Western Howgills

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Saunterings

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.

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     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   
     Previous Saunterings   

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

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.
whoopers

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]

35.  Dufton Rocks

It is obvious that the character of our North-West England hills and dales is largely determined by the underlying rocks. I should therefore try to gain some basic understanding of our geology – but where should I start? According to the Smith (2010) ‘introductory guide’ to Lakeland rocks, “the Lake District is a rather complicated place. The sort of place where to begin to recognise rock types and to begin geology, you would probably say ‘I wouldn’t start from here’.” On the other hand, somewhere like the Howgills seems to me to be so uniform that I suspect that I’d learn only about a single rock type there. I need somewhere that displays different rocks conveniently side-by-side so that a beginner like me can distinguish between them.

Turnbull (2009) describes just such a walk – from Dufton, around Dufton Pike, and along Great Rundale Beck. In a distance of about three miles several different types of rock are to be seen. Moreover, Dufton, being in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is within a Global Geopark, which UNESCO defines as “a unified area with a geological heritage of international significance” – which sounds promising. There’s even a ‘geodiversity audit’, which is a new concept to me, as is a geopark. I have a lot to learn.
Dufton Pike

Dufton Pike

We set out hoping to spot the differences between the various rocks. Having approached Dufton from the south, across the white limestone scars of Orton Fell, we immediately detected that Dufton is different. It is red. Well, the green isn’t red but many of the buildings are. Turnbull tells us – and I am, of course, indebted to Turnbull for such details of the rocks and how they came to be where they are that I feel brave enough to mention here – that the red stone is St Bees Sandstone, 250 million years old. Yes, the St Bees of west Cumbria. What’s it doing over here, by the Pennines? I assume that this sandstone once existed all the way between St Bees and here but has, in between, been eroded away or buried. Great Rundale

The stones in the walls by the path from Dufton, which is part of the Pennine Way, turned from red to grey. The rock here is a shale, called Dufton Shale, reasonably enough, and is, I read, about 450 million years old. St Bees Sandstone and Dufton Shale are sedimentary rocks, created from ocean sediment. Obviously a younger sediment should be on top of an older one but here we have walked uphill to find the older rock. As Turnbull explains, we have crossed a fault, one which has caused the older rock on the east to end up higher relative to the rock on the west.

As the track approached Halsteads we saw that some of the stones in the wall alongside were orange, not grey. Small crystals of mica could be seen in the orange rocks. This is getting complicated. These orange rocks are of Dufton Microgranite and are from an intrusion of molten rock about 390 million years ago. An intrusion has to be into existing older rocks (by definition), therefore once we pass the Dufton Microgranite we return to the shale.

Now we climbed Dufton Pike (481m), battling against a strong, cold wind. There were not many exposed rocks but what there were did look different to the shale below. Turnbull says that these are volcanic rocks, although we could not honestly say that we found the bubble holes (vesicles to the cognoscenti) that he mentions. These are rocks of the Borrowdale Volcanic series, the same series that is found in the most dramatic parts of the Lake District. It is not dramatic on Dufton Pike. It is a smooth, grassy, conical hill. It does, however, provide an excellent view of Cross Fell and up Great Rundale (shown to the right). In the opposite direction, across the green Eden valley, we could not, because of the haze, make out Dufton Pike’s sister hills twenty miles away in the Lake District. The Dufton Pike volcanic rocks are also about 450 million years old but older than the Dufton Shale, indicating that we have crossed another fault.

Dropping off Dufton Pike and continuing up the valley of Great Rundale Beck, we came across rocks that look familiar to any walker of the Yorkshire Dales. These are slates and limestone of the Carboniferous period, 350 million years ago. Having dropped down to a younger rock, we must have crossed another fault, a fault that also separates the adjacent Knock Pike and Murton Pike volcanic rock from the rocks of the North Pennines to the east. With all these faults within such a short distance, it is surprising to me that the nearby sedimentary layers of the cliffs on both sides of Great Rundale have survived more or less level. Should I deduce that the North Pennine Faults occurred before these sediments were there, say, 400 million years ago?

