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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
61.   Knott Alone
60.   The Longsleddale Green Lane
59.   The 1 in 5,000 Hen Harriers of Bowland
58.   From Hawes, in the Poet Laureate's Footsteps
57.   A Blowy Lowsy Point
56.   Cross Fell: The Apex of England
61.  Knott Alone
I have never joined a walking club. I notice that the local papers give details of the various clubs’ outings. It seems that happy wanderers (“my knapsack on my back, val-deri, val-dera”: what does that mean?) are partitioned into groups A+, A, B, C and so on, depending upon their experience, expertise and energy, to be led about the countryside on suitable walks. I don’t feel inclined to join them.
Misanthrope, I hear you say. How dare you! I don’t always walk alone but there are some good reasons to do so, I thought as I set off from Bowscale to walk to Knott in the open hills north of Skiddaw and Blencathra. I did not expect to see anyone else walking these hills, as anybody wanting to go for a walk can find more interesting and exciting terrain nearby. These Caldbeck Fells are for quiet solitude, a place to stroll with only one’s own thoughts for company. It is natural to walk alone here.
I walked into the verdant valley of Mosedale, beside the River Caldew and with the slopes of Carrock Fell and Bowscale Fell towering above. The wildlife introduced itself one-by-one. A woodpecker attacked a conifer; a wren flitted about the hedges; a grasshopper hopped onto the road; a dragonfly flew by; a red squirrel ran along the wall ahead of me. Sadly, I did not see much wildlife after that. A couple more wrens, a few rooks and crows, some pipits, and one grouse – that was about it for birdlife. I scanned the skies from time to time but they were empty. On the ground I saw even less, apart from sheep, of course. Mosedale seemed picturesque but sterile. Is it really so? Has it always been the same?
What I had read on the map as a track turned out to be a surfaced road that continued as far as the Grainsgill Beck tributary. I could have saved myself four miles of walking – but it was pleasant walking, completely quiet apart from the sound of the Caldew. The impressive crags of Bowscale Fell enclosed Bowscale Tarn, too high for me to see. I could however see the moraine ridge implausibly holding the tarn in place. At the end of the road a magician drove up in his car and produced from it, with a flourish, a large dog, and then another … in total, seven dogs. They leapt about excitedly and about me.
The valley of Mosedale
I left the road, humanity and caninity to walk up by Grainsgill Beck. First, I came to the ruins of Carrock Mine, which was Cumbria’s only tungsten mine. It always puzzles me that a mineral can be found in only one place. What special conditions caused it to form? Or perhaps it does exist elsewhere but not where it was economical to mine. The tungsten was used to make filaments of electric lamps and during the two World Wars for armament production. The mine closed in 1981.
I continued on what is marked as a bridleway, although it would be an intrepid horse and rider that tackled this path. It was an enjoyable scramble, a bit muddy in parts. I reflected that before the 18th century people did not walk for pleasure but for a purpose, alone or in a group, like Dick Whittington walking to London and the pilgrims to Canterbury. Then the Romantics found spiritual inspiration for their art through energetic walking. The ordinary person did not have much leisure time to walk for fun but some escaped occasionally from cities and factories to the fresh air of the hills. Walking clubs were formed to aid the mental and physical improvement of workers and also because there was safety in numbers when trespassing on the land of the wealthy.
But walking alone you can walk at your own pace and not have to “trot alongside a champion walker,
nor mince in time with a girl” as Robert Louis Stevenson so bravely put it in his
(Stevenson, 1876). The philosopher Frédéric Gros (referred to in
) agrees that one should walk alone, for the main reason that the “body follows badly” if it is forced to adjust to the pace of others (Gros, 2014, p53).
Alone, you can adapt the walk to suit your own energy, changes in the weather, observations on the way, and so on, without lengthy negotiations and compromises with co-walkers. For example, on this walk I dallied overlong, for some, by Carrock Mine rummaging amongst the ruins, and then I walked relatively briskly up the slopes of Rigg and Knott when others might have dawdled taking many photographs. On the other hand, it is sometimes best to relax and let someone else make all the decisions, as with walking clubs.
When walking alone you are more likely to encounter wildlife than when accompanied by a group of chatterers. On the other hand, with many eyes and perhaps more expertise the group may be more likely to spot that wildlife. When alone, you aren’t going to be held up by someone else having an accident. On the other hand, it could be you having the accident and needing help. If I had fallen down a disused shaft near Carrock Mine then I would probably have had a long time alone to regret it. If, like me, you are intending to make notes along the way, you don’t want people pestering you to know what you’re scribbling. On the other hand, they may have helpful suggestions. Without them, after spending four or five hours tramping alone, shallow in your own thoughts, the hoped-for profundity might not emerge – as I am demonstrating.
I eventually reached the top of Knott (710m), which is the central and highest point of the Caldbeck Fells north of Skiddaw and Blencathra. The former had white clouds billowing over it and the latter, with the sun behind, was simply a dark outline. Knott wears its eminence lightly. Some nearby hills have ‘Great’ or ‘High’ in their name but not our humble Knott. It is only a few metres higher than some of them and it is just a smooth, grassy hump with nothing of interest. Revelling in my solitude, I settled to have a snack of some nuts when, oh no, I saw a man with seven dogs approaching. I waited for them to arrive. The dogs leapt about, attracted by my nuts. I gathered from the man that this was a regular walk for him and his dogs.
From Knott towards Blencathra (and man plus dogs)
I escaped by walking across Miller Moss to Great Lingy Hill. Here I felt more alone, not just from the man and his dogs but from all those who had previously created the path across Rigg to Knott. I could believe that nobody had ever walked over Miller Moss. There were no paths over this peat, grass and heather. Sitting on a rare large rock in the middle of this wilderness I paused to scan all the hills and horizons. Just as I had convinced myself that there was nobody to be seen anywhere I spied two tiny figures on a far distant ridge. My aloneness was shattered further as I made my way down by Arm o’ Grain when four walkers and a dog appeared on the track from High Pike. In all then I saw eight dogs and seven people, but only one who, through a lapse of sociability, I was able to chat to.
From Knott towards High Pike
I did not therefore fully achieve the anticipated solitude in the Caldbeck Fells. But in any case, according to Gros, despite the desirability of walking alone, “it’s impossible to be alone when walking, with so many things under our gaze … when walking you earn the sympathy of all the living things that surround us: trees and flowers” and that “you are not alone because when you walk you soon become two … there is always this dialogue between the body and the soul”.
There may be deep, original insights there as Gros, being a professional philosopher, is obliged to
provide them for us. However, popular culture is way ahead of him. For a start, it is not just people
that may be alone. For example, Ray Bradbury’s short story
There Will Come Soft Rains
has the sentence “The house stood alone in a city of rubble and ashes”. Also, it is not just individuals.
I Think We’re Alone Now
to No 1 in 1987.
So ‘we’ can certainly be alone, thank goodness. As for the notion that aloneness is lost in
the company of objects such as trees and flowers – pah, the classic 1959
You're Never Alone with a Strand
advertisement knew that. Although, to be fair, the ad was notoriously unsuccessful because even in
1959 few people wanted to think themselves so alone that they needed the company of a cigarette.
And as far as walking alone is concerned, 50,000 Liverpudlians tell us every other week that it is impossible:
You'll Never Walk Alone
[September 2019; NY3531; Bowscale – N – Mosedale – W – Swineside, Miller Moss – SW, W – Knott – NE – Great Lingy Hill – SE – Grainsgill Beck – E – Mosedale, Bowscale; 9 miles; 142/400]
60.  The Longsleddale Green Lane
Referring to Longsleddale, Baddeley (1880, 1922) wrote that “it is difficult to picture a scene in which peace, contentment and beauty are more happily combined.” I couldn’t put it better myself. Which is why I haven’t tried to and have quoted Baddeley instead. However, this peace, contentment and beauty has not been easily won and may be easily lost.
Compared to the almost empty dales to the north (such as Bannisdale and Borrowdale), Longsleddale is well-populated. At the bottom of the valley, by the A6, there are several houses gathered around Garnett Bridge, and above them farmsteads and homesteads dot the valley throughout, on both sides of the River Sprint. As we strode up the valley, doing our best to ignore the blackberries, the houses thinned out and so did the traffic, although it was never exactly relaxed walking, having to squeeze into the hedge from time to time.
Longsleddale is indeed long. It is five miles to Sadgill at the end of the road and a further three miles to the head of the dale, at the top of the Gatescarth Pass. The hills on both sides of the lower valley rise to 400m or so, providing shelter for the farms below. The small, flat fields here result from the series of glacial lakes separated by rock bars that long ago occupied the dale. In 1845 a Longsleddale reservoir was planned in order to regulate the water supply to the various mills along the valley but it was never built. I expect that Manchester had its eye on the valley for a reservoir too, as it did for most valleys in the region. In the end Manchester Corporation used Longsleddale only for the Haweswater Aqueduct which runs, inconspicuously now, through its eastern hills. A proposal to lay a second pipe-line through the valley bottom of Longsleddale, which would have required the building of a wider road for access, was rejected by government in 1965.
We walked on, passing a barn/garage which on its side indicated the mileages to London, Edinburgh and Yarmouth. No, I have no idea. The valley opened out, providing views of the head of Longsleddale, where the Gatescarth Pass curves up between cliffs. The fact that the road is a dead-end obviously decreases the traffic and it may be fortunate that the road is still a dead-end. According to Berry and Beard (1980), in the 1960s it was proposed to extend the M6 north from Carnforth by taking it up Longsleddale and then by tunnel under the Gatescarth Pass to Mardale. I find it hard to believe that this option was seriously contemplated. I suspect that the planners offered Longsleddale as an option because it was so patently unpalatable that their preferred, still unpalatable but less so, option would be gratefully adopted. Perhaps much the same can be said about an 1840s proposal to route the Lancaster to Carlisle railway through Longsleddale and by tunnel into Mardale.
Longsleddale is narrow and it becomes narrower still beyond Sadgill, as it is squeezed between Goat Scar and Buckbarrow Crag. The change of scenery reflects the transition from Silurian to Borrowdale Volcanic rock. The metalled road ends and the rough track of the Gatescarth Pass continues between Harter Fell and Branstree, reaching a height of 572m (for comparison, Kirkstone Pass, the Lake District’s highest road pass, reaches 454m) before eventually dropping down to the head of Haweswater in Mardale.
We walked a little way up the Gatescarth Pass track in order to gain a better view and were
confronted by two 4x4s coming down. This was not a surprise to us because we had selected
this day to visit Longsleddale precisely because it was the one day in the month when off-road vehicles
and motor-bikes may be given permits to cross the pass from Mardale to Sadgill. The Lake
District’s ‘green lane’ policy remains
A green lane is an unsurfaced public way that may be used by recreational vehicles. There are, of course, objections to the noise and damage caused and many walkers do not appreciate being barged off their paths. A compromise is being sought on the Gatescarth Pass, in allowing vehicular access for just one day a month.
Two 4x4s and three bikers on the Gatescarth Pass. This is at the lower,
gentle end of the pass. It is much steeper, rockier and bendier higher up. The second biker had lost
control of his bike and nearly hit the wall. I hope that he got the hang of it before reaching the
difficult parts of the pass.
We sat and waited in case more 4x4s would come along but instead a group of ten bikers tackled the track from the Sadgill direction. We saw the bikers returning later and assume that they were taking advantage of the fact that the Traffic Regulation Order that limits access to the Gatescarth Pass only begins to apply 1½ miles up the pass. They were scrambling up, to turn and then scramble down. They could, in fact, do this on any day. I suppose 4x4s could as well – although they may be unable to turn.
From Sadgill we followed the track that leads to Kentmere. This also may be used by 4x4s, at any time. For centuries it was, like the Gatescarth Pass, part of the main east-west route in the Lake District. This ran from Ravenglass, over Hardknott and Wrynose, to Ambleside, Kentmere, Sadgill, Mardale and Shap. A petition of 1717 described it as a “great road and public highway … very much used by travellers, drovers and others having occasion frequently to pass” (Hindle, 1984). We only walked up the track to gain a higher view of Longsleddale and then dropped down to the bridleway that continues on the south side of the River Sprint all the way to Garnett Bridge. We walked through many grassy fields and past numerous houses, quite a few of which were undergoing renovation. It was an uneventful return walk, entirely peaceful apart from the occasional biker on the road opposite.
Looking down to Sadgill and the start of Gatescarth Pass from the track to Kentmere
I had anticipated, before taking this walk, that this final paragraph would be a coruscating criticism of
the green lane policy that allows vehicles to disturb the serenity of Longsleddale and to damage the
ancient track of the Gatescarth Pass. Now, having familiarised myself with the long length of Longsleddale,
I am inclined to reflect that Longsleddale has overcome much greater actual and potential threats in
the past than that of a few individuals driving vehicles over the pass. The Gatescarth Pass has
survived centuries of herds of cattle being driven over it and of heavy quarry traffic. Longsleddale
can absorb and largely ignore the, to my mind, rather silly and hopefully temporary activity of off-road vehicles. Of course, I would prefer that there were no traffic at all on the Gatescarth Pass; that the Traffic Regulation Order applied to the whole of the pass so that bikers are discouraged from roaring along Longsleddale; and that men (it is always men) did not feel urged to gain their thrills by driving their macho machines here. Saddened as I am by the treatment of the green lane of the Gatescarth Pass, I will prefer to think instead of the green bridleway of Longsleddale where peace, contentment and beauty will always be found, I hope.
[September 2019; SD5298; A6 layby at Garnett Plain – W, NW on road – Sadgill – S, E – River Sprint – SE on bridleway – Garnett Bridge – E, SE, E – layby; 11 miles; 140/400]
59.  The 1 in 5,000 Hen Harriers of Bowland
for the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty represents a hen harrier. It was a wise decision to adopt the hen harrier because the fortunes of this bird in Bowland have focussed our attention on the difficulties of managing such a wild, remote region.
When the hen harrier logo was designed the Forest of Bowland was “the stronghold of the hen harrier on English moorland. Between 2002 and 2008 two-thirds of all the nesting attempts in the English uplands (83 out of 125)” were in Bowland (Avery, 2015, p188). The word ‘stronghold’ was an exaggeration, as the number of nesting attempts in England each year was still very low compared to what it could and should be. And it became even lower. In 2017 not one hen harrier nested in Bowland. Since then there has been a slight improvement, to three successful nests in 2018 and five in 2019.
I set off from the Grey Stone of Trough, which feels like the central point of Bowland, since it marks the line of the old county boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire and stands at the head of the Trough of Bowland at the highest point of the only road that passes through central Bowland. From there, I walked to Whins Brow, an unassuming top of modest height (476m), which nonetheless is arguably Bowland’s central peak since it provides the most comprehensive panorama: of the tops of the Dales Three Peaks over Croasdale to the north-east;
From Whins Brow looking across Brennand with the tops of the Dales Three Peaks just visible
of Pendle and other Pennine hills to the south-east; of the southern Bowland hills of Totridge, Hareden Fell and Hawthornthwaite Fell to the south;
From Whins Brow looking south to Totridge and Hareden Fell
of Morecambe Bay (and sometimes, but not on this occasion, the Lake District hills) to the north-west; and of Bowland’s highest tops of Ward’s Stone (561m), Wolfhole Crag (527m) and White Hill (544m) to the north-west and north.
From Whins Brow looking north to Wolfhole Crag
Plus, after walking north a little from Whins Brow, a bird’s eye view of the valleys of Brennand and Whitendale,
which seem to me to be at the heart of Bowland, as the farms here are the only ones that are tucked into an
inner valley. Between the two valleys stands the appropriately-named Middle Knoll and, in addition to being the
centre of Bowland, the region claims the
central point of Britain
at Whitendale Hanging Stones.
I continued north over purple heather, bilberry and long tufted grass, and around a few pools the colour of coffee without milk.
As I headed towards Brennand River, which gathers all the water that falls in the large basin south of Wolfhole Crag, I became aware that a United Utilities van was moving slowly along the track that leads eventually to a shooting cabin. In fact, as I moved along, so did the van. I felt under surveillance, a feeling confirmed when two men got out of the van to observe me with binoculars. It was a little unnerving, but perhaps it is reassuring to know that they want nobody to misbehave on their moors. It also became a little embarrassing when I found that the river was too high for me to cross. At least, not in my boots: I warily paddled over barefoot. By the time I reached the track the van had moved away, which was a pity as I would have liked to know what they were concerned about.
I walked through the two Brennand farms to where United Utilities has a building and information boards. A van was parked but there seemed to be nobody about for me to interrogate. The information boards were mainly about its work in extracting our drinking water from these fells but I noticed that I was advised to “look out for birds like merlin and peregrine falcon”. Merlin perhaps, peregrine doubtful – there used to be a score or so of peregrine nests in Bowland but now there are usually none.
The information boards did not mention hen harriers, which is somewhat coy of United Utilities because it has been working hard with the RSPB to help hen harriers return to nest in Bowland. No doubt they don’t want the public interfering – and perhaps that was why I was being monitored. All eight of the hen harrier nests in 2018 and 2019 were on United Utilities land. What are the chances of that?
United Utilities owns 34% of the Bowland Fells Special Protection Area, a designation intended to protect rare upland birds such as the merlin and hen harrier. Other things being equal, the probability that a hen harrier nest in Bowland will be on United Utilities land is 0.34. The probability that all eight nests will be there would seem to be 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34, that is slightly less than 0.0002, or 1 in 5,000.
Are other things equal? Hen harriers do not nest communally like rooks. Once one hen harrier has begun to nest, the second will establish its nesting territory rather apart. Therefore, the probably of the second (and so on) hen harrier nest being on United Utilities land would be less than 0.34 and the probability of all eight being there considerably less than 1 in 5,000.
The areas of Bowland that are not United Utilities land are owned by the Abbeystead Estate (47%),
the Bleasdale Estate (10%) and others (8%). The two estates manage the moors for driven grouse shooting
and employ gamekeepers to help ensure that grouse thrive. In the opening remarks of a
parliamentary debate on driven grouse shooting
in 2016 it was stated that “the evidence is clear that birds of prey, including hen harriers, are better off on managed heather moorland”. A later speaker explained that “without gamekeepers to control them, predators multiply and hen harriers pay the price”. So, it seems, a hen harrier that attempts to nest on gamekeeper-managed land is likely to be more successful than one that attempts to nest on United Utilities land. Therefore, the probability that all eight successful nests were on United Utilities land is even further lowered from 1 in 5,000.
Is it a remarkable fluke? Or is there an explanation? When the speaker mentioned above referred to predators, he meant animals such as foxes, stoats and weasels. The elimination of these would clearly benefit ground-nesting birds such as grouse and hen harriers. However, to gamekeepers a hen harrier is not just another ground-nesting bird. It is a predator too, since it is rather fond of young grouse. It is illegal to kill or disturb a hen harrier. They wouldn’t, would they?
[September 2019; SD6253; The Grey Stone of Trough – E – Whins Brow – N – Brennand River – E, SE – United Utilities information boards – NW – Brennand Farm – S on Ouster Rake – fence – W – Whins Brow, Grey Stone of Trough; 6 miles; 137/400]
58.  From Hawes, in the Post Laureate's Footsteps
This walk was in homage to our new Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage. His poetry is to me a closed
book – about twenty of them, in fact – but I like his prose, especially
Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way
(Armitage, 2012). Over half of the 268-mile Pennine Way lies within the scope of North-West England (as far as Saunterings goes) and on this outing we began by following in Armitage’s footsteps on day 13 of his trek, his walk south from Hawes.
The role of the Romantic poets in burnishing the image of the Lake District is well-known but what
about the Romantic poets and the Yorkshire Dales? The
'Welcome to Yorkshire' website
mentions seven Yorkshire-born or Yorkshire-adopted poets: Auden, Caedmon, Hughes, Larkin, MacMillan, Marvell
and Plath. Armitage, who was born and lives in Yorkshire but not in the Dales, doesn’t get a mention.
None of the seven is of the Romantic era or from the Dales. To the relief of the less poetically inclined, the image of the
Yorkshire Dales remains more prosaic.
Hawes from above Gaudy House
Wether Fell from the Pennine Way
We left a busy Sunday Bank Holiday Hawes, with its plague of black bikers, to find peace on the moors, on a perfect late August day, virtually cloudless and with a light breeze. Armitage was not so lucky on his day 13. He had to walk in cloud, a joyless trudge from the sound of it: “without a view, the whole enterprise is pointless, a futile schlep, hours of visual confinement with nothing to see but your own feet, and nothing to do but carry on”. He was not inspired to write a poem about his walk from Hawes, which seems a shame. I’m sure that he could have managed something along the lines of “I wandered lonely in a cloud …”.
My knowledge of poetry is somewhat limited for me to be advising Armitage. I know that if the
word ‘over’ is spelt ‘o’er’ then it becomes poetry (“floats on high o’er vales and hills”, that sort of
thing). And I see that the best poems leave lots of space on the page. I assume that this is so that
you may add comments to explain all the allusions, metaphors and similes (comparing yourself to a cloud
or a daffodil, that sort of thing). I said similes, not smiles. There are few smiles in poetry. If you
buy a book of humorous poetry then hold it tight so that it doesn’t blow away in the breeze. Judging
from his prose, I thought that Armitage’s poetry would be jollier, so I read one of his apparently acclaimed poems
I Say I Say I Say
which was surely the beginning of a joke. It seems to be about slashing wrists in the bath.
Once we had left the outskirts of Hawes and Gayle we were alone on Gaudy Lane and up the Pennine Way. We surmised that Pennine Way walkers leaving Hawes heading south would have left before us and Pennine Way walkers heading north to Hawes wouldn’t have reached this far yet. This fitted the fact that the higher we walked the more walkers we met from the other direction, including a couple from Tasmania. The lengths people go to in order to walk on our moors!
We paused for a snack on a perch with a fine view into the hidden valley of Snaizeholme, with Widdale Fell beyond and Wild Boar Fell more beyond. Approaching Dodd Fell, we left Armitage to his gloomy yomp to Horton-in-Ribblesdale and walked across the moor to the top of the fell. It seemed a good idea at the time but I’ve now read the opinion of Sellers (1984) that “it is hardly worth the very considerable effort as there’s much rough ground and no path”. Perhaps she was not entertained at the top as we were by golden plovers, which made all our effort worthwhile. The alarm call of the golden plover is a single plaintive whistle but to us on this desolate hill it sounded more welcoming than alarming. The view from Dodd Fell (668m) is not ideal. There are higher tops to be seen in all directions but unfortunately the tops are all that can be seen. The broad plateau of Dodd Fell cuts off all their bases.
From Dodd Fell we dropped down and around the head of Sleddale – with more rough, pathless walking – to
eventually reach what’s called the Hawes–Kettlewell road. This remote hill road is rather challenging
for a Sunday jaunt but a fair number of drivers – and bikers – seemed keen to take it on, sadly. We walked down the road, below Wether Fell, to have a look at the graceful Aysgill Force and then on for a drink in Hawes before awaiting the summer Sunday 830 bus that runs between Preston and Richmond.
Armitage did reach Horton-in-Ribblesdale but did not give a poetry reading there – he was whisked off to Grasmere for some reason. He had resolved to walk the Pennine Way from end to end on consecutive days trying to earn enough money to pay his way by reading his poems at his evening stops. This is not a challenge that I could take on, as I have no poems, or that I would take on, as I’d rather not feel compelled to walk, come rain or sleet, to Slaggyford – I’m not making this up: Slaggyford in Northumbria was on his itinerary of poetical stops – by 19.30 on Tuesday to read poems to the locals. Still, Armitage did extract £247 from the people of Hawes, which shows the quality of his poems or the legendary generosity of Yorkshire folk.
[August 2019; SD8789; Hawes – SW – Gaudy Lane – SW, S on Pennine Way – S across Spilling Moss Turf Ground – Dodd Fell – SE, NE – road – N,W,N – Aysgill Force – NE - Hawes; 9 miles; 137/400]
57.  A Blowy Lowsy Point
Northern Rail again failed to deliver me to the Cumbrian west coast in a timely fashion (see
but this time I had a plan B. I got off the train at Dalton-in-Furness and walked to the west coast – specifically, to the sand dunes of Sandscale Haws in the Duddon estuary. Sandscale Haws has accumulated an impressive set of acronyms: LGS (Local Geological Site), NNR (National Nature Reserve), SAC (Special Area of Conservation), SPA (Special Protection Area), SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and Ramsar (which isn’t an acronym). But never mind all that: it was a windy day and I looked forward to a blow-out on the dunes.
Sand dunes have become a rare habitat in England. There are only fragments left on the Lancashire coast north of the Ribble but west Cumbria still has several sizable areas of dune, at Drigg, Eskmeals, Haverigg and Walney Island, in addition to Sandscale Haws. Apart from being a habitat for niche species, sand dunes can provide, it is now belatedly realised, more effective flood defence than the concrete barricades that have often replaced them.
I strode from Dalton, past the Castle, over the railway line, across the A590, over farmland, to reach the inlet of Scarth Bight, with the large area of grassed-over dunes of Sandscale Haws to the north. A herd of native cattle browsed the marshland. Beyond them I could see, to my surprise, a dozen or so shacks on the exposed, low-lying promontory of Lowsy Point. I went to have a look, of course. They were weather-beaten, as you’d expect, and some were built on supports, presumably in the hope that they wouldn’t be washed away by high waters. There was nobody about. The owners of these ramshackle retreats must return to them wondering how much has been blown or washed away.
Black Combe from Lowsy Point
Lowsy Point was separated by the narrow Scarth Channel from the north end of Walney Island. Beyond the last shack I dropped down to a long, sandy beach, deserted apart from two men who were trying to fish. The tide was coming in, blown along by the strong wind that created a series of white-topped wavelets from far out to sea. The beach is clearly flat and, when the tide is out, stretches miles into the bay. What kind of fish comes in at the forefront of a few inches of water? Whatever they were, they had nothing to fear from the fishermen because they could hardly cast their lines into the sea against the wind.
I walked up to the crest of the sand dunes to survey inland. There was an expanse of hummocky dunes, with low vegetation and a few ponds within which breed the rare natterjack toad, Europe’s noisiest amphibian but not in August. It was a battle along the sand dunes, up and down marram-grassed humps, wind-blown and sand-blasted – but invigorating and yet exhausting. So I retreated to the beach. I was still wind-blown and sand-blasted but at least I was on the level. As I had been made well aware, the sand dunes are still active, as they must be to remain dunes.
Black Combe from Sandscale Haws
Ahead, Black Combe arose behind Millom and Hodbarrow, just a couple of miles away across the Duddon Channel. Piles of foam
were being moved, inch-by-inch, up the beach by the tide. Occasionally, a cloud of it was whipped up and over the dunes. As I turned
east, more of the central Lake District hills came into view. It was a challenge to identify familiar tops from an unfamiliar-to-me angle. Scafell? Bow Fell? The Old Man of Coniston? The answers were given at the Roanhead car park, where a display identifies them.
Black Combe from Roanhead beach
From the car park I had no choice but to walk back across the A590 and over the railway line. I was back in plenty of time for the train and picked up a leaflet about a Dalton Heritage Walk. This informed me that “since the closure of the last mine in the 1920s, Dalton has not seen any significant changes”. They said it. It was easy to imagine the main street in the 1920s.
There wasn’t much mentioned in the Heritage Walk that I hadn’t already seen on my walk out of and back into Dalton.
The 14th century Dalton Castle – really a pele tower – stood strong and square but it was closed. From the outside only
the four figures at the top corners intrigued. I had already noticed the blue plaques for Dalton’s two illustrious sons:
Dr William Close
The former is described by Bragg (1983) as “undoubtedly the greatest Cumbrian painter”. That is not to say that
he was the greatest painter of Cumbria because he moved to London to make his name and his money, mainly by
painting portraits. I have not studied Romney’s body of work but I see that he painted sixty portraits of
Lady Hamilton. I deduce that either he was infatuated with Lady Hamilton (as others were) or he was a
perfectionist, thinking that the first fifty-nine didn’t quite get her right.
The latter blue plaquee, Dr Close, was actually born in Yorkshire but began his medical practice in Dalton in 1797. His plaque describes him as “surgeon, apothecary, musician, writer, historian and inventor”. Ah, but in his spare time did he ever walk to Sandscale Haws?
[August 2019; SD2373; Dalton railway station – NW, W, NW – Thwaite House – NW,SW, W – Lowsy Point – N, E – car park – SE and same way back; 8 miles; 134/400]
56.  Cross Fell: The Apex of England
We hear a lot about the north-south divide, which is supposed to separate wealthy, healthy
southerners from poor, poorly northerners. Some deny that it exists but a recent
found that England’s twenty fattest cities (that is, cities with the highest proportion of obese people) are
all north of the Midlands. But what about the east-west divide? By this I mean the natural watershed that runs down the spine of England separating rivers that flow east to the North Sea from those that flow west to the Irish Sea and the Atlantic. That certainly exists.
I have read several descriptions of the long trek up the western slopes of Cross Fell and none of them
mentions that Cross Fell lies on this east-west divide, which I will call the National Divide in comparison with the Continental Divide that Americans make such a fuss of. I set off from Kirkland along a clear track that became a little less clear the further I went. It was relentless, with every single step uphill, although the gradient was sympathetically gentle. The views, at least, were good, of the stern Black Doors below Green Fell and back over the serene Eden valley to the extensive profile of Lake District hills. However, it was the prospect of reaching the National Divide that helped me along.
The northern Lake District profile across the Eden valley
I looked forward to seeing the great metropolises of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough far to the east.
As I at last reached the watershed the view opened out, revealing distant hills to the north that I assume to
be within Scotland and far to the east, beyond the Pennine hills of the Milburn Forest, an indistinct
blue-greyness within which, I admit, I could not discern the great metropolises. Still, I could see waters
running north to contribute to the Tyne and also the headwaters of the Tees just southeast of Cross Fell
flowing towards Cow Green Reservoir. Between them the Wear arose just beyond the hills east of Cross Fell.
Within North-West England, the National Divide continues south from Cross Fell past High Cup Nick, across Stainmore Common, over the A66 to High Greygrits, on to High Pike, across Widdale Fell to Pen-y-ghent and Fountains Fell, across the A65 near Hellifield, past Earby to Boulsworth Hill, and on to Thieveley Pike. If you walked the whole National Divide from the Scottish border to the south coast you would walk nowhere higher than Cross Fell (893m). So, from Cross Fell you can look east down to North Sea waters, west down to Atlantic waters, south down to the southern National Divide and north down to the northern National Divide. So, truly Cross Fell is the central pinnacle, the apex, of England.
However, Cross Fell seems to be not so fondly regarded. Its top is bleak and barren although it now has some impressive cairns and a fine wind shelter. I suppose many walkers reach Cross Fell as part of a Pennine Way expedition and do so in less than the ideal conditions that I had (mainly sunny, no wind, clear visibility, dry underfoot). To them another slog over peat bogs and up another slope may not appeal much. I wouldn’t like to lose my way on Cross Fell and have to tackle its peat bogs in cloud.
Approaching the top of Cross Fell (trig point, wind shelter and cairn)
Leaving Cross Fell, looking towards Cow Green Reservoir and Great Dun Fell
As it was, I did miss the start of the bridleway south-west from near Tees Head. I didn’t mind, as it was
good to wander free on the dry grassy slopes with occasional rocky outcrops, and I had the marvellous view of the Eden valley and of the Lake District hills ahead of me, with the white dome of Great Dun Fell and the pointed tops of Knock Pike and Dufton Pike off to the left. I eventually spotted the small cairns that mark the bridleway, and then cantered down, across the flank of Wildboar Scar and past Grumply Hill, although the hot day made it seem further than I had hoped.
Finally, I should say a word about the Hanging Walls of Mark Anthony, which the Ordnance Survey
marks on the map south of Kirkland. A word is more than they deserve. It is a pity that the Trades Description Act
doesn’t apply to such names. There are no walls, hanging or otherwise, and I don’t believe anybody has ever said
that Mark Anthony had anything to do with them, if there were. Instead there are a few medieval terraces much like
those seen in many other places. There is a theory that the OS has plonked the name in the wrong place – in which case,
I will keep a look out on my saunters for hanging walls (whatever they are) that have lost their name.
Kirkland Fell (below Cross Fell) from near the so-called Hanging Walls
[July 2019; NY6432; by Kirkland church – E – Kirkland Hall – NE – Curricks – SE – Cross Fell, bridleway – SW – Wildboar Scar, Wythwaite – N – Kirkland Hall – W – church; 9 miles; 131/400]
55.   Butterflying on Whitbarrow
54.   Follies around Flusco
53.   Why? On the Wyre Way
52.   Morecambe Bay - from Cark to Grange-over-Sands
51.   On Wild Boar Fell
50.   Walking Home (1) - From Kirkby Lonsdale
49.   Lingmoor Fell - For the Best Medium-High View in Lakeland?
48.   With The Grane
47.   The 'Wild Desert' of Kingsdale
46.   To the Point of Winterburn Reservoir
45.   Thoughts from the Towpath (Bilsborrow to Preston)
44.   Interlude: We Are Sorry for the Delay ...
43.   The Red Screes - Wansfell Question
42.   Appreciating Meg and Lucy
41.   Safe in Littledale
40.   In the Borderlands of Burton-in-Lonsdale and Bentham
39.   Halls Galore by the Middle Ribble
38.   Reflections from Jeffrey's Mount
37.   Whoopers on Thurnham Moss
36.   The Flow and Ebb and Flow of Morecambe
35.   Dufton Rocks
34.   Thieveley Pike and the Singing Ringing Tree
33.   Is Nappa Hall Napping - or Dying?
32.   Russet Rusland Valley
31.   Pink Stones on the Orton Fells
30.   Dunsop Bridge, Whitewell and Duchy-land
29.   The Quiet End of the Ribble Way
28.   Broughton Moor, or What's Left of It
27.   The Footpaths of Anglezarke Moor
26.   A Booze by Any Other Name
25.   Mysterious Harkerside Moor
24.   Up Ingleborough with the Holiday Crowds
23.   The Kentmere Diatomite
22.   In the Lancashire Yorkshire Dales
21.   The Fortunes of Fleetwood
20.   On the Sunny Side of Pendle
19.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 2)
18.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 1)
17.   Sheep-Wrecked Matterdale?
16.   The Wildflowers of Sulber
15.   On the Hobdale Fence
14.   Logging Along the Cam High Road
13.   The Cairns of Grisedale Pike
12.   Uplifted by High Street
11.   The Struggle over Boulsworth Hill
10.   The 'Hillfort' of Addlebrough
9.   "The Prettiest Mere of All" Lakeland
8.   What Price Catrigg Force?
7.   Castling in Cumbria: From Brougham to Lowther
6.   The Count of Flasby Fell
5.   Circumperambulating Stocks Reservoir
4.   In a Flap at Bolton-le-Sands
3.   Zipping around Thirlmere
2.   The Dentdale Diamonds
1.   The Taming of Caton Moor
(and here's some I did earlier)
© John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018
Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar;
Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell