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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22.  In the Lancashire Yorkshire Dales

yorkshire dales When the Yorkshire Dales National Park was designated in 1954 its western border was made to coincide with the border of the county of Yorkshire. Obviously, it would be silly for places not in Yorkshire to be in the Yorkshire Dales. In 1974 the counties were re-defined. Parts of the Yorkshire Dales, such as Dentdale, found themselves now in the new county of Cumbria. Parts of 'old Yorkshire' which were deemed surplus to the requirements of 'new North Yorkshire' were transferred to 'new Lancashire', which was itself a shrunken version of 'old Lancashire', with large areas now in 'new Merseyside', 'new Greater Manchester' and 'new Cumbria'. In 2016 the Yorkshire Dales National Park fought back: it annexed sizable areas of Cumbria and even a part of Lancashire.

All of which shows that the lines we draw on maps are administrative conveniences that may have little to do with the nature of the land itself. I planned to walk in that part of Lancashire that is now within the Yorkshire Dales, reflecting on how it compares to the part of the Yorkshire Dales that lies on the other side of the hill, in North Yorkshire. I set off from Cowan Bridge, entering the National Park at the old railway bridge, and passed the open parkland of Leck Hall, the seat of the 5th Baron Shuttleworth, who is a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, a Knight of St John, a Knight of the Reliquary, and a Knight of the Order of the Garter (I made up one of those, sorry). More to the point, our good man is the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, which means that he is the Queen’s representative in Lancashire. Do you think he minds living in the Yorkshire Dales?

There are two walls up Ireby Fell that gradually converge to meet at a point just south of the top of Gragareth. The right-hand wall is the Lancashire – North Yorkshire boundary. Half-way up the long slope I encountered various shakeholes, the one of Ireby Fell Cavern being of some size. This is, of course, a sign that I was walking over limestone. The region of famous potholes (such as Jingling Pot and Rowten Pot) in the North Yorkshire Kingsdale to the east extends across Ireby Fell over Leck Fell to the west, where there are other famous potholes (such as Lost John’s Cave and Lancaster Hole). Clearly, geographically, these fells belong together. I peered into the Ireby Fell Cavern pothole. Peering into potholes is a curiously unsatisfying activity – there is never anything to see of the ‘wonders’ underground and I know that I will never want to see those wonders anyway.
Ireby Fell

From half-way up Ireby Fell, looking towards Kirkby Lonsdale

The long walk up Ireby Fell is not as tough as it used to be. Shepherds nowadays use quad bikes, not legs, to get up the hills and their tracks form fine walking paths, provided they are heading in the right direction. It was very quiet on the fell, with only the occasional swallow twittering by. I might have thought I’d lost my sense of hearing if it weren’t for the sound of my own footsteps. At the join of the two walls there is a stile – but it is beyond the join and no help at all. A wall had to be climbed, and it had to be the left one, to ensure that I stayed in Lancashire.

Ingleborough and the farm of Braida Garth in Kingsdale, from the stile at the walls' junction

Gragareth has a rounded top, unlike its neighbour Ingleborough, with its millstone grit cap. Gragareth (628 metres) is lower than Ingleborough (723 metres) and is more like Park Fell (563 metres) to Ingleborough's north, with the Yoredale series of limestone, shale and sandstone all the way up. From Gragareth I headed west to the cairns of the Three Men of Gragareth and then cut north across Leck Fell to Ease Gill.
three men

Approaching the Three Men of Gragareth, with Barbon Fell beyond

Normally, Ease Gill collects the water from the slopes of Crag Hill and Great Coum and gradually loses it as it disappears through its limestone bed at about the 350 metre contour. There’s usually a mini-waterfall at Cow Dub and an eerily dry valley below that. However, because of the long dry spell there was hardly any water in Ease Gill to start with, and so I could not entertain myself by investigating the beck coming and going. Just like Kingsdale Beck in the neighbouring valley, Ease Gill normally repeatedly appears and disappears, and eventually re-emerges (in Ease Gill’s case, as Leck Beck) when the water meets impenetrable lower rocks.
Ease Gill

The dry valley of Ease Gill

At Cow Dub I saw a sign for another Recreational Route that I’d never heard of, the Lancashire Way ("Showcasing Lancashire: It's scenery, it's history, it's people"!). I have since studied the route of this Way and I am appalled to see that at this point the path proceeds on the western slope above Ease Gill. This is in Cumbria!  Ease Gill here is the Lancashire – Cumbria boundary. How can a so-called Lancashire Way, "designed to showcase this beautiful county", encourage walkers to walk in Cumbria?

I myself was careful to stay on the east bank, or to walk on the eastern half of the dry river bed when the bank was impassable. I found it slow going, and when I got lost in bracken (twice) I was hardly going at all. I began to fear that I would miss my Cowan Bridge bus – and buses here are few and far between. I would have liked to explore Ease Gill Kirk and the ancient Castle Hill but I had three miles to hurry through. I thus completed a ten-mile walk within Lancashire and within the Yorkshire Dales. This is possible only on Ireby Fell and Leck Fell.

    Date: August 9th 2018
    Start: SD635765, Cowan Bridge  (Map: OL2)
    Route: E – Leck Church – SE – Todgill Farm, High Barn – E – Stirragap – NE until walls meet – N – Gragareth – W – Three Men of Gragareth – N – Ease Gill – SW, W – Ease Gill Kirk – S, SW – Leck, Cowan Bridge
    Distance: 10 miles;   Ascent: 540 metres

The two following items:
     24.   Up Ingleborough with the Holiday Crowds
     23.   The Kentmere Diatomite
The two preceding items:
     21.   The Fortunes of Fleetwood
     20.   On the Sunny Side of Pendle
Two nearby items:
   139.   Ruskin’s View and a View of Ruskin’s View
   168.   To Lancashire’s Highest Point, Wherever It Is
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