Boot and Esk Riverside Trails

Riverside History


The field system around the River Esk can probably be attributed to the viking who are first thought to have settled the valley and cleared the land.

Farming records date back about 500 years, The management regime for the exercise of pasture and turbary rights was laid out in the award of 1587, known as the ‘Eskdale Twenty-Four Book’ 24 sworn men drew up a detailed document in order to oversee the way in which the common land was stocked and managed.

It is thought that as early as the 1700's, environmental constraints were put on the digging of peat and the harvesting of bracken for bedding and potash production. The stock levels of sheep and cattle within the valley were a constant issue at the Manor court which sat once or twice a year. The Manor court appointed a number of officers to enforce the court’s authority between court sittings, these included pounders who counted the number of sheep and cattle, Hedge Lookers who looked at the boundaries and walls and from 1842, a Peat-Moss Looker was included in the list, as local resources were strained by the influx of people brought to work the mines and railway

The farms along the valley are now famous for the hefted Herdwick sheep, able to survive on the fells and always returning to there own alotted place, so each farmer knows approximately where to find his flock when it comes time to gather them in for lambing etc. The thick wool is used for carpet making and also insulation within buildings.

The Mines and the Railway

The Well Mining of one form or another has taken place within the valley for thousands of years, it is thought that Iron age man may well have smelted iron at several places along the Esk. Several archological studies have been undertaken, with varying degrees of sucess.It was not unlil the early 1800's. By 1841 seven mines are listed in the Eskdale census. The railway from the port at Ravenglass to Boot was built in 1875 scarcely before the ore started to run out at the mines behind Boot.

A new venture at Gill Force near St Catherines Church was worked from about 1880. A branch line of the railway was built to this mine, and extensive mining operations carried out in 1880-81. As with all the other mines in the area, the ore soon ran out, not going as deep as hoped and the company folded in 1884. Brief spells of activity took place in the 20th Century, especially during the first world war, when the need for ore was at it's peak.

The best legacy of the branch to Gill force is perhaps the Girder Bridge which was constructed for the line and now allows the bridleway to cross safely over the Esk. It also affords fine views of Gill Force and the Emerald pools below.

The railway of course is now the biggest attraction in the area, running services everyday from March to November and most weekend throughout the year.

The Church and the Well

St Catherines Church

Under the hills next to the River Esk and far from other houses and homes lies Saint Catherine’s. There has been a place of worship in this place since a seventh century hermit sat by his well and offered Holy Water, Prayer and Healing to all who sought him out. The present Church, rebuilt during the nineteenth century, maintains a simple barn structure and is the home of the people of the valley. In times past the church and graveyard not only served Eskdale but also Wasdale, The corpse track being the name of the bridleway from Boot to Wasdale Head.

The Well Close to Boot village, The first church was thought to have been founded around 1125 by William Le Meschines of Egremont Castle who also founded Calder Abbey. The church was restored in 1881 but few records exist of the extent of the rebuilding work. maintains a simple barn structure and is the home of the people of the valley.The font, with its distinctive St Catherine's Wheel and pagan marigold motifs, and the East Window date from the 14th century, while one of the bells, the treble, was originally cast in 1445.

St Catherines Church