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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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     57.   A Blowy Lowsy Point   
     56.   Cross Fell: The Apex of England   
     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   
     Previous Saunterings   

57.  A Blowy Lowsy Point

Northern Rail again failed to deliver me to the Cumbrian west coast in a timely fashion (see 44) 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.
Lowsy Point

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. Whipped piles of foam were being moved, inch-by-inch, up the beach by the tide. Occasionally, a cloud of it was whisked 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 (1775-1813) and George Romney (1734-1802). The former 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”. I wonder what he did in his spare time. George Romney 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.

I would like to record the fact that in nearly two hours in Dalton I saw nobody smile.

[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 survey 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.
Eden valley

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.
Cross Fell

Approaching the top of Cross Fell (trig point, wind shelter and cairn)

leaving Cross Fell

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

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

I envy lepidopterists. I wish I could identify a butterfly from a glimpse as it disappears over the foliage. Butterflies don’t help much. While many common ones (red admiral, peacock, orange tip, and so on) are distinctive, some of the rare ones (such as the high brown fritillary and small pearl-bordered fritillary) – the ones I’d really like to see – are too similar to other butterflies (dark green fritillary and pearl-bordered fritillary, respectively). Moths are worse. There are about 2,500 British moths, compared to about 60 British butterflies, and most of them are too, well, mothy.

One convenient thing about butterflies is that many of them are very fussy. They will only live in specific places at specific times. It’s not like searching for, say, a stoat, which you may see but probably won’t at anytime anywhere. If you want to see a Glanville fritillary then you’ll just have to go to the Isle of Wight in May or June. Incidentally, the Glanville fritillary is the only one of our butterflies that is named after a person, unless there really was a red admiral, a Duke of Burgundy, and so on. Eleanor Glanville (1654-1709) was so keen on her butterfly studies that her family was able to invalidate her will on the grounds of her insanity.

She was the first person to describe the early life of the high brown fritillary, the butterfly that I decided to focus upon on this outing. The limestone plateau of Whitbarrow in south Lakeland (which forms the Whitbarrow National Nature Reserve) is renowned for its butterflies, as well as its geology, its plants and its views. As I do not have the years of experience necessary to identify a butterfly from the merest flash of colour, or from its particular style of flying, or from the kind of habitat it is in, or from some intangible, unspecifiable characteristic, I set off intending to bask in the anticipated plethora of butterflies around me. However, I would also keep an eye open for the high brown fritillary, which is a ‘critically endangered’ butterfly found on Whitbarrow by those with the expertise to do so.

I mugged up on the high brown fritillary as well as I was able. I knew what it looked like (large, orange, black markings, with a distinctive underwing, to be seen if it’s feeding on brambles), where it lived (scrub or woodland on limestone with bracken), where it flew (it’s most often seen flying fast over bracken in sunshine), and when it was most likely to be spotted (in July). According to Barkham (2010), the high brown fritillary “possessed a vim and dash that gave it deserved pre-eminence among our northern butterflies”.

So, hoping for a bit of vim and dash, I set off, butterflying (if 'birding' is a word then 'butterflying' must be). The walk from Row in the Lyth Valley soon brought me up to the limestone terraces of the Township Allotment of Whitbarrow, where large orange butterflies were immediately prominent. I was reminded of Haruki Murakami’s comment (in 1Q84 (Murakami, 2011)) that "hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end.” They weren’t commas but they did cause me to pause in my walking. However, they refused to settle to allow me to study their underwings.

From Whitbarrow, Bow Fell in the centre

I continued over to the west wall, where a magnificent panorama opened out and developed as I walked south to the highest point at Lord’s Seat. Griffin (1991, included in Griffin (2005), p184) says that the panorama “cannot be excelled on a good day” – and this was a good day – “a view … surely the most embracing in England from a mere 700ft height”. It encompassed the western Dales hills, the Howgills and many of the Lakes peaks, with Bow Fell and the Langdale Pikes centre stage.

