Grid Ref : NY 562154
The village of Shap consists mainly of two long lines of grey stone houses, many dating from the 18th century, lining the A6 road that runs through the village. Until 1970, and the completion of the M6 between Kendal and Penrith, the A6 across Shap summit formed the main north-south route, linking the industrial areas of north-west England with Scotland.
The route was busy, and notoriously hazardous in poor weather conditions. Often in winter the road became snow-bound and impassable. Ironically, when the M6 arrived, it spelt disaster to many of the prosperous shops, hotels and other businesses, on which the economy of the village relied.
In the centre of the village is the market hall, with its curious windows and rounded arches, which dates from a few years after the village was granted its market cherter in 1687.
The area around Shap was extensively settled in Neolithic times, and there are several stone circles, and other standing stones nearby.
Shap Summit, about 2¼ miles south of the former Shap station, is the highest point on the West Coast main railway line from London to Glasgow, at 914ft above sea level. Shap summit on the A6 is about 1350 feet above sea level, and in a small lay by is a memorial ‘to the drivers and crew of vehicles that made possible the social and commercial links between north and south on the old and the difficult route over Shap Fell’.
Shap has more recently built up around its quarrying activities. As well as limestone, there is the Shap blue granite, and the more famous Shap pink granite, seen throughout Britain in kerbstones and building frontages, and both quarried about two miles south from the village, near Shap Summit.
A short distance south of the village the Kemp Howe Stone Circle is cut in two by the railway, narrowly missed by the A6 and overshadowed by the lime works. Only six stones remain, with others probably under the railway embankment, and those that were on the other side of the railway now lost after construction of the works sidings.
This circle used to have an avenue of stones leading from it to a barrow in the NNW. Some of these avenue stones can still be seen today, although the avenue was ruined at the time of enclosure of the common land. Just to the west of Shap are dotted a collection of standing stones which are the remains of this avenue. The Thunder Stone stands at NY 552157 and the curiously named Goggleby Stone can be found at NY 559151. Three other standing stones are marked on the OS map in this area.
Nearby is Haweswater, a man-made lake, built to supply water to Manchester. It is probably best remembered for running dry in the 1980’s, when the flooded village of Mardale was again accessible to walkers, bringing back memories and creating a tremendous visitor attraction. It is a beautiful valley well worth seeing even when full.
Shap Abbey is about half a mile west of the village. It stands in a picturesque setting by the River Lowther, with nothing nearby to interrupt the beauty of the lonely and unfrequented site. It was built in 1199, the last Abbey to be founded in England, and the last to be dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540.
Nearby is the medieval Keld Chapel, owned by the National Trust, and one of their more remote religious sites.
St Michael’s church has some 12th century elements, though its tower dates from the reign of George IV, and the chancel is Victorian.
In the film “Withnail and I” (1986), ‘Crow Cragg’ is Sleddale Hall, until recently a derelict cottage alongside Wet Sleddale Reservoir just west from the A6, near Shap. This is on private property, and should not be visited.
Shap Wells was opened in 1833 to serve the growing numbers of visitors coming to take the waters of the Shap Spa, located in the hotel’s grounds. Under the ownership of the Earl of Lonsdale the hotel became a fashionable resort visited by many members of the aristocracy, the best known of these being HRH Princess Mary. During the second world war Shap Wells was requisitioned as a prisoner of war camp for senior Luftwaffe and German Naval Officers. In 1962, after a period of decline, the building was purchased and turned into the fine hotel it is today. Location – NY 579096
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