Western Howgills

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To be precise, these are North-West England Saunterings. That is NWES to me. This Saunterings blog contains descriptions of various saunters, ambles, strolls, meanders, rambles and dawdles around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire (more details of my ‘North-West England’ are given in the Preamble). I hesitate to call my saunters ‘walks’. A walk nowadays has become a serious business. It might suggest a 10-hour trek to bag 15 mountain tops. It might be part of some epic expedition around, say, the whole coastline of Britain. It might demand precise details of the route (“walk 210 metres north-north-east to a gate by the third tree”) so that you may follow my footsteps. No, my saunterings are more leisurely and aimless than that. And they are mental as well as physical. I saunter, at whim.

If you'd like to give a comment, correction or update (all are very welcome) or to be notified of new items as they appear - please send an email to johnselfdrakkar@gmail.com.

     45.   Thoughts from the Towpath (Bilsborrow to Preston)   
     44.   Interlude: We Are Sorry for the Delay ...   
     43.   The Red Screes - Wansfell Question   
     42.   Appreciating Meg and Lucy   
     41.   Safe in Littledale   
     Previous Saunterings   

45.  Thoughts from the Towpath (Bilsborrow to Preston)

Although North-West England has the country’s best mountains, it is not necessary that all walks should be up and down them, especially when gusty winds are forecast. Mountain walks should be leavened with strolls on the level, and you can’t get leveller than the Lancaster Canal. The Canal runs for 42 miles between Preston and Tewitfield. Actually, it doesn’t run anywhere because it is flat, following the 20-or-so metre contour on a nicely curving route. A walk along its towpath can be briskly taken without fear of getting lost or stressing the up-and-down walking muscles.

Towpath walking is so simple that it is hard to relate it to the forms of walking discussed in texts purporting to elucidate the profound, philosophical nature of pedestrianism. The most pretentious of such texts that I have tried to read so far is The Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros (Gros, 2014). I became bogged down within the first ten pages by sentences such as “the freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life” and “endless walking … illustrates the harmonization of the nameless Self with the omnipresent heart of the World”. However, I persevered and by the end I was amused by the fact that seven of the nineteen chapters were case histories of the celebrated walkers Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Rousseau, Thoreau, Nerval, Kant and Gandhi. Why I found that amusing I will explain during this saunter.

I began at Bilsborrow, a village on the A6 sandwiched between the railway and the canal. It is seven miles north of Preston but twelve miles by the canal. I imagine that in the summer the Bilsborrow canal area is a busy place for even on the day of my walk there were a fair number of people milling about. But once beyond the first bridge I was alone with my thoughts.

If I feel brave enough I may return to Gros’s ponderings later but for the moment I will just focus on the straightforward notion that walking is good for you, physically and mentally. Gros has a chapter on ‘states of well-being’ in which he discusses how walking brings pleasure, joy, happiness and serenity, which he carefully describes and distinguishes. His case histories illustrate those benefits. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote that “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking”. Being a philosopher anxious for great thoughts, he walked a lot. He also took long solitary walks to gain some relief from terrible migraines. In the 1880s back pain prevented him walking much and in 1889 he became demented. His mother took him for walks and then wheeled him about when he could no longer walk. He died in 1900 aged 55.

I strolled on the towpath, on and on, seeing nobody, not even on any of the canal-boats parked in the canal or adjacent marinas. All the boats were wrapped up for the winter. Why is that? Is canal-boating not allowed in winter? Is it not enjoyable then? Most activities are more fun in the sun but they don’t all stop in the winter. I, for example, was content to walk in the shower that fell upon me. Canal-boaters would be safe, cocooned in their cabins.
Lancaster Canal

The Lancaster Canal, south of Bilsborrow (looking back)

From the age of 15 the poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) walked great distances, mainly in anger, to escape something or other. His extreme walking led to a serious knee injury that required his leg to be amputated. He still dreamed of walking with a wooden leg but before he could do so he died, aged 37.

