To be precise, these are North-West England Saunterings. That is NWES to me. NWES 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 send a comment, suggestion, correction or update - all are very welcome - please send me an email.
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
Do the Howgill Fells form the largest area in England with no walls, no hedges and no fences? There is a wall around the periphery of the 25 square miles of open access land, separating farmland from the rough grasses of the fells, and on the northern slopes there are a few walled islands of farmland, but there are no walls in the whole area of the Howgills above about 300m. There are no hedges either. However, the answer to my question is ‘no’ because there is one fence, which I’ll return to in a minute.
Why are there no walls on the Howgills, when they are such a distinctive feature of the Lake District and the rest of the Yorkshire Dales? There are few stones on the Howgills with which to make walls. The only significant areas of exposed rock are at Cautley Crag and Black Force. The rest is steeply rolling grassland, with some heather and bracken. This is because the Howgills are mainly of very hard Silurian Coniston Grit, different to the Carboniferous rocks of most of the Yorkshire Dales and to the Ordovician volcanic rocks of the central Lake District.
There are no walls because nobody has felt the need to build them. Nobody needed to clear rocks from fields for cultivation or any other purpose, as nobody ever had much purpose for the Howgills. Nobody ever lived high on the Howgills. There has been no mining or quarrying. In short, nobody needed to establish ownership, which is a prime function of a wall, of a patch of the Howgills. Most stone walls in the Lakes and Dales were built in response to the Enclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th centuries but those Acts seem not to have had much relevance for the Howgills. The second main function of a wall is to limit the movement of animals – to keep farm ones in and wild ones out. Today the only farm animals on the Howgills are sheep and fell ponies, and they can wander at will within the periphery fences. There are no wild animals on the Howgills to worry about.
The one fence that is on the Howgills encloses about fifty hectares around Hobdale Gill, south of Calders. Thousands of people walk past this fence every year on their way to The Calf but how many wonder what this fence is for? I hadn’t thought about it before now. Is it to keep something out or to keep something in? Is the enclosed area dangerous or contaminated? Is some scientific study being carried out? Is there some valuable resource within that people and animals must not spoil? Is there some stock that must not be allowed to wander?
I walked up Hobdale Beck to investigate. I came upon a weir that served no obvious purpose but at least indicated that somebody once cared about this beck. I reached the fence and found the gate by Hobdale Gill flat on the ground. So the fence is no longer fully functional. There were only a few sheep inside the fenced area. The enclosed area was clearly less munched than the open fell because it had a deeper shade of green, thanks to a profuse growth of bilberries. Despite the fence, the enclosed area is marked as open access, so I wandered in. A small rectangular structure marked on the map turned out to be derelict (as shown top left). Whatever function it had was no longer apparent.
I became aware of someone high on the fell opposite, below the path to Calders, moving about in a puzzling manner and glinting every so often. So, as is my wont, I scrambled up to Rowantree Grains (no rowans now or any other tree) to find out what he (for it was a he) was up to. I don’t think he minded. I was probably his only company all day, for I saw no walkers anywhere. It turned out that he was an employee of Natural England carrying out a survey prior to the possible planting of trees around Hobdale Gill. He was chuffed to have found a bilberry bumblebee. They are rare and quite distinctive, he said. He had however also found that the soil was shallow, perhaps too shallow for trees. He couldn’t get his spade in before hitting rock. Still, it was good to see that the modern scientist is au fait with the latest technology (the spade), although it was so glinty I suspect that he only bought it yesterday.
I asked him why the area was fenced but he had no idea. I left him to his survey and walked on to The Calf (676m). The Lake District peaks could be seen in a grey silhouette that made only a few distinctive outlines identifiable. The nearby little tarn had dried out. I walked over to Red Gill Beck to see the Andy Goldsworthy sheepfold that others have enthused about. It added nothing for me but at least it got me into a secluded dale where I could watch the art of a kestrel cavorting over the hillside.
The track to The Calf (on the horizon) from CaldersI returned to the fence. So far it had looked to be in good nick but as I walked down to Middle Tongue, entranced by Ingleborough ahead and Pen-y-ghent, with a similar profile, to its left, I realised that parts of the fence were missing, with the wooden posts that had replaced the metal ones having rotted. I began to accept that I won’t need to worry about the fence for much longer but then came across rolls of wire netting and new posts sunk into the ground. So somebody is concerned to keep this fence functional.
The Hobdale fence (non-existent here), showing old metal post, rotting wooden posts and new postsBut I still had no idea why. I had seen nothing to support any of my provisional thoughts. My guess, for what it’s worth, is that it has something to do with Sedbergh’s water supply. We’re now on at least the third generation of fencing, so the original fence was at least 50 or 60 years ago. At that time water authorities were more concerned about the purity of water supplies, as they did not have modern purification plants. I had not noticed a water inlet near that derelict shed but perhaps there was too little water for it to be functioning anyway. However I did notice a track that sliced the midriff of the opposite slope of Sickers Fell. It was much too level and precise to be a walker’s track and anyway led nowhere but to the fenced-off area. Perhaps it’s the line of a pipe. If so, perhaps it’s still functioning. If so, perhaps the good people of Sedbergh are unaware that trees may soon drink their water.
Should the Cam High Road be made a proper road? Is it fit for purpose in the 21st century?
The answer depends, of course, on what its purpose is deemed to be. However, before tackling
that question I treated myself to a detour. I walked to Thorns Gill, within which flows the
infant River Ribble, in order to see the splendid little bridge with a narrow arch perched
across a mini-gorge. If fairies lived then they would surely live here. I continued
alongside the beck past various small waterfalls, by many dark, deep pools, and by Katnot Cave,
where gushing water could be heard but not seen.
And then out on to the open moor to walk up the Cam High Road. It is a track that runs for about ten miles, reaching a height of nearly 600m, between Bainbridge in Wensleydale and Gearstones at Ribblehead. It is on the line of a Roman road between the camp at Bainbridge and camps to the south, such as Ribchester in the Ribble valley near Blackburn. It is therefore a track of considerable vintage.
In 1751 the Cam High Road became part of the Lancaster-Richmond turnpike. The first turnpike act in England had been passed in 1663, making travellers contribute to the maintenance of roads for the first time. Previously, it had been the responsibility of those living by the road to keep it in good repair, but they had little incentive to do so and nobody lived by the Cam High Road anyway. The first turnpikes in the north were created fairly late in the process but the Lancaster-Richmond turnpike was one of the first, and certainly one of the most important, in the region. All of the Lancaster-Richmond route was subsequently surfaced apart from the Cam High Road, which remained a track much like it was in 1751.
In 1965 the Cam High Road between Cam End and Kidhow Gate became part of the Pennine Way, England’s first Long-Distance Path. Later it also became part of the Dales Way and the Pennine Bridleway. In the early 21st century, the walkers and horse-riders on these paths began to be accompanied by ‘green-laning’ motor-cyclists and drivers of 4x4s. A ‘green lane’ is not a legal term but is generally understood to mean an unsurfaced, public byway used for recreational purposes. After some controversy, a Traffic Regulation Order deemed that the Cam High Road is not a green lane and hence this absurd activity – flaunting off-road vehicles, damaging the track, and annoying track users on legs – is no longer allowed there.
The Cam High Road faced a new challenge in 2011. Forty years before, thanks to generous tax concessions, land owners had planted coniferous forests at Cam Woodlands and Greenfield Forest, to the east of the Cam High Road. Now the time had come to harvest this crop of timber. It seems that, in the hurry to profit from those tax concessions, not much thought had been given to how this harvesting might be done. There is a narrow, winding road from Cam Houses north to Gayle but instead permission was sought to use the more direct Cam High Road south to enable huge timber trucks to get to and from the forests. Extraction work began in 2011 but was immediately halted when the historic track was seen to be damaged. I understand that some agreement was reached to allow the felling to continue but whether this involved work on the Cam High Road or the road to Gayle I am not sure.
