I've decided not to do any pre-walk description pontificating this time. I can't be bothered.

... sound of starlings chirping in a tree, a light breeze rustling dry leaves on a pavement and a dog barking ...

On the other hand, I might just mention that a few weeks ago, I had a walk with Brian alongside Black Burn, near Alston. The objective of the walk was to visit a bothy which I'd been to a couple of times, mainly to assuage my curiosity about whether or not it was still standing, as I seem to remember that the last time I'd been there, the walls were bulging a bit. Anyway, it was still there. The point is, that on the way, we passed by the remains a large, rectangular sheepfold, and Brian commented on how it looked a bit like the remains of a shieling. And -, well, it did.

I'm not entirely sure when these sheepfolds were built, or why exactly, although I understand that they went out of use as gathering areas for washing the sheep early in the 20th century. There's a record of a shieling in the Howgill Fells in Crosedale - a shieling being a summer residence for people looking after cattle in their summer grazing areas.

Irregular sheepfold
Not a Very Square Sheepfold, Long Rigg Beck and Calf Beck

This type of cattle management is well known in the Scottish Highlands where the high glens contain the ruins of groups of huts occupied, I understand, by women and children during the summer whilst keeping an eye on the cattle. The Crosedale shieling was, apparently, occupied (on and off) for about 200 years from the 12th century. It doesn't take such a leap of imagination to see that the some of the sheepfolds high up in the Howgills - and in other Northern English areas - could well have been made on the foundations, or even the standing walls of older shielings. They're in the same kind of places.

That similar systems of transhumance should occur both in Northern England and in Scotland doesn't stretch the imagination too far, either. I must have a look at the Crosedale site - I seem to have passed by very close to it on the April walk.

This bit is probably a load of dingo's kidneys; most sheepfolds in the Howgills are a random shape, so don't base your homework on it for 'evvans sake.

On to the April walk.


Sedbergh - Settlebeck Gill - Crook - The Calf - Fell Head - The intakes

11 Miles - 3100 feet of ascent

Map of April Walk
Map of April Walk

This was another excellent little stravaig. It started rather well, too. I turned up in the small market town of Sedbergh to find a small market going on in the car park. Readers should note well that Wednesday is market day and not try to park in the car park. I took the opportunity to buy half a dozen mince pies and six coconut tarts from a lass who was selling home-made baking. 12 excellent, top quality buns for a quid - well, you can't go wrong, really. As the lass said in a strong Sedbergh/Dentdale twang, "Eaten bright they're half done in an instant" (approximate dialect translation) I tested one of each whilst putting my boots on and decided that the coconut tarts should accompany me on my walk. They certainly were half done in an instant, right enough! This is possibly one of the best hill-walking decisions I have ever made by the way.

Spring at Settlebeck Gill
Spring at Settlebeck Gill                     photo © Mike Knipe

So me and the dog and the buns set out for Settlebeck Gill. No problems with the navigation this time, just follow the signs. I noticed early on that there were lambs gambling in the fields, (I heard one say "I bet you a piece of dandelion his hat blows off...") and that the daffs were out in the gardens. I checked the daffs in the rucksack safety netting. They weren't doing very well yet. A few more days, maybe another week should do it. It's been a cold spring.

Anyway, we pressed on up Settlebeck Gill, turning off on the original path at an enthusiastic spring of excellent water (see how good a mood I'm in today...) I should explain that the main path heads off straight up Winder at this point, whereas the map shows the path following the gill more closely, and this is what I did, based on the theory that it might be more interesting.

As we hit the col between Winder and Arant Haw, my attention was drawn to a knobbly top over to the right. According to the Ordnance Survey, this was Crook. As I live in Crook (different one, obviously) - I determined to go and have a look. So I did. An easy contouring traverse took me to the final lurch up a very steep slope to the large summit cairn.

I should explain at this point that unlike previous Howgill trips, the weather today was specially stunning. It was beautifully clear and sunny, but perishingly cold. The view from the big cairn on the highest of Crook's two knobbles was specially beautiful today. From far to near, there were the Yorkshire Three Peaks, then an emerald green Garsdale sheltered between brown winter hills, like a little cosy oasis. Somewhere on the fellside behind me there was a lark up high in the sky, and below, a meadow pipit sang. Spring was just beginning to spring. I felt a fair amount of relief at the prospect of warmer days and snoozing in a warm breeze. Maybe next month, eh? Not today, though since despite the lambs and the daffies and the optimistic lark, the wind was cutting and vicious and spiky and, quite frankly, rude. A chav of a breeze, you might say.

The Coconut Tart Shelter - Summit of Crook
The Coconut Tart Shelter - Summit of Crook photo © Mike Knipe

Crook's "other" knobble has a small stone shelter built against its southern slope. Inside this, it was warm and cosy out of the wind. It was an excellent place to have a coffee or two, and a coconut tart or two. Or maybe three. Bruno cleaned up the crumbs from the grass. What a good dog. Ever so helpful. We stayed half an hour or so.

An attack of guilt about not getting on with the walk forced me to slog back up to the bridleway below Arant Haw. This leads easily up to the ridge where I resisted the temptation to take the photo of the three ridges on the grounds that I'd taken exactly the same photo on a previous occasion and, even if it was a really good image, if only I could have taken it with a bit more skill and so on and so forth blah blah blah.

On the top of Calders, I met a couple who said that the freezing cold wind had the fortunate advantage of preventing anybody from breaking out into a sweat. What they actually said was "Pierce the doubt with lozenges". I think they were probably from Halifax. Anyway, I couldn't fault the logic of this, and it was nice to hear a bit of optimism in this cynical world. Then they said they were going to back the way they'd come - over Great Dummacks and get some lunch at the Cross Keys. It all seemed very reasonable. To add to the positive nature of the conversation, I told them about my coconut tarts. They smiled helpfully and then we parted, each to our own routes.

For a change, the summit of The Calf was bright and cheerful, but arctic. No place to sit around, so off I went towards Bush Howe. I noted the long, Northern Howgill dales and felt that I hadn't yet made much of an acquaintance with these. I also noted the three fell ponies, grazing only about, what, maybe 300 metres South of where they'd been a fortnight earlier. Had they been anywhere else in the meantime? Who knows. An easy, if chilling existence for them. And the food must be a bit boring. And they weren't exactly overweight.

I went a bit off route to the South to get a good angle on a certain patch of scree. This patch of scree used to be quite well known, although, it would seem that few people mention it in their writings about the Howgills nowadays. It's a patch of scree on the side of Bush Howe called - The Black Horse of Busha. Now this certain patch of scree, so it is held, was once a navigational aid for sailors, or smugglers in Morecambe Bay. The link with the sea may well be there, but not, I suspect as a navigational aid. Today, I could see the figure quite plainly, although, on other occasions, it seems not to be happy about being found at all. I feel that, perhaps, sometimes, maybe it isn't really there, or maybe it's some combination between something that is, and something that isn't - or something that can't be, and something that has to be. It's a very slippery thing. It appears to be a natural phenomena. Then again, it appears to be in a very odd place to be a natural scree patch. It appears not to be a horse or a pony, then again, maybe it is. I looked it up on the internet and it said that it might be Du y Moredd, a Celtic horse-spirit - the black one of the ocean. Or maybe a Dobbie - a vaguely shaped evil spirit that may haunt a house or a hill.

Black horse of Busha
Black Camel..er.. Horse of Busha                                           photo © Mike Knipe

You may consider, judging by the photo, that it looks a bit more like a camel than a horse. Well, it did on that day, at that moment. The Evil Grey Camel of Bush Howe doesn't quite have the same ring to it, unless you're from Whitby, in which case it's a terrible insult about your elder sister. See if you can find it, though. See if you can stand on it. Whatever you do, don't put any stones from it in your pocket. It does appear on the ordnance survey map, though, if you look very, very closely.

Fell Head summit cairn and view
Fell Head summit cairn and view           photo © Mike Knipe

Having satisfied myself that the Black Horse still grazed, I pressed on over Bush Howe. I was now off-route. I'd originally planned to descend from White Fell, but the sun was shining, the larks were singing, and I was full of dessicated coconut, so I thought I'd carry on to Fell Head.

As I descended Bush Howe, a group of five were climbing up, on their way to The Calf. One suggested that however much hillwalking you do, it never gets any easier. He looked a bit fragged. I agreed with him, though, it never really does get any easier, you just walk further at a faster speed and find yourself doing more for the same amount of pain.

A little way up the slope to Fell Head, I crossed over the vague ridge, found a spot out of the wind and in the sun and had my cheese butty and banana, and yet another coconut tart. Bruno offered to help again, but I was OK, I managed.

I passed over Fell Head rather quickly, not paying too much heed to the fantastic view of the Lake District fells and the M6 motorway, but pressing on to the little nobble at the end of the ridge. From here, I went due South, down a grassy and heather and extremely steep slope. Fell Head was almost magnificent from down here. This is not the easiest slope to descend, specially if you've got duff knee joints. It's very very steep, and it goes on quite a bit. Down below, two black ponies grazed. One looked up, looked a bit surprised for a moment, and then went on with its grazing.

Long Rigg Beck from S ridge of Fell Head
Long Rigg Beck from S ridge of Fell Head

At the col with Brown Moor was a pony skeleton. The back legs, complete with fur and hooves, were splayed out and attached to a spine and a few ribs. A few yards away was a large, red ribcage and a skull. It would seem that this pony's demise hadn't been all that long ago. There was still flesh attached to the ribs. But it had been stripped quickly and, somehow, broken in half, with one part dragged off. I wondered what could have done this? There's no shortage of Ravens and Crows and Buzzards and Foxes to take their fill of such a substantial piece of carrion, and, I suppose, that's what had been happening. How the top half of the horse had been moved was a puzzle. I didn't take a picture. It didn't seem right.

After passing over the nobbly top of Brown Moor, I headed straight for a ford at the junction of Long Rigg Beck and Calf Beck. From here a track made a rising traverse around to Bram Rigg Beck where I could pick up a bridleway for a while. The reason for these navigational shenanigans was to avoid a possibly tricky beck crossing and a steep climb up the opposite bank of a bit more than a hundred metres - neither prospect of which I wanted to tackle at this stage, since, to the frank for a while, me little legs were getting a bit tired. So that's what I did. During this operation, I noticed that the party of five I'd seen earlier on Bush Howe were coming down the White Fell ridge towards me. We wouldn't meet again, though - they were miles away.

The bridleway provided easy walking and contoured around the breast of Swarth Greaves. My intention was to follow the intake wall back to Sedbergh, and just after Swarth Greaves, it climbs up to the 300 metre contour. Instead of following the wall closely, which is a bit boggy, I made another rising traverse across rough pasture to the angle of the wall.

At Crosedale, there's nothing for it but to descend to the beck, cross it, and climb up the other side. Its fairly easy, though and there's a good track which basically follows the contours above the intake wall all the way back to Lockbank farm. It's a simple matter from there to stumble into Sedbergh all sweaty and hobbley and dishevelled as if you've done a really hard bit of fell walking all day.

This was a very enjoyable walk, I have to say, and the route along the intake wall is much better than it would appear on the map, and, most of the way at least, there's a good path to follow. For summertime walkers, there are also opportunities to have a paddle and/or a snooze in the bracken. It's more fun than the road, anyway, or so I should imagine.

Bruno the dog
Bruno relaxing and looking vaguely amused at something                 photo © Mike Knipe

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