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 (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.

     132.   Three Viaducts and a Tunnel of the Settle-Carlisle Railway
     131.   A Taste of the Kendal Mint
pen-y-ghent      130.   By the Lancaster Canal and the River Lune  
     129.   From the Delights of Downham to the Heights of Pendle  
     128.   Spring around Scout Scar  
     127.   To Calf Top Top  
     126.   Return to Roeburndale  
               Diversion 6:  Plane Sailing on Windermere   
               113-125 are about walking and walks from home during another lockdown.
     125.   “Walking is not a sport”  
     124.   The Most Prominent Hills of North-West England  
     123.   Over to Overton and Around Little Fylde  
     122.   Walking Uphill and Walking Up a Hill  
     121.   The Phantom Hills of Mallowdale Pike, High Stephen's Head and Gallows Hill  
     Previous 1 - 120

132.  Three Viaducts and a Tunnel of the Settle-Carlisle Railway

I was pleased to see that throughout the 80-page Yorkshire Dales National Park's Conservation Area Appraisal of the Settle-Carlisle Railway the viaduct below Whernside is referred to as Batty Moss Viaduct. It is conceded that the viaduct is now more commonly known as the Ribblehead Viaduct but the Area Appraisal itself does not use that name. It also describes the Settle-Carlisle Railway as “a folly that was an accidental by-product of two rivalling companies”.

In The Land of the Lune I had suggested, not altogether seriously, that the viaduct should be called Batty Moss Viaduct, for four reasons: (1) Batty Moss Viaduct is the original name; (2) It is the convention to name viaducts after what they cross, which here is Batty Moss; (3) The viaduct does not cross the Ribble and is not really at the head of Ribblesdale – if anything it is more at the head of Chapel-le-Dale; (4) The construction of the viaduct was somewhat batty.

By the last point I meant that it seemed strange that in order to connect Ribblesdale with upper Wensleydale the railway line was taken over into Dentdale and out again, necessitating the building of three large viaducts and two long tunnels, when there was a more direct route through Widdale, where the B6255 now runs, which would appear to need no viaducts or tunnels. No doubt, there were reasons but, on the surface, it seems a foolish or batty decision. I wouldn’t, however, consider the Settle-Carlisle Railway to be a ‘folly’, in the sense of a whimsical structure intended to amuse us. It was a very serious undertaking, costing a great deal, in money and lives.

The plight of those who helped build the railway deserves a fuller discussion which I will leave to a later Sauntering. On this occasion we focussed on the structure itself, which the Appraisal considers to be “arguably the finest example of a ‘totally integrated’ engineering approach of Victorian times”, “the most scenic railway line in England” and “the last British line to be largely built in the traditional ‘manual’ way” using a workforce of thousands of navvies.

We got off the bus at Ribblehead Station, where the bus waits for rail passengers wanting to transfer to the bus in order to get to, say, Swaledale. The whole area around Ribblehead was packed with cars, basking on a sunny Bank Holiday Sunday. We walked past Batty Moss Viaduct along with many walkers heading for Whernside but we left them to walk up Blea Moor on the path that runs directly above the Bleamoor Tunnel, which at 1.5 miles long is the longest tunnel of the Settle-Carlisle Railway. Reaching a height of about 500 metres, we had the tunnel some 150 metres below us. This tunnel was the most expensive structure of the whole line, being dug primarily by hand, although today, of course, there is relatively little to show, above ground, for all this effort. There are piles of stone debris and a few air shafts, through one of which we heard a whoosh as, we assume, a train passed below.
bleamoor tunnel

A shaft of the Bleamoor Tunnel (Ingleborough to the left, Whernside to the right)

Dropping down into upper Dentdale through the remains of the conifer plantations there were spectacular views of Dentdale with the railway line sweeping along the eastern flank. Beyond Dent Head Farm, there’s a view of the Dent Head Viaduct of ten arches. We paused at Bridge End, where we had said that we would review our plans. I had originally thought of walking to three viaducts but it was a hotter day than we were used to. I would have been content now with two viaducts and a long siesta. But Ruth was for pressing on, keeping us on our legs for most of the 7½ hours that we had to fill between the buses. It was certainly pleasant enough strolling down Dentdale alongside the River Dee shimmering over little waterfalls. We passed a body spread-eagled on rocks by the river-side, sun-bathing or dead, we weren’t sure.

Dropping down into Dentdale, with the railway line emerging from the tunnel to the right

dent head viaduct

Dent Head Viaduct

After reluctantly repelling the entreaties of a lad at Stone House tempting us with ice-cream, we paused for a sandwich (ice-cream before lunch is just not de rigueur) by the path that passes under the Artengill Viaduct of eleven arches. This viaduct is made of the local ‘Dent marble’, a fossil-rich form of limestone. On an earlier occasion we had paused to look at the fossils in the large limestone blocks at the base of the viaduct but this time we continued, rather wearily, up the long track, until we reached the Pennine Bridleway at a height of about 500 metres again and could at last begin our return towards Ribblehead. Most of this bridleway path was as smooth as a snooker table and it was possible to walk barefoot, which is to be recommended. Ruth said that she got a second wind during this stretch. I was still on my first wind but I had little of it left.
artengill viaduct

Artengill Viaduct

We continued accompanied by many skylarks and with fine views, as we’d had throughout the walk, stimulating reminiscences about previous expeditions over these hills: Great Knoutberry Hill, Wild Boar Fell, Middleton Fell, Dodd Fell, Pen-y-ghent, Pendle, and Ingleborough. Crossing the road, we now joined the Dales Way, where Ruth glided ahead like a gazelle over the moors (if we had gazelles on our moors) while I trudged, exhausted, behind. I restrained her for a while with a drawn-out exposition of the plot of a Friday Night Dinner episode, the one where Jim tips paint over himself. But then she was off again.

At last, the end was in sight, the Station Inn at Ribblehead (for us, the bus stop thereat, not the pub). We dropped down to the road but walked across the moor ten yards above it rather than beside it, since it was busy with cars and motor-bikes. At this point, I realised that, in the urge to get underway in the morning, we had passed the Batty Moss Viaduct without really paying much attention to it and without taking any photographs. So, as we had a little time to spare, I summoned up my last dregs of energy, to follow Ruth over the moor to the limestone outcrop of Runscar Scar, from where there is a grand prospect of this magnificent structure.
batty moss viaduct

Batty Moss Viaduct, from Runscar Scar

Returning to the road, we had an ice-cream, our first al fresco ice cream since the summer of 2019. By such small steps we are measuring our return to ‘normality’. And by such a multitude of steps, I am exhausting myself (Ruth less so, it seems).

    Date: May 30th 2021
    Start: SD764790, Ribblehead Station  (Map: OL2)
    Route: NW past Ribblehead Viaduct, N on Three Peaks route – Little Dale – N, NE over Bleamoor Tunnel, N – Bridge End – N – Stone House Bridge – E up Arten Gill, S on Pennine Bridleway – road – NW, S on Ribble Way, SW, SE past Winshaw – B6255 – SW just north of road, W – Runscar Scar – S – road – SW – Station Inn, Ribblehead
    Distance: 13 miles;   Ascent: 420 metres
    Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 190/400;   Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 13.18

131.  A Taste of the Kendal Mint

Kendal Mint Cake “was immortalised in history on May 29th 1953 when it was carried on the first successful summit of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sirdar Tenzing”, according to the Our Story – Kendal Mint Cake website. Kendal Mint Cake is made from sugar, glucose, water, and peppermint oil. I defy anyone to make what I would consider to be a cake from those ingredients. A necessary but not sufficient condition for cakehood is that I can stick a birthday candle in it. The so-called Kendal Mint Cake is a solid, icy-whitish slab designed to be inconspicuous when dropped on Mount Everest (or Chomolungma or Sagarmatha, as it would be called if the British hadn’t gone around the world renaming things so that they could pronounce them).

I had the opportunity for an evening stroll around Kendal, while Ruth was tuning up with members of the Westmorland Orchestra for the first time since March 2020, so I thought I’d set out for the source of the Kendal Mint. I walked through a part of Kendal that is not mentioned in the tourist brochures, that is, an industrial estate with high security fences and buildings upon which no effort had been spared to develop architectural merit. Yes, no effort at all. I didn’t really mind walking through the region because it is a reminder of the stuff we apparently need to live today (hardware, furniture, paints, bathrooms, screwfix, car-hire, and so on). The Lake District National Park border is careful to skirt the western edge of Kendal to exclude such estates. These buildings would struggle to get permission within the National Park, although the residents within it presumably need this stuff too, which tells us that the Park is an artificially cleansed environment. sandy bottoms

I reached the River Kent at Sandy Bottoms, which is, I understand, a favoured spot of anglers. One was standing mid-river. Has the species of angler that stands mid-river been able to continue throughout the lockdowns? They have been practising social distancing since long before it became necessary. Following the footpath, I reached the River Mint tributary, which was larger than I expected. With this river, and the River Sprint just to the north, feeding the River Kent it is not surprising that the latter is said to be the fastest-rising river in England.

The path by the Mint now passed some open fields on all of which the young people of Kendal were re-discovering the joys of practising their various sports. I crossed the river at Mint Bridge to walk, uneventfully, on the north bank, passing a scruffy bridge that would be ignored by most. I recognised it as part of the Thirlmere Aqueduct, which we traced from the Waterworks Bridge at Caton (89). Here, again, one of the four pipes is a little apart from the rest. And here in this out-of-the-way spot Manchester Corporation wasted no money on ornamentation.

I walked through the grounds of Dodding Green, which was quiet and inactive as I passed by, unnervingly so. I read later that Dodding Green is the home of Britain’s first Cenacolo community, which is a world-wide Christian association to help young people fighting addiction, although I’m not suggesting that that was the cause of my disquiet.

benson knott At Meal Bank I crossed over the bridge high above the Mint. Meal Bank is an odd hamlet tucked down in a loop of the River Mint with old mills and cottages and with access lanes that hardly promise an exit to the outside world. Here I had to turn back to Kendal, as the sun was setting on Benson Knott and the orchestra would be tuning down soon. I didn’t therefore reach the source of the River Mint, as I knew would be the case since it arises over ten miles away in Bannisdale. kendal mint

But I did locate the source of the other Kendal Mint (well, one of them, Romney’s – there are others). The Kendal Mint ‘factory’ was one of the buildings of that industrial estate I walked through, in this case a small building with attached shed that gave little indication of the culinary wonders performed within. I am anticipating that this free advertisement for their scrumptious products will result in a delivery of a lorry-load of free samples. However, none of the products (as far as I can determine from the website) uses Fairtrade sugar, and therefore Ruth will not allow them in the house.

    Date: May 26th 2021
    Start: SD519931, car park by the Quaker Tapestry Museum, Kendal  (Map: OL7)
    Route: N past railway station, NE on Mintsfeet Road and track – River Kent – E by River Mint – Mint Bridge – NE on north bank of Mint – Dodding Green, Meal Bank – SW on Mealbank Road (with short loop to aqueduct), SW on A685 – Kendal
    Distance: 6 miles;   Ascent: 50 metres
    Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 189/400;   Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 12.98

130.  By the Lancaster Canal and the River Lune

To my surprise, the easing of lockdown restrictions has not enthused me to go gallivanting on the hills again. It seems unnecessary, unethical and frivolous to do so, after the experiences of the last fourteen months. How can I justify driving for an hour or so just to go for a walk?

Of the 77 Saunterings before the pandemic, 56 involved a drive (41 of them alone and 15 with Ruth), 18 made use of public transport, and 3 times I walked locally. During the pandemic, my outings have, of course, been very different. Of the 51 Saunterings since March 2020 only 18 have involved a drive, when it was allowed, (3 alone (the last time being over seven months ago) and 15 with Ruth). I have not used public transport at all. All the other walks have been local, mostly with Ruth.

I used to soothe my guilt over driving to walk by reflecting that my carbon emissions must be lower than average, since I never fly anywhere. But every little helps, we are told. However, my stopping driving to go for a walk would be like removing a snowflake from a snowy mountain in the hope of avoiding an avalanche. Our ex-prime minister, David Cameron, one-time flaunter of his green credentials (remember ‘hug a husky’, ‘vote blue, go green’ and the green tree logo?), said during his recent grilling about lobbying that he flew in a Greensill private jet (he declined to say how often) to his Cornwall holiday home – and nobody seems to think that untoward. I doubt that any of our ‘leaders’ has any personal commitment to reducing carbon emissions, despite what they may tell us. With their example, why shouldn’t anybody fly to Portugal or Greece as soon as they can?

I don’t share David Attenborough’s confidence that there is the time and the will to avoid calamitous climate change (Attenborough, 2020). It is a pity that he didn’t warn us all decades ago while he was travelling the world enthralling us with what in Life on Earth he called the ‘infinite variety’ of nature when he must have known that nature was shrinking and must have wondered why. He now thinks that “ecotourism, which enables all of us to experience the wonders that are being protected, can bring a great deal of income to wild places without significant impact” (Attenborough, 2020, p179). All of us? The majority of the world’s population cannot afford to be ecotourists. Prefixing an ‘eco’ does not alter the fact that tourism involves people touring. He's just giving rich people an excuse to pollute even more.

Perhaps my pessimism derives from the simple fact that I have seen few swallows this year and no swifts at all – and I have seen no comments on their absence. Are people so relieved to be vaccinated that they haven't noticed that the world isn't working as it should? Anyway, I doubt that I will resume the more-or-less random visits to points of North-West England envisaged in the Preamble. I will endeavour to use public transport more, which will limit my scope. Visits to distant regions of the north-west will be merged into two-or-more-day stays. I will try to integrate the walks better with other activities, so that fewer outings are ‘just for a walk’. In this spirit, since we had a couple of things to do around Lancaster, I took the opportunity to walk along the Lancaster Canal and by the Lune estuary.

lancaster canal Broken Back Bridge I walked south from Haverbreaks along the Lancaster Canal. It was quiet and relaxing – apart from the ever-present threat of being elbowed into the canal by one of the many joggers. No, really it was good to see people about. The Lancaster Canal follows the contour between Preston and Kendal. Along its length it provides open views across the adjacent fields, except in two places – one at Hincaster Tunnel, on a now-disused part of the canal, and the other here at Deep Cutting, where, as the name suggests, the canal passes through a cutting (not so deep, in fact) through dark woodland.

Further on, near Whinney Carr, I left the canal at Broken Back Bridge, so-called, presumably, because from the side it looks as if the lane above has collapsed a little into the bridge. I then walked west through the hamlet of Stodday, along Snuff Mill Lane (which always used to be flooded but has recently had its drainage repaired), past the extensive Sewage Works (which calls itself a Wastewater Treatment Works), to reach the old railway line, now a path for walkers and cyclists. The Lancaster-Glasson line was short-lived. It opened in 1883 and closed for passengers in 1930 and for goods in 1964. Now it provides an excellent footpath, with views across the River Lune (at a very low tide on this occasion) to the distant Lake District hills and to the nearby power station, pylons and wind turbines.

Where the lane from Aldcliffe meets the footpath I left the old railway line to walk along the embankment that proceeds closer to the Lune marshes. This embankment was built in the early 19th century but whether to protect properties from flooding or to claim farming land from the marshes, I don’t know. If the latter, it doesn’t seem to have been successful as many of the inland fields are always under water. As the embankment curved towards Lancaster, Snatchems (mentioned in 123) was prominent on the opposite bank but I couldn’t tell if it was any more alive.

The River Lune, near Lancaster

As I neared the end of the coastal path and approached the outskirts of Lancaster I had to step aside from the path while a party of about forty walkers, chatting excitedly, passed by. The man tasked with bringing up the rear apologised, explaining that it was their first group outing for over a year. They were from Blackpool. Well, I thought, if all these Blackpudlians think it OK to travel this far to walk in this relatively unexciting terrain, then surely I may be allowed to travel to walk up a mountain. When I asked the man where they were walking to he replied that he had no idea and that he was just following all the others. Whatever walking I do, it won’t be that kind of walking!

    Date: May 18th 2021
    Start: SD470605, by canal at Haverbreaks  (Map: 296)
    Route: (linear) S by canal – Whinney Carr – W – Stodday, old railway line – N – lane to Aldcliffe – NW on embankment, NE – Lancaster
    Distance: 6 miles;   Ascent: 30 metres
    Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 188/400;   Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 12.90

129.  From the Delights of Downham to the Heights of Pendle

from Pendle We set off walking from the village of Downham, which is a few miles north-east of Clitheroe. The Downham website states, with false modesty, that “It is often hailed as the most beautiful village in Lancashire”. However, we had a hill to walk up first. The delights of Downham could wait until we returned, if we had any time and energy left.

We walked east on a pleasant path by Downham Beck, passing Clay House, which is, I read, “a good example of the revived vernacular style” of the region. Crossing Pendle Road, we then followed a permissive path across Downham Moor all the way to the top of Pendle. I appreciate the permissive path across the first field but beyond that it is all open access land. We don’t need permission to use the path there, so why isn’t it just marked on the map as a path? Anyway, it was a good path, easy to follow and obviously well-used. It provided excellent views across the Ribble valley to the southern Bowland hills and to the distant Dales hills, which we were surprised to see covered in fresh May snow.

The last time I came here (20) they were repairing the path along the top. The result is so fittingly unobtrusive that I can excuse the embellishment of the trig point, now surrounded by circles of stones. We sat on the eastern edge with our sandwiches, with swallows swooping along the hillside, and with the view shown right.

Pendle now has such a myriad of well-worn paths that we felt the need to escape for some moorland yomping. So we set off west, where we found that some of the boggy bits now have straw bales to ensure that they become boggier and thus retain their peat. We found a step-stile in Oaken Clough and continued by the wall to reach another so-called permissive path. We ignored it and instead walked more on the western edge in order to better enjoy the view of Bowland and the Dales (where the snow had now all but melted away). We could also see below us the route back to Downham and dropped steeply down the slopes to pick up the path near Burst Clough. On the path past Worsaw Hill there were fine views back to Pendle. Pendle

Back in Downham, we strolled around its lanes, up to the pub (re-opening in June) and the church. A visitor who had read nothing about Downham and who had been deposited in its Main Street would probably find the surroundings calmly reassuring but oddly unsettling. It would be like finding oneself in a village from the pages of an Enid Blyton or Topsy and Tim book. Downham seems more of a museum or a model than a natural village of 2021. Downham

A Lancashire Life article explains why Downham is as it is. The region has been owned and managed for centuries by the Assheton family of Downham Hall. Their directions ensure that, as the article says, “Downham hasn’t changed since the 1950s”. There are no television aerials, satellite dishes, overhead wires, or road markings. There was no sign to the car-park either, but we had skilfully found it anyway. Surely it is better to help visitors find where to park than leave them to clutter the lanes, where there are, of course, no yellow lines.

The present manager of the estate, the Hon. Ralph Christopher Assheton, 3rd Baron Clitheroe in waiting, is quoted as saying “We agreed to a bus timetable next to the telephone box, but there’s no sign for the bus stop. We don’t need it.” What about those who have commendably taken the bus from Preston for a day’s visit to Downham? No doubt the Hon. Ralph doesn’t need a bus stop sign – or even a bus.

The directives of the Assheton family are no concern of mine but I think I’m allowed to comment on the principle of this arrangement. The Hon. Ralph may be the epitome of an English country gentleman and may have the Wisdom of Solomon but how can Downham residents, while no doubt grateful that the place is kept so spick and that someone pays for work, such as the planting of trees, in the local environment, accept that one man has the right to determine what is allowed in their village? How can one man assume that he has the God-given (or parent-given) right to make such decisions on their behalf? Are there other villages in England where such feudalism still exists?

Yes, there are. The Who owns England? website lists a number of them: Albury (Duke of Northumberland); Eridge (Marquess of Abergavenny); Glynde (Viscount Hampden); Firle (Viscount Gage); Yattendon (Baron Iliffe). At least the Asshetons don’t insist that all the houses, none of which is privately owned, are in the family colours. Albury, for example, is all green. Unless, perhaps, the Assheton colour is white. Everything is stone grey or white, apart from the red telephone box. We didn’t inspect it to determine whether it was a stage prop or functional. If the latter, I expect that it requires the use of shillings, tanners, threepenny bits and old pennies.

The 1950s mirage is maintained not just by the absence of modern appendages to houses but by the absence of modern houses. As far as I could tell, there are no post-1950 houses in Downham. My own village has grown from about 20 houses in 1950 to about 200 now. And it has, like most villages, recently had to develop a ‘neighbourhood plan’ detailing, amongst other things, where more new houses may be built. Is Downham exempt from such requirements? We noticed that Downham doesn’t opt out of the refuse collection services. Do Downham residents pay Council Tax, although they may pick and choose what services they make use of? At all events, it seems unfair to acclaim Downham as the most beautiful village in Lancashire when it is playing by its own special rules that make it hardly a village.

The present manager is the son of Ralph John Assheton, 2nd Baron Clitheroe, who is the son of Ralph Assheton, 1st Baron Clitheroe, who was the son of Sir Ralph Cockayne Assheton, 1st Baronet. There are some women in the family tree too. All four Ralphs went to Eton College. I see from his Wikipedia page that the 2nd Baron was Deputy Chief Executive of the Rio Tinto Group, a company well-known to environmentalists, and that in 1955 he became a Liveryman for the Worshipful Company of Skinners. What an achievement!

If having old Etonians assuming a right to determine whether we may have a bus stop sign and much else besides and having a populace happy to accept that they do indeed have that right results in such a charming, harmonious, local society then perhaps we should try it at a national level. Oh.

    Date: May 5th 2021
    Start: SD785441, Downham car-park  (Map: OL21 or OL41)
    Route: E by Downham Park, SE past Clay House – Lane Head – S, SE on permissive path – Pendle Big End – SW – Ogden Clough – NW by wall, SW, NW by Burst Clough, NE, NW, NE – Worsaw End – N – Downham
    Distance: 6 miles;   Ascent: 425 metres
    Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 188/400;   Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 12.79

128.  Spring around Scout Scar

barrowfield I haven't taken our usual route, the A591, into central Lakeland for eighteen months (since travelling to Grasmere to walk to Grisedale Tarn, in 65). We didn’t take it on this occasion either, stopping instead to walk around the limestone escarpment of Scout Scar, west of Kendal. We weren’t entirely sure whether central Lakeland was quite ready to welcome us yet.

We walked north above Cunswick Scar. It was a warm, sunny, windless day that made it too hazy for us to recognise many of our long-neglected hills. The Whinfell ridge could be identified but the aerials on it were almost invisible. The Howgills stood like distant velvet curtains, with no discernible detail. On this occasion, therefore, we would have to forget the long-distance views for which Scout Scar is known and focus instead on what is nearby.

Taking the steep diagonal path, we dropped down to pass Cunswick Tarn. Reeds prevented a good view of the tarn, which is, I understand, an entirely natural tarn (and not one created for the nearby Cunswick Hall) that sits upon an impermeable slate layer below the limestone cliffs. Past the hall we reached the ancient Gamblesmire Lane, a delightful lane that has retained a fair smattering of wild flowers in its hedges – bluebells, celandines, daffodils, trefoils, violets, wood anemones. It was silent apart from a noisy green woodpecker.

Turning south from the lane we passed some rocky ridges in the fields. I won’t pretend to be competent enough to identify the species of rock – but I am confident that it isn’t limestone. The limestone cliffs towered to the left and the green Lyth Valley spread to the right, whilst we walked past flowering gorse bushes and through fields of lambs with their mothers. Garth Row Lane was another quiet lane, which we left to walk through the woodland of Barrowfield Lot, where there was much less wood than there used to be because of recent felling. A buzzard circled lazily above. I had read in Jan Wiltshire’s excellent little book About Scout Scar (Wiltshire, 2008) that there’s April blossom in Barrowfield’s damson orchard. However, what we assumed to be the orchard had only two damson trees. Perhaps damsons are less valued nowadays. In any case, the damson blossom was nothing compared to the exuberant blackthorn elsewhere. Still, Barrowfield (shown top right) has an enviable location, sheltered within woodland below the cliffs of Scout Scar.

scout scar We continued south around the foot of Scout Scar into the enclosed area managed by the National Trust, where it feels more like parkland, with mature trees, than on the open fell. We came hoping to find some of the flora and fauna described in Wiltshire’s book. The book is organised as a diary, over several years. The trouble is that these selected entries give the impression that the flora and fauna are rampantly abundant all the time. Judging by the number of mentions, we are, for example, in April bound to hear wheatear singing everywhere. Sadly, in the whole mile along the limestone ridge we hardly saw or heard a single bird. It wasn’t that we couldn’t identify the birds (as is usually the case): we couldn’t see or hear any birds to identify. The scar was silent. This normally suits me fine but here it seemed unnatural, as if there was something amiss with the world. This scar really should not be devoid of birds. Perhaps the unaccustomed warmth had led them to siesta. Perhaps the stillness had eliminated their insects from the air. Perhaps there are too many walkers on this ridge for birds.

We fared no better with the flora. Of course, the scrubby ash, hawthorn and juniper couldn’t be missed but we did miss the early purple orchids and rue-leaved saxifrages mentioned in the April entries. The recent lack of rain had made the area so parched that it was hard to imagine that any flowers would flourish. The only dash of colour we saw was from a few plants that gave passable imitations of dandelions. Perhaps they were dandelions.

Scout and Cunswick Scars has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its flora and fauna, although we saw little of it. We saw little of the surrounding hills either because of the haziness – for example, we could only just make out the distinctive shape of the Langdale Pikes. At the ‘mushroom’, the shelter that provides a panoramic view of the surrounding hills, we looked inside the roof of the shelter to study the fine toposcope that shows, to all points of the compass, the hills that may be seen. But the toposcope had been removed, so we couldn't even see which hills we couldn't see. We didn’t mind: it had been a good, varied, not too strenuous walk around the scar.

    Date: April 19th 2021
    Start: SD489924, car-park off Underbarrow Road  (Map: OL7)
    Route: N, E, N above Cunswick Scar, NW, W past Cunswick Tarn, S past Cunswick Hall – Gamblesmire Lane – W, S – Underbarrow Raod – E, S on Garth Row Lane, S, E – Barrowfield – E, S – National Trust land – NNW – gate at top corner – N – trig point, mushroom – N, E – car park
    Distance: 7 miles;   Ascent: 185 metres
    Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 187/400;   Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 12.70

127.  To Calf Top Top

Walking to the top of Calf Top is not as straightforward as it may seem. Calf Top (610 metres) is the highest point of Middleton Fell, the sprawling upland that lies in the triangle between Barbon, Dent and Sedbergh. The recent boundary changes have brought the fell within the Yorkshire Dales National Park although its geology is not typical of the Dales. The Dent Fault runs through Barbondale and across Dentdale and separates the Silurian slate of Middleton Fell from the more characteristic limestone and millstone grit of the Dales. Middleton Fell is more akin to the Howgills but the latter’s southern half has always been part of the Yorkshire Dales, so why not Middleton Fell?

Until recently, then, Middleton Fell did not feature in Yorkshire Dales literature. The fell does not contain any really note-worthy features, the names of the fell and the tops thereon (Castle Knott, Calf Top, Combe Top and Brown Knott) are not particularly memorable, and the only public footpath marked doesn’t form a reasonable circular walk. Consequently, Middleton Fell attracted few walkers. This may have changed recently but probably not by much. The main appeal of Middleton Fell lies not in the fell itself but in the evolving panorama of views of the surrounding hills gained from a walk along the south-eastern and north-eastern rim.

We walked past the dormant Churchmouse, Barbon Inn and St Bartholomew’s and across the parkland west of Barbon Manor to begin the climb up past Eskholme Pike. The Lakeland skyline to the west soon came into view and every step revealed a little more of it. To the east the familiar outlines of Pendle and Ingleborough became visible. Beyond Castle Knott (538 metres) we reached the snow that had fallen yesterday. This snow had been very choosy about where it fell. The tops of Crag Hill and Great Coum across Barbondale were quite white, as was the Ward’s Stone ridge of Bowland, but all the surrounding hills, many of them of greater height, appeared to be snow-free. We could see no whiteness on the Lake District hills, although admittedly it was a distant view, nor on the Howgills, Wild Boar Fell and the north Pennines. But, it being a clear, blue-skied day, we could see them all, which was the main thing. On this our first walk up a non-local hill for some months we wanted to see many of our old friends again, in the hope that we can resume walking upon them.
calf top

The Calf Top trig point, looking north towards the Howgills and Sedbergh, with Wild Boar Fell directly behind the trig point.

We paused at the Calf Top trig point. In 2016 Calf Top had caused a spasm of excitement among the hill-bagging community. The Ordnance Survey decided that its height was not 609.58 metres, as previously stated, but 609.61 metres. The significance of that extra 0.03 metres may escape you, until I give the heights in old money: 1999.93 feet and 2000.03 feet. Yes, Calf Top had magically leapt over the 2000 feet threshold, which meant that it had become, in some people’s eyes, a bona-fide mountain.

However, anyone who stands by the trig point and thinks that that is enough to tick off the mountain of Calf Top is sadly mistaken. The real top, marked by a few stones, is 0.15 metres higher than the trig point and about 12 metres south-east of it (we’ll have to take the surveyor’s word for this). Excellent viewpoints though they are, neither affords the best view. For this it is necessary to walk a little further east for a bird’s-eye view into Barbondale. Across the valley are the slopes of Crag Hill, wrinkled by the various gills running down it and pock-marked by shake-holes indicating the line of the Dent Fault. There’s also a sight of a mysterious dark brown region, south of Short Gill, which seems to have been left for heather and shrubs. Is this what all these slopes would look like without the sheep?
calf top east

The view eastwards from just east of the Calf Top trig point. The Barbondale Road is directly below, with Crag Hill opposite and Ingleborough to the right.

calf top northeast

The view north-east from just east of the Calf Top trig point, showing the Barbondale Road leading to Dentdale, with Great Knoutberry Hill at the head of Dentdale.

The path to Calf Top is fairly well trodden but we saw no walkers, only a group of four runners, one of whom happens to play in the same orchestra as Ruth (when it is able to play, as it may be soon). From the trig point we headed west into the hinterland of Middleton Fell, where we expected to see nobody. A clear path ran past a small tarn and a fine cairn, none of which is marked on the OS map. Nothing much is marked anywhere except some grouse butts a little to the north. We did disturb a couple of grouse but I doubt that there are sufficient to satisfy grouse-shooters. Really, though, it wasn’t what was on the ground that held our attention – it was the view across the green Lune valley to the Lake District, with the Howgills to the north and Morecambe Bay to the south.

The unnamed cairn on the unnamed slope west of Calf Top, looking towards the Lake District.

millhouse gill

The view back from beside Millhouse Gill towards Northdale Gill and Southdale Gill. We had dropped down from Calf Top on the slope to the left.

We dropped down to ford Northdale Gill and then Southdale Gill, thinking that it would be easier to cross the two tributaries separately than to tackle their combined waters in Millhouse Gill. The two tributary gills are named on old OS maps but not the present one. The OS seems determined to show that Middleton Fell is empty. We then picked up pleasant tracks to take us back to Barbon. Why is this circular walk from Barbon not better known? I suppose the map doesn’t encourage it – and I've not seen it described in any guide-book – and perhaps the bracken makes it difficult at other times of the year – and perhaps it cannot be guaranteed that the becks will be fordable – but for us it was the ideal outing in the circumstances. Back in the village the Barbon Inn had, on the first day for months that it was allowed to do so, opened its garden for refreshments, but we desisted. We are taking one step at a time – and our first mountain, if it is a mountain, since September was a big step for us.

    Date: April 12th 2021
    Start: SD628823, Barbon village hall  (Map: OL2)
    Route: N, E – church – NE, E – Eskholme Pike – E, NE – Castle Knott, Calf Top – W, SW across gills – S, SW - Barbon
    Distance: 9 miles;   Ascent: 515 metres
    Fraction of 5x5 km squares visited so far: 186/400;   Percentage of 1x1 km squares visited so far: 12.60

126.  Return to Roeburndale

outhwaite wood river roeburn On March 20th last year we drove, with some foreboding, to the adjacent valley of Roeburndale for a walk (78). Three days later we were all told to stay at home. Now, over a year later, we again drove to Roeburndale but this time with some optimism. We are being encouraged to believe that the easing of restrictions will be irreversible. We shall see. For now we certainly hope that our two walks in Roeburndale will serve as bookends to the period of the pandemic.

We parked at the same place, at the head of the track to Backsbottom Farm, and again headed east, down to the River Roeburn. This time we turned upriver, to follow the permissive path through Outhwaite Wood. This is a familiar walk for us, shorter than the one tackled in 78. A person held captive and starved for months should not immediately feast when released.

As soon as we entered the wood we saw a large deer – it is always good to be reassured that deer are able to continue to live in this wood. The wood was peaceful, of course, with just the sound of the river and a few birds. On the ground were carpets of wild garlic but it was too early for any blue on the bluebells – or indeed much green on the trees.

Last March we were puzzled by some new wire fencing that had been installed in the wood. This time we came upon three men who were dismantling the fence. They said that the fence was ‘for pheasants’ and that they were moving the fence to the other side of the river. A multitude of why?s arise but we didn’t ask them. It wasn’t the time or place to debate the release of 50 million pheasants in the UK every year to be shot. Anyway, it is a shame that non-native birds are protected within this ancient woodland.

We emerged from the wood to walk across fields and over the river to reach the road near Barkin Bridge. We were a little disappointed that the sun hadn’t managed to disperse the cloud, especially when, walking along the road past Thornbush and Back Farm, we could see that there was sunlight on the slopes of the Dales hills and the cloud had almost disappeared from their tops. But we heard curlew and skylark and, at once and at last, the world seemed a cheerier place.

    Date: April 1st 2021
    Start: SD600657, by start of track to Backsbottom Farm  (Map: OL41)
    Route: E past Backsbottom Farm – bridge over Roeburn – S on permissive path – Bowskill Wood – SW over Roeburn – near Barkin Bridge – N on road – track to Backsbottom Farm
    Distance: 5 miles;   Ascent: 70 metres

Diversion 6:  Plane Sailing on Windermere

(This is one of the 'Rainy Day Rambles in the Lake District', which are of unknown date and were apparently written for the Cumberland Courier but never printed there. I can't think why.)

From a Cumbria Council Meeting

      Diana Dubble-Barrell (chair):   For the next item on the agenda it is my great pleasure to welcome Mr Charles Smarm, who has just been appointed the head of Cumbria Tourism Services. Welcome, Charles. Would you like to introduce the next item?
      Charles Smarm:   Yes, thank you, Diana. May I first of all say how pleased I am to be here and how much I am looking forward to working with you all to develop tourism in the fine county of Cumbria. Now, my guiding principle is that the tourist is always right. Whatever the tourist wants we should seek to provide. Even if what he wants is not what Cumbria has traditionally provided. Especially if, in fact. That is what we mean by diversification.
      Joss Jenkinson (Cartmel ward):   Could you spell that for me.
      Diana Dubble-Barrell:   Please. Let Charles finish.
      Charles Smarm:   Thank you, Diana. Now, as you may recall, my predecessor received the results of a comprehensive survey of tourist requirements just before he left. Indeed, that may be why he left. Anyway, I have summarised the main conclusions in the report that you have before you. There are many interesting outcomes but for today may I just draw your attention to all the comments on the low-flying planes ...
      Joss Jenkinson:   Damn jets, they give my sheep kittens.
      Charles Smarm:   ... the wonderful terrain of the Lake District, with its long valleys and steep hills, provides an excellent training area for RAF aircraft, as you are no doubt aware. Many of our visitors really appreciate the unique photo-opportunities provided by the Tornados and Harriers swooping over the Kirkstone Pass and Dunmail Raise, with the accompanying sound effects adding a piquancy to the normal tranquillity of Lakeland. With this in mind, and considering that we are now in the 21st century, when punters are looking for a bit of excitement and entertainment, I have arranged with the Windermere Revolutionaries to put on an Air Show next summer. red arrows
      Harry Cowan (Furness ward):   An Air Show? On Windermere? Windermere isn’t a runway you know.
      Charles Smarm:   Yes, I appreciate that. I have visited the site. But we have booked some Chinook Search and Rescue Helicopters just in case some pilots aren’t aware of that.
      Harry Cowan:   Are you sure that you are not confusing jets with jet-skiers? These we do have on Windermere, more’s the pity.
      Charles Smarm:   I don’t think so. I don’t recall any proposals for the jets to ski on the lake. Although it sounds fun. I’ll check.
      Harry Cowan:   But we don’t have an aeronautical tradition in Cumbria, do we? It’s not really part of our heritage, is it?
      Charles Smarm:   Precisely. That is why we must diversify. We must create new heritages. A new heritage has to start sometime. Cumbria wouldn’t be known today for its daffodils if, er, er, somebody hadn’t written a poem about them.
      Mary Bland (Hartsop ward):   Um, excuse me. I have been reading through this survey and trying to make sense of it. It seems to me that most of the comments about the jets are in the ‘negatives’ column not the ‘positives’ column, in the section from page 224 onwards.
      Charles Smarm:   Oh. Let me see ... Oh dear. Ah. Um. Ah. Um. Ah, you misunderstand me: when I said that the tourist is always right, I wasn’t referring to the ones already here. They are already here. It’s the potential tourist I mean. The new breed of tourist. Who wants excitement, action and thrills. Who finds daffodils and walking a bit, um, dull.
      Mary Bland:   I see.
      Charles Smarm:   Anyway, it’s too late to change now. We have already booked the Red Arrows and a Vulcan Bomber for the punters to gawp at. And lots of thrilling action: aerobatics, parachutes, wingwalking (whatever that is), ... Great fun for all the family. Not that they have to be families, I am open-minded about that sort of thing. I am sure crowds will swarm here from far and wide. From Manchester and Liverpool, at least. Those sorts of people expect plenty of noise in the environment.
      Diana Dubble-Barrell:   Well, thank you, Charles. I suppose we will just have to see how this one flies. In the future, Charles, perhaps you could bring your ideas for us to discuss before your enthusiasm carries you too far. Thank you.

Editor's note: The Rotary Club of Windermere began an Air Show in 2000, which may or may not be relevant. The stated aim of Rotary Clubs is to build goodwill and peace in the world.

               113-125 are about walking and walks from home during another lockdown.
“Walking is not a sport”  
     124.   The Most Prominent Hills of North-West England  
     123.   Over to Overton and Around Little Fylde  
     122.   Walking Uphill and Walking Up a Hill  
     121.   The Phantom Hills of Mallowdale Pike, High Stephen's Head and Gallows Hill  
caton moor      120.   A Walk in Littledale in 1847   
     119.   Silence, Serenity and Solitude   
     118.   Coast-to-Coast in Six Days   
     117.   Empirical Studies into Gender Differences in Hilly and Horizontal Pedestrianism   
     116.   Are the Caton Windmills on their Last Legs?   
               Diversion 5:  The Duke of Westminster’s A to Z   
     115.   Risk, Fear and Pain – or Beauty, Joy and Wonder?   
     114.   Never Mind the Danger   
     113.   White Stoats on Caton Moor   
               113-125 are about walking and walks from home during another lockdown.
     112.   Walking around Pilling with Pink Feet   
     111.   From Millstone Grit to Limestone   
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” 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
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   

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018


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