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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England


January 2018:  This is the preamble or introduction to Saunterings. To be precise, these are North-West England Saunterings. That is NWES to me. It contains descriptions of various saunters, ambles, strolls, meanders, rambles and dawdles around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire. 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.

But in September 2019:  It seems that my walks have been less aimless than I expected. I usually set out with several aims in mind, one of which is to provide a skeleton upon which the flesh of some narrative may be hung. Few of my walks can really be considered to be saunters (so I've added a sub-title to the 'Saunterings'). Saunterings has become more a collection of little essays than a blog. Blogs are more informal, more regularly updated, have shorter and snappier entries, usually have adverts, often seek to stimulate comments, sometimes aim to make money, and so on. So I don't think of Saunterings as a blog nowadays.

Back to January 2018:  As the word suggests, this preamble (or presaunter) is being written before I have begun Saunterings. Although there is a vagueness to my saunters, 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):
cross fell      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. (Note that, with Bolton being the southernmost point, I’ve excluded areas such as Manchester and Liverpool, normally considered an integral part of north-west England.)

I could destroy the aimlessness of my saunters by setting myself some objective, such as to walk in every one of those 10,000 1 km squares. That, however, would be unattainable: some squares are in the middle of lakes, or are marked as 'Danger Areas’, or just don’t have publicly-accessible paths. But if I consider the 400 5 x 5 km squares then the objective to walk in all of those is, in principle, feasible. So I will keep this objective half in mind in the hope that it will help me provide a balanced impression of the region. I will try to more-or-less-randomly visit the various parts of the region and not just focus on the ‘best bits’.

There are a lot of blogs about walks in North-West England. Why am I adding another one with Saunterings? Well, why not? These bloggers are presumably enjoying producing their blogs: most have been doing so for years! They provide a catalogue of their walks that they are happy to share with others, although I suspect that they are not too fussed if others find them less interesting than they do themselves.

I hope that Saunterings will be a little different. Most blogs have many photos and few words. Saunterings will have relatively few photos and relatively many words. I realise that this is against the spirit of the age: the typical on-line reader has the attention span of a grasshopper (present company excepted, since you’ve reached here). I picture a typical Saunterings reader taking 5 or 10 minutes in a tea break, or travelling on a bus, or waiting at the dentist, to read the latest entry. Well, I can but hope.

The words in most blogs are almost all about the details of the walks: which paths they followed, what views they had, which peaks they conquered, what the weather was like, who twisted an ankle, and where they had tea and cake afterwards. I don’t know if these bloggers really expect their readers to follow in their footsteps. I don’t expect anyone to follow mine. In fact, I’d urge them not to, as it’s much better to work out your own route. Anyway, from these blogs and with trusty guides such as Wainwright, there are thousands of walks to select from, if desired. I hardly need to provide more.

In Saunterings I will give few details of my walks. The walk is not the point. I rarely go for a walk just for a walk, or for the scenery, or for exercise. I go because I have some topic, issue, angle, aspect, theme, subject or concern that I want to look into. My words are more about this topic, to do with walking in North-West England, than about the walk itself. The walk provides a context or a framework for discussing whatever is on my mind. I want, if possible, to learn something while preparing for the walk, during the walk itself, and in reflecting on the walk later. I would like, if possible, to say something thought-provoking about the walk and not just report that I have walked it. As I say, I can but hope.

For those who'd like details of my sauntering routes some are provided at the end of each item: date; starting point; route; distance; ascent. 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 route 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’ may 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.

x x x x x x x x x    Comments    x x x x x x x x

I have noticed that the front pages of every prestigious, acclaimed publication are festooned with gushing comments by reviewers, most of whom just happen to be famous friends of the writer. So I wrote to all my famous friends seeking some gushing comments to add here, but unfortunately I don't have any famous friends. I do have some infamous ones, though, and below are some of the things they've said. Some strangers have commented too and they have thereby instantly become friends. (Where the comment refers to a specific item I have added a link to it.)

        ... good to see that you’re still getting out there regularly, and that you have reached 100 Saunterings with Crookdale (
100)! I’m still enjoying them as much as ever, in fact more so in these restricted times.  (EW, August 2020)

        I've been enjoying [the] 'saunterings' and am mightily impressed by some of these routes.  (SD, July 2020)

        Please don’t ever stop. Your saunterings give me great pleasure ... you and I are as one with respect to the wilfully inadequate troop of misanthropes running the UK ... Please keep sauntering!!!  (GB, July 2020)

        Oh wonderful. Many thanks, always thrilling! I love your rant in 94. It is surely your great walks with Ruth that keep you sane!  (JC, July 2020)

        Thanks John, I've already enjoyed half an hour or so's diversion when I should have been tackling some awkward email replies.  (GT, July 2020)

        Another set of informative, amusing and wry saunterings, John.  (MW, July 2020)

heysham         A footnote to Sauntering 76 on Ocean's Edge holiday park, it resonates exactly with my memory of it 44 years ago. … Enough of my rambling, I'll leave you to do the real thing - well into the 90s in the current series I see. Well done!  (SS, July 2020)

        I have spoken to several local people who are enjoying your Saunterings and discovering new things about our area - thank you!  (JW, May 2020)

        I enjoy having an occasional browse, enjoying especially the thought that, even in England, there are still places where fairly close to empty spaces are available for walking.  (GC, April 2020)

        Thanks - pleasant diversions in a reduced walk life.   (JH, April 2020)

        Stunning photos, John. Indeed a breath of fresh air in these strange times. Thank you.  (EA, March 2020)

        Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures and narratives.  (AK, March 2020)

        Thanks for this breath of fresh air and sanity! Take good care of yourselves, and keep your tales coming. I enjoy them!  (GB, March 2020)

        Great Sauntering photos. Beautiful scenes, except Heysham power station (76). Such beautiful scenery there. If we can't get out at least we can still view it. Thank you.  (SA, March 2020)

        Now we have gone into lockdowns I have a bit more time to read and enjoy at my leisure! Once again a great read – thank you.  (EW, March 2020)

        I thought I should drop you a quick line by way of feedback and encouragement to say how much I'm enjoying following your saunterings. I seem to be able to relate to your musings, often telling me things I didn't know or hadn't thought about that way, and your photos (especially the panoramas) take me straight there.  (GH, February 2020)

pinhaw         Thanks - a delightful read as always. Almost makes up for not being able to get out there myself because of the deluges. I'm afraid you will have to re-trespass in the Fishery! (73) You can't leave your readers in suspense much longer, thirsting for news of archaediscid foraminifers!  (JH, February 2020)

        I so enjoyed the Blackpool (R)amble (74) and was fooled for longer than I care to admit by the golf course.  (SP, February 2020)

        Most enjoyable, especially No 71, Low in Low Barbondale, a frequent haunt from teenage walking (my paternal grandmother was born in Dentdale) to paddling in the stream with grandchildren.  (GT, February 2020)

        Whenever I dip in, the writing and photos are equally splendid.  (NA, December 2019)

        Another interesting and entertaining read.  (KG, December 2019)

        I don't quite know how it has taken me so long to work out who is the author of these delightful articles. I have just been enjoying the latest batch, particularly that on the (lack of) Paythorne Salmon (66).  (JH, December 2019)

        Extremely beautiful!  (PD, December 2019)

        Something to read when I can't get to sleep!  (MS, December 2019)

        A slightly belated response to your last update of Saunterings to say how much I am enjoying your photos, contexts and erudite asides, quite apart from some admiration of your physical stamina for some of the journeys. I cannot directly relate to almost any of the areas that you describe, but have been learning a lot about northern England and quite a bit about English history, geography and sometimes literature that I have either long forgotten or more likely never knew.  (EW, November 2019)

        Amazing how you find such interesting places and the views are great.  (NA, October 2019)

        I do not expect to receive anything to give me more pleasure than your latest 'Saunterings'. Next best thing to actually being on the hills and lots and lots of things to add to my 'to do' list.  (KW, October 2019)

        Well, I’m up to date with the Saunterings! I now await the next batch. Seems very relaxing and interesting.  (MS, October 2019)

easedale tarn         Dipped into "prettiest mere" (9) and found the writing extremely good and in the way you informed with light touch from research!  (NA, August 2019)

        I can now do vicarious fell-walking, the nearest thing to any exercise I have at the moment.  (SS, August 2019)

        I have loved some of your descriptions, depth of knowledge of the areas, great photos and occasional philosophical musings!  (EW, August 2019)

        This is very beautiful, thank you.  (FA, August 2019)

        It is wonderful to see and read about these lovely unspoilt places.  (AH, August 2019)

        Thanks for sharing this, John – it’s ace.  (GJ, August 2019)

        The pictures and accompanying narrative are gorgeous.  (AK, August 2019)

        I've looked at the latest ones and very much enjoyed your new twists on some familiar places. It will be fun to pick one or two from your back list to see what you have to say about them.  (GH, August 2019)

arnside knott         This is so rich and interesting, John. I remember the day of Abbeystead (53). Such a terrible thing. And oh, how I agree with you about the way the tragedy was so meanly dealt with.  (KP, August 2019)

        We have started to dabble in your saunterings with much enjoyment/amusement as appropriate.  (JB, August 2019)

        I would have killed for your well written 52 the sublime Morecambe Bay. I wish you happy walking and thank you.  (KW, August 2019)

        I am not as keen on walking as you are but love the photos and descriptions.  (SA, August 2019)

        I enjoy my breakfast or afternoon tea with your saunterings, gives me the feeling that I virtually walk with you.  (VD, August 2019)

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-


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