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Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe  
© 2008

Return to the fray

The months of July & August are rarely productive in terms of my walking activity. Family holidays and visits by grandson have combined with poor weather in recent years to render these two months barren. The return to the hills after this hiatus is always hard work as too much good food is also a feature of the break. So this year I chose to restart with an outing in the Howgill Fells of Cumbria as it allowed me to combine a trip to pick up two canoes we had bought with a walk. I say Cumbria but their character is that of North Yorkshire and the southern half of the area is part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and many people feel it should all be in the park.

I stayed at a campsite in Sedbergh that seems to be building up a rivalry to Hay on Wye as a book village. An excellent meal and pint of Black Sheep Ale was had before retiring to my tent. The site has an elaborate flood warning system of flashing lights & alarms that were installed following a severe flash flood that virtually wiped out the site last year – thankfully with no loss of life. The plan was to do a circuit of the higher fells at the southern end of the range but the cloud was down to road level and my appetite for plodding through mist all day following a compass bearing was poor. So I went along Howgill Lane – notable for having very limited parking opportunities - to Carlingill where there is a great little walk to visit the Black Force.

Howgill spurs

The walk starts along a good path on the south side of Carlingill (Actually the Northern boundary limit of National Park) and the gill winds in an out of a series of interlocking spurs. The sound of the M6 traffic in the Lune Gorge is soon lost and the sound of the bubbling stream mixes with alarm calls of Wheatear as I progress along the path. The ubiquitous Dipper appears further up and I watch his underwater antics for a few moments. The mist is still low as I reach the gorge narrows and the path crosses to the North just before Black Force. The greyness and lack of sky make the first view of the waterfall very atmospheric. The path breaks on to the East bank of the cascade and climbs steeply up with superb views into the chasm. The recent weather has been misty but with no heavy rainfall the waterfall is quite tame, the last time I did this it was torrential and the lower crossings rather tricky. The top is reached and the cloud entered so a bearing is useful to confirm orientation. A good path fits the bearing so off we go traversing the hillside to reach a col between Longshaw & the main hillside.


The path now becomes a quad bike track that obviously heads for the summit so I follow it up to the minor eminence that is the top. It continues downhill but I check the bearing with my compass. Quad bike tracks are now very common on the hills and though they are much easier to follow than the tussocks around them they don’t always go where you expect – hence the compass check. This one is good and leads down the spur into a clearance that reveals the valley below. A small group of wild ponies are gathered on the lower slopes and they turn to look at me as I approach. Their chestnut hue illuminates the otherwise grey landscape as they note my presence then return to grazing on the short grass that characterises the Howgills.

It was a short walk but full of interest and it felt good to return to the hills – the fire of enthusiasm is thus stoked for the weeks ahead when plans hatched over the summer break can be fully realised.

© Keith Ratcliffe

August 2008

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