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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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122.  Walking Uphill and Walking Up a Hill

aughton Right: Aughton

In 121 I said bluntly that the Oaken Head top (height 163m, drop 113m) “is not a hill, to my eyes”. At the time, the Oaken Head top was not visible to my eyes: I was relying on my memory. I now felt an obligation to walk to this top to see if I had treated it unfairly.

So we set off for the top, which lies on the opposite side of the Lune valley from us, on a day that was cloudless but with a low-lying mist-cum-murk that meant that of Ingleborough only the grey outline of its top could be seen. We crossed Waterworks Bridge, walked through Lawson’s Wood, and took a short-cut across the Lune meander to reach Aughton Barns. And from there we began a walk from a height of about 15 metres through the village of Aughton to a height of about 150 metres near the Kirkby Lonsdale Road.

It is undeniably a walk uphill. Is it a walk up a hill? If I wrote that we walked up a hill then you would reasonably expect me to say which one and where it is. The OS map doesn't attach a name to any of the rises in the region, including the highest one, which is a gentle, grassy mound north of the road, a mile north-west of Aughton, near the farm of Oaken Head. Nobody would notice it – except us, who were specifically looking for it. To the eye, it is not obviously higher than other rises nearby. It is on private land but if we were able to walk to the top then I doubt that we would find anything there to mark its eminence. Even the phantom hills of Mallowdale Pike, High Stephen’s Head and Gallows Hill (in 121) had their piles of stones and cairns to show that somebody thought them points of interest, even if the Database of British and Irish Hills doesn’t. No, I don’t think I treated the Oaken Head top unfairly. As a hill, if it is a hill, it is far inferior to Mallowdale Pike.

It may seem that all this pseudo-philosophising about something as nebulous as the concept of a hill is pointless. Unfortunately, it is a characteristic of our age, now that we have technology to yield numbers (in this case, GPSs to measure height to millimetres) and computers to mangle those numbers, to try to quantify the unquantifiable and to regard the outcome as necessarily important and meaningful. Who can fail to be impressed that the Oaken Head ‘hill’ has the 148th biggest drop in North-West England? It has a bigger drop than most of Wainwright’s 214 hills!
Oaken Head

The Oaken Head top (with the farm of Oaken Head to the left)

The Database of British and Irish Hills is not responsible for people (like me) imbuing its data with significance. The database is neutral, except in two respects. First, the fact that it exists at all implies that this mass of data warrants all this effort, and secondly the decisions that have been made about what to include influence what we think are important attributes of a hill. Once the database exists, what use we make of it thereafter is up to us. We, not the database, decide what the significance of the ‘drop’ is, for example.

We must not mistake this vast accumulation of numbers for science. As with train-spotting, we have many numbers but they cannot lead to any theories about the nature of the world. We must not agonise over decisions the database-compilers have made, wondering how, for example, a hill can possibly have a drop of 0 metres. There are 68 of them in the database. We must not worry our heads about Corbetts, Deweys, Dodds, Donalds, Grahams, Hewitts, Humps, Marilyns, Munros, Murdos, Nuttalls, Simms, Tumps, Yeamans, Clems, Pughs, McGrews, Cuthberts, Dibbles and Grubbs. We must not feel annoyed to find, after slogging 400 metres up three hills, that the database considers them to be of no account and yet manages to find 22 hills in my home county, the famously flat Norfolk, including, for example, Ramsey Salt Marsh with a height of 3 metres and a drop of 3 metres (it’s an island). Of course, once it’s in the database it just has to be bagged (you'll need a kayak) – see hill-bagging.co.uk. It’s laughable really – that anyone sets out to climb a 3 metre high hill, just because it is mentioned in a database, and then thinks the achievement deserves to be recorded on-line – so let us too use the database for amusement, now that we cannot get out and about on real hills. Here, then, is a puzzle for you:

        Which twenty hills in North-West England have the biggest drops, according to the Database of British and Irish Hills?

By North-West England I mean the region defined in the Preamble, that is, as far as hills are concerned, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Pennines between Bolton and Cross Fell. There are no prizes, so there’s no need to go googling – just think of the hills and consider which have the biggest drop. I’ll give you a little help – of the twenty highest hills (nineteen of which are in the Lake District) only seven are among the twenty hills with biggest drops. I’ll give the answer in the next Sauntering.

    Date: March 1st 2021
    Start: SD543644, Brookhouse  (Map: OL41)
    Route: N – Waterworks Bridge – NE – Aughton Barns – N, NW, W – Kirkby Lonsdale Road – SW, S, W, S – Crook o’Lune – E on the old railway line, S – Brookhouse
    Distance: 8 miles;   Ascent: 175 metres



     125.   “Walking is not a sport”
     124.   The Most Prominent Hills of North-West England
     123.   Over to Overton and Around Little Fylde
     ...
     121.   The Phantom Hills of Mallowdale Pike, High Stephen's Head and Gallows Hill
     120.   A Walk in Littledale in 1847
     119.   Silence, Serenity and Solitude

               A list of all Saunterings so far

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-

Blencathra

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