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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176.  The Cragg – Clougha Cuckoo Circuit

from baines cragg Right: Looking from Baines Cragg, over Cragg Wood, to Clougha.

It is six months since I walked up a hill, unless you count Nicky Nook (215 metres) [Sauntering 170] or family rambles on Loughrigg Fell (335 metres) and Caton Moor (361 metres). Before I travel to tackle high mountains I need to get some up-and-down action into my legs. So we set off to The Cragg for a circuit on the moors below Clougha.

Looking south from Little Cragg, the walk seems straightforward – walk up the hill on the right side, across the top, and back down on the left side. We headed for Baines Cragg, as we did during the first covid lockdown [Sauntering 91] to listen for cuckoos. On that occasion the view was crystal clear but today a polluted murk all but obscured the distant hills. But, as last time, as we stood there we heard a cuckoo, which is always a cheering experience.

Those who philosophise about the benefits of walking often emphasise that it enables an escape from the woes and worries of everyday life. However, I am not escaping from anything. Often, especially when walking over familiar terrain, I am not cocooned in the here-and-now experience but open to an amalgamation of memories of past activities within my ‘everyday life’.

It is, for example, impossible for me to visit The Cragg in May without recalling our previous pilgrimages to hear the cuckoos. We would come with a picnic, or with a meal to cook in the camper van, to enjoy to the sound of cuckoos. At other times of the year The Cragg would be the objective for a family outing, with the children free to clamber over the rocks. Our visitors were liable to be whisked up to The Cragg. I remember my mother sitting there, somewhat nonplussed by the view of rather bleak heather moors. She rarely left Norfolk. On the journey here from Norfolk she had been puzzled by the apparent absence of the Pennines, which she had been led to believe was a mighty mountain range that split the country in two. I was able to assure her that she was looking at a part of the Pennines and, even if it may not have looked much to her, it is over five times higher than anywhere in Norfolk.

The Cragg also has more personal memories for me. On Sunday mornings I often ran up to The Cragg, down the other side, completed a loop, and then ran back up and over The Cragg. While others gave thanks to the almighty in church, I thought of myself giving thanks for health and nature, in my own way.

I also often ran over The Cragg to get home from Lancaster University, thereby avoiding the traffic. On one occasion, though, I was passed by a car as I toiled up the slopes on a very hot day. At the top, I was greeted by the driver, the farmer’s wife of The Cragg farm, standing, waiting for me, with a large glass of orange juice. Actually, I am sure she was a farmer too but if I just said ‘farmer’ you’d assume a man, wouldn’t you?  After all, according to the nursery rhyme, “the farmer wants a wife”. I digress. My point is that this walk, straightforward as it may seem, means more to me.

We walked down past the increasingly dilapidated Bark Barn, noting the distinctive gate in the wall indicating that we were above the Thirlmere Aqueduct, which we had traced in another lockdown walk [Sauntering 89]. Various structures in the field are presumably to do with the aqueduct. At Cragg Cottage we were disappointed not to see or hear the peacocks which for long have been a distinctive feature here. But then as we walked up to the moor we heard the loud alien sound of a peacock from deep within Cragg Wood, a sound that must puzzle visitors who don’t know about the peacocks.

The moor seemed a deeper, more luxuriant green than it used to be. This, we surmised, is because the bilberry is able to grow into what are becoming small bushes now that there are few, or no, sheep on these slopes. The heather, higher up, seemed healthy too with no signs of recent burning. Perhaps the estate-owners have reduced, or ended, this practice. If so, and if this continues, then these moors will look rather different in a decade or two’s time, with shrubs and eventually trees colonising and with consequent changes in the wildlife that makes a home here.
to baines cragg

Looking back to Baines Cragg, over Cragg Wood, from the Clougha slopes (with The Cragg farm below the windmills)

We walked slowly up and up, on the shooters’ track. Of course, in earlier decades we weren’t allowed on these moors at all. This track wasn’t then such a visible scar on the landscape but at least it now provides a convenient path uphill for walkers. We disturbed the occasional grouse and also a family with tiny, striped chicks. The parents too are quite attractive birds really but, sadly for them, they are always associated with shooting.

The path curved south-east and levelled off. At about 400 metres we were now more or less on the horizon as seen from The Cragg. The breeze was so slight that only occasionally did it stir one of the Caton Moor windmills into action. It was not sufficient to disperse all the low-lying murk but we could at least now see the grey shapes of the distant hills of the Lakes and Dales. Nearer, the farmers’ fields looked a deep green below the dull brown of the heather.

We looked out for the large rock outcrop to the left of the track which we knew was where a path, otherwise easily missed, dropped north and led, eventually, back to The Cragg. This was the path that I had walked up in snow in February 2020, just before the first covid lockdown [Sauntering 75]. This path was more enjoyable to walk upon than the shooters’ track. The latter is easier-going but becomes a trudge – not a moorland walk at all. We paused occasionally to look at green hairstreak butterflies – which we had seen in much greater numbers on another lockdown walk, on Claughton Moor [Sauntering 87].
clougha path

On the path down from Clougha

conder source

The valley where the River Conder begins

The path drops down into the valley where the River Conder begins its journey west (and where I walked when I traced the Conder from the sea to its source [Sauntering 70]). We turned east by the charming Sweet Beck. At Skelbow Barn Ruth commented that the barn, now, it seemed, unused, would be a good home for swallows – as I had said earlier that I hadn’t noticed any swallows yet this year – and right on cue one and then a second flew from the barn. Back at the car we felt our up-and-down leg muscles had been adequately exercised.

But … we hadn’t heard any more cuckoos after the first five minutes of our walk. This is a little worrying. Three days later I walked over The Cragg again but heard no cuckoos. Did we hear the last Littledale cuckoo?

    Date: May 13th 2023
    Start: SD546618, Little Cragg car park  (Map: OL41)
    Route: W over Baines Cragg – Bark Barn – S, SE on shooters’ track – large rock outcrop at grid reference 552596 – N, NW, NE, W – Skelbow Barn – NW – Little Cragg
    Distance: 6 miles;   Ascent: 280 metres

The two following items:
     178.   Back in the Saddle of Blencathra
     177.   Two of the 'Dales 30': Fountains Fell and Darnbrook Fell
The two preceding items:
     175.   White Scar, Whitbarrow and Witherslack
     174.   Morecambe Away and Home
Two nearby items:
     147.   Snow-Walking in Littledale
       79.   Sand Martins by the Lune
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