A great walk to a great pub: Drover Rest, Cumbria | Lake District Holidays

Begins Drover comfort, Monkhill
distance 8 miles
time 4 hours
total ascent 70 meters
difficulty: Moderate

Google map of the road

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I first came across Burgh by Sands – a mile from the starting point of this walk in Monkhill – in a 1970s magazine dedicated to paranormal phenomena. In 1964, a Carlisle firefighter named Jim Templeton snapped a picture of his daughter Elizabeth near Berg (pronounced as a jagged rhyme) only to find that when he developed her, a stranger in a spacesuit and helmet mysteriously appeared behind her. Spaceman Solway looked like a Cyberman doctor and made headlines around the world, although most experts these days believe it was just a revealing photo of Jim’s wife, Annie.

The English Solway swamps must have been the site of such a curious event, Fortean it all seems so surprising when you stand on one of the narrow wooden footbridges that span deep tidal embankments, looking north across the width, the waters shimmering. The Solway is a strangely beautiful windswept landscape. The light has an ethereal faint brightness, and the silence is so thick that the beep of the telephone reverberates over the murky greenery like a church bell, sending flocks of sand and golden plovers on a frightened flight.

Inspired by the eccentricity, the local Anglo-Saxons decorated the wall of St. Michael’s Church in Burg Bay Sands with carvings of magical beasts. Solway Spaceman is the equivalent of Kodacolor.

Winter scene: the road from Burg Sands north to the River Eden. Photo: Alex Telfer/The Guardian

Burg is a pretty postcard village set around a green area, its lanes lined with 17th and 18th century homes and a few of what are known locally as mud wasps – rock barns built of timber, mud, gravel and straw. Walking north you pass a thatched hut with whitewashed walls and heavy buttresses that call for the attention of the Vikings. There were warriors of another kind who left their mark here. Next to the Greyhound Inn stands a bronze statue of Edward I brandishing a sword and generally looking ready to face all comers in the parking lot. The Hammer of Scots died in the Burg in 1307. The old king, still a warrior, was carried to the edge of Solway so that he could summon the enemy with his dying breath.

Graves in St Michael's Churchyard, Burg Bay Sands
Graves in St Michael’s Churchyard, Burg Bay Sands Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Guardian

The Victorian stone tower marks the place where Edward Longshanks delivered the final insult. It is enclosed in an iron railing to protect it from the hunky, shaggy cattle roaming the salty land as if re-enacting scenes captured by JMW Turner in his engraving, Solway Moss. Nearby are the remnants of recent conflicts – concrete lookouts and a target arrow (pointing, as if in honor of Edward Longshank, pointing straight towards Scotland) – left over from the Cold War, when this strip of Solway was a firing range of the RAF.

Hadrian’s Wall begins on the west at Bowness-on-Solway, but hardly anything remains of the extension to Carlisle. Huge piles of finely cut and wrought stone Roman builders in the 15th and 16th centuries were moved to build barns, houses, pellet towers, and thick-walled shelters when the River Solway gangs on horseback crossed dangerous tidal crossings or water, to steal cattle and any property they owned their victims. There is a fine example of Pele at the eastern end of St. Michael’s Church.

Sir Walter Scott gave the violence of the Anglo-Scottish border a romantic sheen. The great novelist loved Solway’s brutality, and as you walk toward the mouth of the Eden, you’ll see Old Sandfield, which appears in the Redgauntlet, his account of the Jacobite revolution, as Lady Lowther Inn.

riverside and swam
Walk south along Eden towards Beaumont. Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Guardian

In the elegant village of Beaumont, a Norman church was built on the site of a Roman tower. It’s barely 30 meters above sea level, but the land is very low around, and the churchyard has views of views stretching from the North Pennines to the rugged brown Annandale Hills. Nearby is a canal track that used to connect Carlisle to the village of Fishers Cross, ten miles to the west (some of the bridges at the Burg were once aqueducts). In 1819, Fishers Cross was renamed Port Carlisle and investors promised that the new port would become “Liverpool II”, leading to boom times in North Cumbria. The canal – deep and wide enough for 60-ton barges – was barely complete when the railways arrived.

Port Carlisle supporters quickly filled the waterway and laid a track over it. it is too late. A rival group had already finished the line from Carlisle to the dock at Syloth. Carlisle Harbor was abandoned. Now all that remains of this once grand scheme are the porch of houses, a chapel, and a few crumbling remains of old sidewalks, a monument to the effects of what we might now call disruptive technology.

Saltmarsh on the way to Drover Rest.
Saltmarsh on the way to Drover Rest. Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Guardian

The gleaming salt marshes north and west of Beaumont are filled with streams of dark water and the brackish muddy flats are filled with wading birds — goblins, roe, oysters, spinners and snowy egrets — as well as six different species of ducks. The density of this succulent prey inevitably attracts birds of prey: peregrine falcons and hens are regularly spotted, and if your eyes are keen enough, you can even glimpse a tiny gray merlin circling across the vast sky. In the spring and fall, tens of thousands of barnacles, pink geese, and baby swans descend here on their way to and from their summer breeding grounds, and the calm surrounding Solway is shattered by mournful honking.

A walk south from Beaumont takes you to Monkhill, where a converted, bladeless 19th-century windmill protectively looms over a hamlet like some cartoonish creatures from Tove Jansson’s imagination.

the pub

The exterior of Drovers Rest
Photo: Alex Telfer/The Guardian

Drovers Rest is a traditional low bonfire pub with a warm community atmosphere. It has great beer, enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, innovative and beer-friendly food. Chef and co-owner Tom McMaster is a former butcher who makes his own hot smoked Cumberland sausage (a vegan version is available) to serve in homemade cakes. The chips are chunky and brittle. Snacks include premium Czech pickled cheese and fried macaroni cheese balls. There are about seven craft beers from northern breweries such as Ulverston, First and Last, and Crazy Monkey, as well as experimental brews from further afield. It’s the kind of place that makes you think about moving home to be nearby.


Hillside Farm B&B is located on a working farm from the 1850s in the village of Busted Hill, four miles west of Monkel. The location couldn’t be better. The farm is on the verge of collapse on Hadrian’s Wall, with open views across the swamps of Solway to Scotland. There is a double and a twin bed in the main house and a Georgian stable building has been converted into a bungalow with room for a dozen people. You don’t take card payments, so bring cash or a checkbook.
Doubles £90 for bed and breakfast (single occupancy £60), bunk beds £15 (fried breakfast starting at £4), hadrianswalkbnb.co.uk

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