Western Howgills

Home   Preamble   Links   References   Index   Areas   Map   About me


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.

     42.   Appreciating Meg and Lucy   
     41.   Safe in Littledale   
     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   
     Previous Saunterings   

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 being given a pre-appreciation of it. For example, I’ve never visited, or intended to visit, the Grand Canyon but I have read about it and seen many photos and films about it. If I were to visit then my reaction would be perhaps 90% pre-formed. I might still be surprised by the scale, the colour, the wind, or whatever – but in essence I know the Grand Canyon. I remember visiting the Giant’s Causeway and finding that the only difference to what I expected was that there were 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 5,000 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; 94/400]

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]

40.  In the Borderlands of Burton-in-Lonsdale and Bentham

The villages of Burton-in-Lonsdale and Bentham are in the Craven District of North Yorkshire but the rivers that flow through them – the Greta and the Wenning respectively – head west to enter Lancashire and join the River Lune. Both rivers arise on the slopes of Whernside and Ingleborough and have an exciting start in life, the Greta tumbling over the famous Ingleton Falls and the Wenning plunging into Gaping Gill. However, once they cross the A65, near Ingleton and Clapham respectively, they settle, under normal conditions, into a gentle maturity.

They run westwards, more or less in parallel, two or three miles apart, to form a rough quadrilateral of relatively anonymous land between the A65 and the River Lune. It is almost all rolling drumlin farmland that falls from about 200m in the east to about 30m in the west. The region has no features that would appear on a tourist’s itinerary. There’s a golf course and a few caravan parks, and that’s about it for holiday-makers. Midway between the A65 and the Lune the rivers pass the villages of Burton-in-Lonsdale and Bentham (High and Low). I set out to saunter between them, sampling stretches of the two rivers, enjoying the quiet countryside, with no expectations of excitement.

And so it proved. The path from Wennington to Burton-in-Lonsdale crossed many grassy fields, all with sheep apart from one with a disconsolate set of horses (their field had no grass). I crossed the county border into North Yorkshire near Old Wennington but there was, of course, no sign to tell me that I had done so. Fine views of Ingleborough opened out ahead.

Burton-in-Lonsdale and Ingleborough from near Clifford Hall

I found my way past Clifford Hall, where they seem determined to have no footpath signs, into Greta Wood, where there are some impressive beech trees. I saw a sign to say that the wood is “dedicated to remember the coal mine donkeys”, which we have now done. I assume that this is a reference to the Ingleton coalfield within the parishes of Bentham, Burton-in-Lonsdale, Ingleton and Thornton-in-Lonsdale. The Ingleton Colliery, which at one time employed 900 people plus I-don’t-how-many donkeys, closed in 1936.
R Greta

The River Greta and Burton Bridge

On the walk south from Burton-in-Lonsdale my eyes continued to be drawn towards the noble profile of Ingleborough. The recent snow seemed to have all gone, although I could occasionally glimpse some distant snowy tops in the Lake District and perhaps to the north (Great Shunner Fell perhaps?). In High Bentham I passed the home of the Corio Raptor Care and Rehabilitation Centre – I had to pass it as the ongoing work is not open to the public, although the owners are often to be seen with their raptors at local shows. I managed, after some firm advice from a local, to find the River Wenning after walking through a caravan park, empty of people as far as I noticed. The path along the north bank is a well-used one, with a couple of benches from which to contemplate the sedate Wenning, but the route beyond Low Bentham higher on the south bank requires more careful navigation. At Robert Hall I left North Yorkshire. It is said that the Hall, built in the 16th century for the Cantsfield family, who were recusant Catholics, provided a refuge for fugitives escaping the law by crossing the county border. If so, perhaps our county borders were once as important as state borders seem to be in the US, if you believe many US films. I then passed The Blands, a building with many dubious legends, which I was pleased to see has been restored after a fire in 2009.