Fine as the view is I couldn’t just sit and admire it all day. I continued with my butterflies to the wall that separates Flodder and Farrer’s Allotments. Here I had intended to walk back through the woodland to the east but it looked difficult going, over limestone pavements, through bracken, and around trees and shrubs. I decided instead to return along the ridge in order to continue enjoying the view. First, however, I noticed a crowd of people at a cairn further south, so I thought I’d go to see what they were up to. It turned out to be a group with about thirty 10-year-olds. The local wildlife became more boisterous.

From Whitbarrow, Red Screes in the centre

I did indeed see many butterflies on the walk, and delightful they were. I did not get too hung up on identifying them. If you’re not careful this kind of thing can become an obsession. I have passed the stage of wanting to see every species of butterfly, to visit every lake, to climb every mountain, to follow every byway, to ford every stream. If it matters, I believe that I saw common blue, dark green fritillary, meadow brown, painted lady, pearl-bordered fritillary (and possibly small pearl-bordered fritillary), speckled wood (in the Township Plantation), and no doubt a few more.

Did I see any high brown fritillaries? According to Barkham (2010), “to mere mortals, the high brown and dark green are indistinguishable in flight. At rest, if you can see their underwings, it is relatively easy to tell them apart … In summer, however, these two butterflies both roar around in the sunshine and are not inclined to show you their underwings.” I am a more mere mortal than most so I will just say that it is possible that I would have identified at least one of the hundreds of dark greens as a high brown, if only they’d let me.

[July 2019; SD4589; on A5074 near Row – NW, SW – west wall on Township Allotment – S – Lord’s Seat, cairn above Low Crag Wood – N – Lord’s Seat – NE, N through Township Plantation – Row – E – A5074 ; 7 miles; 128/400]

54.  Follies around Flusco

The region west of Penrith and north of the A66 lies just outside the Lake District National Park. It is ignored by most visitors to Cumbria, who speed on to Keswick to enjoy the scenery of Derwent Water, Borrowdale and Skiddaw. The residents of this quiet farming region around Greystoke have views of the Lake District but must feel not part of it. In consequence, perhaps, they have endowed their otherwise ordinary buildings with a quirkiness not normally associated with the Cumbrian character. I set out to stroll along these lanes and through these villages looking for architectural oddities.

I headed first for what’s called the Summer House on Flusco Pike. It is a small, rather ornate, roofed cuboid atop a hillock. If it ever served as a summer house then it would have been on better days than I had, with a strong wind, spits of rain in the air, and cloud hiding the Lakeland hill-tops.
Flusco Pike

The Summer House on Flusco Pike

I noticed on the map south of Flusco Pike a couple of tiny ‘access areas’ and, in fact, half-a-dozen more nearby. I had a look at a few of them and they were all nondescript wasteland. Maybe, when the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 came into force, the local councils felt they needed to find some access land – since there are swathes of it in the Lake District – and contributed whatever parcels of useless land they could. Certainly, nobody (apart from me) will visit them.

I walked north on a track by Silver Field where the Penrith Hoard of 10th century silver brooches (now in the British Museum) was found. The path then passed a large landfill site. It is good to be reminded – but not too often – of what we have to do to deal with the mess we make. At the end of the track was a sign for Ullswater Heights describing it as “The Lake District’s Newest Holiday Park”. Any holidaymaker disappointed that it is not actually within the National Park has the consolation of the noise and smell of the landfill site.

I passed Flusco Wood’s ‘Luxury Holiday Lodges’ and the Beckstones Art Gallery and then headed north as I was intrigued by what looked like a racetrack marked on the map. Indeed it was, part of Nicky Richards Racing, Nicky being the son of famous trainer Gordon Richards, who trained two Grand National winners. Ten fine, rather frisky, racehorses were in the field and, as the footpath is shown going right through the racetrack, I feared that the horses would challenge me to a race. I trespassed to escape and made my way towards Fort Putnam and Bunkers Hill.

These two names may sound familiar. They are sites of engagements in the American War of Independence. The names are on our map because, apparently, the owner, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, wanted to show his support for the rebel colonists and to irritate hostile Tory neighbours. I cannot say if the buildings resemble anything at their American counterparts but I can say that they look decidedly odd in this location. Today Fort Putnam has been converted into dwellings and Bunkers Hill is a dairy – “udderly good, from moo to u” (don’t blame me).
Fort Putnam

Fort Putnam, from the west

Bunkers Hill

Bunkers Hill and Blencathra, from near Spire House

I then walked north to the village of Blencow (Great and Little) in order to have a look at Blencow Hall. To appreciate the hall today it is necessary to see the before-and-after Blencow Hall. Before its renovation the left tower was split by a wide gash and the right tower had lost its battlements. Somehow new rooms have been incorporated within the gashed tower, with the gash remaining as a feature.

I paused at the village green of Blencow for a sandwich and as I sat there surrounded by a dozen or so houses I realised that they all had different styles – different brickwork, colours, stonework. No disrespect, as I am sure they are fine houses, but I rather preferred the old terrace, with its old laundry, post office and smithy. Further along the road I came to the grand house of Ennim, the home for over forty years of William Whitelaw (Margaret Thatcher’s right-hand man – “every prime minister needs a Willie”). I always felt rather close to William Whitelaw. I once leapt onto a train just as it was leaving the station and landed in his commodious lap. Anyway, Ennim, for anyone who wants to buy it (and it looked rather unoccupied), has bullet-proof windows because of Whitelaw’s stint as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. You never know when that might be useful.
Spire House

Spire House and Cross Fell, from near Bunkers Hill

I walked on to Spire House, which is a house with a spire. This is the 11th Duke of Norfolk’s handiwork again. What he was playing at here I neither know nor care. It’s not the most impressive spire anyway – more like a dunce’s cap. Next I passed Clickham Inn, as I had to because it was closed, at Clickem, as the OS map spells it, and finally walked south through the village of Newbiggin, passing Tymparon Hall, which is said to be the oldest hall in the region but too far from the road for me to see clearly, and several recently-restored wells. Newbiggin seems fond of its wells, which is fair enough as the wells brought the village here.

So, I met some odd buildings on this walk but are any of them, strictly speaking, follies? It is impossible to say because any definition of ‘folly’ is bound to include subjective terms. For example, Folly by Design, a company that makes follies and should therefore know what they are, says that “A folly is an ornamental structure whose creation reflects a whimsical inclination on the part of the builder”. But what precisely is ‘ornamental’? Almost every building has an element of ornamentation. And who can say whether the builder was whimsically inclined? The Folly Fellowship, established in 1988 to “protect, preserve and promote follies”, declines to give a brief definition. Instead it gives hundreds of examples – including the four in the photographs above: Flusco Pike, Fort Putnam, Bunkers Hill and Spire House.

[June 2019; NY4728; Newbiggin (by Hawbank House) – N, SW – Flusco Pike – S – two tiny access areas – N, SW – Flusco Bridge – N, W – Beckstones Art Gallery – N – Old Rectory Farm – E – Red Barn – N, E – Fort Putnam, Bunkers Hill – E – Fort Putnam – NE, N – Little Blencow – SW – Blencow Hall – NE – Little Blencow – SE – Spire House, Clickem – S - Newbiggin ; 8 miles; 126/400]

53.  Why? On the Wyre Way

The Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is known for its windswept heather moorlands and blanket bogs but below the moors there is the timeless serenity of undulating lush green pastures with hawthorn hedgerows, grey walls and scattered stone farmsteads, with farmers going about their work as they have done for centuries. The upper part of the Wyre Way passes through some of these pastures. The Wyre Way runs from the Wyre estuary at Fleetwood to not quite its source(s). At Abbeystead the Way cannot decide which of the two branches is the major one and therefore splits in two, the right path following the Marshaw Wyre and the left one the Tarnbrook Wyre. Then, halfway along, both paths abandon the attempt to reach their sources (on Threaphaw Fell and Tarnbrook Fell respectively) and instead proceed across country to join up, thus creating a triangular loop at the top end of the Wyre Way.

