Japanese Rock Garden? a perfect short winter Howgills day

Hewitts: Calders, Fell Head, Randygill Top, The Calf, Yarlside

Date walked: 30/11/2017

Time taken: 6.75 hours

Distance: 24km

Ascent: 1897m


As a kid I had a real fascination for the Howgills. We used to drive through Sedburgh on our way from home (in Wensleydale) to the Lake District, where my dad and uncle were converting a disused village hall into a couple of holiday cottages for their families, and this dramatic group always drew a gaze of appreciation as we passed it. Those almost symmetrical steep-sided rounded heights have a very singular and idiosyncratic character, quite different from the usual dales hills.

In the last few years of regularly driving up to the Highlands, they again caught my attention, overlooking and defining as they do, the most dramatic stretch of the M6.

Then there were a couple of recent reports of walks in this area (by Dav2930 and Trailmasher), with alluring pics that rekindled that growing interest; and so the Howgills were right in the forefront of my mind when I came to start thinking of shorter walks for winter that don't require more than 3 hours travel to get to. There was also an idea to do such a walk with either my brother or sister. So I worked out 3 or 4 routes of different duration, and then when the forecast for Thursday November 30th was looking really favourable - clear skies and sun all day (albeit VERY cold), I called them to sound them out. Unfortunately they were both otherwise committed, but the forecast was just too favourable for me not to make best use of the day. I decide on the following route.

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The plan was to have a full day's walk, so I leave home at 04.15, in order that I'll be able to get going in the early dawn - say at 7.15 - and - with a bit of luck - get the sunrise from the summit of the first hill. The idea of returning to the car via the path along the Rawthey River valley is that I should get good sunset light on the west-facing side of the valley.

The early start also means that there are no traffic problems, so I arrive at Sedburgh just before 7.


I'd planned to start at Ellerthwaite, which is reached via a very minor road that turns left off the A683 just outside Sedburgh. Unfortunately, when I get there I cannot find anywhere to park the car - the road is single car narrow and bordered by high banks and walls; and there's just nowhere I can leave the car without inconveniencing other motorists. So I go back to the main road, and try the next minor road. I get to end of this road after about half a mile and still cannot find anywhere to park. As I'm considering whether to go back into Sedburgh and park there, a 4x4 pulls up behind me in the dark and chap comes and knocks on the window. I brace myself for an altercation, and wind down the window. But in fact he looks very friendly.

"I hope you don't mind that I was following you," he says ( I hadn't even noticed!), "I saw you on the CCTV turning round in our gateway and... well... it just seemed at bit unusual. We get quad bikes stolen, and the like... "

I explain that I'm just trying to find somewhere to park up, and my plan is to walk "up there" - I point up towards the hills.

He ponders this information for a couple of seconds.

"Look", he says, "you can park in my yard. Just follow me. There no track up to the hills from here, but there's one from just behind our house".

So - in a bit of a state of shock - I turn around and follow him, to his farm (Buckbank).

Once landed in his yard, he points out a place to park. I apologize profusely for disturbing his morning; but he just waves it aside: "I was up anyway. No issue." Finally, he points me towards the path behind his house up to the fells, which he explains they've just recently created as part of some kind of partnership with the county council.

Well! If ever there was a need for stereotype readjustment, this was the catalyst! :oops: Although I grew up in the Dales, and my uncle farmed the most remote hill farm in England for 10 years (Swarthghyll), I've always had a somewhat ambivalent view of farmers. On the one hand, they have the kind of economically perilous life that most of us can hardly imagine, gig economy notwithstanding; but on the other hand some landowners are disproportionately aggravated when people walk across "their" land, forgetting that is only by a social convention that they have this ownership privilege.

One swallow doesn't make a spring, but this is a serious and valid challenge to one of my long-held prejudices.


Just before he heads off, the friendly farmer says he hopes I have plenty of warm gear, for it's going to be seriously cold on the tops. I assure him I have (whilst privily asking myself whether I truly have enough.... :shock: :?: ).

Image20171130_073303. Having parked in the farmyard, this view is looking up at where I'm heading, and taken just before I set off. The first target - Crook - is the left-most hill. It is actually pretty dark still: the pic is taken on maximum exposure and then doctored to make it even lighter so that something is actually visible!

Very buoyed up indeed by that most life-affirming experience with the friendly farmer, I set off. It feels like nothing can go wrong from here (and it doesn't - quite the contrary!). Lucky, or what????

Image20171130_074035. Crook. It's getting lighter by the minute.

Image20171130_081250. A 300m climb - quite steep, but not too challenging at this point in the day. The summit in sight...

Image20171130_081334. On Crook: the sun is beginning to tantalise on the eastern horizon...

Image20171130_081820. ...while in the far West - 50km or so distant - the rising sun lights up the Scafell group (zoom x4).

Image20171130_081856. And just west of north, Arrant Haw.


Image20171130_082210. The forecast was for temperatures around -5 degrees centigrade, and sure enough, all water is frozen solid. On top of this there's a strong breeze - 30 mph+ I would say - so I imagine the effective temperature is around -13 degrees!

ImageA tad chilly...

Very glad I dressed for it, especially the thick snood, and the winter cap with ear flaps!!

As I start the ascent to Arant Haw, I spot a figure on the summit, which then starts to jog down the hill. We meet up in a few minutes, and rather to my surprise I discover it to be a very slim and relatively elderly lady - perhaps 65 or 70 - wearing crop running tights even in these arctic temperatures, and who's just run up from her house on the outskirts of Sedbergh, and is now on her way back for breakfast! Seriously impressive - in the mould of Joss Naylor :clap: . We only exchange a few words, for she's pretty lightly dressed and it really is well below freezing. This is the only person I encounter all day.

Image20171130_082636. Sunrise continues.

Image20171130_083836. Pano from Arrant Haw summit, between west and north east. To the right is the first Hewitt of the day, Calders; and the Scafell group is just visible on the extreme LHS. (If you like panos, the clarity of the day means its worth clicking on this and others to get a better sense of the day).

Image20171130_083904. On the way to Calders: the Scafell group zoomed. That distant vista is so stunning that I take something like 20 pics of it over the course of the day. But I won't test the patience of readers of this report with any more.... :roll: .

It's obviously boggy in the bealachs, but the ground is partially frozen (it's early winter so - well-below-freezing temperatures notwithstanding - the freeze is quite superficial, and sometimes I break through the ice crust).

Image20171130_090128. Looking back south towards Arant Haw from Calders summit along the route I've just walked.

Image20171130_090732. And looking north east towards the 2 planned final Hewitt summits of the day, Randygill Top, and Yarlside. There's a light scattering of frozen snow that's collected windward of all the dry grass tussocks, which at a distance gives the hills their slightly bizarre white-green colouring.

Image20171130_90732. With hills labelled.

It's a short walk - with a very clear path - to the next summit, The Calf....

Image20171130_092057. ...where the views towards the Lake District are just wonderful. So much so that they almost distract me from the intense cold (oops :shifty: - I may earlier have promised no more pics of this.....).

Ahead, at the end of a most attractive looking ridge, the next goal: Fell Head...


I can imagine that navigating in clag up here could be quite tricky. The topography undulates very gently, so orientating oneself by contours would be quite challenging; and there are so many well-worn paths, that one would have to be extremely attentive to the map detail; and then, finally, many of the paths that are very clear on the ground are not shown on the map at all :( . On the positive side though, one is nowhere too far from "civilisation".... So wherever one descended into a valley, one would not be a million miles from succour :shifty: .

Image20171130_092131. A few 10s of metres east of the trig point is a tiny tarn, completely frozen over...

ImageThe Calf OS - complete with tiny tarn.

Image20171130_092630. Now on to Fell Head, a fine fine ridge walk, albeit the wind is so biting that I have to hold my gloved hand in front of the left side of my face to try to prevent it freezing solid :roll: . This pic is taken on the way, looking north towards Simon's Seat, where I plan to be a little later in the morning.

Image20171130_092630 labelled.

About this time I'm surprised to hear the call of, and then see, a raven. It's the first bird I've seen all day, and in fact the whole day on the tops I only see 3 living things (apart from the fell runner): 2 ravens and a short-tailed field vole. I also see plenty of raptor pellets, but no sign of the birds themselves. I guess the cold must have sent other birds down into the valleys.

The walk along to Fell Head is perfectly straightforward, leaving me plenty of mental space to reflect in this wonderful weather and environment upon my extreme good fortune in being able to enjoy all this, wholly carefree... (so few folk on the planet have this privilege, and such privilege seems to be allocated in an entirely arbitrary manner...). Well, life's a puzzle, no doubt, but I'm not one to squander the opportunity of getting the very best out of it :D !

Image20171130_095631. Fell Head summit (snow capped hills in the far distance to be ignored if repetition offends... :roll: ).

Image20171130_095647. This view a little bit further west, looking directly towards Blake Ridge: attractive, but not on today's route.

Image20171130_100823. Pano looking east in the direction I'm walking, Simon's Seat - next goal - on the LHS.

Image20171130_101617. En route to Simon's Seat. Icily wonderful!

Image20171130_102412. On the ascent to Simon's Seat, looking back just west of south the way I've just come , The Calf on the LHS, and Weathercalf Moss in the foreground, centre pic.

Image20171130_102434. Oops :oops: . This must just have accidentally slipped in amongst the pics...

Image20171130_102654. Looking East from Simon's Seat, the route ahead is rather deceptive: in the foreground, right, is the next target summit, Hazelgill Knott. It looks quite close, but in fact there's a 250m descent and ascent to get to it. And then behind, also on the planned route, are Randygill Top (centre left) and Yarlside (centre right), again with a significant - 260m descent and ascent to tackle!

Image20171130_103406. Descending from Simon's Seat, I am now consciously trying to capture the essence of these hills as best I can on camera. Individually none of the hills is especially impressive, yet the aggregate effect of the repeating rounded humps, the almost monochrome colour, the steep incised gills on every slope, is quite wonderful and builds steadily in one's mind as one traverses them. There aren't so many things where the impact is much more in the aggregation of similar objects than in the individual objects themselves. Perhaps a Japanese Rock Garden is founded on a similar aesthetic view of gatherings of similar objects...


...or an Edmund de Waal collection of ceramic vessels (if that's your kind of thing)...


Whatever: the pleasure I'm getting from this Howgills environment is growing as the walk progresses :D .

Image20171130_103426. Looking down on the descent from Simon's Seat into upper Langdale. The comparatively recent geomorphological impact of water courses is dramatically evident.

I'm now in the lee of the wind, so I decide to stop for a bite of breakfast, savouring both it and the views for 15 minutes or so. But that's really long enough: it's still pretty cold, even out of the wind; so I set off again at a brisk pace, descending into the valley and then up the ascent to Hazelgill Knott. I'm not sure why, but I target the slightly lower top to the south of the main top.

It's icicle cold approaching the summit.

Image20171130_111941. The summit has no particular feature to identify it. Ahead to the east the last 2 Hewitts of the day are prominent, though there's a goodly drop into Bowderdale before the ascent up to the ridge they are part of.

Image20171130_111941 labelled.

Image20171130_112340. .... rather pleasing symmetry ...

Image20171130_115507. The descent into Bowderdale is unproblematic, as is the ascent of Randygill Top - it's just something of an unrelenting slog! This pic is looking west south west the way I've just come (Hazelgill Knott in the line of the path behind), and taken a few minutes before I reach...

Image20171130_120113 ... the summit! Wild Boar Fell in the centre middleground with Swarth Fell to its right, and possibly High Seat to the left further back.

Image20171130_120205. This looking back more or less in the direction I've come, with some of the earlier tops visible.

Image20171130_120205 labelled.

Image20171130_121208. Looking SSE down what I suppose is Westerdale from the ascent to Kentsgriff. A quite remarkable difference in the vegetation on the east- and west-facing slopes. The scarp slope in the background is, I surmise, Knoutberry Haw (please correct me if I'm mistaken here...).

Image20171130_121239. I've wandered off the path in order to be able to take a look at Westerdale (?), hence the ground looks quite rough on the way up to Kentsgriff, but actually it's not too bad, and I hit the path again shortly before the summit. In the background is Yarlside.

Image20171130_122326. As can be seen from this shot looking back north to Randygill Top, there's clear evidence of quad bikes having taken the same path.

Image20171130_122452. Another less than wholly inspiring summit: Kentsgriff :wink: (Yarlside behind).

Image20171130_122612. A couple of minutes from the summit, the bealach between Kentsgriff and Yarlside becomes visible.

A short steep grassy climb gets me to the final summit of the day, Yarlside...

Image20171130_124537. ... which is adorned with another unremarkable small heap of stones :-| .
For which the sunny wintery views in all directions wholly compensate :D ....

Image20171130_124326. Pano from the summit looking broadly west towards the central Lake District.

Image20171130_124257. ...while looking back NNW the way I've just come, Kentsgriff is centre right, Randygill Top centre left.

Now it's decision time.

In my planning I've left 2 options open at this point: 1. to descend to the valley bottom, and walk up the side of Cautley Spout to view it from multiple angles; or 2. continue at high level on the watershed - I figure there might be better views of the waterfall from high level. However, looking at the somewhat meandering course of the falls, it does seem as if there won't be any vantage point from which I can see the entire falls. So I opt to go down into the valley.

Image20171130_124830. Cautley Spout waterfall begins to come into view...

Image20171130_124830. ...a really dramatic sight that this pic really doesn't do justice to. I believe that at not far short of 200m fall, it's the highest in England.

As I descend, I begin to doubt my initial decision, thinking that there may after all be a better viewing point from at least part way up the hill. So I contour round, partly trying to regain some height.

Image20171130_130146. When I can tear my gaze from Cautley Spout, I can see the the afternoon sun is lighting up the west-facing slopes of the hills, just as I'd hoped it would.

As I contour round the hill, I now realise that my first thought was correct: I won't be able to see all the waterfall from any point on the hillside - looking later at the course of Swere Gill on Google Earth, when it's meandering course becomes clear, I think this is probably correct.

Image Cautley Spout from Google Earth.

Anyway, I now descend to the bottom of valley, and walk up the path alongside the waterfall. It's cut a quite splendidly dramatic gorge in the hillside...




Image20171130_132416. Looking back as I walk down the valley, the falls still coyly hidden in the gorge.

Image20171130_132845. Yarlside viewed from the valley, as the afternoon sun turns the hillside bright green, and the sky begins to turns the sky a darkening violet.

Image20171130_134251. For the last part of the walk I take the "Pennine Journey" path along the Rawthey River Valley. I'd no idea what the "Pennine Journey" walk was until I started writing up this report. It transpires it's a 287 mile walk, inspired by an 11 day walk that AW took in 1938, with the terrain covered by some of the less well-known Wainwright books, "Walks in Limestone Country", and "Walks in the Howgill Fells". Indeed I didn't even realise that Wainwright had written about the Howgills. I wonder why the "Wainwrights" is a term used only to cover the Lake District hills he described...???


The character of the route varies from open meadow to clearly defined paths, a bit boggy in places.



Image20171130_141718 Almost back at the farmyard, well ahead of anticipated time, the first hill of the day, Crook, showing beautifully in the late afternoon run.

Image20171130_143916. I feel surprisingly tired after what is not a particularly long walk, from which I conclude that I must be suffering from insensible moisture loss, and thus need to make it up at a local establishment of cultural, architectural and historical distinction; which I do in front of a roaring wood fire.

Image20171130_150241. A final farewell - shot taken just outside Lilymere House on the A684 half way between Sedburgh and the M6.

Finishing so much earlier than I'd expected, the traffic on the M6 is much lighter than it would have been, and I can relax enough to reflect upon the walk. And it strikes me that it forms figuratively the second of two bookends for my 2017 England walks, the year starting as it did with an outing on Helvellyn in January, also characterised by very low temperatures, high winds, and dramatic weather. Very satisfying :D .

Image3D view of route.

A superb walk, easily covered in a day, with a kind of "surprised by joy" character to it. Top rate high fell walking, fabulous views, and what must be one of the most stunning waterfalls in England. The only downside to my route is the lack of parking; but this could very easily be remedied by starting in Sedburgh, where there are official car parks.

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Comments: 7

1, 2

On the way back home... a'Bheithir in the cap

Attachment(s) Munros: Sgorr Dhearg (Beinn a'Bheithir), Sgorr Dhonuill (Beinn a'Bheithir)
Date walked: 12/11/2017
Distance: 16.5km
Ascent: 1724m
Comments: 27
Views: 795

Kinloch Hourn

This post is not published on the Walkhighlands forum
Attachment(s) Munros: Sgurr a'Mhaoraich
Corbetts: Buidhe Bheinn
Date walked: 11/11/2017
Distance: 15.6km
Ascent: 1832m
Views: 15

Great Glen Meet: Tee before 2 at Loch Lochy.

Attachment(s) Munros: Meall na Teanga, Sron a'Choire Ghairbh
Corbetts: Ben Tee
Date walked: 10/11/2017
Distance: 25.4km
Ascent: 2036m
Comments: 6
Views: 290

1, 2

Cadair Idris ridges walk: 8 hewitts round + Brocken Spectre

Attachment(s) Hewitts: Cadair Idris - Penygadair, Craig Cwm Amarch, Craig-las, Craig-y-llyn, Cyfrwy, Mynydd Moel, Tarren y Gesail, Tarrenhendre
Date walked: 27/10/2017
Distance: 39.5km
Ascent: 2948m
Comments: 20
Views: 587

A short walk in the foothills of Snowdonia

Attachment(s) Hewitts: Foel Gron, Moel Cynghorion, Moel Eilio, Mynydd Mawr
Date walked: 12/10/2017
Distance: 17km
Ascent: 1564m
Comments: 10
Views: 326

In the shadow of the Carneddau

Attachment(s) Hewitts: Creigiau Gleision, Creigiau Gleision North Top, Pen Llithrig y Wrach, Pen yr Helgi Du
Date walked: 01/09/2017
Distance: 23.4km
Ascent: 1570m
Comments: 7
Views: 485

1, 2, 3

Excellent weather for a Ben Alder round of 9 + 5

Attachment(s) Munros: Aonach Beag (Alder), Beinn a'Chlachair, Beinn Bheoil, Beinn Eibhinn, Ben Alder, Carn Dearg (Loch Pattack), Creag Pitridh, Geal Charn, Geal-charn (Alder)
Date walked: 09/08/2017
Distance: 48.3km
Ascent: 3533m
Comments: 31
Views: 1695

A round of 5 Arenigs - a brutal yomp!

Attachment(s) Hewitts: Arenig Fach, Arenig Fawr, Carnedd y Filiast (Arenigs), Gallt y Daren, Moel Llyfnant
Date walked: 02/07/2017
Distance: 36.7km
Ascent: 2016m
Comments: 12
Views: 819

1, 2, 3

Mamores barbecue: 10 Munros & 7 tops on a very hot day

Attachment(s) Munros: Am Bodach, An Gearanach, Binnein Beag, Binnein Mor, Mullach nan Coirean, Na Gruagaichean, Sgurr a'Mhaim, Sgurr Eilde Mor, Stob Ban (Mamores), Stob Coire a'Chairn
Date walked: 25/05/2017
Distance: 41.1km
Ascent: 4125m
Comments: 35
Views: 2575


User avatar
Location: Effete South (of WIgan, anyway)
Activity: Scrambler
Pub: The Bell, Trysull
Mountain: Cuillin Ridge
Place: Glen Brittle
Gear: Compass
Member: None
Ideal day out: Heavy ridge walk with plenty of scrambling and height gain - eg Welsh 3000ers, Wastwater Circuit, Cuillin Ridge
Munro rounds: 50

Munros: 138
Corbetts: 17
Wainwrights: 46
Hewitts: 149

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