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.If you'd like to send a comment, suggestion, correction or update - all are very welcome - please send me an email.
Current Saunterings blog
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
Mike Harding – singer, songwriter, comedian, author, poet, broadcaster and multi instrumentalist,
his website, and also a Lancastrian enamoured of
the Yorkshire Dales and a former president
of the Ramblers’ Association – wrote in his 1986 best-seller Walking the Dales that the first century
Brigante chief Venutius “hoped to contain the power of the Romans … [and] as well as the massive fort at
Stanwick [near Brough], he built forts on Ingleborough, Gregory Scar (north of Grassington) and on
Addlebrough in Wensleydale”. It is a romantic thought that the brave British Brigantes built a
fort on the prominent flat-topped hill of Addlebrough in order to face off the Romans based down in
the valley at
Virosidum, their fort at Bainbridge, but is it likely?
Addlebrough, from the north-westThe second part of the name Addlebrough is presumably derived from the Old English word burh, meaning "a fortified place”. However, the Ordnance Survey does not use its special font to mark an ancient hillfort on Addlebrough although it does indicate ancient settlements and cairns on and around it. Perhaps Harding assumed an analogy with Ingleborough, where a hillfort is marked by the Ordnance Survey. However, Johnson (2008) doubts that the evidence of ancient constructions on Ingleborough signifies a hillfort, despite what the Ordnance Survey has marked.
Wensleydale, from near BainbridgeI walked from the triangular green of Bainbridge to Thornton Rust, a quiet village of fine houses and a tucked-away car park, from which a bridleway heads up to Addlebrough. I detoured south to Greenber Edge to have a look at the remains of old settlements, that is, the lines of old walls and a large pile of stones forming the cairn of Stony Raise. Of course, not all ancient people settled in the higher regions. That is just where there are still remains. The remains of those who lived in the valley of Wensleydale no longer remain, because the farming since has obliterated them. Anyway, clearly some people had long ago settled themselves upon this high ridge, with a view of Addlebrough across Thornton Mire. I settled myself there to have a snack and to imagine their life. Radiocarbon dating studies of the mire have shown that 8,500 years ago it was a pine forest, that by 4,500 years ago birch, alder and hazel predominated, and that by 2,500 years ago the woodland had been cleared. I don’t know how they survived then but if they had lived here now they could have had a rabbit-rich diet, as the hill was full of them.
Semer Water, from AddlebroughI wandered about the top of Addlebrough. I could see nothing that, to my inexpert eyes, seemed similar to the remains of ramparts and hut circles that even I can make out on Ingleborough. Addlebrough has a natural defence to the north, in its limestone cliffs, but that seems all that might support a hillfort theory. My doubts are reinforced by a 2014 report by the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group that says categorically that “there are no defended settlements, or hillforts, in Wensleydale.” I conclude that Mike Harding was carried away in his enthusiasm.
We are fond of our superlatives, especially when it comes to the Lake District. If it is a matter of fact – the highest mountain (Scafell Pike) or the deepest lake (Wastwater) in England – then there is little scope for discussion. But when it is a matter of opinion we can have endless arguments.
What, for example, is the best mountain in the Lake District? For some the highest is necessarily the best. Others would opt for another of the high mountains, such as Helvellyn or Great Gable. Wainwright, in the last of his seven volumes on the Lakeland Fells, felt compelled to list the “six best fells”: Blencathra, Bowfell, Crinkle Crags, Great Gable, Pillar and Scafell Pike. He added that “the grandest of the lot” is Scafell Pike. However, the fell that he liked best was Haystacks, which some don’t even count as a mountain, since it is less than 2,000 feet high. I don’t know if Harry Griffin, who wrote about the Lake District in The Guardian for over forty years, committed himself to a best fell but he did say that a friend considered Pen “his favourite Lakeland summit” and that “it is also, certainly, one of mine”. The fact that Pen is not one of Wainwright’s 214 may have been a factor. Griffin did, at least, express an opinion on the fell that afforded the best view: Bowfell.
What about the lakes? Wordsworth said that Ullswater has “the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur which any of the lakes affords”. Many would concur but some would suggest Derwent Water instead. The famous Baddeley guide (1880, 1922) said that the “upper reach of Windermere is without doubt the most striking example of diversified beauty in the British Isles.” Davies (2016) comments that Buttermere is “a perfect little lake”. Well, you can’t get better than perfect, although perhaps the ‘little’ disqualifies Buttermere from being thought comparable to Ullswater or Windermere.
I have been provoked towards these thoughts by reading that William Palmer, in his classic book The English Lakes (1905), written with the artist Alfred Heaton Cooper, referred to the “prettiest mere of all”. To what do you think he was referring?
I felt duty-bound to see it. I began my search at Grasmere. Some will say that I need look no further. Davies indeed comments that Grasmere “does look very pretty”, as, of course, it does when viewed from Loughrigg Fell. No doubt the Wordsworths considered it so when they wandered up Loughrigg from Dove Cottage. But no, the prettiest mere is not Grasmere, according to Palmer, although it is within walking distance of it.
You will probably next think of Easedale Tarn. The walk to Easedale Tarn, past Sourmilk Gill, is one of the standard Lake District walks, popular since Victorian times – so popular that for many decades there was a refreshment hut by the tarn. The tarn itself is in a fine setting, lying in a hollow between Blea Rigg and Tarn Crag, forming an ideal spot for a summer picnic. I did indeed continue my search by walking up to Easedale Tarn. The path is now reinforced almost all the way, trodden to submission by many boots. It was a relief to get off this path and to wander on grass. I came upon a couple plodding gingerly along. The man said only one thing: “It’s a bit soggy in places, isn’t it?” I don’t know if he was unhappy or happy about that. It is often a lot soggy everywhere.
Easedale TarnBut no, it was not Easedale Tarn that Palmer had in mind. I continued up the steep slope alongside which Belles Knott seemed surprisingly precipitous. I turned north, hardly able to contain my anticipation. When walking to a mountain top one is aware of the looming presence ahead. At the top, the view over the other side is always a pleasant reward but the top itself, so long the target, is not really a surprise. However, when walking up to a tarn, there is nothing of the tarn to see on the way. It is only at the moment one reaches the level of the tarn that it is suddenly revealed, all of it. It is as if a curtain in front of a masterpiece is whipped aside.
The Prettiest Mere of AllI was not alone in not really being aware of Codale Tarn. Davies describes the best tarns, in addition to the sixteen lakes, and includes Easedale Tarn but does not mention Codale Tarn. Baddeley said only that Codale Tarn is “an insignificant sheet of water … swampy and stuffy”. Wainwright, being focussed upon the mountains, did not usually say much about the lakes and tarns. He did, however, describe Easedale Tarn as “a romantic setting, inurned in bracken-clad moraines with a background of craggy fells”. He then added that Easedale Tarn “is not the only jewel in Tarn Crag’s lap. A smaller sheet of water, Codale Tarn, occupies a hollow on a higher shelf.” That’s it, but still it seems that he conceded that Codale Tarn is a ‘jewel’, although a lap is a funny place for two jewels.
From the Settle Market bus stop I headed straight to the Settle Hydro, hoping to get some up-to-date information about it. At least, I intended to but I didn't find it. Never mind, I pressed on along the west bank of the River Ribble, a pleasant walk if rather gluey after recent rain. As compensation, Stainforth Force was in frisky form. It’s not really a waterfall but more a sequence of cascades. I then walked up beside Stainforth Beck to Catrigg Force, which really is a waterfall, or rather two waterfalls.
Stainforth Bridge and Stainforth ForceA few years ago Catrigg Force was put up for sale. Why would anyone buy a waterfall, even with a buy-one-get-one-free offer? A buyer would be able to stand and admire their waterfall – but then so would anyone else prepared to walk the half a mile up the steep public footpath from Stainforth. They might imagine building a home from which they could sit and watch their tumbling waters – but there is no easy access to the waterfall to enable it to be built. So there’s not much point buying it really, is there?
