The Green Trod – A Walk Along a Drove Road

THERE are little doorways in our perception of the world and they open and close unexpectedly to keep us on our toes. I’m walking through Teesdale, across a plateau of bog and heather above the river Tees, when I behold a scene – an activity – that has not changed in centuries . . .

About half a mile ahead are two shepherds herding a flock of sheep. They are following the Green Trod – an old droving road. They are driving their sheep along a route that drovers used for hundreds of years.

The Green Trod dates from the days when herds of cattle and sheep were driven through the countryside to feed hungry cities. I once read that geese were also driven in this fashion, their feet being tarred to protect them for the journey. Livestock was herded along the Green Trod and across the Pennines.

And here today, in a barking of dogs and a bleating of sheep, the past meets the present. Or does it? Perhaps that’s just my take on things. Perhaps that’s just me looking through a narrow doorway and glimpsing something that’s happening because it’s continuous and enduring. Are these shepherds part of a long tradition – or are they just moving sheep along the most convenient track?

I catch up with the shepherds and their four dogs as they cross Blea Beck. After exchanging a variety of customary greetings (Now then. Ya reet? Aye, not so bad. Now then. Now then) I discover they are driving their flock over Cronkley Fell to the northern slopes of Mickle Fell, following the Green Trod for several miles.

I skirt around the flock to get ahead, which is no easy task because the leading sheep speeds up when I speed up. It has leadership qualities and an attitude problem. Eventually, I manage to stare it out and it doubles back.

From the top of Whiteholm Bank I spy a third shepherd and two dogs climbing Cronkley Fell. The third shepherd is clearing the fell’s resident sheep to prevent them being swept up in the travelling flock. This droving operation is more organised than it first appears.

The Green Trod ascending Cronkley Fell. Can you see the leading shepherd and his two dogs? Click on the picture for a larger image

I follow the leading shepherd down the west side of Cronkley Fell to the Tees, then I sit by the river and watch the flock pass, with the four trailing dogs scampering behind and the two shepherds bringing up the rear. They continue west along the Green Trod, and I turn east along the river as my doorway in time – or perception – closes soundlessly.

And I would have ended this piece on that note, only when I get home I watch Jools Holland’s London Calling and he’s talking to Damon Albarn about church bells. Apparently, the ringing of bells is the one sound that links mediaeval London with modern London – it’s the one audible constant spanning hundreds of years.

Albarn has a collection of bells, and he’s using them on an album he’s recording. He says to Jools: “What I enjoy is being in the past and the present simultaneously.”

And I think, yeh. That guy’s found a doorway as well.

Spring gentians growing on the summit of Cronkley Fell

MANY THANKS to David Forster at Bluestone Images for telling me about the Green Trod droving road.

About these ads

About McEff

Alen McFadzean. Journalist (recently made redundant from The Northern Echo when my job and the jobs of my colleagues were transferred to Wales to be done by people on lower wages), former shipyard electrician, former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still.
This entry was posted in Drove roads, Environment, Hiking, History, Mountains, Walking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to The Green Trod – A Walk Along a Drove Road

  1. anneb42 says:

    sounds wonderful

  2. jcmurray1 says:

    Great post Alen, I love watching these guys work. I just worry about us losing it all to quad bikes and articulated lorries. You need to watch them sheep with attitude though!!…………..J

    • McEff says:

      Hi John. The quad bikes do seem to be taking over. You see the tracks everywhere. And as for that leading sheep, I got a right sweat on trying to get past it.
      Cheers, Alen

  3. Greg. says:

    The gentians are beautiful. Surprised those bloody sheep dont eat them though. Where’s the cafe and the Eddie Stobart ? Only joking, looks a good place to visit, especially with the flowers.

    • McEff says:

      The gentians are protected in fenced enclosures on the very top of the fell, Greg. I couldn’t work out whether the fences were to keep the sheep off or the Stobart lorries. Sorry about the cafe. I knew there was something I’d forgot.
      Cheers, Alen

  4. swanscot says:

    Wow, wonderful photo of the spring gentians. Coincidentally I’m planning to walk one of the Highland drove roads on Sunday, to ‘tie in’ with hubby going to an event in Tain.

    • McEff says:

      Have a good day on Sunday, Sheila. Did you see Griff Rhys Jones’s Britain’s Lost Routes programme last night about the droving road from Skye to Falkirk? I was mightily impressed. It was the best thing I’ve seen for a long time. I’ll keep an eye open for your post. These old routes are fascinating.
      All the best, Alen

  5. vishnevats says:

    Another great post with beautiful pictures. Love the gentians!

    • McEff says:

      Thanks for that. I wish I had the skill and the equipment to do the gentians justice. They are beautiful flowers, and all the more striking because of the harsh environment in which they grow.
      Cheers, Alen

  6. qdant says:

    If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
    For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.
    The Marriage of Heaven and Hell – William Blake (1790)

    • McEff says:

      Danny you have, yet again, opened a chink in the gloom that envelops this world and allowed the sun to strike through. I felt rather uneasy about “the little doors in our perception of the world” bit at the start of this post because I thought it sounded like bollocks. But on learning that my old and esteemed friend William Blake was there first I feel somewhat relieved.
      Not only that, but a quick sortie into the cyber-comfort-blanket informs me that Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception was based on the same Blake quote, and was in turn the influence behind the name for rock band The Doors. I’m sure there must be a Herman Hesse and Steppenwolf link in there somewhere but I haven’t found it.
      That’s kept me up later than intended. I think I’ll have another beer.
      Cheers now, Alen

  7. Alen I got to wondering about land tenure, communal property and private property. Are places like the Green Trod lands held in trust by the government, rights of way, land grants or privately owned?

