Western Howgills

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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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This is one of several items about walking and walks from home during the coronavirus lockdown of January - March 2021.

116.  Are the Caton Windmills on their Last Legs?

Some walkers walk the same walk every day – usually following their dog. They probably say that it is never the same walk, because of the changing seasons, the weather, and so on. Even so, there must be much of a muchness from one walk to the next. We have half-a-dozen short walks from home (well trodden in the last ten months) which can be tweaked a little to provide some variety but I have come to feel that I need longer walks to get into trim in case we are ever let out into the wild again. So I’ve dusted off my old running-from-home routes, which took me further afield. They are mainly on road, which I am not so keen on walking on, but perhaps that’s to be preferred at the moment, with the fields sodden. I decided to tackle the simplest of these routes: up Littledale Road, up Roeburndale Road, back over the moor on the bridleway, and down Quarry Road. A loop, in other words, around the Caton windmills.

Near what we call Bluebell Wood (part of the Roeburndale Road Plantation) three cars were parked for their owners to take their dogs for a walk. They must have driven at least a couple of miles to get here. Is that an ‘essential journey’?  Do dogs get fed up with the same walk every day and neurotically whine so much that their owners just have to take them into the countryside?  If so, perhaps I should do even more neurotic whining at home.

Beyond the wood, the views opened out. To the left were the Caton windmills, with only four of the eight moving. Approaching the cattle grid before the moor, I headed into an eye-wateringly cool breeze that should stir the other four into action. To the right the sun was just above the Ward’s Stone horizon, making it difficult to see if any snow remained there. It was a bright, not quite spring-like day, with no sound of moorland birds to encourage the hope that spring is on its way.

The Caton Moor windmills

As I reached the crest of Roeburndale Road I was passed by two purposeful women walkers who could only spare a curt ‘morning’ for me. They strode on, their four sticks clicking a rhythm on the road to make sure they didn’t flag. Walking sticks certainly add a business-like air to the walking but otherwise I’ve not seen the point of them. They seem to require the arms to be held unnaturally for hours. I wouldn’t like to end a long walk with aching arms as well as aching legs.

At the second cattle grid I walked up on the bridleway, pausing as I always do to admire the view of the Yorkshire Three Peaks (Whernside, Pen-y-ghent and Ingleborough), fifteen miles away. The view wasn’t as clear as sometimes but I could see that their tops still held some snow. I continued over the moor, with the breeze now behind me and the windmills ahead. There were still only four of them moving – and they were moving at a fair lick so there was plenty of wind for them all.
three peaks

Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent

Actually, I have not seen all eight in action for some time. Clearly, they are producing only a fraction of the energy that they should. In past years when a windmill was feeling poorly engineers would soon be up to oil the bearings to get it moving again. Now, they don’t seem bothered. Doesn’t the owner’s income depend upon the energy produced?

The first set of wind turbines here (ten of them) was erected in 1994, after some controversy. They were said to produce enough energy to power the local villages of Caton and Brookhouse, which seemed fair enough. We could look people in the eye and say that we were doing our bit, by sacrificing Caton Moor for green energy. It wasn’t much of a sacrifice as Caton Moor already had the Claughton Brickworks clay-pit and hardly anybody, except a few sheep, visited the moor anyway.

The turbines had a planned life-span of twenty years but advances in turbine technology led to their replacement in 2006 by eight much bigger windmills that generated seven times more energy. If the present turbines have a similar life-span then they are approaching their demise. They have already lasted longer than the first set. I have heard nothing about what might happen next.

No doubt, turbine technology – especially for off-shore windmills – has continued to improve. Of course, off-shore windmills generate less hassle from local residents. Since the Caton windmills were installed hundreds of off-shore windmills have appeared off Morecambe Bay. The yield from the Caton windmills, even if they are all working, must be tiny compared to that from the off-shore ones. Every little may help but perhaps not enough to encourage further maintenance and possible replacement of these turbines. In the end, it will be a matter of money, and not directly green policy. Does the government still subsidise land-based wind farms?  I assume that the contract requires the windmills to be removed at the end of their lives. It is already sad to see them becoming increasingly moribund, if that is the case. Perhaps the moor will soon be restored to its previous glory?

The track down past the windmills

** Note added in March 2023:  The answer to my question seems to be 'no'. All eight windmills are now turning merrily.

    Date: February 1st 2021
    Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
    Route: SE on Littledale Road, E on Roeburndale Road – second cattle grid – N, NW on bridleway – picnic spot – W on Quarry Road – Brookhouse
    Distance: 7 miles;   Ascent: 250 metres

The two following items:
     118.   Coast-to-Coast in Six Days
     117.   Empirical Studies into Gender Differences in Hilly and Horizontal Pedestrianism
The two preceding items:
     115.   Risk, Fear and Pain – or Beauty, Joy and Wonder?
     114.   Never Mind the Danger
Two nearby items:
     197.   Around the Windmills of My Mind, Metaphorically Writing
         1.   The Taming of Caton Moor
A list of all items so far:

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


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