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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51.  On Wild Boar Fell

Wild Boar Fell Right: Wild Boar Fell from the south (photo taken on a different occasion, obviously).

I try nowadays to think in terms of walking on a hill, not up a hill. If I said that I intended to walk up Wild Boar Fell then you would naturally assume that I aimed to reach the top in order to admire the views of the Howgills and the Lake District and, from the eastern flank, of Mallerstang and the upper Eden valley. The many on-line descriptions of Wild Boar Fell walks all eulogise exactly that. If, however, after stating my intention, I did not reach the top then I would be considered an abject failure, with a permanent stain on my character.

An intention to walk on Wild Boar Fell is vaguer. Wild Boar Fell covers a huge area between Mallerstang and the A683 into Rawtheydale. It is possible to wander all day on Wild Boar Fell without reaching the top of it. But before wandering at all I was doubly surprised. I had parked the van on Tommy Road only to be engulfed by lively fell ponies. They usually regard me with disdain. There was a delicate foal amongst them, contrasting with the heavy-set adults. The ponies proceeded to rub themselves vigorously against the road signs and I feared that they would do the same to the van, for I doubt that its wing-mirrors would withstand such an assault.

And then I saw a red double-decker bus cruising along the narrow country lanes. There are no Sunday buses here, let alone red double-deckers. I then remembered that at Bowber Head, just two miles away, there’s Cumbria Classic Coaches, which renovates old coaches and buses, an unlikely activity for such a rural outpost. The double-decker was presumably out for a Sunday spin or perhaps on its way to a wedding.

I set off south across Wharton Fell, avoiding the shake-holes that reminded me that this is limestone country. In fact, Wild Boar Fell, surrounded by its limestone base and with its millstone grit cap, is so characteristically ‘dales country’ that it is a surprise that it was not part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park until the recent re-drawing of the boundaries. The fact that it is not in Yorkshire didn’t help.

I cut across to the fence that leads up to the top of Wild Boar Fell to see that thousands of saplings have been planted on the slopes of Mallerstang. The open, grassy hills will look very different after a few decades. At the moment it is possible to appreciate the vistas that open out across the dale to the moors of High Seat and Hugh Seat. To the south stood the prominent nose of The Nab, forming an irresistible attraction to any hill-walker, even though (at 702 metres) it is not quite the highest point of Wild Boar Fell (708 metres), which is a little beyond.

Mallerstang from Wharton Fell

The Nab

The Nab from Wharton Fell

It is a relatively new phenomenon to regard the reaching of a top to be the raison d’être of a hill-walk. Wordsworth, great walker though he was, did not fuss much about getting to the tops. However, it must have been the fashion to walk to the Lake District mountain tops when Payn (1859) offered this advice:
“Unless you have plenty of time to spare for seeing natural beauties … upon no account waste any of it in ascending a very high mountain. The fatigue, to persons of average strength and ordinary habits, is in much over-proportion to the advantage in any case, while, in nine cases (at least) out of ten, in this part of the country a day sufficiently clear for seeing any great extent of prospect does not occur.”
Later guides to the Lake District, such as Baddeley (1880, 1922) and Palmer (1930), still kept mountain-walking in perspective, with both filling over 200 pages before they began to discuss walking up the hills.

More recent guides (such as Allen (1987), Birkett (1994), Calvert (1995), Crow (2015), Griffin (1968), Poucher (1960), Richards (2008), Smith (2017), and Wainwright (1955-1966)) have focussed on conquering mountain tops. The top has acquired a transcendental aura (Macfarlane, 2003):
“When we walk or climb up a mountain we traverse not only the actual terrain of the hillside but also the metaphysical territories of struggle and achievement. To reach a summit is very palpably to have triumphed over adversity: to have conquered something, albeit something utterly useless.”
Reaching a top has become the climax, the point above and beyond which it is impossible to go and after which one can only subside. However, a climax isn’t everything and it isn’t even necessary for an activity to be enjoyable. That reminds me of something but I can’t quite put my finger on it. In any case, to reach our North-West England summits is not that great a triumph. We can walk up any of them before lunch.


At Low Dolphinsty I turned aside from the ascent route in order to contour below the cliffs that face eastward over Mallerstang. In the past I had always approached Wild Boar Fell from the west, south and north (mainly because of where I live) but the most dramatic and challenging slopes of Wild Boar Fell are to the east, overlooking the Eden valley. I have never really looked at them – and neither, it seems, have those on-line walkers. These eastern slopes are now all open access and yet hardly anybody walks here. I continued until I was below the many cairns above Yoadcomb Scar and then dropped down to Angerholme Wold. I was struck by how much it is The Nab, rather than the Wild Boar Fell top itself, that dominates Mallerstang. It stands like a proud sentinel overlooking its valley, being visible from almost everywhere within it.
Wild Boar Fell

Wild Boar Fell and The Nab

I then walked north between the railway line and the infant River Eden. This path eventually becomes part of Lady Anne’s Way, a 100-mile path between Skipton and Penrith that follows a route between Lady Anne Clifford’s Skipton Castle and Brougham Castle. In Mallerstang it passes another of her castles, Pendragon. What a fine name for a castle!  According to legend, the castle was built by Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur. Whatever the truth of that, it cannot be denied that it is a splendid location, as I appreciated whilst I sat for a snack on the castle mound admiring the view south along Mallerstang. It was rather blissful and then, to cap it all, I heard the call of a cuckoo wafting down from the hills. I reflected that cuckoos have been returning to Mallerstang every year since Pendragon built his castle. It would be sad indeed if we so ruined the world that we no longer heard them.
Pendragon Castle

Pendragon Castle

As I walked up the road that crosses Birkett Common I became gradually closer to the sound of the cuckoo. It seemed to be emanating from a copse by the railway line. I was tempted to walk closer in the hope of spotting him. But I thought better of it – he deserves not to be disturbed after all his efforts to get here. Back at the van I was relieved to find that its wing-mirrors were intact.

    Date: May 12th 2019
    Start: NY762039, on Tommy Road near Pudding Howe Hill  (Map: OL19)
    Route: S – Wharton Fell – SE – wall – S – Low Dolphinsty – S on contour, below The Nab and Yoadcomb Hill – E – Angerholme Wold – N, E – Turner Hay Hill, Hazelgill – N, E, N – Shoregill, Castle Bridge (detour to Pendragon Castle) – NW – Pudding Howe Hill
    Distance: 8 miles;   Ascent: 270 metres

The two following items:
     53.   Why? On the Wyre Way
     52.   Morecambe Bay - from Cark to Grange-over-Sands
The two preceding items:
     50.   With the Lune from Kirkby Lonsdale
     49.   Lingmoor Fell - For the Best Medium-High View in Lakeland?
Two nearby items:
     13.   The Cairns of Grisedale Pike
     26.   A Booze by Any Other Name
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