Western Howgills

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Saunterings

To be precise, these are North-West England Saunterings. That is NWES to me. NWES contains descriptions of various saunters, ambles, strolls, meanders, rambles and dawdles around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire (more details of my ‘North-West England’ are given in the Preamble). I hesitate to call my saunters ‘walks’. A walk nowadays has become a serious business. It might suggest a 10-hour trek to bag 15 mountain tops. It might be part of some epic expedition around, say, the whole coastline of Britain. It might demand precise details of the route (“walk 210 metres north-north-east to a gate by the third tree”) so that you may follow my footsteps. No, my saunterings are more leisurely and aimless than that. And they are mental as well as physical. I saunter, at whim.

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     13.   The Cairns of Grisedale Pike   
     12.   Uplifted by High Street   
     11.   The Struggle over Boulsworth Hill   
      Previous Saunterings   

13.  The Cairns of Grisedale Pike

From Garsdale Station I could see the cairns of Grisedale Pike. They stood like pimples on the horizon of east Baugh Fell, some two miles away. Our northern hills have thousands of cairns but few of them are as finely located as those of Grisedale Pike. Do we have too many cairns? What are they all for? Grisedale Pike was my first objective, and as I slogged up the long slope, accompanied by an insistent cuckoo (my first of the year) and admiring the emerging view of Whernside and Ingleborough to the left and Mallerstang and Great Shunner Fell to the right, I contemplated the nature of cairns.

Sometimes the word ‘cairn’ is used for just a mound of stones but here I am meaning a cylindrical stack of rocks, usually constructed by methods similar to dry-stone walling, a few inches to several feet high. Such a cairn could fall down, whereas a mound looks like it has already fallen down. A cairn is often on a hill-top or skyline, like those of Grisedale Pike, or, more typically, beside a trail. It is, of course, intended to be seen.

There seem to be three purposes for a cairn. One is to mark a significant site, for example, a memorial. Some ancient cairns mark burial sites. A second purpose is to serve as some kind of personal or spiritual statement, perhaps as a work of art. The sculptor Andy Goldsworthy has created a number of cairn-shaped artworks to adorn the landscape. At this very moment, the Art of Balance Exhibition in Edinburgh is displaying the art of stone stacking. Apparently, “an international community of land artists are finding mindfulness, meditation and patience in the art of finding the balance”. I have not seen any examples of their work on the hills of North-West England but even so many of our more down-to-earth cairns are more elaborate than seems necessary and may be thought to have some aesthetic merit. For example, Thornthwaite Beacon, near High Street, is an impressive 14 feet tall.

Thirdly, a cairn may serve as a landmark or guide, to shepherds or walkers, for example. Sometimes a cairn acts as a magnet, as Grisedale Pike was doing for me. In addition to landmark cairns, walkers are blessed with many smaller cairns intended to indicate a route. Indeed, many walkers feel it their duty to add a rock to a cairn, or to start a new one, as they walk by. The outcome is a profusion of cairns of doubtful utility. Harry Griffin counted 128 cairns on the Nan Bield pass, where it would be an achievement to lose the trail even in fog.

Apart from this unnecessary proliferation, there are other objections to cairns. First, of course, it involves moving rocks from their natural position. While one person moving one rock is no big deal, if thousands of walkers do so then obviously this will expose soil and increase erosion. Also, there is the simple fact that we do not have the legal right to move rocks and build structures on land that is not ours. Perhaps the most serious complaint is that cairns interfere with the natural wilderness that we sometimes seek away from humanity. They make it clear that others have been this way before us, and that they are guiding us where to go. To some walkers, cairns are like other detritus left by inconsiderate walkers or even a form of graffiti. At all events, it is clear that cairn-making does not accord with the ‘leave-no-trace’ ethic advocated for walkers.

I noticed no cairns to guide me up to Grisedale Pike. The direction is obvious, although the pudding shape of Baugh Fell ensures that, once you embark on the walk up, the Grisedale Pike cairns are never in view until you reach them. As I reached Grisedale Pike, I saw that there were several cairns here, in various states of repair – fourteen, counting generously. This raises the further question: Why are there often several cairns and not just one? There are other groups of cairns in our region, such as the Megger Stones in Dentdale and Nine Standards Rigg above Kirkby Stephen.

Grisedale Pike

Grisedale Pike

Perhaps it is simply to underline the special nature of the spot, and Grisedale Pike is certainly an excellent viewpoint. Or it could be because there happens to be a plentiful supply of the right kind of rocks to hand. Cairns tend to be made of flat slates that can be fitted together. Here, after walking up a long, featureless, grassy slope, it makes an agreeable change to come upon a rocky outcrop with loose millstone grit slates lying about. There seems no harm in adding a few slates to the piles – and, of course, to admire the views of the surrounding hills and the valleys of Rawtheydale and Wensleydale.

Despite having come as far as Grisedale Pike (at 620m), I felt no obligation to continue up to Tarn Rigg Hill (678m), the highest point of Baugh Fell. I have been there before, so I knew what I was prepared to miss. There is nothing at all (certainly no cairn) to indicate the top, and the peat is tiring and uninspiring. Yes, a view from a mountain top is always good but I decided to forego it this time and instead drop down by Shorter Gill, over some limestone scars, into Grisedale. I wanted to see how the dale was getting on, after its demise reported by ‘The Dale that Died’ book (Cockcroft, 1975) and TV programme. The latter tells how the fourteen hardy hill-farming families had gradually moved out, unable to make a living in this high, remote valley, to be replaced by a lone incoming ex-miner (and wife). We see him striding out in the mud and snow to the accompaniment of Sibelius’s 5th and spending a lot of time with the local chapel (I skipped the latter).
West Scale and East Scale

The abandoned farms of West Scale and East Scale

We humans think a lot of ourselves. A dale does not die just because people move out. On the contrary, wildlife returns. It becomes more alive than it was with people there. Anyway, the dale is not empty of people today. It is true that there is only one farm (Mouse Syke) left but most buildings have been renovated, presumably as holiday homes. A few of the old farmsteads, however, are beyond repair. West Scale and East Scale, for example, are impressive ruins, or rather are ruins of once impressive farm buildings. Reachey was described as derelict by Wainwright (1972) but now it is receiving the final touches of a renovation so thorough that I doubt that much of the original dereliction remained. The once-ruined Aldershaw is now surrounded by mature trees that make it hard to appreciate the quality of its renovation. Blake Mire, an exposed, desolate building, also seems in the process of resuscitation: it has a new roof and windows. Despite this evident vitality I am afraid that Grisedale will be stuck with its epitaph for some time, thanks to those who keep mentioning it.
Blake Mire

Blake Mire

[May 2018; SD7891; Garsdale Station – N, SW (along Old Road) – NW – Grisedale Pike – NE – West Scale – SE – Reachey, Blake Mire, Garsdale Station; 6 miles; 143 km squares]


12.  Uplifted by High Street

It is a fine Lakeland walk from Mardale Head to High Street but it starts with a tone of melancholy. A noticeboard reminds us that the village of Mardale Green, with houses, church and pub, was submerged when the Haweswater Reservoir was constructed. However, that sad event – sad to the ex-residents of Mardale Green anyway – happened in 1935, so it would be a very elderly walker who had personal memories of it today.

A second notice advises those who have come to see the eagles that they are too late. The eagles have gone – which is indeed rather sad. Palmer (1930) said that “Martindale was the last nesting haunt of the golden eagle south of the Border. About eighty years ago the last bird was shot, and there has been no resettlement.” However, about a hundred years after that eagle was shot – that is, in the 1950s – golden eagles began to be seen again in the Lake District. In 1969 a pair managed to breed in Riggindale, below High Street. Since then the nest had been sustained by a series of male and female eagles, producing sixteen young. Unfortunately, after 2004 the returning male eagle was unable to attract a mate. Even more unfortunately, he has not been seen since 2015 and is presumed to have died.

The chances of golden eagles returning again to the Lake District are not high at the moment. Although there are about 500 pairs of golden eagles in Scotland only a very few of those breed south of Glasgow. There is a programme to increase the numbers of golden eagles in southern Scotland by re-introducing up to ten eagles a year in the Moffat hills. It is hoped that some of the eagles will be able to run the gauntlet of grouse moors in the Scottish borders and English uplands and drift south to establish territories in northern England. However, experts apparently consider that there is a shortage of suitable terrain and food – but eagles did manage for decades in Riggindale, which seems similar to several other dales to me. Anyway, for now, walkers will look wistfully and forlornly around the Riggindale crags and in the skies above in search of a golden eagle.

