Grid Ref NY 329540
Great Orton is a large and varied village strung out along a lane, where the entrances to the village used to be closed with chains at night, probably to prevent cattle from straying.
St Giles Church was built in 1098, when William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror was on the English throne. Much of the original Norman architecture has been retained, with some restoration taking place in Victorian times, and again the 1980’s. It is the only church in the Carlisle Diocese dedicated to a French saint.
Great Orton is home to a small rural school, in existence for 142 years, though not in the same building. A newer landmark is the millennium beacon. On the village green is a silver jubilee bench (1977) placed to commemorate Queen Elizabeth IIs 25 years as monarch.
Great Orton’s former military airfield (also called Wiggonby) opened in 1943, became one of the area’s first windfarms, and in 2001 was used as a burial ground for foot and mouth disease animals.
The year 2001 proved to be a terrible year for Cumbria because of the foot and mouth crisis, suffering 893 confirmed cases of the disease out of a total of 2030 cases in the UK.
Great Orton Airfield became the resting place of countless farm animals from the foot and mouth episode, despatched and buried in large rectangular pits, carried out under the efficient auspices of the British Army. The place is permanently monitored for seepage.
In total 466,312 carcasses, comprising 448,508 sheep, 12,085 cattle and 5,719 pigs were buried between late March and the 7th of May 2001 in 26 trenches.
A hidden wall reaching 12 metres deep surrounds the graves to act as a barrier to any seepage of fluid from the carcasses. Up to three tanker loads of fluid are still (2006) being removed from the site to a waste treatment works every day – 240 cubic metres a week.
DEFRA are now trying to promote the site as a nature reserve – called ‘Watchtree’.
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