We continued up Great Rundale, surprised that the beck within was virtually dry when it clearly causes significant erosion when in the mood, and past a prominent limekiln to reach old mine workings with piles of grey stones that we assumed are of the gritstone that forms the peaty plateau above. Turnbull admits to some difficulty in telling the limestone and gritstone apart so we didn’t attempt a close study. We also didn’t attempt to continue up and over to High Cup Nick as Turnbull did – we had seen enough rocks for one day. So we returned down Great Rundale and around the eastern side of Dufton Pike. We walked past the nicely-named Pus Gill, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its geology. Here there are rocks of Onnian and Lower Longvillian age, forming the most extensive Pusgillian section in the north of England. As you can see, my geology is coming on in leaps and bounds. (OK, I admit it: I pinched that from the Pus Gill SSSI citation.)

[November 2018; NY6825; Dufton – N – Halsteads – NE, SW – Dufton Pike – NE – Threlkeld Side – SW – Dufton; 6 miles; 81/400]

34.  Thieveley Pike and the Singing Ringing Tree

Thieveley Pike (449m) is the highest point of Deerplay Moor, five miles south-east of Burnley. The climb to the top of the moor from the ambitiously-named Cliviger Gorge has a modicum of drama but the top itself is unassuming. It is a smooth, boggy hump with just a trig point and a fence. Still, the views are extensive: to Pendle beyond Burnley, to the West Pennine moors over Rossendale, to the Bowland fells, and, on a clear day, to the Dales Three Peaks – not forgetting about sixty windmills.
Thieveley Pike

From Thieveley Pike towards Burnley and Pendle

However, it seems that the region around Thieveley Pike is too dull for some. It has been enlivened by various sculptures. I headed south past the source of the River Irwell, which flows through Manchester to join the Mersey, to find the Irwell Sculpture Trail or the beginning of it at least because it is said to be England’s largest piece of public art, running for over thirty miles and including some seventy artworks. Unfortunately, I cannot report upon the artworks because I found no sign of or to the Trail where it is marked on the OS map, north of Weir. I understand that the Trail is a work in progress – perhaps it hasn’t yet progressed to the northernmost end of the Trail. Dark clouds were gathering, so I did not prolong my search.

I headed west on the Rossendale Way, aiming for the acclaimed Singing Ringing Tree. But never mind the artworks – I became depressed by the prevailing scruffiness. OK, autumn is an untidy time, with decay in the air and mud on the ground. This, however, does not excuse the rubbish, rusty machinery, rubble, and so on that litters the footpaths and roadsides. It’s as though the standards are set by the old dark stone walls. The walls are all falling down: why bother to tidy up anything else? There are no grants to keep these walls in order, as there are for walls in the Dales and Lakes, because their sombre appearance has no appeal for visitors.

After Sod Hey Farm I thought I might as well walk directly along the road to Crown Point and the Singing Ringing Tree. The Tree was designed by Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu in 2006 and a year later won a Royal Institute of British Architects National Award. It is now the centrepiece of the Wayside Arts Trail. The Tree is one of four Panopticons, the others being near Blackburn, Haslingden and Wycoller. I tried not to let the pretentious re-definition of ‘panopticon’ put me off. The word was first used to describe a prison where all inmates may be monitored and has recently been co-opted for modern surveillance techniques and in photography to describe a kind of panoramic image. The Lancashire structures are called panopticons because they provide a comprehensive view. Actually, the view from the Tree is not that comprehensive: you can’t see far to the south.
Singing Ringing Tree

The Singing Ringing Tree

Contrary to what I said above, the Panopticons were not designed to enliven dull regions: they “were designed to attract visitors into the countryside to enjoy the stunning landscapes.” Can a landscape dominated by a view of Burnley really be stunning? Aren’t visitors attracted to stunning landscapes anyway? Perhaps the designers, knowing that they would be, wanted more visitors to chance upon their artwork. Perhaps it was hoped that fine artworks would encourage people to treat their countryside with more respect than I had seen on my walk here.

In general, do we need sculptures in our countryside? This question rather presumes that we do need sculptures but not necessarily in the countryside. The countryside, it may be thought, speaks for itself. The word ‘countryside’, coming from the Latin contra (or other), implies that the countryside is other than something, the city. What is suitable for one may not be for the other. If sculptures are thought to be intended for the built environment of cities then we might think that they do not belong in the natural countryside.

