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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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121.  The Phantom Hills of Mallowdale Pike, High Stephen’s Head and Gallows Hill

In 109 I mentioned that Wikipedia’s map of Bowland shows twelve hills. In the course of these Saunterings I have walked up eight of them but the other four are outside my walking-from-home range. However, the OS map shows to the north of Ward’s Stone three attractive names that are within my reach: Mallowdale Pike, High Stephen’s Head and Gallows Hill.

They attracted me, anyway. I walked up the Littledale Road again, with the low sun, directly ahead, having already removed all signs of the morning frost. I hoped that it would soon remove the clouds that sat upon the Bowland hills to yield the forecast blue skies. Following the permissive path to Haylot Fell, I soon lost the path – and then my bearings, as the cloud swirled about obscuring any features there might be on this featureless moor. Looking back, I could see that Caton Moor (361m) was well in the cloud. I occasionally glimpsed what I hoped was Gallows Hill (about 460m) ahead and tried to follow a bee-line towards it. The going was slow because, although there weren’t the boulders and heather as elsewhere on these slopes, it was mainly clumpy grass, with bogs between the clumps. At least, a skylark, my first of the year, was happy in the cloud.
deep clough

Looking back across Littledale to the farm of Deep Clough and Caton Moor, in cloud. (Looking ahead there was similar cloud.)

Gallows Hill

A glimpse of Gallows Hill and of the energy-sapping, clumpy, boggy land to cross to reach it

Eventually, I reached Gallows Hill, where only the configuration of walls and fences confirmed that it was indeed Gallows Hill. With fleeting sights to the east of Mallowdale Pike, looking quite diminutive, I followed the fence on to High Stephen’s Head (about 490m), which again I could only tell that I had reached by the complex of walls there. Dropping down out of the cloud, I contoured round to the top of Mallowdale Pike (about 430m), with good views into upper Roeburndale but with the Dales hills beyond still in cloud. From the top I headed north to Mallowdale Bridge, crossing a field where I disturbed several snipe, which tells you that it was a boggy field, and heard my first curlews on the moors, which, since it was only late February, may mean that we may hope that spring will be early this year.
mallowdale pike

Towards Mallowdale Pike and Roeburndale from between Gallows Hill and High Stephen’s Head. There’s a dab of sunlight on Mallowdale Pike, the col of which can be discerned to its right.

At the bottom corner of the field I had a decision to make: should I trespass a short distance on the west bank of the River Roeburn to reach the bridge or cross the river (quite a challenge) to continue on access land on the east bank? I don’t need to say what my decision might have been because at that point a farmer drew up on his quad. He said at first that he was checking that I had my dog under control, as a walker’s dog had recently killed two lambs. I easily reassured him on that point, having no dog. He then said that I shouldn’t be here as the access area ended at the wall above. So I produced the map from my pocket, to show him that I knew exactly where we were and where the access area was (unless my map was out-of-date). He didn’t exactly concede but after we’d chatted about where I’d been walking he knew that I was no mischief-maker. I then implied that since the OS map's orange border for the access area is on the west bank I thought I'd have access to the bridge there but it seems that I was supposed to cross the river. As I hoped, he took pity and suggested that I hop over his fence.

I had my sandwiches by the bridge, where a dipper peeped past. The walk back, with a delightful climb through Melling Wood, and then passing Haylot Farm and over Caton Moor (hearing more skylarks and curlews – but not yet any lapwings) was uneventful but longer than my walking fitness was ready for. For much of it, Mallowdale Pike, High Stephen’s Head and Gallows Hill were on the skyline opposite, but there was still cloud beyond.

Why weren’t one or more of these names on Wikipedia’s map? Are they not significant hills? Indeed, what exactly is a hill? There are many everyday words to describe our landscape: beach, bog, moor, stream, village, wood, and so on. We don’t insist on a precise definition of them. Unless we’re a scientist, in which case we need to define, for example, ‘bog’, ‘fen’, ‘mire’, ‘marsh’ and different varieties of them in order to ensure that our words are not misunderstood. And unless we’re a ‘bagger’, that is, someone who aims to visit instances of a class to tick them off on a list.

A hill-bagger needs a definition of a hill. This is usually in terms of two factors: the height and the drop. The height is, of course, the height above sea-level, although the height above the starting point for a walk up is more relevant to a walker! The drop of a hill is the minimum vertical height you have to lose when walking from its top to any higher hill. For example, the drop of Scafell (height 964m) is 132m because that is the minimum height you have to walk down before you can walk up Scafell Pike (978m). The drop of Scafell Pike is 912m. You’d have to walk down at least that much before walking up, say, Ben Nevis.

Quite small hills can have significant drops. For example, Arnside Knott (159m) has a drop of 151m. The drop is the usual measure for deciding whether a rise is an independent hill or merely a pimple on the slope of a higher hill. For example, walking down the southern ridge from Helvellyn we pass Nethermost Pike (891m, drop 29m), High Crag (884m, drop 9m) and Dollywaggon Pike (859m, drop 50m). If we require a drop of 30m (the usual criterion) for an independent hill then of the three only Dollywaggon Pike qualifies. A hill (of any height) with a drop of at least 30m is called a ‘tump’ (thirty and upwards metres prominence). Other species of hill may be generated by varying the height and drop requirements.

Does a tump correspond with our everyday, subjective sense of a hill? I’m sure everyone would agree that Arnside Knott is a hill even though it is not very high. And not many would insist that Nethermost Pike is an independent hill, despite its height. However, in 103 I walked to (I’d hardly say up) Trashy Hill (about 10m, drop about 4m) in the Fylde. Despite its name, it’s not a tump or a hill by any reasonable objective definition. For its residents its ‘hilliness’ was crucial. That drop of 4m meant that they had relatively solid ground to walk upon, not the flat bog that surrounded them. This suggests that what is considered a hill depends upon the context.

The focus upon the height and the drop ignores any aesthetic factors. Some hills have an appealing conical shape (from some viewpoints). Some hills are more enjoyable to walk up than others – although we won’t agree on which ones. Some hills enable better views. Which of Skiddaw (931m, drop 709m), Skiddaw South Top (925m, drop 4m) and Latrigg (368m, drop 73m) provides the best view?

What about Clougha Pike, walked up in 110? It’s in the Wikipedia 12. And it certainly looks like a hill as you walk up it, with its peak and trig point on the sky-line. However, when you reach the top you find that you don’t need to lose much height to walk on up to Grit Fell. The trudge to Grit Fell adds little to the enjoyment of climbing Clougha Pike and the view from there is worse. Grit Fell (468m, drop 31m) is a tump; Clougha Pike (416m, drop 5m) isn’t. Similarly, consider Winder (473m), near Sedbergh. It looks like a hill from Sedbergh. What happens on the other side of Winder – whether it drops down or continues up – is irrelevant to the perception of hilliness. In fact, it drops 32m. Would it be less of a hill if its drop were 29m?

So there are non-tumps that I would consider hills. Are there tumps that I would consider non-hills? The B6254 (the Kirkby Lonsdale Road) runs through undulating terrain for about ten miles between Halton and Kirkby Lonsdale. The OS map gives spot heights for about fifty rises. Nobody could name the highest of them, for the simple reason that it has no name. The highest point (163m) of the region is in fact in a field east of Oaken Head. Nearby there are high-points of 159m, 153m, 153m, 150m, 149m, and so on. The Oaken Head top is not a hill, to my eyes, but its drop is 115m! Maybe I should think of the whole ten-mile ridge as a hill?
mp, hsh, gh

Mallowdale Pike to the left, with the nobbles of High Stephen's Head and Gallows Hill on the sky-line (or cloud-line, as I'm not sure they'd be on the sky-line if there weren't cloud behind)

What of Gallows Hill, High Stephen’s Head and Mallowdale Pike? From below, Gallows Hill looks like a hill but from it there is a drop of no more than 2m, I’d say, to reach High Stephen’s Head although it’s hard to tell what’s horizontal by eye, especially in cloud. High Stephen’s Head was in cloud but seemed to drop 5m or more before rising to Ward’s Stone. I approached Mallowdale Pike from the south over its highest col and it is surely a good 10m rise to the top. Seen from the north, its striking conical shape make it look every inch a hill.

Fortunately, there is a Database of British and Irish Hills. It’s a monumental piece of work, diligently created over decades to provide definitive data about all our hills, all 21,192 of them. Clougha Pike is in the database (but is not a tump, as said above) but I can find no mention of Mallowdale Pike, High Stephen’s Head or Gallows Hill. They are not hills, according to this database. Well, I don’t care what the database, the number-crunchers, the technology, the surveyors and the hill-baggers say – they are all hills for me. In fact, I’d say that Clougha Pike and Mallowdale Pike are among the best hills of Bowland.

    Date: February 26th 2021
    Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
    Route: S, SW on Littledale Road – New House Farm – E past Littledale Hall – Ragill Beck – SE on permissive path – Haylot Fell – SE – Gallows Hill, High Stephen’s Head – E, N – Mallowdale Pike – N – (note the comments above) Mallowdale Bridge – W, N, W – Haylot Farm – NW, W – cattle grid – N, NW on bridleway, W on Quarry Road – Brookhouse
    Distance: 12 miles;   Ascent: 430 metres

P.S. Just for the record, among the 21,192 hills of the database there are (I make it) 35 hills with a height over 200m and a drop over 30m within the boundaries of Bowland. This then is a list of the hills of Bowland:

                                   height   grid ref   drop
    Ward's Stone                     563    SD591587    395     75
    Pendle Hill                      557    SD804414    395     20
    Longridge Fell - Spire Hill      350    SD657410    242        
    Fair Snape Fell                  521    SD597472    226    109
    Easington Fell                   396    SD730486    194
    White Hill                       544    SD673587    159     96
    Whins Brow                       476    SD636532    134     59
    Caton Moor                       361    SD583639    128     94
    Middle Knoll                     395    SD654543     99
    Beacon Fell                      267    SD570427     94        
    Nicky Nook                       215    SD519485     90        
    Bowland Knotts                   430    SD722603     87
    Wheathead Height                 389    SD839427     75
    Hawthornthwaite Fell Top         479    SD580515     66     99
    Holden Moor [Whelp Stone Crag]   371    SD759591     66
    Hailshowers Fell/Ravens Castle   486    SD697608     65     96
    Mellor Knoll                     344    SD647495     61        
    Baxton Fell                      469    SD671560     56
    Ling Hill                        290    SD758534     53        
    Totridge                         496    SD634487     52
    Waddington Fell                  395    SD714475     51
    Mossthwaite Fell                 244    SD669494     48        
    Kitcham Hill                     283    SD669480     44     30
    Beacon Hill                      305    SD753480     42        
    Wolfhole Crag                    527    SD633578     39
    Parlick                          432    SD595450     39    109
    Boarsden Moor [Hund Hill]        245    SD677509     38        
    Burn Moor                        402    SD694645     36
    Top of Blaze Moss                424    SD619524     35
    Marl Hill Moor                   311    SD695466     35        
    The Cragg                        214    SD547617     35     91
    Stang Top Moor                   327    SD831412     34        
    Long Knots                       256    SD643472     34        
    Barnacre Moor                    219    SD533476     33        
    Grit Fell                        468    SD557587     31    110

     124.   The Most Prominent Hills of North-West England
     123.   Over to Overton and Around Little Fylde
     122.   Walking Uphill and Walking Up a Hill
     120.   A Walk in Littledale in 1847
     119.   Silence, Serenity and Solitude
     118.   Coast-to-Coast in Six Days

               A list of all Saunterings so far

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


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