To be precise, these are North-West England Saunterings. That is NWES to me.
This Saunterings blog 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.
If you'd like to give a comment, correction or update (all are very welcome) or to
be notified of new items as they appear - please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current Saunterings blog
50.   Walking Home (1) - 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
50.  Walking Home (1) - from Kirkby Lonsdale
A circle has no point. A long circular walk, as most of my saunters have been, involves a considerable
expenditure of effort and time but leaves me exactly where I started. A linear walk from A to B at least achieves
something, that is, the transfer of myself, by my own legs, to somewhere different. And if B is somewhere I’d
like to be – say, home – all the better.
The saunters that I have regaled you with in this blog are but the tip of an iceberg.
They generally involve an expedition to somewhere in
North-West England but they are supported by numerous local walks to keep the legs
in walking order. Some of them are what I call ‘tip-outs’, where I am taken, either by public transport
or by Ruth on her way to somewhere, and deposited by the road-side to walk home. It would become
repetitive if I were to describe all these walks here – but I thought I might add a ‘walking home’
from time to time, such as this one involving a walk back from Kirkby Lonsdale alongside the River Lune.
From the Kirkby Lonsdale bus stop I headed straight through the Market Square and along Jingling Lane
to the Devil's Bridge. Knowing that I had quite a few miles ahead of me,
I ignored the many charms of Kirkby Lonsdale,
apart from the bridge, which is always worth another look, especially if there is no motorbike convention
on at the time. The bridge is believed to be of the 14th century and has three ribbed arches high above
the River Lune carrying a narrow crossing, once on the Skipton to Kendal route but no longer used as a road, of course.
There are a great many Devil's Bridges, including at least another seven in the United Kingdom.
The name tends to be used for old bridges that seem to demand a surprising degree of technical skill, a
skill which, it seems, local legends can only attribute to the devil. However, in order to ensure that
the devil doesn't come well out of the legend, there is usually some ruse involved whereby he receives
his comeuppance. So common and similar are these legends that they form a special category
(number 1191, in fact) in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system for folktales.
The river was very low. Stones that were normally underwater were now beached and bleached.
Green sludge was forming in stagnant parts. Rarely can the river have been so low in April.
After half a mile I reached a bridge, but not one for walkers.
The bridge is an aqueduct for water from Haweswater on its way under the Bowland hills to Manchester.
It was built in the 1950s and appears somewhat functional compared to the rather
ornamental 1890s aqueduct (Waterworks Bridge, for Thirlmere water)
to be met later - much later.
How much later I could judge by my first distant view of the Caton windmills, some ten miles away.
The windmills are on the hill above my home village, Brookhouse - and since I know how huge they are and how
tiny they looked now, I could tell that I had far to walk.
The path continued close to the west bank of the Lune, passing the village of Whittington, with a view
of Whittington Hall.
Any other walkers from
Kirkby Lonsdale - I passed three - will probably turn off to Whittington and so the next couple of
miles will be in solitude. Leck Beck entered the Lune from the east but could easily be missed because it too had little
water. Here the valley opened out, providing wide panoramas of the Dales hills of Leck Fell,
Whernside and Ingleborough - and, still far ahead, the Caton windmills.
I was preceded along the Lune by a group of three little egrets.
I didn't have my binoculars with me and so couldn't tell if they were male or female
(to tell the truth, I couldn't even with binoculars - but as long as little egrets can tell
the difference that's all that matters). Anyway, whatever they were, three seems an odd number to
form a group. The last time that I walked here I saw heron (at least one) but not this time.
Are little egret, as welcome as they are, at least to me, displacing heron?
Opposite a large stony beach that had accumulated huge tree trunks washed down in floods
I sat for a while with sand martins. Sand martins had accompanied me all
the way from Kirkby Lonsdale but here they swirled about over the river in some numbers,
disappearing into and emerging from their nests in the bank just along from where I was sitting.
I was pleased to see them all because every year from April 1st I look out for sand martins
and I had only seen a few at my local patch of the Lune and none at all by the Waterworks Bridge
where they normally nest. I was beginning to worry that some harm had befallen them.
But here there were hundreds of them. I am unreasonably fond of sand martins.
Their twittering is so characteristic of the summer Lune and they are one of the first of our
migrants to return to tell us that summer is on its way.
I have no idea why they have abandoned their Waterworks
Bridge nests, if that is the case. I had understood that sand martins returned to their nests
of previous years, which is only sensible since it must be a lot of work for these little
birds to excavate their tunnels.
As I neared Arkholme I saw, out on the riverside stones, a man scanning the skies with his
binoculars and making notes on his clipboard. I would have liked to chat to him but
he was so determined to pretend that he had not noticed me that I thought I'd better not.
I wonder if he had spotted the jay that I saw in a wood at Arkholme. Probably jays are
common to him but I don't see them in the region as often as I should, judging by the bird books.
Where the River Greta joins the Lune I was reminded that everywhere that I had walked
was within a floodplain and is underwater from time to time. The River Lune itself has changed
course here relatively recently. An 1847 map shows the Lune flowing about 1/4 mile east of where
it now is. Its present course is marked as 'Old Lune' on the 1847 map, indicating that it has
returned to an old route. Today's map marks two other 'Old Lune's. At the moment, the river is
channelled through an arch of the Carnforth-Wennington railway line.
The footpath also passes through an arch, swerves round the motte of the old motte and bailey castle,
cuts across the toe of Arkholme, passes the Ferryman's Cottage, and re-emerges by the Lune.
It continued to be peaceful alongside the river until I came upon a group of twenty-one swans and
hundreds of gulls. The gulls all flew up, screeching as one, annoyed that I had disturbed them.
The swans just flapped a wing or two in the water and carried on as they were.
Hereabouts I appreciated that I had chosen wisely in taking this walk in April,
when there's fresh green on the trees and little undergrowth underfoot. The last time
I came this way, in an August/September, it was a distressing scramble trying to locate the path
through dense Himalayan balsam and brambles. This time I could enjoy the bluebells in the shady dells.
As I emerged from one such dell I saw two young deer by the river. They did not see me for some time.
When they did, they became flustered for a while as they realised that they were between the river
and my path. After some to-ing and fro-ing, they eventually glided up the hillside.
I next came to Loyn Bridge, the only road bridge that I would pass south of Kirkby Lonsdale.
This fine 17th century bridge sits rather squat across the river, unlike the Devil's Bridge which is
perched high above. As a result, flood-waters often bypass the Loyn Bridge to the west.
For example, the record-breaking deluge of December 2015 (Storm Desmond), which reached the
beginning of the arches at the
, demolished the
hedges of the fields near the Loyn Bridge, as can still be seen. The Loyn Bridge itself was
so damaged that it was closed for almost five months.
Below Priory Farm, on the opposite bank, I saw two anglers, the only anglers that I saw on this walk.
I realised then that I had seen no sign of fish at all, not a splash nor a ripple.
Perhaps when the river is so low and slow fish rest in whatever deeps they can find: not ideal
conditions to fish, I would guess. The anglers gave me an un-angler-like cheery wave, which made me suspect
that they shouldn't have been fishing at all. Anyway, I doubt that many salmon and trout have
been able to make their way up-river this year yet.
Behind the River Wenning's entrance to the Lune could be seen
Ingleborough far beyond. Hornby Castle has a long history but what is seen today is a
19th century re-building of it.
A large flock of oystercatchers (with one or two
lapwing intermingled) waited until I became very close before taking to the air with loud, shrill calls.
I was very much in their territory, alone on the floodplain, away from any habitation.
This is a renowned bird-watching area, especially for over-wintering species, including large
flocks of curlew and lapwing down from the hills.
I cut across to The Snab, as the large promontory south is reserved for cattle and wildlife.
There were a number of geese in the large pond, plus a few cows wetting their feet. The cows were so stationary
that I wondered if they had become stuck there.
At Great Close Wood I paused to look at what I think of as 'the island'.
It was no longer an island. There was no water at all flowing on the east side, where the present
OS map indicates most of the river should be. It was all flowing close by the wood.
The 1847 map that I referred to shows no island at all, with the river all to the east of
what is usually an island nowadays. So it seems that the river is in the process of migrating westwards.
Certainly, there are signs of recent erosion all along this west bank.
At one point, past Aughton Barns, there's a stile on the footpath (shown right) that a distracted walker
could step over and find themselves in the river a few feet below.
I heard rumbles that I assumed to be from the quarries of Claughton Brickworks, high
on the moor. I don't think that I've ever heard this noise here before: it must have been brought
to me by the strong wind. I was now more-or-less opposite the Caton windmills, so long my
target. However, I still had some way to go unless I took advantage of the lowness of the
Lune and paddled across it.
I took a short-cut across the neck of the huge meander of the Lune (as I always do, and
nobody has told me off yet) to enter Lawson's Wood, part of the Aughton Woods Nature Reserve.
This path has only recently been re-opened, after repairs necessitated by landslip damage
during Storm Desmond.
No doubt Aughton Woods have many delights for naturalists but I am content with just four
of its species. There are often deer to be seen here, but not on this occasion.
Badgers are not often seen, of course, unless you make a special expedition in the gloaming, as we have done.
I won't say exactly where they are because there are people who enjoy badgering (or worse) badgers,
encouraged by government policy, without scientific justification, to cull badgers to prevent
the spread of bovine TB.
The woods are noted for their small-leaved lime, here at the northern limits of their range.
However, unless my memory is mistaken, the trees that I had previously identified as small-leaved
lime had not yet unfurled their leaves to help me be sure.
For most walkers the most appealing flora is the bluebell display in spring, and of course I had
skilfully timed my walk home to coincide with it.
I emerged from the wood to see the Waterworks Bridge and to feel on home territory.
Again there were no sand martins to be seen.
The bridge bears the date of 1892 on its upriver side.
After you cross the bridge you may see carved neatly into the stonework the 1890 and 1891 flood levels.
Maybe the workmen at the time were impressed by these floods.
I wonder how they would react to the flood level for Storm Desmond recently marked towards the top of
the stonework. It is astonishingly higher than their 1890/1891 levels. In fact, the River Lune height
at Caton was measured at 7.95m, way above the previous record of 5.83m.
I walked across the field and up the lane to home.
One advantage of a 'walk home' like this is that it is obvious - to me and to anyone who asks - what
is involved. A walk in Langdale (like the previous saunter) could mean anything from a stroll between the
car-park and the pub to an assault on Scafell Pike. Anyone local has a good idea what a walk home from
Kirkby Lonsdale entails. Anyway, there's no better way to end a walk than tea and cake on the lawn.
[April 2019; SD6078; (linear) Kirkby Lonsdale - E - Devil's Bridge - S, SW on west bank
of the River Lune - Waterworks Bridge - S - Brookhouse; 12 miles; 115/400]
49.  Lingmoor Fell - For the Best Medium-High View in Lakeland?
I have another question (after the one in
this time one that any self-respecting follower of Wainwright should be able to answer: Which of his medium-high tops (to be precise, let’s say lower than 500m) enables you to see more of the other 213 tops than any other medium-high top? Imagine that you have a friend who is not a fell-walker and doesn’t want to walk too high but wants to conquer one Wainwright top and to see, from that top, as many of the rest as possible. Where would you advise her to walk?
I haven’t given away the answer in the title because Lingmoor Fell is in fact second on the list of ‘medium-high fells with the most tops in view’. While you’re pondering over what is first on the list we’ll saunter up Lingmoor Fell. The fell is a rather sprawling area of ground that reaches 469m at its highest point of Brown How. It lies between Little Langdale and Great Langdale. We, however, did not tackle Lingmoor Fell from the central parts of either dale but from the village of Elterwater that lies at the foot of Great Langdale.
The reason for adopting this direction of approach is simple: this way, the best views would be gradually revealed ahead of us. On the walk up we saw Little Langdale Tarn, Wetherlam and Swirl How, and then the Pike of Blisco – and finally the sweeping amphitheatre of Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell and the Langdale Pikes. It was a little hazy on the day of our walk, so we could not see everything to perfection. We could not, for example, see Blencathra at all. However, we could make out a snow-dappled Scafell Pike to the left of Bow Fell (which itself had a few dabs of snow), plus Loughrigg Fell, Red Screes, Fairfield and Helvellyn.
Towards Brown How on Lingmoor Fell, with Bow Fell and the Langdale Pikes beyond
The view from Brown How, Lingmoor Fell
I had anticipated that Langdale walkers would be attracted to the celebrated peaks, leaving the relatively unsung Lingmoor Fell to us. However, there were a fair number of people on its slopes, including several children and at least four grandparents. No doubt, families staying in Langdale find Lingmoor Fell a not-too-taxing challenge, as did we, although our walk back along the Cumbria Way through Langdale, on a warm day, proved a bit longer than necessary – but then every extra minute spent in this scenery is a bonus.
The other surprise on Lingmoor Fell was the view of the paths on surrounding hills. We couldn’t see any.
My memory is that the path up, for example, The Band to Bow Fell formed a wide, prominent, ugly scar but from
Lingmoor Fell we could see no sign of it. The
Fix the Fells
path-repairers are clearly doing sterling work, ensuring that, from a distance at least, the fells look as they should, as if no human had ever set foot on them.
I am about to reveal – suspenseful pause, roll of the drums – the answer to my question, after this photo.
Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell and Mickleden from the slopes of Lingmoor Fell
According to the description of the fells’ views by Wainwright – and who better to rely upon? – the lower-than-500m fell that provides a view of the most other tops (55) is Great Crag. Even our dedicated Wainwright followers may have difficulty in pinpointing where this unimaginatively-named top is. It is, in fact, in Borrowdale. For your delectation, here is the top ten:
1. Great Crag (440m) 55
2. Lingmoor Fell (469m) 52
3. Latrigg (368m) 48
4. Barrow (455m) 47
5. Binsey (447m) 46
6. Walla Crag (379m) 45
7. Catbells (451m) 44
8. Grange Fell (392m) 43
9. Loughrigg Fell (335m) 43
10. Armboth Fell (479m) 42
However, quantity isn’t all that matters: we must consider quality too. It might be argued – and I would – that Lingmoor Fell provides the best medium-high view because it provides the finest platform from which to admire the Langdale Pikes, the Pikes, of course, providing an iconic image of Lakeland second only perhaps to the classic view of Great Gable and Scafell Pike from Wasdale.
[April 2019; NY3204; Elterwater – SW, W – Bield Crag – NW – Brown How on Lingmoor Fell, Side Pike – N, E on Cumbria Way - Elterwater; 7 miles; 112/400]
48.  With The Grane
The River Ogden runs for 4.4 miles from the moors east of Darwen and Blackburn to join the River Irwell, according to Wikipedia. However, the Ordnance Survey does not name the watercourse on its West Pennine Moors map, perhaps in protest at the treatment of the river. There may no longer be a River Ogden and there probably never was an Ogdendale. The valley seems to be referred to as Haslingden Grane, or The Grane Valley or The Grane to locals. Haslingden Grane used to be a settlement of 1,300 people but on today’s map the name is placed to mark nothing in particular towards the head of the valley.
I noticed that the map shows a Visitor’s Centre at Clough Head, so somebody believes that there will be visitors. And indeed there were, at least by the time that I returned to the Centre after my walk. The place was buzzing for an April Monday. I suspect that most were relative locals walking their dogs, rather than visitors from afar, like me, but anyway the centre-cum-café seems a recommendable spot.
I had come to Haslingden Grane mainly to see how it was recovering from perhaps the most concentrated exploitation of a valley in North-West England. Within a distance of no more than three miles, there are many instances of our determination to change (or destroy) our environment to meet our needs. I walked first past Jamestone Quarry, which today consists mainly of large abandoned lakes although there were still a few trucks working away, causing the occasional rumble. The map shows many quarries, most now disused, in the region. I don’t know what special property the sandstone/shale hereabouts has that justifies all this quarrying but clearly there was a demand for it (mainly for road building, I understand) because, according to a notice at the quarry, at its peak in the late 19th century up to 3,000 men were employed here in the quarrying industry.
Continuing east, I passed another large over-blue quarry lake to walk above a conifer plantation. There are a number of such plantations scattered around Haslingden Grane. Perhaps they were added when the reservoirs were built, to filter the water entering them or for aesthetic purposes. I saw no sign that the forests were being harvested. Not all the valley woodlands are conifer forests – there is, for example, a native (it seems to me) wood at the top of the valley, providing a pleasant walk.
I left the Rossendale Way to drop down past Holden Hall to cross the dam of Holden Wood Reservoir. This is the lowest of the cascade of three reservoirs that have replaced the upper River Ogden. Holden Wood Reservoir was the first of them to be completed (in 1842) and was intended to provide water for local textile mills. It is now used, like the other two (Calf Hey Reservoir, 1860 and Ogden Reservoir, 1912), to provide water for the local population. Of course, the reservoirs now look well settled within the valley but we should not forget that the 1,300 people I mentioned above were displaced by them. Their homes are now under water or stand derelict on the reservoir slopes. Many such remains are passed on a walk around the reservoirs and in most cases it is hard to tell now whether the heaps of stones were once homesteads or barns.
Calf Hey Reservoir and Ogden Reservoir
As the Rossendale Way curved back I left it to walk up to the windmills that dominate the head of the valley. The twelve turbines are not quite within Haslingden Grane but lie over the watershed on Oswaldtwistle Moor, overlooking Oswaldtwistle and Accrington. I detoured not to see the windmills but to have a look at Warmwithens Reservoir. This too is no longer on the map. Where it was is now marked as “Resr (dis)”. The reservoir was built before 1849 (it is shown on a map of that date) but its dam collapsed in 1970, a few years after it had been ‘improved’. Luckily, the escaping water was held in two lower reservoirs, preventing serious damage below. Today, there is only an otherwise enigmatic embankment, about 100 yards long, with an overflow channel, to indicate that the reservoir was ever there. I like to be reminded that our engineers are not infallible and to see how quickly nature reclaims what should be its.
As for Haslingden Grane, it would be an exaggeration to say that nature has reclaimed much of it. The evidence of our exploitation is plain to see, and my walk around the reservoirs was accompanied by quarry rumbles, the noise of the B5232 traffic, and the swish of windmills. Of the Haslingden Grane of 200 years ago, not much remains. We have submerged much of it, planted trees and windmills on some of it, and quarried a lot of it. And yet arguably the Grane has been improved for walkers like myself. Where once there were similar scattered farmsteads trying to make a living on rough, boggy pasture and moorland, there are now skilfully fashioned walking paths providing a variety of interest through what I originally thought, judging from the map, to be unpromising terrain.
[April 2019; SD7523; Clough Head car park – NW on concessionary path, E on Rossendale Way, S, SE – Holden Hall – S, W above reservoirs – Haslingden Grane – NW, N – Warmwithens Reservoir – S, E on Rossendale Way, SE – car park; 8 miles; 110/400]
47.  The 'Wild Desert' of Kingsdale
There is no definitive list of the dales of the Yorkshire Dales. Some people include tributary-dales, such as Whitsundale; others consider them part of their main dale, Swaledale in this case. Some refer to, say, Malhamdale; others just call it “the Malham region”. The best that I can offer is a list of the top twenty ‘most interesting’ dales, as determined by the number of references to them in the Yorkshire Dales books on my shelf (the number in the right column indicating the relative interestingness):
1. Wharfedale 100
2. Wensleydale 87
3. Swaledale 85
4. Ribblesdale 62
5. Arkengarthdale 46
6. Littondale 29
7. Malhamdale 29
8. Bishopdale 24
9. Coverdale 22
10. Garsdale 20
11. Chapel-le-dale 19
12. Dentdale 19
13. Langstrothdale 17
14. Airedale 9
15. Crummackdale 9
16. Cotterdale 7
17. Kingsdale 7
18. Raydale 6
19. Deepdale 3
20. Waldendale 3
So, a walk around number 17 on the list, Kingsdale, doesn’t promise much of interest. That anticipation would be
consistent with the view of
Housman (1808, p48)
who, in probably the first-ever words written about Kingsdale, described it as having “the appearance of a wild unfrequented desert”. The well-regarded Hartley and Ingilby (1956) book seems to agree, for it devotes less than one of its 300 pages to Kingsdale. Echoing Housman, it asserts that “the whole valley seemed deserted, seldom visited.”
However, for a walker, Kingsdale has an advantage over most of the other dales on the list: it can be walked from end to end and back on a single walk. It is only three miles from its foot at Raven Ray to the farmstead of Kingsdale Head – and five miles to the true head of the dale, at the watershed at High Moss. Therefore, whatever features of interest Kingsdale has may be visited on one walk.
Kingsdale, with Kingsdale Head to the right (photo taken on an earlier occasion)
Moreover, since the dale is virtually straight, it is possible to appreciate the properties of the dale from almost any vantage point. We set off along the track above Raven Ray and could immediately acknowledge the basic geological properties of the dale. Clearly, it is a glaciated valley, with the ice having stripped bare the limestone escarpments on both sides. Interestingly, Housman (1808) seems to be groping towards such an explanation, before the theory of glaciation had been developed, when he writes that “the mountains seem, at some time, to have undergone a sort of anatomical preparation; when the coating of earth or muscular parts have been taken away, and the rocky bones of this huge monster left to the inspection of the naturalist and philosopher”. Raven Ray itself is, it seems obvious, a heap of debris dumped by the glacier. We can easily visualise this barrier causing a lake to form in this wide, flat dale when the ice melted – and then, when the barrier was breached, the lake disappearing over Thornton Force and other waterfalls now on the Ingleton Falls walk.
We left the track to follow the wall that heads north to Whernside. Looking east to Ingleborough, it seemed that the
limestone pavements of Twisleton were continuous with the pavements above Raven Scar on the western slopes of Ingleborough,
with the intervening valley of Chapel-le-Dale having disappeared. At West Fell we dropped down into Kingsdale to have a
look at the Apronfull of Stones. Of course, today the Apronfull just looks like a large pile of stones, with a recent
wall to protect it from being washed away by the beck. It is only the knowledge that it is 4,000 to 4,500 years old that
gives pause for thought. And we might pause a bit longer to contemplate the fact that an excavation of a pit nearby
found charcoal dated to about 8,750 years ago (Johnson, 2008, p104).
Ingleborough across Twisleton (where's Chapel-le-Dale?)
Next we crossed the beck, which was not difficult since it was completely dry, to have a peek in Yordas Cave, a cave that
fascinated early visitors to the dale. From there we found the Turbary Road (the concessionary path marked on the map didn’t help). Turbary is (or was) the legal right to collect peat. The Turbary Road is a well-made track – but was it well-used for the purpose of turbary? I couldn’t see any signs of where peat had been collected, although I suppose it is many years since it was.
Today, the track is mainly used by walkers to provide a safe route past various pot-holes, such as
Rowten Pot (shown top right) and Jingling Pot, some within a footstep of the track. It is good that the pot-holes are left as they are, without warnings or fences. However, I wouldn’t take children with me along this track unless I didn’t mind losing one or more of them. Since a high proportion of the few visitors to Kingsdale are intending to go down these pot-holes, it is perhaps not the case, as I implied above, that all the interesting features of Kingsdale can be seen from any vantage point. Whether there is much of interest underground I cannot say. We only peered over the edges to see the depth of the abysses and, sometimes, the waters that could be heard below. It is a strange sort of desert that has water gushing underground.
[March 2019; SD6975; layby by old quarries – N, SE (over Kingsdale Beck), NE (by the wall) – West Fell – W – Apronfull of Stones, Yordas Cave – S, SW on Turbary Road – near Blea Dubs – SE - layby; 7 miles; 108/400]
46.  To the Point of Winterburn Reservoir
If a reservoir wants to be fully appreciated then it should not use ‘Reservoir’ in its name.
It should be something friendly, like Gurnal Dubs or Kitmere. A ‘Reservoir’ only reminds us that, however charmingly sited and skilfully engineered it may be, it is not a bona-fide, natural lake. We don’t get emotional about anything unnatural. Unless it’s the Ribblehead Viaduct. Or the Hoad Monument of Ulverston. Or Blackpool Tower. Oh well, perhaps Winterburn Reservoir has a chance after all.
A ‘Reservoir’ in the name might at least lead us to wonder what the reservoir is for. It is an expensive business building a reservoir. Nobody builds a reservoir for fun. On this walk I hoped to see evidence of the purpose of Winterburn Reservoir.
Gargrave was under a grey sky. I suppose it was cloud – but every cloud has a silver lining and
there were no linings. Gargrave developed through being on an important east-west route across the Pennines.
The Romans walked nearby and more recently Gargrave has been a staging post on the Leeds-Kendal A65, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal (completed in 1816) and the Leeds-Lancaster railway line (completed in 1850). Nowadays it is also on the north-south route of the Pennine Way, and I headed that way myself, first crossing the canal, which I was pleased to see was active (unlike the Lancaster Canal on my previous outing) with some canal-boaters struggling to un-lock themselves.
I continued north across the parkland of Eshton Hall, through Gamsbers Wood, and along a fine path above
Eshton Beck, emerging on Winterburn Lane to be confronted with the surprising sight of Friars Head. The front wall of this 17th century building – and it is not a huge building – has (I make it) 584 panes of glass. There are seven sets of twelve narrow windows, each with six lights, plus on the second floor a further four sets of windows with twenty lights. Friars Head is thus an impressive example of the local building style that favoured narrow windows. Where in a modern house we would have one rectangular window, here they preferred a set of tall, narrow windows separated by stonework. It was good to see that Friars Head is still in normal use, judging from the farmyards to the rear and the gardens to the front, and hasn’t been converted or deserted as so many grand old buildings have.
I walked on, to meet a sign saying “Warning: shooting in progress”. I wondered if, more to the point, the shooters met a sign saying “Warning: walking in progress”. I heard no sound of shooting, so I carried on. I reached the reservoir outlet but couldn’t see the reservoir itself without a walk up to the farm of Way Gill, but that did at least get me high enough for views across to Cracoe Fell and, in the distance, a grey Pendle. I was sorry to disturb the many geese and a large flock of oystercatchers, all of whom probably expected to be left in peace on such a dull day.
Winterburn Reservoir, with Pendle in the distance
I crossed the bridge at the northern point of the reservoir and strode out south on the good path of the
Dales High Way. I was saddened to see a hideous repair of a grey stone wall using huge yellow-orange
sandstone blocks quite alien to this region. I now realise that, philistine that I am, I had failed to
appreciate what is surely a masterpiece of ‘land art’, a deeply moving conceptual allegory on the problems of integration in modern society.
Land art on the Dales High Way
The skylarks and the curlews were in good voice despite the increasing gloominess. I hurried on, reaching the road at Flasby, and shortly after, at Eshton Bridge, had a view of Eshton Hall. It seemed to be mainly with curtains drawn. The hall was built in 1827 on a rather grandiose scale, it seems to me. In 2005 it was converted into apartments.
I detoured a little in order to have another look at the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. I had seen no signs on
my walk of the purpose of Winterburn Reservoir but I hoped to see some by the canal (but I didn’t)
because the reservoir was built to provide water for it. At least, that is what I have read.
However, the canal was finished in 1816 and the reservoir in 1893. I picture engineers standing by a
dry canal for 77 years, scratching their heads, wondering what they had overlooked. No, of course, the
problem was that the increasing traffic on the canal, with the corresponding greater use of locks, was
transferring water along the canal. Somehow, in a way that I had not been able to detect, Winterburn
Reservoir tops up the canal. But how did those engineers have the foresight to aim the Leeds end of the canal north-west towards a non-existent Winterburn Reservoir, rather than aim more directly south-west to Liverpool?
[March 2019; SD9354; Gargrave – N on Pennine Way, NE on Chew Lane, N on Eshton Road, N – Eshton, Brockabank, Winterburn, Winterburn Reservoir – W, N, around Reservoir, SE on Dales High Way, SW on Cross Lane, SW, SE – Flasby – S – Ray Bridge – W - Gargrave; 10 miles; 107/400]
45.  Thoughts from the Towpath (Bilsborrow to Preston)
Although North-West England has the country’s best mountains, it is not necessary that all walks should be
up and down them. Mountain walks should be leavened with strolls
on the level, and you can’t get leveller than the
The Canal runs for 42 miles between Preston and Tewitfield. Actually, it doesn’t run anywhere because it is flat, following the 20-or-so metre contour on a nicely curving route. A walk along its towpath can be briskly taken without fear of getting lost or stressing the up-and-down walking muscles.
Towpath walking is so simple that it is hard to relate it to the forms of walking discussed in texts
purporting to elucidate the profound, philosophical nature of pedestrianism. The most pretentious of such texts
that I have tried to read so far is The Philosophy of Walking
by Frédéric Gros (Gros, 2014). I became bogged down within the first ten pages by sentences such as “the freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life” and “endless walking … illustrates the harmonization of the nameless Self with the omnipresent heart of the World”. However, I persevered and by the end I was amused by the fact that seven of the nineteen chapters were case histories of the celebrated walkers Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Rousseau, Thoreau, Nerval, Kant and Gandhi. Why I found that amusing I will explain during this saunter.
I began at Bilsborrow, a village on the A6 sandwiched between the railway and the canal. It is seven miles north of Preston but twelve miles by the canal. I imagine that in the summer the Bilsborrow canal area is a busy place for even on the day of my walk there were a fair number of people milling about. But once beyond the first bridge I was alone with my thoughts.
If I feel brave enough I may return to Gros’s ponderings later but for the moment I will just focus on the straightforward notion that walking is good for you, physically and mentally. Gros has a chapter on ‘states of well-being’ in which he discusses how walking brings pleasure, joy, happiness and serenity, which he carefully describes and distinguishes. His case histories illustrate those benefits. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) wrote that “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking”. Being a philosopher anxious for great thoughts, he walked a lot. He also took long solitary walks to gain some relief from terrible migraines. In the 1880s back pain prevented him walking much and in 1889 he became demented. His mother took him for walks and then wheeled him about when he could no longer walk. He died in 1900 aged 55.
I strolled on the towpath, on and on, seeing nobody, not even on any of the canal-boats parked in the canal or adjacent marinas. All the boats were wrapped up for the winter. Why is that? Is canal-boating not allowed in winter? Is it not enjoyable then? Most activities are more fun in the sun but they don’t all stop in the winter. I, for example, was content to walk in the shower that fell upon me. Canal-boaters would be safe, cocooned in their cabins.
The Lancaster Canal, south of Bilsborrow (looking back)
From the age of 15 the poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) walked great distances, mainly in anger, to escape something or other. His extreme walking led to a serious knee injury that required his leg to be amputated. He still dreamed of walking with a wooden leg but before he could do so he died, aged 37.
After about four miles of quiet solitude, I found the air increasingly filled with the rumble of traffic. I was approaching the M55, and then walked alongside it for a mile or more. Nowadays we accept motorways as a fact of life. Nonetheless, the noise ruins this walk. It cannot be pretended that this is an idyllic walk through the rural flatlands of Fylde.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) said “I can only meditate when I am walking, when I stop I cease to
think; my mind only works with my legs”. After establishing his reputation, Rousseau felt, during his forties,
a need to escape into the woods and to take long walks, in, according to Gros, “an insane plan to identify … the
natural man, one not disfigured by culture, education, art: man as he would have been before books or salons,
before society or paid labour”. To achieve this he “needed to make himself detestable to many”, in which
endeavour he evidently succeeded since he became “an outcast, rejected by all, proscribed everywhere”. In
1777-1778 he wrote Reveries of a Solitary Walker
but did not complete it, dying aged 66.
At Salwick Bridge, after seven miles of walking, I saw a person. I was glad to see him. Towpath-walking is monotonous. For mile after mile I had walked with the canal a yard to my left and a hedge a yard to my right. The footpath varied only in its degree of muddiness. The character of the canal did not change at all, unlike that of a flowing river. It was always still, with perhaps a few reeds by the side, some ducks from time to time, and one or two swans. The bridges were all much the same, apart from the number pinned thereon. There were, of course, no locks, since the canal is flat.
The Lancaster Canal, nearing Ward's House Bridge, heading to Preston (at last)
According to Gros, Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was the “author of the first philosophic treatise on walking”.
I am surprised that
should be so described by a philosopher. Thoreau had a knack for quotable sentences, generally about nature and
the wild. He was also quite good at nonsensical paragraphs. At least, they seem so to me. For example, the
second paragraph of Walking
begins “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life
who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks – who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering”.
Clearly, his Walking (capital W) is different to my walking and to that activity that billions of people have
mastered by the age of two. Therefore anything he says about Walking has no relevance to walking. When he
writes in the third paragraph that “If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and
wife and child and friends, and never see them again … then you are ready for a walk” we should not think
‘nonsense’. If his contemporaries reacted to his words as I do then I am not surprised that he went off to
live in isolation in the wild, leading to his classic book Walden
. Thoreau suffered from tuberculosis and in 1860, after a night-time walk in a rainstorm, became ill with bronchitis, from which he never recovered, dying in 1862, aged 44.
The M55 noise abated, to be replaced by that of the Springfields nuclear fuel manufacturing plant at Salwick. How about that for modern life intruding upon the self-contained quietude of the towpath! Hereabouts I noticed a large “Please take your litter home” sign. I may have passed others without noticing them but by now I was glad of stimulation wherever I could find it. The odd thing about this sign was that it was accompanied by the largest pile of litter I’d seen by the canal. It was as if canal-boaters had seen a mention of ‘litter’ and were prompted to get rid of their bags of it. I doubt that I am unfairly maligning canal-boaters because nobody else would bring their rubbish to this spot.
Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855) wrote melancholic novellas and poems. He suffered from compulsive vomiting and
in 1841 had a nervous breakdown. He continued to suffer from manic-depressive disorders associated with an urge
to take long walks. In 1854 his walking became obsessive. According to Gros, “walking made his illness flower … it
completed the madness”. Flower? – Gros makes it sound like a positive development. Nerval “never stopped walking”,
at least not until his last walk in 1855 on which he hanged himself, aged 46.
I came upon a few more walkers and even an angler. Rarely can anyone have been as keen as I was to
see signs of reaching the outskirts of Preston. First, though, I came to an inlet on the south side of the
canal. I saw no sign to explain what it was for. It is, in fact, the top end of the
completed in 2002. Originally, the Lancaster Canal was intended to connect with the Leeds-Liverpool Canal but the part south of Preston was never constructed. The Ribble Link, with nine locks, now enables canal-boats to reach the Ribble and thence, via the River Douglas, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. However, if canal-boaters are too timid to face our winter then I can’t see many of them tackling the Ribble.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was always upset by change. He therefore lived a life of routine. For decades he did exactly the same thing every day. This included a walk in the afternoon – always the same walk. According to Currey (2013), Kant had “a generally delicate constitution … [and] in order to prolong his life with the condition – and in an effort to quell the mental anguish caused by his lifelong hypochondria – Kant adopted what he called ‘a certain uniformity in the way of living’”. Kant presumably considered the walk important for his well-being but perhaps no more so than the other parts of his daily ritual. At all events, he did at least live to old age, although as Gros puts it, it is “hard to imagine a drearier existence”.
The canal went on. Kant might have liked the unchanging nature of it although he would have been alarmed when the canal turned a startling red. This was, I assume, from the droppings of adjacent trees, which I should be able to identify for you but cannot. I reached Savick House, dated 1838, hoping that it marked the end of the canal, but it didn’t. I tried to find interest in the varying attempts of the house-owners on the steep north bank to incorporate the delights of the canal into their garden.
The top of the Ribble Link (left) and the Lancaster Canal, nearing its end at Preston (right)
The walks of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) were of a different genre to those of the other six that Gros considers.
Although he was fond of walking, Gandhi did not emphasise walking alone to ferment ideas. He is known more for
his long political marches in the company of many others. So I will put him aside here. What are we to make of
the case histories of the sextet? According to
Gros shows that “a good walk is not only the best cure for boredom but is the key to genius … it is the secret behind the outpourings of the world’s greatest minds”.
The canal eventually came to a scruffy end. There is nothing now to indicate how items were loaded
on and off the canal at Preston. The canal end is perched above the level of the River Ribble and most of
the buildings of Preston, as the need for nine locks in the Ribble Link suggests. It would clearly have been expensive to extend the canal over the Ribble, even though the early 19th century Preston had many fewer buildings in the way.
We need to be more scientific before coming to any conclusion about the sextet. We need data, not
anecdotes. We need to determine the Rate of Generation of Great Ideas (RGGI, pronounced Reggie) when walking.
If you walk four or more hours a day, as Thoreau said he did, then there’s a fair chance your Great Ideas
will occur while you’re walking. Was Thoreau’s walking RGGI greater than, say, his dreaming RGGI or
his sitting-on-the-toilet RGGI? We need to extend our field of study beyond the select sextet. Imagine a list of the thinkers of the 100 Greatest Ideas. At least 94 of them were ignored by Gros. Did any of them make a fuss about walking for their Great Ideas? Did they have a high walking RGGI? I suspect the answers are ‘no’, as Gros would otherwise not have ignored them.
As far as health benefits go, you could hardly pick a more discouraging sextet: insanity,
leg amputation, suicide, social outcast, bronchitis from walking in the rain, a dreary existence.
Where's the pleasure, joy, happiness and serenity? We need to
distinguish cause and effect: did they walk a lot because of their problems or did they develop problems through
walking a lot (or neither)? There may be some correlation – you need to be a bit soft in the head to think a long walk from Bilsborrow to Preston is a good idea.
Leaving the canal at last, I did not, through tiredness and a misplaced confidence that I knew my way
about Preston, consult the map. I didn’t take the optimum route to the bus station and ended up running to
avoid a drenching in a downpour. Within the sanctuary of the bus station, I could reflect that although my
saunters may, like this one, be long and tedious I am unlikely to succumb to the problems of the sextet.
I am also unlikely to get onto the list of 100 greatest thinkers.
[March 2019; SD5140; (linear) Bilsborrow – S, SW, S, E on canal towpath – end of canal at Preston – SE – Preston bus station ; 12 miles; 104/400]
44.  Interlude: We Are Sorry for the Delay ...
I planned to take the train (actually, four trains: two there and two back) to walk in the Whitehaven region.
On Tuesday I asked for a return ticket via Barrow-in-Furness and was advised that it was quicker via Carlisle.
But I had my train schedule details ready for Barrow, so I stuck with it. According to the display, the train,
which had started in Manchester, was on time – until, 15 minutes before its scheduled arrival, it appeared to
be unable to escape from Preston Station. No explanation was forthcoming. The delay grew to exceed the time I should have had in Barrow to transfer to the second train. I asked the station guard if the second train would wait but he shrugged his shoulders. So I returned to the ticket office for a refund.
On Wednesday I asked for a return ticket via Carlisle and was advised that it was cheaper to get a
‘Cumbria Round Robin’ ticket via Carlisle and Barrow. It was the same ticket-man. He had omitted
to mention this possibility the day before. I don’t know if he remembered me: I doubt that he registered
travellers as people. Anyway, I had my train schedule details ready for Carlisle, so I stuck with it
(even though it cost me £30, compared to £12 the day before). The train arrived at Lancaster on time.
It then proceeded … to not proceed. It remained motionless in Lancaster Station. The delay grew to exceed the time
I should have had in Carlisle to transfer to the second train. After 25 minutes it was announced that we were waiting
for a new train manager, whatever that is. What had happened to the old train manager? Or was the new one late for
their shift? After 40 minutes passengers for Carlisle were advised to get off and catch a different train (most passengers
were heading for Edinburgh with no doubt more pressing engagements than me, just going for a walk, but they had to sit and wait).
So I got off and returned to the ticket office for a refund.
I suppose I should count myself lucky that both the failures occurred with the first of my
planned four trains. If it had been any of the other trains I might have been marooned in somewhere
like Workington or Barrow. But surely we can do better than this. The service is not exactly speedy – taking 2½ hours to travel the 90 miles or so from Lancaster to Whitehaven – so the least we should expect is reliability. The inexplicable (or rather, unexplained) failures are
bad enough but, worse, all the staff seemed resigned to them. They hadn’t caused the problems, which
were only to be expected anyway. Maybe they have adopted the attitude and competence of our Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Grayling.
43.  The Red Screes - Wansfell Question
I have a question for members of
The Wainwright Society
(and for anyone else). If I were bagging Wainwrights and walked from Ambleside to Red Screes (776m), returning via the Kirkstone Pass and Wansfell (487m), then how many Wainwrights may I tick off?
Kirkstone Pass from the slopes of Red Screes
The walk from Ambleside to the top of Red Screes was as straightforward as a Lake District walk can be. I headed north and kept going. That is not to say that it was easy, as I have not climbed a high hill for a while. However, the slope and the terrain of the ridge that passes Snarker Pike are relatively gentle, and all the while the views are gradually widened. At first I could not see Windermere at all because of low mist but this soon dispersed. The more distant views of Bow Fell and Fairfield were a little hazy, perhaps because of the still evaporating snow. By the time that the Red Screes top was at last reached, Helvellyn and High Street had come into view, with a prospect of Brothers Water and a glimpse of Ullswater ahead.
Towards Fairfield and Helvellyn from Red Screes
The clamber down from Red Screes to the Kirkstone Pass was precipitous but just needed to be taken steadily. It was a
bit of a trudge walking south to Wansfell but at least there were good views back towards Red Screes, enabling me to
reflect that I had just walked down that imposing cliff-face. The Ordnance Survey marks the highest point of Wansfell (487m) a mile or so north of Wansfell Pike (482m) but it takes some believing. It must be an optical illusion caused by Wansfell having much higher fells behind (when viewed from the Pike) whereas, from the other direction, Wansfell Pike stands proudly against the sky. Anyway, Wansfell Pike is the better top, with its celebrated view of Windermere.
Now to return to my question. The seven volumes of Wainwright (1955-1966) catalogued 214 fells. Some
walkers set out to bag Wainwrights, that is, to get to the top of some of the 214. Some set themselves the
challenge of getting to the top of all 214 and thereby becoming a ‘Wainwright completer’. They may then
experience the euphoria of
“Standing now in diffused light, with the wind at my back, I experience suddenly a feeling of completeness – not a feeling of having achieved something or of being stronger than everyone who was ever here before, not a feeling of having arrived at the ultimate point, not a feeling of supremacy. Just a breath of happiness deep inside my mind and my breast” (Messner, 2010). However, Messner, who was the first climber to ascend all fourteen peaks over 8,000 metres, may have been thinking of mountains rather more challenging than, say, Mungrisdale Common, Lank Rigg, Hen Comb or Grike.
Over a thousand walkers have registered as Wainwright completers with The Wainwright Society, and no doubt thousands more are completers without bothering to register the fact. Some walkers complete over and over again, which seems a self-contradiction. The Wainwright Society aims to “keep alive the fell-walking traditions promoted by AW” and is the formal face of what McKay (2012) calls a “vast and curious cult” devoted to the epistles of Wainwright.
However, if a walker so venerates Wainwright that he or she must conquer all his tops then it behoves them to adopt fully the spirit of Wainwright. Wainwright described one or more routes of ascent for each fell. In all, about 750 different ascents are described for the 214 fells. For some fells he mentions one or more ‘ridge routes’ to nearby tops. He leaves the reader to join the pieces. He does not, for example, mention one of the most well-known Lakeland walks, the Kentmere Horseshoe. Instead, he describes the eight tops that constitute the horseshoe in separate chapters. He is like a musicologist who catalogues 214 chords, sometimes says which two chords go well together, but never gives us a melody.
A faithful Wainwright worshipper would reach a top by following a Wainwright route of ascent. In
the case of Wansfell, for example, Wainwright describes two ascents, one from Ambleside and the other from
Troutbeck. He does not describe an ascent from the direction of Red Screes – reasonably enough, because
Wansfell is clearly a descent
from Red Screes apart from a small climb at the end. Similarly, a true Wainwright believer would not claim eight Wainwright tops after walking the Kentmere Horseshoe because only one of the tops is ascended by a Wainwright route of ascent.
When a walker has become a true-completer, there is no need to stop there. They can then set out to become a super-true-completer by walking all 750 or so ascents. Do you think anybody has, apart from Wainwright? It may be sacrilegious to say so but I wonder if Wainwright did. If you rule out all the weekends that are too wet, windy, cloudy or icy (and there are plenty of those) then there are hardly enough weekends left in his thirteen years of travail for 750 ascents. Also, it is possible to descend (like I did from Red Screes to the Kirkstone Pass) and imagine it, and later describe it, as an ascent. So, come on you members of this curious cult, become a super-true-completer, perhaps the first ever!
Red Screes from Wansfell
Just to be clear, I’m not against challenges: I’ve set myself a few in the past. A challenge adds
interest, provides motivation and, ultimately, a feeling of achievement, although it may also become
an obsession. The vague challenge that I half-heartedly raised in the
– that is, to visit
every one of the 400 5 km x 5 km squares of my North-West England – has gradually become less vague. It has not distorted my saunters, as I don’t set out caring how many squares I visit, but I do count them afterwards. I’ve visited 99 of them since I started sauntering in January 2018, so another four years might do it. We’ll see.
[February 2019; NY3704; Ambleside (P by church) – N, NE on Kirkstone Road, N on track – Snarker Pike, Red Screes – SE – Kirkstone Pass – S, SE – Woundale Raise – S – Baystones – SW – Wansfell Pike – W - Ambleside; 9 miles; 99/400]
42.  Appreciating Meg and Lucy
It seems that everyone who writes about
Long Meg and Her Daughters
(hereafter Meg, for short) is obliged to mention Wordsworth’s opinion of it or them. So, here goes: “Next to Stone Henge, it is beyond dispute the most noble relick of its kind that this or probably any other country contains” (letter of 10 January 1821, quoted in Hill and de Selincourt (1978)). I will, however, refrain from adding the poem that Wordsworth wrote about Meg in 1833 (it can be read at the website linked to above). Writers do not usually go on to say that Wordsworth later admitted that he may have been taken by surprise and over-rated Meg (McCracken, 1984). He could also have admitted that being a poet and not a historian, antiquarian or scientist he was unqualified to give an informed opinion. Quoting Wordsworth is no doubt intended to underline the mysterious, majestic appeal of the site and to encourage people to visit it. I wondered how I would react to Meg.
From the Eden Bridge near Lazonby I walked past noisy oystercatchers to Kirkoswald to have a look at the ruins of
Actually, there is little to see, which is only to be expected since it’s had 500 years to fall down. Only an old
tower remains, engulfed in trees and protected by a discouraging moat. I pressed on towards Glassonby through many
neat, green fields, quiet apart from drumming woodpeckers. On the way, at Old Parks Farm, I came across a memorial to
Romany of the BBC
(the Rev. George Bramwell Evens), who I had never heard of but I may be excused since he died in 1943. He is thought to have been the first broadcaster on natural history. He didn’t live at Old Parks but it seems that he enjoyed visiting it.
Me too but I didn’t linger there nor at the Glassonby cemetery, where there is an ancient cross, because Meg was
calling. I emerged past the farm of Longmeg to find the impressive stone circle displayed ahead in another neat, green,
quiet field. Long Meg herself stood a little aloof at the top of the field, looking down upon her brood of over sixty Daughters who form the third largest stone circle in Britain.
Long Meg and Her Daughters
I commented that the Carlson and Berleant (2004) discussion about the aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment
did not take due account of the human influence upon that environment – and, of course, Meg is not natural. They also
did not reflect the reality that our response is almost always affected by the responses of others before us. My
reaction to Meg is inevitably coloured by what I had read about it beforehand. It is easier than in Wordsworth’s day
to see any number of photos and to watch Youtube videos of Meg and to therefore have, in advance, a good idea of what’s
to be seen. Even if you have no plan to visit a place you can’t always avoid gaining a pre-appreciation of it.
For example, I had read about the Giant’s Causeway and seen many photos and films about it before I had any thought
to visit it. My reaction was perhaps 90% pre-formed. In fact, the only real difference to what I expected was the
crowds of people of all nationalities clambering over it. Samuel Johnson – who said that “it’s worth seeing but not
worth going to see” – was too generous.
As it was, my reaction to Meg was not primarily an aesthetic one. It felt strange to see the circle in
such a tidy parkland, as if it were an exhibit on display. Since it is a constructed object perhaps it needs to be
viewed as a sculpture but it is certain that its setting would have been very different when it was built. It would
have been shrouded in shrubs and trees 4,000 years ago and that is difficult to picture now. No, my reaction was more: Why?
It cannot have been easy to move these huge stones. Why did they do it? What happened at this circle? Items from
other Neolithic sites have been found here, leading some to think that Meg was part of a network of such sites. Meg
is on the brow of a small hill, high enough to provide a view of Blencathra, if not quite of the Castlerigg stone circle,
which may be significant.
Sometimes, like Wordsworth viewing Meg, one is taken by surprise. For example, in
I had not anticipated the grand view from Billington Moor and was therefore more appreciative of it. For this reason some walkers prefer to walk in ignorance of what they might see, so that they can form their own impressions with fresh eyes. I, however, do not trust my powers of observation to prevent me being frustrated to learn later that I had walked past some fascinating object without even noticing.
I always study the map in advance and here I noticed that my route back from Little Salkeld alongside the River
Eden passed Lucy’s Caves, which were new to me. I searched assiduously for information about Lucy and her Caves but
found none. I was looking forward to viewing Lucy’s Caves with fresh eyes – but then I saw that I had misread the
map. It’s Lacy’s Caves. And Lacy, I found, was Colonel Samuel Lacy of Salkeld Hall, who had the caves carved in
the 18th century, after trying to demolish Meg. It doesn’t seem to be known why in either case. Perhaps he
wanted people to be sitting here, 250 years later, wondering ‘Why?’ for both the caves and Meg.
Lacy's Caves and the River Eden
It would be remiss of me not to mention that there were signs at the two ends of the footpath to Lacy’s Caves to say
that it was closed. I don’t know why. Not having been before, I don’t know if the path has recently deteriorated.
Some of the boardwalks and little bridges have rotted or been washed away – but it was possible to get past them all.
The narrow path around the caves, with a sheer drop to the Eden on my left, was a little scary but it must always have been
so - and nothing can be done to make it less so. I predict that this path will stay officially closed
so that the authorities can say “well, we did warn you” if there is a mishap.
As for the caves themselves, they are a set of chambers carved into a red sandstone cliff on a bend of the Eden. I see that some visitors have complained about graffiti on the cave walls. Well, the whole thing is graffiti. A man with more money than sense has defaced a fine natural cliff that affords a marvellous view of the Eden by having chunks hewn out of it. I don’t think highly of this Lacy chap. I prefer Lucy.
[February 2019; NY5440; P by Eden Bridge, Lazonby – NE – Kirkoswald – SE – Old Parks, Glassonbybeck – S –
Glassonby – S, W, S – Long Meg and Her Daughters – S – Little Salkeld – W, N – Lacy’s Caves, Daleraven Bridge –
NW – Eden Bridge; 9 miles; 95/400]
41.  Safe in Littledale
I recently came across a couple of online descriptions of winter expeditions in North-West England that have put my own ambitions in perspective. My aim of visiting areas of North-West England more-or-less at random has rather lapsed this winter. I have lacked the commitment to scrape the ice off the car, to get out early to reach distant parts, to make the most of the limited daylight hours, to walk in sleet, ice and cloud. Using a car demands a serious hike. So I’m trying to use public transport more, although that further limits the range and time available for my outings. The main factor, however, is that I value safety, perhaps more than in the past.
On this outing I walked from my home around what used to be a regular running route but which
I have not visited recently. I had no need of a map or any special equipment. Even if there was
snow and ice remaining on the hill-tops I was sure that I wouldn’t reach it. I walked in daylight,
obviously – but there are those who seek the extra challenge of night walking. The
first of the on-line descriptions
to which I referred concerned the ‘Hill Explorer’ walking around the Yorkshire Three Peaks (Whernside,
Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent) on a January night. He asked for volunteers to accompany him but only
one young woman, whom he didn’t know, did so. They completed the 24-mile walk in a bit over the 12
hours allowed for the
Three Peaks Challenge
but they must be disqualified anyway for failing to find the Ingleborough trig point in the dark (rules is rules). They discovered “just how much harder it is to navigate at night”. Well I never. And – surprise, surprise – they had some difficulty walking on ice in the dark. Accidents are liable to happen at any time: we don’t have to provoke them. Luckily, they had no accidents but what if they had?
I walked into Littledale, which is a little dale tucked between Caton Moor and the slopes that
lead up to Ward’s Stone, the highest point of the Forest of Bowland. It is always a peaceful dale with
very rarely anybody to be seen. I saw little wildlife either but I did notice one pioneering lapwing
that had come early up to the fells, practising his flights of fancy in the sun after the recent snow,
but I fear that he may suffer from premature elevation. There were only a few streaks of snow left
on the Bowland hills. The footpath, which eventually leads into Roeburndale, passes through woodland,
above Littledale Hall and through sheep fields, one thoroughly studded with fresh molehills. Are moles especially active after a spell of frozen ground?
The Littledale path does not venture onto the rough, craggy, heathery, millstone grit moors of Bowland –
unlike the path that was tackled in the
second of the descriptions
I mentioned. This video by ‘Lancashire Wanderer’ says that it’s about a walk from Hareden to Totridge and
Bleadale Water and back by Langden Brook. The actual walk shown is the other way about – it begins by
Langden Brook. If that is not disconcerting enough, my
alarm bells began ringing when they missed the first path off (the one south to Bleadale Water) and then
proceeded to have a prolonged brew by Langden Castle, which is actually a barn. It’s only half-an-hour’s stroll to the barn. They
shouldn’t have needed a tea break yet. They needed to get a move on because the walk they had in mind
is quite a challenge, as is clear from the map even if you’ve never been there before. Later, it became obvious (to me but apparently not to them) that, judging from where the sun is at 18 minutes into the video, they would not get round the planned route in daylight.
They amble on, fall in the beck, slide down a bank, and duly get lost.
By 23 minutes they are in the dark. “It went dark” laments the leader, nonplussed by the inconsiderateness of it. He decides
that they must walk ‘as the crow flies’ to get back to the car. As the crow flies, in the dark, over
Bowland hills! By 26 minutes two of the party have been abandoned, one of them injured. From a spasm of
self-awareness, we hear “stupid, this”. Some hours later, the benighted couple are retrieved by Mountain Rescue,
with four police cars and two ambulances assisting. They were very fortunate that (as the leader was clearly unaware) the Bowland Pennine Mountain
Rescue team is based at Smelt Mill Cottages, right by where they had parked. Afterwards, the leader
had the gall to comment that Mountain Rescue were “singing my praises” because he could give them the
GPS coordinates for where the couple were. That was the only sensible thing he did in the whole expedition!
Why do people post such videos on-line? Do they not realise how irresponsible and incompetent they are?
Are they proud of such escapades? Or are they intending to warn others?
I walked past the isolated farm of Deep Clough and one-by-one the Three Peaks appeared ahead of me, Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and then Whernside, the last the snowiest of the three, as befits the highest. I could see them all, perfectly arrayed, and much else besides, which is more than could be said for our Three Peaks night walkers. The woman commented that with night walking “you become one with nature … you’re much more in touch with everything you pass by”. That’s what all ‘adventurers’ say. The sentiment is contradicted by her own words – she mentions absolutely nothing of whatever it was she felt ‘much more in touch with’. But then, as her companion said, “we arrived at the [Ribblehead] Viaduct, which is normally an amazing sight but on this occasion quite invisible!” If you can pass by the Viaduct and be unaware of it, what exactly did she pass by and feel at one with?
Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent from the Caton Moor bridleway
Continuing on the bridleway over the crest of Caton Moor, I found the expanse of Morecambe Bay spread out
ahead, embraced within the promontories of Fleetwood and Barrow-in-Furness. From this perspective, it
seems not surprising that tourists used to be ferried between the two. And then the Lake District hills,
from Black Combe to High Street, came into view, still impressively white, followed by the Howgills, at
the head of the Lune valley, and then our friends Whernside and Ingleborough re-emerged on the other
side of Caton Moor. From here it is a gentle cruise downhill with my home village visible ahead, nestled in the valley. It is a local walk but I don’t take it for granted. There really are remarkable views throughout. And there’s no risk involved. Those who need to endanger their own and other’s safety to gain the thrills they need should really adopt more suitable activities than walking.
[February 2019; SD5464; Brookhouse – S, SE on Littledale Road, SE – Crossgill – E – Deep Clough – E, NE – Roeburndale Road near Winder – W, N, NW on bridleway – picnic spot – W - Brookhouse; 9 miles; 92/400]
40.   In the Borderlands of Burton-in-Lonsdale and Bentham
39.   Halls Galore by the Middle Ribble
38.   Reflections from Jeffrey's Mount
37.   Whoopers on Thurnham Moss
36.   The Flow and Ebb and Flow of Morecambe
35.   Dufton Rocks
34.   Thieveley Pike and the Singing Ringing Tree
33.   Is Nappa Hall Napping - or Dying?
32.   Russet Rusland Valley
31.   Pink Stones on the Orton Fells
30.   Dunsop Bridge, Whitewell and Duchy-land
29.   The Quiet End of the Ribble Way
28.   Broughton Moor, or What's Left of It
27.   The Footpaths of Anglezarke Moor
26.   A Booze by Any Other Name
25.   Mysterious Harkerside Moor
24.   Up Ingleborough with the Holiday Crowds
23.   The Kentmere Diatomite
22.   In the Lancashire Yorkshire Dales
21.   The Fortunes of Fleetwood
20.   On the Sunny Side of Pendle
19.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 2)
18.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 1)
17.   Sheep-Wrecked Matterdale?
16.   The Wildflowers of Sulber
15.   On the Hobdale Fence
14.   Logging Along the Cam High Road
13.   The Cairns of Grisedale Pike
12.   Uplifted by High Street
11.   The Struggle over Boulsworth Hill
10.   The 'Hillfort' of Addlebrough
9.   "The Prettiest Mere of All" Lakeland
8.   What Price Catrigg Force?
7.   Castling in Cumbria: From Brougham to Lowther
6.   The Count of Flasby Fell
5.   Circumperambulating Stocks Reservoir
4.   In a Flap at Bolton-le-Sands
3.   Zipping around Thirlmere
2.   The Dentdale Diamonds
1.   The Taming of Caton Moor
(and here's some I did earlier)
© John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018
Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar;
Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell