IN the medieval period England was divided into religious parishes, the parishioners being served by the Mother Church, where all burials were to be held, smaller churches, sometimes called Daughter Churches were not allowed to inter the dead.

The deceased would have to be carried all the way to the Mother church. The route they travelled on was called a coffin route, or corpse road, and was often 30 or 40 miles away. The routes which the mourners took with their deceased along these coffin roads were not easy, often through remote, wild country and were steeped in superstition.

The spirits of the dead were thought to return to their home if they were given a chance, where they would haunt and cause trouble in the area. Spirits or ghosts travelled in straight lines and to avoid them returning to the home of the deceased, while the coffin was carried along the path to the Mother Church drastic action took place.

The dead were carried feet first from the house which was supposed to prevent the spirits from returning home again. The route along the coffin road would never be straight – this would help to confuse the spirits. The coffin would be carries over bridges, through running water and over stiles, all these were places that spirits would not cross. Often the route taken was through crossroads as they were thought to confuse spirits.

There are many tales told about coffin routes and evil spirits, ghostly sightings of white-robed monks travelling on their weary way across Dartmoor. On St Mark's Day on a corpse road in Fryup, you can see the next year's dead walking the road at midnight, and if you are lucky, you might see a bad tempered faerie on coffin roads in Cumbria where a cloven-hoofed example is said to exist.

However, the coffin routes are still in existence today and are fine paths for us to walk. So let us have a day out in Cumbria and walk the coffin road from Rydal to Grasmere, but make sure you don’t walk in straight lines as a strange spirit might suddenly appear in front of you and it won’t be the sort you would like to drink.

Your route

Starting from Grasmere Church, take the road opposite signed to Red Bank. Pass the Grasmere Garden Village garden centre and tea shop on the left, then continue along the road keeping an eye out for traffic as you leave the village.

Soon you have a good view of the lake overlooked by a number of fine houses. The road starts to climb gently now, keep left at the split, but it is not far before you approach some double bends. Look out here for a large and a small gate tucked away on your left which leads down a path to the lake. Go through the small gate and at the lake turn right over a wooden footbridge to take the lakeside path.

At the end of the lake, bear right into the wood, then walk to a small gate. Go through the gate and descend a while to a path near to the lake end to walk along a riverside path, keeping the river on your left. Eventually, pass through a gate into White Moss Wood.

The path becomes quite narrow as it climbs through the wood high above the river. However, it soon descends again to a woodland path. Continue along to a wooden footbridge, the toilets are across the bridge towards the car park. If you do not need the facilities do not cross the bridge. Turn right following a sign for Woodland Walk and Path around Rydal Water.

The path climbs and twists about a bit, but you soon arrive at a small gate through a wall. Turn left through the gate following the direction of an arrow for Rydal. Enjoy this grand walk alongside Rydal Water. Almost at the end of the lake, the path splits.Keep left here on the bottom path nearest the lake to descend to a small gate into the wood. Keep on the lower path at all times to eventually pass through a metal gate then onto a path downhill to a footbridge which leads to the road.

Turn right here to walk along the roadside for about a 100 paces, then cross the road to turn left at the sign for Rydal Hall and Rydal Mount. Climb the hill past the church, then it is not far to the sign on the right for the tea rooms. If you would like refreshment go right here, then return to this spot to follow the sign for Coffin Route and Nab Scar. Continue uphill for a short way, then just past William Wordsworth’s house, Rydal Mount, turn left along a bridleway signed as Grasmere and Coffin Route to Grasmere.

Enjoy the views across Rydal Water as you walk the Coffin Route following the undulating path which passes through several gates. Keep straight ahead all the way and eventually the path becomes a Tarmac road and you pass a few houses. Further along you pass a pond, then soon start to descend steeply. At the bottom of the hill go right, which takes you down the road past Dove Cottage to meet the road. Cross the road at the roundabout to return to Grasmere.


The facts

Distance - 5½miles/9km

Time - three hours with a coffee stop

Terrain - easy with one moderate short climb

Best map - OS Outdoor Leisure 7

Start/grid ref - Grasmere Church, GR337074

Parking - large car park in Grasmere village not far from the church

Refreshments - tea rooms at Rydal Mount, follow sign. Several cafés and a couple of pubs in Grasmere
Stiles - One

Public toilets – at the start, and along the way at car a park between Grasmere Water and Rydal Water which is off route. At the Tea Rooms at Rydal Mount (tea room customers only).