Last weekend I spent a few days in the Howgills, an often overlooked but unique group of rolling hills and deep valleys in the far north western part of the yorkshire dales, though they are only really separated from Cumbria by the nearby M6. I guess by the time most folk head to this part of the world they are much more likely to drive another half an hour and visit the lakes leaving the Howgills relatively quiet. Perfect for a bank holiday wander and to find some relative solitude. Also the last time I visited the Howgills it was mid-winter and they had a thick coating of ice and snow and the days had turned to night well before 5pm, I was looking forward to exploring them in more clement conditions without a frosty covering.
Borrowing my mum’s car for a few days (cheers mum!) I parked up near England’s highest waterfall Cautley Spout and headed up the valley between Yarlside and Wandale Hill which quickly turns to access land. Clouds and mist caked the hilltops and it looked more or less to be a grey day, the odd patch of sun broke through and lent a little light to the valley. Passing a ruined farmhouse I made for Spengill Head and along over Randygill Top which gave great views of the surrounding fells. Wainwrights description of ‘sleeping elephants’ still fits the bill.
The weather grew fairer and I had no real urgency to be anywhere other than where I was so took a bit of time to faff around with a new stove and an aeropress to make a proper cup of coffee in the sunshine down by the beck. Some wild horses grazed on the adjacent side of the valley.
A sun soaked climb up the sides of Bowderdale lead to the exposed and wind battered plateau of The Calf marked by a lonely trig point. Strong gusts caused an ever changing sky, occasionally the distant peaks of the Lakes were clearly defined in the sunlight, minutes later they became dark blurry shapes under cloud.
After walking over Windscarth and Simons Seat I made for a tucked away spot in West Grain to pitch up for the night, there was hours of light left and endless other places to pitch a tent but this had caught my eye as a particularly secluded little nook next to a stream and a perfect place to call home for a night. Before sundown I had a quick dash up Cobles to catch the end of the day only to find a thick rolling foggy mist tumbling down off the plateau. It was coming at such a rate that it looked like someone had procured a huge vat of dry ice and chucked it downhill.
After a quick run up Hazelgill Knott to send a few pics to the kids it was back to the tent, I cobbled together once of those big ‘Look At What We Found’ packs of chilli with rice, the new stove uses a small titanium pot and burns those solid fuel tablets so I kept on filling the pot with chilli and having a bit at a time. Quite civilised grub for a night on the hills, far better value than the £6 bags of overpriced nonsense I’d got used to taking on backpacking trips.
The night sky clouded over cutting out any trace of moonlight and stars, when I turned my headtorch off it was near enough pitch black. The sound of the stream rushing and pouring down into the valley provided a comforting background noise to drift off to sleep to.
The morning was very misty, looking out from my bag I could see only about 20 metres and a light rain it held up fpattered on the canvas. I haven’t yet seam sealed the Trailstar but it seemed to hold up just fine. The beauty of sleeping under a such a wide tarp in such weathers is that you don’t feel cramped in and don’t have to pack up your gear whilst performing body contortionism.
As the weather was a bit glum and it was still early I stayed in my bag for a few hours, reading, listening to music (new John Grant and Kurt Vile albums: go and get them) and drinking strong black coffee and eating biscuits. Can’t remember the last time I had such a relaxed morning. It put me in such a good mood that I felt perfectly happy to pack up and venture into the cool morning amongst the mist and rain. The morning was only slightly marred by finding a dead lamb that had drowned in the stream, poor wee thing.
Despite being very blowy up top, the mist appeared to be here for good, I stayed low for a few hours and walked the length of Langdale, criss crossing the meandering river with my back to the rain.
Walked up into the thick grey and made use of map and compass to navigate over Rispa Pike and onto Uldale Head, there were decent enough tracks to follow but on higher ground visibility was really poor, at times no more than 10 metres, the wind had also picked up and was chucking a lot of rain about. It turned into a very different day, void of views and at times disorientating and claustrophobic. With only one slight error where I wandered off course for 15 minutes and found a cairn which I wasn’t expecting I did okay and managed to work through the mist over Docker Knott, Taffergill and Bush Howe. I found myself counting paces and checking the map every two minutes when the mist got really thick, it was a relief to finally see the Trig Point at the Calf emerge out of the murk some hours later.
This was about as good as the visibility got on Sunday…..
And this is about as bad as it got, it was a right bugger to navigate…
After 6 hours stumbling about in thick mist, sideways rain and blasts of wind the plan was to drive back to Leeds and enjoy a comfortable night with the folks where there’d be good food, a hot bath and a warm bed. A night camped out in bad weather after a day walking in bad weather didn’t appeal and I had a train to catch back to Nottingham the following morning. Heading towards the top of Cautley Spout the mist abruptly dissolved revealing the steep face of Yarlside, it was as sudden as someone lifting a veil and for the first time that day blue sky appeared above and bright patches of sunshine moved across the land.
So I decided to stay out another night.
After descending alongside Cautley Spout I walked around and over Ben End to Randygill Beck to pitch for the night, the mist continued to blow off around the edges but remained thick over the plateau.
At the bottom of Randygill a large white shape stood out against the green. You see a fair few dead animals in the hills, usually sheep and the odd bird but this was bigger. As I got closer it was clear that this was the skeleton of one of the wild horses which judging by where it lay had taken a tumble down the steep hillside, bleached perfectly white by the sun. Too rare a thing to leave behind, maybe I can wear it for Halloween or leave it on someone’s pillow if they get on my wrong side…….
The sunset compensated the dearth of views that the day had given, you really appreciate the feeling of sunshine on your face after it’s been blasted by wind and rain all day.
The night was incredibly windy and the direction of the wind seemed to constantly change, this caused a few problems with the Trailstar which to be fair was probably down to my lack of experience pitching it just right and getting it taut. I made the schoolboy error of not tying the door cord round the pole handle (the beauty of 20:20 hindsight) and as a result the cord repeatedly shuffled down the pole leaving the doors whipping around in the wind and needing repitching, at worst the centre pole fell leaving the whole thing to collapse on me at 3am. Oh well, live and learn.
I submitted to the weather when it got light just before 5am and decided to pack up and make for the car. I think it’s a fair bet that at that particular point in the time I may well have been the only person on the planet wandering a hillside whilst the sun rose carrying a horses head……