After about four miles of quiet solitude, I found the air increasingly filled with the rumble of traffic. I was approaching the M55, and then walked alongside it for a mile or more. Nowadays we accept motorways as a fact of life. Nonetheless, the noise ruins this walk. It cannot be pretended that this is an idyllic walk through the rural flatlands of Fylde.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) said “I can only meditate when I am walking, when I stop I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs”. After establishing his reputation, Rousseau felt, during his forties, a need to escape into the woods and to take long walks, in, according to Gros, “an insane plan to identify … the natural man, one not disfigured by culture, education, art: man as he would have been before books or salons, before society or paid labour”. To achieve this he “needed to make himself detestable to many”, in which endeavour he evidently succeeded since he became “an outcast, rejected by all, proscribed everywhere”. In 1777-1778 he wrote Reveries of a Solitary Walker but did not complete it, dying aged 66.

At Salwick Bridge, after seven miles of walking, I saw a person. I was glad to see him. Towpath-walking is monotonous. For mile after mile I had walked with the canal a yard to my left and a hedge a yard to my right. The footpath varied only in its degree of muddiness. The character of the canal did not change at all, unlike that of a flowing river. It was always still, with perhaps a few reeds by the side, some ducks from time to time, and one or two swans. The bridges were all much the same, apart from the number pinned thereon. There were, of course, no locks, since the canal is flat.
Lancaster Canal2

The Lancaster Canal, nearing Ward's House Bridge, heading to Preston (at last)

According to Gros, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was the “author of the first philosophic treatise on walking”. I am surprised that Walking should be so described by a philosopher. Thoreau had a knack for quotable sentences, generally about nature and the wild. He was also quite good at nonsensical paragraphs. At least, they seem so to me. For example, the second paragraph of Walking begins “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks – who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering”. Clearly, his Walking (capital W) is different to my walking and to that activity that billions of people have mastered by the age of two. Therefore anything he says about Walking has no relevance to walking. When he writes in the third paragraph that “If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again … then you are ready for a walk” we should not think ‘nonsense’. If his contemporaries reacted to his words as I do then I am not surprised that he went off to live in isolation in the wild, leading to his classic book Walden. Thoreau suffered from tuberculosis and in 1860, after a night-time walk in a rainstorm, became ill with bronchitis, from which he never recovered, dying in 1862, aged 44.

The M55 noise abated, to be replaced by that of the Springfields nuclear fuel manufacturing plant at Salwick. How about that for modern life intruding upon the self-contained quietude of the towpath! Hereabouts I noticed a large “Please take your litter home” sign. I may have passed others without noticing them but by now I was glad of stimulation wherever I could find it. The odd thing about this sign was that it was accompanied by the largest pile of litter I’d seen by the canal. It was as if canal-boaters had seen a mention of ‘litter’ and were prompted to get rid of their bags of it. I doubt that I am unfairly maligning canal-boaters because nobody else would bring their rubbish to this spot.

Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855) wrote melancholic novellas and poems. He suffered from compulsive vomiting and in 1841 had a nervous breakdown. He continued to suffer from manic-depressive disorders associated with an urge to take long walks. In 1854 his walking became obsessive. According to Gros, “walking made his illness flower … it completed the madness”. Flower? – Gros makes it sound like a positive development. Nerval “never stopped walking” until his last walk in 1855 on which he hanged himself, aged 46.

I came upon a few more walkers and even an angler. Rarely can anyone have been as keen as I was to see signs of reaching the outskirts of Preston. First, though, I came to an inlet on the south side of the canal. I saw no sign to explain what it was for. It is, in fact, the top end of the Ribble Link, completed in 2002. Originally, the Lancaster Canal was intended to connect with the Leeds-Liverpool Canal but the part south of Preston was never constructed. The Ribble Link, with nine locks, now enables canal-boats to reach the Ribble and thence, via the River Douglas, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. However, if canal-boaters are too timid to face our winter then I can’t see many of them tackling the Ribble.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was always upset by change. He therefore lived a life of routine. For decades he did exactly the same thing every day. This included a walk in the afternoon – always the same walk. According to Currey (2013), Kant had “a generally delicate constitution … [and] in order to prolong his life with the condition – and in an effort to quell the mental anguish caused by his lifelong hypochondria – Kant adopted what he called ‘a certain uniformity in the way of living’”. Kant presumably considered the walk important for his well-being but perhaps no more so than the other parts of his daily ritual. At all events, he did at least live to old age, although as Gros puts it, it is “hard to imagine a drearier existence”.

