Westmorland Heritage Walk 2004

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 3 - Days 3 & 4 - Sedbergh to Kirkby Stephen

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Day 3 - Monday 12th July - 10.5 miles - 3,550 ft ascent

Sedbergh to Ravenstonedale via Howgill Fells

My breakfast, which I had at 8.00, was very good. There was more promising weather today with some blue sky and sunshine. I couldn't find my list of B&Bs when packing my things despite looking through just about everything. Eventually I gave up the search, as I could remember most of them and if there was anything I couldn't remember I could find out by ringing my wife Jean who has a copy of the list.

I took the road route into Sedbergh as it was a lot shorter, if less scenic. I had not got a long way to walk today, but there was quite a lot of climbing involved. After sending a postcard home and buying a few things, I set off out of town at about 10.10. The ascent of Winder started about half a mile out of town and was steep at first, more gradual for a while, then steep again towards the summit. The path was smooth and grassy and the views were ever widening as I ascended, with views of Garsdale, Dentdale, Morecambe Bay, Lakeland and, of course, over Sedbergh itself. An overcast sky and a biting northerly wind deposed the earlier sunshine, though the weather looked more settled than it had been over the past two days. I took shelter by the trig point after checking out what could be seen on the orientation table, which was erected at the millennium. The route of tomorrow's walk over Wild Boar Fell and Swarth Fell was in view, as I made my way along the fairly level ridge leading to the ascent of Arant How. The route bypasses the summit to the east, but I took the steep path up to the top, as it seemed a pity to miss it out for the sake a little extra climbing. As I got higher, Penyghent came into view so that I could now see all of the Yorkshire 'Three Peaks'.

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Arant Haw from Calders
Arant Haw
Cautley Spout and The Calf
Cautley Spout
Bowderdale from Yarlside

There is some superb ridge walking along the Howgills, with marvellous views in all directions, and an easy path to follow. The huge rounded flanks of the fells spread out below and there are moors and fells everywhere. I stopped for a lunch break at The Calf (2218 ft), getting a little shelter from the cold wind by the trig point, after passing a couple on the way huddled in a hollow for shelter. An inquisitive flock of sheep gathered round me, not scrounging for food, as often happens in well visited places, but just curious. Despite the cold and overcast weather conditions, visibility was still good and, from The Calf, the full panorama was now complete, with views to the North Pennines as well as all the ones visible earlier. It was now time to move before hypothermia set in, and I started to get a little relief from the wind as the route dropped down. I had resorted to hat and gloves as well as my fleece, but was still shivering as a group of five walkers passed by. A little detour from the route led me to the top of Cautley Spout to which a number of walkers were heading from the path below. After walking over the steep and uneven ground, my right heel started hurting far more than it had done earlier and this was because a large blister had burst. The reason I had got the blister in the first place was that my Montrail boots were badly designed, with folds and creases in the lining around the heel. I stuck a pad over it and hoped it would stay in place, which was wishful thinking, as they never seem to do so. I went down to the top of the rather impressive waterfall to watch the water cascading far below, then made my way back onto route again.

The going had been relatively easy this far, but now the hard work began. There was a steep climb up the grassy hillside to Yarlside with no visible path, and this was followed by an even steeper descent. Another steep ascent led up to Kensgriff and a less steep one onto Randygill Top, all over rough ground. This all made for slow progress, and it was just as well that I didn't have many miles to cover in today's walk. From here on, however, there were only a couple of lesser undulations before the descent into Ravenstonedale.

The weather was worsening and spotting with rain, but it was a positive joy, after all the rough going over steep ups and downs, to walk along a good footpath with only gentle inclines. I made a slight error of navigation by going over the summit of The Knott, rather than keeping to the left, but with the aid of my GPS, I soon got back onto the correct route to Ravenstonedale. I could see the village from afar, but had to take care with the route, as there were a number of walls without gates or stiles that had to be avoided. Once into the village, I soon found my B&B, had a shower, a cup of tea, and watched the news on TV. The forecast for tomorrow was pretty good but with cloud and rain for the rest of the week.

