Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and
North Yorkshire in North-West England
(more details of my ‘North-West England’ are given in the Preamble).
If you'd like to give a comment, correction or update (all are very welcome) or to
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60.   The Longsleddale Green Lane
59.   The 1 in 5,000 Hen Harriers of Bowland
58.   From Hawes, in the Poet Laureate's Footsteps
57.   A Blowy Lowsy Point
56.   Cross Fell: The Apex of England
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
60.  The Longsleddale Green Lane
Referring to Longsleddale, Baddeley (1880, 1922) wrote that “it is difficult to picture a scene in which peace, contentment and beauty are more happily combined.” I couldn’t put it better myself. Which is why I haven’t tried to and have quoted Baddeley instead. However, this peace, contentment and beauty has not been easily won and may be easily lost.
Compared to the almost empty dales to the north (such as Bannisdale and Borrowdale), Longsleddale is well-populated. At the bottom of the valley, by the A6, there are several houses gathered around Garnett Bridge, and above them farmsteads and homesteads dot the valley throughout, on both sides of the River Sprint. As we strode up the valley, doing our best to ignore the blackberries, the houses thinned out and so did the traffic, although it was never exactly relaxed walking, having to squeeze into the hedge from time to time.
Longsleddale is indeed long. It is five miles to Sadgill at the end of the road and a further three miles to the head of the dale, at the top of the Gatescarth Pass. The hills on both sides of the lower valley rise to 400m or so, providing shelter for the farms below. The small, flat fields here result from the series of glacial lakes separated by rock bars that long ago occupied the dale. In 1845 a Longsleddale reservoir was planned in order to regulate the water supply to the various mills along the valley but it was never built. I expect that Manchester had its eye on the valley for a reservoir too, as it did for most valleys in the region. In the end Manchester Corporation used Longsleddale only for the Haweswater Aqueduct which runs, inconspicuously now, through its eastern hills. A proposal to lay a second pipe-line through the valley bottom of Longsleddale, which would have required the building of a wider road for access, was rejected by government in 1965.
We walked on, passing a barn/garage which on its side indicated the mileages to London, Edinburgh and Yarmouth. No, I have no idea. The valley opened out, providing views of the head of Longsleddale, where the Gatescarth Pass curves up between cliffs. The fact that the road is a dead-end obviously decreases the traffic and it may be fortunate that the road is still a dead-end. According to Berry and Beard (1980), in the 1960s it was proposed to extend the M6 north from Carnforth by taking it up Longsleddale and then by tunnel under the Gatescarth Pass to Mardale. I find it hard to believe that this option was seriously contemplated. I suspect that the planners offered Longsleddale as an option because it was so patently unpalatable that their preferred, still unpalatable but less so, option would be gratefully adopted. Perhaps much the same can be said about an 1840s proposal to route the Lancaster to Carlisle railway through Longsleddale and by tunnel into Mardale.
Longsleddale is narrow and it becomes narrower still beyond Sadgill, as it is squeezed between Goat Scar and Buckbarrow Crag. The change of scenery reflects the transition from Silurian to Borrowdale Volcanic rock. The metalled road ends and the rough track of the Gatescarth Pass continues between Harter Fell and Branstree, reaching a height of 572m (for comparison, Kirkstone Pass, the Lake District’s highest road pass, reaches 454m) before eventually dropping down to the head of Haweswater in Mardale.
We walked a little way up the Gatescarth Pass track in order to gain a better view and were
confronted by two 4x4s coming down. This was not a surprise to us because we had selected
this day to visit Longsleddale precisely because it was the one day in the month when off-road vehicles
and motor-bikes may be given permits to cross the pass from Mardale to Sadgill. The Lake
District’s ‘green lane’ policy remains
A green lane is an unsurfaced public way that may be used by recreational vehicles. There are, of course, objections to the noise and damage caused and many walkers do not appreciate being barged off their paths. A compromise is being sought on the Gatescarth Pass, in allowing vehicular access for just one day a month.
Two 4x4s and three bikers on the Gatescarth Pass. This is at the lower,
gentle end of the pass. It is much steeper, rockier and bendier higher up. The second biker had lost
control of his bike and nearly hit the wall. I hope that he got the hang of it before reaching the
difficult parts of the pass.
