Ellie Harrison explores western Cumbria, starting in the Eskdale valley and finishing in the Honister Pass. En route she takes a ride on a Harley Davidson motorbike.
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Today, I'm on a lakeland journey,
from Eskdale, through the fells, to the mountainous Honister Pass.
My Cumbrian journey will take me
through the villages of the Eskdale Valley,
westwards towards the coastal town of St Bees
and then back inland, to the Fells of Borrowdale
and along the Honister Pass.
Along the way, I'll be looking back at some of the best of the BBC's rural programmes.
This is Country Tracks.
I'm starting my journey here in the fells of the Lake District
on a route where it pays to expect the unexpected.
See what I mean.
I'm hitching a lift with the Bedrose Harley Owners Group from Preston,
who come to these fells every month for the ultimate riding experience.
An exhilarating ride,
but nice as it is, it kind of is the antithesis to countryside life, isn't it?
Well, it's good, cos it gives us the chance to be out in the countryside,
see the open roads. You get the wind in your hair.
-Well, some of us do, and you get to enjoy yourself.
See everything. Smell the smells.
-See the views.
-Enjoy the countryside.
How do people react to you?
To be honest, we get a cracking reception
whenever we turn up anywhere.
Only the other week we went for a ride up in to Hawkeshead on the lakes and we were welcomed
with open arms. The locals told us where to park because of traffic wardens!
"If you don't mind, just move on to the pavement."
I've got a favour to ask - I need to get to Santon Bridge.
-Yeah, no problem.
-You're a very kind man.
I'm starting my journey on a high performance motorbike.
Great fun, but not everyone's idea of a rural pursuit.
If you want to explore this part of the world on two wheels
and get some exercise, the Eskdale trail cycle route could be for you.
This Roman port turned sleepy fishing village of Ravenglass
has been the gateway to this quiet western corner
of the Lake District for centuries.
It's seen Romans and Norsemen come and go, but now it's the turn...
of the cyclist.
For those who want to explore the unspoilt valleys of West Cumbria,
a new cycle route, the Eskdale Trail, is now up and running.
The circular trail stretches from the coastal village of Ravenglass
to Dalegarth Station in Eskdale,
before looping back on itself to the coast.
And if you are thinking I might run out of steam, well, there's no danger of that.
First part of the journey is by train.
'The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway,
'or the La'al Ratty as it's known locally,
'carries you and your bike on the first leg of the journey.'
David, I've got to say this is a cushy way to start a bike ride.
The best way of starting any bike ride, surely.
How long has this track been going?
The railway's been here now for 130 years next year.
Opened in 1875
to serve iron ore mines
that were situated behind the village of Boot,
at the other end of the valley.
Why is this railway called Ratty?
The Cumbrian dialect of a "trod" is a track or pathway.
Ratten is narrow,
so because it was narrower than the mainline railway, it was the ratten trod
or the narrow path, narrow track,
and it's just been shortened down to become Ratty.
Why do you love it so much?
The scenery, I mean, how could you bore of scenery like this?
This is Muncaster Fell, we can see here.
This actually separates Miterdale, where we are now,
from Eskdale, which is the other side of the fell.
I think people just don't realise how lovely it is across here.
It's now time to ditch the steam power.
It's back to the pedal power.
The great thing about the Eskdale Trail is that
there are plenty of interesting things to see
that are just off the cycle route.
I've been told there's a fantastic view from the head of the valley,
so I've decided to take a bit of a detour.
Well, that is an amazing view.
Whoever told me to cycle up here was definitely having a laugh!
That is ridiculously hard work.
Now, then, hello, are you pushing your bike up?
-Can't you pedal up like?
-You're joking, aren't you?
That is so difficult. It's hard enough just pushing it.
Well, you can't admire the view like! If you look down there, see what a wonderful view we have?
-It is a fantastic view.
-You've come up to see the view?
Yes. I came up to look at. So are you from around here?
Well, if you call 30 mile yon way, 50 mile around round here,
it's near enough, aye.
So over the centuries, who has lived here?
Started off with ancient Britons. They lived on the shore.
Neolithic people, some you'll find on the shore.
And then the Romans came and the remains of the fort there.
Then we had the Vikings came, the Norsemen came across the Irish Sea and they settled in the valley.
And they called it Eskdale.
And dale is a Viking termination for a valley.
And Esk is either the valley of the river Esk,
which is no doubt a Celtic river name, or else it's ashes, ash trees.
Is it the Norsemen that had such an influence on the dialect here?
I think so, yes, by and large.
All these fells and gills and dales, all Viking names.
If you go to Norway, you'll hear the same words.
-Are you going back down to Eskdale by bike now, are you?
I am, actually. So wish me luck.
Well, I wish you every bit of good luck. All the best and that.
Diven't tumble off, when you get down that hill!
"Don't tumble off." I think that's what he said.
-Good to meet you. Thank you very much for the chat.
-Bye-bye. All the best.
Let's just hope these brakes are good.
Take care, now. Take care.
This is the Woolpack Inn
and it's been a meeting place for local shepherds for about 150 years.
It's also a great place to stop for a break, which I think I deserve after the Hardknott Pass.
This is David. He's lived in this area for all his life
and has recently become the landlord of the Woolpack Inn.
Why is it called the Woolpack Inn?
It's because of the woolpacks they carried on the horse trains,
from when they sheared the sheep, they used to pack the wool
into packs that were swung either side of the horse
and big trains of these horses were taken over the fells,
over the passes, to their trading points from the farms.
Is the pub now a place where farmers meet or is it more of a tourist area?
It is a lot more of a tourist pub. We rely a lot more on tourism these days for our trade
although we still do get plenty of farmers in
from time to time and have a good chinwag about shearing and lambing and everything else.
I think they find it useful to chill out over a drink,
a few pints, when they've had a hard day on the farm.
-Well, if you're going to be a landlord of a pub, it's not a bad place to pick, is it?
It's beautiful. It is. It's lovely.
After leaving the landlord with his beautiful view, it's back on the bike.
Now, the Eskdale Trail follows the River Esk for the first three miles,
providing plenty of shady rest stops for the weary cyclist to take a break.
Well, this may be a very pretty trail but I've got to tell you, there are a lot of gates,
which are slightly difficult to open when you're on a bike.
From here, the river and trail part ways as you leave the valley floor behind
and head up towards the top of Muncaster Fell.
Well, this is the highest point of the Eskdale Trail.
Although it takes a bit of effort to get here, it's well worth it,
because you come to this, Muncaster Tarn, which is a beautiful lake
and obviously a hotspot for dragonflies.
Leaving Muncaster Tarn, it's all downhill as you head back towards Ravenglass and the coast.
Now, this is the most obvious landmark on the cycle route.
It's Muncaster Castle. It's been in the Pennington family for over
800 years and since 1987, it's also been home to the World Owl Trust.
'The World Owl Trust is a leading player in owl conservation.
'Its habitat, restoration and breeding programmes
'currently safeguard the future of over 42 different species.
'I dropped in to see its founder, Tony Warburton.'
Wow, look at this.
I've got to say, Tony, this is one of my favourite owls.
I mean, look at that owl. Look at that head. The Great Grey Owl.
-He's just so fantastic.
-Do you know why it's got a face like that?
It can hear a vole under a metre of snow and catch it.
-That's like a satellite dish, isn't it?
-It's picking up sounds all the time.
You see how it's turning its head very slowly.
That's where the wise, old owl comes from, the slow movement.
Now, it's probably the finest hearing in all the owl world.
Another one of my favourite owls that we get in this country is the barn owl
-and I know you've done a lot of projects with barn owls, haven't you?
-A barn owl, as far as I'm concerned,
is the bee's knees and it nearly died out and nobody realised it was on the verge.
What's the status of barn owls at the moment?
Well, we think they're just beginning to make a comeback.
I pray God they are, because this is the first good sign we've seen
for a long, long time.
We really, honestly thought we were going to lose them altogether at one stage.
Look at this. How sweet is that?
-How old is it, Tony?
-About four weeks old.
He's just getting to what I call the gonk stage. Starts off
as a reptile, the most ugly baby ever.
-What happened to it?
-Well, he's a little runty one, really.
He was a clutch of six and he was the last one to be born and all his
brothers and sisters got fed well and he didn't and he got left behind, basically.
What are its chances, then?
He'll probably do better than a wild-fed owl, because
he's going to be fed every night whether the weather's good or bad.
The wild ones, if it's raining or it's real galey, they're not going to get fed.
I've seen my owls, but before I get on my way again, I thought I'd wait for the handfeeding,
which happens any minute now. It's amazing.
You can see all the herons gathering already, in the trees,
so they're obviously hungry.
Time to hit the trail again
for the final leg of the journey. And from here,
it's all downhill back to Ravenglass.
Well, I've made it, all the way back to Ravenglass.
The trail has taken me 15-and-a-half miles, through some
of the most beautiful scenery the Lake District has to offer.
If you ask me, the Eskdale Trail is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
So, what are you waiting for?
The rich variety of landscape history and attractions in this part of
the country, and the great thing is, much of it's undiscovered.
Something Western Cumbria justifiably takes pride in.
It also takes pride in producing something quite different, the world's finest liars.
That's why I've come to the village of Santon Bridge, for it's here in this very pub that they host
the World's Biggest Liar competition, and I'm here to meet the reigning champ.
John Graham is seven-times winner of The World's Biggest Liar title, at least he says he is.
-Hello, John. Good to meet you.
-Hello. Nice to meet you.
-How are you doing?
'John looks like a man confident of his abilities.
'Time to put this champion liar through his paces.
'He's going to tell me one of his favourite tall tales
'about a well-known local nuclear power station.'
Sellafield. It doesn't use nuclear power.
A chap who did work there was a very keen fisherman
and he used to go fishing
for conger eels and he had a large pond which he put his conger eels in.
He also kept Rouen ducks, but one of the conger eels
-mated with one of the ducks.
-I can't believe it!
-Like an eel,
but with beaks and with webbed feet
and when they were going over the pond, they went that fast
because they were as fast as an eel,
sparks were flying out of the water and he thought,
"That's generating electricity."
And that's how all the electricity's produced in Sellafield.
-Not many people know that...
-..but I do.
I'm sure 2009 is going to have your name on this trophy as well, John. A fantastic tale.
So that's world-class lying from the heart of Cumbria. But it's time for me to be on the move again.
I'm heading up the coast by train
on one of Britain's most scenic rail routes, heading for St Bees.
The Cumbrian coastline links
Barrow-in-Furness to the border city of Carlisle. It's a journey
set against the stunning backdrop of the Lake District fells,
but in some of these picturesque villages, all is not what it seems.
A couple of miles in that direction is Egremont,
where I'm not going, but in 2002, Michaela did.
A very beautiful setting for an ugly past-time.
This is the beautiful Lake District,
home to the tallest mountain and the deepest lake in England.
But today, it's home to something
a little bit different.
The Egremont Crab Fair, which is a celebration of local rural traditions
including one of the oddest competitions in the country's calendar.
The World Gurning Championships.
Alan, I get the general idea about gurning, but is it just pulling a face?
No. It's more than that, especially to the people of Egremont.
We're recognised as having the World Championship and it means...
It's like footballers to the big city people.
This is our event and we're the kings of it
and we're going to stay the ugliest people in the world.
I've been talked into taking part this year, so I went on a search
for top tips, but it was easier said than done.
It was a bit difficult telling the gurners from the normal people.
I've found one, and if he can't help me, no-one can.
This is Tommy, who's the current World Champion in gurning.
-How long have you been doing it?
-I've been gurning round about 26 years.
-How did you find out you were good at it?
-My dad was World Champion then
and he kept coming back every year with this cup and I wondered what it was.
He said it was for gurning, pulling faces, so I started doing it myself.
I'm entering this year and I've never done it before, so can you give me a master class?
-Yeah. What you need to do, you want to be blowing your cheeks up...
..like, right up.
Putting your lip up to your nose. Crossing your eyes. So it's like...
..that sort of face... That's it.
And look at your nose. That's it.
I think she'll win it!
Now, Tommy's big rival is a guy called Peter, and I'm really lucky to find him,
because he likes to keep himself to himself.
He's in here. I guess it's cos the competition is "intent."
-Hi, Peter. I found you practising, then.
-How's your face feeling?
Very good at the moment.
-What lengths do you go to to pull a good gurn?
I had my teeth taken out.
-Just so you could pull a better gurn?
Why not? I'm a world champion.
Peter's top gurning tip for the day is that marks were given not only on the face itself
but the transformation from your normal look. With that thought,
I head to the market hall, where the evening's events are already taking shape.
First, I have to register.
Then, it's over to the juniors.
Looks like there's a future champ here. What an ugly bunch!
Well, it's the Ladies' Gurning Championships next.
I'm actually getting a little bit nervous.
# Sisters are doing it for themselves... #
'Go for it, girls!'
# ..Standing on their own two feet
# And ringing on their own bells... #
-CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
All the way from Bristol. Come on, let's hear you!
# Sisters are doing it for themselves... #
'Oh, boy, will I ever live this down?'
# ..Sisters are doing it for themselves. #
I don't know if that was my best face. I got nervous.
The moment everyone's been waiting for - Mrs Anne Woods!
Anne is this year's favourite and 24-times Ladies' World Champion.
And it's a good gurn.
Now for the big boys.
The tension's mounting.
The stakes are high.
And the gurns are ugly.
This is Tommy's dad, Gordon.
Will his gurn make him this year's comeback champion?
Will Tommy's amazingly rubbery face mean he'll retain the title?
Or will Peter make it as this year's top gurner?
-Tommy, how do you think you did?
-I think I done all right.
I tried my best and it was a good competition. A few people in.
Dad was in. Peter Jackman. Hopefully, I've done the business.
Peter, you pulled a good face.
-Thank you very much.
-What do you think?
I thought it was fantastic. Great atmosphere.
Do you think you'll come first?
-I think one or two. Yeah.
-Well, I was second last year, so I think it's one or two. Yeah.
And now for the results.
Third place, put your hands together please for Susie...
Second place, this year,
-big hand for Egremont's own Anne Woods.
-'Uh-oh! Now, I'm nervous.'
Ladies and gents, I think we all know what's going to happen here.
All the way from Bristol this evening, the first time she's ever gurned in her life...
She works for the BBC - Countryfile... Michaela Strachan!
-CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
-Let's hear you. Come on!
I can't believe that, I've won!
I'm not really sure what I think about that. I've won a prize for looking ugly!
And what about this year's male champion?
In third place, put your hands together, please, it's Gordon Mattinson. Come on!
Mr Peter Jackman, come on!
This year's Male Gurning Champion...
# We are the champions We are the champions
# No time for losers... #
Tommy, Michaela! Come on!
# ..of the world. #
My next stop is St Bees,
a coastal village on the western edge of Cumbria.
St Bees Head is a red sandstone bluff that forms a dramatic natural
feature on this coastline, but it's not the sandstone I'm here for.
I'm heading for the Benedictine Priory to find out about an incredible discovery.
I'm meeting Ian McAndrew, a retired GP, who back in 1981, was involved
in an archaeological dig that turned up something rather extraordinary,
known as the St Bees Man.
So these are the parts of the St Bees Man that were buried with him.
Yes. I mean, this case was put here by the Beacon Museum,
so it has some of the artefacts that were left over from that dig.
The body on the inside was wrapped in that shroud, which, as you can see,
was impregnated with some sort of resinous material.
And then the whole thing was wrapped up like a parcel, using this string that you see down here.
The body itself has been prepared in the way that anybody is, after death.
The body has been packed with that wadding you can see over there.
So into his mouth and that would have preserved him that way.
Yes. But there'd be nothing actually done to preserve the body
-in the way the Egyptian mummies were, for example.
The intriguing was this hair, which was wrapped round his neck
-and tied round...loosely round his neck.
-How bizarre. What was that?
Well, it's female hair, at least it appears to be female hair,
so it's assumed it'd be his wife or at least the skeleton that was in the vault beside him.
The subsequent investigation showed that, in fact, it wasn't, so whose hair it was, we don't know.
And speaking of how well it was preserved,
when the autopsy was done on St Bees Man, he was in remarkably good condition.
He was. I mean, every organ was still recognisable
and, more astonishingly, the internal structures of the organs,
for example, the internal part of the heart, the valves,
the little muscles that are attached to the heart valves... they were all recognisable.
-We're probably talking about 500, 600, 700 years old.
And there was liquid blood in the chest cavity.
He was found to have several fractured ribs on the right-hand side.
Everything was consistent with him having met a violent death,
whether it was in battle or falling off a horse or jousting,
we don't know, because we don't know who he was.
The whole village turned out to attend the exhumation of the St Bees Man.
The lead coffin was dug up and the shrouded body sent off for autopsy.
Test results revealed he was a man aged about 40,
buried some time between 1290 and 1500.
The location of the vault implies he was a person of some importance.
-This whole area was the area that was excavated.
And roughly in this sort of area is where the vault was found
and St Bees Man was in that vault.
And after the autopsy, he was brought back here and this is where he was reburied.
-Were there many people at the service?
-Yes. A lot of the villagers who had been involved
in original dig came back to see him.
And were there any particular preservation methods used this time around?
No. He was effectively put back into the coffin,
the lead coffin that he was found in,
wrapped up in a sheet and placed back in that,
but nothing more was done to preserve the body other than that.
Is there any chance that St Bees Man will be re-excavated for future investigation?
We'll have to wait and see. It would be interesting if he was,
because with modern scientific techniques, things have moved on
considerably in the last 25 years, so maybe more information,
but we'll have to wait and see. There's no real talk about that at the moment.
'St Bees is also the starting point for one of Britain's most famous walks - the Coast to Coast.
'It was devised by the patron saint of fell-walking, Alfred Wainwright, and it begins here at St Bees
'and finishes about 200 miles away on the east coast.
'Wainwright recommends that walkers dip their booted feet in the Irish Sea at St Bees
'and at the end of the walk, dip their naked feet in the North Sea at Robin Hood's Bay.'
Wainwright devised the Coast to Coast path in the 1970s.
He'd already become famous for creating and cataloguing paths
right across the Cumbrian Fells, but as the land use changed, so the paths became outmoded.
However, the passion for Wainwright is such
that one man took up the challenge to update a lifetime's work, as Adam Henson discovered in 2005.
It's not hard to see why every year, thousands of people flock to the Lake District.
For many that take to the fells, there's been one set of guides
that capture the beauty of the area better than most.
It was in 1955 that Alfred Wainwright's
Pictorial Guides To The Lakeland Fells was published.
The legendary seven-book series by Wainwright was famous for its accuracy and attention to detail.
The originals were printed in the author's neat hand lettering
and illustrated with hand-drawn maps and black ink sketches.
It wasn't just the adventurous that followed the routes, but the quirky anecdotes
throughout the guides mean that many read the books simply for pleasure.
Wainwright was usually happier with his own company, but one man who did know him is broadcaster Eric Robson,
now President of the Alfred Wainwright Society.
In the early days, you know, there were sightings of Wainwright,
but by the time the sighting happened, he was away at another bit of the fells doing another book.
