Helsington Church and Sizergh Castle

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The Lighthouse Walk No. 70 – Sizergh Castle and Helsington Church – February


A walk to Sizergh Castle and Helsington Church.

February saw The Lighthouse walk leaders Nigel and Paul host the 70th walk they have curated. That’s right – the 70th!

That’s a lot of walks, and they stretch back to before The Lighthouse was founded and into the days of the now-defunct South Lakeland MIND (SLM).

While preparing to write this post, I considered the countless hours the guys have devoted to providing their hikes and the hundreds of miles they would have walked in preparation, reconnoitring, risk assessing, and final delivery.

As readers may know, The Lighthouse and SLM before it was formed to enhance the quality of life of people experiencing mental and emotional distress and to work towards promoting better mental health and a greater sense of wellbeing for people in South Lakeland. Walking therapy is integral to that work and dramatically benefits physical and psychological health.

Sizergh Castle & Heslington Church – The Final Walk

Towards the end of last year, Nigel and Paul (sometimes called Paul and Nigel) announced they were taking a break, and the February 2024 walk would be the last one in their programme.

It would be remiss not to comment on how the walks have helped me over the years. I have enjoyed them. Although I was not lucky enough to have taken part in all 70 walks, I was able to join many of them. The health benefits have enormously improved my sense of self and wellbeing. Writing about them, too, here and elsewhere, has been enjoyable, and I hope that my musings have conveyed a sense of the joy I have experienced. Writing, for me, is another form of therapy, so I guess I have received a bonus!

Before the walk, I took steps to let folks know it was to be a ‘milestone’ (no pun intended) event. I hoped there would be a bumper turnout of participants to mark the occasion and to say ‘thank you’ to Nigel and Paul for volunteering with The Lighthouse and SLM.

And then, there were three

Arriving at the start point, I met Nigel and Paul and, on looking around for more walkers, saw there were … none! It seemed there was just to be the three of us. I felt a tad disappointed for the guys.

Now, I know walking isn’t for everyone experiencing issues with their mental health. From personal experience, I understand there are days when it’s hard to get out of bed, let alone face the world or trek through wet and muddy countryside in February. It’s just I had a sensation of sadness.

Anyway, I took comfort in recalling with Nigel and Paul (I am resisting the urge to call them ‘Nipa’ or ‘Pani’ as it’s common nowadays to combine names) some of the previous walks, their venues and the many people who have joined the various treks. There have been an incredible number of people whom our leaders have guided over an astonishing number of miles. On behalf of all of the walkers, I took the opportunity to thank Nigel and Paul for everything they have done. I think they appreciated that.

Soppy stuff over; I need to tell you about the walk.

For the first (and final) time in 2024, We’re Off!

Meeting Nigel and Paul by The Strickland Arms in Nannypie Lane on the Sizergh Estate, I was pleased to see the day promised to be bright and rain-free. Like most people, I feel that we have had quite enough rain in recent weeks.

I was intrigued by Nannypie Lane, and my etymology research tells me it was named in 1857, or thereabouts, after a member of the local family of Katherine Pye.

Heading west, we meandered past some cottages and into the open meadows forming part of the Estate. Crossing Duke Plantation, we slowly climbed Sizergh Fell, passing several cairns, and reached an elevation of just over 400ft. Looking back along our route, it was possible to see the lowlands surrounding Kendal with the Howgills rising in the distance. The National Trust owns the Sizergh Estate, and the fell and woodlands are well maintained.

Turning northward, our trio descended Sizergh Fell and strolled through the woodland of Brigsteer Park and Woods.

Our destination was Helsington Church, where we planned to break for lunchtime refreshments and visit the church building. Climbing upward once again, we ascended to 426ft. The weather was pleasant, bright, and not cold at all. We met sheep, happily munching on sweet green grass. The ewes were rotund, a combination, I suspect, of plentiful grazing and the closeness of the lambing season.

Strolling along a well-trodden and popular path, we met well-behaved dogs escorting their ‘hoomans’ on walks like ours. Pleasantries were exchanged, along with smiles and nods of the head.

Helsington Church

It wasn’t long before we reached the small church of St. John’s, Helsington. Built in 1726, the isolated church overlooks the beautiful Lyth Valley to the west.

St. John’s has some interesting features, principally a mural painted at the east end in 1919 (particularly poignant to me as my late father was born in that year), just after the First World War, by The Hon. Marion De Saumarez. The mural depicts twelve female angels with wistful expressions and flowers at their feet. The background of the river, pastures and mountains refers to the scene outside the church, but there is no sign of life in the silent landscape, reflecting post-war desolation and communities deprived of their young men. The artist used local girls as models for the angels.

The church grounds contain the Commonwealth War Grave of Captain Richard Neville Kenward Jones MC. Captain Jones was killed in action on 9 April 1942.

Refreshment Break

As luck would have it, there was a handy bench just outside the church grounds, and we settled to rest our bones for a while and munch our way through lunch. As we ate, we gazed at the pleasing view over the Lyth Valley and westward, taking in Humphrey Head, The Old Man of Coniston, and the Cumbrian Mountains in the distance. There was silence between the three of us for a while; the vista before us said all there was to say.

It’s downhill from here

Suitably refreshed, we retraced our steps for a quarter of a mile or so before turning off to take the path past Holeslack Farm and the track towards Sizergh Castle.

John Jackson, who owned Holeslack Farm during the early 18th century, was the benefactor who funded the building of Helsington Church.

The path to Sizergh Castle is well maintained, with a smooth and accessible surface. The National Trust recognises it as a popular route between the castle and the church.

Time for a Flat White

 A combination of downhill walking and the promise of a cup of coffee saw us improve our pace, and it wasn’t long before we reached Sizergh Castle itself and its welcoming café. Although the castle doesn’t open until the season starts on 19 February, the gardens are open, and the car park was full due to many visitors enjoying the pleasant weather at the beginning of the school half-term. For Nigel and Paul, the walk was over as their transport home was waiting in the castle car park. Despite the offer of a lift back to my car at the Strickland Arms, I decided to add some steps to my tally for the day by walking the final half mile alone. Doing so would also enable me to complete the entire circuit so that it could be nicely shown on my map!

The End of an Era

So that was it. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. It’s odd to think that there may be no further Lighthouse Walks.

I returned to my car, reminiscing about the many walks I’ve enjoyed and the people I’ve met along the way.

Thank you again, Nigel. Thank you again, Paul. You have helped so many people have such a good time – you should be proud of your achievement. I know I would be!

Another grand day out and another grand walk came to an end. My tracker tells me about 4 miles (no, I still can’t be doin’ with those kilometre thingamajigs).

Without further walks scheduled, I can’t write my normal ‘see you next time’ sentence. That feels odd and so very strange.

It’s been a great pleasure reporting – maybe I’ll write about other Lighthouse topics, we’ll see. Until then, I guess I should say ‘goodbye’.

For information on other Lighthouse activities, please visit:

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