We sat and waited in case more 4x4s would come along but instead a group of ten bikers tackled the track from the Sadgill direction. We saw the bikers returning later and assume that they were taking advantage of the fact that the Traffic Regulation Order that limits access to the Gatescarth Pass only begins to apply 1½ miles up the pass. They were scrambling up, to turn and then scramble down. They could, in fact, do this on any day. I suppose 4x4s could as well – although they may be unable to turn.
From Sadgill we followed the track that leads to Kentmere. This also may be used by 4x4s, at any time. For centuries it was, like the Gatescarth Pass, part of the main east-west route in the Lake District. This ran from Ravenglass, over Hardknott and Wrynose, to Ambleside, Kentmere, Sadgill, Mardale and Shap. A petition of 1717 described it as a “great road and public highway … very much used by travellers, drovers and others having occasion frequently to pass” (Hindle, 1984). We only walked up the track to gain a higher view of Longsleddale and then dropped down to the bridleway that continues on the south side of the River Sprint all the way to Garnett Bridge. We walked through many grassy fields and past numerous houses, quite a few of which were undergoing renovation. It was an uneventful return walk, entirely peaceful apart from the occasional biker on the road opposite.
Looking down to Sadgill and the start of Gatescarth Pass from the track to Kentmere
I had anticipated, before taking this walk, that this final paragraph would be a coruscating criticism of
the green lane policy that allows vehicles to disturb the serenity of Longsleddale and to damage the
ancient track of the Gatescarth Pass. Now, having familiarised myself with the long length of Longsleddale,
I am inclined to reflect that Longsleddale has overcome much greater actual and potential threats in
the past than that of a few individuals driving vehicles over the pass. The Gatescarth Pass has
survived centuries of herds of cattle being driven over it and of heavy quarry traffic. Longsleddale
can absorb and largely ignore the, to my mind, rather silly and hopefully temporary activity of off-road vehicles. Of course, I would prefer that there were no traffic at all on the Gatescarth Pass; that the Traffic Regulation Order applied to the whole of the pass so that bikers are discouraged from roaring along Longsleddale; and that men (it is always men) did not feel urged to gain their thrills by driving their macho machines here. Saddened as I am by the treatment of the green lane of the Gatescarth Pass, I will prefer to think instead of the green bridleway of Longsleddale where peace, contentment and beauty will always be found, I hope.
[September 2019; SD5298; A6 layby at Garnett Plain – W, NW on road – Sadgill – S, E – River Sprint –
SE on bridleway – Garnett Bridge – E, SE, E – layby; 11 miles; 139/400]
59.  The 1 in 5,000 Hen Harriers of Bowland
for the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty represents a hen harrier. It was a wise decision to adopt the hen harrier because the fortunes of this bird in Bowland have focussed our attention on the difficulties of managing such a wild, remote region.
When the hen harrier logo was designed the Forest of Bowland was “the stronghold of the hen harrier on English moorland. Between 2002 and 2008 two-thirds of all the nesting attempts in the English uplands (83 out of 125)” were in Bowland (Avery, 2015, p188). The word ‘stronghold’ was an exaggeration, as the number of nesting attempts in England each year was still very low compared to what it could and should be. And it became even lower. In 2017 not one hen harrier nested in Bowland. Since then there has been a slight improvement, to three successful nests in 2018 and five in 2019.
I set off from the Grey Stone of Trough, which feels like the central point of Bowland, since it marks the line of the old county boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire and stands at the head of the Trough of Bowland at the highest point of the only road that passes through central Bowland. From there, I walked to Whins Brow, an unassuming top of modest height (476m), which nonetheless is arguably Bowland’s central peak since it provides the most comprehensive panorama: of the tops of the Dales Three Peaks over Croasdale to the north-east;
From Whins Brow looking across Brennand with the tops of the Dales Three Peaks just visible
of Pendle and other Pennine hills to the south-east; of the southern Bowland hills of Totridge, Hareden Fell and Hawthornthwaite Fell to the south;
From Whins Brow looking south to Totridge and Hareden Fell
of Morecambe Bay (and sometimes, but not on this occasion, the Lake District hills) to the north-west; and of Bowland’s highest tops of Ward’s Stone (561m), Wolfhole Crag (527m) and White Hill (544m) to the north-west and north.
From Whins Brow looking north to Wolfhole Crag
Plus, after walking north a little from Whins Brow, a bird’s eye view of the valleys of Brennand and Whitendale,
which seem to me to be at the heart of Bowland, as the farms here are the only ones that are tucked into an
inner valley. Between the two valleys stands the appropriately-named Middle Knoll and, in addition to being the
centre of Bowland, the region claims the
central point of Britain
at Whitendale Hanging Stones.
I continued north over purple heather, bilberry and long tufted grass, and around a few pools the colour of coffee without milk.
As I headed towards Brennand River, which gathers all the water that falls in the large basin south of Wolfhole Crag, I became aware that a United Utilities van was moving slowly along the track that leads eventually to a shooting cabin. In fact, as I moved along, so did the van. I felt under surveillance, a feeling confirmed when two men got out of the van to observe me with binoculars. It was a little unnerving, but perhaps it is reassuring to know that they want nobody to misbehave on their moors. It also became a little embarrassing when I found that the river was too high for me to cross. At least, not in my boots: I warily paddled over barefoot. By the time I reached the track the van had moved away, which was a pity as I would have liked to know what they were concerned about.
I walked through the two Brennand farms to where United Utilities has a building and information boards. A van was parked but there seemed to be nobody about for me to interrogate. The information boards were mainly about its work in extracting our drinking water from these fells but I noticed that I was advised to “look out for birds like merlin and peregrine falcon”. Merlin perhaps, peregrine doubtful – there used to be a score or so of peregrine nests in Bowland but now there are usually none.
The information boards did not mention hen harriers, which is somewhat coy of United Utilities because it has been working hard with the RSPB to help hen harriers return to nest in Bowland. No doubt they don’t want the public interfering – and perhaps that was why I was being monitored. All eight of the hen harrier nests in 2018 and 2019 were on United Utilities land. What are the chances of that?
United Utilities owns 34% of the Bowland Fells Special Protection Area, a designation intended to protect rare upland birds such as the merlin and hen harrier. Other things being equal, the probability that a hen harrier nest in Bowland will be on United Utilities land is 0.34. The probability that all eight nests will be there would seem to be 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34 x 0.34, that is slightly less than 0.0002, or 1 in 5,000.
Are other things equal? Hen harriers do not nest communally like rooks. Once one hen harrier has begun to nest, the second will establish its nesting territory rather apart. Therefore, the probably of the second (and so on) hen harrier nest being on United Utilities land would be less than 0.34 and the probability of all eight being there considerably less than 1 in 5,000.
The areas of Bowland that are not United Utilities land are owned by the Abbeystead Estate (47%),
the Bleasdale Estate (10%) and others (8%). The two estates manage the moors for driven grouse shooting
and employ gamekeepers to help ensure that grouse thrive. In the opening remarks of a
parliamentary debate on driven grouse shooting
in 2016 it was stated that “the evidence is clear that birds of prey, including hen harriers, are better off on managed heather moorland”. A later speaker explained that “without gamekeepers to control them, predators multiply and hen harriers pay the price”. So, it seems, a hen harrier that attempts to nest on gamekeeper-managed land is likely to be more successful than one that attempts to nest on United Utilities land. Therefore, the probability that all eight successful nests were on United Utilities land is even further lowered from 1 in 5,000.
Is it a remarkable fluke? Or is there an explanation? When the speaker mentioned above referred to predators, he meant animals such as foxes, stoats and weasels. The elimination of these would clearly benefit ground-nesting birds such as grouse and hen harriers. However, to gamekeepers a hen harrier is not just another ground-nesting bird. It is a predator too, since it is rather fond of young grouse. It is illegal to kill or disturb a hen harrier. They wouldn’t, would they?
[September 2019; SD6253; The Grey Stone of Trough – E – Whins Brow – N – Brennand River – E, SE –
United Utilities information boards – NW – Brennand Farm – S on Ouster Rake – fence – W – Whins Brow, Grey Stone of
Trough; 6 miles; 136/400]
58.  From Hawes, in the Post Laureate's Footsteps
This walk was in homage to our new Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage. His poetry is to me a closed
book – about twenty of them, in fact – but I like his prose, especially
Walking Home: Travels with a Troubadour on the Pennine Way
(Armitage, 2012). Over half of the 268-mile Pennine Way lies within the scope of North-West England (as far as Saunterings goes) and on this outing we began by following in Armitage’s footsteps on day 13 of his trek, his walk south from Hawes.
The role of the Romantic poets in burnishing the image of the Lake District is well-known but what
about the Romantic poets and the Yorkshire Dales? The
'Welcome to Yorkshire' website
mentions seven Yorkshire-born or Yorkshire-adopted poets: Auden, Caedmon, Hughes, Larkin, MacMillan, Marvell
and Plath. Armitage, who was born and lives in Yorkshire but not in the Dales, doesn’t get a mention.
None of the seven is of the Romantic era or from the Dales. To the relief of the less poetically inclined, the image of the
Yorkshire Dales remains more prosaic.
Hawes from above Gaudy House
Wether Fell from the Pennine Way
We left a busy Sunday Bank Holiday Hawes, with its plague of black bikers, to find peace on the moors, on a perfect late August day, virtually cloudless and with a light breeze. Armitage was not so lucky on his day 13. He had to walk in cloud, a joyless trudge from the sound of it: “without a view, the whole enterprise is pointless, a futile schlep, hours of visual confinement with nothing to see but your own feet, and nothing to do but carry on”. He was not inspired to write a poem about his walk from Hawes, which seems a shame. I’m sure that he could have managed something along the lines of “I wandered lonely in a cloud …”.
My knowledge of poetry is somewhat limited for me to be advising Armitage. I know that if the
word ‘over’ is spelt ‘o’er’ then it becomes poetry (“floats on high o’er vales and hills”, that sort of
thing). And I see that the best poems leave lots of space on the page. I assume that this is so that
you may add comments to explain all the allusions, metaphors and similes (comparing yourself to a cloud
or a daffodil, that sort of thing). I said similes, not smiles. There are few smiles in poetry. If you
buy a book of humorous poetry then hold it tight so that it doesn’t blow away in the breeze. Judging
from his prose, I thought that Armitage’s poetry would be jollier, so I read one of his apparently acclaimed poems
I Say I Say I Say
which was surely the beginning of a joke. It seems to be about slashing wrists in the bath.
Once we had left the outskirts of Hawes and Gayle we were alone on Gaudy Lane and up the Pennine Way. We surmised that Pennine Way walkers leaving Hawes heading south would have left before us and Pennine Way walkers heading north to Hawes wouldn’t have reached this far yet. This fitted the fact that the higher we walked the more walkers we met from the other direction, including a couple from Tasmania. The lengths people go to in order to walk on our moors!
We paused for a snack on a perch with a fine view into the hidden valley of Snaizeholme, with Widdale Fell beyond and Wild Boar Fell more beyond. Approaching Dodd Fell, we left Armitage to his gloomy yomp to Horton-in-Ribblesdale and walked across the moor to the top of the fell. It seemed a good idea at the time but I’ve now read the opinion of Sellers (1984) that “it is hardly worth the very considerable effort as there’s much rough ground and no path”. Perhaps she was not entertained at the top as we were by golden plovers, which made all our effort worthwhile. The alarm call of the golden plover is a single plaintive whistle but to us on this desolate hill it sounded more welcoming than alarming. The view from Dodd Fell (668m) is not ideal. There are higher tops to be seen in all directions but unfortunately the tops are all that can be seen. The broad plateau of Dodd Fell cuts off all their bases.
From Dodd Fell we dropped down and around the head of Sleddale – with more rough, pathless walking – to
eventually reach what’s called the Hawes–Kettlewell road. This remote hill road is rather challenging
for a Sunday jaunt but a fair number of drivers – and bikers – seemed keen to take it on, sadly. We walked down the road, below Wether Fell, to have a look at the graceful Aysgill Force and then on for a drink in Hawes before awaiting the summer Sunday 830 bus that runs between Preston and Richmond.
Armitage did reach Horton-in-Ribblesdale but did not give a poetry reading there – he was whisked off to Grasmere for some reason. He had resolved to walk the Pennine Way from end to end on consecutive days trying to earn enough money to pay his way by reading his poems at his evening stops. This is not a challenge that I could take on, as I have no poems, or that I would take on, as I’d rather not feel compelled to walk, come rain or sleet, to Slaggyford – I’m not making this up: Slaggyford in Northumbria was on his itinerary of poetical stops – by 19.30 on Tuesday to read poems to the locals. Still, Armitage did extract £247 from the people of Hawes, which shows the quality of his poems or the legendary generosity of Yorkshire folk.
[August 2019; SD8789; Hawes – SW – Gaudy Lane – SW, S on Pennine Way – S across Spilling Moss Turf Ground –
Dodd Fell – SE, NE – road – N,W,N – Aysgill Force – NE - Hawes; 9 miles; 136/400]
57.  A Blowy Lowsy Point
Northern Rail again failed to deliver me to the Cumbrian west coast in a timely fashion (see
but this time I had a plan B. I got off the train at Dalton-in-Furness and walked to the west coast – specifically, to the sand dunes of Sandscale Haws in the Duddon estuary. Sandscale Haws has accumulated an impressive set of acronyms: LGS (Local Geological Site), NNR (National Nature Reserve), SAC (Special Area of Conservation), SPA (Special Protection Area), SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and Ramsar (which isn’t an acronym). But never mind all that: it was a windy day and I looked forward to a blow-out on the dunes.
Sand dunes have become a rare habitat in England. There are only fragments left on the Lancashire coast north of the Ribble but west Cumbria still has several sizable areas of dune, at Drigg, Eskmeals, Haverigg and Walney Island, in addition to Sandscale Haws. Apart from being a habitat for niche species, sand dunes can provide, it is now belatedly realised, more effective flood defence than the concrete barricades that have often replaced them.
I strode from Dalton, past the Castle, over the railway line, across the A590, over farmland, to reach the inlet of Scarth Bight, with the large area of grassed-over dunes of Sandscale Haws to the north. A herd of native cattle browsed the marshland. Beyond them I could see, to my surprise, a dozen or so shacks on the exposed, low-lying promontory of Lowsy Point. I went to have a look, of course. They were weather-beaten, as you’d expect, and some were built on supports, presumably in the hope that they wouldn’t be washed away by high waters. There was nobody about. The owners of these ramshackle retreats must return to them wondering how much has been blown or washed away.
Black Combe from Lowsy Point
Lowsy Point was separated by the narrow Scarth Channel from the north end of Walney Island. Beyond the last shack I dropped down to a long, sandy beach, deserted apart from two men who were trying to fish. The tide was coming in, blown along by the strong wind that created a series of white-topped wavelets from far out to sea. The beach is clearly flat and, when the tide is out, stretches miles into the bay. What kind of fish comes in at the forefront of a few inches of water? Whatever they were, they had nothing to fear from the fishermen because they could hardly cast their lines into the sea against the wind.
I walked up to the crest of the sand dunes to survey inland. There was an expanse of hummocky dunes, with low vegetation and a few ponds within which breed the rare natterjack toad, Europe’s noisiest amphibian but not in August. It was a battle along the sand dunes, up and down marram-grassed humps, wind-blown and sand-blasted – but invigorating and yet exhausting. So I retreated to the beach. I was still wind-blown and sand-blasted but at least I was on the level. As I had been made well aware, the sand dunes are still active, as they must be to remain dunes.
Black Combe from Sandscale Haws
Ahead, Black Combe arose behind Millom and Hodbarrow, just a couple of miles away across the Duddon Channel. Piles of foam
were being moved, inch-by-inch, up the beach by the tide. Occasionally, a cloud of it was whipped up and over the dunes. As I turned
east, more of the central Lake District hills came into view. It was a challenge to identify familiar tops from an unfamiliar-to-me angle. Scafell? Bow Fell? The Old Man of Coniston? The answers were given at the Roanhead car park, where a display identifies them.
Black Combe from Roanhead beach
From the car park I had no choice but to walk back across the A590 and over the railway line. I was back in plenty of time for the train and picked up a leaflet about a Dalton Heritage Walk. This informed me that “since the closure of the last mine in the 1920s, Dalton has not seen any significant changes”. They said it. It was easy to imagine the main street in the 1920s.
There wasn’t much mentioned in the Heritage Walk that I hadn’t already seen on my walk out of and back into Dalton.
The 14th century Dalton Castle – really a pele tower – stood strong and square but it was closed. From the outside only
the four figures at the top corners intrigued. I had already noticed the blue plaques for Dalton’s two illustrious sons:
Dr William Close
The former is described by Bragg (1983) as “undoubtedly the greatest Cumbrian painter”. That is not to say that
he was the greatest painter of Cumbria because he moved to London to make his name and his money, mainly by
painting portraits. I have not studied Romney’s body of work but I see that he painted sixty portraits of
Lady Hamilton. I deduce that either he was infatuated with Lady Hamilton (as others were) or he was a
perfectionist, thinking that the first fifty-nine didn’t quite get her right.
The latter blue plaquee, Dr Close, was actually born in Yorkshire but began his medical practice in Dalton in 1797. His plaque describes him as “surgeon, apothecary, musician, writer, historian and inventor”. Ah, but in his spare time did he ever walk to Sandscale Haws?
[August 2019; SD2373; Dalton railway station – NW, W, NW – Thwaite House – NW,SW, W – Lowsy Point – N, E –
car park – SE and same way back; 8 miles; 133/400]
56.  Cross Fell: The Apex of England
We hear a lot about the north-south divide, which is supposed to separate wealthy, healthy
southerners from poor, poorly northerners. Some deny that it exists but a recent
found that England’s twenty fattest cities (that is, cities with the highest proportion of obese people) are
all north of the Midlands. But what about the east-west divide? By this I mean the natural watershed that runs down the spine of England separating rivers that flow east to the North Sea from those that flow west to the Irish Sea and the Atlantic. That certainly exists.
I have read several descriptions of the long trek up the western slopes of Cross Fell and none of them
mentions that Cross Fell lies on this east-west divide, which I will call the National Divide in comparison with the Continental Divide that Americans make such a fuss of. I set off from Kirkland along a clear track that became a little less clear the further I went. It was relentless, with every single step uphill, although the gradient was sympathetically gentle. The views, at least, were good, of the stern Black Doors below Green Fell and back over the serene Eden valley to the extensive profile of Lake District hills. However, it was the prospect of reaching the National Divide that helped me along.
The northern Lake District profile across the Eden valley
I looked forward to seeing the great metropolises of Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough far to the east.
As I at last reached the watershed the view opened out, revealing distant hills to the north that I assume to
be within Scotland and far to the east, beyond the Pennine hills of the Milburn Forest, an indistinct
blue-greyness within which, I admit, I could not discern the great metropolises. Still, I could see waters
running north to contribute to the Tyne and also the headwaters of the Tees just southeast of Cross Fell
flowing towards Cow Green Reservoir. Between them the Wear arose just beyond the hills east of Cross Fell.
Within North-West England, the National Divide continues south from Cross Fell past High Cup Nick, across Stainmore Common, over the A66 to High Greygrits, on to High Pike, across Widdale Fell to Pen-y-ghent and Fountains Fell, across the A65 near Hellifield, past Earby to Boulsworth Hill, and on to Thieveley Pike. If you walked the whole National Divide from the Scottish border to the south coast you would walk nowhere higher than Cross Fell (893m). So, from Cross Fell you can look east down to North Sea waters, west down to Atlantic waters, south down to the southern National Divide and north down to the northern National Divide. So, truly Cross Fell is the central pinnacle, the apex, of England.
However, Cross Fell seems to be not so fondly regarded. Its top is bleak and barren although it now has some impressive cairns and a fine wind shelter. I suppose many walkers reach Cross Fell as part of a Pennine Way expedition and do so in less than the ideal conditions that I had (mainly sunny, no wind, clear visibility, dry underfoot). To them another slog over peat bogs and up another slope may not appeal much. I wouldn’t like to lose my way on Cross Fell and have to tackle its peat bogs in cloud.
Approaching the top of Cross Fell (trig point, wind shelter and cairn)
Leaving Cross Fell, looking towards Cow Green Reservoir and Great Dun Fell
As it was, I did miss the start of the bridleway south-west from near Tees Head. I didn’t mind, as it was
good to wander free on the dry grassy slopes with occasional rocky outcrops, and I had the marvellous view of the Eden valley and of the Lake District hills ahead of me, with the white dome of Great Dun Fell and the pointed tops of Knock Pike and Dufton Pike off to the left. I eventually spotted the small cairns that mark the bridleway, and then cantered down, across the flank of Wildboar Scar and past Grumply Hill, although the hot day made it seem further than I had hoped.
Finally, I should say a word about the Hanging Walls of Mark Anthony, which the Ordnance Survey
marks on the map south of Kirkland. A word is more than they deserve. It is a pity that the Trades Description Act
doesn’t apply to such names. There are no walls, hanging or otherwise, and I don’t believe anybody has ever said
that Mark Anthony had anything to do with them, if there were. Instead there are a few medieval terraces much like
those seen in many other places. There is a theory that the OS has plonked the name in the wrong place – in which case,
I will keep a look out on my saunters for hanging walls (whatever they are) that have lost their name.
Kirkland Fell (below Cross Fell) from near the so-called Hanging Walls
[July 2019; NY6432; by Kirkland church – E – Kirkland Hall – NE – Curricks – SE – Cross Fell, bridleway – SW – Wildboar Scar, Wythwaite – N – Kirkland Hall – W – church; 9 miles; 131/400]
55.  Butterflying on Whitbarrow
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.
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
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, from the west
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
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 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.
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
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
“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.
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
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.
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, 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 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
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
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 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 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
Skipton Castle and Brougham Castle. In Mallerstang it passes another of her castles,
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.
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]
50.   Walking Home (1) - From Kirkby Lonsdale
49.   Lingmoor Fell - For the Best Medium-High View in Lakeland?
48.   With The Grane
47.   The 'Wild Desert' of Kingsdale
46.   To the Point of Winterburn Reservoir
45.   Thoughts from the Towpath (Bilsborrow to Preston)
44.   Interlude: We Are Sorry for the Delay ...
43.   The Red Screes - Wansfell Question
42.   Appreciating Meg and Lucy
41.   Safe in Littledale
40.   In the Borderlands of Burton-in-Lonsdale and Bentham
39.   Halls Galore by the Middle Ribble
38.   Reflections from Jeffrey's Mount
37.   Whoopers on Thurnham Moss
36.   The Flow and Ebb and Flow of Morecambe
35.   Dufton Rocks
34.   Thieveley Pike and the Singing Ringing Tree
33.   Is Nappa Hall Napping - or Dying?
32.   Russet Rusland Valley
31.   Pink Stones on the Orton Fells
30.   Dunsop Bridge, Whitewell and Duchy-land
29.   The Quiet End of the Ribble Way
28.   Broughton Moor, or What's Left of It
27.   The Footpaths of Anglezarke Moor
26.   A Booze by Any Other Name
25.   Mysterious Harkerside Moor
24.   Up Ingleborough with the Holiday Crowds
23.   The Kentmere Diatomite
22.   In the Lancashire Yorkshire Dales
21.   The Fortunes of Fleetwood
20.   On the Sunny Side of Pendle
19.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 2)
18.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 1)
17.   Sheep-Wrecked Matterdale?
16.   The Wildflowers of Sulber
15.   On the Hobdale Fence
14.   Logging Along the Cam High Road
13.   The Cairns of Grisedale Pike
12.   Uplifted by High Street
11.   The Struggle over Boulsworth Hill
10.   The 'Hillfort' of Addlebrough
9.   "The Prettiest Mere of All" Lakeland
8.   What Price Catrigg Force?
7.   Castling in Cumbria: From Brougham to Lowther
6.   The Count of Flasby Fell
5.   Circumperambulating Stocks Reservoir
4.   In a Flap at Bolton-le-Sands
3.   Zipping around Thirlmere
2.   The Dentdale Diamonds
1.   The Taming of Caton Moor
(and here's some I did earlier)
© John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018
Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar;
Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell