On White Horses (The Howgills Revisited)

WIND blasting across the Pennines as dawn turns the sky to a greasy grey smudge. The A66 is closed to high-sided vehicles – but that doesn’t stop the mad sods peeling off the A1 at Scotch Corner and charging up the road at their usual rate. I muse on this total disregard for authority as I swerve along this ancient highway with a big wagon behind me. I feel I’m in a scene from Duel. Any minute now steam is going to burst from my bonnet and the no-brain in the cowboy boots will be clattering my bumper.

It’s like the spurious and irrational argument touted by the pro-hunting lobby: a hunting ban is unenforceable and so should be ignored. Similarly, a road is closed to lorries because of very real and apparent dangers, but it is unenforceable and so should be ignored. The logical conclusion to this argument is that legislation governing burglary, drugs crime and murder must also be unenforceable because there are so many burglaries, drug-related incidents and murders. The legislation can be ignored.

Laws can only function if there is respect for the democratic process that created them. Show contempt for that process; step outside circle; and you turn your back on the basic tenets of civilised society.


I park beside the road next to a farm at Wath. It is raining, blustery, and the clouds are low over the Howgill Fells. I slosh through a sodden field of turnips (how come farmers grow huge turnips with very little effort but allotment holders get scrawny things despite a great deal of care and attention?) and the hamlet of Weasdale to some open ground where I head up the fell towards Green Bell.

I see fell ponies – five or six of them, mostly dark with thick matted hair, but there is also a dappled grey among them. I get really close and take some pictures. What was that programme back in the 60s about wild horses, the one with the blonde girl who everyone used to fancy? Well, I did anyway. Filmed in Yugoslavia, apparently, and dubbed into English? White Horses. That’s right. I do believe I can still sing the song.

A good track takes me to the Green Bell trig point, but I don’t hang about because the wind is fierce. Onwards and upwards to the summit of the charmingly named Randygill Top, down to a small rise and down again to a col – where I am faced with an uncharacteristically steep ascent to the summit of Yarlside, a great green whale of a fell with scatterings of scree.

Disaster strikes.

I’m stomping up the fellside when I tear the muscle in my left calf. I actually feel it go. It’s a painful and alarming sensation. Imagine you’re ripping up an old T-shirt or towel for rags. You pull and pull and the fabric stretches. Nothing gives. You pull and pull again. Suddenly: rrrrrrr-ip. You have a tear a couple of inches deep. That’s what the sensation is like. Only with pain thrown in.

This slows me down considerably. But I eventually hobble to the top, from where there are splendid views.

To the east are the Pennines and the imposing and impressively-named Wild Boar Fell. Like its name, it is big and wild. Its lower slopes are flanked with bare limestone ridges that go by the name of Fell End Clouds, which sounds vaguely poetical.

To its south is the equally imposing Swarth Fell – which I assume is the hill that features in the hunting song Swarthfell Rocks, though I am happy to be challenged on this – and the vast and slightly intimidating openness of Baugh Fell. I see my next expedition stretching before me.

In front of me to the west is Cautley Spout, a great mare’s tail of a waterfall surging from the higher reaches of The Calf. This must be one of the best kept secrets of the Howgill Fells. It is a tremendous waterfall, descending in a continuous series of cascades for many hundreds of feet. Far below, I see perhaps half a dozen people climbing the path to its top. These are the only people I have seen – and will see – all day. They are tiny creatures crawling slowly up the slope.

Cautley Spout from Yarlside

I take the Bowderdale path for my return, more or less the same route I took the last time I was in the Howgills. It is very pleasant and the time passes swiftly, despite the painful tweaking sensation in my calf.

Bowderdale in the Howgill Fells

Back at the car, as the grey sky turns dark, I warm a pan of home-made Czech cabbage soup and a billy of tea. Have trouble lighting the old Coleman petrol stove, though. I think the pump is on the way out.

Driving home, on the crest of the A66 and near the point where Cumbria merges with County Durham, a lorry lies in the west-bound carriageway with its wheels in the air. Hmmm. A duel lost. I hope, for everyone’s sake, it didn’t land on a fox hunter.

About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. 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. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
This entry was posted in Climbing, Hiking, Walking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On White Horses (The Howgills Revisited)

  1. Joel Griffiths says:

    Just got back from wild camping above Cautley Spout. It was one of my 60 birthday indulgences I want to post on facebook but my picture is crap. May I use yours?


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