Pen-y-ghent and Fountains Fell from above Catrigg Force (which is in the trees to the left)Having somehow missed the Settle Hydro I had a second try. I forewent the intended walk up to Winskill Moor and instead dropped down to the Ribble again at Langcliffe. I asked at the Watershed Mill centre about the Hydro and was passed from person to person until someone was at last found who knew that it was just downstream – and indeed it was, not completely but fairly inconspicuous, especially from the other side of the river, as I was before.
According to Wikipedia’s
list of castles in England, Cumbria has more castles than any other English county,
63 in fact. I went to see four of them on this saunter:
Clifton Hall and
A definition of ‘castle’ would be helpful. Unfortunately there isn’t a precise one because the concept just developed over the centuries. The Wikipedia list is of medieval fortifications, although there are, of course, older constructions that are called castles, such as the Iron Age Maiden Castle in Dorset and the Roman Burgh Castle in Norfolk. Most Roman forts, such as Brocavum, next to Brougham Castle, are not normally considered to be castles. Brougham Castle itself, founded in the early 13th century, certainly qualifies and indeed serves well as a prototypical English castle.
Brougham CastleI did not dally at Brougham Castle, as I had visited it before, but viewed it from across the River Eamont, as I walked west by the riverside. The Eamont flows from Ullswater to meet the River Lowther at Brougham Castle on its way to join the River Eden. Sometimes it flows too fulsomely and is unable to pass under the fine 15th century Eamont Bridge, causing flooding of nearby houses. At other times the bridge's narrowness means that traffic is unable to flow smoothly over it. When the A6 was the main road north it was a notorious bottleneck. Only its antiquity has saved it from replacement.
Eamont BridgeAt the M6 I turned south to have a look at the two Neolithic henges, Mayburgh Henge and King Arthur's Round Table. I paused at the latter to read the information board but walked off when I read its first three words: “Despite it’s name”. I never found out who Neolithic Arthur was. On reflection, I accepted that even people employed by English Heritage to produce information boards may make a slip. Its unlikely that there are none in this document.
Lowther CastleWalking back on the east side of the Lowther and crossing the M6, I arrived at Clifton Hall. Actually, I arrived at the squat tower house, which is all of the hall that remains. The information board (no slips this time) gave many details of its history but nowhere did it call Clifton Hall a castle. It was a 15th century manor house.
When the Yorkshire Dales National Park was created in 1954 its boundaries were carefully defined so that the
Park was unsullied by undesirable urbanness. Skipton, Settle, Ingleton, Richmond, Leyburn and Pateley Bridge
were all kept just outside the Park. As a result a number of places claim to be ‘the gateway to the Dales’.
The most insistent of these is Skipton, being as it is on the route from the cities of Leeds and Bradford.
Nowadays it is not necessary to go through the Skipton gateway at all because of the bypass opened in 1982. For this walk, in fact, I started from a lay-by on the bypass. It is a variant of a walk for those in Skipton wishing to get a foothold in the Yorkshire Dales, to hear the skylarks and the lapwings singing (if the sound the latter makes counts as singing), and to gain, for relatively little effort, a fine view of some Dales scenery. It is also possible to ‘bag’ the various tops of Flasby Fell although this is no great achievement since the highest, Sharp Haw, is only 357m high, which is just 200m up from the lay-by. Still, it has a distinctive conical top, which it is satisfying to conquer. My glow of success was somewhat dimmed by finding a shiny garden bench awaiting me at the top, with the message “sit thee down and rest awhile, the view will surely make thee smile.” How sweet!