I thought I’d walk up to see how the Cam High Road and the trees of Cam Woodlands and Greenfield Forest were getting on. On the way up I was passed by a van with ‘Komatsu Forest Quality’ on its side. So forestry work was on-going and vans did use the track. I could not, however, believe that timber trucks could use it, as the track was much as I remembered it, being somewhat eroded in places, although it is perhaps wider and more stone-surfaced than it was, creating a more visible scar on the hillside. I walked on up but sadly, at about 500m, I met the cloud coming down. I reached West Gate where a sign warned of operations being carried out by K.R. Dodd Forestry – but I could see nothing of them. I could not see the trees for the cloud and therefore, sorry, I cannot report on how the timber extraction is progressing.
Cam High RoadI strained my ears to hear any sound of work but all was silent. Actually, I became more aware of the sounds, now that I could see so little. The clouds hissed over the grass. I heard the occasional morose sheep somewhere out there. I heard curlews but now with only snatches of their early spring burble, or just a staccato beep-beep-beep, or sometimes an even more staccato five-beep version. I heard lapwings, also less flamboyant than earlier in the year. I disturbed two golden plover before they could treat me to the plaintive whistle that would so suit the conditions. I did not hear any grouse, even though I passed several grouse butts. They were all dilapidated apart from one line of butts that had recently, if optimistically, been re-furbished. This line ran across the Dales Way. Are walkers and shooters compatible?
From Garsdale Station I could see the cairns of Grisedale Pike. They stood like pimples on the horizon of east Baugh
Fell, some two miles away. Our northern hills have thousands of cairns but few of them are as finely located as those
of Grisedale Pike. Do we have too many cairns? What are they all for? Grisedale Pike was my first objective, and as
I slogged up the long slope, accompanied by an insistent cuckoo (my first of the year) and admiring the emerging view
of Whernside and Ingleborough to the left and Mallerstang and Great Shunner Fell to the right, I contemplated the nature
Sometimes the word ‘cairn’ is used for just a mound of stones but here I am meaning a cylindrical stack of rocks, usually constructed by methods similar to dry-stone walling, a few inches to several feet high. Such a cairn could fall down, whereas a mound looks like it has already fallen down. A cairn is often on a hill-top or skyline, like those of Grisedale Pike, or, more typically, beside a trail. It is, of course, intended to be seen.
There seem to be three purposes for a cairn. One is to mark a significant site, for example, a memorial. Some ancient cairns mark burial sites. A second purpose is to serve as some kind of personal or spiritual statement, perhaps as a work of art. The sculptor Andy Goldsworthy has created a number of cairn-shaped artworks to adorn the landscape. At this very moment, the Art of Balance Exhibition in Edinburgh is displaying the art of stone stacking. Apparently, “an international community of land artists are finding mindfulness, meditation and patience in the art of finding the balance”. I have not seen any examples of their work on the hills of North-West England but even so many of our more down-to-earth cairns are more elaborate than seems necessary and may be thought to have some aesthetic merit. For example, Thornthwaite Beacon, near High Street, is an impressive 14 feet tall.
Thirdly, a cairn may serve as a landmark or guide, to shepherds or walkers, for example. Sometimes a cairn acts as a magnet, as Grisedale Pike was doing for me. In addition to landmark cairns, walkers are blessed with many smaller cairns intended to indicate a route. Indeed, many walkers feel it their duty to add a rock to a cairn, or to start a new one, as they walk by. The outcome is a profusion of cairns of doubtful utility. Harry Griffin counted 128 cairns on the Nan Bield pass, where it would be an achievement to lose the trail even in fog.
Apart from this unnecessary proliferation, there are other objections to cairns. First, of course, it involves moving rocks from their natural position. While one person moving one rock is no big deal, if thousands of walkers do so then obviously this will expose soil and increase erosion. Also, there is the simple fact that we do not have the legal right to move rocks and build structures on land that is not ours. Perhaps the most serious complaint is that cairns interfere with the natural wilderness that we sometimes seek away from humanity. They make it clear that others have been this way before us, and that they are guiding us where to go. To some walkers, cairns are like other detritus left by inconsiderate walkers or even a form of graffiti. At all events, it is clear that cairn-making does not accord with the ‘leave-no-trace’ ethic advocated for walkers.
I noticed no cairns to guide me up to Grisedale Pike. The direction is obvious, although the pudding shape of Baugh Fell ensures that, once you embark on the walk up, the Grisedale Pike cairns are never in view until you reach them. As I reached Grisedale Pike, I saw that there were several cairns here, in various states of repair – fourteen, counting generously. This raises the further question: Why are there often several cairns and not just one? There are other groups of cairns in our region, such as the Megger Stones in Dentdale and Nine Standards Rigg above Kirkby Stephen.
Grisedale PikePerhaps it is simply to underline the special nature of the spot, and Grisedale Pike is certainly an excellent viewpoint. Or it could be because there happens to be a plentiful supply of the right kind of rocks to hand. Cairns tend to be made of flat slates that can be fitted together. Here, after walking up a long, featureless, grassy slope, it makes an agreeable change to come upon a rocky outcrop with loose millstone grit slates lying about. There seems no harm in adding a few slates to the piles – and, of course, to admire the views of the surrounding hills and the valleys of Rawtheydale and Wensleydale.
The abandoned farms of West Scale and East ScaleWe humans think a lot of ourselves. A dale does not die just because people move out. On the contrary, wildlife returns. It becomes more alive than it was with people there. Anyway, the dale is not empty of people today. It is true that there is only one farm (Mouse Syke) left but most buildings have been renovated, presumably as holiday homes. A few of the old farmsteads, however, are beyond repair. West Scale and East Scale, for example, are impressive ruins, or rather are ruins of once impressive farm buildings. Reachey was described as derelict by Wainwright (1972) but now it is receiving the final touches of a renovation so thorough that I doubt that much of the original dereliction remained. The once-ruined Aldershaw is now surrounded by mature trees that make it hard to appreciate the quality of its renovation. Blake Mire, an exposed, desolate building, also seems in the process of resuscitation: it has a new roof and windows. Despite this evident vitality I am afraid that Grisedale will be stuck with its epitaph for some time, thanks to those who keep mentioning it.
Blake Mire[May 2018; SD7891; Garsdale Station – N, SW (along Old Road) – NW – Grisedale Pike – NE – West Scale – SE – Reachey, Blake Mire, Garsdale Station; 6 miles; 143 km squares]
It is a fine Lakeland walk from Mardale Head to High Street but it starts with a tone of melancholy. A noticeboard
reminds us that the village of Mardale Green, with houses, church and pub, was submerged when the Haweswater
Reservoir was constructed. However, that sad event – sad to the ex-residents of Mardale Green anyway – happened
in 1935, so it would be a very elderly walker who had personal memories of it today.
A second notice advises those who have come to see the eagles that they are too late. The eagles have gone – which is indeed rather sad. Palmer (1930) said that “Martindale was the last nesting haunt of the golden eagle south of the Border. About eighty years ago the last bird was shot, and there has been no resettlement.” However, about a hundred years after that eagle was shot – that is, in the 1950s – golden eagles began to be seen again in the Lake District. In 1969 a pair managed to breed in Riggindale, below High Street. Since then the nest had been sustained by a series of male and female eagles, producing sixteen young. Unfortunately, after 2004 the returning male eagle was unable to attract a mate. Even more unfortunately, he has not been seen since 2015 and is presumed to have died.
The chances of golden eagles returning again to the Lake District are not high at the moment. Although there are about 500 pairs of golden eagles in Scotland only a very few of those breed south of Glasgow. There is a programme to increase the numbers of golden eagles in southern Scotland by re-introducing up to ten eagles a year in the Moffat hills. It is hoped that some of the eagles will be able to run the gauntlet of grouse moors in the Scottish borders and English uplands and drift south to establish territories in northern England. However, experts apparently consider that there is a shortage of suitable terrain and food – but eagles did manage for decades in Riggindale, which seems similar to several other dales to me. Anyway, for now, walkers will look wistfully and forlornly around the Riggindale crags and in the skies above in search of a golden eagle.
Enough negativity. There is plenty still to be enjoyed on this walk. We walked up to Blea Water, to see it at close quarters for the first time (previously we had only peered down at it from the heights of Mardale Ill Bell and High Street). On the way we passed many recently-planted trees, a welcome attempt to return some of the over-sheep-grazed grass and bracken slopes to a more natural habitat. Blea Water is one of the finest of Lakeland tarns, enclosed on three sides by the steep cliffs of Blea Water Crag, High Street and Riggindale Crag. It is said to be 61 metres deep – and I could well believe it – which is deeper than all the Lake District lakes except Wastwater and Windermere. We met a team from United Utilities who were contemplating removing the small dam, which serves no function and is a bit of an eyesore. The word ‘blea’, incidentally, comes from an Old English word meaning blue or dark, which I suppose Blea Water is, but it was also sparkling like a dewdrop in fresh May sunshine.
Blea Water from Long StileWe clambered up the Long Stile ridge to High Street (828m), which is by far the best way to approach it. High Street itself is, let’s be honest, a little dull, unless you have a vivid imagination and can see Romans marching along their road or horses galloping on Racecourse Hill. But emerging from Long Stile you suddenly see a wide panorama of all the great Lakeland peaks: from left to right, Coniston Old Man, Crinkle Crags, Bowfell, Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Fairfield, Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Blencathra. Only the High Street range presents all the classic peaks ahead of you. Admittedly, they are a little distant but they have to be in order to fit them all in. It is inspirational to see them all arrayed ahead, especially on a clear day such as this was. I can hardly wait to visit them again during the course of these Saunterings.
From High Street (south-west): Coniston Old Man, Crinkle Crags, Bowfell, Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Fairfield
From High Street (north-west): Helvellyn, Raise, Skiddaw, BlencathraWe admired the view for some time before setting off down past Kidsty Pike. The view from Kidsty Pike suffers by comparison with the High Street view. Kidsty Pike is the prominent pointed peak seen from the M6 and you would expect that, in consequence, it provided a good view to the east – and indeed it does, of the Cross Fell Pennines, the Shap Fells, the Howgills and some of the Yorkshire Dales peaks. These too are all within my Saunterings scope! And on the walk down and at closer quarters there’s a fine prospect of Haweswater.
I set off to walk from Colne up Boulsworth Hill, following in the footsteps of mill-workers of over a century ago.
Colne was the birthplace in the 1890s of the
Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA), a fact that will not mean
much to most ramblers of North-West England today. We have been led to believe that we owe our modern right
and keenness to walk on the mountains and moors entirely to the influence of William Wordsworth and fellow
poets of the Lake District. It was they who changed our cultural perception of mountains. No longer should
we regard the mountains with trepidation but we should walk upon them in order to appreciate their lustrous scenery.
So pervasive was Wordsworth’s influence that for a time the region was commonly called Wordsworthshire.
Boulsworth Hill from near Trawden, on the way from ColneHowever, the struggle for access to the mountains and moors was fought not in the Lake District but in the South Pennines and the Peak District, in industrial towns such as Colne. Landowners in the Lake District had always accepted that people could walk on the mountains, as they knew that very few people would choose to do so. A few poets tripping about, polishing their triplets, did not change that. Even if they did inspire others to come to see the daffodils and the mountains, there were not many people within easy access of the Lake District to do so.
Colne and Trawden from Lad Law on Boulsworth HillHaving conquered Boulsworth Hill and paid my respects to the pioneering trespassers, I gave myself a bonus by heading for Wycoller, a tiny, tidy village known to visitors for the ruined Wycoller Hall (which, frankly, didn’t interest me much) and three old bridges: in the order met on this walk, a ‘clam’ bridge, a clapper bridge, and a packhorse bridge. The first two of these are not that exciting to look at, being just great slabs across the beck, but the packhorse bridge is charming and skilfully built. It has two arches, a width of a mere 66cm and parapets only 25cm high. According to Hinchliffe (1994), it has survived 700-800 years. In the circumstances, I think we can forgive the slightly wonky brow of the right eye.
The Wycoller packhorse bridge[May 2018; SD9138; Trawden – SE – Lodge Moss Farm, Boulsworth Dyke Farm – SW, SE – Lad Law – NE – Saucer Hole – N – Saucer Hill Clough, Turnhole Clough, Wycoller – W, S – Trawden; 8 miles; 123 km squares]
As the word suggests, this preamble (or presaunter) is being written
before I have begun to saunter for this blog. Although there is a vagueness to my saunterings, I will define in advance
the scope of my ‘North-West England’. Otherwise I will be forever nagging myself: what about Ilkley Moor,
Hebden Bridge, Southport, Mickle Fell, Carlisle, and so on? Are they within my range? So I will define my
North-West England to be the region enclosed by the following eight sides (six straight lines and two wiggly ones):
1.  From near Caldbeck (the northernmost point of the Lake District National Park) east to Fiends Fell, just north of Cross Fell
2.  To just south of Bowes (the north-east corner of the Yorkshire Dales National Park)
3.  Following the Yorkshire Dales boundary, to near Beamsley (the south-east corner of the Yorkshire Dales)
4.  To Hebden Bridge
5.  To Bolton
6.  To Banks, on the Ribble estuary
7.  Following the coast, to Allonby Bay, north of Maryport
8.  East to Caldbeck
This region includes the Forest of Bowland, Fylde, the Howgills, the Lake District, the Morecambe Bay coast, some of the North, South and West Pennine moors, the Yorkshire Dales, and all that lies between them. In total it encompasses about 3,750 square miles (or about 10,000 square kilometres). Needless to say, I won’t rap myself over the knuckles if I stray outside my boundaries.
I could destroy the aimlessness of my saunterings by setting myself some absurd objective, such as to walk in every one of those 10,000 or so 1 km squares on Ordnance Survey maps. That would indeed be absurd because the objective is unattainable: some of the squares are in the middle of lakes; some are marked as Ministry of Defence ‘Danger Areas’; some just don’t have publicly-accessible paths. On the other hand, it might help to ensure that I randomly visit all parts of the region and don’t just focus on the ‘best bits’. If I walk along Helvellyn's Striding Edge every day then perhaps even that would pall. So I will keep the absurd objective half in mind in the hope that it will help me provide a balanced impression of the region.
For those who insist on some details of my sauntering routes I will provide some in square brackets at the end of each section. These will all be in the format:
[month of saunter; grid-reference of start point; description of route, with bearings on the way; miles sauntered; number of km squares visited so far].
Most of the saunters will be circular, that is, ending where I started. Sometimes they'll be linear, in which case, naturally, help will be needed from a friend or public transport to get to or from one end to the other (I will indicate these by adding ‘(linear)’ to the description). I will refer to ‘I’ and ‘we’, depending on whether I am sauntering alone or in company. In the latter case, the ‘we’ will usually mean ‘Ruth and I’; occasionally the ‘we’ will include others. Now it is time (January 2018) to begin re-visiting, or in a few cases visiting, the hills and dales of North-West England.
© John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018
Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell