Great Asby has six registered village greens which run along the length of the village beside a beck, between church and houses. The community of Great and Little Asby which lies across the fell have devised a mainly historical documentary based project working closely with the village school, local crafts people and volunteers.

About Asby

Just five miles from Appleby in Westmorland the villages of Great Asby and Little Asby nestle along the edge of the limestone landscapes of the Orton Fells. Archaeological remains show that this area has been intensively settled and farmed for thousands of years. The community joined the Our Green Space project during its first year to research and document the wealth of history on their doorstep both ancient and more recent. The village of Great Asby has six registered village greens running the length of the local beck.

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  • To undertake documentary research and oral history recording that would capture the development of the six registered village greens within Great Asby and the houses and businesses situated along the beck that runs through the centre of the village. Create accessible interpretation of this research for a wider audience.

  • Develop an interactive website containing interview recordings, documents and resources all available as part of the Asby History Group archive.

  • Carry out a full environment and habitat survey of the greens to determine what flora and fauna were currently on site and how to protect and develop them to make them biodiversity rich in the future. Create a management plan available to the parish council for future action.

  • Research and map the development of the bridleways stemming from the greens and deliver an assessment to the county council of future management and repairs required.

  • Develop a strong education element working with the local school via heritage and craft workshops.

  • Deliver project themes that would inspire and involve individuals and community groups within the village; creating a stronger community with a more developed sense of place.

  • Reemphasize ownership of the greens and rights of access to them.

  • To ensure the heritage and culture of Great Asby and its greens will become part of the living culture, accessible to and celebrated in different ways.

  • Help the community to gain new skills and experiences that will lead to an increased local capacity to undertake future community development.

  • Develop links with other communities to share experience and learning.

Riding though History

The settlements of Little Asby and Great Asby, high on the Orton Fell owes much to the development of the ancient bridleways. Riding still plays a major role in the heritage and culture of the area with the Endurance Great Britain riding event being held there on an annual basis. The community researched the history of the bridleways and marked the routes which lead back to the greens on ancient maps of the area. Their initial quest for information started at the Kendal Archives but they soon realised that the maps were difficult to manage and held limited information regarding byways and tracks. One of the team members regularly used Memory Map mapping software for navigating routes as part of Endurance Great Britain riding and the project purchased the necessary software to access OS maps from the 1800’s, 1920’s, 1940’s and the present day. They were then able to overlay these maps with the present day map and work out which routes were still accessible and which had long since disappeared. The team researched the development of transport routes and built up a picture of how paths in and around the village of Asby would have developed over time, particularly identifying the purpose of paths leading to and from the greens to other key settlements and villages. There was an opportunity from this to ride the bridleways and to assess what management was needed to bring the tracks and gates up to a safe standard. This information was passed onto the Cumbria Bridleways Local Authority Officer at the County Council and onto the council’s contractors responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the rights of way.

“The Great Asby Charity ride ran on September 13th 2009. The village greens were filled with horse boxes and trailers, and 38 riders and horses set off on two possible routes of 19km or 25km all around the bridleways of the area and up onto Little Asby Common. The Youth Group came out to raise money and support the event holding open the vast number of gates on the route as did village residents. In conjunction with the ride we held an exhibition of our research so far in the village hall which included a history of the rights of way covering pre-historic times to the present day”.
(Asby community project member)

Festivals and Celebrations

The community at Asby has a wealth of skilled artists and craftspeople living in the village and the project naturally developed to include these in a way that has allowed significant cross generational inclusion including links with the local Asby Primary School.

The whole school was involved in preparations for the first well dressing in 2009 as part of the annual village Fun Day. Though the well is only dressed for a short period of time, there is a permanent testament to the day because the designs by the children were made into felt pew runners for the church by villagers, led by local felt maker Debbie Lucas.

Well Dressing

The children learnt about the history of St Helen’s Well. There is a long tradition of well dressing by villages to celebrate their source of fresh water supply and even to sugar the water to thank the well for health and healing. Younger pupils also developed a rhyme about well dressing with their teachers as part of their literacy work. The well dressing could be linked to the National Curriculum.

The project has developed a Green Space Education Resource pack intended to help teachers, youth workers and others who use local open green space as part of the outdoor classroom. The pack is primarily aimed at key stages 2 and 3 but can be adapted as necessary. All the activities are linked with the National Curriculum. For a free download visit or request a copy from Friends of the Lake District.

