Western Howgills

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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 receive a two-monthly email update - please send an email to johnselfdrakkar@gmail.com. Some readers' comments are included in the Preamble.

caton moor      115.   Risk, Fear and Pain – or Beauty, Joy and Wonder?   
     114.   Never Mind the Danger   
     113.   White Stoats on Caton Moor   
               The Great Lakes Countdown   
     112.   Walking around Pilling with Pink Feet   
     111.   From Millstone Grit to Limestone   
     110.   Cloughs and Grit   
     109.   Fair Snape: the Fairest Fell of Bowland   
     108.   Westward Home!   
     107.   Along the Sands from Millom to Silecroft   
     106.   Twelve Ponds and a Power Station   
     1 - 105

Lake of the Day 355:  Foxes Tarn (NY2006)
      Some people think that Foxes Tarn is the highest named tarn in the Lake District, at about 830 metres. Some think it is the smallest too. It is of variable size, anyway, and sometimes, like other small tarns, it disappears – in which event it definitely is the smallest (or equal smallest). Foxes Tarn is a particular favourite of Lake District fell-walkers because it lies on the path between Scafell and Scafell Pike (the district's two highest tops), requiring a descent from (or climb to) the col of Mickledore between the two and a scramble up (or down) a steep, narrow gully. The tarn itself is at the top of the gully.
foxes tarn

115.  Risk, Fear and Pain – or Beauty, Joy and Wonder?


Caton Moor from the Lune valley

I continue to be local-bound and reflecting upon, rather than walking upon, the mountains. If Simon Ingram (as discussed in 114) needs to imperil himself upon the mountains in order to get his adrenaline flowing then I think he is in the wrong game. He should be mountaineering not walking. Then he could learn from the classic book Mountains of the Mind (Macfarlane, 2003). Macfarlane agrees that mountains are for engendering fear: “We had talked, as mountaineers always do, about how strange it is to risk yourself for a mountain, but how central to the experience is that risk and the fear it brings with it.”

Macfarlane buttresses his argument that risk, fear and indeed death are an integral part of the mountain experience with various quotes, such as this one from John Ruskin, writing in 1863: “This I know and find, practically, that if you come to a dangerous place, and turn back from it, though it may have been perfectly right and wise to do so, still your character has suffered some slight deterioration; you are to that extent weaker, more lifeless, more effeminate, more liable to passion and error in future; whereas if you go through with the danger … you come out of the encounter a stronger and better man … and nothing but danger produces this effect.”

I didn’t know that Ruskin was a mountaineer but I can appreciate that he didn’t want to be thought more effeminate. However, you can only get so far by quoting others. We wouldn’t pay much regard to a writer who proselytized the benefits of LSD if he hadn’t himself experienced those benefits, no matter how many LSD-users he quoted. So, just as Ingram is at pains to show that he’s a real walker, Macfarlane has to show that he’s a real mountaineer and not a man of letters, words and sentences, safe in his Cambridge study. He interlaces his narrative with various instances of his own daring escapades. He felt “a humming, jostling swarm of fear” on the snowy ridge of Lagginhorn; his “limbs were shivering … heart pistoned” in a rock avalanche near Zinalrothorn; he spent twelve hours huddled in a snow cave during a Cairngorms blizzard; his party crossed the ridge of the Inylchek glacier “like tight-rope walkers”; he was “seized with panic” when he half fell into a crevasse; he “was reminded of medieval knights preparing for combat” when preparing to climb Nadelhorn.

napes needle I hope that none of his readers was inspired by all this manly heroism to dash out to tackle Napes Needle on Great Gable, for the requisite risk, fear and perhaps death, before they had reached page 99. For there Macfarlane has an epiphany. He comments that “I have discovered that it is eminently possible to spend time in the mountains and to be at far less risk than one would be, say, crossing city streets … For me now … the attraction of mountains is far more about beauty than about risk, far more about joy than fear, far more about wonder than pain.”

Is it possible to ‘discover’ something that almost everybody else knows already? By ‘discovered’ I think he means ‘belatedly realised’. I am reminded of those long-distance runners who emphasise that pain, vomiting, hallucinations, and so on, are all an essential part of the activity, for only by overcoming them do you reap the full benefit. For example, Harvie (2011) implicitly compares his unsuccessful attempt to run the 152-mile Athens-Sparta race with the fateful Everest expedition of George Mallory in 1924. I never set out on a run expecting pain and I never sought pain to gain the full benefits from running. My objective was, on the contrary, to train to reach a level of fitness that would enable me to run within my limits to avoid pain, vomiting, hallucinations, and so on. I feel the same way about mountains. I do not expect or seek risk, fear and pain on the mountains. I try to ensure that I never place myself in a situation where they arise. In fact, during decades of running and walking on the mountains, I have never experienced fear there – the occasional quiver of doubt or misgiving perhaps, but never fear.

However, Macfarlane’s discovery on page 99 does not restrain him for long. He doesn’t go on to write about the beauty, joy and wonder of mountains. He forgets about all that and continues with another 200 pages of self-inflicted bravery, climaxing with a gruelling 50-page account of the heroic, glorious death of Mallory on Everest (plus, of little account it seems, ten others on this and preparatory expeditions). After his discovery on page 99, why does he care about Mallory so much? Why does he think we care? I know I don’t. My appreciation of mountains owes nothing to Mallory and his kind.

P.S.  I am pleased to report that, after establishing his credentials as a fearless, committed walker on his first four walks (114), Simon Ingram relaxes somewhat. His next six walks are up: Cnicht (689 metres) in Snowdonia, Cross Fell (893 metres) in the North Pennines, Schiehallion (1,083 metres) in Perthshire, Ben Loyal (764 metres) in Sutherland, and Cùl Beag (769 metres) and An Teallach (1,062 metres) in the Northwest Highlands. Actually, lightning caused him to abandon Cùl Beag and settle for a lower, unnamed summit instead. Still, it did enable him to scare the bejesus out of us again by going on for pages about the dangers of lightning. I have the measure of Ingram now. He suffers from acute morbidosity. He wallows in the dangerous and unpleasant. At the National Slate Museum he is fixated on the horrific injuries suffered by miners. He goes on for pages about the Scottish midges. And then it's ticks and Lyme Disease. But it is not quite all angst. He has a relatively gentle walk up Cross Fell, which I sauntered up myself in 56. The terrain on Cross Fell is little more challenging than that on Caton Moor, although there is a lot more of it. My walk, like Ingram’s, was on a sunny, windless day. That suited me but not Ingram because he had come specifically to experience Cross Fell’s notorious wind, The Helm. He seems not to bother with weather forecasts.

    Date: January 16th 2021
    Start: home;   Route: various;   Distance: not far;   Ascent: not much

After every ten lakes I will explain to those puzzled by all these lakes that this 'Great Lakes Countdown' was introduced on December 30th 2020, here.

Lake of the Day 356:  Black Combe tarn (SD1385)
      I was surprised to find that Black Combe has a tarn. I have only been up Black Combe once and noticed no tarn - but it was more or less in cloud and we were more concerned to locate the trig point summit. Black Combe is a smooth hump that, like Skiddaw, you don't expect to have tarns. There is no tarn named on the map but I assume that the reference to a tarn is to the pool indicated some 200 metres east of the path and 200 metres south of the trig point. Judging from the photographs, it may well be smaller than some of those tarns listed earlier.
black combe tarn
Lake of the Day 357:  Browsholme Tarn (SD7047)
      For the first lake in the south of the region I present Browsholme Tarn. This lies on Browsholme Moor, a couple of miles north-east of Browsholme Hall, five miles north-west of Clitheroe. There is a larger, unnamed body of water near to the Hall but it is not accessible to ordinary people. I suspect that it is an artificial, ornamental pond for the Hall residents. I will tend to ignore such ponds as I prefer more natural lakes like Browsholme Tarn, although this one is probably a soggy setting. Is Browsholme Tarn the most southerly tarn in England? Old Viking words such as fell, beck and tarn fade away over Bowland.
browsholme tarn
Lake of the Day 358:  Arnsbarrow Tarn (SD3191)
      Arnsbarrow Tarn is a tarn that I hadn't heard of, let alone visited - but others seem to think highly of it and it is marked on the map, so here it is. It is a circular tarn, almost fifty metres across, that lies among the undulating hills between Coniston Water and the Grizedale Forest, with Arnsbarrow Hill to the south. Its outflow, Tarn Beck, flows to Coniston Water. There is a footpath shown on the map, but perhaps less clear on the ground, passing the tarn.
arnsbarrow tarn
Lake of the Day 359:  Red Screes summit tarn (NY3908)
      Just south of the Red Screes trig point there's a sizable (about 20 metres diameter) pool of water, visited in
43 and shown below. On that occasion it was frozen but I expect that it provides a pleasant paddle in summer. It is not dignified with a name on the OS map. According to Wainwright (1955-66), the tarn has "in springtime, the highest resident population of tadpoles", which is not a claim that I am bothered about verifying.
red screes tarn

114.  Never Mind the Danger

These days I am pootling about on the foothills of Caton Moor, if Caton Moor is considered high enough to have foothills. It is only 361 metres at the trig point. It is a smooth hump, with moor-grass all over, and hardly a rock exposed anywhere. On the other side of Littledale, below Ward’s Stone, there are jumbles of millstone grit enabling some scrambling but not on Caton Moor. In short, Caton Moor is benign and not a ‘real mountain’. I haven’t tackled one of those for over a year and there is no prospect of doing so at the moment, so I thought I’d read about them instead.
caton moor