Low Bentham and High Bentham, with Whernside and Ingleborough beyond, from near Robert Hall

Did I get away with it? Did you notice the mention of ‘Craven’ in the first sentence? Almost every document about the Yorkshire Dales mentions Craven as a noun and an adjective (Craven Fault, Craven Heifer, Craven Museum, Craven Herald, Craven this, Craven that) without saying what it is. Maybe I should try to. Today, the meaning of ‘Craven’ is fairly simple. Craven is one of seven local government districts within the county of North Yorkshire. It extends from Bolton Abbey in the east to Burton-in-Lonsdale and Bentham in the west, these two villages forming part of one of the nineteen wards of Craven. Craven is, roughly speaking, the southern half of the Yorkshire Dales plus those parts of North Yorkshire south of it, including villages such as Thornton-in-Craven and Sutton-in-Craven, as it surely ought to. In area (454 square miles) Craven is larger than more than half the English counties!

However, it’s not that simple because some parts of old Craven that were transferred to Lancashire in 1974 are now given the honorary title of West Craven. West Craven is part of the Pendle borough of Lancashire and includes villages such as Barnoldswick and Earby. To further complicate matters, the Church of England’s Archdeaconry of Craven is much bigger than the government district of Craven and includes parts of Cumbria, Lancashire and West Yorkshire. But that’s all a doddle compared to the meaning of Craven over the centuries. In the Domesday Book of 1086 many places (some no longer considered to be within any form of Craven) are said to be ‘in Crave’, with the summary giving the heading of Cravescire, but there is no clear definition of ‘Crave’. As Craven continued to be used without a precise definition ever since, historians have great fun trying to work out what it referred to at various times. I’ll leave it at that.

[January 2019; SD6169; Wennington Green bus stop – NE – Old Wennington – E – Clifford Hall – N, E – Burton Bridge – SE, S – River Wenning – W on north bank – Low Bentham – S, W – Robert Hall, The Blands, Wennington bus stop; 9 miles; 92/400]

39.  Halls Galore by the Middle Ribble

Why are there so many Halls by the middle Ribble? I planned to wander about the River Ribble just below the point where it joins the River Hodder (from the Forest of Bowland) and the River Calder (from the Cliviger Gorge above Burnley) and I noticed from the map that there is a profusion of Halls in this region. A Hall is not a building with a defined function, like a church or a hotel. Anybody can call their house a Hall but the name generally implies a degree of distinctiveness and aloofness, which perhaps the original owners wanted to establish. Most Halls elsewhere are in or near villages but here they seem to be somewhat isolated. I thought I’d have a look at some of them.

First I reached New Hall, a name indicating a lack of foresight. It was built in 1665. I suppose it was new relative to something. In general, I am not much interested in the history of a building, which generally involves a tedious catalogue of the eminent families who lived therein and the changes they made to it. I will give only a superficial impression, which is all anyone can do without a close inspection, especially of the interior. New Hall is a characterful three-storey building, recently put up for sale. I couldn’t decide if it had new owners, or any residents at all, as it was rather shrouded by trees.

I walked on past the 1776 Ribchester Bridge to Salesbury Hall, which is not shrouded at all but is within open parkland and is surrounded by the new Manor Court offices and other buildings. The Hall itself is presumably on the site of the base for the original Salesbury Manor dating back to the 12th century. I read that the previous Hall was demolished in 1883 but the present Salesbury Hall looks more modern than that to me.

I walked through Marles Wood, which is clearly a well-trodden path that must be muddy after rainy periods, alongside the meandering River Ribble, a pleasant walk enlivened by a kingfisher, light blue and flying straight and quiet. After a detour around the on-going work to replace the Dinckley footbridge damaged in 2015 (£1.5m for a walkers’ bridge: thank you!), I reached Dinckley Hall – or at least as near to it as the footpath allowed. Dinckley Hall was also recently for sale. The property apparently dates back to the 13th century but clearly has been much changed. It looks ordinary now with only the outline of a cruck frame suggesting antiquity and providing architectural interest.

