Western Howgills

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To be precise, these are North-West England Saunterings. That is NWES to me. NWES contains descriptions of various saunters, ambles, strolls, meanders, rambles and dawdles around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire (more details of my ‘North-West England’ are given in the Preamble). I hesitate to call my saunters ‘walks’. A walk nowadays has become a serious business. It might suggest a 10-hour trek to bag 15 mountain tops. It might be part of some epic expedition around, say, the whole coastline of Britain. It might demand precise details of the route (“walk 210 metres north-north-east to a gate by the third tree”) so that you may follow my footsteps. No, my saunterings are more leisurely and aimless than that. And they are mental as well as physical. I saunter, at whim.

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     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   
             Previous Saunterings   

27.  The Footpaths of Anglezarke Moor

There seems to be no end to the Associations, Authorities, Boards, Commissions, Committees, Councils, Groups, Societies, and Trusts that are valiantly trying to safeguard our environment. So how come our environment is in such a pickle? On this outing I came across another Society new to me. I had walked across Anglezarke Moor, passing the Pike Stones (a Neolithic chambered long burial cairn), the Devil's Ditch (an extended Neolithic boundary), and Round Loaf (a late Neolithic or Bronze Age tumulus). Where would be without our dedicated antiquarians? Without them, I am sure that I would pass almost all such structures without noticing anything special.
Round Loaf

Round Loaf, with Winter Hill in the distance

At the top of Great Hill (not really that great: it’s only 381m) I found a sign erected by the Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (PNFS). A fine sign it is too – metallic, green with white letters, rectangular and with a logo top left, a number (527) and a date (2016). Perhaps it’s a bit over the top – or at least too near the top. A sign would be more useful where we might go astray: I doubt that many people reach the top of Great Hill having lost their bearings. But I must not quibble. The PNFS says that it is “promoting the interests of public footpath users in the North Midlands and North West of England”. Well, that includes me and I must therefore be grateful to it. Why haven’t I come across it before?

I left Great Hill setting off south along a path of large flagstones that somebody (PNFS?) has considerately laid here. In a stiff breeze, I sailed along, compared to the plod over the boggy moor. There was little to detain me. The nearby moors were of no particular interest and the distant views were not exceptional, although I could make out the outline, through the moisture in the air, of the Welsh mountains. Straight ahead the view was dominated by the multitude of aerials on Winter Hill. I turned west at Will Narr, and walked past Higher and Lower Hempshaw’s, which are both derelict and have been so for some time, judging by how little is still standing. I was tempted to avoid the damp-looking Sam Pasture by following the track visible to the north but then I would have missed almost treading upon a snipe. At Simms (also long derelict) I found another PNFS sign (number 260, dated 1977).

I have now studied the Peak & Northern Footpaths Society website and I conclude that the reason I had not heard of it is that its notion of the ‘North West of England’ does not coincide with mine. It has erected nearly 500 signposts and the most northerly of them is at Lowgill, between Lancaster and Settle (and that is the only one more northerly than where I live). It has no signs within the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. The large majority are in the Peak District. This reflects its history. The Society was formed as The Peak District and Northern Counties Footpaths Preservation Society in Manchester in 1894 and is said to have evolved from The Manchester Association for the Preservation of Ancient Public Footpaths of 1826. It claims to be “the oldest surviving regional footpath society in the UK”. So, for nearly 200 years the Society has been worrying about our footpaths.

I assume that PNFS is independent of the national Open Spaces Society, which was founded in 1865 as the Commons Preservation Society, which amalgamated with the National Footpaths Preservation Society in 1899. Although the last-mentioned society disappeared in name, there are still many local ‘footpath preservation’ societies in England. Perhaps we need a footpath preservation society preservation society. Anyway, I am sure that they all do a worthy job in view of the problems that footpaths face – some natural (such as erosion, subsidence and landslips) and others man-made (such as obstructions like barbed wire, electrified fences, crops, buildings and gates).

However, judging only from its website, the PNFS seems somewhat geeky to me, and I should know. Why carefully number the signs, as though they are works of art to be collected? Why list them (40 bridges, 8 fingerposts, 5 plaques, 479 signposts, 2 toposcopes) so lovingly, all with 10-figure grid references and photographs? Why revere the oldest of them, as though they are valued antiquities? Is PNFS more fixated on the footpath ‘furniture’ (the signposts and so on) than on the footpaths themselves? How does a relatively small group of volunteers “monitor, protect, and improve the footpath network” of such a large area? How does it decide where to erect its (relatively expensive) signs? It may seem that 479 signposts is plenty but they spread thinly over all our footpaths. I said above that PNFS was formed in 1894 but the website insists on details – it “was formed officially at a meeting held at 7pm on Thursday 16th August 1894 in the Young Men's Christian Association Hall, Peter Street, Manchester”.