    • McEff says:

      Hi Dohn. The moors around Teesdale are privately owned, mostly by Lord Barnard, and used primarily for sheep farming and grouse shooting. Most of the farmers are tenants and rent their land off the estate. The moors are criss-crossed by rights of way (public footpaths and public bridleways) of which the Green Trod is one. However, since the introduction of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the public has free access to all open countryside in England and Wales, so basically we can now walk where we want to. Having said that, the land to the immediate south of the Green Trod is part of a huge army firing range, so it’s best to stick to the path in this instance.
      Cheers, Alen

  8. mandala56 says:

    I loved this. And the part about the doors. I just read a book called The War of Art that talked about doors, too, and Blake, and all good things. Thanks for showing me something from your view.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Jeanne. I just took a look at that book on the internet and read some excerpts and reviews. I could do with some self-motivation so I might get hold of a copy.
      Cheers, Alen

  9. David says:

    I am pleased you had a good day up there Alen. I like the little doorways in our perception of the world. Perhaps they are open a lot more than we realise, we simply don’t recognise it. You were certainly very fortunate to see the trod being used for its original purpose and if I am honest I am a tad jealous of the fact you managed to capture some images. If you had converted the pic of the shepherds crossing the beck to black and white and then said it was from years ago I would have believed it.

    Those Gentians are hardly little blighters. I was up the dale earlier in the year trying to get some footage of them and it started snowing like mad. It was interesting to note that when the weather turns nasty they close up their petals. You don’t survive up there for a few thousand years without a trick or two up your sleeve.

    • McEff says:

      I must admit, David, I’d never heard of spring gentians until you told me about them. I was lucky to find them open because it was hellish cold up there. Likewise, another stroke of luck with the shepherds. I’ve been walking in the Lakes and Pennines since the mid-1970s but don’t recall ever seeing a flock on the move before – and that’s a bit strange because it’s quite a common sight in other countries, Spain in particular.
      I might saunter back up there soon and continue over to High Cup Nick. I’ve only done that walk once and it was a long time ago and without a camera. It will be boggy underfoot at the moment, though, so I’ll wait for things to dry out a bit.
      Cheers, Alen

  10. John Arnison says:

    Really enjoyed reading this,thank you.I love those blue flowers

    • McEff says:

      Hi John. Good to hear from you. The flowers really stand out in the tundra-like landscape up there. If it had been a sunny day I’m sure they would have looked like little jewels sparkling in the grass.
      All the best, Alen

  11. Greg. says:

    Alen I’ve just bought a book called ‘The Old Ways” by Robert Macfarlane. “the book is a immersive enthralling exploration of ghosts and voices that haunt old paths ” (from the cover).
    His previous books Mountains of the Mind and Wild Places were good. I have just started this one so can’t comment yet. Thought you might be interested. I try to support local bookshops but it was £20 and in this case used amazon as it was only £12 and free postage with Prime.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Greg. I’ve just taken a look at a couple of reviews (Guardian and Telegraph) and it sounds a fascinating read. That’s another book on my list. Thanks for that.
      Alen

  12. qdant says:

    Hi Alen, I answered your reply to my first comment,
    but have just had another thought :-
    Is Aldous Cactus a mate of Timmus Eromniats ?
    cheers Danny

  13. I’m a bit late commenting Alen, and I was going to ask you if you’d seen Griff Rhys Jones’s Britain’s Lost Routes programme, but I see that you did. See, I thought about you! This blogging is a strange way to meet kindred spirits isn’t it? I thought your bit about the geese was very interesting. We have an old drovers road here in Leicestershire (The Drift) and I walked it a couple of winters ago for my photography project, but didn’t manage to capture what I wanted. I need to revisit it again I think. Thanks for a really interesting tale, your documentary style pictures are really good too.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Colin. I was really impressed with the Britain’s Lost Routes programme. I hadn’t realised that some of the old droving routes had been improved by Thomas Telford, in particular the original A87 from Cluanie Inn to Loch Garry. It’s little more than a track now. I pitched my tent at the side of it one night when walking the Cape Wrath Trail and had a hell of a job getting pegs in because of the tarmac just under the turf. I couldn’t work out why the tarmac was there – but now I know why.
      Incidentally, on your Leicestershire drovers road, The Drift, the Guardian review I’ve just read about The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane (see Greg’s comment above), refers to “Leys, dykes, drongs, sarns, snickets … bostles, shuts, driftways, lichways, ridings …” as old names for paths and roads. That’s a coincidence. I think it’s time you got back out there.
      Cheers, Alen

  14. Hanna says:

    Hi McEff
    I love the way you begin and end your posts, including what’s in between. It’s easy to be inspired, thank you for that!

  15. Arthur says:

    Hi,
    My wife and I love country walks.
    We still have some Drove Roads in Somerset. My wife and I were walking along one which was clearly marked on the map as a Drove Road. A landowner told us we were trespassing and we had no right to walk along the Drove Road. Can anyone tell us the rules about these lovely important ancient paths?

    • McEff says:

      Hi Arthur. That sounds a bit off. I would consult an Ordnance Survey map and see if the road is marked as a public right of way. It seems strange that something as established as a drove road is not in the public domain.
      Cheers, Alen McF

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s