The River Ribble and the new Dinckley footbridge

I (eventually) found my way past the imposing mansions of the new Brockhall Village to return to the River Ribble, to find Hacking Hall at the confluence with the River Calder. This is more like it: Hacking Hall is more of a prototypical ancient Hall. It was built in 1607, has three-storeys, five gables facing the river, with many mullioned windows with three to six lights. The top storey windows appeared to be boarded up, indicating that perhaps not all is well within the Hall. No doubt the Hall has been restored since 1607 but this seems not to have affected its essential structure. However, I can’t help wondering why any buyer would take on the challenge of Hacking or any other ancient Hall when the mansions of Brockhall Village are available.

I now faced a rather dull walk south, away from the Ribble. It was enlivened by a large sign detailing the many hazards (toxocariasis, neosporosis, sarcocystosis – ugh) that dogs and dog-owners cause. There should be more of them – the signs, that is, not the dogs. I eventually reached where Hollin Hall is marked on the map. I found a Hollin Hall Farm, of no distinction that I could see. It is no doubt serviceable as a farm but hardly a Hall.

And so, on to Whittle Hall. This does not appear on the 1848 map, so I deduce that it is a relatively new building. It seemed so to me, and modest, for a Hall. Perhaps the owners felt so too, as, undecided whether it is a hall or a house, they call it both: Whittle Hall House. Compensating for the unexciting Hollin and Whittle Halls, I found myself on the lofty ridge of Billington Moor, an unexpected bonus, for it provided wide-ranging views, to Blackpool Tower and Pen-y-ghent, some 25 miles away, as well as of Pendle, a constantly reassuring presence throughout this walk. Closer below, the Ribble valley between Clitheroe and Preston was arrayed. It is still predominantly green but, of course, has many more buildings than in the days of the ancient Halls, plus the A59 and a railway.

Pendle from Billington Moor (and in the distance the hills of the Yorkshire Dales)

I dropped down to find Carr Hall. This is marked on the 1848 map but I suspect that nothing of that Hall remains. The building now called Carr Hall forms the large offices of MMB (Mott Macdonald Bentley). Next to it a building in the style of old halls has been built or is being built. Somebody has gone to considerable expense to restore this Carr Hall site but it added little to my survey of Halls.

I walked through Wilpshire and Salesbury towards the immodestly-named Lovely Hall. Here I made the wrong decision. After so much road-walking I opted to walk across fields rather than continue on the road. It turned out that I could see only the chimneys and roofs of Lovely Hall above the large barns at its rear and so I can say nothing about it. However, Lovely Hall has also recently been for sale, so we can at least read the estate agent’s blurb.

Through Copster Green – which does indeed have a green, a long thin one, bumpier than any other I have seen, between two rows of houses – I came to Copster Hall, on a rocky knoll. Copster Hall is a 17th century farmhouse extolled by Historic England for, amongst other things, having “1st floor windows of 6 lights with ovolo-moulded mullions and transoms”. Two of those lights now have incongruous large white frames (I don’t think that is what ovolo-moulded means). Overall, though, Copster Hall seemed little different to hundreds of other farmhouses to me.

However, the nearby Bolton Hall was more appealing. The original Bolton Hall, of 1655, was rather small – by Hall standards – but looks to have been sympathetically extended, leaving the old Hall appearing much as it did, I imagine. The mullioned windows, still with diamond leading, have been distorted into a rather elegant bow. I see that the website referred to above comments on “inappropriate strap pointing”, which is barely identifiable from a distance by an amateur such as me. Since it seems to be well-known that strap pointing is bad for old stonework I wonder why it was used here.
Bolton Hall

Bolton Hall

I had three further Halls to the west (Oxendale, Osbaldeston and Showley) in mind if I had sufficient time, energy and enthusiasm at this point. I didn’t. Nevertheless, I claim a world record (ten, according to the map – and I’m not counting Brockhall Village) for the number of Halls visited on one walk. If anyone would like to claim the record from me they are welcome to it.