He was a kind, generous man, a very gentle man.
He did like his own company.
He liked to savour the hills on his own.
The one mistake that Wainwright made was actually calling them guides.
They're far more than that. They were totally rounded pieces of work.
They were poetry, philosophy, conversations between man and mountain.
I mean, he made these mountains understandable to people.
People who before Wainwright would stand at the bottom
of these mountains and look up and think, "I can't do that,"
they would look at his Pictorial Guides and realise they could.
Changes in technology, fashion and the landscape of the fells
meant that many of Wainwright's guides became out of date.
Since his death in 1991, fences have appeared,
stone walls have fallen down, and paths have been diverted.
The guides, once famous for their accuracy, have become obsolete -
until Chris Jesty took up the challenge of revising them.
So what gave you the inspiration to take on upgrading Wainwright's guides?
Well, I wanted them to be useful, practical guides,
which is what they were when they were first brought out.
And as I say, they will always be enjoyable to read and people
will always get pleasure from them. But that's not enough.
Did you have problems getting permission to take it on?
Well, he didn't want it done in his lifetime, but he did say, just before he died,
if ever they would be revised, that I should be invited to do it.
It's an enormous amount of hard work.
It's not just the thinking - there's so much planning
to get all the text to fit the space of the original text.
How much time does this take up?
Do you have to be completely committed?
I couldn't have done it if I hadn't been.
I put everything else aside. I don't have any other interests.
I don't have any friends. I don't do anything.
All my time and energy is devoted to this one thing.
'Using GPS mapping techniques, Chris has spent the last two years
'updating the first guide in the series.
'That's a lot of walking and a lot of graph paper.'
The reason I brought you here is that this is one of the areas
where there have been more changes than usual, because this
whole area now is a network of paths, none of which were shown on the maps
in the original book. And I had to
spend a lot of time in this area, walking all these paths
and surveying them, using this satellite navigation equipment here.
And every few yards, I take these readings and plot them on the graph paper, and from that,
they'll be transferred, eventually, on to this pencil draft,
from which the final drawings were taken.
So you've got a lot of modern equipment and help
-that Wainwright wouldn't have had.
-That's right. No.
I think he did it rather by eye. Anything that wasn't
on the Ordnance Survey map, he just looked at it and...
I really don't know what his technique was,
but he produced a very good job of it.
And he used to get around by bus, isn't that right?
-And you've got your car.
-Well, that's incredible.
I couldn't do it by bus. I don't see how he could have.
How do you get to Wasdale Head by six o'clock in the morning by bus?
I mean, it's just impossible!
And you sound like you're a very particular person.
-You really like to get it right.
-There's two reasons for that.
One, because I'm just like that and I can't do anything any other way,
but also, because Wainwright was like that and he set the standards,
so my job is to keep up with them.
'Whatever Wainwright would have made of the revisions,
'he would have had to admire Chris Jesty's commitment to the task.
'Wainwright himself was often described as obsessive
'about his work and the landscape of the Lake District.'
I don't think Wainwright would have had a problem with these upgrades -
so long as he'd get home for his fish and chips, to watch Coronation Street
and find out what Blackburn Rovers' score was.
"Let me make a plea for the exhilarating hills that form the subject of this book.
"They should not remain neglected.
"To walk upon them, to tramp the ridges, to look from their tops
"across miles of glorious country is constant delight."
So, thankfully, the legacy of Wainwright's guides look set to be preserved through
the hard work of Chris Jesty, a man just as passionate and committed
about preserving and recording
the beauty of the Lake District as the original author.
I've done a few miles along the coast path, which is enough to whet my appetite,
but if I wanted to reach the very other end of the path, I'd need far more time than I have.
And anyway, I've got a lot more stories to tell here at Cumbria.
My journey so far, in West Cumbria, has taken me from the Eskdale Valley
up the coastal railway line to St Bees,
and through the fells, towards Borrowdale.
The landscape here is classic Lakeland Fells. If you look closely,
you'll see a breed of sheep unique
to this part of the world, carefully tended by farmers like Joseph Ralph.
Joseph, this landscape is breathtaking.
-It's just so beautiful.
-It's unbelievable, isn't it?
Absolutely. The sheep are a really important part of the landscape.
The sheep are the guardians of the Lake District, definitely, and they've been here for so long.
They first came here with the monks, originally.
And they're what form the landscape that we see now.
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.
And that's what we're fighting to explain to people now.
That's what's made this landscape.
It isn't the farmers, it's the sheep.
-So are these your Herdwicks, behind us?
-Yes. These are a few of them.
What makes a Herdwick different from most sheep that people see?
Well, they're so hardy.
They can stand extreme conditions on the fells.
They stay out there most of the winter.
'Joseph's flock are flourishing now,
'but it was a different picture back in 2001, when the Herdwick
'population were under serious threat from foot and mouth.
'John Craven reported at the height of the crisis.'
These sheep have survived the foot and mouth epidemic in Cumbria,
unlike one third of their breed.
They're Herdwicks, unique to the Lake District
and trained over many generations to graze specific areas
of fell, without the need for fencing or shepherds.
But because they've been so badly hit by this crisis,
the character of the fells that they roam could be changed forever.
Herdwicks have been on the fells for centuries and today,
they're as close as domesticated sheep can be to being wild.
99% of the world population of Herdwick sheep
is probably within 30 miles of this place.
It's unique to the Central and Western Lake District.
It's not like any other breed of British sheep.
As you can see, the lambs are born black.
As they get older, they go grey.
They are regarded as the hardiest breed of sheep in the country.
We've got the highest rainfall in England here, the roughest terrain.
They're made for the job.
At the moment, they're still being held in lowland pastures
but Ministry of Agriculture regulations on animal movements have
just been relaxed on fell sheep, and in a few days' time,
they'll be back on the mountains.
Lambs are taught by their mothers not to stray beyond
the invisible boundaries of their own grazing areas, known as heafs.
With foot and mouth, some farmers lost almost all their flocks,
and now they're in danger of losing their ancient heafs, as well.
There are great difficulties on some of the valleys where the farmers have lost most of their sheep,
and they will need a lot of help, and not just for five years, possibly for ten years.
The sheep from other heafs will drop in.
People have said, you know, it happened in '47.
It was a bad winter and a lot of sheep were killed, but it was
an even cull, an even balance and they went back as an even balance.
In days gone by, flocks were closely watched by shepherds,
who looked for signs of parasites and taught animals where to graze.
But modern sheep dips made many shepherds redundant.
Now, for the first time in 50 years, more may have to be recruited
to help a new generation of sheep re-establish the heafs.
Some people are going to have to start from virtual zero,
so some Herdwick lambs are going to have
to be born this time next year on some of these farms.
Because their mothers won't know where the heaf is,
they're going to have to be heafed through shepherding.
Young female sheep at a year old will have to be
taken to the fell every day and shown where their heaf is.
The immediate priority, though,
is to make sure there are enough Herdwicks to breed from.
This farmer has already lost part of his flock
and could be told at any time that the rest must be culled.
He's getting a fresh stock of liquid nitrogen,
to keep frozen sperm from his rams.
It's part of an emergency project that's set up a gene bank
for Herdwicks with the co-operation of many farmers.
OK. And in each of these little vessels here,
we've collected semen from rams on his farm, frozen it
and put it inside this liquid nitrogen container.
And to all intents and purposes,
that semen or embryos that we might have collected
can remain in these tanks, provided it's topped up, for 1,500 years.
But how can you be sure that the semen and the embryos don't have foot and mouth?
Well, each individual ram that donates semen
and each individual ewe that donates embryos, they are
blood tested and the sample is sent off to the laboratory and, so far,
all of them have come back negative.
Already, thousands of doses of semen and 300 embryos have been collected
from Herdwick farms, so the breed is now much more secure.
This is wonderful technology, and we're very grateful
for that technology to give us that assurance that we do have something
left in the event of a total cull.
Because they've been around for so long, fell sheep have played
a vital part in shaping the very look of Lakeland.
But there are those who say that the fells have been
overgrazed for years, that too many sheep have destroyed
the original patchwork of vegetation and wildlife habitats.
And with sheep numbers drastically reduced because of foot and mouth,
now is the time to make changes.
'English Nature, the government's conservation advisors,
'want the heaf system to stay,
'but think farmers should be encouraged financially
'to keep fewer animals out on the hills.'
Every fell should look a bit different -
variety is the spice of life in the Lake District.
We have different situations and different valleys,
but I suppose the situation behind me is actually rather good
conservation-wise, because towards the valley bottom
we actually have tree cover, we have scattered trees and scrub
as you go a little bit higher up, and then beyond the fell wall,
you actually get the more open fell.
Unfortunately, for conservationists, that's where things begin to go wrong
because that fell is a bit overgrazed,
in the sense that there's not enough variety there,
and if one had a variety of grazing pressure maintained
by a low-density hefting system, then that would be more diverse.
Hefted sheep grazing in the hills is a beneficial thing in general.
They may argue about the quantity of them in some places,
but we think that argument's been established.
This is a working landscape based on sheep grazing.
There is a fantastic interest in Herdwick sheep.
They have created the landscape that you see
and they will be the animals that will look after it in the future.
The crisis for Herdwicks is far from over.
Blood tests will be carried out on them this summer,
checking for foot and mouth.
Already, 30,000 have been lost out of a total of 100,000.
But with help from both modern science and the ancient skills of shepherding,
the breed should survive, as resilient as the fells it roams.
So during foot and mouth, was your whole flock in danger of dying out, basically?
It was, yes. We did unfortunately lose the youngest breeding sheep we had,
cos they had to go away for the first winter,
so that was a big knock. We still haven't got over it yet, actually.
