Under Open Skies...

LADY ANNE'S WAY - Interview with author Sheila Gordon

Limited edition, Autumn 2004

From Limited Edition, magazine for the Lakes, Lune & Dales (published by The Westmorland Gazette) 
Autumn 2004

Sheila Gordon is an enthusiastic walker whose feats include Lands End to John O'Groats. But it has been following in the footsteps of one of Westmorland's most famous women that she has taken special pride. For Sheila Gordon ia the author of Lady Anne's Way, a 100-mile path from Skipton Castle to Brougham Castle at Penrith, through the Yorkshire Dales and the Upper Eden Valley, tracing the 17th century journeys of Lady Anne Clifford. From her home in Giggleswick, Sheila Gordon talked to GILLIAN COWBURN about the inspiration for he book. 

The lecture had been about the River Ure near Ripon in North Yorkshire. Floral designer Sheila Gordon, a mother-of-two, listened intently.

And then the speaker made passing reference to 'Lady Anne's Highway' at Mallerstang.

"Something sparked inside me," said Sheila.

"When I heard that this great lady owned many impressive and historic castles scattered all over northern England, I was immediately struck with the idea of a long distance path that would link these beautiful buildings."

Having checked the relevant Ordnance Survey maps, Sheila discovered that it was possible to devise a walk - a 100-mile walk. And so the route was born.

That was in 1993. It took two years for Sheila, who has since retired, to plan Lady Anne's Way in great enough detail for others to follow in her footsteps. Fortunately Sheila loves pouring over maps.

A Yorkshire lass, she married Lancashire-born Frank in 1968. His job as an art teacher was to determine their roots for some years hence. However, frank was able to take early retirement and the couple moved to an idyllic bungalow in Giggleswick five years ago.

Here, Sheila has been able to indulge her love of gardening while Frank now paints professionally; indeed, many of his stunning landscapes adorn the walls of the Gordons' home.

It was Sheila who introduced Frank to long distance walking. Together they have completed the 'Coast-to-Coast', Pennine way, Land's End to John O'Groats (a three-month back packing adventure) and have recently returned from a lengthy hike in Scotland.

Occasionally over the years, however, Sheila has trekked alone.

"When I was bringing up the children it was my little escape."

Before she could plan Lady Anne's Way, Sheila had to brush up on her history.

"I spent hours in York library," she said.

Sheila Gordon in Brougham Castle (Inset: Lady Anne Clifford)

Not only did the castles en route need researching, but also Lady Anne Clifford, the woman whose incredible energy and great tenacity have left such an amazing legacy.

Sheila takes up her story in the introduction to her book: "Lady Anne was the last in the line of that great family the Cliffords who owned vast estates extending from Skipton in Craven to Brougham in Westmorland. Much of the land included wild and rugged country at the head of Wharfedale and Wensleydale, and Mallerstang in the Upper Eden."

Lady Anne was born in 1590 in Skipton Castle, the only surviving child of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland and his wife Margaret Russell. However, when her father died in 1605, she failed to inherit the estate which passed instead to her uncle and his male heirs. The injustice was felt very deeply by both Lady Anne and her mother and in future years was to be a bone of contention between Lady Anne and her husbands."

Nothing if not determined, Lady Anne - encouraged by her mother - spent the next 38 years trying to regain that inheritance.

She was married twice. First to Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset, who died in 1624, and then, six years later, to Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery.

"This second marriage wasn't a happy one," said Sheila. "After four-and-a-half years they quarrelled and subsequently lived apart."

The Earl of Pembroke died in 1650, the year after Lady Anne left southern England forever.

"It had been her home since childhood but in 1643 she at last came into her rightful inheritance (outliving the rest of her family). Now was the time to return to the land of her birth and set her houses in order."

Pendragon Castle

And so, at the age of 60, Lady Anne set about restoring not only her castles, but also nearby churches. She also instituted the construction of almshouses.

"While supervising the work in her castles she would travel to each one in turn, spending months at a time at each. She spent a lot of time at Appleby," added Sheila.

"But Brougham remained her favourite and was to be the castle in which she died."

Having devised the route and done her research - historical and practical (places to eat and sleep along the way, for example), Sheila set about walking it, sometimes on her own, sometimes with the help of friends.

The first time out she took a notebook, an admirable gesture thwarted by particularly inclement weather. "So I got a pocket recorder instead," recalled Sheila. "It was uncanny to come home and play back the tape and hear the lambs bleating and the birds singing as well as my voice."

In devising the route, Sheila says her aim was to 'follow in spirit' some of the routes taken by Lady Anne - as well as visiting all her important buildings on the way.

"I wanted to strike a balance between sticking religiously to her routes while gaining a true flavour of the surrounding landscape. I had no desire to increase the pressure on existing long distance paths, nor to stay totally in the valleys, beautiful though they are, and I took to the fellside whenever possible."

Turning Lady Anne's Way into a book might not have been Sheila's first consideration when she set out on her mammoth task, but by the time she completed it in 1995 she desperately wanted a publisher so that "other people could enjoy it too".

Brough Castle

It was Paul Hannon, of Keighley-based Hillside Publications who came to the rescue. As for the illustrations, they were free - thanks to the artistic talents of husband Frank. Since its first publication in 1995, and subsequent revised edition last year (Frank and Sheila walked it again for their wedding anniversary), Lady Anne's Way has sold more than 3,000 copies.

Sheila has a folder full of letters from delighted walkers who have happily followed her lead.

"It's very rewarding to receive such lovely comments," said Sheila, who has had a special badge woven for those trekkers who want a souvenir of their completion of Lady Anne's Way. It is based on the door-knocker at Brougham Hall which is an 'incredible' two-feet wide.

"The original was made as an exact replica of the Durham Cathedral Sanctuary Knocker and represents a devil's head with a radiating mane. It was hollow and legend has it that a light used to shine out through the eyes and mouth creating an eerie sight on a dark winter's night."

Now, fired by the success of Lady Anne's Way, Sheila has not only joined her local history group but has also been working on a walk between York and Lancaster along the old post route.

"It's about 90 per cent complete and I'm looking for a publisher," said Sheila, who has also given up teaching flower arranging in order to concentrate on public speaking. The subject? In the footsteps of Lady Anne, of course!

Almshouses, Appleby

Sheila's favourite stretch of the route is from Hawes to Kirkby Stephen. Her favourite destination is Appleby.

"It's like a little time-warp and relatively unspoilt," commented Sheila, who found the burial plots of Lady Anne and her mother at St Lawrence's Church especially moving.

"Her motivation to live was the restoration of all those old castles. When I give my talk I tell people how Lady Anne has transformed my life. She was an incredible lady."


Pictures (top down): Cover of Autumn 2004 "Limited Edition"; Sheila Gordon in Brougham Castle with (inset) Lady Anne Clifford; Pendragon Castle; Brough Castle; Almshouses, Appleby.