I began at Tower Lodge, at the end of the Marshaw Wyre path, and headed for Tarnbrook. I was accompanied by a distant cuckoo and several too-close-for-comfort lapwings, no doubt annoyed that I was disturbing their nesting. Many fields had been freshly manured to ensure that I knew I was on farmland. Views of Ward’s Stone and Hawthornthwaite Fell opened out. I noticed that a new building was taking shape at the foot of the track up Tarnbrook Fell, which makes a change from seeing abandoned rural houses. The quiet stone cottages at Tarnbrook were much as I remembered them and the more refined village of Abbeystead also seemed unchanged. Children still played in the grounds of the small Abbeystead school, founded in 1664.
Hind Hill

Ward's Stone from Hind Hill

Sixteen people died. Eight died instantly and another eight died later from their injuries. The other twenty-eight people present were seriously injured. You will not learn these raw facts from the discreet plaque commemorating the Abbeystead disaster that is placed by a building just past the reservoir. Needless to say, the explosion on May 23rd 1984 – thirty-five years ago, to the day – shattered the serenity of the region and the lives of many.

The most straightforward summary of the Abbeystead disaster that I have come across is that by Kletz (2000):
“In 1984, at Abbeystead, Lancashire, water was pumped from one river [the River Lune at Caton] to another [the River Wyre at Abbeystead] through a tunnel. When pumping was stopped some water was allowed to drain out of the tunnel and leave a void. Methane seeping from the rocks below accumulated in the void. When pumping was restarted the methane was pushed through vent valves into an underground valve-house where it exploded, killing 16 people. If the operating staff had known that methane might be present, they could have prevented the explosion by keeping the tunnel full of water or by discharging the gas from the vent valves into the open air … The official report said that while references to the presence of dissolved methane in water supply systems had been traced in published literature they were not generally known to engineers concerned with water supply schemes. Nevertheless it is surprising that a vent was routed into a pump-house. It seems that this was done because the local authority objected in principle to any equipment that might spoil the view.”
That last sentence comes as a shock. It suggests that the disaster was our fault – that by insisting, through our councillors, that the environment should not be spoiled we risked the safety of the installation. Can we not insist on both, the safety and the environment, especially within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty? If the designers cannot protect the public and the environment then the work should not proceed.
Top of Emmetts

Sheep, hawthorn, Grit Fell and Ward's Stone from near Top of Emmetts

In the parliamentary debate the day after the explosion, a local MP expressed the commonly held “incredulity that such an incident could have happened at a plant which posed no danger”. The subsequent Health and Safety Executive report of 1985 described the Lune-Wyre Transfer Scheme, the explosion and its causes but it was not explicit about any blame. It said, for example, that “smoking in the valve-house was not prohibited because the likelihood of a flammable atmosphere arising there had not been envisaged” but it didn’t say whether it should or could reasonably have been envisaged. The HSE was hardly in a position to do so because it had itself rated the installation as ‘low risk’ when it was commissioned in 1980. The inquest, accepting the implication that what happened could not have been anticipated, duly returned verdicts of accidental death.