It'll be another couple of years before we get back to where we were
before we had the 2001 foot and mouth.
How important was the gene bank at the time of the crisis?
The gene bank, basically, was just a last resort.
If all the sheep got wiped out, there was still somewhere to go
to have a chance of putting some back.
It was a last resort, really. We hoped it would never get to that.
It was just a case of we could have lost the whole Herdwick flocks,
cos nearly all the Herdwicks are in the Lake District.
'Analysis of the gene bank proved that the Herdwicks
'were even more unique to the area than had previously been thought,
'and now farmers such as Joseph's wife, Hazel, are using this fact
'to market Herdwick mutton.'
So, Hazel, what's your involvement with Herdwick sheep farming?
Well, it's a partnership - it's a farm,
but with a few businesses within the farm. It's not diversification,
it's just using the farm product to get the best out of it and give people regional food.
So, they're Joseph's when they're alive and when they're dead they become mine to deal with.
So we sell Herdwick, which is the only true regional food.
-It's been here over 1,000 years.
-So it's truly local food, then.
There's a lot of other products out there that claim to be local.
Yes, there is and, like Cumberland sausage -
you can get Cumberland sausage in London, in New York and everywhere.
It's arguable whether you should be able to or not,
but I like the fact that you can go to another country
or another county and eat the food that's to that region
and then your experience is different wherever you go.
In fact, the Herdwick Sheep Association is currently applying
for EU-protected designation of origin status, aiming to join a list
which includes champagne, gorgonzola and Jersey Royal potatoes.
But what does Herdwick meat taste like?
Yummy. Wow. What have we got here?
Well, Herdwick stew.
It's just fresh vegetables, a truly regional product.
-My sister-in-law makes it and the cheese and chive homemade toasted scones.
So, it's like venison.
It looks like venison because it eats the same at the fell and it doesn't look like lamb.
We never call it lamb. It's sheep meat, because it's not the age of a lamb.
It's sort of between lamb and mutton. And it doesn't taste greasy, either.
It tastes amazing...even after...
-excuse me, INAUDIBLE.
-It's lovely. I love it.
After a dark chapter for sheep farmers in the fells,
it's fantastic to see the healthy flocks again,
and although arguments continue about just how free
Herdwicks should be allowed to roam, no-one can doubt that it's good news
that the breed looks safe again.
My journey through the Cumbrian fells continues.
As well as being home to the Herdwick sheep,
this spectacular landscape hosts a unique canine event
called Hound Trailing. Ben Fogle investigated.
# You ain't nothing but a hound dog... #
-Right. Who is this?
-This is Wes Garth.
-And Wes Garth is taking part in hound trailing, later?
Right. Now, what is hound trailing?
The hounds race over a course.
Two people going to a trail on the fell.
-A kind of trail of scent?
It's aniseed and paraffin mixed.
And they race round the trail.
-The first back's the winner.
-Does he enjoy it?
Oh, yes. He loves it.
Yeah. He'll scream and shout. If he didn't enjoy it, he wouldn't go.
The trail field is right in the heart of the Cumbrian fells.
Hound trailing started over 200 years ago, when hunt hounds were used
while resting during their off season and owners would bet on whose hound would be first home.
Today, these hounds are bred purely for this traditional sport.
There are five races or trails in the day and each dog runs in its own category.
These are the seniors being sent on their way.
-# Who let the dogs out?
-Who, who, who, who?
-# Who let the dogs out?
-Who, who, who, who?
# Who let the dogs out? #
-You set the trail.
-What's the course looking like?
-Spot on. Yeah.
'There are 12 bookmakers on site,
'all eager to relieve the punters of their cash.'
Who did you go for?
-What Next. What is it you like so much about this event?
Well, you know, you get out in the countryside...
see a lot of good people.
-It's very social.
£2 on Wes Garth.
-OK, now. 873, the ticket.
-My lucky ticket.
-OK. Thank you.
How's Wes Garth doing? He's in front!
Yes! We better get down to the finish, or they're going to beat us to it!
No. No. No. There's plenty of time. Plenty of time.
And Wes Garth lollops in last.
'Or maybe not quite last.'
-Who are you looking for?
And any sign yet?
So, pretty much everyone's gone now.
Where's A Million gone?!
I'm glad I didn't put my bet on that one!
And you've got a bribe of food, there.
-Can I have a look at that, actually? Is this what they get?
What is it? Chocolate cake?
Is it? Cor!
And he hasn't come back for that!
My dog wouldn't have left in the first place if she knew she was getting that.
Well, this is the last and largest race of the day.
There are 47 dogs taking part and, as you can hear, there is a lot of excitement.
-# Who let the dogs out?
-Who, who, who, who?
-# Who let the dogs out?
-Who, who, who, who?
-# Who let the dogs out?
-Who, who, who, who? #
-Is this A Million?
-Is that a relief?
-So how long's she been off for now?
About two and a half hours.
Million, welcome home.
Well, what a brilliant sport.
People love it. The dogs love it. The only problem is,
I think the bookies are the only ones that actually make anything out of it.
That's another loss.
The Cumbrian hills, providing a challenge for dogs and Ben's pocket.
I'm on the last leg of my journey and on the way to meet a man
who not only works at altitude but travels to work at altitude.
I started off travelling through the Eskdale Valley in style today,
and then headed up the coastal railway line to hear about
an eery discovery at St Bees.
I then journeyed back inland where the future looks promising
for the Herdwick sheep of Borrowdale Fells.
'My final stop today is on the Honister Pass
'at the Honister Slate Mine.'
So far, in Cumbria, we've seen gurners and liars,
but there's another eccentric I'm about to meet,
with an unusual way of getting to work.
So, Mark, it's an unusual way of getting to work, isn't it?
It is. Exciting, isn't it?
Why do you use a helicopter to come this way?
Well, everybody has a humdrum life
every day and I like to start on a high and finish on a high.
Honister is a slate mine cut deep into the Cumbrian mountainside,
producing both traditional and more novel products for this important local resource.
Mark Weir took over the mine in 1996.
So how did you come to having a slate mine?
My grandfather worked here and he split the slates.
-And he never ever talked about this place, but once
I flew him over in a helicopter and he just said why is it closed?
Never said, "Go and buy it," but just, "Why is it closed?"
So I got my PA on to it and found out who owned it,
offered to buy it, and we're standing here, now.
The mine is open for specially guided tours.
Mark was on hand to guide Miriam O'Reilly around its upper slopes
when she visited for Country File.
This may not seem like the most obvious place to go for a walk,
but this old railway line which was once used by miners is the start
of Britain's first via ferrata, which is Italian for iron road.
It's pretty steep in places,
so, if I'm going to do it, I'm going to need metal.
That's because walkers taking this dramatic path
up the mountain have cables, handrails and bridges
to help them over the more treacherous rock faces.
This is just the first stage of the via ferrata, but already,
the view is enough to take your breath away.
The metal structures on Honister Crag were left over
from an old Victorian slate miners' route.
More usually found in the Dolomites, in the Italian Alps,
this via ferrata, in the Lake District,
runs around four kilometres,
from the lowest mines to the top of the crag,
at more than 2,000 feet high.
The mine, which is between the Buttermere and Borrowdale valleys, was shut down in the 1980s.
Ten years ago, it reopened again
and is back producing its famous green slate.
Tourists can also see the work going on inside the hillside.
I'm deep underground, but it's really just a short walk in
to the mountain, away from the walkers.
The miners here are hard at work, and this really is hard labour.
About 10-15 tons of slate is taken out of this mine every day.
In one ton of best slate, you'd pay £2,000, £2,500 for that.
How do you mine now, compared with how they mined generations ago?
It's a lot easier now. You've got machinery like the digger,
compressed air drills where they used hand drills with hammers.
It's a lot easier. I think Honister's slate is the best in England, the world, even.
It's just a lot stronger. It lasts a lot longer.
Just better, basically.
At the foot of the mountain,
the slabs of stone are made into roof tiles.
Honister slate is still in demand, as it has been for centuries.
Further up the mountain, anyone wanting to follow
in the footsteps of the miners has to wear a harness,
clipping on and off between points of safety.
This is a great opportunity for the man on the street to actually witness
where climbers normally go under the safety of this via ferrata equipment.
And what they'll see, as well...is scenery that they wouldn't normally
-see unless they were climbing?
-Is there more?
-This is the steepest part of the climb.
-Thanks, Mark. I think I'll press on to the summit.
A short walk on and you reach Fleetwith Pike at 2,126 feet high.
The miners may not have come this far for slate,
but I'm sure, like me, they came just to savour the view.
It's good to sit down and have a bit of a rest.
There's no doubt about it, it's a challenging walk,
but it really is worth it.
With every twist and turn, there's more breathtaking scenery
and what I really like is it's uninterrupted.
There are no buildings. There's nothing else.
I really feel that it's me here, alone with nature.
And just down there, you can see
the lakes, Buttermere, Crummock and Loweswater in the distance.
And then the Solway Firth, and beyond that, Scotland.
It's the end of my Cumbrian journey, as well.
Just time to say goodbye to Mark before he heads up and away over the fells, homeward bound.
From his vantage point, the area I've travelled is laid out below.
A landscape dotted with the communities which have shaped it,
in one of Britain's most beautiful places.
Join us next time for more Country Tracks.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Ellie Harrison goes on a journey through western Cumbria, starting in the Eskdale valley and finishing in the Honister Pass.
En route she takes a ride on a Harley Davidson motorbike, unearths an extraordinary archaeological discovery at St Bees, and visits the sheep farmers of Borrowdale.
Along the way, Ellie looks back on the best of the BBC's rural programmes from this part of the world.