The Howgills – and the Sound of the Wind

SOMETIMES it’s enough just to walk, to place one foot in front of another and allow the miles to slip by. What’s that old Irish saying . . . ?

May the road rise up to meet you; may the wind be always at your back; may the sun shine warm upon your face . . .

I like that. And the best place in the world just to walk, just to ramble, just to drift, is the Howgill fells – the range of hog-backed hills that forms an upland link between the Lake District and the Pennines.

The Howgills are excellent walking country – long grassy ridges, summits far from demanding, and empty valleys that meander for miles. Nothing exists in the Howgills except sheep, fell ponies, fresh air and the sound of the wind. And that’s just what I need.

I park the car in Tebay, next to a tennis court and the local waste recycling point. I once spent an entire day standing on a building site in Tebay but I can’t remember why. My brother-in-law had something to do with it.

When viewed from the M6 motorway, which passes through the gorge dividing the Lake District from the Howgills, Tebay presents a colourful aspect. The terraced houses are painted in various hues, which is rather attractive.

Tebay is not what you’d call an organic settlement. It hasn’t evolved in the traditional rural fashion. It is very much a product of the railway age – built for railway people at a railway junction. Like the iron mining village I grew up in 48 miles to the west, it’s been forced like rhubarb under a dolly tub. There are old roots but the bits you see are younger and pinker.

I pull on my boots and head south up the Tebay Gill track. The wind is icy – gusting from the snow-capped Lakeland fells – and the weather squally, with slate-grey clouds drifting east. But my spirits are immediately lifted by the discovery of an old railway goods wagon on the hillside above Edge Farm.

Old goods wagons are a developing theme on this website. They can be found in the most unlikely places – sometimes at incredible altitudes and many miles from the nearest railway line.

But this one – another BR 12T Vanfit – has managed to attain only a paltry 781ft above sea level. And taking into account the fact that Tebay is a railway settlement on a very active mainline to Glasgow, this wagon hasn’t put itself out to get very far. It could be described as lacking in ambition. Still, a redeeming feature is a Ford Fiesta with a broken windscreen parked discretely behind it. There’s probably a story as to why it’s there but I don’t feel disposed to pry.

I leave the goods wagon and the mysterious car and continue along the track, passing a herd of fell ponies near Tebaygill Farm before reaching the open moor and its pleasant miles of gently-rising ground.

On the summit of Blease Fell (1,555ft), I crouch in the biting wind and gaze down upon the Tebay Gorge – a narrow breach between the hills where the River Lune, the railway line, the M6 motorway, the A685 and a Roman road are squeezed together like a bunch of nerves in a stiff neck. This is one of those places that man has exploited as a thoroughfare since the first hunter-gatherers moved north behind the retreating ice. It’s packed full of history. At the foot of Blease Fell is a prominence called Gibbet Hill. I bet that has a few stories to tell.

Here’s something vaguely interesting. Since writing about the Bronze Age cup and ring markings on Barningham Moor a couple of months ago, I’ve discovered stones with cup holes everywhere. Most, if not all, are probably natural occurrences. But between Blease Fell and Uldale Head I stumble upon several more. Have these been carved by ancient hands, or do all the stones have holes in them these days?

From Uldale Head (1,745ft) a grassy ridge runs north over the splendidly named Rispa Pike. It’s tempting to tramp the length of this ridge to Gaisgill, in the Lune valley, then return to Tebay along a back road. But instead I cut down from the pike to Ellergill Beck, pass a hilltop farm that’s surrounded by old cars and has more than a touch of Deliverance about it, and enter Tebay by the out-door.

I once lived in digs on a farm at Maulds Meaburn, which is about nine miles north of Tebay. I worked for Cumbria Stone Quarries, at Crosby Ravensworth, at the time, and the quarry fellas used to pronounce Tebay: “Tee-bah”.

“Ista cumman fer a pint in Tee-bah?” they used to say. “Don’t be ga’an ower’t fell till Shap. Cum wi us an’ yer’ll have a gey gud neet. And wu’ll mebbe gethcha fixed up wi a la’al lass.”

Haven’t a clue what that meant. But it sounded inviting.

Tebay. The Howgills. Good walking country that should be revisited time and time again. A place where a bloke can stretch his legs and forget his worries. I’m going back. An’ soon, mebbe.

About McEff

Alen McFadzean. Journalist. Recently made redundant from The Northern Echo when my job was transferred to Wales to be done by people on lower wages. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climb mountains and run long distances to make life harder. Gravitate to the left in politics just to make life harder still.
This entry was posted in Bronze Age, Climbing, Cup and ring carvings, Environment, Hiking, History, Mountains, Railway goods wagons, Railways, Walking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Howgills – and the Sound of the Wind

  1. Martin says:

    Looks wonderful, another additional to my long, long, list of places to visit and walk

    • McEff says:

      Thanks for that, Martin. I’ve just had a quick look at your blog and I’ll be back. I’ve done a lot of walking in Norfolk, and a little bit in Suffolk. East Anglia is a place close to my heart. My wife’s family are from around Norwich. I’ve been visiting the area since about 1980.
      Cheers, Alen McF

  2. Nice post there Alen and I like the Cumbrian dialect. I said it out aloud and it almost made sense to me but the accent came out rather further south ! Howgills are a great place to wander and I have rarely seen anyone else when walking there. Which is sort of strange as people are always saying how quiet and peaceful it is which usually means that the place will be overrun in a short space of time. Shhh – lets keep the secret just between the bloggers and walkers who know about it :)

    • McEff says:

      The great thing about the Cumbrian accent, Mark, is that it varies from valley to valley. My accent, which is south Cumbrian, is different again from that around Tebay and Shap – so your “further south” accent might be mistaken for another valley away over yonder somewhere but still within the area. You should stick at it. You’re right about the peacefulness of the Howgills. I didn’t bump into a single person, though I did see a group of walkers about a mile away on another fell. It’s hard to know what to do. Keep quiet or make a noise?
      Cheers, Alen

  3. Greg. says:

    Wow Tebay. Yes my mam and me call it Teebah, but strangely enough Tebay Gill is pronounced Tibbi Gill. The railway wagon belongs (or used to) to “Clemy” who lives at Waskew Head Farm.
    He used to use it to leave his car in when he went to work in Kendal . The track across Tebay Gill bridge and up to the farm on the ridge used to be too rough to risk the car every day.
    The cairn on Blease fell was built by me in approx 1976. At that time there were virtually no tracks in the Howgills. I must go back and rebuild it as it has collapsed a bit. There is another farm called Rawbusk by Eller Gill. The lady , now dead who used to live there and was friends with my mam had a life that made Hannah Hauxwells seem like luxury.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Greg. I was hoping you’d drop in on this one. I must thank you on behalf of hundreds of walkers who have sat down to take their bait on the cairn on Blease Fell. That’s probably why it’s been flattened – because there is nowhere else to sit on a wet day. If I’d know at the time that you built it, I would have spent half an hour putting it back in order.
      Thanks for the information. I’m going back up there soon, and places are always more interesting when you know more about them – especially from someone who has grown up there.
      Cheers, Alen

  4. Greg. says:

    And I’ve just spotted the Eddie Stobbart lorry on the motorway picture.

  5. Paul says:

    Hi Alen,

    Another brilliant post, I always look forward to passing the old cottages washed in pink & yellow as I pass Tebay along the drive south as I leave the Lake District, you are quite correct in only my short time spent on the Howgills last year, they certainly are a place a man can “forget his worries”
    Well done on spotting more cup holes, very interesting.

    Love the first shot.

    • McEff says:

      Thanks Paul. I enjoyed your piece last year. That’s what prompted me to revisit the Howgills. They are an absolute gem, and I’ve been meaning to do some wild camping there for a long time but have never got round to it. Someday soon, perhaps.
      Good to hear from you, Alen.

  6. colingriffiths says:

    I looked at the Howgills for years on my way Scotland, or to the North Lakes. It took until last August before we managed to stay in the area and enjoy a great day’s tramp over them. It’s a lovely area and “like what the hills used to be”. I’m sure we’ll be back sometime. Oh, and I’m going to try and get my “eye in” on those cup marks!

    • McEff says:

      Hi Colin. It’s funny you should say that because there’s another group of hills above Moffat that I always glance at from the A74 when I’m driving through Scotland, and they look similar in many ways to the Howgills. I sort of skirted them once when I walked the Southern Upland Way with my son, but I’ve never done any serious walking in them. One day, I keep telling myself, I’ll have a crack at them.
      And you’ll have to be sharp with those cup marks because the Bronze Age folk keep moving them around.
      Cheers, Alen.

  7. David says:

    I have wandered the Howgills on a few occasions Alen and always enjoy the quiet somewhat remote feeling that seems to be a part of these fells. Mind you it always seems to be a windy spot with little shelter to have yer bait.

    • McEff says:

      It was bloody windy up there, David, and cold as well. And you’re right about the lack of shelter. There is, though, one of those semi-circular stone shelters on the summit of Rispa Pike, which is more than adequate for a quick brew. Someone had left a flat cap on the wall, quite a good one made of tweed, and I’d have kept it only it was not my size.
      I drove up the M6 again today on my way back from my parents’ house and the Howgills looked a far more sunnier and warmer place. They do have a remote feel about them, and I think that’s what gives them that special edge.
      Cheers, Alen.

  8. qdant says:

    I followed you around on Multi-map, I’m going to have to go and have a look on foot now ! it’s somewhere I’ve only seen in the distance or passed on the M6-A6-or A683. There looks to be lots of contours around Black force below Uldale head ? It’s all your fault !
    cheers Danny

    • McEff says:

      Hi Danny. It’s a great place – quite unlike the Lakes and the Pennines, which it sits between. It has a character of its own. I’ve never been close to Black Force but I’ve seen it from a distance and there’s a bit of rock and scree. Get yourself up there. With Ted, of course.
      Cheers, Alen.

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