Postcards from the Lake District: St Michael’s Church, Barton

Knowing I’d be making the return journey to Penrith, I wanted to come back via an alternative route – as much to vary the scenery as to try and stay on as level ground as possible.

My route from Penrith to Glenridding had taken me via a dual carriageway and down, then up, a valley. I wanted to avoid the dual carriageway on the way back, and I studied the contour lines on the map a little more closely this time too.

I found that I could follow Ullswater to Pooley Bridge, then zip up a pretty direct road towards Penrith, taking a little excursion under the dual carriageway at Stainton, then back the way I’d come before. I also knew that I had something like five hours to kill this time, so I wanted to find some places to visit along the way. There’s nothing worse than the last day of your holiday simply turning into the journey home. Why not steal another half day’s exploring?

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Having checked the map for possible places to stop off, I noticed little Barton, above. How could I resist tracking down this tiny settlement with its own church? Lately I’ve discovered I have a bit of a thing for old churches in little villages. I like to locate them on a map, cycle to them, and take photographs of them. And here was the perfect opportunity for me to go and find another.

I left Glenridding and followed the lakeside route along the length of Ullswater, and made good progress. Although I was repeating some of my route from the previous days, I was doing it this time with fully loaded pannier bags, so progress was slower, but still smooth. It helped that I knew when to expect the low rises in the road surface, and how long I had between them.

Having reached the head of the lake, I took a right-hand fork through Pooley Bridge, which seemed like a pretty little place to stop. A small village centre with more than its fair share of cafes and other places to refresh oneself. I also noticed it was very popular with cyclists – some whizzing through to other destinations, others pulling in for a bit of cake.

My destination was just beyond Pooley Bridge, but I still stopped for an hour or so to update my journal before pushing on towards Barton. It wasn’t long before I realised what a brilliant decision this excursion had been. The roads were quiet, mostly flat, and the scenery was just lovely. Farms scattered around, and the odd pretty little house just off the road.

I was even more impressed when I found the turn-off to the church. Slightly cheapened by a modern sign proclaiming the building’s 12th century history, but the view down the lane was of a sturdy, low building of dark stone set amid a copse of trees not yet fully in leaf. St Michael’s Church stood alone in this sparsely-populated landscape, the trees having formed a ring around it as if in defence of something quite special.

Riding down the lane, the wind had dropped and I was very much alone – save for two beautiful horses loitering mischievously in the field that bounded the road. I nodded a greeting their way.

I parked up, leaning my bike against the stone wall of the churchyard. I had the place to myself, and I felt a bit of a thrill that the intriguing-looking feature on the map, above, had transpired to be just as idyllic in real life as I’d hoped.

Passing through the ornate lychgate, I enjoyed the cold weight of the heavy, iron gate latch in my hands. The churchyard was just perfect, and the church itself sat low, almost modestly, among the stone memorials. I spent some time wandering around the yard, observing the building from various angles, before heading back towards my bike.The sky was clouding over, and a breeze picking up, but the visit had been well worth it.

Something clicked in my head as I rode away from St Michael’s – this excursion had confirmed for me the value in scanning the map for interesting features and landmarks and setting out to find them. I’d long since known this, of course. But there was something so pure and unsullied about this particular experience that really cemented the worth in doing such a thing.

I left Barton – I hadn’t actually even seen Barton, if indeed there is a Barton beyond the church – and rode back towards Pooley Bridge. I had time on my side, and although my ultimate destination was the railway station at Penrith, I had one final stop to make on my way back…

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