Haunts of Ancient Peace

VALLEYS that wriggle into hills. Hills that merge into ridges. Ridges that ascend into clouds and silently collide with other ridges. A man can easily get lost in the Howgills. And I did once. Not truly lost. Just temporarily misplaced at the point where several Ordnance Survey maps joined at the corners . . .

That was in the days when proper maps were an inch to the mile, boots were made of leather and Uncle Jim – God bless him – was in No 10. Stop me if I sound overly nostalgic, but I’ve got the wind behind me and I’m going like the clappers up the bank from Gaisgill into the twisting valley of Uldale. At least it feels like the clappers. These things are probably relative.

A cow guards the track from Gaisgill into Uldale

Today I’m on a mission that has an objective. A couple of weeks ago, while sitting on the summit of Blease Fell, my gaze drifted south-east to the flanks of Fell Head (2,044ft) and alighted on a path skirting along its higher shoulders and cutting dramatically across some very steep ground.

It looked like a path that was going somewhere, if you know what I mean. It was a path with attitude and altitude – one of those paths you spy from a distance and know immediately that you’ve got to pace its length with determined strides.

And like the man in the flaming pie who descended from heaven and said to John Lennon: “From this day on you will call yourselves Beatles with an A,” the path called to me across the gulf that separates Fell Head from Blease Fell: “I am a path with attitude and altitude and your leather boots shall walk upon me.” And when paths say that sort of thing, you have to take notice.

So I’m heading up Uldale with an inexplicable urgency. Uldale is a really pleasant valley. Like all the valleys in the northern Howgill fells, there’s nothing in it except sheep, fell ponies and grass. People? No, there are no people. Only me.

No matter how empty the Howgills seem, there is always a feeling you’re being watched

And I’ll tell you another thing. All the way along this valley I make little detours to inspect prominent boulders, just on the off chance I might discover the odd Bronze Age cup and ring marking. But I find nothing. Until, that is, I reach the Blakethwaite stone, which stands in a prominent place on the watershed between two valleys and once marked the boundary between Westmorland and Yorkshire. There’s a cup in it. Or is it just a natural hole? Who can tell? Not me, that’s for certain.

The somewhat unimpressive Blakethwaite stone, with Fell Head in the background and my path snaking up the middle before cutting across the shoulder on the right

Looking down into Carlin Gill from the path with attitude and altitude

This is where the path with attitude and altitude begins. It takes me up a steep fellside and across slopes that plunge into Carlingill Beck, many hundreds of feet below. It’s an awe-inspiring place. With the wind under my boots I am elated.

I make a short detour to the summit of Linghaw and sit in the turf watching traffic pass on the M6 – which today feels like an intrusion rather than a companion. Then I branch off my path – which from here descends in graceful swoops to the Lune valley – climb into the mist on Fell Head, manage to misplace myself temporarily again and blunder halfway up Bush Howe by mistake.

Taking it easy on Linghaw

Traffic on the M6 far below

Linghaw from the westerly flank of Fell Head

Have you ever been blown up a mountain by the wind? This happened to me a few years back while ascending Mam Sodhail from Carn Eighe, above Glen Affric. The wind was so strong that it buffeted me up the slope to the summit. It was an exhilarating experience. It happens again today on Bush Howe. A terrific wind wells out of Long Rigg Beck – and up the slope I go like an empty crisp packet. But halfway up I realise that I’m going the wrong way so I come down again in great leaps and bounds with the wind underneath me. At least they feel like great leaps and bounds. Again, these things are probably relative.

Looking down to Long Rigg Beck, from where a terrific wind blows

Another path with attitude and altitude, this one skirting along the shoulder of Wind Scarth

Another path with attitude and altitude takes me across the steep slopes of the appropriately named Wind Scarth to a gap under Docker Knott. I return to Uldale over the summit of Middleton.

It’s been another uplifting day in the Howgills. There was nothing there except sheep, fell ponies, grass and wind. And me. Don’t tell anyone. I’m trying to keep it a secret.

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About McEff

Alen McFadzean. Journalist (under notice of redundancy) on The Northern Echo, former shipyard electrician, former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still.
This entry was posted in Archaeology, Bronze Age, Climbing, Cup and ring carvings, Environment, Hiking, Mountains, Walking and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Haunts of Ancient Peace

  1. anneb says:

    sounds like an exhilarating day I just repotted plants and managed to get sunburnt just doing that.

    • McEff says:

      Think yourself lucky you got some sunshine, AnneB. We haven’t had any on this side of the Pennines since the middle of the last century. Or at least that’s what it feels like. Hope the plants are of the edible variety.
      Cheers, Alen

  2. jcmurray1 says:

    Sounds like a grand day out. We must be socially inadequate, us hill walkers, to be so content to spend the day so far away from other people and count it a sucess! Your day out made me quite envious!! And I see from your photos that Eddie Stobbart has made another appearance. This is becoming a theme that will worry me if you publish a list of the names on the cabs and start ticking them off!!……………..J

    • McEff says:

      I definitely know I’m socially inadequate, John, so I’ve stopped worrying about it. I sat there for three-quarters of an hour waiting for a Stobart lorry – then two came past at the same time, so that cheered me up no end. But I’m drawing the line at ticking off the names.
      All the best, Alen

  3. geoff says:

    Thanks for that Alen, whenever we travel up this part of the M6, we always speculate about doing a walk, or possible a wild camp on the Howgills. I really must get on and make it happen!

    • McEff says:

      I’ve never done any wild camping in the Howgills, Geoff, but it’s the perfect place for it. That bit of green turf around the area of the Blakethwaite stone is ideal. There are plenty of pitches in the other valleys too – and no one to disturb you.
      Cheers, Alen

  4. qdant says:

    Leather boots = Dubbing
    Stobart lorries – R – Us (X2)
    More great “carrot on a stick” Howgill photo’s. Gaisgill to Blakethwaite stone exactly 4 miles.
    (8 round trip), that nowadays would be my limit ! never mind the rest, even with the wind helping. Right Carlingill bridge to Blakethwaite stone via Force brow 1.88 miles (4 round) sounds more like it, especially if it’s going to be sunny this Wednesday ? – It’s all your fault !
    cheers Danny

    • McEff says:

      I shall look forward to your report, Danny. I’ve never ventured up that way, but looking down from Fell Head the gill looks very impressive. I was thinking of going that way myself soon. Hope the sun comes out for you – I’ll be back at work after a few cold days off so the weather is bound to have improved by then.
      Cheers, Alen

    • McEff says:

      Hey Danny. There’s another stone a few yards from the Blakethwaite stone (if indeed I have the correct stone and not just any old rock) that also appears to have a partial cup carved in the edge. I’d be interested in your opinion on these.
      Cheers, Alen

  5. rthepotter says:

    This looks wonderful. Envy envy. My local walks are through a small tame landscape, though luckily the sea can put a bit of wild back into it.

    • McEff says:

      Ta very much. I was brought up on the coast and miss it a gret deal. But there you go. Life’s twisting paths and all that . . .
      Cheers, Alen

  6. David says:

    That sounds like a grand day out Alen.

    • McEff says:

      It was a great day, David. Peaceful and lonely. I like a bit of that now and then. Does wonders for the spirit.
      Cheers now, Alen.

  7. Paul says:

    Hey Alen,

    Nice to see you back in the Howgills, some of the strongest winds I have ever experienced was on Arant Haw, enough to bowl a man over as I recall. The Stobbart trucks are starting to tickle me now, as you say nowadays, you don’t have to wait long to see one.

    Really enjoyed this one.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Paul. I’ve never been up Arant Haw so I’ll take a walk up there sometime. In fact, all of my Howgill walks have set off from the north side because it’s easier for me to get to – so I’m long overdue a trip from the south side. The only trouble is it’s quite a way from the M6 so I’ll not get any Stobart shots!
      Cheers now, Alen

  8. beatingthebounds says:

    The long walk up Carlin Gill is another lonely and lovely one.
    Me and my mate the Ginger Whinger camped on Mam Sodhail in vicious winds, I think it was by Coire Lochan. We tried to wait it out, whilst it flattened our tents in our faces, but eventually set off up and over back to Glen Affric. We found a wonderful zig-zagging stalker’s path, not marked on the map which really helped with the big climb, but once on the ridge I seem to remember that the wind was frightening.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Mark. I’m glad other people can be frightened by wind. Twice I’ve been lifted off the ground and shifted several feet, and both times it happened in exactly the same place – walking north from the summit of Helvellyn. The wind was blasting up out of Brown Cove and scudding small stones across the fellside. It was a dodgy situation.
      I like the sound of Carlin Gill, and it looks quite spectacular from above. Danny was due to venture up it today and I’m quite eager to read his report – which will no doubt feature fine wines and an array of digestible pleasantries.
      Cheers, Alen

      • beatingthebounds says:

        That happened to me too once, although it was so odd, and so long ago that I sometimes wonder whether I’ve remembered it quite right. It was back in the days of proper winters, mid-eighties. We were on Coniston Old Man, or that ridge anyway, between there and Swirl How. There was a fair bit of snow and a very fierce wind, spindrift, huge windchill. Anyway, one gust lifted the whole party and deposited us a few yards across the ridge. Disconcerting to say the least.

        • McEff says:

          That’s a good tale. I’ll tell you what, though, on the remembering thing – I look back on incidents and sometimes think “Did that ever happen at all or was I imagining it?”. Trouble is, there’s no way of finding out.

  9. wally thornton says:

    the hole in the stone at blakethwaite is wot the rain has do.there is a boundary stone at the calf to.i have dun alot of bivvi in the howgills.wally.

  10. wally thornton says:

    the bountary stone near the calf is 400 yards north east of the white cairn.

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