Looking over to the west from the Romano-British farmstead on Barnscar, an enclosed marshy depression on Birkby Moor defends the next objective, Stainton Tower. Locally known as the “Pepperpot”, the tower commands the horizon and stands on the last hill and climb on the Lakeland Way. The view from here, looking out to the Irish Sea, is your reward for all your effort over the last twelve days of walking. To get there though, you must survive the Bog of Birkby Moor, and a marsh pool located in the centre of the walled quagmire.

Hut circle remains on the Romano-British farmstead on Barnscar

Located on a broad raised terrace on Birkby Moor, known as Barnscar, between the steep craggy peaks of Birkby Fell to the east and the steep-sided Muncaster Valley to the north-west, are the remains of three ancient settlements. This Scheduled Monument includes the earthworks and buried remains of a large prehistoric cairnfield within which are two prehistoric hut circle settlements, 15 prehistoric funerary cairns, a Romano-British farmstead and trackway, and a medieval shieling.

Approaching the walled enclosure

From the terrace of Barnscar the Romano-British trackway is well-defined, and can be easily followed across the western reaches of Birkby Moor. At the lowest point of the depression a wall is reached that forms a large boundary around an ancient livestock grazing pasture.

Access gate to the walled enclosure
Cattle on Birkby Moor

Today the pasture is still used for grazing livestock, but these are not the only beasts to roam this enclosure. Lurking beneath the purple moor-grass and rush, a serpentine-like creature waits for any walker that wanders off the track.

Ordnance Survey map, published 1863

Legend has it that “The Bog Monster of Birkby Moor” coils its body around the legs of cattle until they fall into the marsh, and eventually succumb to the depths of the waterlogged peat. Over time their bodies become mummified larders for the creature to devour during lean times.

Ordnance Survey map, present day
Jaclyn and Emily approaching the marsh pool

The wettest area of the marsh is just beyond this lonely tree on some raised ground in the centre of the enclosed pasture.

The marsh pool on Birkby Moor (looking left)

Where the trackway enters the wettest area of the marsh, the bog monster has churned up the peat below to create a ‘marsh pool’ and a trap for any unsuspecting walkers or animals that venture this way. To avoid the trap walk across three or four metres over on the left, and take advantage of the tall tussocks that provide a safer passage.

The marsh pool of Birkby Moor (looking right)

Over on the right the marsh is mostly made up of a raft of moss and very few tussocks, so it’s far wetter and much more difficult to negotiate.

We crossed the marsh after a few days of heavy rain, so this is about as bad as it gets. Don’t stand still too long though, the serpent below loves feet!

Looking back along the track and the marsh pool

Once safely across the marsh pool, the trackway becomes less obvious as you head for higher ground and towards the boundary of the enclosure. “Where was the bog monster Daddy? I didn’t see it!”, “Shush Emily, it will hear you!.”

Due to cattle congregating at the west wall of the enclosure for shelter, they have inadvertently churned up the track that runs parallel with it. It’s no problem for myself and Emily though, we survived the Bog Monster of Birkby Moor!

Stainton Tower

At the south-west corner of the enclosed pasture, an access gate leads to safety and back to dry ground. It is now a short climb to Stainton Tower to witness a wonderful view of the Irish Sea and the Esk Estuary.

“Look daddy!”

Emily spots the Eskmeals Viaduct and the Esk Estuary that she’s crossed on previous recces. It is the crossing of the River Esk that is the last obstacle before reaching Ravenglass and the end of the Lakeland Way journey.

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