Lune à Sea by foot

In print

Lune à Sea by foot

Martin London

Martin London

Sedbergh farmland
Lune à Sea. That’s the end of the puns!

In July, Christchurch GP Martin London and his wife Karol travelled home to the UK to explore the River Lune, meeting friends and family along the way

Lune à Sea. That’s the end of the puns!

One of the best reasons for traipsing down a river. Beef cheeks. West Coast haddock. Slow roast belly pork. And ale

It actually wasn’t a bad idea; in fact, a very good idea.

Those ex-pats among you will know the business of going home for a spell to see family and friends, and to reconnect with those special places you have missed over the years down-under; in effect, a return to whānau and whenua.

So you crawl off the plane at Heathrow or Montreal or Frankfurt and find yourself facing an exhausting and expensive tour of all those folk who insist on a visit.

Alternatively, you sneak into the country, letting only a select few know you’re there and later face the ire of those who find out you’d been around and not graced their hearth.

Over time, we got wise with a novel solution. We let them all know we’ll be in the country, plan a walk in the hills in some central location, say the Peak District, with a pub meal at the end and invite everyone to join us. Let those who are serious make the effort and do the extra travelling. It has worked very well on several occasions.

River Lune
Source to sea

This year, we upped the ante. Karol’s idea was to find a river and walk it from source to sea.

The River Lune in the north-west of England fitted the bill. It rises in the Howgill Fells, just east of the Lake District, and flows about 80 miles to the sea at Lancaster. There is no formal route beside the river, but you stitch together a way using public footpaths and country lanes between the small villages and towns where pubs or B&Bs provide accommodation and meals.

The message to our folk: “Come and join us for part or all of the walk. You’ll need to sort out your own sleeps.”

Our biggest muster is on day one – punters from London, Edinburgh and Lancaster.

From Newbiggin-on-Lune, near Kirkby Stephen, eight of us head up to find one of the many springs in the surrounding hills that claim to be the true source. This one has the longest journey to the sea without being quite the highest.

The wide, open hills have nothing to tempt the group’s rock climbers but glorious views let them cast reminiscing eyes west towards the lakes and east to the Yorkshire Dales.

Over Randygill Top to Green Bell. There, close below its summit, we bathe our hands, anoint heads and sip from the trickle, the infant stream, emerging from its mountain mother’s womb. And then we’re off. It is all downhill from here and, by definition, will be the whole way to Plover Scar Lighthouse in Morecombe Bay.

(I like the ambiguity of the expression “all downhill from here”. Does it mean easy descent or ignominious decline?)

Back to Newbiggin, a side trip to an old rail viaduct, and then supper at the King’s Head at Ravenstonedale, stage one of a traditional pub (food) crawl and one of the best reasons for traipsing down a river. Beef cheeks. West Coast haddock. Slow roast belly pork. And ale. Mmmm!

Devil's Bridge

On to Tebay in the morning. It’s a reasonably leisurely trip through rural England.

Lovely woods, the growing river, villages of stone houses looking as though they had grown out of the ground. Farming goes on around us, making hay while the sun also shines on our trip (mostly).

Derek joins us on day three (he’s a philosopher writing a book on medical ethics with a Kiwi surgeon) and with my brother Fred. They take the high route over the fell tops and down to Sedbergh while Karol and I follow the river through the Lune Gorge then up on to a fellside lane.

From that height, passing noble ash trees (must plant some at home!) we are saved any noise that might come from the M6 motorway, which shares the gorge.

This ancient trade passage to the north was also a favoured route for raiding parties, so we see evidence of old forts and castles dating back to Roman times. Our other companion through here is the West Coast Line (we like trains), reminding us of this most civilised mode of travel, so underused in New Zealand, but the way we always choose to get about in “Old Blighty”.

Tired legs and sore feet into Sedbergh and The Dalesman pub (anyone for “Steak in Real Beer Pie?”)

We have a change of the guard as Derek heads back to London and David joins us from St Albans. David taught Fred and me music at our school in Oxford, 45 years ago. Another climber. We’ve remained close friends.

The four of us have a hilarious time wending our way down lanes, across bridges and over meadows.

We pass both ancient and newly “layed” hazel hedges and determine to introduce the craft to our block in Little River, back in New Zealand.

We roll into Kirkby Lonsdale and there disperse, Karol and I to an Airbnb, a farmhouse with such style that the curved oak roof beam of the 1656 room had been recycled from an older building from several centuries earlier.

In my envy, I warned our host that I plan to steal it in the night. “Don’t worry,” says he. “I have another in the barn.”

Back by the river, we meet Ray and Brenda on Devil’s Bridge. Coming from the village of Caton, our next port of call, they will be our guides until we reach the sea.

With private land to avoid but numerous footpath options, some careful map-reading is needed to avoid ending up in the wrong farmyard. The land is flatten­ing. The river widens. Lancaster approaches.

David has recovered his car and now five of us patronise the Station Inn – locally caught fish the order of the day.

From Caton, we can remain riverside, past warehous­es refurbished into apartments, past museum and castle and out to estuarine marshes, the port and the sea.

It has been energetic, social and gastronomic, immersed in rural, summered England.

We have indulged in nostalgia and walked our way into new stories. We have tasted the charm and there now is no going back.

Next time? Probably the Wye Valley running the Welsh borders to the Severn Estuary. You coming?

Morecombe Bay
Millennium Bridge


A great idea for a holiday/family visit, and great to read. 20+ years ago, I worked for a company whose head office was in Kirkby Lonsdale, so there were yearly or twice yearly trips up there from London, and a stint working there, at Casterton Hall, with lodgings and meals at the local pub. The whole area is terrific and much less travelled than the Lakes.