The canal went on. Kant might have liked the unchanging nature of it although he would have been alarmed when the canal turned a startling red. This was, I assume, from the droppings of adjacent trees, which I should be able to identify for you but cannot. I reached Savick House, dated 1838, hoping that it marked the end of the canal, but it didn’t. I tried to find interest in the varying attempts of the house-owners on the steep north bank to incorporate the delights of the canal into their garden.
Ribble Link            Canal

The top of the Ribble Link (left) and the Lancaster Canal, nearing its end at Preston (right)

The walks of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) were of a different genre to those of the other six that Gros considers. Although he was fond of walking, Gandhi did not emphasise walking alone to ferment ideas. He is known more for his long political marches in the company of many others. So I will put him aside here. What are we to make of the case histories of the sextet? According to one review, Gros shows that “a good walk is not only the best cure for boredom but is the key to genius … it is the secret behind the outpourings of the world’s greatest minds”.

The canal eventually came to a scruffy end. There is nothing now to indicate how items were loaded on and off the canal at Preston. The canal end is perched above the level of the River Ribble and most of the buildings of Preston, as the need for nine locks in the Ribble Link suggests. It would clearly have been expensive to extend the canal over the Ribble, even though the early 19th century Preston had many fewer buildings in the way.

We need to be more scientific before coming to any conclusion about the sextet. We need data, not anecdotes. We need to determine the Rate of Generation of Great Ideas (RGGI, pronounced Reggie) when walking. If you walk four or more hours a day, as Thoreau said he did, then there’s a fair chance your Great Ideas will occur while you’re walking. Was Thoreau’s walking RGGI greater than, say, his dreaming RGGI or his sitting-on-the-toilet RGGI? We need to extend our field of study beyond the select sextet. Imagine a list of the thinkers of the 100 Greatest Ideas. At least 94 of them were ignored by Gros. Did any of them make a fuss about walking for their Great Ideas? Did they have a high walking RGGI? I suspect the answers are ‘no’, as Gros would otherwise not have ignored them.

As far as health benefits go, you could hardly pick a more discouraging sextet: insanity, leg amputation, suicide, social outcast, bronchitis from walking in the rain, a dreary existence. Where's the pleasure, joy, happiness and serenity? We need to distinguish cause and effect: did they walk a lot because of their problems or did they develop problems through walking a lot (or neither)? There may be some correlation – you need to be a bit soft in the head to think a long walk from Bilsborrow to Preston is a good idea.

Leaving the canal at last, I did not, through tiredness and a misplaced confidence that I knew my way about Preston, consult the map. I didn’t take the optimum route to the bus station and ended up running to avoid a drenching in a downpour. Within the sanctuary of the bus station, I could reflect that although my saunters may, like this one, be long and tedious I am unlikely to succumb to the problems of the sextet. I am also unlikely to get onto the list of 100 greatest thinkers.

[March 2019; SD5140; (linear) Bilsborrow – S, SW, S, E on canal towpath – end of canal at Preston – SE – Preston bus station ; 12 miles; 104/400]

44.  Interlude: We Are Sorry for the Delay ...

I planned to take the train (actually, four trains: two there and two back) to walk in the Whitehaven region. On Tuesday I asked for a return ticket via Barrow-in-Furness and was advised that it was quicker via Carlisle. But I had my train schedule details ready for Barrow, so I stuck with it. According to the display, the train, which had started in Manchester, was on time – until, 15 minutes before its scheduled arrival, it appeared to be unable to escape from Preston Station. No explanation was forthcoming. The delay grew to exceed the time I should have had in Barrow to transfer to the second train. I asked the station guard if the second train would wait but he shrugged his shoulders. So I returned to the ticket office for a refund.