[January 2019; SD6634; P south of Ribchester Bridge – N – New Hall, Ribchester Bridge – E – Salesbury Hall – NE by river – Dinckley Hall – E – Brockhall Farm, Hacking Hall – SE – Chew Mill, Whalley Old Road – SW – Hollin Hall, Whittle Hall, Little Snodworth – NW – Carr Hall – SW on A666, NW on B6245, N – Ashes Farm – NW – Lovely Hall, Copster Green, Copster Hall – W – Bolton Hall, B6245 – N – P; 12 miles; 89/400]

38.  Reflections from Jeffrey's Mount

A new year is always a time for reflection. My struggles with a book about “how to aesthetically appreciate the natural environment” (Carlson and Berleant, 2004) have provoked me to reflect on the natural environment of North-West England. I have battled with many abstruse words and dense paragraphs to try to grasp the object model, the landscape model, the scientific model, the arousal model, and so on, and with concepts such as aspection, numinousness, etiology, noesis, and so on, but I am left with one preliminary question: What natural environment?

There is no fully natural environment in North-West England, although it comes closer to it than most places in England. There is nowhere that I may stand without being able to point to some human intervention with nature. I realise that humans are part of nature too and that it could be argued that, say, the Midland Hotel in Morecambe is as natural as a wasp’s nest. However, the book doesn’t argue this. It focusses upon mountains, waterfalls, forests, whales, and the like. It seems to me that any attempt to discuss the aesthetics of our environment as it is today must include the effects of humanity upon it, although this factor is largely ignored by Carlson and Berleant (2004). If there is a spot in our region where I cannot point to, for example, a building, road, field, pylon, moor, weir, or plantation then I am sure that I need only point to the contrails of the many jets that cross our region. One morning recently, as I was grappling with these thoughts about nature, I noticed in the dark sky a thin crescent of the moon, bright white from the not-yet-risen sun. What could be more natural? Then I saw that three jets were in the process of enclosing the moon in a bright white triangular frame.

I walked into Borrowdale (the one near Tebay, not the one near Derwent Water) through Borrowdale Wood. Is this a ‘natural’ wood? It certainly looks like an old natural woodland to me. However, the authorities concerned about our woodland hedge their bets – their formal designation of such woodlands is ‘Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland’ in recognition of the fact that our woodlands have been managed for centuries to provide wood for various purposes.

Borrowdale from Belt Howe

Borrowdale was described in Wainwright (1972) as “the most beautiful valley in Westmorland outside the Lake District”. Today it is not in Westmorland and is inside the Lake District. But it is still beautiful. Is it natural? There are aerials on the Whinfell ridge, conifer plantations on Mabbin Crag, farms, roads/tracks to them, bridges, fences, walls, and, on this occasion, one helicopter, two low-flying jets, many high-flying jets, and a distant but appalling (for someone focussed on the natural and unnatural, as I was) view of at least four conflagrations on the North Pennine moors, as heather was being burned for the grouse. At least there are no wind turbines or reservoirs in Borrowdale, as have been threatened in the past.
Pennines ablaze

A distant view of the North Pennines, on fire

I walked past sheep and fell ponies – and we could debate whether they are natural here – along the ridge to Jeffrey’s Mount. From the small cairn at the top I wandered east to gain a full view of the so-called Lune Gorge but not too far to the east as it is a steep slope with a small cliff at the bottom from which to fall onto the A685. As I stood there idly watching the world dashing by below, I day-dreamed about previous activities in the Gorge.

It’s 19 AD. It is quiet. The hills are covered with trees. The River Lune runs, unseen, in the valley. There’s a path there for those taking advantage of this natural gap in the hills to travel between north and south.

It’s 150. I can hear hundreds of Roman soldiers in their barracks below in the rectangular green field at Low Borrowbridge. To the south I can see a legion marching along the Fairmile Road, having walked from the fort at Burrow or Ambleside. To the north further soldiers are heading towards Carlisle walking up Crosby Ravensworth Fell, beyond the Tebay Service Station.

It’s 1100. Men are working to build a motte-and-bailey castle (Castle Howe) by a bend of the River Lune near Tebay. The site is clearly of strategic importance to the Normans. It is a castle of wood, not stone, as it is for administrative rather than defensive purposes. There’s a track below towards the next motte-and-bailey down the Lune valley, at Sedbergh.

It’s 1500. The trees have gone from the hills, removed by sheep-farmers. Scottish raiders can be seen moving along the valley.

