The Vale of Lyvennet

Its Picturesque Peeps and Legendary Lore

By John Salkeld Bland



The earliest historic record respecting the North of England was made by Tacitus, from whose works we learn that the Roman armies led by Agricola first advanced into this district and conquered the inhabitants then known as the Western Brigantes in the year A.D. 79, in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian.

The base of Agricola’s operations was Chester, (Deva), the station occupied by the 20th Legion; with these he advanced northwards by the modern towns of Manchester, Preston and Overborough, and up the vale of Lune to Borough Bridge, at each place forming a station and connecting them by roads cut through the forests; the last station he placed in the only pass by which Westmorland could be conveniently entered from the southwest.# From Borough Bridge the road had gone nearly direct to Kirkby Thore, traversing the whole length of the vale of Lyvennet. Many antiquarians supposed it went to Brougham, but the name Wicker Street applied to an extensive hill on the west side of Crosby – a name significant of a Roman way – led to examination a few years ago and a road was found traceable from near Black Dub to Dale Banks, a distance of more than two miles, indisputably in the direction of Kirkby Thore: it is regularly formed and rounded in the middle, about thirty feet across, the ground being generally hard and dry; no trace of paved work is to be found. The march of Agricola’s army is said to have been straight as the track of a sunbeam, and his roads are generally considered to be carried in a direct line surmounting every obstruction. However this may have been in an open country, it is more reasonable to suppose that in a district like this they would overcome a difficult ascent by deviating to the right or left. In leaving Borough Bridge they have crossed the Lune twice, considerably to the right, in preference to going straight over the steep hills and numerous ravines of Loups Fell, which would have been almost impossible; then again, where are the first traces of the road, instead of ascending the steep cliff of the scar near Bousfield How, they have gone to the west, ascending and so coming by easier gradients to the top of Wicker Street. This is the most commanding point overlooking the vale of Lyvennet, and no doubt, as its name implies, it was an important point to the invading Roman armies, Wicker Street according to some authorities meaning “the gateway of the pass.” It was from this point probably that Agricola’s army first beheld our lovely valley; for he, after establishing a stronghold at the gorge of the mountain pass at Borough Bridge would either lead or send out a part of soldiery to survey the country northwards, a district abounding in forests and fastnesses in which roamed the fierce and revengeful Britons; their scouts would of course avoid the craggy heights of Orton Scar, and following up the course of the stream from the north be led to ascend by the way along which the road was afterwards laid out: though we may reasonably allow that all the low districts were at that time densely wooded, yet it is highly probable that on the high lands were extensive openings clear of wood, or perhaps here and there patches of brushwood; such the character of the soil and its general void of wood at the present time leads us to imagine; the only brush now to be seen is on the top of the hill and known as Wicker Street Thorn, which, like the Shap Thorn and Johnny Hall Trees is a guide mark for many miles round. Here by the side of the road is a square oblong enclosure of earth and stones which, after the construction of the road perhaps served as a mons exploratorum by which, and others such, the garrison at Borough Bridge could be warned of the approach of the enemy. The road from this point descends and crosses the Blea Beck; an embankment has been raised on each side and brought near together; quantities of huge boulders have been used to break it up and probably form a culvert. From here it crosses Slack Randy, passing near some entrenchments and curious stone circles called Yow Locks and descends Long Dale. In this field on the brow of the hill about Dale Banks is what antiquarians affirm to be a British village; it presents earthworks covering three or four acres of ground: these consist of irregular squares, circles, etc., formed of earth thrown up to the height of from one to three feet.*

Continuing the course of the road, it is traceable to the bottom of the hill, where it has crossed Odindale beck, after which all further traces have been obliterated by enclosures and the plough; the direction however is straight for Kirkby Thore, crossing the Lyvennet near Dairy Bridge, where there is an ancient paved wath, then past Lofterns and over Castriggs in King’s Meaburn township, across the Eden about two hundred yards above the present bridge at Bolton, where there are remains of an abutment, as of a bridge, with mason-work and grouting now overgrown with brushwood; thence in the direction of Kirkby Thore joining the more important road known as Watling Street from Bowes in Yorkshire. No remains of decided Roman character have ever been found in connection with this road, but this is accounted for by the fact that no settlement was made in the valley, it being but a thoroughfare along which passed and re-passed the Roman legions employed in the somewhat vain attempt to subjugate the wild Caledonians. It is possible this road or track was previously used, but of this we have no proof, but from that time up to the making of the present road over Shap Fell it was used as the great highway between the southern parts of England and Scotland.


#The route by Overborough, Borough Bridge and Kirkby Thore was the Maiden Way;  but it is probable that Agricola’s first advance to this district was made along the coast.

*For full details of the most recent excavations and finds, with plans, see reports on “A Romano-British settlement at Ewe Close, Crosby Ravensworth,” by W. G. Collingwood, F.S.A., (1907-8) Transactions, Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, N.S., vols. viii. and ix.



The Vale of Lyvennet, Its Picturesque Peeps and Legendary Lore, By John Salkeld Bland, 1910.
Originally transcribed by Diane Coppard and Kate Burns, and reproduced here with their permission.

19 June 2015.

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