In a previous post I showed you a wonderful walk up Hallin Fell for stunning vistas over Ullswater. The road to this fell was the narrow road down the eastern side of the lake from Pooley Bridge, and I said you could walk up from either Howtown or a little further on at St Peter’s Church. Well those of you that know the area will be aware that this road does indeed terminate a little past this point in the remote valley of Martindale. A lush open quiet green valley where deer do roam and come down to bring up their young. Well just a mile further on from Hallin Fell, at the beginning of the valley is an small old remote church. St Martin’s Church, a building you could almost miss with its size and quaint plain-ness. Well there is more to it than meets the eye. I had a sunny day and time to wander more, so took a closer look.
Firstly, why here? Such remoteness with just a couple of farm houses in the area that I could see. Well, it is known that a chapel was situated here as far back as at least 1220. The 1500s brought of course the Dissolution of the Monasteries and destruction of the chapels but until that time the area was served by the monks of Barton. In the late 16th century the church as you see today was built. Back then the valley’s population was around 200, hence the need for a parish. The population today can be counted in a handful of 10s but the church is even still used on the the last Sunday of each month for evensong.
There is lots more history to be discovered within this little building and around its perimeter too. behind it, in the corner of the churchyard is a great Yew Tree. This tree is believed to be at least 1300 years old. The men of yore in Martindale where notorious bowmen and it was from this tree they made their bows from.
The church building and fittings are also full of history and mystery. The little church bell that hangs above the entrance is over 500 years old. Writing is inscribed on it in an old lombardic language, which to this day has never been deciphered.
The stone font beside the altar has a more ancient history. We must not forget that behind the valley is the mountain of High Street, named from the Roman Road that went over it. The font is believed to be a standing part of a Roman altar that once lay beside this route on the mountain. Over 1700 years old. Locals way back used it to sharpen knives, the scars you can still see, before it became hollowed out for use as a font.
So, if you are ever in the area, and you have the want to visit the more visible and prominent St Peter’s Church (1800s) at the foot of Hallin Fell near Howton, Cumbria, remember that just a mile or so further down the road is a older little church surprisingly richer in history and within the gorgeous surroundings of Martindale.