Still, the PNFS and like-minded Societies do at least prompt us to reflect upon our footpaths. Who is legally responsible for erecting and maintaining signposts? Or is it up to volunteers? Is it illegal to remove or deface a signpost? Local authorities have a statutory duty to indicate the route of a right of way where it leaves a metalled road but I don’t know what the law says once we are away from the road – probably nothing, judging by the variety and arbitrary nature of the signposts I see. The PNFS website says that “the law requires that local authorities consult us when they consider diverting or closing a right of way”. That ‘us’ is ambiguous. Do they mean ‘us, the public’ or ‘us, the PNFS’? It surely cannot be the latter. My local authority is just within what PNFS defines as ‘our region’ but I doubt that it has even heard of PNFS. Why should it consult a group of volunteers based in Stockport?

The more I read about PNFS and its signposts the less I like them. I see that PNFS has recently placed its first signposts, eight of them, in the Forest of Bowland (three by Brennand Farm, three at Whitendale and two by Langden Brook). Who does PNFS think it is, muscling into the relative wilderness of Bowland with its gaudy intrusive eyesores? I hope we can prevent PNFS invading the Lakes and Dales. Who are PNFS to tell me to “control your dog, leave no litter”? I have no dog – and I regard their signposts as litter. I don’t want PNFS encouraging dog-owning, litter-bearing, signpost-needing Mancunians to Bowland. Bowland is for walking connoisseurs, like me.
Great Hill

Great Hill, with the PNFS signpost/eyesore

I note that only two of the fourteen Officers and Trustees of PNFS are women. That is commendable. PNFS is a group of volunteers and I expect that, like most charities, it is short of them. However, the ladies of the North Midlands and North West England have more sense. The PNFS may fondly number its signposts but surely it is the days of signposts that are numbered. We have sat-navs telling drivers where to go. It is only a matter of time before walkers will be able to plug into their ear a virtual co-walker who will tell them where to go.

[September 2018; SD6117; on Moor Road – SE – Pike Stones – NE – Rushy Brow (where I realised I’d forgotten to turn the car lights off!) – W, back to Moor Road – NE – Hurst Hill, Round Loaf, Great ill – S – Will Narr – W – Simms, Lead Mines Clough – NW – Moor Road; 8 miles; 304 km squares]

26.  A Booze by Any Other Name

This outing wins the prize for the most attractive set of place-names encountered. In general, the Yorkshire Dales has such a rich heritage entangled within its place-names that it can be hard for experts to decipher them. There may be embedded information about natural features, about people, about local fauna and flora, about local folklore and about practices at the time the name was bestowed. To complicate matters further, the spelling of the place-names may well have evolved over the centuries. And, of course, sometimes there may be no meaning to a name at all.

The first name encountered, Langthwaite, presents little problem. It is composed of two components common in North-West England: ‘lang’ being the Old English (and modern Scottish) for ‘long’ and ‘thwaite’ being Old Norse for ‘clearing’. The name therefore seems to date from the arrival of the Vikings in the 10th century.

I wouldn’t like to be driven to Booze. The narrow, steep lane up peters out into a rough track before it reaches the hamlet of a dozen or so buildings, some even with roofs. I have read several times that ‘Booze’ derives from an Old English word meaning ‘the house on the curve of a hill’. That’s a lot of meaning to pack into one syllable. Was the concept of a house on the curve of a hill so crucial to the old English that they needed a special word for it? If so then I’d expect to see more Boozes about but, as I far as I’m aware, this is the only one. I don’t know who first came up with this suggestion, and what evidence there is for it, but perhaps everybody since has just repeated it. [In the 13th century Beaula, a woman of easy virtue, lived here. The men of the region used to say “I’m just going up to Beau’s”. And the name Booze stuck. I have added that in the hope that some lazy cut-and-paste browser will extract it and it will become a definitive statement of fact.]
View from Booze

The view from Booze towards Calver Hill

Next we walked up Slei Gill, past the dereliction of old lead mines, along a good walking track. ‘Gill’ is another Old Norse word, this time for ‘ravine’, as indeed Slei Gill is. I have been unable to find any suggestion for a meaning of ‘slei’. [The beck above is called Slack Wife Gill, which perhaps refers to Beaula. Clearly, as the beck flows through the ravine it has caused severe erosion and lost several letters.]

We emerged onto a moorland plateau and found a grassy short-cut over to a new shooting lodge on the Moresdale Road track. We were not tempted to walk up the boringly-named Peat Moor Hill. [This name was invented by a minion in the Ordnance Survey office who felt that he couldn’t just leave a blank space on the map.]

We strolled down the track, below Langthwaite Scar, around Shaw Farm, over Low Moor, and towards the tiny village of Whaw. Now there’s a name to conjure with. What could it mean, if anything? We have other ‘haw’s in the Dales, where the ‘haw’ is assumed to be from the Old English word for ‘view’. I doubt that Whaw is derived from this ‘haw’ as Whaw is rather tucked down to provide a view. According to the respected Hartley and Ingilby (1956), Whaw is from the Norse and means ‘the enclosure near the fold where sheep are milked’. That’s even more meaning for one syllable! [‘Whaw’ is in fact an old Yorkshire dialect word, a contraction of ‘where’t heck are we?’.]

The view towards Whaw in Arkengarthdale

Whaw is by Arkle Beck, that is, the Old Norse stream of some old Norse man called Arkle or Arkil or some such. And hence the delightful name of ‘Arkengarthdale’ is a portmanteau of Old Norse for ‘the valley’ of ‘the enclosure’ of Arkle. We have therefore encountered a set of Old English and Old Norse names, with the exception of dull Peat Moor Hill. However, there are no –ham, –ton or –leys of Old English origin. Perhaps these suffixes required villages of some size, and there are none of those in Arkengarthdale, and there never were. Even at the peak of the lead mining industry, the population of Arkengarthdale was only 1,200 or so. According to Hartley and Ingilby (1956), this had dropped to 300 in 1951, although it may have perked up a little since then.

Below Eskeleth Bridge we passed the imposing Scar House, which looked dormant, with large blinds drawn over the windows. The absence of footpath signs around the house excuses a wander around its gardens. I read that Scar House is a shooting lodge owned by the Duke of Norfolk (the Duchess, if there is one, doesn’t get a mention) and that “the gardens of Scar House were initially designed for the ladies of the shooting parties to stroll in whilst the men shot”. That’s a lot of strolling. And a lot of building, for a shooting lodge. I picture the guests enjoying grouse omelette for breakfast, grouse paté for luncheon, and roast grouse for dinner, with lead shot garnishing, all accompanied by Famous Grouse whisky. According to the website referred to, an East Arkengarthdale Common Committee was set up in 1999 to preserve black grouse on the moors. I have not been able to find out if it was successful – but I doubt it. We saw red grouse a-plenty, but no black grouse. But I mustn’t allow the thought of grouse-shooting to tarnish an excellent, varied walk in fine scenery.

Somebody once said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. I don’t believe it. If Booze were called, say, Boghole (a place near Inverness) then it wouldn’t be half as attractive. Not to me, anyway.

[September 2018; NZ0002; Langthwaite – E – Booze – NE, along Slei Gill – N – bridleway – SW, N, W – road – N, E – Shaw Farm – SW – Green Bank – SE – Eskeleth Bridge, Langthwaite; 9 miles; 292 km squares]

Footnote: As a bonus, we were treated to a wonderfully vivid rainbow as we left Swaledale:
Kisdon rainbow

Rainbow over Kisdon from near the Butter Tubs

25.  Mysterious Harkerside Moor

Even experts find the structures on Harkerside Moor mysterious so what chance have I got? A walk up to have a look at them at least promises fine views of Swaledale, and I can certainly appreciate those.

We crossed the Reeth suspension bridge, built in 2002 to replace its predecessor washed away in a flood, to head for Maiden Castle. Experts don’t seem to agree on much about Maiden Castle – but most think that it was not a castle, although the Ordnance Survey marks it as an ancient fort. Being half way up a slope, it cannot have had a defensive purpose as it would have been easy to attack from the upper side. The structure is tadpole-shaped, with a roughly oval head about 100 yards long surrounded by a ditch two or three yards deep and with a 100 yard long tail formed by an avenue east of two lines of stones, about six yards apart, that experts assume to have been walls. There’s a large mound at the end of the avenue but that may have not been part of the original structure. I don’t know if this Maiden Castle has been definitively dated but it seems to be assumed to be of Iron Age. The distinctive avenue is enigmatic and the overall function of the structure remains unclear. Whatever it was for, it certainly took some work to build it.
Calver Hill

Calver Hill from near Harkerside Place

Fremington Edge

Fremington Edge and Reeth from Harkerside Moor

We walked up to High Harker Hill to admire the views across to Calver Hill and Fremington Edge, with Reeth neatly embosomed between them. The relatively flat lower grazing fields for sheep and cattle were of a deep green. Swaledale may be claimed to be the ‘best’ of the Yorkshire Dales in many respects but nobody can deny that it is the greenest. We wandered east to find the Long Scar dyke. This massive earthwork runs for a mile or so and consists of a deep ditch and a rampart built along a natural slope. It may be Iron Age too and was presumably built for defensive purposes.
Harkerside Moor

Harkerside Moor from Reeth

Next we came across a most peculiar structure. It consisted of a line of small circular enclosures, of more recent vintage I would say than the castle and dyke. The enclosures were too small to be for animals. Perhaps they were observation posts, where sentries could look out for invading forces. Those forces must have been formidable to warrant such defences. The miles of surrounding scorched earth may be evidence of previous battles – or perhaps was intended to improve the view of the sentries. Today the enclosures provide privacy for anyone caught short on these open moors, and I always avail myself of the opportunity if I can.

We then headed north-east towards what is marked on the map as an ancient hut circle, although some consider it to be a stone circle. The proliferation of new paths made it hard to follow the paths and bridleways marked on the OS map, and various old mining remains didn’t help matters. In short, we became a little lost and didn’t manage to locate any circle. There were many white stones lying about haphazardly, some even fortuitously forming a sort of circle, if you were being generous.

Perhaps it is better not to worry our heads about these mysteries and to just enjoy the scenery. Everywhere you look on the map there’s something to provoke the inquisitive. John Moss’s Chair? Blue Ball? Nanny Ward’s Well? Wildgoose Trials? Jabz Cave? At least I can have a stab at the derivation of the name of the prominent White House on the slopes of Fremington Edge.

[September 2018; SE0399; By Reeth School – SE, SW (over bridge) – Harkerside Place – S, W – Maiden Castle – E, SW – High Harker Hill – E – Long Scar, Grovebeck Gill – N, W – Bleak House – N – bridge, Reeth School; 6 miles; 281 km squares]

24.  Up Ingleborough with the Holiday Crowds

A popular walk is popular for a reason. Just because the last bank holiday of the year, with only one day with a good weather forecast, will cause crowds of people to tackle Ingleborough that is no excuse not to join them. What's more sensible, on a day of compulsory holiday idleness, than to wheeze and stagger up a mountain and, with luck, to hobble back down again? So, with our car undergoing prolonged intensive care, we took the bus to Ingleton.

It was a fairly early start and we saw nobody on the Fell Lane track for a while, apart from a couple of men already on the way down (show-offs). Then we were overtaken by a few walkers – but some were running (cheats). There were a fair number of people on the Ingleborough (723m) plateau, enjoying the fine views of Pendle, the Lake District, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent. I have little to add to what has already been written (sometimes by me, for example, here on page 130) about the top of Ingleborough, and we have been there before a few times, so I won’t dally about here and we didn’t dally about there.

Whernside from the Fell Lane track up Ingleborough

We headed down to Little Ingleborough and Gaping Gill, passing a growing stream of walkers puffing on their way up. It was all quite sociable. One or two warned us not to say “not far now” but mostly it was a sunny, holiday “hi”, and one woman asked us to confirm that they were indeed Lake District hills that she had skilfully espied off to the left. We had anticipated that a winch would be operating at Gaping Gill, as it usually is on bank holidays, but there was nothing happening. We hadn’t planned on going down Gaping Gill ourselves (see here as well, page 155) but we had imagined lounging around, amused by people descending into and emerging from the great abyss.

Ingleborough from Little Ingleborough

On the way down from Ingleborough we realised that because we had come by bus we didn’t need to return to Ingleton, as we had intended without thinking about it. We could continue to Clapham and get the bus there. That had the advantage of allowing us to walk through the gorge of Trow Gill, past Ingleborough Cave (with Beck Head nearby, where the Gaping Gill water emerges to form Clapham Beck) and along the trail through Clapdale Wood – a walk that Wainwright (1970) describes as “a classic”. We could then promenade amongst people who had no need of walking boots, backpacks, or walking sticks with integrated GPS and wi-fi.

We emerged from the wood to find that there is now a kiosk demanding £1 payment. In Wainwright’s day it was 6d (2½p) – and you could easily avoid finding someone to pay it to. But then Wainwright did have to pay for the bus.

[August 2018; SD6973; (linear) Ingleton – E, Fell Lane – Crina Bottom – NE – Ingleborough – S – Little Ingleborough – SE – Gaping Gill, Trow Gill – S – Clapham; 8 miles; 275 km squares]

23.  The Kentmere Diatomite

Kentmere Tarn is unique in the Lake District in three ways. First, it is the only body of water in the National Park that is both a mere and a tarn. At least, I cannot think of anywhere else that has both ‘mere’ and ‘tarn’ in its name, but I stand to be corrected. If the name ‘Kentmere’ referred to a ‘mere’ then it can only have been this one, as there are no others in the valley apart, now, from the reservoir built in 1848. For my first sight of Kentmere Tarn I walked from Staveley on the open lanes and tracks on the eastern slopes, rather than on the dark, enclosed road by the River Kent, and scrambled up Millrigg Knott. The becks on the way were refreshingly alive, stirred into action by the first real rain for months, and as I stood at the Knott I could see that more rain was falling on the tops to keep the becks lively.
Kentmere Tarn

Kentmere Tarn from Millrigg Knott

Kentmere Tarn’s second unique property is that it is the only tarn to have disappeared and then reappeared in a different place. This story may be told through the comments in contemporary guide books. Otley (1823) wrote that “Kentmere Tarn, bordered by morass, and Skeggles Water … are neither of them possessed of any striking features.” Ford (1839) said that “Kentmere Tarn … is one mile long, and cannot be approached except at one point, owing to the swampiness of its margin.” So, in the early 19th century a boggy Kentmere Tarn existed. However, Martineau (1855) said that a visitor “will look for Kentmere Tarn and wonder to see no trace of it. It is drained away; and fertile fields now occupy the place of the swamp.” Baddeley (1880, 1922) wrote that “many people, on entering the valley, will ask, why Kentmere? … There is no mere at all.” Martineau and Baddeley knew why there was no tarn (or mere). In about 1840 a channel had been dug at its foot, so that the waters would drain away to leave good farming land where the tarn was. Or so it was hoped. The land, however, gradually returned to bogginess.

I could not appreciate this from Millrigg Knott, so I pressed on to Kentmere village, past the prominent, damp-looking St Cuthbert’s and various isolated homesteads, some looking less naturally integrated into the hillside than others, and up towards the Kentmere Hall pele tower, currently under repair (isn’t it always?). The path on the western side of the tarn is disappointingly separated from it. The tarn seems to be reserved for anglers and it is impossible to see it at close quarters without trespassing. It looked surprisingly deep.

The village of Kentmere

Kentmere Tarn The land would no doubt have continued to become boggier after the failed attempt to drain it but for the discovery there in the 1920s of diatomite. I had assumed that diatomite was a kind of rock, on the basis that most things ending in –ite are rocks. However, the Gregory (2000) history of the extractive industries of Kentmere tells me that “the material consists of the microscopic skeletons of water-plants, as many as 60 million to a cubic inch, which flourished in clear cold water at the end of the Ice Age. It has remarkable insulation properties, especially for very high industrial temperatures when calcined and ground, and it has other uses as an inert filtration medium, for industrial filling and polishing, and in the manufacturing of explosives.” This diatomite is therefore much younger (at 12,000 years) than the volcanic and sedimentary rocks (at 300-500 million years) that form central Lake District. Is 12,000 years long enough for a sediment to become rock? Probably not, as I see that the material is sometimes referred to as diatomaceous earth.

This diatomite was valuable enough to be mined, or at least scooped, from what had been the bed of the old tarn. So, that’s the tarn’s third claim to fame: it was the site of England’s only diatomite works. This prompts the question: why? Why was diatomite formed only here? Or does it in fact exist in other tarns and lakes? If it does then why wasn’t it mined there too, since, according to Nicholson (1963), diatomite had become “commercially the most important deposit still being worked in the inner Lake area”? At its peak, the annual production was 10,000 tons (Gregory, 2000).

However, the diatomite extraction became uneconomic, as is the fate of all mines, and the Cape Asbestos Company abandoned it in about 1980. The old work-site has not been abandoned. There are now large green warehouses, with signs in five languages, and warnings not to take photographs. It had not occurred to me to take photographs of large warehouses but now I was tempted. There was no sound of activity. It seemed rather mysterious. I understand that the owners, Hollingsworth & Vose, make “synthetic electrostatic non woven materials for air filtration” but I don’t know why they make them in this out-of-the-way location.

So, upstream of Hollingsworth & Vose, nature has reasserted its claim to what was always a boggy area and is even more so now, after up to 10,000 tons a year have been extracted. And so Kentmere Tarn returned. It is now thinner and a bit further north than it was in 1800 – but I expect that it is still working on it.

Walking along the lane I had an encounter with a hare. I saw it loping towards me, so I stopped. It came to within five yards, stopped, turned, and loped ahead of me. It did so for some time. Perhaps hares are not great leapers, able to jump walls and fences at the road-side. Then a car came from the opposite direction. The hare loped to within five yards, stopped, turned, and loped ahead of it. It loped to within five yards of me, stopped … and so on … as the car slowly approached me. When the car stopped fifteen yards ahead of me, the hare ran back and forth, faster and faster, within its five yards between us. It then took a flying leap over a high wall.

[August 2018; SD4698; Staveley – N – Barley Bridge – N, Hall Lane – Park House, Staveley Head Fell – W – Millrigg Knott – E – path – NW – Long Houses, Kentmere – W – Kentmere Hall – S – Works, Sawmill Cottage, Browfoot – SE – Staveley; 9 miles; 261 km squares]

22.  In the Lancashire Yorkshire Dales

When the Yorkshire Dales National Park was designated in 1954 its western border was made to coincide with the border of the county of Yorkshire. Obviously, it would be silly for places not in Yorkshire to be in the Yorkshire Dales. In 1974 the counties were re-defined. Parts of the Yorkshire Dales, such as Dentdale, found themselves now in the new county of Cumbria. Parts of ‘old Yorkshire’ which were deemed surplus to the requirements of ‘new North Yorkshire’ were transferred to ‘new Lancashire’, which was itself a shrunken version of ‘old Lancashire’, with large areas now in ‘new Merseyside’, ‘new Greater Manchester’ and ‘new Cumbria’. In 2016 the Yorkshire Dales National Park fought back: it annexed sizable areas of Cumbria and even a part of Lancashire.

All of which shows that the lines we draw on maps are administrative conveniences that may have little to do with the nature of the land itself. I planned to walk in that part of Lancashire that is now within the Yorkshire Dales, reflecting on how it compares to the part of the Yorkshire Dales that lies on the other side of the hill, in North Yorkshire. I set off from Cowan Bridge, entering the National Park at the old railway bridge, and passed the open parkland of Leck Hall, the seat of the 5th Baron Shuttleworth, who is a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, a Knight of St John, a Knight of the Reliquary, and a Knight of the Order of the Garter (I made up one of those, sorry). More to the point, our good man is the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, which means that he is the Queen’s representative in Lancashire. Do you think he minds living in the Yorkshire Dales?

There are two walls up Ireby Fell that gradually converge to meet at a point just south of the top of Gragareth. The right-hand wall is the Lancashire – North Yorkshire boundary. Half-way up the long slope I encountered various shakeholes, the one of Ireby Fell Cavern being of some size. This is, of course, a sign that I was walking over limestone. The region of famous potholes (such as Jingling Pot and Rowten Pot) in the North Yorkshire Kingsdale to the east extends across Ireby Fell over Leck Fell to the west, where there are other famous potholes (such as Lost John’s Cave and Lancaster Hole). Clearly, geographically, these fells belong together. I peered into the Ireby Fell Cavern pothole. Peering into potholes is a curiously unsatisfying activity – there is never anything to see of the ‘wonders’ underground and I know that I will never want to see those wonders anyway.
Ireby Fell

From half-way up Ireby Fell, towards Kirkby Lonsdale (middle distance) and the Lake District (far distance)

The long walk up Ireby Fell is not as tough as it used to be. Shepherds nowadays use quad bikes, not legs, to get up the hills and their tracks form fine walking paths, provided they are heading in the right direction. It was very quiet on the fell, with only the occasional swallow twittering by. I might have thought I’d lost my sense of hearing if it weren’t for the sound of my own footsteps. At the join of the two walls there is a stile – but it is beyond the join and no help at all. A wall had to be climbed, and it had to be the left one, to ensure that I stayed in Lancashire.

Ingleborough and the farm of Braida Garth in Kingsdale, from the stile at the walls' junction

Gragareth has a rounded top, unlike its neighbour Ingleborough, with its millstone grit cap. Gragareth (627m) is lower than Ingleborough (723m) and is more like Park Fell (563m) to Ingleborough's north, with the Yoredale series of limestone, shale and sandstone all the way up. From Gragareth I headed west to the cairns of the Three Men of Gragareth and then cut north across Leck Fell to Ease Gill. Normally, Ease Gill collects the water from the slopes of Crag Hill and Great Coum and gradually loses it as it disappears through its limestone bed at about the 350m contour. There’s usually a mini-waterfall at Cow Dub and an eerily dry valley below that. However, because of the long, dry spell there was hardly any water in Ease Gill to start with, and so I could not entertain myself by investigating the beck coming and going. Just like Kingsdale Beck in the neighbouring valley, Ease Gill normally repeatedly appears and disappears, and eventually re-emerges (in Ease Gill’s case, as Leck Beck) when the water meets impenetrable lower rocks.
Ease Gill

The dry valley of Ease Gill

At Cow Dub I saw a sign for the Lancashire Way, which is another Recreational Route I’d never heard of. I have since studied the route of this Way and I am appalled to see that at this point the path proceeds on the western slope above Ease Gill. This is in Cumbria! Ease Gill here is the Lancashire – Cumbria boundary. How can a so-called Lancashire Way – "showcasing Lancashire, it’s scenery, it’s history, it’s people" – encourage walkers to walk in Cumbria? I myself was careful to stay on the east bank, or to walk on the eastern half of the dry river bed when the bank was impassable. I found it slow going, and when I got lost in bracken (twice) I was hardly going at all. I began to fear that I’d miss my Cowan Bridge bus – and buses here are few and far between. I would have liked to explore Ease Gill Kirk and the ancient Castle Hill but I had three miles to hurry through. I thus completed a ten-mile walk within Lancashire and within the Yorkshire Dales. This is possible only on Ireby Fell and Leck Fell.

[August 2018; SD6376; Cowan Bridge – E – Leck Church – SE – Todgill Farm, High Barn – NE, until walls meet – N – Gragareth – W – Three Men of Gragareth – N – Ease Gill – W – Ease Gill Kirk – SW – Leck, Cowan Bridge; 10 miles; 247 km squares]

21.  The Fortunes of Fleetwood

I approached Fleetwood on the Knott End ferry. Somebody has to. The ferry is struggling to continue. I hope my £4 helps. At the moment it is the only regular ferry still functioning in North-West England, with the Windermere one closed for repairs. It has run since 1894 and has recently been saved for the next eight years. At the Knott End end there is a statue to L.S.Lowry, who painted The Jetty at Knott End, showing the ferry considerably busier than when I took it. There were only five of us.

Prominent from the ferry is the North Euston Hotel, which played a foundational role in the history of Fleetwood. In 1830 the peninsula between the River Wyre and Irish Sea was a tract of sand dunes inhabited by rabbits and sea-birds. It was owned by Peter Hesketh, based at Rossall Hall on the western coast. An extensive flood in 1833 somehow prompted, or at least did not deter, a vision: he would build a new town on the peninsula, which he named Fleetwood – and while he was at it he re-named himself as Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood. This town would flourish as a sea-port through being on the route of travellers between London and Scotland. They would take the train from Euston, stay at Fleetwood’s North Euston Hotel (which was completed in 1841), and continue on a steamer to Scotland.
Knott End ferry

Fleetwood from Knott End, with the North Euston Hotel behind the ferry

Unfortunately, there was a flaw in this vision. Travellers, having reached as far as Preston, preferred to continue on the train to Scotland, once it was possible to do so, rather than detour to Fleetwood. Who could have foreseen that? By the time of the first direct trains from London to Scotland in the 1850s a rather grand Fleetwood had been built, with three lighthouses, a market, a custom house and a port. Hesketh-Fleetwood had retired, virtually bankrupt, to Brighton. The North Euston Hotel closed as a hotel in 1859, becoming a School of Musketry, which sounds exciting. However, it returned to being a hotel in 1898 and seems to have survived as such ever since.

With the travel trade ended, the people of Fleetwood needed to find some other means to live. Well, there was now a port, so Fleetwood developed as a cargo port. A dock was opened in 1877. Unfortunately, the growth of other cargo ports in the north-west and the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal, completed in 1894, largely put paid to that. The focus switched to fishing. Fleetwood duly developed into one of the largest fishing ports in the country, employing over 9,000 people at its peak in the 1920s. Unfortunately, we and in particular Fleetwood, lost the Cod Wars, which ended in 1976. Today there are few fishermen in Fleetwood, although there is still a Fisherman’s Friend, the manufacturer of which is now the town’s largest employer. The dock and port facilities could still be used by ferries to Ireland and the Isle of Man … for a while.

I went first to have a look at what was left of all this maritime activity. I headed to the Maritime Museum. It was closed until 10.30 (why?), so they will never know if I would have paid the £3 to enter. I wandered through the old dock area towards the Wyre estuary. This is not an activity I would recommend, unless you are fond of wire fences. There is a great variety of them to prevent you walking where you oughtn’t.

First I passed a large derelict area that was presumably the loading area for the ferries. Perhaps the area is being left because of a forlorn hope that the sea ferries may return to Fleetwood. I crossed the small dock area, which seems to be entirely for recreational boats, and found a path on the landward side of the salt marshes. I followed it south for some way. The marshes were purple with sea lavender, with many butterflies, including dark common blues, about. I became aware that the bank to the right had gained a high wire fence and that the creeks to the left were filling with tidal water. Surely, I thought, the path must lead somewhere – somewhere away from the salt marshes that is. But it ended at a water-filled creek, so I hurried back.

I came upon the Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park. It’s great to have a nature park but it’s a bit perverse to insist that people drive to it. The mile-long road to it from the A585 has no footpath, as I found out. There are 25,000 people in Fleetwood and they could all walk to this park. Instead, people drive to it, with their dog, and, job done, they collect it and drive home. I walked past the rubbish tip, sewage works and recycling centre and by several low-lying caravan parks. I lost the footpath by Rossall School and found myself within its grounds, where I could inspect more wire fences. I am glad that I accidentally trespassed, as the school has interesting buildings and history. The idea for the school came from the owner of the North Euston Hotel who in 1844 realised that he needed to attract more visitors to the area. It was originally a brother school to Marlborough College and it flourished sufficiently for the Queen to visit to mark its 150th anniversary in 1994. However, it didn’t seem in top-notch order on my passing visit.

I eventually reached the new promenade with its high flood-protection barrier. A flood in 1927 put 90% of the town under water. A building expansion in the 1960s was, predictably, in the low-lying western part of the town. Consequently, a flood in 1977 affected more buildings than the 1927 one, even though it was a smaller flood. I expect preparations are in hand for the 2027 flood. The new high barrier is considerably higher than the low barrier further north, which I assume the engineers are confident the sea will not sneak behind.
Rossall Point Observation Tower

Rossall Point Observation Tower, completed in 2013


Fleetwood from Rossall Point

Since the 1840s Fleetwood had had an eye on the tourist trade. More recently, it has needed to fix two eyes upon it. Late in the day – in fact it was the very last seaside resort to do so – Fleetwood built a new pier in 1910. Unfortunately, it is hard for Fleetwood to compete with the multifarious attractions of Blackpool that had developed just down the coast. Those seeking more dignified relaxation may look wistfully across Morecambe Bay to the mountains of the Lake District – but would probably prefer to be amongst them, not separated from them. Fleetwood has the requisite smattering of tourist attractions – beach (moderately sandy), golf course, bathing pools, and so on – none too gaudy, plus some fine buildings, somewhat spoiled by a large brown shed, of indeterminate function, that occupies a prominent position below the Mount.

I know that I shouldn’t believe everything in Wikipedia but even so I was alarmed to read in its description of Fleetwood that Bill Bryson, in his Notes from a Small Island (1995), wrote that the vast bay is “easily one of the most beautiful in the world, with unforgettable views across to the green and blue Lakeland hills.” I was alarmed because the words in the book (on page 273) refer to Morecambe, not Fleetwood. Bryson visited Morecambe and Blackpool but gave Fleetwood a miss. I wonder if the Wikipedia comment is the result of an act of desperation in the Fleetwood tourist office. If so, things must be bad if they need to steal from Morecambe.

Overall, then, Fleetwood seems an unfortunate town. Whenever it tries to stand on its own two feet circumstances conspire to knock it down. Perhaps it’s not always bad luck. The railway station closed in 1966, the last deep-sea trawler left port in 1982, the ferry to the Isle of Man closed in the 1990s, the pier was demolished after a fire in 2008, and the container service to Northern Ireland ended in 2010. However, there is still the ferry. There were fifteen of us on the return crossing.

[July 2018; SD3448; Knott End Ferry – S – Dock, by Wyre estuary – N, SW – caravan park – S, on A585 – W – past Fleetwood Farm, Rossall School – N, E, along promenade – E – up the Mount, Ferry; 8 miles; 231 km squares]

Previous Saunterings

     20.   On the Sunny Side of Pendle   
     19.   Viewpoints and Viewing Stations around Keswick (part 2)   
     18.   Viewpoints and Viewing Stations around Keswick (part 1)   
     17.   Sheep-Wrecked Matterdale?   
     16.   The Wildflowers of Sulber   
     15.   On the Hobdale Fence   
     14.   Logging Along the Cam High Road   
     13.   The Cairns of Grisedale Pike   
     12.   Uplifted by High Street   
     11.   The Struggle over Boulsworth Hill   
     10.   The 'Hillfort' of Addlebrough   
     9.   "The Prettiest Mere of All" Lakeland   
     8.   What Price Catrigg Force?   
     7.   Castling in Cumbria: From Brougham to Lowther   
     6.   The Count of Flasby Fell   
     5.   Circumperambulating Stocks Reservoir   
     4.   In a Flap at Bolton-le-Sands   
     3.   Zipping around Thirlmere   
     2.   The Dentdale Diamonds   
     1.   The Taming of Caton Moor   


As the word suggests, this preamble (or presaunter) is being written before I have begun to saunter for this blog. Although there is a vagueness to my saunterings, I will define in advance the scope of my ‘North-West England’. Otherwise I will be forever nagging myself: what about Ilkley Moor, Hebden Bridge, Southport, Mickle Fell, Carlisle, and so on? Are they within my range? So I will define my North-West England to be the region enclosed by the following eight sides (six straight lines and two wiggly ones):
     1.  From near Caldbeck (the northernmost point of the Lake District National Park) east to Fiends Fell, just north of Cross Fell
     2.  To just south of Bowes (the north-east corner of the Yorkshire Dales National Park)
     3.  Following the Yorkshire Dales boundary, to near Beamsley (the south-east corner of the Yorkshire Dales)
     4.  To Hebden Bridge
     5.  To Bolton
     6.  To Banks, on the Ribble estuary
     7.  Following the coast, to Allonby Bay, north of Maryport
     8.  East to Caldbeck
This region includes the Forest of Bowland, Fylde, the Howgills, the Lake District, the Morecambe Bay coast, some of the North, South and West Pennine moors, the Yorkshire Dales, and all that lies between them. In total it encompasses about 3,750 square miles (or about 10,000 square kilometres). Needless to say, I won’t rap myself over the knuckles if I stray outside my boundaries.

I could destroy the aimlessness of my saunterings by setting myself some absurd objective, such as to walk in every one of those 10,000 or so 1 km squares on Ordnance Survey maps. That would indeed be absurd because the objective is unattainable: some of the squares are in the middle of lakes; some are marked as Ministry of Defence ‘Danger Areas’; some just don’t have publicly-accessible paths. On the other hand, it might help to ensure that I randomly visit all parts of the region and don’t just focus on the ‘best bits’. If I walk along Helvellyn's Striding Edge every day then perhaps even that would pall. So I will keep the absurd objective half in mind in the hope that it will help me provide a balanced impression of the region.

For those who insist on some details of my sauntering routes I will provide some in square brackets at the end of each section. These will all be in the format:
     [month of saunter; grid-reference of start point; description of route, with bearings on the way; miles sauntered; number of km squares visited so far].
Most of the saunters will be circular, that is, ending where I started. Sometimes they'll be linear, in which case, naturally, help will be needed from a friend or public transport to get to or from one end to the other (I will indicate these by adding ‘(linear)’ to the description). I will refer to ‘I’ and ‘we’, depending on whether I am sauntering alone or in company. In the latter case, the ‘we’ will usually mean ‘Ruth and I’; occasionally the ‘we’ will include others. Now it is time (January 2018) to begin re-visiting, or in a few cases visiting, the hills and dales of North-West England.


    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018


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