Sampling some snow among the Howgill Fells19th December 2008
As promised earlier, here’s that trip report for a short visit to the Howgills at the start of the month. The idea of visiting these parts crossed my mind while happening to perusal a bus timetable during some dead time awaiting a train to take me to Windermere in Windermere. At any other time of year, Saturday bus connections to Sedbergh (pronounced “Sedberr”, I believe) wouldn’t seem quite so appealing but the idea of a 15:50 departure on a winter’s day didn’t seem like leaving too early at all, even if that meant that my time was limited to little more than a few hours. Services on other weekdays allow a longer stay but there’s no service on Sundays, which constrains the idea of a weekend trip using public transport to get there and away.
For the perhaps overambitious, the time that I was allotted might have been enough time for an out and back romp to The Calf from Sedbergh but rushing things like this really is not my style. I go out to sample, to savour and to enjoy; good hill country deserves no less. Snow and ice abounded once a certain not so intimidating height was reached anyway so rushing about would have been the epitome of foolishness. It may not have lain everywhere but there was far more about than remained around Macclesfield by the time that I left it that morning. On arrival in Oxenholme, there was no hope of missing the white stuff and the presence of ice meant that extra care was needed when getting on the bus to Sedbergh.
That bus journey was to mean that more whiteness was to be savoured, particularly between Oxenholme and the M6. A collection of wind turbines that were passed took on an unusually ghostly aspect but continuing past the M6 meant entering countryside where a thaw was in evidence. Higher places still had the snow even if much green could be seen too. Whatever thaw there had been didn’t extend to many of the footways about the town of Sedbergh so gingerly progress along roads was in order as I made my way to open country. That didn’t take long and braved a path going by noisy tied up dogs in a farmyard and icy stretches that acted as a reminder of the need for crampons to get to higher slopes where deeper snow underfoot gave my boots something with which they could engage.
As I continued up the side of Winder, I began to meet deeper snow than any that I had ever encountered before. Across the gash cut by Settleback Gill and on the slopes of Crook, there were children playing in the winter sunshine. Beyond any green lands to the south, Whernside and its surrounding humps and bumps packed up the view. Gazing to the east led the eye towards Baugh Fell, Wild Boar Fell and Swarth Fell and all around them. In the west lay the snow-covered Lakeland fells though I couldn’t see them until I emerged from trough along which I was hiking and the same could be said for sights that lay to the north of me.
The saddle between Winder and Arant Haw held a good thick covering of snow over its grassy tussocks, enough to slow progress and make me conscious of the time. If I had ever pondered getting to The Calf, that was put of my mind as I ventured in the direction of Arant Haw. Though that hill lay within range, I decided in the end to leave it for another time so as to allow plenty of time for my descent. Instead, I continued to the top of Winder itself and lingered to take in the panoramic views. What it lacks in height, it possesses thanks in no small part to its location so a spot of photographic activity ensued by the side of one of those viewpoint installations that are there tell you what’s surrounding you (hills in this case). The sights couldn’t be more irresistible with that dusting of the white stuff.
The descent from Winder meant a return to greener ground, especially since I used its western slopes. Like a winter walk that I undertook from Ribblehead to Ingelton via Ingleborough, I saw more of a thaw on western slopes than I did on eastern ones; it must have something to do with catching the warmth of the sun. It must have been the time of day but I was seeing more folk emerging from the hills but there was no intrusion on any reverie as I enjoyed views towards the Lune gorge and its viaduct and along the western slopes of other Howgill hills.
I returned to the tarmac in safety and misgivings about making the most of the day erupted. That caused me to divert onto a public footpath that took me to Marthwaite. From there, it was road tramping to Birks before I plied along a short section of the Dales Way by the River Rawthey. More public footpath traversal took me into the heart of Sedbergh, passing by its famous school as I went to await my bus. Daylight was turning to dusk as the bus plied its way through snowy surroundings and there seemed to be a certain reminder of alpenglow to be witnessed. After an uneventful train journey, I was home again and with some extra time remaining in the day too because of the early finish.
In hindsight, I didn’t waste the opportunity that I was offered and the taste of what the Howgills have to offer has whet my appetite. It was about time that I set foot among these hills after passing them on train and coach so many times. Apart from that, the only other time that I sampled this countryside was when I reached Sedbergh after spending a hot July day walking from Ribblehead train station a few years back. More return trips beckon so long as there are windows of opportunity for my continuing to explore the area.
Return train trip to Oxenholme and a return bus journey using Stagecoach’s service 564 between Kendal and Kirkby Stephen.