Western Howgills

Home   Preamble   Index   Areas   Map   References   Me   Drakkar

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.
If you'd like to give a comment, correction or update (all are very welcome) or to be notified by email when a new item is posted - please send an email to johnselfdrakkar@gmail.com.

183.  On the Moors and Pastures above Bentham

The forecast was for half a day’s sunshine so we went for half a day’s walk, which seemed ample after last week’s experience (Sauntering 182). We headed for the moors above Bentham. On crossing the cattle-grid we saw a line of people standing thirty metres or so apart each holding a large flag. At a whistle they all walked forward waving their flags. They were beaters beating the grouse (we didn’t see any) towards the shooters manfully manning the butts up on the moor. I asked one of the beaters if this meant that the moors were closed for walkers (we saw no signs to that effect) and he said that he supposed so but he clearly neither knew nor cared. He was no doubt content to earn some money (£50 a day, I gather) just by walking across a moor with a flag.

We had no flag so we walked in the other direction, but first to the Great Stone of Fourstones. The other threestones have disappeared. The Great Stone is about four metres high and provides an excellent point from which to view the Yorkshire Dales hills, including the Three Peaks, to the north.
gt stone 1         gt stone 2

Left: Approaching the Great Stone of Fourstones;   Right: From the other side of the Great Stone, with Ingleborough in the distance

From the Great Stone we walked on a gentle circuit through the quiet moors and fields to the west. On the moor beyond Fourstones Barn we came across three fine horses wandering free, much too fine to be wandering free. We had crossed no barrier that would stop them reaching the road that we came on.

Less remarkably, in many fields we passed flocks of sheep. This is not something normally to be remarked upon but since this walk, while perfectly pleasant and suited to the occasion, had not a lot of exciting interest for me to report, I’ll pause to consider those sheep.
sheep field

A typical field of sheep

Sheep are such a constant presence in these Saunterings that I have taken their company for granted. In my excuse, they are dull animals, aren’t they?  I can imagine having a chat with a cow, as it looks at me with those doleful eyes while ruminating on the problems of the world, and even a horse, as it wanders over seeking a nuzzle. But a sheep?  They invariably walk away from me, in a group or a line, as if they were clones, as they might well be, since they all look the same.

I can see why Tomasz Schafernaker (BBC weatherman) thought lambs and sheep were two distinct species on Would I Lie to You?. Where does the lamb’s joie de vivre go?  Perhaps the mature sheep is grieving for all its lamb-friends who did not make it through lambhood. What has a sheep to look forward to?  Years of eating grass. Occasionally, the indignity of being shorn to scrawniness. For the ewes, a once a year session with a battering ram. Only for the joys of motherhood to abruptly, mysteriously end when her lambs disappear.

beautiful sheep However, sheep do have one source of excitement in their lives – the various agricultural shows. For these, the prize sheep are prepared, preened, primped, prinked, presented and praps some other words beginning with pr. The book Beautiful Sheep (Dun and Farnham, 2008) shows the result: “it presents sheep as you’ve never seen them before – elegant and coiffured to perfection, ready for the catwalk” (catwalk? – surely some mistake).

The book also gives a potted history of sheep. I learned that sheep are not in fact all the same. There are hundreds of breeds of them, from the Shetland Ewe at 30 kg to the Charollais Ram at 150 kg. And that they provide three useful products (wool, meat and milk), which is three more than I can manage. Sheep farming is one of our oldest industries, having begun in the Middle East in about 9000 BC. There are many references to sheep in the Old Testament – and in our churches today. The first evidence of sheep in the UK dates from the Neolithic period (4000 – 2000 BC). We have developed all those breeds for their different varieties of wool and meat (mainly the latter nowadays), with most breeds being specialist, either for the wool (such as the Soay) or the meat (such as the Suffolk), although some are dual-purpose (such as the Wensleydale).

There are 33 million sheep in the UK, that is, half a sheep per person. In North-West England the main breeds are
    •  Herdwick (the sheep of the Lake District fells)
    •  Rough Fell (also a hardy fell sheep, seen mainly around the Howgills)
    •  Swaledale (the most common lowland sheep in this region)
    •  Wensleydale (less commonly seen but it sounds local).
Most if not all the sheep seen on this walk were Swaledale. I didn’t see any with rosettes.
rough fell                       wensleydale

From 'Beautiful Sheep' (how do they get the sheep to pose?)  Left: Rough Fell ram;  Right: Wensleydale ewe.

lowgill view

A typical view, over Lowgill to the Bowland hills

After crossing fields and walking along quiet lanes, with good views of the Bowland hills and across the bay to the Lake District fells, we came to the Church of the Good Shepherd, where members of the flock dip in regularly to be cleansed of their impurities.

The path through Foss Bank and Ringstones brought us back to the Bentham moors. During the walk we had heard very little sound of shooting. Judging from the gun-fire, the beaters probably flushed only half a dozen grouse. I hope that the shooters missed.
3 peaks

Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent (and clouds)

    Date: September 13th 2023
    Start: SD671664, lay-by on Slaidburn Road  (Map: OL41)
    Route: SW – Great Stone of Fourstones – N, W – Thwaite Lane – SE, S – Church of the Good Shepherd – E – Foss Bank, Ringstones – NE, N – lay-by
    Distance: 5 miles;   Ascent: 75 metres

The two following items:
     185.   The Peace of Shap
     184.   Three Ways to Gawthorpe Hall
The two preceding items:
     182.   Along the North Fylde Esplanade
     181.   Trail-Blazing on Farleton Knott
Two nearby items:
     152.   Is the Purple Saxifrage on Ingleborough in Flower Yet?
       40.   In the Borderlands of Burton-in-Lonsdale and Bentham
A list of all items so far:

Home   Preamble   Index   Areas   Map   References   Me   Drakkar

    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


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