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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145.  Naturalising the Long Preston Deeps

The River Ribble pauses halfway. It is quite sprightly as it runs from the hills of Ribblehead through Horton and Stainforth to Settle. And at Long Preston it is still 130 metres above sea-level, so it runs jauntily south-west by Barnoldswick and Clitheroe to the estuary and the Irish Sea. But in the few miles between Settle and Long Preston it proceeds sluggishly in long, deep meanders. After heavy rain the surrounding fields are flooded and in winter travellers along the A65 can see that they are passing a sort of lake. This region is known as the Long Preston Deeps.

I began from the maypole by The Maypole in Long Preston, a village that suffers from the A65 traffic streaming through it. As I walked down the road towards Wigglesworth I could see that the fields were flooded but not to the extent that they often are. There was a range of low hills to the south towards Hellifield, and indeed to the east and west as well. The Long Preston Deeps lie in a shallow basin, which the Ribble enters at Settle and eventually leaves at the low-lying Cow Bridge on the road to Wigglesworth.

The Deeps from Long Preston

The Deeps are a Site of Special Scientific Interest primarily because of the flora of this wetland site and the birds that nest and feed upon it. After previous attempts to build flood defence embankments and to drain the fields for farming, there is now a programme to ‘naturalise’ the Deeps (as described in the first few minutes of this video). As the video shows, the Ribble normally flows low between high, fragile-looking banks that appear to have hardly a protective rock within them. Unlike the case of The Clouds SSSI discussed in the previous Sauntering, all those involved in the naturalisation programme seem certain that the version of nature that they are creating is just as nature intended. What the local farmers gain I'm not sure – except perhaps some compensation from others trying to manage this troublesome land.

As with all landscapes, it is possible to just accept the Deeps for being what they are – and to admire (or not) the scenery, which in this case, with a slow river within flat green fields, is not so exciting. I have passed these fields many times, on the A65 and on the Leeds train, but never once, until now, paused to reflect on why these Deeps are here. Greenhalgh (2009) describes this as a “unique area”. I don’t know if it is literally unique but it is certainly unusual to find such a floodplain within the middle reaches of a river. It is unusual enough to make one suspect that there might have been some unusual cause or event that created these Deeps. If so, what could it have been?

The Ribble Way crosses the road near Cow Bridge and I was tempted to follow it north. But I had not walked here before and couldn’t be sure that the path wouldn’t disappear under water somewhere along the way. So I continued on the road to Wigglesworth, which is a small village with a large pub. The road turns north through Rathmell, the birthplace of Richard Frankland (1630-1698), a nonconformist divine who founded the Rathmell Academy, which was apparently important in the history of northern religious practices. From the road there are occasional views to the east of the flooded fields of the Deeps but there isn’t much to be seen from a distance and probably not much more when close by. I preferred the long-distance views of Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent ahead and came to regret not making better use of this bright, clear November day – oh, to be walking up a proper hill rather than tramping along a road beside flooded fields.
Long Preston

To Long Preston across The Deeps from near Rathmell

2 peaks

Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent from near Rathmell

As for why the Deeps are here, the explanation goes something like this. The Ribble used to flow east towards where Gargrave is today to join the River Aire and thus flow to the North Sea. Then glacial deposits built a barrier in the Long Preston region behind which a lake formed. Eventually the barrier was breached where Cow Bridge now is and the lake escaped by flowing west to the Irish Sea. The Deeps have been formed in the layers of silt that accumulated in the lake. The present floodwater ‘lake’ is therefore a kind of remnant of this post-glacial lake.

    Date: November 4th 2021
    Start: SD829585, Long Preston  (Map: OL41)
    Route: (linear) SE on A65, SW on B6478 – Cow Bridge – E – Wigglesworth – N – Rathmell – N, E, NE – Settle market
    Distance: 8 miles;   Ascent: 50 metres

The two following items:
     147.   Snow-Walking in Littledale
     146.   A November Day around Grasmere and Rydal Water
The two preceding items:
     144.   Fencing The Clouds
     143.   Two Days as a Lake District Tourist
Two nearby items:
     165.   In Gisburn Forest in the Forest of Bowland
       66.   In Search of the Paythorne Salmon
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