral, composed and published a new tune for the song in 1868. The following year he was invited to sing it at the annual dinner of the Cumberland Benevolent Institution in London. The song became popular and is now known throughout the world.

Walk directions

From the centre of Bassenthwaite village, pass the Sun Inn and turn right into Park Road. Follow this for 1.25 miles (2km) to a T-junction, with a signpost pointing to Orthwaite, and turn left. Continue for about 650yds (594m) to a junction with a farm track coming in from the right, and a public bridleway sign.

Turn right along this track and through a gate signed 'Uldale Commons'. Follow the farm road to a public bridleway sign on the left. Take the bridleway and head uphill. It's a fairly steep climb to Brockle Crag before it levels out.

The bridleway heads downhill. Ignore another path to the right. Just before you reach a beck, strike off left (north east) across pathless ground towards some tumbledown walls. From here, continue into the tight valley of Burntod Gill, joining a faint path along the way. This is loose and stony in places, crossing and recrossing the beck.

At the first notch in the hillside on the left, head up to the left away from the water through Trusmadoor, the pass between Great Cockup and Meal Fell. Keep straight ahead through the pass.

Bear left at an area of rushes just beyond a patch of slate. The path becomes less clear as it heads across two hillocks. When it fades to almost nothing over some boggy ground, keep heading north west. You will then pick up a clearer path that swings left to round the shoulder of the fell.

Ahead of you on the horizon is Castle How with its halo of Scots pine. Where the clear path becomes less distinct, swing south west to avoid losing too much height. You'll quickly pick it up again. Keep right immediately after a small ford, but keep left at subsequent forks.

Eventually you will see Bassenthwaite Lake ahead. When the path fades, follow the line of the wall on the right, returning to the farm track you followed earlier in the walk. Turn right here. Turn left at the road, then right at the junction, retracing your steps into Bassenthwaite village.

Additional information

Country lanes, bridle paths, footpaths (indistinct in places) and some rough walking through Burntod Gill

Fells, fields and lakes

Under control in sheep country, particularly at lambing

OS Explorer OL4 The English Lakes (NW)

Street parking in Bassenthwaite village

Nearest at Dodd Wood on A591

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About the area

Discover Cumbria

Cumbria's rugged yet beautiful landscape is best known for the Lake District National Park that sits within its boundaries. It’s famous for Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake, and Derwent Water, ‘Queen of the English Lakes'. This beautiful countryside once inspired William Wordsworth and his home, Dove Cottage, in Grasmere is a popular museum. Another place of literary pilgrimage is Hill Top, home of Beatrix Potter, located near Windermere. Tom Kitten, Samuel Whiskers and Jemima Puddleduck were all created here.

Much of Cumbria is often overlooked in favour of the Lake Distirct. In the south, the Lune Valley remains as lovely as it was when Turner painted it. The coast is also a secret gem. With its wide cobbled streets, spacious green and views of the Solway Firth, Silloth is a fine Victorian seaside resort. Other towns along this coastline include Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport. Carlisle is well worth a look – once a Roman camp, its red-brick cathedral dates back to the early 12th century and its 11th-century castle was built by William Rufus.