IDEAS for a book can emerge from a wide variety of situations and the unlikeliest of sources. It was the fairly recent re-organisation of several Church of England parishes in West Cumbria that prompted Jackie Oakes of Eskdale to take up the pen – as inspiration goes not the richest of veins to mine, one would have thought. But how wrong that thought would be.

Jackie, 49, a mother of two teenage boys, is the author of the newly published The Western Lakes Pilgrim Way, described as a walk through a Christian landscape. And what a fascinating journey it provides us with, whether undertaken on foot or from a comfortable armchair.

This long-distance footpath of around 30 miles links together all 10 churches which form the Benefice of the Western Lake District, established by the Carlisle Diocese in late 2017. Starting at Whicham, at the foot of Black Combe, it continues along the coast towards Ravenglass before turning inland to end in the Eskdale valley, following the ancient routes of this beautiful and historic area.

Walks can range from two miles to five, and can be done in stages. To undertake in one go would take a couple of days but along the way are rich rewards – Viking crosses, a Roman bathhouse, the site of a Benedictine nunnery, lovely views and the rivers of the Irt, Mite and Esk.

Churches en route include St Mary’s, Whicham; St Mary’s, Whitbeck; St Michael and All Angels, Bootle; St John the Baptist, Corney; St John’s, Waberthwaite; St Michael and All Angels, Muncaster; St Peter’s, Drigg; St Paul’s, Irton; St Bega’s, Eskdale Green; and St Catherine’s at Boot, Eskdale. And all but one of the 10 churches is open to visitors.

An interesting chapter on the origins of Christianity in Cumbria, which it seems are “shadowy and uncertain” reveals the influences of the Irish, the Scots, Angles, Vikings and Normans and how Cumberland did not appear in the 1086 Domesday Book as it was at that time held by Scotland.

Cumberland as a county was not recorded until 1177.

Each of the nine sections of the walk gives useful orientation with parking and transport details and a brief history of the church at the starting point. We learn how a Norse headquarters was established at Muncaster, where there is also an ancient pre-Christian burial ground, that John Wesley preached at Drigg in 1752 and that the church of ‘Yrton’ (Irton) was gifted to the Nunnery at Seaton, near Bootle, by the Archbishop of York in 1227.

Two of the stained glass windows at St Paul’s, Irton, are original Arts and Crafts creations, designed by Edward Burne-Jones and made by William Morris & Co and here too we discover Bracken Money was paid – a shilling a bushel of ash to the churchwardens. The alkali in the ash from burning of the bracken on the Irton and Santon fells was apparently used in the manufacture of soap, required by the woollen industry.

At Corney church we learn that in 1810 a wall was built around the churchyard to keep the sheep out. It would be 5½ ft high – reputed to be the height at which a Herdwick sheep would hesitate. Sadly, an 1822 bronze sundial commemorating one of Corney’s famous sons, Edward Troughton, the designer, inventor and instrument maker, was stolen from the churchyard in 1999. (The British Sundial Society has it on their register of stolen dials.)

Jackie, who hails from Dumfriesshire, has lived in Eskdale for 17 years. She works in HR management at Sellafield and is a school governor at her local primary. She has researched her subject well, credited her sources and shares with the reader her little sketches of the churches to visit and route maps to follow. It is quite an achievement.

She says: “The pathways around our churches have been used by people attending funerals, baptisms, weddings and general worship services have endured for centuries. They are physical evidence of the lasting influence of the church in this area. We are quite literally following in the footsteps of previous generations.Churches are still focal points in our communities, where neighbours get to know each other, and where we welcome visitors.”

Copies of The Western Lakes Pilgrim Way can be obtained from Michael Moon’s Bookshop and the Cornerstone Bookshop in Whitehaven, the New Bookshop in Cockermouth, Spindlecraft in Drigg, Santon Bridge craftshop, Brook House Inn, Eskdale and Eskdale Stores. It costs £5 and proceeds will go to help local churches.