Western Howgills

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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.

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     22.   In the Lancashire Yorkshire Dales   
     21.   The Fortunes of Fleetwood   
             Previous Saunterings   

22.  In the Lancashire Yorkshire Dales

When the Yorkshire Dales National Park was designated in 1954 its western border was made to coincide with the border of the county of Yorkshire. Obviously, it would be silly for places not in Yorkshire to be in the Yorkshire Dales. In 1974 the counties were re-defined. Parts of the Yorkshire Dales, such as Dentdale, found themselves now in the new county of Cumbria. Parts of ‘old Yorkshire’ which were deemed surplus to the requirements of ‘new North Yorkshire’ were transferred to ‘new Lancashire’, which was itself a shrunken version of ‘old Lancashire’, with large areas now in ‘new Merseyside’, ‘new Greater Manchester’ and ‘new Cumbria’. In 2016 the Yorkshire Dales National Park fought back: it annexed sizable areas of Cumbria and even a part of Lancashire.

All of which shows that the lines we draw on maps are administrative conveniences that may have little to do with the nature of the land itself. I planned to walk in that part of Lancashire that is now within the Yorkshire Dales, reflecting on how it compares to the part of the Yorkshire Dales that lies on the other side of the hill, in North Yorkshire. I set off from Cowan Bridge, entering the National Park at the old railway bridge, and passed the open parkland of Leck Hall, the seat of the 5th Baron Shuttleworth, who is a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, a Knight of St John, and a Knight of the Order of the Garter. What folderol it all is! More to the point, our good man is the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, which means that he is the Queen’s representative in Lancashire. Do you think he minds living in the Yorkshire Dales?

There are two walls up Ireby Fell that gradually converge to meet at a point just south of the top of Gragareth. The right-hand wall is the Lancashire – North Yorkshire boundary. Half-way up the long slope I encountered various shakeholes, the one of Ireby Fell Cavern being of some size. This is, of course, a sign that I was walking over limestone. The region of famous potholes (such as Jingling Pot and Rowten Pot) in the North Yorkshire Kingsdale to the east extends across Ireby Fell over Leck Fell to the west, where there are other famous potholes (such as Lost John’s Cave and Lancaster Hole). Clearly, geographically, these fells belong together. I peered into the Ireby Fell Cavern pothole. Peering into potholes is a curiously unsatisfying activity – there is never anything to see of the ‘wonders’ underground and I know that I will never want to see those wonders anyway.
Ireby Fell

From half-way up Ireby Fell, towards Kirkby Lonsdale (middle distance) and the Lake District (far distance)

The long walk up Ireby Fell is not as tough as it used to be. Shepherds nowadays use quad bikes, not legs, to get up the hills and their tracks form fine walking paths, provided they are heading in the right direction. It was very quiet on the fell, with only the occasional swallow twittering by. I might have thought I’d lost my sense of hearing if it weren’t for the sound of my own footsteps. At the join of the two walls there is a stile – but it is beyond the join and no help at all. A wall had to be climbed, and it had to be the left one, to ensure that I stayed in Lancashire.

Ingleborough and the farm of Braida Garth in Kingsdale, from the stile at the walls' junction

Gragareth has a rounded top, unlike its neighbour Ingleborough, with its millstone grit cap. Gragareth (627m) is lower than Ingleborough (723m) and is more like Park Fell (563m) to Ingleborough's north, with the Yoredale series of limestone, shale and sandstone all the way up. From Gragareth I headed west to the cairns of the Three Men of Gragareth and then cut north across Leck Fell to Ease Gill. Normally, Ease Gill collects the water from the slopes of Crag Hill and Great Coum and gradually loses it as it disappears through its limestone bed at about the 350m contour. There’s usually a mini-waterfall at Cow Dub and an eerily dry valley below that. However, because of the long, dry spell there was hardly any water in Ease Gill to start with, and so I could not entertain myself by investigating the beck coming and going. Just like Kingsdale Beck in the neighbouring valley, Ease Gill normally repeatedly appears and disappears, and eventually re-emerges (in Ease Gill’s case, as Leck Beck) when the water meets impenetrable lower rocks.
Ease Gill

The dry valley of Ease Gill

At Cow Dub I saw a sign for the Lancashire Way, which is another Recreational Route I’d never heard of. I have since studied the route of this Way and I am appalled to see that at this point the path proceeds on the western slope above Ease Gill. This is in Cumbria! Ease Gill here is the Lancashire – Cumbria boundary. How can a so-called Lancashire Way – "showcasing Lancashire, it’s scenery, it’s history, it’s people" - encourage walkers to walk in Cumbria? I myself was careful to stay on the east bank, or to walk on the eastern half of the dry river bed when the bank was impassable. I found it slow going, and when I got lost in bracken (twice) I was hardly going at all. I began to fear that I’d miss my Cowan Bridge bus – and buses here are few and far between. I would have liked to explore Ease Gill Kirk and the ancient Castle Hill but I had three miles to hurry through. I thus completed a ten-mile walk within Lancashire and within the Yorkshire Dales. This is possible only on Ireby Fell and Leck Fell.

[August 2018; SD6376; Cowan Bridge – E – Leck Church – SE – Todgill Farm, High Barn – NE, until walls meet – N – Gragareth – W – Three Men of Gragareth – N – Ease Gill – W – Ease Gill Kirk – SW – Leck, Cowan Bridge; 10 miles; 247 km squares]

21.  The Fortunes of Fleetwood

I approached Fleetwood on the Knott End ferry. Somebody has to. The ferry is struggling to continue. I hope my £4 helps. At the moment it is the only ferry still functioning in North-West England, with the Windermere one closed for repairs. It has run since 1894 and has recently been saved for the next eight years. At the Knott End end there is a statue to L.S.Lowry, who painted The Jetty at Knott End, showing the ferry considerably busier than when I took it. There were only five of us.

Prominent from the ferry is the North Euston Hotel, which played a foundational role in the history of Fleetwood. In 1830 the peninsula between the River Wyre and Irish Sea was a tract of sand dunes inhabited by rabbits and sea-birds. It was owned by Peter Hesketh, based at Rossall Hall on the western coast. An extensive flood in 1833 somehow prompted, or at least did not deter, a vision: he would build a new town on the peninsula, which he named Fleetwood – and while he was at it he re-named himself as Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood. This town would flourish as a sea-port through being on the route of travellers between London and Scotland. They would take the train from Euston, stay at Fleetwood’s North Euston Hotel (which was completed in 1841), and continue on a steamer to Scotland.
Knott End ferry

Fleetwood from Knott End, with the North Euston Hotel behind the ferry

Unfortunately, there was a flaw in this vision. Travellers, having reached as far as Preston, preferred to continue on the train to Scotland, once it was possible to do so, rather than detour to Fleetwood. Who could have foreseen that? By the time of the first direct trains from London to Scotland in the 1850s a rather grand Fleetwood had been built, with three lighthouses, a market, a custom house and a port. Hesketh-Fleetwood had retired, virtually bankrupt, to Brighton. The North Euston Hotel closed as a hotel in 1859, becoming a School of Musketry, which sounds exciting. However, it returned to being a hotel in 1898 and seems to have survived as such ever since.

With the travel trade ended, the people of Fleetwood needed to find some other means to live. Well, there was now a port, so Fleetwood developed as a cargo port. A dock was opened in 1877. Unfortunately, the growth of other cargo ports in the north-west and the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, completed in 1894, largely put paid to that. The focus switched to fishing. Fleetwood duly developed into one of the largest fishing ports in the country, employing over 9,000 people at its peak in the 1920s. Unfortunately, we and in particular Fleetwood, lost the Cod Wars, which ended in 1976. Today there are few fishermen in Fleetwood, although there is still a Fisherman’s Friend, the manufacturer of which is now the town’s largest employer. The dock and port facilities could still be used by ferries to Ireland and the Isle of Man … for a while.

I went first to have a look at what was left of all this maritime activity. I headed to the Maritime Museum. It was closed until 10.30 (why?), so they will never know if I would have paid the £3 to enter. I wandered through the old dock area towards the Wyre estuary. This is not an activity I would recommend, unless you are fond of wire fences. There is a great variety of them to prevent you walking where you oughtn’t.

First I passed a large derelict area that was presumably the loading area for the ferries. Perhaps the area is being left because of a forlorn hope that the sea ferries may return to Fleetwood. I crossed the small dock area, which seems to be entirely for recreational boats, and found a path on the landward side of the salt marshes. I followed it south for some way. The marshes were purple with sea lavender, with many butterflies, including dark common blues, about. I became aware that the bank to the right had gained a high wire fence and that the creeks to the left were filling with tidal water. Surely, I thought, the path must lead somewhere – somewhere away from the salt marshes that is. But it ended at a water-filled creek, so I hurried back.

I came upon the Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park. It’s great to have a nature park but it’s a bit perverse to insist that people drive to it. The mile-long road to it from the A585 has no footpath, as I found out. There are 25,000 people in Fleetwood and they could all walk to this park. Instead, people drive to it, with their dog, and, job done, they collect it and drive home. I walked past the rubbish tip, sewage works and recycling centre and by several low-lying caravan parks. I lost the footpath by Rossall School and found myself within its grounds, where I could inspect more wire fences. I am glad that I accidentally trespassed, as the school has interesting buildings and history. The idea for the school came from the owner of the North Euston Hotel who in 1844 realised that he needed to attract more visitors to the area. It was originally a brother school to Marlborough College and it flourished sufficiently for the Queen to visit to mark its 150th anniversary in 1994. However, it didn’t seem in top-notch order on my passing visit.

I eventually reached the new promenade with its high flood-protection barrier. A flood in 1927 put 90% of the town under water. A building expansion in the 1960s was, predictably, in the low-lying western part of the town. Consequently, a flood in 1977 affected more buildings than the 1927 one, even though it was a smaller flood. I expect preparations are in hand for the 2027 flood. The new high barrier is considerably higher than the low barrier further north, which I assume the engineers are confident the sea will not sneak behind.
Rossall Point Observation Tower

Rossall Point Observation Tower, completed in 2013


Fleetwood from Rossall Point

Since the 1840s Fleetwood had had an eye on the tourist trade. More recently, it has needed to fix two eyes upon it. Late in the day – in fact it was the very last seaside resort to do so – Fleetwood built a new pier in 1910. Unfortunately, it is hard for Fleetwood to compete with the multifarious attractions of Blackpool that had developed just down the coast. Those seeking more dignified relaxation may look wistfully across Morecambe Bay to the mountains of the Lake District – but would probably prefer to be amongst them, not separated from them. Fleetwood has the requisite smattering of tourist attractions – beach (moderately sandy), golf course, bathing pools, and so on – none too gaudy, plus some fine buildings, somewhat spoiled by a large brown shed, of indeterminate function, that occupies a prominent position below the Mount.

I know that I shouldn’t believe everything in Wikipedia but even so I was alarmed to read in its description of Fleetwood that Bill Bryson, in his Notes from a Small Island (1995), wrote that the vast bay is “easily one of the most beautiful in the world, with unforgettable views across to the green and blue Lakeland hills.” I am alarmed because the words in the book (on page 273) refer to Morecambe, not Fleetwood. Bryson visited Morecambe and Blackpool but gave Fleetwood a miss. I wonder if the Wikipedia comment is the result of an act of desperation in the Fleetwood tourist office. If so, things must be bad if they need to steal from Morecambe.

Overall, then, Fleetwood seems an unfortunate town. Whenever it tries to stand on its own two feet circumstances conspire to knock it down. Perhaps it’s not always bad luck. The railway station closed in 1966, the last deep-sea trawler left port in 1982, the ferry to the Isle of Man closed in the 1990s, the pier was demolished after a fire in 2008, and the container service to Northern Ireland ended in 2010. However, there is still the ferry. There were fifteen of us on the return crossing.

[July 2018; SD3448; Knott End Ferry – S – Dock, by Wyre estuary – N, SW – caravan park – S, on A585 – W – past Fleetwood Farm, Rossall School – N, E, along promenade – E – up the Mount, Ferry; 8 miles; 231 km squares]

Previous Saunterings

     20.   On the Sunny Side of Pendle   
     19.   Viewpoints and Viewing Stations around Keswick (part 2)   
     18.   Viewpoints and Viewing Stations 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   


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.

     External Links

    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018


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