Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and
North Yorkshire in North-West England
(more details of my ‘North-West England’ are given in the Preamble).
If you'd like to give a comment, correction or update (all are very welcome) or to
be notified of new items as they appear - please send an email to email@example.com.
96.   Castles and Towers from the Cross of Greet
95.   Barbondale and the Dent Fault
79-94 are about walks from home during the coronavirus lockdown.
94.   Away from It All on Caton Moor
93.   The Brookhouse - Claughton Circular
92.   The Small-Leaved Limes of Aughton Woods
91.   The Littledale Cuckoos are Back!
96.  Castles and Towers from the Cross of Greet
The road between Bentham and Slaidburn reaches its highest point, at 427 metres, at the Cross of Greet, which used to mark
the Yorkshire-Lancashire boundary. Long ago there was a cross here but today there’s just a large stone with a
rectangular socket in it. In winter the road provides a dark, dreary, dangerous crossing of bleak moors but in summer
it's an excellent outing, especially for bikers and cyclists, with fine views to Pendle in one direction
and to the Yorkshire Dales hills in the other. We went there on a very hot day and perhaps should not have
been surprised to find at the Cross of Greet a sign saying “Extreme risk of fire. Access land closed.”
However, that sign was on the gate to the west leading to White Hill. So we walked, as we had
intended anyway, to the east, where there was no gate or sign. We walked up to what is marked on the map
as Raven’s Castle. There are just a few large rocks scattered about – certainly no castle. But there were
good views across to Bowland Knotts and, further in the distance, Pen-y-ghent. We walked on to nothing
very much, which is marked on the map as Ravens Castle. Imaginative names, I feel, but rather limited in range.
We walked down over Catlow Fell to the Cross of Greet Bridge (disappointingly modern, rather than
old) where there were more signs, but now telling us not to light any fires. That was the last thing on
our minds. We were too hot already. So we walked up the track to the shooters’ hut and far beyond. We
walked past many grouse butts but saw only two grouse on the whole walk. We were also surprised to see
no voles at all, considering that we saw hundreds of them on our last walk – up Crag Hill, over terrain somewhat
similar to this. In modest compensation, we saw a single small lizard. I can remember as a boy catching
dozens of lizards. It is sad that our wildlife has become so sparse.
Looking towards Ravens Castle from the track up to the shooters' hut (the
road up to the Cross of Greet is in the middle distance (above the tree), with three cyclists struggling up it)
We walked on over Snout Berry Hill up to the fence in order to investigate the tower (shown left). It is
five metres or so high, with a notch on the top. A kilometre north-west, near the trig point on White Hill (544m),
there is a second,
similar tower. And in a line with the other two, there is a third tower (which we didn’t walk to) a similar
distance down on the other side of the hill. These towers are described as ‘sighting columns’ for the
although I don’t know what their exact function was. The aqueduct itself is in a
ten mile long tunnel directly below the towers.
There is no whiteness about White Hill. The underlying rock is millstone grit, not limestone. It is,
in any case, overlain almost everywhere by dark peat. Overall, though, there is some equality in the
naming of our North-West England hills – there are about as many Blacks (Black Combe, Black Fell, …)
as there are Whites (White Maiden, White Pike, …). That is about as far as equality goes, though.
I very rarely see a black face on my walks. Does it matter?
I could play safe and let others speculate and
theorise about this empirical observation. However, it is an intriguing topic. We once went to see a
play called ‘Black Men Walking’. It concerns a group of black men who decide to form a walking club
in order to go hiking on the hills. I am restricting myself to men because the author of the play,
the rapper Testament (Andy Brooks), did, mainly. The men are of different ages, background and
social status, and, as they walk along, they ruminate about their motivations for walking, how it
relates to their experiences in a predominantly white society, and the role of black walkers in
British history. Towards the end of their walk they meet a younger, more working class, black
woman, more bold and edgy in her own black Britishness, who comments pithily on the men’s
activities and thoughts.
As always with a good play, it was not clear to me what we are intended to make of it (and
neither, it seems, was this
in a walking magazine). But at least I can ask: Why are there
so few black people on the hills? Black people are, of course, not inherently unsuited to hill-walking.