Sharp Haw and Rough Haw in the distanceHowever, I must not be sniffy about Flasby Fell. Sharp Haw is a Marilyn and as such is an object of desire for certain walkers. They have a mission to get on top of all the Marilyns in England, all 176 of them. A Marilyn is a hill that, regardless of absolute height, has a relative height of 150m. This means that if you walk in any direction at all from the top of a Marilyn you must drop at least 150m before you can walk up a higher hill. For example, the isolated Pendle (557m) is clearly a Marilyn because you have to drop nearly 400m before you can begin to walk up Whernside or any other higher hill. Not all Marilyns are big mountains – for example, Arnside Knott (159m) is a Marilyn because you have to drop to near sea-level in every direction. Not all big mountains are Marilyns – for example, Bowfell (902m) is not a Marilyn because you only have to drop 120m or so before walking up Scafell Pike. If you are into peak-bagging then the Marilyns can help by coalescing the peaks into smaller sets. For example, the Howgills has about forty named tops over 400m but only two of them are Marilyns. If you want to work out for yourself which two they are then look away now … while I add a bit of irrelevant padding here in case your eyes have wandered ahead … before I say that obviously one of them must be the highest point of the Howgills, The Calf, and the other happens to be Yarlside.
Sharp Haw from the unnamed summit to its southBack at the car, I thought about nipping in to the museum and laying my hands on the sword, but I knew that they wouldn’t let me. They wouldn’t even let me see it, because it is apparently in such poor condition that the sword cannot be removed from its scabbard. I suppose that I would be prepared to accept that it is in there, but even so it’d be a tad unconvincing. Anyway, it is clear that Flasby Fell is a landscape of vintage Yorkshireness, and I am not referring to the cantankerous fast-bowler Fred Trueman, who lived in Flasby.
Stocks Reservoir is multi-purpose and it was kind enough to present its various purposes to me, one-by-one, during a
walk around the reservoir. First, as I left the School Lane car park heading north I saw two hides, for observing
water-birds on the reservoir. The part of the reservoir north of the larger island is essentially reserved for birds
and bird-watchers. Stocks Reservoir is an important wintering site for cormorants, mallard, pintail, teal and wigeon.
Many other species, such as whooper swan, Canada goose, pink-footed goose and red-breasted merganser, have also been
recorded here. There are also many species of waders that visit or breed around the reservoir and various raptors
also call in. However, it was so bitterly cold, with wisps of snow in the air, that I suspect the birds were
snuggled together somewhere for warmth.
There were no bird-watchers in the hides for me to snuggle together with, so I wandered on, to appreciate the second purpose of the reservoir, that is, to provide timber from the adjacent forest. Gisburn Forest, the largest forest in Lancashire, is not an old woodland. It was planted when the reservoir was created in order perhaps to prevent possible pollution from the many farms that would otherwise have remained on the land above the reservoir. Today, its conifers are being replaced by native, broad-leaved trees, although there are plenty of conifers still to go. There is a Gisburn Forest Hub at the centre of a network of forest walks and cycle trails but my focus on this outing was on the reservoir itself.
River Hodder (above the reservoir)I proceeded north past the derelict farmhouse of New House, across the young River Hodder, and eventually back towards the reservoir. As I swung west, I came upon the third purpose of the reservoir, that is, to provide a fishery. Stocks Reservoir is said to be the largest fly-fishery in North-West England. It is, I read, well-stocked with brown, rainbow and blue trout. I never knew there were blue trout. The genetic diversity of trout is complex – too complex for me – but as I understand it only the first of these three is native to England, which seems a shame for Stocks Reservoir, although I am somewhat reassured to read that the Stocks fish are triploid, meaning that they are sterile. Anyway, the anglers are clearly content, not least because they are not restricted to fishing from the bank. There is a fleet of ‘Coulam boats’ specifically designed for fly-fishing. The boats must, of course, stay in their part of the reservoir, south of the island. I wonder how the anglers get on with those cormorants, when they are keen to cull them elsewhere.
Fisherman and Coulam boats at Stocks ReservoirI saw five fishermen, which was five more than I expected on such a cold day – two of them up to their thighs in the icy water. I walked on and came across several signs warning me of frogs. The frogs certainly looked ferocious on the signs, but I managed to evade them. I then reached the dam, which is the most obvious sign of the reservoir’s fourth purpose – its original one – to hold back water for the people of Fylde and Blackpool. The reservoir was created in the 1930s, and in the process drowned the village of Stocks-in-Bowland. Its chapel and the 165 bodies in its graveyard were moved to a new site on the eastern shore. I wonder if they were equally considerate in moving the living to a new site.
Stocks Reservoir and Gisburn ForestI had crossed a reasonable-sized River Hodder flowing into the reservoir but at the dam there was no water in the large outflow channel. From what I read, there normally is – but in that case what prevents the alien fish from escaping downstream? When the Hodder below the dam would otherwise be too dry, up to 15 million litres per day are released from the bottom of the dam (Greenhalgh, 2009). Just ahead of me, over the dam, I could see a party of sixteen walkers, confirming the last purpose of the reservoir, the one that I was making use of, that is, to provide a pleasant outing for saunterers like myself. In fact, I was delighted to find that this is no ordinary walk – it was voted the 67th best walk in a recent ITV programme on Britain's Favourite Walks. Wow! Just for the record, North-West England (as defined by me in the Preamble) has 16 walks in the top 100, including 6 of the top 10:
1. Helvellyn (via Glenridding Common) 3. Malham and Gordale Scar 4. Catbells 5. Scafell Pike (from Wasdale Head) 7. Buttermere (around the lake) 8. Coniston Old Man, including Dow Crag 25. Ingleborough (from Clapham) 27. Ambleside to Grasmere, via the Coffin Route 30. High Cup Nick 36. Ingleton Falls 54. Richmond to Reeth (part of the Coast-to-Coast) 61. Grassington to Kilnsey 67. Forest of Bowland (around Stocks Reservoir) 69. Brontë Waterfalls 81. Saltaire to Skipton (by the Leeds-Liverpool Canal ) 86. The Witches Trail (below Pendle)I was delighted not so much because the Stocks Reservoir circuit is a fine walk but because it is, in fact, a rather unadventurous one by North-West England standards. We have many other walks that could have appeared on the list, but I won’t quibble, seeing as the vote proved that North-West England is the best region for walking in Britain.
The coast of Morecambe Bay is low-lying and somewhat fluid. Over the centuries we have tried to claim
salt-marshes for farmland and occasionally the sea has tried to claim it back. To prevent seawater inundation,
we build barriers, like the Pilling Embankment to protect Fylde. Unfortunately, barriers also prevent water
from rivers, streams and becks from reaching the sea, and so, in trying to prevent seawater flooding we may
cause freshwater flooding.
The answer, of course, is a tidal flap in the barrier. The force of the river opens the flap but the force of the sea closes it. Most of the Morecambe Bay outlets have tidal flaps. However, if the flap is closed to seawater then it is also closed to migratory fish such as salmon, trout and eel. Those who installed the flaps presumably considered that the prevention of flooding justified the loss of fish in our rivers. In our more enlightened times considerable thought is being given to the design of flaps that achieve the apparently impossible of allowing fish, but not seawater, to pass. One possible solution is being trialled at Red Bank in Bolton-le-Sands.
Before going to look at it (it would only take five minutes to walk straight to it), I walked on a detour through the village of Bolton-le-Sands (shouldn’t that be les-Sands?), along the canal to Carnforth, and back along the Lancashire Coastal Way. This 66-mile Recreational Route runs between Freckleton and Silverdale, although Lancashire County Council believes that it is 138 miles long, between Merseyside and Cumbria.
The sky was disappointingly milky over Morecambe Bay. I could only just see Grange-over-Sands. The Lake District hills had disappeared. I was also frustrated, as I walked inland, to be held up for several minutes at the level crossing, but once at the canal I strode along, pausing only twice, once to watch a luxuriantly turquoise kingfisher and the other to read a sign by the Friends of Carnforth Coke Ovens. I am glad that the coke ovens have friends but I haven’t been able to find out why they deserve them.
I was soon at Carnforth, where I paused to browse in the excellent Carnforth Bookshop, which always has a good range of books about North-West England. With my backpack now heavier, I proceeded past Hagg Farm, with a date of 1638, to the Coastal Way. The signpost to it was accompanied by a “Danger Quicksand” warning, which must be a novelty for a Recreational Route. I treaded warily around the bleak estuary of the River Keer, accompanied by a little egret. Sightings of the once-rare little egret are now so common that I perhaps shouldn’t bother to mention it. I did not see many other birds as my eyes were fixed upon all the winding creeks trying to trap the unwary. I did, however, hear skylarks, for the first time this year.
The River Keer estuaryAt Black Dyke I noticed an eel pass that had been funded by The Rivers Trust, the Sustainable Eel Group, Marine Management Organisation and the EU’s European Fishery Fund, which is pretty impressive for a structure that was about one-foot square. Which reminds me … the ‘solution’ to our migratory fish problem. The key point is that the crucial time for the fish is the transition phase when the river and sea forces are about equal. The river is concentrated towards the flap and is therefore normally running fast – and perhaps too fast for fish, especially eels, to swim against, even assuming that they could reach the flap. When the tidal sea water balances the river flow there is a lull – for a few minutes twice a day – when the fish can, in principle, pass through.
Warton Crag and Wild Duck Hall from Red Bank[February 2018; SD4768; Red Bank Farm, Bolton-le-Sands – E – canal – N – Carnforth – NW – Hagg Farm, Keer estuary – S (on Lancashire Coastal Way) – Red Bank; 7 miles; 46 km squares]
Thirlmere is perhaps the least highly regarded of the Lake District’s lakes (which are
generally taken to number sixteen: Bassenthwaite Lake, Buttermere, Coniston Water, Crummock Water, Derwent Water, Elter Water,
Ennerdale Water, Esthwaite Water, Grasmere, Haweswater, Loweswater, Rydal Water, Thirlmere, Ullswater, Wastwater and
Windermere). For a start, Thirlmere is not a natural lake. It is a reservoir, although, to be fair,
there were two lakes (Leathes Water and Wythburn
Water) before they completed the dam to create Thirlmere in 1894. At least, that is what is almost always written
but I have found online a map of 1867
that shows one lake (already called Thirlmere) with a narrow ford in the
middle at a now-submerged Wath Bridge, east of Armboth. To the south, the 1867 Thirlmere extended just past the
present Hause Point.
Nowadays most people who see Thirlmere see it from a car as they pass on the A591, the road between Grasmere and Keswick. There is little reason to stop at Thirlmere, as there are no cruisers on the lake, no shops, no museums, no Dove Cottages or Hill Tops (although there is one inn, at Thirlspot). Those who do stop are probably intending to walk away from Thirlmere, to the east up Helvellyn or to the west up to the High Seat ridge.
Thirlmere from Highpark WoodPerhaps this apparent lack of public affection for Thirlmere encouraged an enlightened proposal to add some sadly missing touristic pizzazz to Thirlmere. The idea was to install zip-wires across the lake near Armboth. You would zip over the lake and A591 on the highest and longest zip-wires in England. This would be “an all-year-round attraction, attracting a large number of visitors … [to] this stunning part of the Lake District … [and the] … environmental impact is minimal”. According to an online poll, people under 45 were over four times more likely to support the proposal than be against it and people over 59 were twice as likely to be against it. It’s only a matter of time, then. Mind you, the company proposing the zip-wires ran the poll. The planning application was duly submitted in December 2017, with the support of Cumbria Tourism, the official Tourist Board for the Lake District, who consider that “the proposal aligns with Cumbria Tourism’s longstanding commitment to promoting the county as the UK’s ‘adventure capital’.”
Thirlmere and BlencathraUnited Utilities are making a commendable effort to improve their eco-credentials around Thirlmere, after many years of complaints over their treatment of surrounding forestry: concessionary footpaths, information boards, and well-maintained footbridges (many repaired after Storm Desmond in 2015). At Armboth there are loos “powered by nature”. The notice says that “if it’s dark or icy they might be shut”. It doesn’t logically follow that if it’s not dark and not icy then they will be open, so I must not complain that they weren’t.
What’s with all the green diamonds on Ordnance Survey (OS) maps? In preparation for these saunterings I
replaced my beloved but battered OS maps with a sparkling new set. I found that the new maps have been
decorated with green diamonds, which according to the legend denote Recreational Routes (RRs). Some maps
look like green ants have been set loose upon them. The winner is OL21 (South Pennines), which marks 22
such routes, from the Brontë Way to the Worth Way. The only one of these 22 routes that I had heard of
was the Pennine Way. Clearly, I have a lot of Recreational Routing to look forward to.
When I studied the new maps for an outing in lower Dentdale and on Frostrow Fells I was surprised to find that every step of my planned route was on a green diamond. I would be following three RRs. With all respect to lower Dentdale and Frostrow Fells, I don’t think anyone would claim this to be prime walking country. Lower Dentdale, by the River Dee, is pleasant enough but rather enclosed. The Frostrow Fells provide fine views north to the Howgills and south to Middleton Fell but they themselves form a rather small, run-of-the-mill moor, reaching no higher than 300m and with no distinctive peak.
So I set out to investigate these RRs. As I left the bridge by the River Rawthey to walk through Millthrop I was already on the Dales Way. At least I had heard of this one. The Dales Way is a well-established Long Distance Path (LDP), started in 1968, of about 80 miles between Ilkley and Bowness. I have walked much of it already, incidentally. I particularly like the fact that the Dales Way neither starts nor ends in the Yorkshire Dales.
Middleton Fell from the Dales Way, to the south (top) and to the north (below)Studying the OS map, I saw that the green diamonds also have “A Pennine Journey” written alongside. I may have heard of this but I had never paid any attention to it. Looking it up, I found that it is another LDP, this time of about 250 miles, described in Pitt (2010). It is based upon Alfred Wainwright’s 1938 walk from Settle to Hadrian’s Wall and back. As if we don’t have enough Wainwright walks! This 1938 walk was before he became celebrated for his seven-volume guide to the Lakeland Fells. Walking conditions were different in 1938 to what they are now. There was little traffic and therefore much of Wainwright’s route was on then-quiet country lanes. Also, we now have open access areas that make it clearer where we are supposed to walk and not walk. The outcome is that the new Pennine Journey shares only a few sections with the 1938 route. Nonetheless, walkers are encouraged to follow it, that is, the new route.
Sedbergh and Winder from above MillthropFor me, the green diamonds take away some of the satisfaction of sauntering. Much of the point is to wander wherever interests me, not to tramp where someone has told me to. I saw many Dales Way signs – so many, in fact, that it must be hard to lose the Way. However, I saw only one Pennine Journey sign. It told me to follow the Dales Way for six miles, which, fair enough, is all it needs to say. And I saw one Dales High Way sign, near Barth Bridge. If there were any signs on Frostrow Fells then, to tell the truth, I recklessly ignored them. I don’t know what came over me. I think the names of Hunder Moor Hurrock and Clatter Beck on the map just appealed to me. I also wanted to stay high on the moor as long as possible so that I could continue to admire the Howgills as snow clouds and sunny patches swept over them.
According to Robert Burns, the best-laid plans often go agley.
What about the worst-laid plans, whether of a life, a blog or a walk? They are agley already.
My life-plans are … well, it is far too early to discuss my life-plans with you: I hardly know you.
My blog-plans are to entertain and enlighten (myself mainly). But as far as
this first saunter is concerned, the plan was simple: to walk up my local hill, Caton Moor. Nothing
could go agley with that.
From the bottom of the track past the old workhouse of Moorgarth I could see ahead the turbine blades caressing the horizon. They didn’t seem far away. I walked up the track, badly eroded after the November deluge when Lancaster University weather station recorded more rain in a day than ever before, passing a few Water Works constructions and then crossing four fields of sheep. As the slope levelled off the blades could be seen to have grown and arisen on sturdy bases. I trudged across the open, boggy moor and at last approached the turbines, to appreciate the immense size of these alien constructions. They have an overall height of about 90 metres (nearly the height of Big Ben). The blade tips move, at their maximum, at about 180 mph, which is best appreciated by standing in their shadow on a windy day. These turbines were put up in 2007 to replace a smaller, less efficient set of 1994, probably the earliest such turbines in North-West England.
The path up to the Caton Moor turbinesI don’t know if the water and wind-power gathered from my local hill directly benefits my village or whether it disappears into the National Grids to be shared with all. Still, it is good to feel that my rather insignificant moor is making a contribution. So I don’t object to these turbines on the moor, as many do. I am, however, sad that the way we live has made them necessary. I used to run about on these empty moors before the turbines were there. People are now urged to visit what is advertised as a tourist attraction.
The Caton Moor trig point, with Middleton Fell, Gragareth, Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghentTurbines, picnic site, permissive path, tramper trails, bridleway, shooting butts … while not exactly wild before, Caton Moor now seems tamed. Where to walk – even where to picnic – is prescribed. And yet little has changed. There is sometimes a car parked at the picnic site but on this occasion, a January Monday, there wasn’t – and I saw nobody anywhere. If there are people they tend not to wander where they are not encouraged to, leaving most of Caton Moor empty. Some people must walk to the Caton Moor trig point, as there is a rough path to it, but I have never met anyone there. To keep it that way, perhaps I shouldn’t say that its modest 361m top provides a fine 360 degree view, to the Forest of Bowland tops of Clougha, Ward’s Stone and White Hill, to the Three Peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside, to the Howgills, along the Lune valley, to the Lake District fells, and across Morecambe Bay (to the Isle of Man, if it’s very clear). And to Blackpool Tower.
As the word suggests, this preamble (or presaunter) is being written
before I have begun to saunter for this blog. Although there is a vagueness to my saunterings, I will define in advance
the scope of my ‘North-West England’. Otherwise I will be forever nagging myself: what about Ilkley Moor,
Hebden Bridge, Southport, Mickle Fell, Carlisle, and so on? Are they within my range? So I will define my
North-West England to be the region enclosed by the following eight sides (six straight lines and two wiggly ones):
1.  From near Caldbeck (the northernmost point of the Lake District National Park) east to Fiends Fell, just north of Cross Fell
2.  To just south of Bowes (the north-east corner of the Yorkshire Dales National Park)
3.  Following the Yorkshire Dales boundary, to near Beamsley (the south-east corner of the Yorkshire Dales)
4.  To Hebden Bridge
5.  To Bolton
6.  To Banks, on the Ribble estuary
7.  Following the coast, to Allonby Bay, north of Maryport
8.  East to Caldbeck
This region includes the Forest of Bowland, Fylde, the Howgills, the Lake District, the Morecambe Bay coast, some of the North, South and West Pennine moors, the Yorkshire Dales, and all that lies between them. In total it encompasses about 3,750 square miles (or about 10,000 square kilometres). Needless to say, I won’t rap myself over the knuckles if I stray outside my boundaries.
I could destroy the aimlessness of my saunterings by setting myself some absurd objective, such as to walk in every one of those 10,000 or so 1 km squares on Ordnance Survey maps. That would indeed be absurd because the objective is unattainable: some of the squares are in the middle of lakes; some are marked as Ministry of Defence ‘Danger Areas’; some just don’t have publicly-accessible paths. On the other hand, it might help to ensure that I randomly visit all parts of the region and don’t just focus on the ‘best bits’. If I walk along Helvellyn's Striding Edge every day then perhaps even that would pall. So I will keep the absurd objective half in mind in the hope that it will help me provide a balanced impression of the region.
For those who insist on some details of my sauntering routes I will provide some in square brackets at the end of each section. These will all be in the format:
[month of saunter; grid-reference of start point; description of route, with bearings on the way; miles sauntered; number of km squares visited so far].
Most of the saunters will be circular, that is, ending where I started. Sometimes they'll be linear, in which case, naturally, help will be needed from a friend or public transport to get to or from one end to the other (I will indicate these by adding ‘(linear)’ to the description). I will refer to ‘I’ and ‘we’, depending on whether I am sauntering alone or in company. In the latter case, the ‘we’ will usually mean ‘Ruth and I’; occasionally the ‘we’ will include others. Now it is time (January 2018) to begin re-visiting, or in a few cases visiting, the hills and dales of North-West England.
© John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018
Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell