Revisiting the Howgill FellsSunday, November 11th, 2012
Compared to the Lake District, this part of Cumbria has seen me nowhere near as often. In fact, my visits to Sedbergh can be counted using the fingers on one hand with two left unused by the calculation. The first time was at the end of walk from Ribblehead train station that skirted the side of Whernside before dropping down to pick up the Dales Way that took me past Dent on a hot day in July. That afternoon was a quiet one with a football match involving the English national team drawing folk into whatever pubs are to be found there. The passing of the last bus of the day before my arrival meant a taxi to Kirkby Stephen that showed me more of a flavour of the peaceful countryside that is typical of the area.
My second visit was a snowy affair and took me up the slopes to venture onto the foothills of the Howgills themselves rather than skirting them as before. That white covering may have limited my movements as much as the limited extent of the December daylight. It made up for that in the bright sunshine with the vistas that lay about me and the Lakeland fells glistened too in the distance. It was a fabulous from atop the modest top of Winder before I descended from there to follow an indirect course that had me confounded at one point (I could have done without shouted insolent directions from a quad bike rider on a nearby road, though).
My incursion last July was set to disturb no one and it started with sunshine and blue skies, albeit ones littered with clouds too. It wasn’t set to stay that way though and cloud had completed its takeover of the sky by the time that I really was up among the tops and later photographic efforts got stymied by that obstruction of the sun. However, that’s not to say that there weren’t advantages to what happened. July sunshine can be warm so that change in fortunes made for cooler walking, never a bad thing.
That was in the future as I made my way out of Sedbergh even if clouds got in the sun’s way at one point as I did so. Picking my way along the dead end road, I noticed the signs at various junctions highlighting the way to the fells. These seemed handmade affairs so the locals must have had lost folk going around their patch instead of where they should have been heading. At the end of the road, it was time to take a footpath towards Settlebeck Gill with Winder to my left. A little height had been gained but more was to come and the views opened out as I did so.
The right of way ended at the wall separating Sedbergh’s commonage from other parts. This now is Open Access land so it didn’t matter that the way to the saddle between Winder and Arant Haw wasn’t a right of way. That didn’t mean that I wasn’t using a well trodden path though and it even was distinct when I last used it. The, it was covered well with snow so the surroundings looked so different this time around as I gained height: green instead of white. The going was steep though and plenty of stops were afforded to take advantage of the sunshine for some photography. After all, there was the steep cutting made by Settlebeck Gill between Crook Hill and the aforementioned Winder.
Hills other than the Howgill Fells were on show too. Whernside,one of Yorkshire’s Three Peaks cannot be overlooked although its southern position makes it tricky for midday photographic exploits. Therefore, I contented myself with views towards the Garsdale hills and not too shabby did they look either. It’s been a while since I have been that way so it might an idea to make a return at some stage again.
The Howgill Fells may not be as high as some but that’s not to say that they aren’t steep sided. Anyone starting out from Sedbergh will discover that for themselves. However, that gradient does level off once you get up so far and, on my path, the going got a bit boggy when it did so too. Given how much rain had fallen since April, that came as no surprise to me. As I left the banks of the gill, Arant Haw came into view and I noticed something else too: a sheet of cloud approaching from the west that just kept going. Before that made its impact known, I spotted another sight that had a certain wonder about it: a spring burst forth to fill a pool and start a steam on its downward trajectory. This must be how some rivers rise.
By the time that I reached the saddle between Winder and Arant Haw, the day had become a cloudy one and that was how it was set to stay. While I might have liked some sun for more pleasing photos of more central Howgill Fells, capturing the sorts of scenes that I have glimpsed from trains before then, that was not to be. Undeterred, my walk continued and I deviated from the right of way to go over the top of Arant Haw, a sloping flat-topped affair. It was only then that I started to encounter any other fell wanderers after a silent solitary ascent from Sedbergh. Still, there weren’t so many about and that was how it was set to be.
Leaving Arant Haw returned me to the bridleway again and saw me losing of that height I had gained. The ascent had been noticeable but far from overwhelming but leaving Rowantree Grains, the saddle before Calders, involved a rather steeper ascent to the top of my next hill. Taking things steady was all that was needed and I found folk lunching atop Calders so I didn’t delay so as to leave them in peace. My target anyway was The Calf and I was happy not be so far away from there.
Usefully, it was a matter of tackling relative undulations to get to the Calf. The gradients encountered while skirting Bram Rigg Top didn’t prove to be at all taxing and there was another saddle to be crossed before the trig point marking the top of The Calf was reached. That may have meant loss of height and subsequent regain but this was minor compared with some that you’d find; for instance, the central Brecon Beacons come to my mind here.
Folk must reach The Calf from starting points other than Sedbergh because I found more here than anywhere else on my trot. Subsequent perusals of issues of TGO have revealed one or two of these and they might have future uses. It still felt odd to find more folk away from habitation than near it though.
As tempting as it might have been to continue walking deeper into the Howgill Fells from there, I decided to turn around at the Calf in the interests of making sure that it wasn’t a rush back to Sedbergh in order to be in time for a bus back to Oxenholme train station. The fact that I found myself with ample time meant I could fit in some deviations from the outbound route. The first of these took me around some tarns on the top of the Calf before crossing some tussocky boggy ground to reach the saddle separating it from Bram Rigg Top.
On reaching the saddle, I stopped for some lunch before deciding to find the top of Bram Rigg Top. That wasn’t so easy how flat-topped the hill is but I returned to the bridleway again after believing that I found it. The sun gamely battle with the cloud cover to brighten my surroundings and I stopped to see what I could do with what was on offer. My efforts now look more like record shots so this could be an excuse to return.
Once the sun had given up on its efforts, I continued to a now quieter Calders before descending it again. My next passing point was Arant Haw though I chose to stay on the bridleway skirting its side rather than going over its top again. More height loss followed and shaggy horses came into sight. Though the lack of other folk might lead one to think otherwise, these creatures were far from being spooked by any passing stranger, even a journeying Irishman. Better lighting could have had me making more of them with a photo but I left my efforts rest with a record shot.
Another deviation followed in the a return to the top of Winder where its hill identification plaque awaited me. Another soul was about too but passed on before I reaching the top to get in five hills in a single day. After looking around me for a little while, I retraced my steps to pick up a bridleway that lead to Lockbank Farm though I was descending the slopes of Winder itself. Steep ground wasn’t to be escaped though and overcaution with time caused a premature descent that made it steeper than it should have been. While folk were in the farmyard below me, I negotiated the last steep section that took me back on the right of way again without any complaint from there; my knees were similarly understanding too for a change and they aren’t always thus. It was an unplanned use of my right to roam in these parts.
With folk tending sheep in the farmyard through which the right of way passes, I decided not to disturb them and followed a path east along a wall instead. This returned me to that public footpath that I had used earlier to get to the Open Access land. On reaching the road end, I noticed that hens were out and about with a cockerel with them too. Speeding cars clearly don’t go this way.
My return to Sedbergh was well before when my bus was to run so I could linger a while. That extra time was used for ablutions and a little shopping for essentials. There were quite a few folk about the place too, more than I had encountered on previous visits if my memory isn’t fooling me. Cafes were open too and it seemed set to be more of a lively evening in the town; hotel rooms were available and I would be tempted but for my course being set. There was a chippy too and it was doing good business. The smell of its wares was enough to get me finding out why, as unhealthy as this kind of eating is. While I am no foodie, the batter that encased the fish was the best tasting that I’d ever found and the chips weren’t bad either. More time on the hill would have been healthier than this indulgence but the good might have been undone by any rushing. Sometimes, it’s best to keep things relaxing.
For those photos that are to my tastes, a return to the Howgill Fells probably is in order. Since my day up there, that later bus which came in so handy no longer runs so a hotel stay would not only make the trip more feasible but also allow me to spend a little more time in the area. The summer of 2012 also saw a good bus service linking Sedbergh with Dent train station on the Settle to Carlisle railway line. That might offer possibilities if it were to make a return next year. Before plotting any return to this corner of the Yorkshire Dales National Park though, I’ll have a look at what the available travel options might be; they surprised me in 2012 and may do so again.
Return train journey from Macclesfield to Oxenholme; outbound journey took me by Kidsgrove and Crewe while changes were at Preston and Manchester on the way home. Bus service 564 between Oxenholme and Sedbergh.