Some would suggest that hill-walking is not something that black people are likely to inherit from their
ancestors. Well, all my ancestors that I know of lived all their lives in Norfolk.
Should those of us who appreciate the benefits of hill-walking encourage more black people to join us?
As I wrote before
I have never been a member of a walking club but I wonder if such clubs feel
it part of their brief to attract members from under-represented parts of society or do they just let
people turn up who want to? Why did the Black Men Walking need to form a new club? Of course, these
issues are not specific to hill-walking. There are, I’m sure, disproportionately few black faces in
golf clubs, orchestras, fishing clubs, and so on. Hill-walking does, at least, have the advantage that
it is relatively easy and cheap to give it a go. In a racially harmonious society we would have
appropriately balanced representations on our hills. So, black walkers matter.
Despite the good, if a little hazy in the heat, views of the Dales hills, it seemed a long, tiring
walk down from White Hill to the
Cross of Greet. It was enlivened by a sight of an exuberantly large hairy caterpillar (shown right) – if
any reader can identify it for me I would be most grateful. We left the moor through a gate on the other side
of which it said, to our flabbergastation, “Extreme risk of fire. Access land closed”.
Date: June 24th 2020
Start: SD683608, Cross of Greet  (Map: OL41)
Route: NE by fence – Raven's Castle or Crowd Stones – SE – Ravens Castle – SE, S over Catlow
Fell – Cross of Greet Bridge
– W on track past shooting hut – SW over Snout Berry Hill – tower – NW – White Hill trig point – N, NE – Cross of Greet
Distance: 7 miles;   Ascent: 305 metres
Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 164/400;
Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 10.36
95.  Barbondale and the Dent Fault
In 1831 Adam Sedgwick
Professor of Geology at Cambridge University, presented a paper
to the Geological Society of London in which he described, for the first time, a fault “passing along the
south flank of Casterton Low Fell, up Barbondale, thence across the valley of Dent, through the upper part
of the valley of Sedbergh, and along the flanks of Bawfell [now spelled Baugh Fell] and Wildboar Fell [Wild
Boar Fell], to the ridge between Mollerstang [Mallerstang] and Ravenstone dale [Ravenstonedale]; and that along
the whole of this line there are enormous and most complex dislocations … The ruptures produced by it are
fortunately on a scale too great to be overlooked or misunderstood.”
I am capable of overlooking and misunderstanding anything but with Sedgwick’s strong hints about what
to look out for we set off north from Blindbeck Bridge, walking on the west bank of Barkin Beck. We passed our
inexpert eye over the rocks on the slopes up to Calf Top of Middleton Fell – a grey slate, it seemed. A dipper or two were happy to
lead us upstream although the grey wagtails seemed more agitated. The beck was low but flowing contentedly
enough until, after a mile or so, just before Short Gill Bridge, it split into two. The left branch (shown left,
looking upstream) was dry.
The right branch (shown right, looking downstream) flowed only a short distance and was issuing from under a large rock.
We had reached limestone, through which water disappears to emerge later at a resurgence when it meets
a lower impermeable layer. We were therefore on or across Sedgwick’s fault, now called the
Dent Fault. The Dent Fault is one of the most important geological features in North-West England. As Sedgwick
said, it runs roughly between the two Kirkbys (Lonsdale and Stephen). It divides the Silurian rocks of the
Howgills and Middleton Fell (to the west) from the Carboniferous strata of typical Dales landscapes (to the east).
The former are some
70 million years older than the latter. The Dent Fault thrust the Silurian rocks upwards and is, I read, one of
the best examples in England of a reverse fault, as opposed to a normal fault, where the displaced rocks move
downwards (it is called normal not because it is more common but because it seems natural to imagine gravity
causing rocks to fall). A reverse fault is caused by compression, with tremendous forces along the line of the fault.
However, walking along Barkin Beck we had seen no sign of the promised ruptures. These only became apparent to
us as we walked up beside Short Gill. Here, a prominent ridge of limestone, unlike anything on the smooth slate
slopes opposite, had been distorted, with some strata appearing to be on end. The only
previous time that I have visited Short Gill I walked down beside a bubbling beck that suddenly disappeared at the
limestone ridge to leave a weird silence. Today, though, the bed of the beck continued to be dry for some distance as we
continued up, until we reached an upper waterfall (shown right), below which the water immediately disappeared through rocks.
We emerged from the Short Gill ravine to tackle the long slog up to Crag Hill (682m). Rounding one bend we came
upon a buzzard perched on a post just ten metres ahead. It didn’t notice us for a while. It was probably focussed
on the voles. I have never seen so many voles on one walk – they were constantly catching our eye as they
scuttled into their little burrows ahead of us. From Crag Hill we could see as far as Pendle, Black Combe
and Wild Boar Fell but it had remained overcast so that everywhere was a rather dull grey.
The walk down past Richard
Man and over the moor was of little interest. We heard two cuckoos, or rather two cuckoo calls from one cuckoo - a
rather plaintive end to its cuckooing season.
We passed a few shakeholes that told us that there was limestone
underneath but there was no clear ridge as at Short Gill. We must have crossed the Dent Fault again but noticed nothing that
emphasised its presence.
You have to admire the chutzpah of early geologists. The science of geology had only existed for a few decades and
its early practitioners necessarily knew nothing of, for example, the theories of glaciation and plate tectonics but
nevertheless they were bold enough to say that features which humanity had not previously paid any regard to
cannot possibly be overlooked or misunderstood. After all, at that time most people in Britain read the first
sentences of the
Bible, saying that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and
void”, and considered that to be the end of the matter. Sedgwick was
himself ordained as a priest but that
didn’t stop him trying to impose form upon God’s creation and finding faults with it.
Date: June 8th 2020
Start: SD655827, near Blindbeck Bridge  (Map: OL2)
Route: NE on west bank of Barkin Beck – Short Gill Bridge – SE by Short Gill, SE –
Crag Hill – SW
by fence – Great Aygill – NW – Blindbeck Bridge
Distance: 7 miles;   Ascent: 510 metres
Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 161/400;
Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 10.25
94.  Away from It All on Caton Moor
June 3rd 2020: Right. I must pull myself together and focus. I mustn’t let politics intrude here. So … I have read
and re-read, listened and re-listened to every word written and spoken in the last three months about coronavirus and
its implications for walkers, and I’m sure I’ve got it (the implications, that is, not coronavirus). It is my Civic
Duty to drive long distances (say, 260 miles) to take long walks, several times a day. I may have muddled some of the
details but that is the gist of it. I must get back on my feet to help get the country back on its feet. Ruth is
worried that after all my harrumphing about Hancock, gibbering about Johnson, prattling about Patel, jabbering about
Jenrick, going on about Cummings, and ranting about Raab that I have lost my mind. I’ve half a mind to tell her
that she’s wrong, but she might not be.
I have learned from my studies that it is essential to begin with a little list.
Pillars, if you like – so if one falls down I won’t have a leg to walk on. So any proposed walk must satisfy the
following five conditions:
•  No driving to where I might later be able to travel by public transport (which I’d like to support when I can).
•  No parking near many others or where I need to press buttons for a ticket.
•  No farmyards or any other yards.
•  No risks that might involve Mountain Rescue (and therefore no mountains).
•  No paths where social distancing is difficult (for example, no stepping two metres aside off Sharp Edge).
If any one condition is not satisfied then I must: Stay at Home, Not Pass Go, Not Collect a £200 fine.
There we are. It’s easy-peasy this ‘make a little list’ game. My list is much
more useful to me than any devised by the losers of the Cabinet New Slogan Sweepstake:
Stay Away from Me Raab, Stay Right Where You Are Shapps,
Stay of Execution Hancock, Here to Stay Cummings, Stay Behind Williamson, and Stay Off My Land Eustice.
It seems that we R0 to them, or at least R less than one (they hope), although we may be up to six.
I have watched all the daily briefings,
over and over, and feel that it is time for fresh legs from the game-changing antibodies on the substitutes bench: Truss,
Rees-Mogg, Coffey, Lewis, Wallace.
I have stopped reading about
epidemiology, serology, behavioural science, vaccination, antibody kinetics, and infectious diseases and
have set about studying my OS maps again. I am
saddened to see that the recommended destination of Barnard Castle – new motto, A Sight for Sore Eyes – is
outside my North-West England range. Never mind, I’m sure I’ll find plenty of places where I can make the most
of this easing of lockdown, before the next phase (hoedown or meltdown?) sets in. I just need to be careful
not to step on a second spike (I never saw anything that looked like a first spike). I have heard immunity
is best achieved by stampeding to Blackpool.
In recent weeks the utterances of our Prime Minister have skilfully simulated
the desired mode of sauntering, with their false starts, multiple hesitations, and ultimate failures in ever
reaching a . I have looked down upon his lovable blond mop at Prime Minister’s Questions and imagined
reaching out and giving it a good tousle. At the end of this gig he will move on to achieve his lifetime
ambition of being a member of the Just a Minute panel. The rules will be adjusted so that the others have to
buzz in if he inadvertently speaks without hesitation, repetition or deviation.
And then there’s Gove, the only one considerate enough, ages ago,
to tell me how long I may walk – one hour was reasonable, he said. How things have progressed since then! On
March 23, when the lockdown came into force, we were alarmed that the number of deaths was approaching 100 a day. Now I
can walk for hours and hours, now that we are averaging only 250 deaths a day. Gove is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
What has Lancaster done to deserve this? Didn’t Lewis Carroll write something about Gove?
About slithy Goves did gyre and gimble in the wabe? Our Gove does a lot of gyring and gimbling.
We are apparently relying on our British common sense to get us through this
crisis, a common sense exemplified by our
MPs standing idly in queues for hours. A bell should be tolled every six minutes to remind them that another person
has died from Covid-19.
Sorry, this is all too sad for here. I must focus: ramp up
my fitness, flatten my curves, leave no track and trace, and move on, move on, move on. But before that …
I have realised that in all this walking about from home in the last ten weeks I have never once walked to the
top of our local hill, to the trig point on Caton Moor (361m). So I set out to remedy this before venturing
into the dangerous world outside this parish.
I battled up Quarry Road against a stiff breeze that keep the windmills happy and then on
up to the trig point, where I paused.
I hadn’t really planned what to do next, as I was unsure what energy
and enthusiasm I would have, but I was so uplifted by the fine view of the Three Peaks (Whernside, Ingleborough
and Pen-y-ghent) ahead that I decided to keep the view ahead of me for as long as possible, by walking on down
over Whit Moor, over fields of white cotton grass bobbing in the wind, to the road in Roeburndale, where we had
parked for that walk just before lockdown
). There aren’t many viewpoints that array
the Three Peaks to
give them equal prominence.
I then headed south on the road and then footpath to Winder, bypassing Thornbush rather than walking through its
yard. On the way I saw a lapwing nest with three eggs. Being a lazy birder, I am fond of birds that are unmistakable.
The lapwing looks, sounds and flies like no other bird. It is, unfortunately, in decline, especially on southern
farmland, because of changes in farming practice. It doesn’t seem to be in decline locally, where there is plenty
of rough pasture and moorland. Maybe the lapwing is becoming more of an upland bird? The lapwing’s eggs used to
be considered a delicacy – and indeed people used to collect thousands of them in a day (which presumably didn’t
help keep their numbers up). However, I was not tempted to take a lapwing egg to sample, not least because
it was made illegal by the Lapwing Act of 1926.
In the fields above Deep Clough, on the so-called Roeburndale Road (which comes to an end at Winder
and turns into a rough track before reaching Roeburndale), I walked through a herd of Highland cattle, rather nervously since they
did have ridiculously long pointed horns. But after that I could enjoy the unfolding view ahead, first of Morecambe
Bay and then of the Lakeland hills. How lucky is that! – to have a single walk on which both the Dales hills
and the Lakes hills are arrayed ahead for some time.