But was the presence of methane such a surprise? I am no geologist or engineer but even I knew that there had been small-scale coal mining here in past centuries and that methane results from coal extraction. Hudson (2000) gives details of the ‘Caton collieries’ that mined a coal seam along the Caton-Quernmore-Littledale boundary. He writes that “the Minute Books of Lancaster Corporation show income from the town’s drift mine on the moor and coal mines in Quernmore from before 1680” and that the Gresgarth estate was put up for sale in 1801 with the advert “For sale Grassyard Park, Hall, land and collieries included.” This coal-mining history was not mentioned at all in the HSE report, presumably because geologists concluded that the methane did not come from near-surface coal but from deeper mudstones – but surely the possibility of methane should have been in the designers’ minds. A subsequent court case found the designers “liable in negligence for failing to exercise ‘reasonable care’ in assessing the risk of methane”. However, nobody was prosecuted. It may be relevant that ultimately this disaster was the responsibility of government, since the body in charge, North-West Water Authority, was at that time a regional authority, not a private company.

The disaster happened in an out-of-the-way location and may be put out-of-mind by those not directly affected. But two final thoughts: What if the explosion had happened, as it equally could have, at the opening ceremony, when the Queen was present? And are we absolutely sure that those now carrying out engineering work, such as fracking, in our region are not also incompetent and cavalier with our safety?

I looked at the plaque again. If those affected by this disaster were content with this plaque then I should not comment, but I can’t help asking questions. Why is the Duke of Westminster’s name there (in large font)? Why are those who died not named? It’s not as though their names are unknown. Do they not deserve more respect than a bland “those … who lost their lives”? Isn’t the biblical quotation singularly inappropriate? Or are religious people able to reflect upon such an event in terms of the ‘path of life’ and ‘joy’? Since the Duke wanted his name prominently on the plaque then he must expect questions (and we have a right to ask them since we paid for this project). Was (some of) the work carried out on his land? If so, did he receive payment for it and, if so, how much? Did the explosion happen on his land? Did he contribute from his £9 billion to the fund for the families of the victims? Most of the 44 people present at the explosion were from the village of St Michael’s on Wyre, here to be reassured about the pump’s operation, and there is a more fitting memorial in the St Michael’s church.

So: a misguided project, negligently designed, carelessly managed, inadequately reviewed, shamefully handled by the authorities – and then this pathetic plaque. I needed to move on. I continued on the Wyre Way to Long Bridge, passing an array of thirty-two dead moles in varying states of decay pinned to a wire. I realise that it is the local custom for mole-catchers to display their success but I am at a loss to understand what harm moles do in these pastures.
Catshaw Hall

Cows, Grit Fell and Ward's Stone from near Catshaw Hall

Across the bridge I passed through a cluster of farm buildings at Catshaw, with the Hall bearing a date of 1678, and then dropped down to the weir. Sadly, I had another view of the pump-house across the Wyre. I continued to be amazed that such an explosion occurred at such a location, so peaceful on every other day. If you asked the devil to devise a way to kill sixteen people here then I doubt that even he could have come up with such a scheme.

I walked back along the Wyre Way, across many fields and by the beck running prettily past pine and oak trees. In all, on this walk I saw 312 cows and 2,892 sheep. No, I must not risk losing the hard-earned trust that you have in the accuracy of these missives: let’s just say that I saw a lot of cows and even more sheep.

[May 2019; SD3676; Tower Lodge – N, NW (on Wyre Way) – Tarnbrook – SW – Abbeystead, Long Bridge – SE, NE (off Wyre Way) – weir – E (on Wyre Way) – Stoops Bridge, Marshaw, Tower Lodge; 9 miles; 123/400]

52.  Morecambe Bay - from Cark to Grange-over-Sands

Words are like people. Some I know well; some I think I know but don’t really; some I recognise but never interact with; some I have never met. In the last set until recently was the word ‘liminal’. ‘Subliminal’ I know but the word from which it is derived had escaped me. ‘Liminal’ is there in the dictionary (to be precise, it is in one of my three dictionaries) so I have to accept that it is a bona fide word. Perhaps I am now seeing the word because I have begun reading the literature where it tends to be used, that is, rather lyrical, perhaps pretentious, nature writing.

What does ‘liminal’ mean? According to the dictionary, liminal is an adjective derived from the noun ‘limen’, meaning “the limit below which a stimulus is not perceived”. So it’s to do with this perceptual threshold, but how exactly? Normally with an unfamiliar word I can make a stab at its meaning from the context. What does it mean in the following context? “The Museum of Scotland offers a lexicon of spatial types to suit the collection's variety of objects, artificially locating them within a recognizable domain. Circulation occupies a liminal zone, offering a contrapuntal journey beyond the taxonomy of collections or chronology” (Benson, The Architectural Review, 2003). Authors seem happy to use the word – frequently – without feeling the need to clarify for dim readers. I am afraid that for me the meaning of ‘liminal’ remains below my perceptual threshold. I wouldn’t dare use it myself.

Nonetheless, I expect that it is an excellent word to describe Morecambe Bay. It is a region of perceptual thresholds – from sand to mud, from mud to water, from water to sky. And these thresholds are perpetually changing, hour by hour and day by day. The tides, the sunsets and the seasons generate an evolving palette to delight any lyricist. Yes, I am sure that Morecambe Bay is liminal.

I resolved to investigate the liminality of Morecambe Bay from a new angle (for me), from its northern coast between Cark and Grange-over-Sands. I headed first to Lenibrick Point on the estuary of the River Leven. I could barely see the river, for it flows far over on the other side. The tide was out and the whole inlet seemed to be of sand. Beyond was Ulverston, with its incongruous lighthouse. Inland I could see only the Coniston group of hills but the haze had rendered them a featureless grey.
Cartmel Sands

Cartmel Sands, Ulverston and the Coniston hills from Lenibrick Point

As I continued to Cowpren Point, Heysham Power Station – or at least the rectangular shape of it – came into view some eight miles away across the bay. Beyond that, however, the Fylde coast and Fleetwood could not be seen. The bay itself seemed to be mainly sand or mud all the way to Heysham, with just a few streaks of water glittering in the sun. The heat haze made it difficult to distinguish sea from sky. Walney Island appeared to be a mirage floating in the air.

Turning east, I strode out on what’s called the Old Embankment. Sheep dotted the marsh-land on the bay-side and inland the fields seemed over-populated with cows but the only sound to be heard was that of skylarks. The fields inland were resplendent with the white blossom of hawthorn. Are we allowed to call hawthorn ‘may’ in other months of the year? At West Plain Farm I thought about trying the New Embankment to find a short-cut to Wyke Farm but it is not shown as a public footpath and it might well end at an unfordable ditch, causing an extra three miles to be walked.

So I turned inland to walk around what’s marked on the map as Cark Airfield, although I could see no sign of airfield activities. A somewhat depressing walk along the road passed a motley collection of activities – car services, Bay Search and Rescue headquarters, Flookburgh Fishermen, Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding Company, and so on – and brought me, after almost walking in a circle, to within half a mile from where I had started!

I headed east along the quiet, long and dull lane towards the promontory of Humphrey Head. If I had thought that the view would justify the effort I would have walked up to its highest point (it’s only 53m). But it wouldn’t, so I didn’t. I regretted my laziness later. Humphrey Head could have been the highlight of this walk, even without the clearest views, but my energy and enthusiasm had wilted during the hot trudge from West Plain Farm. However, I perked up as I emerged on the other side of Humphrey Head to be faced with a fine view across the marsh, the sand, and the river of the Kent Channel to Arnside Knott. It was a challenge to identify the grey shapes of the Dales hills beyond. To the south, I could make out the Bowland hills but I could see no detail, such as the Caton windmills. The bay itself was quiet and inactive. There seemed too little water for any action.
Arnside Knott

Arnside Knott and the Kent Channel from Humphrey Head

A tempting path curved east, where Wainwright (1974) encouraged what looks like a trespass across the railway line at Kents Bank but I had no guarantee that it was still possible or safe. So I detoured away from the bay again to get around Kirkhead. Its tower is a prominent feature on this walk and its caves were found to contain the oldest human remains in northern Britain (Lloyd, 2016). However, it is all out of bounds, as many ‘private’ signs told me. After dropping down to the railway line, it was now a simple matter to follow its adjacent promenade all the way to Grange-over-Sands. Here I became increasingly intermingled with holiday-making strollers. I paused to peek at the old Lido, which recently featured in the TV programme The Bay and which the Save Grange Lido campaign is trying to resuscitate. It’s something of a miracle that its remains are still there to be resuscitated.

I had time before my train for an ice-cream and to mull over the name, Grange-over-Sands. I can imagine someone at, say, Morecambe, pointing and saying “that’s Grange, over the sands” but to the people in Grange-over-Sands it is not ‘over the sands’. Why do Grange residents accept a name bestowed on it by non-residents? Why don’t they insist on a name that suits the place from their point of view? Are there any other places that have names that are appropriate only to people who don’t live there?

[May 2019; SD3676; (linear) Cark railway station – NW, SW – Lenibrick Point – S – Cowpren Point – E – West Plain Farm – N, E – Holme, Wyke Farm – N, E, SE – Kents Bank railway station – NE – Grange-over-Sands railway station; 10 miles; 119/400]

Footnote: After my troubles detailed in 44 I should note that I enjoyed an exemplary rail journey to Cark. £5.15 for a return trip in such scenery is a bargain!

51.  On Wild Boar Fell

I try nowadays to think in terms of walking on a hill, not up a hill. If I said that I intended to walk up Wild Boar Fell then you would naturally assume that I aimed to reach the top in order to admire the views of the Howgills and the Lake District and, from the eastern flank, of Mallerstang and the upper Eden valley. The many on-line descriptions of Wild Boar Fell walks all eulogise exactly that. If, however, after stating my intention, I did not reach the top then I would be considered an abject failure, with a permanent stain on my character.

An intention to walk on Wild Boar Fell is vaguer. Wild Boar Fell covers a huge area between Mallerstang and the A683 into Rawtheydale. It is possible to wander all day on Wild Boar Fell without reaching the top of it. But before wandering at all I was doubly surprised. I had parked the van on Tommy Road only to be engulfed by lively fell ponies. They usually regard me with disdain. There was a delicate foal amongst them, contrasting with the heavy-set adults. The ponies proceeded to rub themselves vigorously against the road signs and I feared that they would do the same to the van, for I doubt that its wing-mirrors would withstand such an assault.

And then I saw a red double-decker bus cruising along the narrow country lanes. There are no Sunday buses here, let alone red double-deckers. I then remembered that at Bowber Head, just two miles away, there’s Cumbria Classic Coaches, which renovates old coaches and buses, an unlikely activity for such a rural outpost. The double-decker was presumably out for a Sunday spin or perhaps on its way to a wedding.

I set off south across Wharton Fell, avoiding the shake-holes that reminded me that this is limestone country. In fact, Wild Boar Fell, surrounded by its limestone base and with its millstone grit cap, is so characteristically ‘dales country’ that it is a surprise that it was not part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park until the recent re-drawing of the boundaries. The fact that it is not in Yorkshire didn’t help.

I cut across to the fence that leads up to the top of Wild Boar Fell to see that thousands of saplings have been planted on the slopes of Mallerstang. The open, grassy hills will look very different after a few decades. At the moment it is possible to appreciate the vistas that open out across the dale to the moors of High Seat and Hugh Seat. To the south stood the prominent nose of The Nab, forming an irresistible attraction to any hill-walker, even though (at 702m) it is not quite the highest point of Wild Boar Fell (708m), which is a little beyond.

Mallerstang from Wharton Fell

The Nab

The Nab from Wharton Fell

It is a relatively new phenomenon to regard the reaching of a top to be the raison d’être of a hill-walk. Wordsworth, great walker though he was, did not fuss much about getting to the tops. However, it must have been the fashion to walk to the Lake District mountain tops when Payn (1859) offered this advice:
“Unless you have plenty of time to spare for seeing natural beauties … upon no account waste any of it in ascending a very high mountain. The fatigue, to persons of average strength and ordinary habits, is in much over-proportion to the advantage in any case, while, in nine cases (at least) out of ten, in this part of the country a day sufficiently clear for seeing any great extent of prospect does not occur.”
Later guides to the Lake District, such as Baddeley (1880, 1922) and Palmer (1930), still kept mountain-walking in perspective, with both filling over 200 pages before they began to discuss walking up the hills.

More recent guides (such as Allen (1987), Birkett (1994), Calvert (1995), Crow (2015), Griffin (1968), Poucher (1960), Richards (2008), Smith (2017), and Wainwright (1955-1966)) have focussed on conquering mountain tops. The top has acquired a transcendental aura (Macfarlane, 2003):
“When we walk or climb up a mountain we traverse not only the actual terrain of the hillside but also the metaphysical territories of struggle and achievement. To reach a summit is very palpably to have triumphed over adversity: to have conquered something, albeit something utterly useless.”
Reaching a top has become the climax, the point above and beyond which it is impossible to go and after which one can only subside. However, a climax isn’t everything and it isn’t even necessary for an activity to be enjoyable. That reminds me of something but I can’t quite put my finger on it. In any case, to reach our North-West England summits is not that great a triumph. We can walk up any of them before lunch.

At Low Dolphinsty I turned aside from the ascent route in order to contour below the cliffs that face eastward over Mallerstang. In the past I had always approached Wild Boar Fell from the west, south and north (mainly because of where I live) but the most dramatic and challenging slopes of Wild Boar Fell are to the east, overlooking the Eden valley. I have never really looked at them – and neither, it seems, have those on-line walkers. These eastern slopes are now all open access and yet hardly anybody walks here. I continued until I was below the many cairns above Yoadcomb Scar and then dropped down to Angerholme Wold. I was struck by how much it is The Nab, rather than the Wild Boar Fell top itself, that dominates Mallerstang. It stands like a proud sentinel overlooking its valley, being visible from almost everywhere within it.
Wild Boar Fell

Wild Boar Fell and The Nab

I then walked north between the railway line and the infant River Eden. This path eventually becomes part of Lady Anne’s Way, a 100-mile path between Skipton and Penrith that follows a route between Lady Anne Clifford’s Skipton Castle and Brougham Castle. In Mallerstang it passes another of her castles, Pendragon. What a fine name for a castle! According to legend, the castle was built by Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur. Whatever the truth of that, it cannot be denied that it is a splendid location, as I appreciated whilst I sat for a snack on the castle mound admiring the view south along Mallerstang. It was rather blissful and then, to cap it all, I heard the call of a cuckoo wafting down from the hills. I reflected that cuckoos have been returning to Mallerstang every year since Pendragon built his castle. It would be sad indeed if we so ruined the world that we no longer heard them.
Pendragon Castle

Pendragon Castle

As I walked up the road that crosses Birkett Common I became gradually closer to the sound of the cuckoo. It seemed to be emanating from a copse by the railway line. I was tempted to walk closer in the hope of spotting him. But I thought better of it – he deserves not to be disturbed after all his efforts to get here. Back at the van I was relieved to find that its wing-mirrors were intact.

[May 2019; NY7603; Tommy Road near Pudding Howe Hill – S – Wharton Fell – SE – wall – S – Low Dolphinsty – S on contour, below The Nab and Yoadcomb Hill – E – Angerholme Wold – N, E – Turner Hay Hill, Hazelgill – N – Shoregill, Castle Bridge (detour to Pendragon Castle) – NW – Pudding Howe Hill; 8 miles; 117/400]

Previous Saunterings

     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)

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018


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