Enough negativity. There is plenty still to be enjoyed on this walk. We walked up to Blea Water, to see it at close quarters for the first time (previously we had only peered down at it from the heights of Mardale Ill Bell and High Street). On the way we passed many recently-planted trees, a welcome attempt to return some of the over-sheep-grazed grass and bracken slopes to a more natural habitat. Blea Water is one of the finest of Lakeland tarns, enclosed on three sides by the steep cliffs of Blea Water Crag, High Street and Riggindale Crag. It is said to be 61m deep – and I could well believe it – which is deeper than all the Lake District lakes except Wastwater and Windermere. We met a team from United Utilities who were contemplating removing the small dam, which serves no function and is a bit of an eyesore. The word ‘blea’, incidentally, comes from an Old English word meaning blue or dark, which I suppose Blea Water is, but it was also sparkling like a dewdrop in fresh May sunshine.

Blea Water

Blea Water from Long Stile

We clambered up the Long Stile ridge to High Street (828m), which is by far the best way to approach it. High Street itself is, let’s be honest, a little dull, unless you have a vivid imagination and can see Romans marching along their road or horses galloping on Racecourse Hill. But emerging from Long Stile you suddenly see a wide panorama of all the great Lakeland peaks: from left to right, Coniston Old Man, Crinkle Crags, Bowfell, Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Fairfield, Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Blencathra. Only the High Street range presents all the classic peaks ahead of you. Admittedly, they are a little distant but they have to be in order to fit them all in. It is inspirational to see them all arrayed ahead, especially on a clear day such as this was. I can hardly wait to visit them again during the course of these Saunterings.
High St 1

From High Street (south-west): Coniston Old Man, Crinkle Crags, Bowfell, Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Fairfield

High St 2

From High Street (north-west): Helvellyn, Raise, Skiddaw, Blencathra

We admired the view for some time before setting off down past Kidsty Pike. The view from Kidsty Pike suffers by comparison with the High Street view. Kidsty Pike is the prominent pointed peak seen from the M6 and you would expect that, in consequence, it provided a good view to the east – and indeed it does, of the Cross Fell Pennines, the Shap Fells, the Howgills and some of the Yorkshire Dales peaks. These too are all within my Saunterings scope! And on the walk down and at closer quarters there’s a fine prospect of Haweswater.

Back at the car park we met the United Utilities team again. I hope I’m not giving away any company plans by saying that the main problem they foresaw in removing the dam was getting rid of all the concrete. They reckoned it’d take a hundred helicopter trips to lift it all out! Quite why United Utilities would pay to do this I don’t know but I hope that they do return Blea Water to its natural state. I am sure that they won’t be tempted to just tip all the concrete into the depths of Blea Water. It would hardly be in a natural state then, would it?

[May 2018; NY4610; Mardale Head – W – Blea Water – NW – Long Stile – W – High Street – N – Straits of Riggindale – E – Kidsty Pike, Kidsty Howes – S – Mardale Head; 6.5 miles; 133 km squares]

11.  The Struggle over Boulsworth Hill

I set off to walk from Colne up Boulsworth Hill, following in the footsteps of mill-workers of over a century ago. Colne was the birthplace in the 1890s of the Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA), a fact that will not mean much to most ramblers of North-West England today. We have been led to believe that we owe our modern right and keenness to walk on the mountains and moors entirely to the influence of William Wordsworth and fellow poets of the Lake District. It was they who changed our cultural perception of mountains. No longer should we regard the mountains with trepidation but we should walk upon them in order to appreciate their lustrous scenery. So pervasive was Wordsworth’s influence that for a time the region was commonly called Wordsworthshire.

Boulsworth Hill

Boulsworth Hill from near Trawden, on the way from Colne

However, the struggle for access to the mountains and moors was fought not in the Lake District but in the South Pennines and the Peak District, in industrial towns such as Colne. Landowners in the Lake District had always accepted that people could walk on the mountains, as they knew that very few people would choose to do so. A few poets tripping about, polishing their triplets, did not change that. Even if they did inspire others to come to see the daffodils and the mountains, there were not many people within easy access of the Lake District to do so.

It was different in the Pennines. By that time, the 19th century, millions of working people had moved from rural areas to live and work in the grit and grime of industrial cities such as Manchester and Sheffield. They could not just up sticks and move to the Lake District and spend days walking around it, as Wordsworth and friends did. However, many of those workers felt an equal, if not greater, need for fresh open air and fine scenery – and probably appreciated it as much even if they didn’t write poems about it. The many ‘rambling clubs’ that formed in industrial cities to help worker-walkers into the countryside emphasised fellowship – the chance to walk and talk with others away from the noise of factories – rather than wandering lonely as a cloud. This communal aspect was the foundation for the famous mass trespasses that played a key role in changing access legislation (eventually).

The CHA was a leading player in this movement but with a slightly different emphasis. It welcomed male and female members, which was somewhat controversial for the time. It also had a broader aim than just rambling, providing what would nowadays be called ‘adventure holidays’. CHA was founded by Thomas Leonard, who went on to help establish the Youth Hostels Association and the Ramblers’ Association. There is, a touch ironically perhaps, a memorial to him, as a pioneer of the open-air movement, on Catbells near Derwent Water. Colne does not seem to remember Leonard at all – but then Leonard did refer to Colne as a “bleak upland township” in his memoirs.

Would-be ramblers were not asking for a new right. They were asking for the restoration of the right to walk freely on uncultivated land, on common land, and on centuries-old rights of way – a right that their ancestors had taken for granted. This right was disappearing for two reasons. First, the many Enclosure Acts had led to the consolidation of land ownership within the hands of a relatively few wealthy people. Those owners increasingly felt that, just as they wouldn’t allow anyone to walk through the corridors of their mansions, so they wouldn’t allow them to walk across their fields. Secondly, the uncultivated land that previously had been worthless – and therefore not made worth less by allowing anyone to walk on it – had now become valuable, because people were keen to pay handsomely for the fun of killing grouse and deer.

The struggle for access was extraordinarily protracted, as described by Hill (1980). The first Access to Mountains Bill was in 1884. A solution acceptable to ramblers was not found until the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000. The thousands of worker-walkers were up against the ruling landed gentry, the views of which can be gauged from comments in 1932 by the Duke of Atholl, who owned 140,000 acres of deer forests. He considered the then Access to Mountains Bill to be “a crank’s measure, which would injure farming, sport [by which he meant deer-killing], and rateable values” and that “there was not the slightest desire on the part of the general public to go on these hills”.

Concessions were extracted like very reluctant bad teeth. Moor owners might concede access – but only outside the nesting and shooting seasons – which they then defined to be almost the whole year. Sometimes there was a ludicrous aspect to the proposed access agreements. For example, a proposal for access to Rombalds Moor, which includes Ilkley Moor, included a clause that there must be no singing on the moor. If there is one moor that we should be allowed to sing on then it is surely Ilkley Moor.

If an Access to Mountains Bill ever became an Act it was only after it had passed through lengthy parliamentary committee discussions to emasculate it. For example, the eventual 1939 Act bore little resemblance to the original Bill. It ended up providing no access rights whatsoever. On the other hand, it did somehow come to include a ‘trespass clause’ that for the first time ever in England made it a criminal offence merely to be on wild moorland. Moreover, it gave gamekeepers the legal right to demand names and addresses of anyone found there, with those refusing to give them being liable to a fine of £5. The legacy of this rather astonishing assumption that gamekeepers were part of the law enforcement process, and hence above the law themselves, is with us today, causing difficulties in tackling wildlife crime.

There was therefore a class and political dimension to the struggle, a dimension that did not trouble Wordsworth and his friends much. They were relatively well-to-do and no doubt mingled with the higher strata of Lake District society. The factory worker never met the Duke of Wherever who owned the local moors. As the ‘co-operative’ in CHA’s title indicates, there were affiliations with the growing labour and socialist movements. Indeed, some of the activists were known to be communists, which did not help their cause when, as in the Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932, they were charged with assaulting a gamekeeper.

Boulsworth Hill, near Colne, is an interesting case study, as detailed by Hill (1980). Today’s OS map for Boulsworth Hill shows no green dotted lines denoting public footpaths. There never were any. There are plenty of public footpaths heading from Colne but they all end abruptly at the foot of the moor. I headed that way myself but, as Colne and Trawden have more or less merged now, it no doubt took me longer to reach open countryside than it used to.

In 1956 the councils of Colne, Keighley and Trawden, infiltrated as they were by local landowners, resisted pressure to allow access to Boulsworth Hill, arguing at a public enquiry that the public should be content to gaze at it. No doubt, some intrepid Colne walkers trespassed thereon. In 1956 they may have hoped that they wouldn’t need to trespass for much longer because the County Council was obliged under the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act to impose an access order. It was in fact the first one ever issued. However, it took another 22 years before a path to the summit was opened, and this was on water authority land, not on grouse moor land. Today, of course, it is all open access land.

I walked up to Lad Law (517m), the highest point of Boulsworth Hill. Some might think that the view thereby attained is somewhat desolate. Ahead, to the south, there are dull heather moors enlivened only by occasional millstone grit outcrops. Behind, however, to the west, north and east, there are fine panoramas, although not as clear for me as they can be. Pendle was prominent, but the outline of Ingleborough was only dimly discernible and the promised sight of Blackpool Tower non-existent.
From Lad Law

Colne and Trawden from Lad Law on Boulsworth Hill

Having conquered Boulsworth Hill and paid my respects to the pioneering trespassers, I gave myself a bonus by heading for Wycoller, a tiny, tidy village known to visitors for the ruined Wycoller Hall (which, frankly, didn’t interest me much) and three old bridges: in the order met on this walk, a ‘clam’ bridge, a clapper bridge, and a packhorse bridge. The first two of these are not that exciting to look at, being just great slabs across the beck, but the packhorse bridge is charming and skilfully built. It has two arches, a width of a mere 66cm and parapets only 25cm high. According to Hinchliffe (1994), it has survived 700-800 years. In the circumstances, I think we can forgive the slightly wonky brow of the right eye.
Wycoller bridge

The Wycoller packhorse bridge

[May 2018; SD9138; Trawden – SE – Lodge Moss Farm, Boulsworth Dyke Farm – SW, SE – Lad Law – NE – Saucer Hole – N – Saucer Hill Clough, Turnhole Clough, Wycoller – W, S – Trawden; 8 miles; 123 km squares]

Previous Saunterings

     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   

Preamble

As the word suggests, this preamble (or presaunter) is being written before I have begun to saunter for this blog. Although there is a vagueness to my saunterings, I will define in advance the scope of my ‘North-West England’. Otherwise I will be forever nagging myself: what about Ilkley Moor, Hebden Bridge, Southport, Mickle Fell, Carlisle, and so on? Are they within my range? So I will define my North-West England to be the region enclosed by the following seven sides (five straight lines and two wiggly ones):
     1.  From near Caldbeck (the northernmost point of the Lake District National Park) east to Fiends Fell, just north of Cross Fell
     2.  To just south of Bowes (the north-east corner of the Yorkshire Dales National Park)
     3.  Following the Yorkshire Dales boundary, to near Beamsley (the south-east corner of the Yorkshire Dales)
     4.  Through Hebden Bridge to the M62 (junction 21)
     5.  West to the coast, just south of Southport
     6.  Following the coast, to Allonby Bay, north of Maryport
     7.  East to Caldbeck
This region includes the Forest of Bowland, Fylde, the Howgills, the Lake District, the Morecambe Bay coast, some of the North, South and West Pennine moors, the Yorkshire Dales, and all that lies between them. In total it encompasses about 3,750 square miles (or about 10,000 square kilometres). Needless to say, I won’t rap myself over the knuckles if I stray outside my boundaries.

I could destroy the aimlessness of my saunterings by setting myself some absurd objective, such as to walk in every one of those 10,000 or so 1 km squares on Ordnance Survey maps. That would indeed be absurd because the objective is unattainable: some of the squares are in the middle of lakes; some are marked as Ministry of Defence ‘Danger Areas’; some just don’t have publicly-accessible paths. On the other hand, it might help to ensure that I randomly visit all parts of the region and don’t just focus on the ‘best bits’. If I walk along Helvellyn's Striding Edge every day then perhaps even that would pall. So I will keep the absurd objective half in mind in the hope that it will help me provide a balanced impression of the region.

For those who insist on some details of my sauntering routes I will provide some in square brackets at the end of each section. These will all be in the format:
     [month of saunter; grid-reference of start point; description of route, with bearings on the way; miles sauntered; number of km squares visited so far].
Most of the saunters will be circular, that is, ending where I started. Sometimes they'll be linear, in which case, naturally, help will be needed from a friend or public transport to get to or from one end to the other (I will indicate these by adding ‘(linear)’ to the description). I will refer to ‘I’ and ‘we’, depending on whether I am sauntering alone or in company. In the latter case, the ‘we’ will usually mean ‘Ruth and I’; occasionally the ‘we’ will include others. Now it is time (January 2018) to begin re-visiting, or in a few cases visiting, the hills and dales of North-West England.


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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018

Blencathra

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