The narrow valley spanning about 3 miles (5 km) in length and starting with a bowl of hills is known as the Kentmere Round; a horseshoe shape of high fells surrounding Kentmere Reservoir.
The reservoir is now the source of the River Kent from which Kendal derives its name. Access to this part of the valley is from the Roman High Street, across Nan Bield Pass, from Troutbeck via Garburn pass, or along an old bridleway which leads up from the village. The valley is sandwiched between Troutbeck on the western edge and Longsleddale towards the east.
It can only be accessed by road by travelling through Staveley which is situated at its mouth where the river meets the Gowan beck coming in from Ings.
A walk described by Wainwright in his Far Eastern Fells series as the Kentmere Round takes in a 12 mile all-inclusive round trip. In the past there were drove roads up over the horseshoe in the north to the village of Mardale which is now submerged under the water of the Haweswater Reservoir. In the past it was a tradition of the valley’s residents to travel from Kentmere to Mardale village church as part of the Easter Sunday celebrations.
The river Kent rises above the reservoir in the heights of Bleathwaite Crag. It collects underneath Kentmere Common in the reservoir which was built in 1848 to control the flow of water to the lower pastures. It needs to be noted that Lingmell Gill also feeds into the reservoir. Beside the reservoir lies a disused quarry and a cottage formerly used for maintenance of the river. The river runs out into a transitory lake called Kentmere Tarn south of the confluence with Hall Gill. The lake has at times in the past completely disappeared into marshland and in 1840 it was deliberately drained to provide reclaimed farm land, but in the past 100 years the “mere” has reappeared again. It is now 1 mile in length. An archaeological excavation there uncovered an ‘extended’ log boat dating back to c.1300 AD. Other tributaries in the valley include Ullstone Gill, Nunnery beck, Nuttera beck, Park beck and Hall beck.
A waterfall named Force Jumb is situated just north of the village and there are two major bridges at the Staveley end of the valley. The first is called Barley Bridge and includes a spectacular weir. The second crosses the Kent further up the valley and is known as Scroggs Bridge.
The valley has evidence of settlement going back to around 4000 BC, when the valley and surrounding hillsides were almost entirely covered with forest. A major archaeological research project carried ou in the valley by a local archaeology group between 1983 and 1990 surveyed hundreds of archaeological features, as well as excavating two sites – a radiocarbon dated pre-
Viking and Viking period upland settlement at Bryant’s Gill, south of Rainsborrow Crag and part of a medieval platform site and farmstead near Kentmere Hall. The results of this survey and excavation project will be published soon. The valley’s rich archaeological heritage includes the remains of at least five large prehistoric compound sites incorporating the remains of various round huts and small stockyards. One of these sites is on a public footpath at Tongue House towards the northern part of the valley.
The valley was well known for its bobbin mills and for Waterfoot factory which dredged the bottom of the Kentmere Tarn in the 1950s searching for diatomite. A water mill was constructed by the first lord of the manor in 1272. The Mill was refurbished in the 1970s and is now a pottery studio producing wonderful handmade ceramics. Also, towards the Staveley end of the valley is a photographic paper manufacturer known as Kentmere Ltd. A fishery is situated next to the reservoir and every year trout and salmon are released into the River Kent for the benefit of anglers due to the fact that the river’s native population has been diminished.
There is an extensive history of mining in the area which was maily carried out for the green slate in the valley. Official records of mining go back to the late nineteenth century. It is likely that stone mining was carried out as far back as the Bronze Age. The two main open cast mines are at Jumb quarry and at Steelrigg near Staveley both producing green slate. At the height the mining era there were at least 6 underground mines in the area. There have been numerous changes of the ownership of the mines during the twentieth century.
Reference: Wikipedia – under the GNU Free Doc Licence