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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177.  Two of the 'Dales 30': Fountains Fell and Darnbrook Fell


Pen-y-ghent from Dale Head

Fountains Fell is a couple of miles south-east of Pen-y-ghent and suffers by comparison with it. Fountains Fell, at 668 metres, is only 26 metres lower than Pen-y-ghent but it lacks the latter's grandeur, with its dramatic cliffs overlooking Ribblesdale. Pen-y-ghent, being one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, has thousands of visitors a year and many more admirers travelling in Ribblesdale. Fountains Fell has relatively few visitors and admirers, since it cannot be well seen by travellers anywhere. It does, in any case, look a rather undistinguished top. The 431-kilometre Pennine Way does cross Fountains Fell but very few walkers will add an extra kilometre by detouring to the actual top of the fell.
fountains fell

Fountains Fell from Dale Head

However, Fountains Fell does have one thing that Pen-y-ghent doesn’t, according to the OS map, and that is coal pits – so I set out to see them. From Dale Head I walked along the road, which is part of the Pennine Way, with what I think of as the back side of Pen-y-ghent impressive to the left and the slopes of Fountains Fell, less so, to the right. Leaving the road, I toiled up the path and near the top I met a walker heading down. He said that he was walking the Pennine Way and would today walk from Malham to Horton (17 miles) and that he would then turn and walk back, tomorrow, I assume. And then he would do similar from Horton and so on. In this way, he said, he would walk the Pennine Way from south-to-north and north-to-south at the same time. Don’t you find such people annoying?  They take on a ridiculous challenge and then decide it is not ridiculous enough. I didn’t like to ask him if he detoured from the path to the top of Fountains Fell, as I planned to do.

danger sign Unfortunately, when I reached the top of the path there was a sign saying “Danger Mine Shafts Please keep to footpath”, with a daunting illustration. After some deliberation, I set off to the highest point by walking alongside the wall – I figured that they wouldn’t build a wall over a shaft and they wouldn’t dig a shaft under a wall. I walked gingerly along with what looked like the remains of a battlefield, complete with bomb craters, to my left. Eventually, I reached the cairn at the highest point, for what it’s worth. The disused coal pits are marked a little to the west but I was not enjoying walking on this fell, fearing every step might be my last, although it seemed pretty obvious where the shafts were. So I didn't investigate further as my imagination is quite capable of picturing a disused coal pit.

Nonetheless, I am intrigued by these coal pits. North-west England had a chequered coal industry. The major coalfields were, of course, in what is now south Lancashire and west Cumbria, and they closed down in the 1970s although the latter may yet be revived. There was also significant coal mining in the Ingleton area until the 1930s. They were all at relatively low altitudes – indeed, the west Cumbrian mines were below sea-level. But, here and there, on the OS maps, at what seem to me to be random spots on the hillside, we see “Coal Pits (disused)”. There are some marked, for example, on Barbon High Fell, by the Galloway Gate above Garsdale, and in Stonesdale near Tan Hill. But are there any as high as those on Fountains Fell, at about 600 metres?  Why is there coal on Fountains Fell but not the adjacent Pen-y-ghent?  Or is there?  All in all, coal on a mountain top seems unnatural.

Coal-mining on Fountains Fell was not a casual, small-scale affair. According to Wright (1985), the Fountains Fell colliery was begun at the end of the 18th century and "was worked for a number of years, producing 900-1,000 tons of coal a year, that is, 8,000-11,000 packhorse loads annually, carried down the road now used as part of the Pennine Way". The Northern Mine Research Society reports that a 30-inch seam was worked from a total of 192 shafts. It also comments that the coal pits were not where marked on the OS map, so I'm glad I didn't search for them.
fountains fell

From the top of Fountains Fell towards Pen-y-ghent, with Ingleborough to the left

The OS map marks a tarn on Fountains Fell, reasonably named Fountains Fell Tarn, but I couldn’t see it from the cairn. I don’t take the OS’s word for everything so I set off to find it. But this meant walking away from the safety of the wall. Evidently, I didn’t fall down a shaft – but I was relieved to reach the haven of the Pennine Way path. The tarn lies in a shallow basin with no natural outlet and seems a pleasant oasis below this battered landscape.
fountains fell tarn

Fountains Fell Tarn

Having come this high I thought I might as well walk on to Darnbrook Fell (624 metres), a mile to the north-east. It is, after all, another of the ‘Dales 30’. The map marks no paths and I could see none on the ground. The safest bet seemed to be to return on the Pennine Way to the wall and then follow that in the other direction, towards Darnbrook Fell. There is usually a sort-of-path by walls. And so there was, but not one I’d want to tackle after wet weather – and not again even after dry. What a dismal top Darnbrook Fell is!  It doesn’t even have the excuse that Fountains Fell has, that miners have turned it inside out. Darnbrook Fell’s desolation is all its own work. Even the trig point is a sorry sight, being perched on its base with about a metre of peat having eroded away.
darnbrook fell

The top of Darnbrook Fell

I escaped north, where I was lucky to find a path made by the farmers’ quads. This provided views into Littondale, one of the prettiest of the Yorkshire Dales. However, it really needs sunshine to enliven its limestone to be seen at its best and by now cloud was greying everything. The track west through Dawson Close must be one of the best for walkers in the Dales although it doesn’t really go anywhere that walkers might want to go. So I had it to myself, apart from the sheep. The track is high above the valley of Hesleden Beck, a tributary of the River Skirfare that runs through Littondale. It was silent apart from the birds, and there were only a few of those but one of them was a cuckoo, who managed a few unenthusiastic calls.

Littondale from the slopes of Darnbrook Fell

I followed this track and then the road for four miles back, with a now dark Pen-y-ghent ahead. I like a straightforward end to walks. Some challenging scrambling is fine earlier on but with increasing physical and mental tiredness I don’t want to be fiddling about with maps, compasses, theodolites, google maps, and what-not. I want to coast back to base, relaxed, reflecting on the day’s walk and wondering if I can scrape some words into a Sauntering.

Pen-y-ghent again

By the way, I recently tried to sign up on Facebook but it rejected me, not believing that ‘John Self’ was a real name. I blame Martin Amis. He wrote Money: A Suicide Note, an unauthorised biography of myself which everyone assumed to be a novel featuring a deplorable reprobate for whom Amis invented the fitting name of John Self. Who does Facebook think it is?  Denying me my birthright, a name passed down to me by generations of Norfolkfolk, a name from the Viking for 'seawolf', a name as common in Norfolk as Smith.

Facebook was happy with ‘John Smith’. Now John Smith is being bombarded with messages from Facebook. However, his Facebook activity “doesn’t follow our Community Standards” (he ignores Facebook messages), so the latest message threatens to “permanently disable” him, which sounds unpleasant.

John Smith had signed up to Facebook in order to see how Tracey (mentioned in Sauntering 174) was getting on with her UK coastal walk. Well, she’s zipping along. She was in Morecambe on April 20th and, according to her Facebook page, camped in Silverdale, spent time on the 21st with a local school, and on the morning of the 22nd was in Ulverston. Nothing was said about the coast between Arnside and Ulverston. I would need to catch a train to travel forty miles (or more, if you include all the inlets) in that time.

    Date: May 22nd 2023
    Start: SD843714, near Dale Head  (Map: OL30)
    Route: NE on road, SE, E on Pennine Way – ridge on Fountains Fell – SW – top of Fountains Fell – SE – Fountains Fell Tarn – NE – Pennine Way path – NW – Fountains Fell ridge – NE by wall, E – top of Darnbrook Fell – N – track – W, SW on track – road – SW – Dale Head
    Distance: 9 miles;   Ascent: 280 metres

The two following items:
     179.   A Kendalian Intermezzo
     178.   Back in the Saddle of Blencathra
The two preceding items:
     176.   The Cragg – Clougha Cuckoo Circuit
     175.   White Scar, Whitbarrow and Witherslack
Two nearby items:
     189.   The Standard Pen-y-ghent Walk
       33.   Is Nappa Hall Napping - or Dying?
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