Children helped to soak the wooden frames, known as tiles, in the well for a fortnight. The tiles were then filled with clay and children drew a design for their tile on paper, around the theme of the village and its stream. The paper drawing was then placed on top of a clay tile and the child would prick out the pattern, so that when the paper was removed there were faint prick marks on the clay below.  The pupils then used sunflower seeds and coffee beans to create an outline to their designs before filling in the picture with petals and natural materials.   Many of these petals, flowers, seeds and leaves had been given by local people.  All this formed part of the whole school’s Art and Design lessons.

The finished tiles were placed around the well on a massive wooden frame and sugar was thrown into the stream during the well dressing part of the village Fun Day of June 2010.

The schools Key Stage 1 teacher felt that the new event of well dressing had increased community spirit in the village. She believed that the activity had made pupils more aware of the importance of water and that the children had enjoyed the hands-on element of decorating the tiles. The pupils said that they had found out more about the well and that the preparations and actual well dressing were fun.

Planting of Wildflowers at the School

One part of the Our Green Space project at Asby is about managing the greens environmentally. To this end staff from Cumbria Wildlife Trust and local volunteers surveyed all the greens and the churchyard in June 2009 to find out what plants currently grow there. A management plan was then developed with recommended mowing regimes to encourage more wildflowers. At the same time, a website (based on entering local postcodes) detailed what plant species the village could expect for its geology, drainage etc. Clearly, it might take several years with the right mowing before the range and quantity of wildflowers on the greens increased. It was decided therefore to plant some native wildflower plugs on the greens to help nature along. The group were keen for the children to help with some planting so the young people would begin to develop a sense of ownership for the green spaces and wildlife in their village.

A company which specialises in supplying sites with wildflower plants and seeds visited the school in the summer term 2010 and worked with the children to plant plugs including meadow cranesbill, red campion, field scabious and purple loosestrife into troughs and pots. These plants had been chosen because they would flower in the late spring, were local to the area and would in turn attract insects, birds and small mammals.

The pupils then watered the plants until the school holidays when the troughs and pots were moved to the front of the village hall so that residents could continue the watering. The Our Green Space group planted out the plugs into the village green around the well in early autumn 2010 once the grass had been cut.

Through the planting of wildflowers in the school the pupils have become more aware of the wildflowers native to their village and the value of the village greens to wildlife in general. Linked with the well dressing activity, the school has become more aware of different buildings and features of the village, and in September 2010 all the pupils drew pictures of Asby with the drawings of the well, church, school, pub and stream being displayed in the parents’ shelter in the school yard. In the years to come petals from the wildflowers on the greens will be used to dress St Helen’s Well at future village Fun Days.

Well Dressing Rhyme:

The wells of rocky Cumberland
Have each a saint or patron
Who holds an annual festival
The joy of maid and matron

And on this day as erst they wont
The youths and maids repair
To certain wells on certain days
And hold a revel there
Of sugar stick and liquorice
With water from the spring
They mix the peasant beverage
And May day carols sing

(Developed from an old rhyme and recited at the well dressing)

Felt Making

Just a short stroll from St Helen’s Well in the heart of the village stands St Peter’s church, one of the key buildings of historic interest within the village. The community identified early on that the church pews needed some comfortable cushions or mats and it was decided that felt pew runners capturing the shades and hues of the greens and their flora and fauna would be both a practical and beautiful addition.

Working with Debbie Lucas, a skilled local felt maker, the community created a selection of bespoke runners, of both technical and artistic quality, which are now housed and in regular use in the church.

This appealed to a wide range of community members. The project provided funding for workshop sessions which were widely promoted and open to anyone. Some came wanting to learn the art of felt making, others enjoyed the creative aspect and it wasn’t necessary to join in all the sessions. For only a small commitment in time, participants gained enormous satisfaction and added to a collective history.

Each community participant took away a small piece of felt in their shoe naturally working the fibres together and these pieces were then included into the final design.

The addition of felt making into the project was initially seen as peripheral to the overall project outline but in the end proved the most inclusive aspect. Its appeal went beyond the traditional approach to historical research. The church, although primarily used for religious services, has through the project enabled the wider community to been involved and now have a stake in its long history. The first pew runner was placed in St Peter’s Church on Easter Sunday 2009 and was blessed by the Bishop of Penrith, James Newcombe.

Community Access

One of the more challenging aspects of the Asby project was to establish access to one of the six registered village greens which, unlike the others, is privately owned. The community already knew that they had access rights to the green, but over time with its location on the edge of the village, it had fallen into disuse as a community space and was fenced off and grazed by a local farmer with permission from the owner.

Initially the community had thought the green, the largest in the village, could be a venue for the local summer fete and youth group activities but it would need to be managed differently and grazing stopped at appropriate times. The community contacted the owner by mail but received no response. The local farmer was more than happy to accommodate event days and grazing patterns were discussed, but after consideration the community decided that the location of the green was not ideal for community events and that they didn’t want to disturb or impinge on the current usage.

One of the abiding issues that parish councils face in small rural villages is “parking on the green”. Asby is no exception and during the project they have had to report to the parish council and hold wider community consultations on this issue. Much of the housing in the centre of the village was developed at a time when the car did not exist, and in consequence many of these houses have no private or off-road car parking facilities. In practical terms it is reasonable to assume that all private house owners / occupiers have at least one private vehicle.

The residents needed to be able to park their vehicles without unduly inconveniencing their neighbours or (partially) blocking the relatively narrow roads through the village. However carefully or tidily they do so there is evident deterioration to parts of some of the greens or verges, especially with regular use in wet weather.

Members of the parish council attended a training session run by CALC (Cumbria Association of Local Councils) for the Our Green Space Project which offered guidance on the complex issues of Open Space Protection and Town and Village Green legalities.

As well as dealing with the legal issues, which arise when people park on a registered village green, the session also raised management issues with regard to the other registered greens which have no known owner. The parish council worked closely with the Land Registry to try to secure Adverse Possession orders over the greens but their application proved unsuccessful. The community could ask Eden District Council to draw up a Scheme of Management agreement to allow the parish to formally and legally manage the greens.

For further details on Adverse Possession orders and a Scheme of Management agreement please refer to the Newbiggin Springs case study.

Managing the Green Environmentally

Throughout the project communities have been encouraged to engage the support of partner organisations. Cumbria Wildlife Trust supported the Asby community in conducting an assessment of the current habitat of the greens and a survey of both flora and fauna. The survey was carried out as a training session and a new management plan was drawn up and delivered to the parish council.

“On June 17th 2009 fourteen people, including three from the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, braved torrential rain and spent up to seven hours surveying all six village greens and the churchyard. It is anticipated that the recommendations of the report will be to change the mowing of the greens in order to demonstrate different types of meadow – i.e. spring, summer, late summer and autumn. Initially this will only be done on sample plots, probably roped off, and with a notice explaining how and why this bit of green is different.”
(Asby community member)

The community went through a fraught consultation period with local residents in the run up to the survey which necessitated that the greens could not be cut until the survey had taken place. Some residents were in opposition as they felt the greens looked untidy and unkempt and there was concern that a management plan which included unmown wildlife corridors or meadow fringes would impact on the aesthetics of the village.

The community asked an officer from the Cumbria Wildlife Trust and a speaker from an environmental consultancy firm to attend a village meeting to explain the logic behind the management plan, the benefits it would have for biodiversity in the area and also the native plant species specifically being reinstated for well dressing purposes. The presentation was well attended and overwhelmingly well received with a vote to recommend to the Parish Council that action be taken to enhance the greens for wildflowers.

“A species list had already been produced of suitable wildflowers which could be introduced as plug plants to the greens. This was done by matching flowers known to occur in the postcode area with native plug plants available of Cumbrian provenance at least some of which would be suitable for well dressing. The Parochial Church Council has set aside areas of the churchyard to be managed for wildflowers by reducing the frequency of mowing.”
(Asby community member)

Ongoing Objectives and Legacy
  • The management plan is held by the Parish Council and a future Scheme of Management with Eden District Council will mean the parish is able to implement this legally. To manage the greens for flora and fauna, an environmental soil survey has been carried out and 250 plug plants bought, most of which have been planted at Well Green and Chapel Green.

  • Planting at the school will continue to create the petals, flower heads and seeds required for the annual well dressing at St Helen’s Well which will be an established part of the annual Fun Day event.

  • The physical and web based archive of oral and documentary history and the gallery of historical photographs will continue to develop. The information, development skills and software requirements will be shared amongst other interested groups within the region. A permanent historical interpretation panel is installed at Bus Stop Green.

  • The church of St Peter’s now has beautiful felted pew runners which reflect the natural environments of the greens and the work of the children and local artists involved in the well dressing.

  • An updated set of bridleway maps is now available for download and a report has been produced for the County Councils Bridleways Officer on repair and development requirements.

  • The community has the equipment, skills and knowledge base necessary to continue their project and the confidence to share these skills with other communities.