Caton Moor, with its windmills, from the slopes up to Ward's Stone (Whernside is directly behind the highest point of Caton Moor, with Ingleborough to the right in cloud)

The book Between the Sunset and the Sea (Ingram, 2015) describes expeditions up sixteen British mountains. It has been well-reviewed and the author, Simon Ingram, is the editor of Trail, the “bestselling, hillwalking magazine”, and therefore knows what he is writing about. The walks themselves provide the narrative propulsion but there are long diversions to discuss associated topics, such as the mass trespasses, the nature of mountain legends, the work of rescue teams, and so on. So far, I’ve only read the first four chapters but I think I have detected a theme.

The first four mountains are Beinn Dearg (914 metres) in the north-west Scottish Highlands, Black Mountain (802 metres) of the Brecon Beacons, Cadair Idris (893 metres) and Snowdon (1,085 metres). He sets off up the first, Beinn Dearg, alone and in rain, noting that the slopes ahead appeared “steep and outwardly impenetrable”. The ascent becomes increasingly scary, with the text peppered with phrases such as “alarming void”, “exciting, nerve-wracking”, “a fragile pivot between the thrilling and the frightening”, “gingerly reversed”, and so on. After five pages of this, he reaches the top and, since it’s getting late, he descends, with “increasing alarm”, passing “a drop of similar horror”, and commenting that “descents like this are what fatal accident statistics are made of”. He realises that he was under-prepared for this “unexpectedly hairy” outing – “a lesson I could learn from provided I could safely find a way out of this jam”. Which, of course, he did.

Next it’s the Black Mountain. He wanted to see the stars of the night sky from the mountain top but he set off in rain and wind. He was soon as “wet as hell” because he had forgotten to bring waterproof trousers. The wind, which he estimated to be 50 mph, gusting to 70 mph, threatened to blow him off the mountain. But he reached the top, where he “realised just how silly [his] decision to push on had been” and that “it wouldn’t be long before hypothermia began to gnaw”. So he aborted the plan to camp at the top in order to admire the stars and descended. He found that walking back to his car “was a hell of a lot harder than walking from it”. It was now “almost totally dark” and, since the batteries in his head torch were now almost flat, “stream crossings were done in a darkness that was too profound for comfort”.

He set out for Cadair Idris with the intention of appreciating the legends that surround the mountain and in particular to see the sunset from the top. However, he had dallied on his way to the foot of the mountain and his “plan for getting to the summit by sunset was now on a perilously tight schedule”. He hurries to the top – which at 893 metres requires quite a lot of hurrying – and there he finds that instead of carrying up his warm clothing for the night he has by mistake brought a tent, which he didn’t need because he intended to sleep in a hut on the mountain top. He comments that “had this been a cold or rainy night … I could have been in quite a bit of trouble”. But he survived.

crib goch On Snowdon, Ingram planned to walk, alone again, across Crib Goch. To get us in the mood, he first discusses the work of mountain rescue teams, who deal with nearly sixty fatalities a year. He twice speculates whether he will become one of them on Crib Goch because it is “a personification of all that is deviously hazardous”. Crib Goch is, he says, 500 metres of exposed arête with sheer drops of several hundred metres on both sides. The evening before the planned assault a friend tells him that the weather forecast (which he has not himself checked) is for rain and gales the following morning – so he decides to tackle half the crest that evening, with darkness approaching, then camp overnight halfway along (somehow), and do the rest early next morning. So we are then treated, over five pages, to a step-by-step account of his traverse of half of Crib Goch, which “was giving [him] dreadful feelings”.

You may not appreciate what an impressive achievement this is. I struggle myself to write a sentence sometimes about the step-by-steps of my own walking. Ingram manages to write 2,500 words about 250 metres of walking, each word building the tension like Ravel’s Bolero, but without hesitation, deviation or repetition, and without the dramatic end of Bolero. How does he remember or record the intricate details of every lump of rock whilst grappling to avoid falling off? As I say, most impressive.

As he sets up camp, he finds that he has a text message from his friend telling him that the gale is now forecast to be earlier. So he decamps and sets off immediately to tackle the second half, with the “light fading rapidly”. We have more pages of danger, peril and horror. I suppose that readers are expected to have a white-knuckled grip of their armchair – but, of course, we know that, like James Bond in a car chase, our hero will come through unscathed. He concludes that his experience on Crib Goch and the earlier mountains will help on the “higher, wilder peaks [that] were coming”. I can hardly wait!

I find it strange that a professional walker is not embarrassed to admit to such recklessness and to a series of elementary, foolhardy mistakes. Maybe what happened is that his magazine published a ‘do not …’ list intended to help novice hill walkers avoid risk and he mistook it for a ‘do …’ list, and set about ticking them off one-by-one. In that way he enhanced the danger, and after all it is the whole purpose of mountain walking to experience and to overcome danger. For Ingram, that is – not for me.

P.S. 'Never mind the danger' is a phrase in 'On the Ball, City', said to be the oldest football song still in use today (well, not exactly today, unless fans sing it in front of their TV sets). The City referred to is, of course, Norwich City.

    Date: January 12th 2021
    Start: home;   Route: various;   Distance: not far;   Ascent: not much

Lake of the Day 360:  Blencathra summit tarn (NY3227)
      Nobody walks up Blencathra in order to look at its summit tarn. However, most walkers will look at it because they are likely to pass it on their way to or from the top by the path to Atkinson Pike. The photograph shows Skiddaw in the distance and, of course, most people's attention will be focussed on the distant views rather than on this pool. It has a pile of stones in the middle, presumably not natural.
blencathra tarn
Lake of the Day 361:  Lily Tarn (NY3604)
      Lily Tarn lies on the eastern slopes of Loughrigg Fell, just a mile west of Ambleside. It is a pleasant stroll from Ambleside although I don't recall walking it myself. It looks a pretty spot, ideal for a summer picnic, I imagine - provided not too many people from Ambleside have the same idea. Although it is a small tarn within rocky outcrops it is large enough for a tiny island with a tree. I don't know if it has any lilies.
lily tarn
Lake of the Day 362:  Beckhead Tarn (NY2010)
      Beckhead Tarn is a well-visited tarn since it lies on the pass between Great Gable and Kirk Fell. There are actually two pools in the col and I assume Beckhead Tarn refers to the larger of the two. Both pools, especially the larger but shallower one, are liable to dry out. The main appeal of the tarn is its location, offering views of the steep north-west ridge of Great Gable, with views of Wasdale and Ennerdale either side of the pass.
beckhead tarn

113.  White Stoats on Caton Moor

Our local hill, Caton Moor, received its first snow of the winter on New Year's Eve, so, as is almost traditional, we walked up the hill as soon as we could, bright and early on New Year's Day. We thus began the year as we are intended to carry on, that is, by walking from home. I had the ulterior motive of looking for white stoats but I didn't mention this to Ruth, as I didn't want her to feel disappointed when we didn't see any.

The roads were still white and icy but we walked up gingerly, appreciating the views of the Lune valley and the gradual revelation of the surrounding hills. At first, we could see only the Howgills and Barbon Fell up the valley, but eventually Gragareth, Whernside and, after passing Quarry House Farm, Ingleborough came into view. Their tops were smudged by grey cloud but, as far as I could tell, they appeared to have less snow than Ward's Stone, just off to the south. But the highlight was behind us. The Lake District hills appeared over the ridge on the north bank of the Lune and they too were mainly under grey cloud except for a sunny patch that made the Coniston hills and then the Langdales seem aglow.
ld hills

Towards the Lake District hills (about 30 miles away), Black Combe on the left, Coniston hills in sunshine

Now, about those white stoats ... Handel, Vivaldi and other composers of that vintage thought nothing of recycling their compositions to meet their commitments. Writers nowadays are liable to re-use their words in various forms - newspaper columns, books, anthologies, even in films if they are lucky. I have more excuse than them for borrowing from myself. I am supposed to be writing about walking in the northern hills and dales but I can't walk there, for the time being. So, as it happens, I wrote something about white stoats five years ago which I can regurgitate here (slightly edited) ...

You can’t really set out to see a stoat. Stoats are seen by chance, if they are seen at all. But I had resolved that when the first snow of the winter fell on Caton Moor then I would set off in search of a white stoat. By chance I have, during occasional visits in the last 35 years, seen two white stoats on Caton Moor. I don’t know if I am lucky to have seen as many as two, or unlucky to have seen only two. I just don’t know how common white stoats are on Caton Moor. I have also seen several brown stoats not on snow. I’ve never seen a white stoat without snow nor, I think, a brown stoat with snow. These observations, scanty though they are, provoke a number of questions in my febrile mind.

brown stoat As is well known, stoats in places where there is plenty of snow, such as the Cairngorms, turn white in winter and stoats in places where there is little snow, such as Dorset, do not turn white. But how does the mechanism work in intermediate places like Caton Moor, where snow is patchy and unpredictable? What causes the change? Is it in anticipation of snow, or in response to it? Does it occur gradually or quickly (like human hair that turns white overnight as the result of some trauma)? Is it an adaptation to the environment, like that of a chameleon? Does turning white occur once each winter, or could a stoat turn white, then brown, then white in response to snowy periods? If you took a Dorset stoat to the Cairngorms would it turn white? If you took a Cairngorms stoat to Dorset would it turn white? If turning white is such a nifty strategy, then do other species adopt it? Do all stoats in a particular location turn white or do they all not turn white? If not, why not? Are the numbers of white stoats decreasing, in response to climate change?

I have found the answers to some of these questions in the book The Natural History of Weasels and Stoats (King and Powell, 2006). It seems that the white stoat provides a pristine case study on the interaction between genes and the environment.

First of all, some preliminaries. Stoats are members of the Mustelidae family, which also includes weasels, minks, ferrets, martens, badgers and otters. The stoat Mustela erminea and weasel Mustela nivalis are within the Mustela genus of this family. Ermine is an alternative name for the stoat, usually used for the white stoat and for its fur. In the United States, Mustela erminea (our stoat) is called the short-tailed weasel and Mustela nivalis (our weasel) is called the least weasel or common weasel. They also have a long-tailed weasel. In Ireland Mustela erminea (our stoat) is usually called the weasel. There are no Mustela nivalis (our weasel) in Ireland. You could say that there are no weasels in Ireland, but the Irish might say that there are no stoats. Clearly, outside the UK, the weasel is not so easily distinguished and the poor stoat is totally confused.

Stoat and weasel have a huge range, across the whole northern hemisphere from western North America to eastern Asia. Within that range there are many climatic zones with prolonged snow cover. Some stoats and weasels live at 3000 metres in permanent snow. Snow is not a problem for stoats, as it is for many animals. With its long, thin, sinuous body the stoat is well-adapted to burrowing in grass and small tunnels and is therefore equally well-adapted to burrowing within snow, where it may seek prey, find safety from predators, and take refuge from the cold.

stoat and rabbit A stoat has quite an appetite, needing to eat up to one third of its body weight every day. This is because it leads such a frenetic life: it is alert, with rapid movements; its pulse runs at 500 beats per minute; it digests and defecates within two hours; and it doesn’t sleep for long. It can kill rabbits twice its weight. I once saw a stoat doing a strange leaping dance beside a hedge. I then noticed that it had at its feet a dead rabbit. It was leaping up trying to get the rabbit into the hedge but it was too heavy and the stoat lost its grip. It eventually succeeded. On another occasion I saw a stoat disappear into a stone wall. I stood by the wall and eventually the stoat popped its head out, stared at me, squeaked, and went back inside. It repeated this performance every minute or so. The squeaks became gradually more threatening so, bearing in mind what a vicious killer the stoat is, I thought I had better move on.

The stoat does not hibernate in winter. With its slim, fat-free body, it needs twice as much energy to retain its body heat in winter as it does in summer. It is therefore essential that the stoat be adapted to survive harsh winters. Now we can consider the change to white. Stoats moult twice a year, in spring and autumn. The new fur, replacing the old, is brown except for autumn moults in cold climates, when it is white. The moult does not occur instantaneously and therefore stoats may be seen at an intermediate brown-white stage. In mild climates (such as here) the moult can take a month; in the Arctic it takes a few days.

The moult is triggered by the hours of daylight. This is easily demonstrated by manipulating the lighting over the cages of captive stoats. They can be induced to moult at any time of the year, even if the temperature is not consistent with the apparent sunlight. In this respect, the stoat is similar to other animals that moult. If the temperature or some other environmental factor were the sole determinant then stoats transferred from, say, the Cairngorms to Dorset (or vice versa) would turn white or not according to the conditions in their new home - but they don’t. They moult at the usual time but into the ‘wrong’ coat. So the colour of the new fur is controlled mainly, if not entirely, by heredity.

British weasels do not turn white. Why not? If it's a good idea for stoats to turn white, why isn't it for weasels too? Swedish weasels do turn white - or at least those in north Sweden do while those in south Sweden stay brown (rather like the British stoat divide). However, the two sets of Swedish weasels are two different subspecies (the two sets of British stoats are not). British weasels belong to the same subspecies as the south Sweden weasels. Therefore the reason that British weasels don’t turn white may be more to do with their genes and evolutionary history than the climate.

In the United States it was found that the boundary between white and brown winter stoats was at points where there was an inch of snow for fifty days of winter. In Britain stoats whiten in somewhat milder winters (Caton Moor normally has an inch of snow for only a few days of winter). The boundary line divides Wales, Scotland and parts of northern England from the rest of England - but of course it is not a precise, single line, as mountain-top stoats are more likely to whiten than low-level ones. Caton Moor, with a highest point of 361 metres, is hardly a mountain-top.

The boundary between white stoats and brown stoats is not a line but a transition zone. Within that zone (which includes Caton Moor) more or less stoats turn more or less white. Transition zone stoats are usually pied, rather than fully-white or fully-brown (actually, fully-white stoats are not fully white: they retain the black tail tip). This suggests that our stoats are a hybrid of northern fully-white genes and southern fully-brown genes. The colder or snowier a region normally is, the more pied stoats there are (and, I would guess, the more white they are). In the transition zone female stoats are more likely to turn white than male ones. Perhaps the gene that determines whitening is dominant in one sex and recessive in the other. This would ensure a genetic polymorphism so that the population always has some individuals with every combination, in which case some will benefit whatever the weather conditions turn out to be.

white stoat The reason that stoats turn white is obvious. It confers a clear evolutionary advantage. Stoats have much to gain by being able to live in snowy conditions but the penalty for being brown against a white background or white against a dark background is large. They become much more visible to their predators - hawks, owls and foxes. Other species, such as the mountain hare, arctic fox, ptarmigan and caribou, also turn white in winter. It is also clear how this is a self-regulating mechanism. Those stoats that moult to an inappropriate colour are more likely to be predated and therefore less likely to pass on their ‘inappropriate’ genes.

I have found no discussion of the effect of climate change on the transition zone for stoat-whitening - but I would expect the zone to be moving north. Forty years ago there were ski-orienteering events organised on the Howgills. The organisers could be confident that there would be enough snow. Today, the odds are that a winter date would see no or little snow on the Howgills. Ski-orienteers are now more commonly found further north. I expect white stoats are too.

So my expedition to snowy Caton Moor was made not in the belief that the brown stoats would suddenly have turned white in response to the fresh snow. My hope was that, after this exceptionally mild and wet winter (so far), those stoats unfortunate to have genes that have turned them white would have sufficient self-awareness to have hidden themselves away over the last few weeks in order not to make an easily-predated spectacle of themselves but that, now that the snow has fallen, they would be gambolling about, in their element. Unfortunately, it proved not to be the case. I saw no stoats, white or brown. On reflection, given the decreasing occurrence of snow on Caton Moor, I think it unwise for any stoat to turn white there. I suspect that white stoats have disappeared but I will keep looking and if I see one I’ll let you know.

... Now, back in 2021, we saw no white stoats on our January 1st walk and I haven't seen any in the intervening years either. Not to worry, it was an invigorating start to the New Year. We walked up to beyond the windmills, which had just begun to be stirred into action by a light breeze, and admired the snowy hills all around, with only a few in the glow of sunshine. By the time we set off down, a thaw had set in, which made the roads more slippery, but we made it safely back.

Clougha Pike and Morecambe Bay from above the windmills

    Date: January 1st 2021
    Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
    Route: SE, E on Quarry Road – picnic site – along the windmill track, to the highest corner of the field – and back
    Distance: 5 miles;   Ascent: 250 metres

Lake of the Day 363:  Boo Tarn (SD2896)
      Boo Tarn is on the list simply because of its name. It is a small reedy pool that is passed on the Walna Scar track by Coniston Old Man. The reeds are colonising and, for all I know, may have completely taken over the tarn by now. I'm not convinced that this marshy area beside a stream qualifies as a 'tarn'.
boo tarn
Lake of the Day 364:  Carlside Tarn (NY2528)
      Walkers who approach Skiddaw from the west, along the fine ridge over Ullock Pike, pass Carlside Tarn at over 700 metres in the col before the final slog up the western slope of Skiddaw. I can't say that the tarn made any impression upon me, but some walkers seem fond of it, perhaps because it is the only body of water on the whole Skiddaw mountain. This puddle at least has a name and is marked on the OS map.
carlside tarn
Lake of the Day 365:  The Calf summit pool (SD6697)
      There are no lakes on the Howgill fells, unless you count a fishery and the small Greenside Tarn near Ravenstonedale. I don't know why the engineers didn't think (as far as I know) of damming a Howgills valley when they had their eyes on valleys to the west, such as Borrowdale. Anyway, it would be a shame to not have the Howgills represented in this list, so I include as the first 'lake' the tiny pool near The Calf trig point. I referred to this in
15, on which occasion it was completely dry. Normally it takes a few seconds to walk around it.
calf pool

The Great Lakes Countdown

December 30th 2020: They keep telling us that "2020 has been a year like no other". Well, 2021 will be the same, for some months at least. Plans will continue to be provisional and life lived day-by-day. My Saunterings will be restricted, by me if not by law, but that will be the least of our concerns. To help me through the days I intend, on every day of the year, to focus on a lake of North-West England (as defined in the Preamble), lakes being the natural features that most soothe and promote reflection. I will list the lakes in order of increasing size (more or less). The first thirty or so are really too small to make the 'top 365' but I mention them anyway because – well, because I want to. I will not, of course, travel to a lake every day but in my comments will rely upon my memory and, if the lake is new to me, on what I can glean from books and on-line. It will be a virtual walk around the lake. Most of the photos will also have been filched from on-line. I am grateful to all the photographers – but if you are one of them and consider that my gratitude is insufficient compensation for theft please let me know. I will aim to add a lake a day – and if I should miss a day or days then I will try to add a couple until I get back in step with the calendar. So, on January 1st, The Great Lakes Countdown begins!  On reflection, a-lake-a-day may prove too much of a commitment: I'll try to make it a-lake-every-other-day.

112.  Walking around Pilling with Pink Feet

pink foot old windmill Yes, I know: ‘pink feet’ is wrong. That was just to gain your attention. Birders call the pink-footed goose the ‘pink foot’. If there’s more than one, it’s still the pink foot, as in “The pink foot are back”, which is fair enough, as it is short for ‘pink-footed geese’.

From the embankment at Lane Ends we could see fresh snow on the Lake District hills. There were none of the usual birders about – but the sun had only just risen. A chilly wind caused us not to linger, so we walked to Pilling, the largest village of the flat Fylde. It is built mainly of red brick but has two non-red buildings protruding upward. The St John the Baptist Church with steeple was built in 1887 by the ubiquitous Paley & Austin. In 69 I commented that Paley & Austin had a virtual monopoly hereabouts with church building and had at Finsthwaite gone beyond their usual style. That is even more the case at Pilling where, apart from including the steeple, they used pink stones to embellish the upper parts. This church replaced the smaller one nearby, where there is a sun-dial commemorating George Holden (1723-1793), vicar of Pilling Church, who is said to have devised the tide tables (although this is a convoluted tale that I tried to unravel in The Land of the Lune, page 242). The other prominent building is a converted windmill, which was built in 1808 to a height of 22 metres, the highest in Fylde, but had become derelict by the 1940s.

Floral displays, bold for December, enlivened the Pilling streets. May I politely ask that Pilling takes as much care with its footpath signs? We followed one that led to an old pinfold and then evaporated amongst gardens. Returning to Broadfleet Bridge, a group of about thirty pink foot flew over, low and noisy. These were what we had really come to see. Pink-footed geese from Iceland over-winter in their thousands in the north Fylde region, taking advantage of the Wyre-Lune Sanctuary Nature Reserve. They form the V-shaped skeins of our winter skies, with sometimes large numbers of geese passing over with celebratory honks. They are rather dainty birds, for geese.

Having noticed that this section of the Pilling Embankment was still open (it closes from December 26th to Good Friday), we walked back along it. At Lane Ends one birder was now at his station – but as we neared he up-tripodded and retreated to his car. It was too cold – or there weren’t enough birds. I agree with him on the latter point. The last time I came here I was treated to a spectacular display of thousands of pink-footed geese, swirling about, occasionally forming arrows or lines, breaking up and re-forming, cacophonous, eventually moving out over the bay.

After a coffee break we moved back to Cocker Bridge, from where we hoped to see more action in the skies. We walked on a muddy path to Patty’s Farm and on to the Black Knights Parachute Centre. A plane took off. We didn’t wait to see if it disgorged a parachutist. That wasn’t what we had come to see – this was:
pink footed geese

Pink-footed geese (as seen on the previous visit)

    Date: December 24th 2020
    Start: SD415493, car park outside Lane Ends amenity area  (Map: 296)
    Route: (a) N – viewing area – S, SW – Broadfleet Bridge – W, S – footpath – N, E – Broadfleet Bridge – N, E on embankment – Lane Ends; (b) SD453512, by Cocker Bridge – N – Pattys Farm – S – Cocker Bridge
    Distance: 4 miles;   Ascent: 5 metres
    Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 186/400;   Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 12.30

111.  From Millstone Grit to Limestone

A geologist will find the ‘solid geology map’ (1:625,000 scale) of the local district rather dull. The bedrock is millstone grit throughout. It is overlain here and there by glacial and alluvial deposits but even so the region lacks the variety of, say, the Lake District. The 1:50,000 scale map of the Lancaster region, however, shows an amazing range of detail, totally unsuspected by an amateur such as myself. A section close to where I live shows faults, anticlines, synclines, many varieties within the millstone grit group, and even intrusive igneous rocks within a kilometre of my house. This detail, however, I must leave for another day, until I have a better understanding of it. For now, I am stuck with millstone grit.

Or am I? The map also shows that just a few miles north the bedrock is limestone. Ah, limestone. The bright crags and dry paths. I haven’t sauntered on limestone since Beetham on October 7th (105). I miss it, but not as much as so much else at this time. Still, it provides motivation for a walk: to stride north to see where the limestone begins.

I set off through Halton, a village that with commendable self-sacrifice is single-handedly tackling the local housing shortage. A large V of geese flew over. The sun rose over a distant Clougha Pike, reminding me of my struggle against it in the previous outing. It would have been quiet but for the continuous rumble of the M6. Our present restrictions are clearly not as strict – or not as strictly followed – as they were in the spring, when there was an eerie silence. As I walked along I looked out for limestone in the fields and in the stone walls, but I saw none. I could, however, see limestone far ahead, at Warton Crag.

I passed the intriguingly-named Coolbawn and the even more intriguingly-named Moor End Farm. The farm is not today at the end of any moor but perhaps it used to be. Millstone grit tends to accumulate peat and puddles, and hence tends to form a moor if uncultivated. Limestone doesn’t. Water drains through it and we don’t tend to refer to areas on limestone as moors. The thought that this farm once marked a transition point between millstone grit and limestone was perhaps confirmed by the white rocky outcrop in the field ahead.

After negotiating the narrow Shaw Lane, I turned to Hill Top, where I could at last touch limestone. And then I reached undeniable evidence that this hill is of limestone – or rather was, since it has mainly disappeared. I reached the rim of the huge chasm left by the Dunald Mill Quarry. The shrubs on the rim made it difficult to see into the chasm but it appeared to be entirely abandoned and now to host a large lake. The equally huge chasm across the road seemed, however, to be occupied by industrial units. This video provides an aerial view of the two quarries. (The video describes the eastern quarry as a 'working quarry' but I don't think it is working as a quarry. The road nearby has none of the whiteness it used to have.) According to a 2010 report, the quarries are supposed to be completely restored by 2023, the western quarry “to a lake with visitor viewing facilities” and the eastern one “to an area of wildlife meadows”. From what I could see, they need to get a move on.
Dunald Mill Quarry

Dunald Mill Quarry

It should not be a surprise to find a quarry here. Quarries often develop on the fringes of a geological area. If people to the south, say, in the Lune valley want limestone, as they did, then they will seek it from the nearest limestone hill, which is here near Nether Kellet. Once quarrying has started, it will continue, to create these craters, as long as demand continues, as it did until a decade or two ago.

To the south of the quarry is Dunald Mill Hole, a cavern that was once something of a tourist attraction, even stimulating a poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838), although I hadn't heard of her, so perhaps that's not saying much. Further along the lane, surprisingly, are the substantial facilities of the Carnforth Compressor Station. Whatever a compressor station is, it is good that they have hidden it away from all but the occasional intrepid walker. To the left, of more interest to me, was a large limestone outcrop. I was tempted to trespass to walk upon it – but I mustn’t. The time will come again, eventually, when I will be able to walk on real limestone, in, say, the Yorkshire Dales.
Dunald Mill Lane

The limestone outcrop

As I expected, this proved to be the last I saw of limestone. I walked down, past Halton Park, to my home valley, where, in the absence of wind, the windmills were stationary, a smoky haze had settled, and a murky mist obscured views of Ingleborough. Ahead were the dark, millstone grit hills of Ward’s Stone, Grit Fell and Clougha Pike.

    Date: December 22nd 2020
    Start: SD506643, A683 lay-by at Denny Bank  (Map: OL41)
    Route: (linear) N over bridge – Halton – NW, along Scargill Road – N, along Shaw Lane – E, N, E – Long Dales Lane – S, SE on Dunald Mill Lane – S past Halton Park, SW, S – Lune – E – Brookhouse
    Distance: 8 miles;   Ascent: 125 metres
    Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 185/400;   Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 12.25

howgills      110.   Cloughs and Grit   
     109.   Fair Snape: the Fairest Fell of Bowland   
     108.   Westward Home!   
     107.   Along the Sands from Millom to Silecroft   
     106.   Twelve Ponds and a Power Station   
               Diversion 4:  You Don't Need a Weatherman ...   
     105.   An Autumn Stroll through Beetham Woods   
     104.   From Bampton Grange to the Lake District's Highest Hills   
     103.   Bogged Down around Rawcliffe Moss   
     102.   Upper Ribblesdale: Drumlins, Three Peaks and a Cave   
     101.   Passing the Time at Heysham   
hawthornthwaite fell      100.   Crookdale and Horseshoes   
     99.   Heather on Hawthornthwaite Fell   
     98.   Karren and Flora on Hutton Roof Crags   
     97.   Remeandering the Lyvennet   
     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!   
lune ingleborough      90.   “One Form of Exercise – such as Walking”
     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
edisford br      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   
coniston hills      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   
the nab      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   
langdales      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   
singing ringing tree      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   
butter tubs rainbow      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   
pendle      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   
thirlmere      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)

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018


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