Down at the bottom end of the village was the Black Swan Hotel, where I had a Cumberland pie and chips with a few pints of very good Black Sheep bitter. Whilst I was in there, the heavens opened with a burst of torrential rain - I was just glad that it hadn't come earlier in the day. The rain had eased off by the time it came to return to my B&B, so I didn't get too wet on the way back.

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Day 4 - Tuesday 13th July - 22.5 miles - 3,890 ft ascent

Ravenstonedale to Kirkby Stephen via Wild Boar Fell, High Seat and Nine Standards Rigg

Breakfast was at 8.00 and I managed to get off by 8.40, having found my B&B list in the process of packing. The weather was beautiful and sunny as I made my way down through the village to the beck, which the route follows for a while. It wasn't long before I started to go awry with my navigation. I was trying to follow the left hand side of the beck, but didn't realise that there were two becks running in parallel and I was following the wrong one. Rather than wasting more time, I decided to stay on the minor road up to Bowber Head, and this probably gave me better views as it was higher than the footpath as it approached Brunt Hill, where I rejoined the correct route. From there the path was not very easy to follow, as it was not very well trodden and, before long, it went over open ground above Stennerskeugh Clouds, an area of limestone pavements. There were fine views all around, though quite a bit of cloud was now gathering, so there was not so much sunshine, which was probably a good thing to stop me getting too hot on the rather difficult ascent of Wild Boar Fell. There were only a few places with anything resembling a footpath, and most of the climb was over rough ground, which is always that much harder work.

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Wild Boar Fell from Ravenstonedale
Wild Boar Fell
Yoadcomb Scar from The Nab
Yoadcomb Scar

Eventually I reached the top of Wild Boar Fell and then across to the steep cliff edge at The Nab by 11.00. This was about the quarter way point with some of the more difficult walking now done, though there was still quite a bit more to come. From this vantage point I could see most of the remaining walk - Swarth Fell, Aisgill Summit, Mallerstang and Nine Standards Rigg with the cairns just visible as tiny dots. There is quite a good path across the top, and this very easy walking allowed me to make rapid progress with fine views all around. The sun was absent for most of this time, and it became quite chilly until a good patch of sunshine came along as I headed towards Swarth Fell, making it feel really pleasant whilst it lasted. The ascent of Swarth Fell was quite easy and was followed by a long stretch of flat walking along the fell top before dropping down to Aisgill Summit. There was no defined path down, so this involved walking over rough ground, the consolation being that it was easier going down than up. My feet had not been doing too badly this far; the blister on my right heel had been better since I stuck on a pad this morning, so I was just hoping that it would stay in place for the rest of the day. Half way down the slope I met up with the semblance of a footpath, which made walking the rest of the way down to the road a lot easier.

Hellgill Force waterfall is quite close to where the route crosses the B6259 road and the railway, so I took a quick look as I passed, though there was not a lot of water flowing over. This is a very tempting spot for a rest stop, but I decided to press on to the day's halfway point just before the ascent of Mallerstang. A lovely, gently sloping, grass road called High Way runs part way up the side of the fell with marvellous views of Wild Boar Fell, Mallerstang, the Eden Valley with Cross Fell in the far distance. At the highest point of High Way, near where the route turned off up a steeper slope to Mallerstang, was a large sculpture 'The Water Cut', adding an extra dimension of interest to the view, though it is not to everyone's taste. Personally, I quite enjoy these things so long as they are not out of keeping with the surroundings, though some people prefer to leave the landscape untouched.

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Hellgill Force at Aisgill Summit
Hellgill Force
Wild Boar Fell from Hellgill
Wild Boar Fell
Water Cut sculpture on High Way
'Water Cut'

Whilst I was taking a break by the sculpture, a couple came by walking the Lady Anne's Way, which took the low route into Kirkby Stephen. When they heard that I was going to the same place via Mallerstang and Nine Standards Rigg they thought I was mad and said that they were not surprised that I was walking alone, as they didn't think anyone else would be foolish enough to be walking with me.

A few hundred feet of ascent over rough ground up a moderate slope brought me onto the end of the Mallerstang ridge, which continued to rise as I followed it past the Three Men of Mallerstang and Loven Scar before turning away from Mallerstang Edge to the cairn of Gregory's Chapel and onto the rather flat topped summit of High Seat (2328 ft). This was the highest point of today's walk, although it only beats Wild Boar Fell in altitude by a few feet. The weather improved with more sunshine giving added clarity to the vast range of long distance views over the Yorkshire Dales, the Northern Pennines with the radar station on Great Dun Fell now clearly visible, the Lake District and the Howgill Fells.

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South along Mallerstang Edge with Penyghent and Ingleborough in distance
Mallerstang Edge
Some of the cairns on Nine Standards Rigg
Nine Standards Rigg

The time was now 3.30 pm and I had 9 miles left to walk. From High Seat, the route returned to Mallerstang Edge with little or no path on the way, but I eventually picked up a better path to High Pike where I had another short rest. From there, a drop down to the B6270 road led to the final ascent of the day up to Nine Standards Rigg. There was a large area of limestone pavement and peat bog around which the path attempts to skirt. Trying to save time, I cut straight across part of it, heading for Jack Standards. It was not too difficult, but I would have been better sticking to the path. Eventually I picked up the path again, but it wasn't long before it petered out. There wasn't even a path from Jack Standards to the trig point, so this entailed more rough walking through peat groughs. Basically, the only well trodden paths around here are those taken by the Coast to Coast walk, as not many other people venture this way.

Eventually, I joined up with the Coast to Coast route which made the walking considerably easier across to the Nine Standards, a set of large cairns. One or two of them looked as if they were about to collapse, as stonework was falling away in places. A topograph near the summit was very useful for identifying the distant hills. I stopped for a rest and to drink the last of my water before embarking on the final leg of my walk down into Kirkby Stephen. What should have been a simple end to this long and tiring walk turned out to be anything but that. Firstly I started following a sign for the Coast to Coast, as my walk followed the same route but I soon realised that I was following it in the wrong direction. Another bit of trekking over rough ground brought me across to where the path Coast to Coast path went in the right direction, with a sign pointing the way. However, as I followed the path down, it didn't seem to be going in quite the right direction. Nevertheless it was a good path so I thought it may now be used as an alternative route as I continued to follow it. Of course, there were no more signs as to where it was leading and there were a few places where it forked in different directions. I followed the ones that seemed to be heading in the right direction but, as is often the case, the path petered out and I was left wondering which way I should go. A study of the guidebook showed me that I had come round the head of High Dukerdale and was now heading down the wrong side of the valley. The only consolation was that I had a good view of the canyon from that side. I decided to continue down this side of the valley along a path of sorts, which had been created by sheep or cattle, but it was by no means an easy route. The fact that I couldn't quite make out where I was, added to my frustration. I was using only the map pages in the guidebook and these are laid out in such a way as to best fit the route on the page with north being in a different direction on each page. In addition they do not have grid lines drawn on them, only some small numbers round the edges of each map indicating where the grid lines are, so this makes it very difficult to pinpoint a position obtained from a GPS. After what seemed like a long time, I eventually reached a lane with a sign for Kirkby Stephen. This seemed to go on forever, going up and down and meandering around until it finally came out by Hartley Quarry and I at last knew I was back on the correct route, but I must have added a mile or two to my already lengthy walk.

I finally rolled up at the youth hostel at 8 pm, where I had a quick shower and change before heading down town in search of food and drink. Having previously had difficulty finding anywhere in Kirkby Stephen to eat at this time, I grabbed the opportunity to get fish and chips just before the fish shop closed. They only had pies left, but thinking that a pie in the hand was worth two in the bush, I opted for two mince and onion pies, which I ate outside. It was just starting to rain, so I quickly finished them and went into the King's Arms, only to find that they served food until 9 pm, so I could have eaten a far better meal there instead. I had three pints of Black Sheep before heading back to the hostel to bed. There was a good drying room and it would have made sense to wash out my walking clothes, but I was far too tired for that and decided to leave it for another day, as I still had a clean set spare.

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