I am not referring to structures such as cairns which may be more ornamental than their function demands but to works constructed by an artist to be viewed in a countryside setting that have no function other than to have an aesthetic impact upon the viewer. For example, Andy Goldsworthy created a series of artworks based upon old Cumbrian sheepfolds – there is one in Tilberthwaite, another near Cautley Spout, and so on. These works are intended to meld into their surroundings so that a viewer may not even be sure whether they are artworks or not. Most of these creations are ‘land art’, that is, they are created from natural materials. In many cases, land art is intended to be ephemeral and to disappear into its surroundings in due course. Some artworks don’t require materials at all. For example, Richard Long created A Line Made by Walking in 1967 by walking up and down a field, a work considered a formative piece by the Tate Gallery in a 2007 exhibition. (Ah, perhaps we shouldn’t consider our worn hillside tracks as disfigurements but as works of art.)

These, however, are different from the explicitly artistic sculptures that are set prominently in the landscape, such as the Water Cut in Mallerstang, installed in 1998 as one of a series of Eden Benchmarks and indeed the Singing Ringing Tree. I cannot think of anything similar on the Lake District fells although there are sculptures rather tucked away in Grizedale Forest, between Esthwaite and Coniston Water. I can’t picture a Singing Ringing Tree ever being installed on Helvellyn.

Anyway, I appreciated the Singing Ringing Tree as an imaginative reflection on the nature of its location. The main natural element of this exposed setting is the wind, which the sculpture certainly captures. As the name indicates, it is a structure to be heard as well as seen, although the noise of the wind in the pipes was, to me, interesting rather than attractive. Overall, is the Singing Ringing Tree more artistic than the windblown hawthorn tree that might otherwise have occupied this spot?

[November 2018; SD8727; P SE of Holme Chapel – S, W, S – Thieveley Pike – SE, W – Height End, Clifton – N – Burnley Road – NW – Crown Point – E – Singing Ringing Tree – E – Dyneley Farm – SE, N, SE – Holme Chapel, P; 8 miles; 79/400]

33.  Is Nappa Hall Napping - or Dying?

I have it on good authority (in fact that of Historic England) that Nappa Hall, which is near Askrigg in Wensleydale, is “probably the finest and least-spoilt fortified manor house in the north of England.” In that case, it deserved to be the focus for a saunter around the middle of Wensleydale.

The sun that brightened my drive to Wensleydale had disappeared by the time I reached it. Low cloud smothered the hills. All was grey, silent and still. If there were any remnants of autumn colour then they were thoroughly dampened, apart from a few larch which somehow kept their glow. Nothing moved (except a little traffic): it was as if life was preparing for a winter hibernation. I walked over the River Ure, past Bear Park (no, I didn’t see any) and on towards the famous Aysgarth Falls. It wasn’t on my itinerary to visit the falls but I had a quick look at High Force anyway. horned sheep

I continued north to the village of Carperby, where every building that I saw was a fitting stone-grey. The village seemed to disappear into the hillside. There were no white-washed walls although one or two doors had been bravely coloured. Carperby is said to be a village of two centres, a West End and an East End. I only saw the former – perhaps the latter is gayer, but I doubt it. The gloom was getting to me – no doubt Carperby sparkles in the summer sun. I passed only a few buildings but one of them was a Quaker Meeting House (1864) and two were Wesleyan Chapels (1826, 1890). According to its Conservation Area Character Appraisal there are “dramatic views outwards from the village … towards Penhill, Bishopdale and Addlebrough”. I could see absolutely nothing across the valley and not much more of the nearby hills of Carperby Moor.

I followed the Oxclose Road (which is not a road but a bridleway path) west for three miles. It is a good path for striding out, which is the best thing to do when the only scars to be seen are not the limestone scars to the north but the scars of old lead mines near the track. The murk was harder to accept knowing that it was sunny just five miles south. The only cheery sight was of two hares lively enough to indicate that they do not have the myxomatosis that is said to be spreading from rabbits to hares. I was momentarily excited by a sheep with impressive horns, which shows how dull this walk had been.

Eventually I dropped down to Nappa Hall. The first impression is of large, solid grey edifice in need of repair – understandably so, since it is mainly of the 15th century. It was built by the Metcalfe family after land was given to James Metcalfe of Worton by Sir Richard Scrope of nearby Bolton Castle following service at Agincourt in 1415. The hall is probably more due to James’s son, Thomas, since James would have been getting on a bit by the time of most of the building, in the 1470s. Thereafter, for three centuries, the Metcalfes set about consolidating and enhancing their status in the region. They played a leading part in thwarting Scottish invasions of northern England and took on various administrative roles. For example, Christopher Metcalfe became High Sheriff of Yorkshire, a position of power he emphasised by having a retinue of 300 Metcalfes on white horses accompanying him to the York assizes in 1556. The Metcalfes energetically propagated their name, so much so that by the end of the Middle Ages the Metcalfe family was thought to be the largest in England (Muir, 1991). They seem to have had something of the nature of a Scottish clan – indeed, the Metcalfe Society today refers to the ‘Metcalfe clan’.
Nappa Hall