On Wednesday I asked for a return ticket via Carlisle and was advised that it was cheaper to get a ‘Cumbria Round Robin’ ticket via Carlisle and Barrow. It was the same ticket-man. He had omitted to mention this possibility the day before. I don’t know if he remembered me: I doubt that he registered travellers as people. Anyway, I had my train schedule details ready for Carlisle, so I stuck with it (even though it cost me £30, compared to £12 the day before). The train arrived at Lancaster on time. It then proceeded … to not proceed. It remained motionless in Lancaster Station. The delay grew to exceed the time I should have had in Carlisle to transfer to the second train. After 25 minutes it was announced that we were waiting for a new train manager, whatever that is. What had happened to the old train manager? Or was the new one late for their shift? After 40 minutes passengers for Carlisle were advised to get off and catch a different train (most passengers were heading for Edinburgh with no doubt more pressing engagements than me, just going for a walk, but they had to sit and wait). So I got off and returned to the ticket office for a refund.

I suppose I should count myself lucky that both the failures occurred with the first of my planned four trains. If it had been any of the other trains I might have been marooned in somewhere like Workington or Barrow. But surely we can do better than this. The service is not exactly speedy – taking 2½ hours to travel the 90 miles or so from Lancaster to Whitehaven – so the least we should expect is reliability. The inexplicable (or rather, unexplained) failures are bad enough but, worse, all the staff seemed resigned to them. They hadn’t caused the problems, which were only to be expected anyway. Maybe they have adopted the attitude and competence of our Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Grayling.

43.  The Red Screes - Wansfell Question

I have a question for members of The Wainwright Society (and for anyone else). If I were bagging Wainwrights and walked from Ambleside to Red Screes (776m), returning via the Kirkstone Pass and Wansfell (487m), then how many Wainwrights may I tick off?
Kirkstone Pass

Kirkstone Pass from the slopes of Red Screes

The walk from Ambleside to the top of Red Screes was as straightforward as a Lake District walk can be. I headed north and kept going. That is not to say that it was easy, as I have not climbed a high hill for a while. However, the slope and the terrain of the ridge that passes Snarker Pike are relatively gentle, and all the while the views are gradually widened. At first I could not see Windermere at all because of low mist but this soon dispersed. The more distant views of Bow Fell and Fairfield were a little hazy, perhaps because of the still evaporating snow. By the time that the Red Screes top was at last reached, Helvellyn and High Street had come into view, with a prospect of Brothers Water and a glimpse of Ullswater ahead.
Red Screes

Towards Fairfield and Helvellyn from Red Screes

The clamber down from Red Screes to the Kirkstone Pass was precipitous but just needed to be taken steadily. It was a bit of a trudge walking south to Wansfell but at least there were good views back towards Red Screes, enabling me to reflect proudly that I had just walked down that imposing cliff-face. The Ordnance Survey marks the highest point of Wansfell (487m) a mile or so north of Wansfell Pike (482m) but it takes some believing. It must be an optical illusion caused by Wansfell having much higher fells behind (when viewed from the Pike) whereas, from the other direction, Wansfell Pike stands proudly against the sky. Anyway, Wansfell Pike is the better top, with its celebrated view of Windermere.

Now to return to my question. The seven volumes of Wainwright (1955-1966) catalogued 214 fells. Some walkers set out to bag Wainwrights, that is, to get to the top of some of the 214. Some set themselves the challenge of getting to the top of all 214 and thereby becoming a ‘Wainwright completer’. They may then experience the euphoria of Reinhold Messner: “Standing now in diffused light, with the wind at my back, I experience suddenly a feeling of completeness – not a feeling of having achieved something or of being stronger than everyone who was ever here before, not a feeling of having arrived at the ultimate point, not a feeling of supremacy. Just a breath of happiness deep inside my mind and my breast” (Messner, 2010). However, Messner, who was the first climber to ascend all fourteen peaks over 8,000 metres, may have been thinking of mountains rather more challenging than, say, Mungrisdale Common, Lank Rigg, Hen Comb or Grike.

Over a thousand walkers have registered as Wainwright completers with The Wainwright Society, and no doubt thousands more are completers without bothering to register the fact. Some walkers complete over and over again, which seems a self-contradiction. The Wainwright Society aims to “keep alive the fell-walking traditions promoted by AW” and is the formal face of what McKay (2012) calls a “vast and curious cult” devoted to the epistles of Wainwright.

However, if a walker so venerates Wainwright that he or she must conquer all his tops then it behoves them to adopt fully the spirit of Wainwright. Wainwright described one or more routes of ascent for each fell. In all, about 750 different ascents are described for the 214 fells. For some fells he mentions one or more ‘ridge routes’ to nearby tops. He leaves the reader to join the pieces. He does not, for example, mention one of the most well-known Lakeland walks, the Kentmere Horseshoe. Instead, he describes the eight tops that constitute the horseshoe in separate chapters. He is like a musicologist who catalogues 214 chords, sometimes says which two chords go well together, but never gives us a melody.

A faithful Wainwright worshipper would reach a top by following a Wainwright route of ascent. In the case of Wansfell, for example, Wainwright describes two ascents, one from Ambleside and the other from Troutbeck. He does not describe an ascent from the direction of Red Screes – reasonably enough, because Wansfell is clearly a descent from Red Screes apart from a small climb at the end. Similarly, a true Wainwright believer would not claim eight Wainwright tops after walking the Kentmere Horseshoe because only one of the tops is ascended by a Wainwright route of ascent.

When a walker has become a true-completer, there is no need to stop there. They can then set out to become a super-true-completer by walking all 750 or so ascents. Do you think anybody has, apart from Wainwright? It may be sacrilegious to say so but I wonder if Wainwright did. If you rule out all the weekends that are too wet, windy, cloudy or icy (and there are plenty of those) then there are hardly enough weekends left in his thirteen years of travail for 750 ascents. Also, it is possible to descend (like I did from Red Screes to the Kirkstone Pass) and imagine it, and later describe it, as an ascent. So, come on you members of this curious cult, become a super-true-completer, perhaps the first ever!

Red Screes from Wansfell

Just to be clear, I’m not against challenges: I’ve set myself a few in the past. A challenge adds interest, provides motivation and, ultimately, a feeling of achievement, although it may also become an obsession. The vague challenge that I half-heartedly raised in the Preamble – that is, to visit every one of the 400 5 km x 5 km squares of my North-West England – has gradually become less vague. It has not distorted my saunters, as I don’t set out caring how many squares I visit, but I do count them afterwards. I’ve visited 99 of them since I started sauntering in January 2018, so another four years might do it. We’ll see.

[February 2019; NY3704; Ambleside (P by church) – N, NE on Kirkstone Road, N on track – Snarker Pike, Red Screes – SE – Kirkstone Pass – S, SE – Woundale Raise – S – Baystones – SW – Wansfell Pike – W - Ambleside; 9 miles; 99/400]

42.  Appreciating Meg and Lucy

It seems that everyone who writes about Long Meg and Her Daughters (hereafter Meg, for short) is obliged to mention Wordsworth’s opinion of it or them. So, here goes: “Next to Stone Henge, it is beyond dispute the most noble relick of its kind that this or probably any other country contains” (letter of 10 January 1821, quoted in Hill and de Selincourt (1978)). I will, however, refrain from adding the poem that Wordsworth wrote about Meg in 1833 (it can be read at the website linked to above). Writers do not usually go on to say that Wordsworth later admitted that he may have been taken by surprise and over-rated Meg (McCracken, 1984). He could also have admitted that being a poet and not a historian, antiquarian or scientist he was unqualified to give an informed opinion. Quoting Wordsworth is no doubt intended to underline the mysterious, majestic appeal of the site and to encourage people to visit it. I wondered how I would react to Meg.

From the Eden Bridge near Lazonby I walked past noisy oystercatchers to Kirkoswald to have a look at the ruins of Kirkoswald Castle. Actually, there is little to see, which is only to be expected since it’s had 500 years to fall down. Only an old tower remains, engulfed in trees and protected by a discouraging moat. I pressed on towards Glassonby through many neat, green fields, quiet apart from drumming woodpeckers. On the way, at Old Parks Farm, I came across a memorial to Romany of the BBC (the Rev. George Bramwell Evens), who I had never heard of but I may be excused since he died in 1943. He is thought to have been the first broadcaster on natural history. He didn’t live at Old Parks but it seems that he enjoyed visiting it.

Me too but I didn’t linger there nor at the Glassonby cemetery, where there is an ancient cross, because Meg was calling. I emerged past the farm of Longmeg to find the impressive stone circle displayed ahead in another neat, green, quiet field. Long Meg herself stood a little aloof at the top of the field, looking down upon her brood of over sixty Daughters who form the third largest stone circle in Britain.
Long Meg

Long Meg and Her Daughters

In 38 I commented that the Carlson and Berleant (2004) discussion about the aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment did not take due account of the human influence upon that environment – and, of course, Meg is not natural. They also did not reflect the reality that our response is almost always affected by the responses of others before us. My reaction to Meg is inevitably coloured by what I had read about it beforehand. It is easier than in Wordsworth’s day to see any number of photos and to watch Youtube videos of Meg and to therefore have, in advance, a good idea of what’s to be seen. Even if you have no plan to visit a place you can’t always avoid gaining a pre-appreciation of it. For example, I had read about the Giant’s Causeway and seen many photos and films about it before I had any thought to visit it. My reaction was perhaps 90% pre-formed. In fact, the only real difference to what I expected were the crowds of people of all nationalities clambering over it. Samuel Johnson – who said that “it’s worth seeing but not worth going to see” – was too generous.

As it was, my reaction to Meg was not primarily an aesthetic one. It felt strange to see the circle in such a tidy parkland, as if it were an exhibit on display. Since it is a constructed object perhaps it needs to be viewed as a sculpture but it is certain that its setting would have been very different when it was built. It would have been shrouded in shrubs and trees 4,000 years ago and that is difficult to picture now. No, my reaction was more: Why? It cannot have been easy to move these huge stones. Why did they do it? What happened at this circle? Items from other Neolithic sites have been found here, leading some to think that Meg was part of a network of such sites. Meg is on the brow of a small hill, high enough to provide a view of Blencathra, if not quite of the Castlerigg stone circle, which may be significant.

Sometimes, like Wordsworth viewing Meg, one is taken by surprise. For example, in 39 I had not anticipated the grand view from Billington Moor and was therefore more appreciative of it. For this reason some walkers prefer to walk in ignorance of what they might see, so that they can form their own impressions with fresh eyes. I, however, do not trust my powers of observation to prevent me being frustrated to learn later that I had walked past some fascinating object without even noticing.

I always study the map in advance and here I noticed that my route back from Little Salkeld alongside the River Eden passed Lucy’s Caves, which were new to me. I searched assiduously for information about Lucy and her Caves but found none. I was looking forward to viewing Lucy’s Caves with fresh eyes – but then I saw that I had misread the map. It’s Lacy’s Caves. And Lacy, I found, was Colonel Samuel Lacy of Salkeld Hall, who had the caves carved in the 18th century, after trying to demolish Meg. It doesn’t seem to be known why in either case. Perhaps he wanted people to be sitting here, 250 years later, wondering ‘Why?’ for both the caves and Meg.
Lacy's Caves

Lacy's Caves and the River Eden

It would be remiss of me not to mention that there were signs at the two ends of the footpath to Lacy’s Caves to say that it was closed. I don’t know why. Not having been before, I don’t know if the path has recently deteriorated. Some of the boardwalks and little bridges have rotted or been washed away – but it was possible to get past them all. The narrow path around the caves, with a sheer drop to the Eden on my left, was a little scary but it must always have been so - and nothing can be done to make it less so. I predict that this path will stay officially closed so that the authorities can say “well, we did warn you” if there is a mishap.

As for the caves themselves, they are a set of chambers carved into a red sandstone cliff on a bend of the Eden. I see that some visitors have complained about graffiti on the cave walls. Well, the whole thing is graffiti. A man with more money than sense has defaced a fine natural cliff that affords a marvellous view of the Eden by having chunks hewn out of it. I don’t think highly of this Lacy chap. I prefer Lucy.

[February 2019; NY5440; P by Eden Bridge, Lazonby – NE – Kirkoswald – SE – Old Parks, Glassonbybeck – S – Glassonby – S, W, S – Long Meg and Her Daughters – S – Little Salkeld – W, N – Lacy’s Caves, Daleraven Bridge – NW – Eden Bridge; 9 miles; 95/400]

41.  Safe in Littledale

I recently came across a couple of online descriptions of winter expeditions in North-West England that have put my own ambitions in perspective. My aim of visiting areas of North-West England more-or-less at random has rather lapsed this winter. I have lacked the commitment to scrape the ice off the car, to get out early to reach distant parts, to make the most of the limited daylight hours, to walk in sleet, ice and cloud. Using a car demands a serious hike. So I’m trying to use public transport more, although that further limits the range and time available for my outings. The main factor, however, is that I value safety, perhaps more than in the past.

On this outing I walked from my home around what used to be a regular running route but which I have not visited recently. I had no need of a map or any special equipment. Even if there was snow and ice remaining on the hill-tops I was sure that I wouldn’t reach it. I walked in daylight, obviously – but there are those who seek the extra challenge of night walking. The first of the on-line descriptions to which I referred concerned the ‘Hill Explorer’ walking around the Yorkshire Three Peaks (Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent) on a January night. He asked for volunteers to accompany him but only one young woman, whom he didn’t know, did so. They completed the 24-mile walk in a bit over the 12 hours allowed for the Three Peaks Challenge but they must be disqualified anyway for failing to find the Ingleborough trig point in the dark (rules is rules). They discovered “just how much harder it is to navigate at night”. Well I never. And – surprise, surprise – they had some difficulty walking on ice in the dark. Accidents are liable to happen at any time: we don’t have to provoke them. Luckily, they had no accidents but what if they had?

I walked into Littledale, which is a little dale tucked between Caton Moor and the slopes that lead up to Ward’s Stone, the highest point of the Forest of Bowland. It is always a peaceful dale with very rarely anybody to be seen. I saw little wildlife either but I did notice one pioneering lapwing that had come early up to the fells, practising his flights of fancy in the sun after the recent snow, but I fear that he may suffer from premature elevation. There were only a few streaks of snow left on the Bowland hills. The footpath, which eventually leads into Roeburndale, passes through woodland, above Littledale Hall and through sheep fields, one thoroughly studded with fresh molehills. Are moles especially active after a spell of frozen ground?
upper Roeburndale

Upper Roeburndale

The Littledale path does not venture onto the rough, craggy, heathery, millstone grit moors of Bowland – unlike the path that was tackled in the second of the descriptions I mentioned. This video by ‘Lancashire Wanderer’ says that it’s about a walk from Hareden to Totridge and Bleadale Water and back by Langden Brook. The actual walk shown is the other way about – it begins by Langden Brook. If that is not disconcerting enough, my alarm bells began ringing when they missed the first path off (the one south to Bleadale Water) and then proceeded to have a prolonged brew by Langden Castle, which is actually a barn. It’s only half-an-hour’s stroll to the barn. They shouldn’t have needed a tea break yet. They needed to get a move on because the walk they had in mind is quite a challenge, as is clear from the map even if you’ve never been there before. Later, it became obvious (to me but apparently not to them) that, judging from where the sun is at 18 minutes into the video, they would not get round the planned route in daylight.

They amble on, fall in the beck, slide down a bank, and duly get lost. By 23 minutes they are in the dark. “It went dark” laments the leader, nonplussed by the inconsiderateness of it. He decides that they must walk ‘as the crow flies’ to get back to the car. As the crow flies, in the dark, over Bowland hills! By 26 minutes two of the party have been abandoned, one of them injured. From a spasm of self-awareness, we hear “stupid, this”. Some hours later, the benighted couple are retrieved by Mountain Rescue, with four police cars and two ambulances assisting. They were very fortunate that (as the leader was clearly unaware) the Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue team is based at Smelt Mill Cottages, right by where they had parked. Afterwards, the leader had the gall to comment that Mountain Rescue were “singing my praises” because he could give them the GPS coordinates for where the couple were. That was the only sensible thing he did in the whole expedition! Why do people post such videos on-line? Do they not realise how irresponsible and incompetent they are? Are they proud of such escapades? Or are they intending to warn others?

I walked past the isolated farm of Deep Clough and one-by-one the Three Peaks appeared ahead of me, Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and then Whernside, the last the snowiest of the three, as befits the highest. I could see them all, perfectly arrayed, and much else besides, which is more than could be said for our Three Peaks night walkers. The woman commented that with night walking “you become one with nature … you’re much more in touch with everything you pass by”. That’s what all ‘adventurers’ say. The sentiment is contradicted by her own words – she mentions absolutely nothing of whatever it was she felt ‘much more in touch with’. But then, as her companion said, “we arrived at the [Ribblehead] Viaduct, which is normally an amazing sight but on this occasion quite invisible!” If you can pass by the Viaduct and be unaware of it, what exactly did she pass by and feel at one with?
Three Peaks

Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent from the Caton Moor bridleway

Continuing on the bridleway over the crest of Caton Moor, I found the expanse of Morecambe Bay spread out ahead, embraced within the promontories of Fleetwood and Barrow-in-Furness. From this perspective, it seems not surprising that tourists used to be ferried between the two. And then the Lake District hills, from Black Combe to High Street, came into view, still impressively white, followed by the Howgills, at the head of the Lune valley, and then our friends Whernside and Ingleborough re-emerged on the other side of Caton Moor. From here it is a gentle cruise downhill with my home village visible ahead, nestled in the valley. It is a local walk but I don’t take it for granted. There really are remarkable views throughout. And there’s no risk involved. Those who need to endanger their own and other’s safety to gain the thrills they need should really adopt more suitable activities than walking.

[February 2019; SD5464; Brookhouse – S, SE on Littledale Road, SE – Crossgill – E – Deep Clough – E, NE – Roeburndale Road near Winder – W, N, NW on bridleway – picnic spot – W - Brookhouse; 9 miles; 92/400]

Previous Saunterings

     40.   In the Borderlands of Burton-in-Lonsdale and Bentham   
     39.   Halls Galore by the Middle Ribble   
     38.   Reflections from Jeffrey's Mount   
     37.   Whoopers on Thurnham Moss   
     36.   The Flow and Ebb and Flow of Morecambe   
     35.   Dufton Rocks   
     34.   Thieveley Pike and the Singing Ringing Tree   
     33.   Is Nappa Hall Napping - or Dying?   
     32.   Russet Rusland Valley   
     31.   Pink Stones on the Orton Fells   
     30.   Dunsop Bridge, Whitewell and Duchy-land   
     29.   The Quiet End of the Ribble Way   
     28.   Broughton Moor, or What's Left of It   
     27.   The Footpaths of Anglezarke Moor   
     26.   A Booze by Any Other Name   
     25.   Mysterious Harkerside Moor   
     24.   Up Ingleborough with the Holiday Crowds   
     23.   The Kentmere Diatomite   
     22.   In the Lancashire Yorkshire Dales   
     21.   The Fortunes of Fleetwood   
     20.   On the Sunny Side of Pendle   
     19.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 2)   
     18.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 1)   
     17.   Sheep-Wrecked Matterdale?   
     16.   The Wildflowers of Sulber   
     15.   On the Hobdale Fence   
     14.   Logging Along the Cam High Road   
     13.   The Cairns of Grisedale Pike   
     12.   Uplifted by High Street   
     11.   The Struggle over Boulsworth Hill   
     10.   The 'Hillfort' of Addlebrough   
     9.   "The Prettiest Mere of All" Lakeland   
     8.   What Price Catrigg Force?   
     7.   Castling in Cumbria: From Brougham to Lowther   
     6.   The Count of Flasby Fell   
     5.   Circumperambulating Stocks Reservoir   
     4.   In a Flap at Bolton-le-Sands   
     3.   Zipping around Thirlmere   
     2.   The Dentdale Diamonds   
     1.   The Taming of Caton Moor   
     (and here's some I did earlier)

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018


Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell