Westmorland Heritage Walk 1993

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 1 - Preparation and Kirkby Lonsdale to Ellergill

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About the Walk

The Westmorland Heritage Walk was devised by Mark Richards and Christopher Wright and first published in 1987. It is an attempt to approximately circumnavigate the old county of Westmorland and, in doing so, take in some of the best scenery that Westmorland had to offer. It, therefore, does not stick strictly to the borders, but deviates, where appropriate, to take in some of the best viewpoints. The walk has no official status and, to date, has not received any wide publicity to bring about much degree of popularity, although it certainly rates highly in terms of scenery, when compared with many official walks. There are several places where there are optional high or low level routes to cater for the weather and/or the relative fitness of the walker. I set out with the intention of following all the high level routes as I always feel that this gives the best views, if the weather permits. By taking all the high level routes, the walk measures 200 miles on the map and considerably more on the ground when all the twists and turns of the many steep paths are taken into account. The total amount of climbing, if all the high level routes are taken, is in excess of 33,000 feet, which is a little more than the Pennine Way but in a shorter distance. It is, therefore, not a walk to be undertaken by the fainthearted, although there are several low level alternative routes available.

For accommodation, I attempted to use Youth Hostels as much as possible because they are cheaper than bed and breakfast accommodation and also offer better facilities and a friendly atmosphere for walkers. For the nights when Youth Hostels were not nearby, or were closed, I booked bed and breakfast, and in one case, a Dales bunkhouse barn.

As the walk is a circular one, I decided to start at Kirkby Lonsdale, rather than Arnside, so as to take advantage of the Youth Hostel at Arnside. I left my car parked at Kirkby Lonsdale and was thus able to get to the walk and return from the walk on the first and last day without incurring any extra overnight accommodation costs. The walk was planned to take 13 days, with accommodation required for 12 nights.

The route follows existing rights of way although some of these are not very apparent on the ground. Because this walk has not gained a popular following, there are many places where footpaths are overgrown or difficult to find, whereas on the more popular walks, an army of boots have cleared a very distinctive track. The chances of meeting anyone else who is doing the walk are also quite slim and even the chance of meeting anyone who has even heard of the walk is very limited; I met three throughout the whole walk. However, many sections of the walk follow routes which are already popular locally, particularly in the Lake District, so there are a number of other walkers around. In other parts, though, it is possible to walk for hours without seeing a soul, even on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Most of the route avoids particularly boggy areas and I found it possible to walk the whole route without the use of gaiters, although perhaps the place they may be needed most is, not for boggy areas, but for walking through long wet grass in meadows.

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I set out on this walk having done no training, as such, although I had kept reasonably fit by doing a good long walk every few weeks through the year, but without a heavy pack.

Planning and organising this walk was not too easy in some parts, as there are some stretches which do not have much accommodation for considerable distances. It was also made more difficult by the lack of an accommodation guide, although I believe that one has now been put together. Fortunately, there were several Youth Hostels on the route, but other bed and breakfast addresses had to be searched out from a number of other published accommodation guides.

The main consideration in planning each day's walk was to keep the distance to less than 20 miles unless walking over easy terrain, although this was not possible all of the time, with one day having a walk of over 25 miles, starting off over several Lake District fells. In two cases, where the day's walk was in the form of a loop, I found it advantageous to stay for two nights in the same place. This meant that I could carry a light pack for the day, which more than compensated for the few extra miles of low level walking which I had to do to get back to my starting point of the day.

Equipment for the walk was based largely on the same list as I had for previous walks and which I had found to be satisfactory. I did all the walking in shorts to avoid having to carry an extra pair of trousers for walking. The total weight of the rucksack finally came to 15 lbs plus food and drink for each day of up to 7 lbs.

For route finding I managed mainly with the guide book of the walk, but did also take a 1" O.S. map of the Lake District and some sheets from an O.S. road atlas showing the overall route. To make the route easier to follow in the guide book, I went over it with a highlighter pen. I also marked mileage along the route, as this gives a very good indication of progress through the day and makes it easier to set the appropriate pace to arrive at the accommodation in time. I always tend to plan the pace of my day's walk backwards, in that I decide what time I need to arrive at my destination and then set my pace and length and number of stops accordingly.

The main difference in equipment from that on the last two years' long distance walks, was a pair of new 'Daisy Roots' boots, which I bought at the beginning of the year to replace my Hawkins boots, which had split where the leather joined the sole. Although I had gone through the painful process of breaking them in already, they suffered from another problem which only really became apparent as I got started on the walk, and which caused me a lot of discomfort for a considerable amount of the walk. The boots have a hard, flat, plastic sole inside, with only a rather thin insole, as standard. I had noticed that the balls of my feet tended to feel rather hot and tingly when wearing them for day walks, but this never caused any real problem. Nevertheless, I thought that they would have benefited from some thicker insoles, but when I tried putting some in, I could hardy get the boots on my feet, so abandoned the idea. However, with the extra weight of my pack, and with the continual walking, the pains in my feet started to build up to the point where they were unbearable. I eventually decided that I would have to have some insoles, even if this made my feet cramped. Once I had bought these and walked with them for a while, they moulded to the shape of my feet, which spread the weight over a larger area and made them much more comfortable. Although my feet were cramped when I first put in the insoles, this was soon alleviated when they had had chance to bed down. Having already got my feet into a very tender state, however, it took some days for them to get back to a normal level of discomfort. It was only for the last few days of the walk that I felt at ease with my feet, and it was several days after the walk before I could sleep well at night without being troubled by aching feet.

The one thing that I decided to do this time was to avoid Youth Hostel packed lunches, which I generally found to be very uninspiring and poor value for money. With some walks there are so few shops in places that it is not very easy to find any alternative, but this route passes through quite a few towns and villages, so it should not be a problem.

All the accommodation was pre-booked, as were meals, where required. In some places, I did not book dinner, as I was not sure if I would get there in time after a long day's walk.

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Day 1 - Sunday 20th June - Kirkby Lonsdale to Sedbergh via Calf Top - 14 miles

Accommodation - Catholes Farm Bunkhouse (Dales Barn) 4.50, bed only

I set off from home at 8.15 a.m. by car, arriving at Kirkby Lonsdale at 10.00 a.m. Looking for a place to leave the car, it did not seem very promising anywhere in the town, as it has very narrow streets with lots of double yellow lines. The Devil's Bridge car park, just out of town, had plenty of space and was alright for free long term parking, except that it did not look too good from the security point of view. I left the car there and called into the Tourist Information Office to see if they could suggest anywhere better. The lady there said that the Devil's Bridge car park was as good a place as any, but that it may be a good idea to leave a note at the Police station so that they did not think that the car had been abandoned. She gave me a piece of paper and I wrote down all the details and posted it through the Police station letterbox, as it was closed at the time.

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River Lune from Ruskin's View - Kirkby Lonsdale
River Lune from Ruskin's View
Devil's Bridge - Kirkby Lonsdale
Devil's Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale

The time was now 10.30 a.m. and I started on the walk proper, going to Ruskin's View by the river with the weather pleasant for walking - some cloud with sunny spells. By 11 a.m. I got back to where I had started from, at Devil's Bridge.

The next few miles were across farmland, with the path often quite difficult to find, but with the walking quite easy and fairly level. The ascent to Calf Top gave some fine views across to the Lake District and coast with the weather still pleasant, but with a cool wind at the top. I had lunch at 2 p.m. on Castle Knott. The views are marvellous with a panorama taking in the Lake District fells, the Howgill fells, Dentdale and Morecambe Bay. On the whole of the walk over the hills I didn't see another soul, and that was on a fine Sunday afternoon.

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Eden Valley and Lake District from Eskholme Pike
Eden Valley & Lake District from Eskholme Pike
Dentdale from Combe Top
Dentdale from Combe Top

I arrived at Catholes Barn, which is a Dales Barn, not far off the Dales Way, offering similar accommodation to a Youth Hostel but with only self-catering facilities. I discovered that I was the only person staying there, so I would at least be assured of a peaceful night, albeit a lonely one.

As I was not geared up to self-catering, I set off, after a shower, into Sedbergh which is just over a mile away. After phoning home, I found a pub selling bar meals and had Cumberland sausage and chips for 3.95. There were quite a few walkers in there, mostly doing the Dales Way, including two old dears of about 70 who had done the Pennine Way 11 years ago, with all the camping gear, in 14 days. They were doing the Dales Way in 6 days and had two more days to go, although this time they were staying in bed and breakfast accommodation.

The first day tends to be a bit hard going, getting used to carrying the weight of the rucksack. My feet were rather sore with some small blisters on the heels. It was just as well that it was only 14 - 15 miles, although I could have managed more after a rest.

I walked back from the pub by the side of the river, which was very pleasant except for the large number of midges.

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Day 2 - Monday 21st June - Catholes to Ellergill via Howgill Fells - 15.5 miles

Accommodation - B&B, Ellergill Farm - 22.25 with full meals and packed lunch

After a good night's sleep, I set off at about 9 a.m. to head for Sedbergh for breakfast and to buy some things for lunch. There was only one rather expensive cafe open with tea at 1 a pot, so I bought some things from the shops instead. I started off again at 10 a.m. heading up to the Howgill Fells with the weather cloudy, but at least the cloud was at a high level and clear of the fells.

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Calders from Arant How - Howgill Fells
Calders from Arant How
Cautley Spout from Yarlside - Howgill Fells
Cautley Spout from Yarlside

I was starting to find it a bit hard going, with sore feet and with a general lack of energy, so I started off taking it steadily with plenty of rests. There were fine views again, as even though there was not much sun, there was very clear visibility. There were also a few more people around, but not very many; I met about half a dozen over the fells all day. From the fell tops it was possible to see Cross Fell quite clearly, whilst still having a good view of the Lake District fells and Morecambe Bay. There was also a good view of the Three Peaks to the east. Progress was quite slow as there were several steep climbs between the various fells and I was still lacking in energy, so I started to wonder whether I would make it to the B&B for 6 p.m. as I had said when I had written to them. As the day went on, however, I began to feel less lethargic and was able to press on at a better pace, although I was still having problems with my feet so, when I reached the road near Ravenstonedale, I changed into trainers to try to relieve the pain that my boots had been causing. The problem arose because all of the weight was being taken on small areas on the balls of my feet and my heels.

I was not sure whether I would be able to telephone home from the B&B, so I tried phoning from Ravenstonedale, forgetting that the family would all be out taking my younger daughter Jennifer riding. I pressed on to Ellergill, arriving at exactly 6 p.m. There was a good evening meal of soup, beef casserole and custard pie. The only others staying there were a couple from Warrington who had been several times before and who used it as a base for sightseeing.

Ellergill is a rather remote farmhouse, in that it is quite a distance from the village of Ravenstonedale, but it was in a convenient place to minimise the rather lengthy walk of the next day.

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