Nappa Hall (sorry, the cloud droplets have fuzzied this photo)

Nappa Hall reflected the growing wealth and status of medieval rural gentry. It has a long hall and two towers, of four and two storeys, with crenellated parapets that give an impression of defensibility. Subsequent alterations by the Metcalfe family are, according to a Historic England report, “not indicative of great wealth or having distinguished craftsmen at command”. After the Metcalfes left Nappa Hall in the 1750s it was occupied by tenant farmers. They had little incentive to maintain the whole building, and parts of it, such as the high tower, suffered from neglect. The wealthy owners did have schemes for the Hall, such as converting it into a shooting lodge, and it seems that a stable and coach house were added but the original Hall remains substantially intact.

Members of the Metcalfe family moved back into Nappa Hall in 1889 but sold it in 2008 to the publican and artist, Mark Thompson. He put forward plans to renovate the Hall, including converting some of the Hall and outbuildings for holiday lets. However in 2014 it was reported that Thompson, although “in the middle of restoring Nappa Hall”, was moving to Greece. I don’t know what the situation is today.

To me, it seemed that Nappa Hall was grey, silent and still, like almost everything else I’d seen. A close inspection is not possible but I could see no sign of habitation or on-going work. There was nobody about and no cars parked. From the road there was nothing to even indicate that Nappa Hall was there – and I saw no indication that the building is of any significance. If Nappa Hall is as moribund as it seems to be and if it’s as important as Historic England says it is then it’s rather sad. But if all those Metcalfes don’t care about it, why should I? I cheered myself up on the walk back, along the old railway line and by the River Ure, by admiring the many fine barns, which are, in general, much more substantial structures than the acclaimed field barns of Swaledale to the north. The sun never made it to Wensleydale.
River Ure

The River Ure, still under cloud

[November 2018; SD9988; P on A684 – N, E – Bear Park – SE – High Force – N – Carperby – NW – Oxclose Gate – W, NW on bridleway – Heugh – S – Nappa Scar Farm, Nappa Hall, old railway line – SE, along railway line, by river – P on A684; 9 miles; 77/400]

32.  Russet Rusland Valley

Norman Nicholson (1914-1987), Lakeland poet and author, was adamant that there is more to the Lake District than high peaks and large lakes, and for two good reasons. First, he emphasised the contribution that ‘fringe’ regions made to the culture and heritage of the Lake District. He lived all his life in Millom, in the south-west corner of Cumbria, and he naturally wanted to ensure that Millom and its residents were not overlooked in any account of the Lake District. I am not competent to judge Nicholson’s poetry but I like his comment when referring to a Keswick dining-room’s stained glass windows depicting the Lake Poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey and so on) that “it seems a pity they could not have left one window blank in case another local poet turned up” (Nicholson, 1969, p28).

Secondly, he was correct. Take, for example, the Rusland Valley, which lies between the southern ends of Windermere and Coniston Water and is thus hardly a fringe region, lying as it does within the Lake District National Park. It has no high peaks surrounding it. It has no large lakes – in fact, it has no lakes at all. The brochures do not encourage any visitor to travel to the Rusland Valley. And yet “it is a dale which has retained much of the look and tone of what southern Lakeland must have been before the tourists discovered it” (Nicholson, 1969).

However, Nicholson was writing fifty years ago. I went to see if the same might be said today. I went first to Pool Foot, where Rusland Pool joins the River Leven before entering Morecambe Bay. Rusland Pool is not a pool but it is hardly a river either. It barely moves, completely lacking the sprightliness of typical Lakeland becks. I walked to Bouth, which is the valley’s largest gathering of houses, about thirty of them. In the past, people lived scattered about the valley, making a living from the pastures and the forests, through farming, coppicing, charcoal-burning, and so on. Some of the houses have names that self-consciously echo that heritage, such as The Cooperage and Creel Cottage. I saw a notice advertising the work of Rusland Horizons, a “community-led Landscape Partnership Scheme” that aims to revive traditional woodland skills in the region. Although I saw only two workmen on this walk (collecting logs in Crooks Pastures), there was much evidence of on-going work in the woods and the footpath trails were exemplary. I gained the impression that the locals were proud of their hidden valley. I don’t know what exactly they do to earn a living. There’s a pub, a caravan park, a farm with a café, and of course plenty of sheep and cows, but I noticed nothing else that would bring any income. No doubt many of the few houses are now holiday homes.

I continued north on the road to the Hay Bridge Nature Reserve. As the road is a cul-de-sac there is very little traffic. I was passed by one car – or rather, I passed it: it was stationary. It was a very pleasant walk, through fields and woods, with views of surrounding woodland resplendent in their late autumn colours. The enclosing hills are low but high enough to screen all views of the high peaks. I passed a pond and then a larger one, but it was still not large enough for a name, although the hide nearby is named Harold’s Hide (I assume those to whom it matters know which Harold that is).
Rusland Pool

Rusland Moss

And then on to Hulleter Moss and Rusland Moss, a National Nature Reserve. These complete the impression that we are a world away from conventional Lakeland. There could hardly be a greater contrast than that between Scafell Pike and these mosses. The mosses are lowland raised mires, a habitat rare in Cumbria. The ‘raised’ means that the middle of the mire tends to accumulate more decaying vegetation and hence, over centuries, becomes slightly higher than the fringes. To the untrained eye the mosses are flat. They present an extensive vista of high, light-brown grasses and reeds, whispering gently in the breeze, with birch and pine growing on drier patches. It would be impossible to cross the mires safely without the boardwalks provided. According to an 1850 map online, spring tides reached inland as far as Rusland Moss, and I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t do so today. The OS today marks the normal tidal limit at Crooks Bridge, some two miles south of Rusland Moss, but I saw no barrier to further in-flow. Whether this affects the special nature of the moss habitat I cannot say.

I walked past Rusland Hall and noticed that a house called The Syke (which was for sale) had a flock of Ouessant sheep, which I had never heard of. Perhaps you would inherit the Ouessants if you buy The Syke. On to Rusland Church, perched on a knoll. It is big enough to welcome all within walking distance and their cattle too. In the graveyard, by a huge, old yew, is the modest grave of Arthur Ransome (1884-1967), who wrote Swallows and Amazons. He lived the last years of his life at Hill Top – no, not Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top, but the Hill Top a few miles south in the Rusland Valley. Neither Hill Top is atop a hill.
Rusland Moss

South from Rusland Church

The map boldly marks ‘Rusland’ hereabouts but does not seem to refer to anything particular. The signpost at Rusland Church points back south to ‘Rusland’, so I took the church to be the northern end of the Rusland Valley. I walked back through the woodland on the eastern side. If you want a woodland walk then you could hardly do better than this. There were a few yews, as you might hope, in Yewbarrow Wood (a Special Area of Conservation) but the star trees were the tall beeches, aglow in the lowering sun, although perhaps just past their best.

I saw no squirrels or deer. Surely, there would have been more wildlife here when Nicholson was a boy. Commendable efforts are being made to protect the valley’s special habitats, the mosses and the woodland, and to revive old traditions – but the fact that a ‘Landscape Partnership scheme’ needs to revive them tells us that the valley is, inevitably, not as it was. However, Nicholson has a point: the Rusland Valley is a worthy part of the Lake District. It provides contrast, not competition, to the majestic central regions. Actually, I did see one deer. It was tame, in the garden of Old Hall Farm.

[October 2018; SD3484; Haverthwaite, by Anglers Arms – W – Pool Foot – N – Pool Bridge – NW – Bouth – N – Burn Knott, Low Hay Bridge – N, across Hulleter Moss, Rusland Moss – N – Rusland Church – S – Rusland Cross – E – Hall Brow Wood – S – Border Moss Wood – SW – Crooks Bridge, Pool Bridge – E, S, E – Haverthwaite; 10 miles; 74/400]

31.  Pink Stones on the Orton Fells

The stone circle one mile east of Orton is magical but not because of its location or its structure. Compared to the Castlerigg stone circle near Keswick, with its large monoliths in a dramatic setting with a panoramic view, the Orton circle is uninspiring, being set in the corner of an ordinary field, with little view, and being composed of relatively small, prone stones. Not prune stones, prone stones. These stones have obviously fallen from the white limestone cliffs of the Orton Fells to the north and in the process of rolling down to form this circle have been metamorphosed into pink granite. That sounds magical to me.

Geologists have another theory. They say that a different trick has been played upon us. When we weren’t looking, during the last Ice Age, the pink stones were slipped here by glaciers from where the Shap Pink Quarry now is, five miles to the west. They call the stones ‘erratics’. Neolithic men and women must have gathered up 32 of them, plus one limestone boulder by mistake, to make this circle. Now, if the geologists’ theory were correct then the erratics wouldn’t just be in this one field – they would be scattered all around the region. So I would look out for them on this walk around the Orton Fells. I wouldn’t pause or divert from my route but I’d just see how many pink granite boulders I’d come across along the way.

I headed east on what is part of the Coast-to-Coast walk and by the time I reached the road at Acres I’d already spotted eleven ‘pinks’, including two in the wall of a barn (so, 43 in total). I saw another seven (50) around the hamlet of Sunbiggin, where I noticed that they have recently set up a Coast-2-Coast Café. I wonder how well it does, in this spot out-of-the-way except for those walkers. I pressed on to Sunbiggin Moor, where although this heathery land has probably never been cultivated I didn’t see any pinks. Perhaps I was distracted by the views of autumn mist lifting from the Howgill valleys and from Wild Boar Fell.
Orton Fells

Sunbiggin and the Orton Fells from Sunbiggin Moor

Turning north, I came upon a pink so big that it has a name, Mitchell’s Stone (51). It is embedded in the wall that forms the parish boundary. Next I walked up and over the limestone terraces of Great Kinmond, with fine views opening out of the North Pennines ahead and of the Lake District hills to the west, with the distinctive profile of Blencathra prominent. I saw another pink when I reached the bridleway and a further seven close by the path further north (59). Here the soil had turned a dark red, which I assume is the influence of Penrith Red Sandstone.

I continued to the ancient settlement near Maisongill which the Historic England website considers to be “a good example of a Romano-British enclosed hut circle settlement”. To me, it seemed to be a set of strange humps in a field, with a few stones sort-of-aligned. There were two pinks (61) among the stones. This region appeared to be prime farming land, with lush green fields well stocked with contented cattle and sheep. I passed six more pinks (67) in the fields and by the fine track over Asby Winderwath Common up to the Great Asby Scar gate.
Great Asby Scar

Great Asby Scar

Here Natural England has fenced off an area as part of a Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve. The absence of grazers naturally leads to a change in the vegetation. The limestone terraces heretofore had been rather bare, with just the occasional shrub surviving the attentions of the sheep. Here, heather and small shrubs-cum-trees are recolonising. It is a rather captivating, secluded area among limestone outcrops that I imagine at other times of the year has a more impressive display of flowers. I had forgotten about the pinks until I stepped on one embedded in the path (68).

I cut across to see the Thunder Stone, another large pink embedded in a wall, spotting another pink on the way there, and on over Beacon Hill to the road, seeing three more pinks on the way (73). The path down to Broadfell passes fields that have a number of large stones within. With my new expertise at identifying pinks, I’d confidently say, from a distance, that these are also pinks. I counted twelve (85), and, since I’d otherwise have to trespass with a tape measure, I declare two of them joint winners of the largest pink prize. They looked about two metres round. The glaciers did well to shift those.
Thunder Stone

The Thunder Stone with North Pennines beyond

The beck flowing past Broadfell seemed somewhat jaunty and not fully settled into its bed. At a wee bridge at least eight pinks (93) had been used to protect the bank. I saw three pinks in the beck, two beside it (98) and I suspect many protecting it, overgrown with moss. At this point, two buzzards circled noisily above – which made me realise that the Orton Fells had been devoid of bird sound, unless you count a helicopter.

Entering the village of Orton, I noticed three large pinks embedded in garden walls, two used as garden ornaments, and about twenty positioned along grass verges – all before I’d reached the ice-cream shop. I stopped counting. Clearly, the residents of Orton are fond of their pinks. Yes, the pink granite boulders are well scattered around the Orton Fells. The geologists might be on to something.

[October 2018; NY6208; Orton – E – Street, stone circle, Acres, Sunbiggin Moor – N – Mitchell’s Stone – N, NW, N on Dales High Way – settlement – NW, SW on Sayle Lane, SW – Great Asby Scar, Thunder Stone – SW – Beacon Hill, quarry – S – Broadfell, Orton; 11 miles; 72/400]

Previous Saunterings

     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)
     Pre-Saunterings   


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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018

Blencathra

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