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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8.  What Price Catrigg Force?

From the Settle Market bus stop I headed straight to the Settle Hydro, hoping to get some up-to-date information about it. At least, I intended to but I didn't find it. Never mind, I pressed on along the west bank of the River Ribble, a pleasant walk if rather gluey after recent rain. As compensation, Stainforth Force was in frisky form. It’s not really a waterfall but more a sequence of cascades. I then walked up beside Stainforth Beck to Catrigg Force, which really is a waterfall, or rather two waterfalls.
Stainforth Force

Stainforth Bridge and Stainforth Force

catrigg force Right: Catrigg Force (it was too gloomy in the dell to take a decent photo, so here's an old postcard featuring Catterick Force, as it was then called).

A few years ago Catrigg Force was put up for sale. Why would anyone buy a waterfall, even with a buy-one-get-one-free offer?  A buyer would be able to stand and admire their waterfall – but then so would anyone else prepared to walk half a mile up the steep public footpath from Stainforth. They might imagine building a home from which they could sit and watch their tumbling waters – but there is no easy access to the waterfall to enable it to be built. So there’s not much point buying it really, is there?

My mention of the Settle Hydro may have primed you but in case not the ever-reliable Daily Telegraph has the answer. With its knack for homing in on what is important, it published an item about a “profitable waterfall” going on sale. The power freely available, all day and every day, could be harnessed by means of a hydro-electric scheme that could, according to experts, generate £1,000 worth of electricity a day. So for an environmental entrepreneur that’s surely an eco-friendly windfall and waterfall.

Any such scheme would, of course, need to obtain planning permission. However, the authorities have already approved the Settle Hydro nearby and any Catrigg Force scheme would be much more hidden away. Indeed, we are assured that modern hydro-electric plants can be completely inconspicuous. Paradoxically, this invisible power plant would, it is claimed, make a “stunning tourist attraction”. The Settle Hydro has a projected 40-year life-time and so something similar at Catrigg Force could, over 40 years, earn £14.6 million. Worth a plunge?

I looked hard at Catrigg Force to see if there was any sign that some entrepreneurial environmentalist had taken up the challenge but I could see none. But then I wouldn’t if it was completely inconspicuous, would I?

Pen-y-ghent and Fountains Fell from above Catrigg Force (which is in the trees to the left)

Having somehow missed the Settle Hydro I had a second try. I forewent the intended walk up to Winskill Moor and instead dropped down to the Ribble again at Langcliffe. I asked at the Watershed Mill centre about the Hydro and was passed from person to person until someone was at last found who knew that it was just downstream – and indeed it was, not completely but fairly inconspicuous, especially from the other side of the river, as I was before.

Stainforth Scar Left: Stainforth Scar.

The Settle Hydro began in 2009 and immediately received awards and criticism, in equal measure. The former acknowledged its contribution to renewable energy, although I note that the last of the seven awards listed on the website is in 2011. Perhaps the website-updater is too modest or too inefficient, or perhaps there have been no later awards. Critics, such as the Angling Trust, pointed out that the Hydro had taken water from the Ribble when it shouldn’t have on 238 occasions in 2010 and perhaps as a result of this the numbers of salmon upriver were greatly reduced. Nevertheless, the Environment Agency renewed the licence in 2015, deeming that the contraventions of the abstraction licence were minor and that the salmon decrease was just part of an international decline.

We need more than anglers’ anecdotes and bland EA reassurances to make a judgement about Settle Hydro. We need data. Even the precise sounding “238 occasions” tells us little. We don’t know how often they check the abstractions – it could be once a day or, say, every ten minutes (and in the latter case, 238 occasions could amount to just two days). How can we know whether the Hydro is a problem for salmon or not?  The anglers suggest that the noise of the Hydro may deter salmon, but I doubt it, as the fish pass is already right by the busy B6479. Surely scientists know, or can determine, whether salmon are affected by such a rhythmic hum. But why isn’t the fish pass on the quieter side anyway?  Why isn’t there a fish count to tell us precisely how many salmon passed before and after the Hydro was constructed?  At least, I couldn’t see one and if there were a fish count and the data showed that the salmon were happily passing the Hydro then I am sure that Settle Hydro and the EA would be keen to tell us so. But I suspect that the sloppy science is deliberate. Without figures, nobody can use the pioneering Settle Hydro as a precedent, either way, for any other proposed hydro-electric scheme, leaving the EA to make a decision as it wishes.

The information board at the Hydro is perfunctory. It doesn’t even tell us how much power is generated – it says the maximum possible, but not the actual. I noticed no signs to the Hydro. It is not a tourist attraction, let alone a ‘stunning’ one, as promised for any Catrigg Force scheme. I wandered into the Settle Tourist Information Centre to ask about the Hydro. One assistant hadn’t heard of it; the other knew where it was but no more. It seems that the Settle Hydro is of about as much interest to locals and visitors as, say, a bottle bank – and perhaps that is how it should be.

Overall, then, I am sceptical about any Catrigg Force hydro-electric scheme. Perhaps the Telegraph reporter was confused by the ‘force’. Force is not the same as power, as any school physicist knows.

    Date: April 5th 2018
    Start: SD819637, Settle market square  (Map: OL2)
    Route: NW – River Ribble – N along Ribble Way – Stainforth Force, Stainforth Bridge – E – Stainforth, Catrigg Force – SW – Winskill, Langcliffe – S on road – bridge over Ribble – SE – Settle market square
    Distance: 7 miles;   Ascent: 250 metres

The two following items:
     10.   The 'Hillfort' of Addlebrough
       9.   "The Prettiest Mere of All" Lakeland
The two preceding items:
       7.   Castling in Cumbria: From Brougham to Lowther
       6.   The Count of Flasby Fell
Two nearby items:
   133.   The Limestone Hills East of Settle
   148.   The Man on the Clapham Omnibus …
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