It’s 1750. I can see herds of cattle on the drove road below and hear the accompanying din. Villages on the way, such as Greenholme and Roundthwaite just to the north, are making the most of this passing trade. Herds from Galloway are funnelled through the Lune Gorge to swing west below Grayrigg Common to continue on the Lune watershed towards Kirkby Lonsdale.

It’s 1840. The busy but narrow road from the south swings east past Low Borrowbridge Inn and then north over a bridge over Borrow Beck. A mile north, before Lune’s Bridge crosses the Lune, a side-road leads north through Roundthwaite. The road through Tebay crosses the Lune at Tebay Bridge and continues to Orton. These two roads form the main thoroughfares north from Lancashire.

It’s 1920. Tebay is a major railway junction with an agglomeration of sidings and engine sheds. A branch line turns east to Appleby and the London and North Western Railway to Scotland, completed in 1846, continues up a steep slope to Shap. It is so steep that extra engines are based in Tebay to give the steam trains more oomph. To the south a branch line to Ingleton over the Lowgill Viaduct can be seen.

It’s 1980. The Tebay station and its branch line have closed. The old road (the A685) no longer crosses the Lune at Lune’s Bridge (now a dead-end) but at a large new bridge south. The A685 has been shifted west, necessitating the removal of a chunk of Jeffrey’s Mount, to enable the M6 to pass through the Gorge. The M6 engineers have been given a Civic Trust Award for “an outstanding contribution to the appearance of the Westmorland landscape”. The index of Carlson and Berleant (2004) doesn’t mention motorways. The book is concerned with the ‘natural environment’ and the award is concerned with the ‘landscape’ and they are not the same thing, as many erudite treatises no doubt explain. So I turned to a chapter (Halpern, 2004) that began with the sentence “What is it to appreciate a landscape aesthetically?” This does mention motorways – once. It says “many people … feel revulsion at the slicing of a down … by a motorway cutting”. Do they feel revulsion at the slicing of a northern upland? Are our uplands more suited to slicing by motorways? Are our northern sensibilities less susceptible to revulsion? Have our feelings of revulsion been exhausted by the railway and A685 that already slice through the gorge? Perhaps someone should write a book on how to feel aesthetic revulsion at the unnatural environment.

The M6's Borrowbeck Viaduct nestled within the Lune Gorge, from Casterfell Hill


The M6 curving gracefully past Tebay and towards Shap, from Jeffrey's Mount

It’s 2019. It is not quiet. There is no respite from the loud rumble of the M6 plus the occasional clatter of express trains. In a few places the Lune may be glimpsed, having been flowing through all this traffic for centuries and now winding its way under many bridges. But look! Trees (hawthorn, blackthorn and alder) have recently been planted on Tebay Fell, as they have been in Borrowdale. For the first time in 2,000 years we seem to have acknowledged that we cannot just exploit the natural environment of the Lune Gorge but that we need to restore it and protect it. Sadly, no, the tree-planting is, as always, utilitarian, being intended to reduce flooding down-river. Well, I was day-dreaming.

[January 2019; SD6691; layby on the road to Roundthwaite, overlooking the M6 – S – Borrow Beck – W, NW by Borrow Beck – Low Borrowdale – E – Belt Howe, Casterfell Hill, Jeffrey’s Mount – N – Roundthwaite – SE – layby; 6 miles; 85/400]

37.  Whoopers on Thurnham Moss

It is hard to believe, after all the rain, cloud and wind of the last few days, that some of our visitors at this time of year prefer our climate to that which they’ve left behind. Whooper swans do. They come all the way from Iceland in order to pootle about in our muddy fields. We thought we’d go to see them in action, but by walking along the quiet, flat lanes that cross Thurnham Moss not in the muddy fields that looked too waterlogged for us. We began our search from Tithe Barn Hill, Glasson, which at 20m was the highest point of our walk and which, from this prodigious height, afforded a fine view over the River Lune to the village of Sunderland. We set off with optimism because a Lancaster & District Birdwatching Society's website’s entry for the day before had said that hundreds of whooper swans were in the region.

Sunderland from Tithe Barn Hill across Glasson Marsh and the River Lune

I don’t know what those interested in birds prefer to be called nowadays. They used to be birdwatchers – or ornithologists if especially keen – but now I more often read about ‘birders’ going ‘birding’. Perhaps there is a subtle distinction between ‘birdwatcher’ and ‘birder’. Rosen (2011) writes that “birdwatchers look at birds; birders look for them”, although he admits that this distinction is “crudely put”. But ‘birder’ and ‘birding’ are odd words, aren’t they? Normally, words ending in -er and -ing are from a corresponding verb, which would be ‘to bird’ in this case. If there were such a verb then we could also say “She birds enthusiastically” or “I birded yesterday”. Do birders ever use such expressions? My dictionary (admittedly a little old) has ‘birding’ meaning ‘the hunting, shooting, snaring, or catching of birds’. Of course, our birding birders don’t do that – although ‘fishing’, perhaps the closest analogy to ‘birding’, similarly means ‘the catching of fish’. Never mind: I’ll use ‘birding’.

Walking and birding are not entirely compatible. Both activities get us outside to appreciate the natural environment but birding demands occasional non-walking. Birders have to pause in order to binocular (anyone can play this noun-to-verb game) the shrubbery before the little brown bird disappears to another shrub. We have no such difficulty with swans. They are large, prominent and stay put. We found our first swans, about a score of them, in the first field south of Brows Bridge. Most were our native mute swans (with a black knob on the base of the bill) and some were visiting whooper swans (with a yellow-based bill). Thus encouraged we pressed on towards Thursland Hill where large numbers of swans could be seen and heard (and were therefore not all mute swans) in the fields to the west. It was a little difficult for us to identify the species because the sun behind made them silhouettes. We came across two birders with their tripods and camera-binoculars and one of them confirmed that all the swans were indeed whoopers. He seemed somewhat saddened by this. He was hoping to see a Bewick’s swan. They visit from Siberia (in lesser numbers than whooper swans) and one had apparently been reported in the region. Judging from the bird guides, I doubt that I would be able to tell the two species apart if they stood side-by-side in front of me but these two birders obviously would.

Whooper Swans

Elated by all these whoopers, we walked on to the ruins of the 12th century Cockersand Abbey and continued a breezy walk along the weather-beaten coastal path back to Glasson. We were treated to clear views over the choppy bay to the Lake District hills and, inland, to the Bowland fells. The footpath along Marsh Lane (a reasonable name but a little under-stated) was several feet under water because of all the recent rain, necessitating an escape via the flood protection wall that was keeping all the water inland. On the coastal walk many species of birds – some of which we could identify and some perhaps not – obliged with aerial displays. However, I doubt that I will ever become a true birder, that is, someone who is more saddened by the absence of one bird than pleased by the presence of three hundred similar ones.
Cockersand Abbey

The remains of Cockersand Abbey, Plover Scar lighthouse and Heysham Power Station

[December 2018; SD4455; Tithe Barn Hill, Glasson – E – Brows Bridge – S, W, S – Thursland Hill pond – W, SW – Cockersand Abbey – N – Crook Farm – NE – Tithe Barn Hill; 5 miles; 83/400]

36.  The Flow and Ebb and Flow of Morecambe

Ruth tipped me out of the car at the northern end of Morecambe Prom on her way to a rehearsal with the esteemed Promenade Concert Orchestra. I had four hours to fill before the concert. It seemed opportune to re-explore Morecambe because just three days earlier the local paper had revealed plans for a proposed Eden Project North in Morecambe. If this project materialises – and everyone seems optimistic – then it will transform Morecambe and the surrounding region.

I was also inspired to have another look around Morecambe and Heysham after re-reading a quirky little book published in 2003. At that time Morecambe was near its nadir as a seaside resort and yet the authors were remarkably complimentary, whilst drawing a wistful contrast between past glories and the then tawdriness (I suspect that they preferred the latter). The Midland Hotel had long been derelict and Frontierland, the last tourist attraction of any note, had closed in about 2000. No doubt, the nature of the book reflects the nature of its authors, Michael Bracewell and Linder. The former is a cultural commentator who has written books on pop music and fashion. The latter (full name Linder Sterling – she said in a Guardian piece that “one name seemed sufficient”, which perhaps it is if you spell it wrong) is an artist known for her radical feminist photomontage. She was a key figure in the 1970s punk scene and in 2017 became artist-in-residence of Chatsworth House, suggesting some accommodation with the establishment. Anyway, quite a couple to find the Morecambe and Heysham of 2003 interesting enough to write a book about.

I set off with the tide in, lapping at the new sea defences which cost £11m and were finished in 2018. This is part of a programme to revitalise Morecambe’s seafront that had actually begun with government funding in 1990. As a result, everything of interest to visitors overlooks the sea. Morecambe is lucky not to have a view over the bay. It has many. Views when the bay is full (as on my walk), when the sandy mud stretches for miles across the bay, when (in the morning) the sun shines across the bay on the hills, when (in the evening) the sun sets over the sea or behind the hills, when it’s calm, when it’s choppy, and when it’s too misty to see anything.
Morecambe Bay

Across Morecambe Bay

Perhaps the only exception to the seafront focus is Happy Mount Park, which I passed next. It is only fifty yards from the sea but the sea is irrelevant to it. It is a traditional park, with gardens, playgrounds and café, now fully recovered from the Blobbygate fiasco of 1994 when, in desperation at the resort’s falling income, the council embarked on a project that cost it millions. For the next mile all the sea-facing establishments seemed in fine order, with scarcely a ‘for sale’ sign or a hint of dereliction, and the Sunday morning walkers, joggers and cyclists were making the most of the November sunshine.

Surveys always suggest that Morecambe has a higher proportion of old visitors than other seaside resorts but you wouldn’t know it walking along this promenade. There was hardly an oldie to be seen. But then November is not the holiday season and no doubt most of the promenaders were local. Nearing central Morecambe, the average age of my co-walkers began to rise. I expect that it is true that the typical holiday visitor is rather old, which causes or is caused by a pervasive sense of nostalgia. As everywhere, the unchanging nature of the sea and the beach brings memories. For me as a boy, the seaside and holidays were synonymous: we always went to the seaside for holidays and we never went to the seaside except for holidays. I suspect that most Morecambe visitors are reliving their childhoods. Nostalgia is reminiscence plus regret: it is remembering how things were, whilst sadly accepting that those things can never return. There is nothing wrong with this – ‘heritage tourism’ is a perfectly respectable part of the business, but it is only part.

Bookshops of the past were never quite like the Old Pier Bookshop. Thankfully, it was closed – I didn’t have the time to get lost in the labyrinth of old books piled in no discernible order. There is, of course, no pier adjacent. The two piers were demolished in 1978 and 1992. I wandered among the back streets for a while, to confirm that they remain like the rust below a touched-up car bonnet, and re-emerged near the site of the proposed Eden Project North. It is, as it needs to be, the prime site in Morecambe, adjacent to the graceful, iconic Art Deco Midland Hotel. If I may presume to say so, the Midland Hotel looked like it might need to be touched up itself if it’s to meet the standards that will be set by the Eden Project North (if it happens). The Project’s proposed site is unused at the moment, as it has been really since the open-air swimming pool was demolished in 1975. According to this website, the Super Swimming Stadium was “one of the grandest of the 1930s modernist seaside lidos” and “was said to be the largest outdoor pool in Europe when it opened in 1936”.

It is hard now to visualise Morecambe in its prime, the period of 1919-1957 or so, when it was central to ‘the Sunset Coast’. Morecambe had flourished as a seaside resort after 1850 when the railway enabled Yorkshire workers to flock there for their holidays. Morecambe had more visitors from Yorkshire than Blackpool did, although many fewer in total. Bingham (1990) considered that Morecambe was at its peak of popularity when well over 100,000 people came to see the illuminations switched on in 1949. Morecambe’s wealth enabled it to develop a relative elegance, leading Bracewell and Linder to comment that “more than any other seaside town, Morecambe has a claim to being the cradle of glamour and romance” and that “the greatest modern articulation of this glamour” is the Midland Hotel. Or rather was, at the time they were writing. It was re-opened in 2008, confirmation of Morecambe’s developing renaissance.
Midland Hotel

The Midland Hotel

Morecambe was the well-publicised home of the Miss Great Britain contest from 1956 to 1989 but it took it on at just the time that its fortunes began to plummet. From 1957 cinemas, theatres and much else besides began to close, as holidaymakers came to prefer package holidays abroad. No seaside resort rose and fell faster than Morecambe. By 1975 its plight had become a joke (to others), as shown – warning: on no account watch anything outside the given times, it’s awful – by this Youtube video from 40.25 to 41.30. The bit from 40.25 is awful too. I only mention it because it shows that even a weedy funny-man with ridiculous hair and a punchable face felt able to put the boot in on Morecambe when it was down.

Actually, my memory is that Morecambe wasn’t so bad in the 1970s and 1980s. It provided a reasonable family day-out if your expectations were not set too high. There’s always a beach, or mud. Frontierland (or its then equivalent) was still alive, although it gradually withered and passed away. I walked past it next. Whatever is planned for the site seems not to have been activated yet. Similarly, for Morecambe’s West End, which was once a thriving part of the resort with its hotels and B&Bs. By the 1980s it was more for the unemployed than holidaymakers. In 2005 the North West Regional Development Agency began a programme to revive the West End but the Agency ended in 2010 after the financial crisis. Perhaps Bracewell and Linder had the West End in mind when they wrote that “a defining characteristic of Morecambe and Heysham … is an uneasy coexistence between the victims and the beneficiaries of acute consumerism”. In 2003 there were plenty of victims but not many beneficiaries.

The seafront here is more sombre than that seen to the north. There are more ‘for sale’ and ‘to let’ signs but not so many as to indicate that all hope has been lost. The back streets are struggling. I saw on the relatively grand West End Road that there were half-a-dozen ex-hotels for sale within spitting distance of the sea. The West End needs to be integrated with, not ignored by, central Morecambe. Would a shuttle bus (akin to Blackpool’s trams) that trundled between Happy Mount Park and The Battery help? The Battery! It doesn’t sound appealing. Why not rename the area in honour of the recently-demolished Grosvenor Hotel?

I strode on to Heysham, which seemed to enthral Bracewell and Linder. They wrote that “Heysham village is compositionally-perfect: all details balanced, all perspectives aligned to the luminescence of the seaward light” and that “in all weathers, the view from the headland retains its capacity to awe the viewer, mesmerising in its fully realised, ever-changing grandeur”. Well, they are artists, so they should know. I hadn’t fully appreciated Heysham’s perfection on previous visits but I was determined to do so now.

The Rose Garden, the Winged World (a bird zoo) and the go-kart track have long gone, and the headland has been restored to a maritime heath by the National Trust, and, yes, there is a good view over the bay from the rock graves. However, try as I might, I cannot see the village as compositionally-perfect, aligned to the seaward light. If anything, the old Main Street, charming as it may be in its way, has its back to the sea. It saddens me that I lack the artistic sensibility of the professionals.
Heysham Head

The view from Heysham Head, looking the wrong way, to the port and the power station

The tide was turning and so was I. I sauntered back to The Platform, which was once the railway station at which the hordes to Morecambe arrived. The concert provided an apt exercise in nostalgia. The orchestra played programmes from Music While You Work, as heard on the wireless from 1940 to 1967. This light music was intended to raise the morale of ‘the workers’. Nowadays we are too cynical to allow our morale to be lifted so easily. 99% of the audience remembered the music from the first time around and most, no doubt, regretted its disappearance from the wireless. Long may it not disappear from Morecambe.

[November 2018; SD4565; (linear) Scalestones Point – SW – Chapel Hill, Heysham – NE – The Platform, Morecambe (plus digressions); 7 miles; 82/400]

Previous Saunterings

     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)

Home   Preamble   Links   References   Index   Areas   Map   About me

    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018


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