The Duddon Valley is a jewel in the crown of Cumbria, situated between Coniston and Eskdale; remote, unspoilt and perhaps the most idyllic corner of the Lake District. The Duddon Valley will delight walkers, mountain bikers, climbers, nature lovers and those who enjoy the peace and beauty of the countryside. The tiny villages of Ulpha and Seathwaite are two focal points of the valley. At Ulpha (old Scandinavian for Wolf Hill) there's a Post office/village shop whilst Seathwaite, situated near the end of the ancient Walna Scar road, boasts the 16th century Newfield Inn.
Frith Hall is visible as a romantic ruin on the skyline as you drive up the valley. Four hundred years ago it was a hunting lodge overlooking the deer park of Ulpha (Frith means 'in the wood'). So at some times of year it would be as quiet and peaceful as it now is but at other times full of bustle and activity as the gentlemen of the Hudleston family came out from Millom Castle to hunt the deer. You may be lucky enough to catch sight of a deer on your holiday. Three hundred years ago Frith Hall was no longer a host to the gentry but a hostelry open to all, a stopping place for pack-horse teams and their drivers on one of the old roads in and out of the valley. Like all routes to and from the coast, it was used by smugglers as well as honest carriers. The Isle of Man was then a notorious centre for smugglers and the Board of H.M. Customs had its work cut out defending the rugged Cumbrian coastline from the persistent and ingenious approaches of the denizens of that 'warehouse of frauds'. The Board's Whitehaven representative reported that the town and country were 'mostly supplied with brandy, rum, tea, tobacco, soap and other high duty goods illegally imported'. So strong drinks were cheaply available at Frith Hall, which made the place lively and at times violent. At least one of its clientele died there. Not much peace and quiet in those days but two hundred years ago Frith Hall became a farm, and still stands on farmland. Now the enigmatic Herdwick sheep crop the grass in silence where once the lords rode out to the chase and midnight brawls disturbed the peace.
Ulpha church is a testament to the craftsmanship of one-time parishioners with the altar itself carved form a local cherry tree. There are still the remains of wall paintings high up on the inside of the church. Outside the church look for the gravestone of the man who died in the "pitiless storm".
Seathwaite church cannot be visited without recognition of the life of Wonderful Walker, an 18th century parson whose life inspired Wordsworth's "The Excursion".
Further up the valley there is a sober, square enclosure planted with conifers. That is a Quaker burial ground. No ostentation there, no headstones, statues or monuments. All is plain and quiet, inviting meditation. The last burial took place in the middle of the eighteenth century, while below, at Duddon Hall, Major Cooper and his aristocratic friends cheered on the fighting cocks and placed their wagers. Some come in pursuit of sport and excitement, some in search of tranquillity. Over the centuries the hospitable Duddon Valley has managed to accommodate them all.
Duddon Hall is now divided into apartments but was once the grand house of the valley, inhabited by the lord of the manor of Dunnerdale with Seathwaite. In its grounds can be seen an elegant Georgian chapel that is circular in shape and a handsome stag surmounts its portico.
The fell side provided the Duddon with its greatest resource: waterpower from the river was utilised both for the bobbin mill and corn mill at Ulpha. In 1904 the dam at Seathwaite Tarn was built to supply the expanding town of Barrow-in-Furness with water. Quarrying and the sale of slate, the only local building material, brought valuable income into a once self-sufficient community. The workings of the quarries are still visible on the hillside and some of the most beautifully marked slate came from Walna Scar. An example of this can be seen on the floor of the Newfield Inn at Seathwaite. The Duddon Bridge Iron Furnace was established 1737: it was supplied with charcoal from the ancient coppiced woodland nearby. The pitsteads of the charcoal workers can still be found. Further information can be seen at the site of the furnace, which has recently been restored.
Duddon Mosses can be visited from Foxfield station on the Cumbrian Coast line, north of Barrow. This is a National Nature Reserve and is managed by Natural England. This is a tranquil area with views to the Lakeland fells. Here visitors can enjoy strolls, the solitude and the sea breezes. For more information see www.naturalengland.org.uk