A week in Northern England (2013-05-11/18)

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A week in northern England, and all the linked pictures, by Andy Pepperdine is made available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sedbergh (pronounced Sedber) is a little town in Cumbria. Despite that, it is also in the North Yorkshire National park, and around it lie fell ranges reaching up to 700 metres. The town lies where three rivers (the Rawthey, Clough, and Dee) join near where they flow into the river Lune as it flows south out of the narrow Lune gorge. Such a location has made it very important over the centuries to travellers and armies going north.

Our base for the week was the old house of Thorns Hall, built about 1535, but thankfully it has been modernised. At the rear the stables and barns are now bedrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. It is believed that George Fox of quaker fame stayed there when he was preaching in the district.

On Saturday 11 May I set out by train from home in Bath to Sedbergh witrh changes in Bristol and Birmingham. It all went according to the timetable and five hours later I was drinking tea with the other holidaymakers. A short walk soon showed us the position of the village, as well as the weather and the state of the ground, which was wet.

After a good breakfast on Sunday a bus took us to the farm at Bowderdale from where we had to walk back to Sedbergh over the Howgills. The weather forecast promised us cold and rain from about 2 pm., but the sky was grey from the start, so we prepared oursleves for the worst with warms layers and waterproof tops. On the way up West Fell we could see under the clouds into Bowderdale where we had come from. On the first summit we stopped to talk and huddle against the strong cold wind. During the morning we got good views across the dales and valleys, for example, into Langdale, but due to the forecast we decided to eat lunch early, which we did looking across Bowderdale. Spring was much latger than usual; the grass on the sheepless slopes was still brown after a winter under the snow.

After lunch a steep climb brought us to the top of Hazelgill Knott, and into the clouds. Rumour has it that one can see for 50 kilometres to the sea from there, but we could see less than 50 metres. And it began to rain, and rain, and rain with no break. With the rain and the wind, we just put one foot in fornt of the other, and I put away the camera, grey rectangles are not very interesting. The highest point was The Calf, but no one knew why it is called that. We did not stay long before heading into wind and rain again.

At last we got low enough to see the valley through which flows Settlebeck Gill, guiding us into Sedbergh through the mist.

It was a good test of our equipment, but everyone came back dry beneath the outermost layer. The house has an excellent drying room, so the following morning we were ready dressed in the same waterproofs. The forecast was better, just wind and cold, no rain, but probably some hail.

Our bus dropped us at Shaw Paddock in Mallerstang, from where had an easy path to Hell Gill a deep narrow crack in the rocks. Aftger a short pause, we set off up a slight incline to Gregory Chapel, which in fact is a pile of stones, there has never been a building there. The sky provided the promised hail. The advantage of hail is that it doesn't make one wet, it just bounces off. The disadvantage is that it stings when the wind blows it into the face. For the most part, we were moving away from the hail, but the noise on our hoods was something to remember.

On the way to High Seat walked along the edge of crags above the valley of Mallerstang. This is where we saw the first flowers of spring on the high moorland. Spring sedge (Carex caryophyllea) flowers first before anything else, before the grass greens, it's flowers low and sheltered by the previous year's growth.

After lunch protected by the walls of some old quarry buildings, we crossed a trackless moor down to the little village of Nateby, where we foiund the river Eden. We roughly followed the river, and the place where we crossed by bridge is called the Devil's Mustard Mill. And then into the small town of Kirkby Stephen, and its small market square. A notice there tells us that the the licence for a market was given in 1302, but the notice cannot be so old; from the contents it probably dates from to the 1880s. We sat and drank tea in a little tearoom while waiting for the bus to take us back to the house.

On Tuesday, the wind had drooped somewhat, and the clouds lifted a bit. There was even a promise of sun. This time, of the three possible walks, I chose the waterfalls. Once more, at 9:30 we embarked, this time for West Burton. Our first waterfall was close by. It was a short steep climb up onto, from where we had a good view into Waldendale and later, across Wensleydale to Bolton Castle. We joined the packhorse way used for centuries to carry goods between east and west of England. Nowadays only mad walkers appear there.

Then we came down off the hill into Wensleydale and to Redmire Force for a pause. There is something soothing about water as it falls over the rocks. It was getting warmer and the wind had disappeared. The path now took us slowly upwards along the side of the river Ure passig three low forces. The first was Lower Force, followed by Middle Force, Which we could not get close to. Then in the little town of Aysgarth there was Higher Force. We did not ahve lonmg before the bus came for us.

Wednesday we couild do what we liked, but it was raining, and I was carless, so I decided on a slow perambulation of Sedbergh since I'd still not seen it properly. Modern life had left it away from the well-known routes. For centuries it had had a thriving market for local farm produce, both vegetable and animal. Now Wednesday was market day, but it was small with only some necessities. The town is struggling to find a place in the world. Some years ago they wanted to turn it into a northern book town to rival Hay on Wye. Many stores opened, but now only one or two remain, although one of them is a marvellous cave containing thousands of dusty old volumes on every topic you can imagine.

Walking by the river Rawthey away from the town, one comes to Farfield Mill where you can find many little studios making and selling ceramics, jewellery, wooden artifacts, textiles and knitted items. The mill stand over the river Clough and for hundreds of years they spun and wove the wool from the plentiful sheep on the surrounding hills. The nearby village of Dent was well known for knitted woolen clothes for seamen, miners and other workers. Their story is preserved in the museum in the building.

Behind the town is the hill Castlehaw, on the flat top of which sits a small fortress consisting of a motte and bailey. You can easily understand why it is sited there, where you have a good view along the four valleys; it is a strong position.

Overnight both the temperature and rain fell.

The following day the sun showed itself sometimes – to assure us it still existed. We started from the hamlet of Newbiggin-on-Lune with a moderate rise onto Great Ewe Fell. The terrain there, as everywhere on Crosby Garrett Fell, was very similar to what we had experienced earlier, hardly any paths apart from sheep tracks across the wet ground. In the picture the white on the horizon is fresh snow on Cross Fell, the hbighest peak in the Pennines. As we descended into Crosby Garrett, we found evidence of an old golf course in the form of the tee for the seventh hole, hidden among the extent of the heathland.

From Crosby Garrett we followed the path into Smardale, passing some lime kilns. They would put alternating layers of charcoal or coal, and limestone from the rocks above. After the fire had burned for three days they woujld rake the lime olut from the hole at the bottom. A local source of lime was important for everyone as a cheap fertiliser.

As we approached the bridge in Smardale we began to meet several other walkers, due to the fact that we were now on the main walking route between the coasts of England. On earlier days we saw almost no one. Then on to the bus and back to the house.

Friday was the last day of the holiday and we set off to climb over the top of Ingleborough, one of the highest peaks in Yorkshire dales. After travelling for about 40 minutes we found ourselves near the the high viaduct at Ribblehead, but we did not have time see it closer. It carries mostly freight by rail to reduce the pressure on the main line through the Lune valley. The construction lasted from 1870 to 1874.

Our first task was to climb Park Fell. In the picture you can see the flat top of  Ingleborough in the distance. It was blowing a bit, but it had warmed up and was dry. Visibility was excellent. During the climb we could look back to get a better view of the viaduct. From the top of Park Fell it was an easy slow climb up and down and up to Ingleborough. Below us we could see the white limestone “pavement”, which is characteristic of the area.

On the flat top, various archaeological finds have been made, but it is not known what they mean. A notice describes something about it, probably it was a ceremonial place – it is too high to be a fort. We ate lunch in one of the corners of a cross built of dry stone walls, like those between the fields.

Someone had made in the hillside a good stone stairway and path, which led us down to Ingleton, where we caught the bus again. It was good to finish with the best weather.

I woke up very early the next day, Saturday, to catch the 6:21 train from Oxenholme to London, arriving at Euston at 9:15. I wanted to attend the annual general meeting of the human rights organisation Liberty at Senate House before finally getting back home at about 22:15.

A good holiday and break.

Andy Pepperdine


Creative Commons License
A week in northern England, and all the linked pictures, by Andy Pepperdine is made available under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.