Rydal Village

The village of Rydal is situated in part of a classic U-shaped glacial valley running North to South from Dunmail Raise.

The name Rydal comes from a combination of Old Norse and Old English being originally ‘Routhmere’ (Lake of Rothay) the etymology designating this ‘the valley where rye is grown’.

There is some evidence of pre-medieval settlement going  back to the Neolithic Period  (4,000 – 2,000 BC) and Early Bronze Age (2,000 – 800 BC) showing evidence of settlement and farming.The first inhabitants probably living above Hart Head where old foundations remain along with some faint cupping marks.

The village is a dispersed historic settlement and is largely a legacy of the 18th and 19th centuries.The development of the village being largely influenced by the relict of a medieval deer park some remains of which are still visible.

The original Hall was situated on St. John How known locally as Old Hall Hill and is thought to have been a hunting lodge for the deer park. 

The nearby cricket field was originally the old orchard & the site of the original Hall is situated on the line of the old Roman road. Ruins of the Old Hall were still visible in the 18th century and the area is said to be haunted by a spectral white dog.

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Standing nearby, a few yards before reaching Smithy Bridge, stands the ancient Lord’s Oak, a sister ‘Ladies Oak’ stood on the Under Loughrigg road. The Lords Oak can be seen on the left of the A591 when travelling North.

The later large (listed) present day Rydal Hall with its estate dates from the seventeenth century and boasts Picturesque gardens and Edwardian formal gardens, the latter laid out by Thomas Mawson, the renowned garden designer. 

Having deteriorated over the years, the Mawson garden was recently restored to its former glory with the assistance of a National Lottery grant.

Rydal has many examples of Lakeland vernacular architecture in its farmhouses, cottages and barns and there are 15 grade listed buildings, one has Grade 1 listing with a further 14 having Grade 2 listing.

Medieval barns and farmhouse buildings are still in evidence as are some of the remains of the quarries created to build these. 

It is thanks to the conservation ideal that the uniqueness of this area has been preserved, the importance being in that which was not built rather than that which was and this has resulted in the preservation of the traditional farming character and the later formal landscape features.

As a consequence of the late 19th century conservation movement plans to extend the railway from Windermere to Keswick were vigorously opposed and, although resurrected in 1870, were dropped for economic reasons. 

Through the years, in  spite of other plans being proposed, none have been implemented.

Herdwick sheep graze the surrounding fells

The numerous irregular boundary stone walls, constructed with local boulder stones, many dating from  the 16th and 17th centuries, are still visible.

Rydal Park is a designed landscape and the Le Fleming family have owned the land since the early 15th century having moved from the original Hall on Old Hall Hill into the older part of  the present Rydal Hall in the early 1600’s.

Originally a packhorse road ran through the village to Grasmere and between 1763 and 1768  Sir Michael Le Fleming caused a new turnpike road to be constructed.

Rydal has seen little change in landscape or setting  & is largely a legacy of the 18th & 19th centuries.

The hamlet of Rydal stands on the East end of Rydal Water with a small number of buildings constructed on the West side all of which are good examples of Lakeland vernacular architecture. 

Being equidistant between Kendal & Keswick this was an important packhorse route &, as a consequence, many of the houses doubled as occasional ‘inns’ or ‘houses of call’ to provide overnight accommodation for travellers; seven of these are recorded  showing how well-used the route was.

The smithy, a vital stopping point for horse- drawn vehicles & travellers, stood at the foot of Kiln How at the point where the modern highway crosses Rydal beck near Smithy Bridge.Fragments of the building that stood here were visible until the early 20th century.

The village and surrounding area has provided inspiration for many literary figures and internationally renowned artists. Many of the views are celebrated in the works of J.M.W.Turner, John Constable,Joseph Wright of Derby, Francis Towne and many others.


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