Date: May 31st 2020
Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
Route: SE – Moorside Farm – E on Quarry Road – picnic site – SE on bridleway, NE – trig point –
NE over Whit Moor – road – S on road, SW past Thornbush – Warm Beck Gill – S – Winder – W on Roeburndale Road, NW on
Littledale Road – Brookhouse
Distance: 9 miles;   Ascent: 300 metres
Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 161/400;
Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 10.12
93.  The Brookhouse - Claughton Circular
There are some walks that don’t need a specific focus – such as a peak to reach, a stone circle to visit, a
cuckoo to listen for, and so on – because they provide such a variety of landscape that they can simply be enjoyed
as walks. This circular walk, taking in the serene Lune valley and the slopes of Caton Moor, is one such walk.
We walked to the bend in the River Lune below Aughton Woods, as we did in
, noticing that the ponds we
photographed then were now dry mud, as I’ve never seen them before. The wide, flat valley provided
views up towards Ingleborough and Whernside, and to our right to the windmills of Caton Moor, which we
would pass much later. We continued on the south bank of the Lune in quiet isolation. We saw
nobody at all until we reached Claughton. There were only sheep and birds for company, with the
cattle in fields far distant from us. Cattle, in fact, are the only potential problem
when walking this idyllic stretch of the Lune. Unused to walkers in their fields, they can be
frisky and difficult to bypass, which is why I prefer to do this walk on a bright winter’s
day when the cattle are in their
barns. They were no problem to us on this occasion.
We noticed that the Brickworks (87
was still dormant.
If I remember correctly, it takes about a week to get the kilns up and running, and they obviously won't start that
until there is a sufficient, continuing demand for bricks.
From Claughton we walked up the steep track that
passes Claughton Hall. It is dark and sheltered, contrasting with the bright openness of the floodplain, with a
woodland of tall conifers to the right.
is, to my mind, a uniquely ugly building but the owners have thoughtfully planted thick
leylandii by the track so that we cannot see it. Instead, we can admire the views eastwards towards the
Yorkshire Dales. The haze, on the hottest day of the year so far, had reduced the hills to grey outlines but closer below the region around
Hornby was laid out as a map, increasingly so as we climbed. We noticed a few newish ‘milestone’ signs indicating
various features, which was puzzling as I doubt that they were invitations to visit the indicated
features – although we also noticed that the high deer fence had a few gaps, as if inviting entry (perhaps for
deer, not people).
As we continued above the woodland we heard a cuckoo. In fact, we thought we saw it, on a telegraph
wire near the clay pit until harassed away by a smaller bird. We also, of course, heard curlews, lapwings and
skylarks. The fact that they are such familiar sounds here should not make us forget what cheery, uplifting sounds
We passed Moorcock Hall, which was derelict for
many years before a recent renovation. However, the renovation lacked planning permission, and it is not
obvious now whether the renovation was completed to enable the building to be occupied. The ‘front’ is, I
understand, to the south to avoid the worst of the
weather in this exposed location but the best view, over the Lune valley to the Lakeland hills, is to the north.
Unfortunately for us, there was a dark haze making it impossible to identify any hills beyond
Morecambe Bay. We could, however, see where we were walking two or three hours before, far below by Aughton Woods. It is always
pleasing on a long walk to see that you have indeed walked a long way.
The view from Moorcock Hall to the Lune valley, the Lake District hills beyond sadly obscured by a dark haze
After strolling down Quarry Road, we paused in Brookhouse, as we always do nowadays, to see how the herons are
getting on (85
We have never been sure exactly how many young there were but it seems that some have fledged and the one we could see today was close to it.
Date: May 20th 2020
Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
Route: N – Bull Beck Bridge – NE on south bank of the Lune – Claughton Beck –
SE – Claughton, Claughton Hall – S – Moorcock Hall, picnic spot – W on Quarry Road – Brookhouse
Distance: 7 miles;   Ascent: 245 metres
May 24th 2020 (comment added after this item was posted): This blog is pausing. On March 20th I wrote, in
78, before the lockdown,
that “I am not
sure that it will be possible or appropriate to sustain the light-hearted tone of these missives. We’ll see how it
goes.” Well, I have tried. But I have become increasingly saddened, depressed and angered by the growing death-toll
of the pandemic and by the callous, lying incompetence of our politicians – and the thought that we are stuck with them and
possibly it for some time. I only write for amusement, mine and any reader’s, and there is nothing at all to be amused
about at the moment. So, I’m giving it a rest.
92.  The Small-Leaved Limes of Aughton Woods
Interpreting the mixed messages from government ministers is like what used to be called Chinese Whispers
but probably shouldn’t nowadays. Even the guidelines for going for a walk are confusing. We should
continue to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel – but we can go out for exercise as many times
as we like and we can drive somewhere for a walk. However, people who live where we might like to drive
don’t want us there – and the Mountain Rescue teams certainly don’t want us on the fells. So my
interpretation today (May 14th) is that a walk may be of unlimited length (perhaps that was always the case?)
and should be where physical
distancing is possible. If I really must drive somewhere to walk then I should find somewhere remote to park and walk. At the moment, I don’t feel a need to drive anywhere: I am content with walks from home, perhaps longer than before.
Yesterday we chatted to two men who were removing a couple of large trees that had fallen from Lawson’s Wood
into the river, a legacy, no doubt, of the erosion caused by Storm Desmond in December 2015. The trees were
small-leaved limes. That is a particular shame because small-leaved limes are the star trees of Lawson’s Wood.
Perhaps some small-leaved limes were also lost in the adjacent landslip caused by Desmond. We thought we’d better go to see some of those remaining before they too fell in the river.
The series of adjacent woods on the north bank of the Lune form one of the largest areas of ancient woodland in Lancashire. Different subsets of the woods form a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Nature Reserve, and a Biological Heritage Site. I think of the whole set as Aughton Woods since Aughton, with a name derived from the old English for oak, deserves some ownership of them. The small-leaved lime is a native tree, near its northern limits here and hence rather rare in the region. There is also a large-leaved lime (as you might expect) and a common lime, which is a hybrid of the two and is the tallest broad-leaved tree in Britain. Neither are native to this region and therefore if you see a lime-ish tree in Aughton Woods it is probably a small-leaved lime.
I understand that there is a line of small-leaved limes at the boundary between Lawson’s Wood and Burton Wood. However, it is not easy to walk there and we are not supposed to anyway. The only place in Aughton Woods that we can walk is along the footpath in Lawson’s Wood (part of the Lune Valley Ramble) and the permissive path that takes us to Lawson’s Field. So we must hope to spot a small-leaved lime from those paths.
First of all we must bear in mind that the ‘small’ refers to the leaves, not the trees. The leaves of small-leaved lime are about 7cm across, dark green, heart-shaped, with a pointed tip and finely-toothed edge. Limes are tall and imposing trees, often planted to create an impressive avenue. That stature is not so easy to appreciate when the limes are surrounded by other trees in a woodland. In compensation for its small leaves the small-leaved lime has a lot of them – but unfortunately most are high above. Basically, then, we are looking for a large tree with many small leaves in its canopy.
Here is my step-by-step guide for finding a small-leaved lime in Lawson’s Wood: Enter the wood from the
Waterworks Bridge, follow the Lune Valley Ramble path and walk to the fourth wooden footbridge (this is
about 100 metres before the signpost for the permissive path up the wood). Look for a large, dark, somewhat
cracked trunk (shown left) five metres ahead on the river-side, just past a small beech and hazel. Look aloft. There should be lots of little leaves. The heart shape should be detectable, especially with binoculars. If this tree is not a small-leaved lime then I trust that any arborist reading this will let me know.
If that is considered unconvincing, with the leaves so distant, then walk on past the signpost to
the recent landslip. On the right are four or five trees that are (I believe) small-leaved limes. They are not
as mature as the earlier one and the clusters of heart-shaped leaves are more easily seen. To the left of the
path is a small tree with a smooth, grey bark (shown right). Some of its leaves are at eye-level. If they are still
not convincing then I give up.
These younger limes have the chance to flourish now that their mature neighbours have fallen in the
river. However, they may not have the chance for long. The erosive force of a Storm Desmond flood at this
point of the sharp bend must be enormous. There are now two huge gaps in the bank, and what is left is unprotected
and unstable. The steep slopes above have had their bases cut from under them. Who knows what damage future
floods will cause? Watch those spaces.
Date: May 14th 2020
Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
Route: N – Waterworks Bridge – E on Lune Valley Ramble path – signpost
to permissive path, first landslip – and back
Distance: 3 miles;   Ascent: 20 metres
91.  The Littledale Cuckoos are Back!
The book Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo
(McCarthy, 2009) ends with the question “But for how much longer?”. This is referring to the return of our summer migrants – cuckoos, flycatchers, martins, nightingales, swallows, swifts, turtle doves, wheatears, wood warblers, yellow wagtails – the numbers of which had halved, on average, in the previous thirteen years. If this were to continue then for how much longer would we hear the cuckoo?
As the book elaborated, the disappearance of birds like the cuckoo would not just be a pity that might
be shrugged off by urban-dwellers who have never heard a cuckoo and to whom it might be of as much importance
as the disappearance of, say, chamber pots, charabancs and chastity belts – all just a side-effect of progress.
However, the disappearance of migrant birds signifies that there is something fundamentally awry with complex global processes that had functioned for millennia and that we had celebrated for centuries, as in ‘Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu’ which is an English song of about the 12th century. It might become too late to amend that awry-ness, which might have consequences other than the disappearance of birds.
It was always with some trepidation, therefore, that we set out, as had become our custom, on the late May holiday with a picnic breakfast or supper to Little Cragg in Littledale in order to listen for cuckoos. So far, we have not been disappointed. This year, things being somewhat different, we set out earlier in May, wondering if the cuckoos, if any, would have arrived yet.
We set off early in the morning, with blue skies again – it’s becoming hard to believe that our perpetual blue
skies are unconnected to the global lockdown. Later in the day we saw a single jet besmirching our sky. We
heckled it loudly but to no avail. At the cattle grid by The Cragg farm we walked across moorland north of
Baines Cragg past agitated lapwings, and then climbed to the top of the millstone grit outcrop of the crag.
From a height of only 214 metres Baines Cragg provides an excellent viewpoint. To the south were the grouse moors from Clougha to Ward’s Stone with the
valley of Littledale below. To the west there was a view over Morecambe Bay, with beyond Barrow the faint
outline of the Isle of Man (80 miles away). To the north were the hills of the Lakes and Pennines.
Many a minute can be spent trying to identify the various peaks. We were pleased to work out
that a particular hump must be Skiddaw (over 50 miles away), visible through the Dunmail Raise gap to the west of Helvellyn. Viewed from Baines Cragg Skiddaw is on the horizon just to the right of Caton, seen in the near distance.
We were so engrossed that we might have missed the first faint calls. But they grew
louder and went on and on, fifty or so cuckoos in a row … a pause and then more cuckoos … and so on. This is an excellent place to hear the cuckoo, for on a still day like today, the sound is held within the Littledale amphitheatre. We were inordinately pleased to hear what is in truth a rather monotonous bird call.
Everybody knows two things about the cuckoo: one is the call and the other is its mode of nesting. However,
what everybody knows about the latter is only the broad outline. Experts still struggle to explain the mechanisms
of the cuckoo’s brood parasitism. Female cuckoos use the nests of over a hundred species and yet produce eggs that
match those of the host species. A particular female cuckoo belongs to a sub-species – the dunnock-cuckoo, the
meadow-pipit-cuckoo, and so on – that lays eggs only in a particular host species’ nest. The male cuckoo will
mate with any female sub-species cuckoo – and does so energetically enough for the females to lay up to twenty-five eggs a
season. The genetic explanation for all this is not fully known and if it were it would be too complicated for me.
I’m content to watch a fascinating film,
The Cuckoo's Secret
made in 1921 by Edgar Chance – the first film to show how the cuckoo acts, and in particular how the
cuckoo chick tips the other chicks and eggs out of the nest.
Date: May 9th 2020
Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
Route: SE on Littledale Road – Udale Bridge – SW – The Cragg – NW, SW on footpath, E –
Baines Cragg, The Cragg – and back
Distance: 6 miles;   Ascent: 155 metres
90.   “One Form of Exercise – such as Walking” to the River
89.   Tracking the Thirlmere Aqueduct
88.   The Lune Millennium Park Artworks
87.   Around the Claughton Clay Pit
86.   Bluebells and Going Round the Lune Bend
Diversion 3:  The Fairy Fell Roundelay (Rainy Day Walk No. 3251)
85.   The Tarn Brook Heronry
84.   A Loop along Littledale Lanes
83.   Gray's Seat and the View from the Crook o'Lune
82.   A Peek into Artle Dale
81.   The Lost Meander of the Lune
80.   The Caton Moor Hares
79.   Sand Martins by the Lune
79-94 are about walks from home during the coronavirus lockdown.
78.   Around Roeburndale
77.   Bridging the Lower Little Ribble
76.   The Belted Beauties of Sunderland
Diversion 2:  These Boots ...
75.   To Ward's Stone: A Classic Walk?
74.   Blackpool Promenading
73.   The Raygill Foraminifers
72.   Turner and the Lune Aqueduct
71.   Low in Low Barbondale
70.   Up the Conder
69.   Lakeside, Finsthwaite Heights, Rusland Heights and Tourists
68.   Landscape and the Howgills
67.   The Consolation of Arant Haw
66.   In Search of the Paythorne Salmon
Diversion 1:  Save Our Sausage
65.   Grisedale and Another Tarn
64.   Beyond the Leagram Pale
63.   These Are a Few of My Favourite 'Superficial Things': in Crummackdale
62.   On and Off the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail
61.   Knott Alone
60.   The Longsleddale Green Lane
59.   The 1 in 5,000 Hen Harriers of Bowland
58.   From Hawes, in the Poet Laureate's Footsteps
57.   A Blowy Lowsy Point
56.   Cross Fell: The Apex of England
55.   Butterflying on Whitbarrow
54.   Follies around Flusco
53.   Why? On the Wyre Way
52.   Morecambe Bay - from Cark to Grange-over-Sands
51.   On Wild Boar Fell
50.   With the Lune from Kirkby Lonsdale
49.   Lingmoor Fell - For the Best Medium-High View in Lakeland?
48.   With The Grane
47.   The 'Wild Desert' of Kingsdale
46.   To the Point of Winterburn Reservoir
45.   Thoughts from the Towpath (Bilsborrow to Preston)
44.   Interlude: We Are Sorry for the Delay ...
43.   The Red Screes - Wansfell Question
42.   Appreciating Meg and Lucy
41.   Safe in Littledale
40.   In the Borderlands of Burton-in-Lonsdale and Bentham
39.   Halls Galore by the Middle Ribble
38.   Reflections from Jeffrey's Mount
37.   Whoopers on Thurnham Moss
36.   The Flow and Ebb and Flow of Morecambe
35.   Dufton Rocks
34.   Thieveley Pike and the Singing Ringing Tree
33.   Is Nappa Hall Napping - or Dying?
32.   Russet Rusland Valley
31.   Pink Stones on the Orton Fells
30.   Dunsop Bridge, Whitewell and Duchy-land
29.   The Quiet End of the Ribble Way
28.   Broughton Moor, or What's Left of It
27.   The Footpaths of Anglezarke Moor
26.   A Booze by Any Other Name
25.   Mysterious Harkerside Moor
24.   Up Ingleborough with the Holiday Crowds
23.   The Kentmere Diatomite
22.   In the Lancashire Yorkshire Dales
21.   The Fortunes of Fleetwood
20.   On the Sunny Side of Pendle
19.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 2)
18.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 1)
17.   Sheep-Wrecked Matterdale?
16.   The Wildflowers of Sulber
15.   On the Hobdale Fence
14.   Logging Along the Cam High Road
13.   The Cairns of Grisedale Pike
12.   Uplifted by High Street
11.   The Struggle over Boulsworth Hill
10.   The 'Hillfort' of Addlebrough
9.   "The Prettiest Mere of All" Lakeland
8.   What Price Catrigg Force?
7.   Castling in Cumbria: From Brougham to Lowther
6.   The Count of Flasby Fell
5.   Circumperambulating Stocks Reservoir
4.   In a Flap at Bolton-le-Sands
3.   Zipping around Thirlmere
2.   The Dentdale Diamonds
1.   The Taming of Caton Moor
(and here's some I did earlier)
© John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018
Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar;
Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell