Fell Head, The Calf and White Fell

Walk Date – 20th April 2019

Distance – 8.6 miles

Weather – sunny and warm, no wind


Apart from taking a couple of local walks we haven’t done any serious walking for almost two weeks because other activities have had to take preference. Not that we minded too much as during that period a strong and biting east wind has dominated the weather. Yesterday however, Good Friday dawned bright and sunny, the wind had swung around to the south bringing some heat and an uncharacteristic settled spell to the Bank Holiday weekend. In the afternoon we had a stroll along a section of the Ullswater shore where we found every campsite full to bursting with the morning’s influx of holidaymakers busying themselves with all the various activities connected with a camping weekend. Pooley Bridge was heaving and nary a parking space left unoccupied. Busy doesn’t begin to describe it. You might be wondering why I’ve mentioned this since there’s no walk report or photos, but the sheer volume of holidaymakers more or less decided today’s walk for us. The walk takes us into the lonely Howgill Fells and anyone who has driven on the M6 through the Lune Gorge cannot fail to have noticed them. They sit between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales and are bounded by the River Lune on the west, the River Rawthey to the east, with Tebay at their northern end and Sedbergh to the south. Squeezed between two such well known National Park neighbours the Howgills tend to get less attention so, with a Bank Holiday upon us and a spell of fine and settled weather in store, that’s where we spent our Easter Saturday.  Apologies for the poor quality of the route map but the map on the gps did not include the Howgill fells so I’ve had to use the paper one which didn’t copy all that well. A zoom in will help to make things a little clearer though.


Fairmile Road – Fairmile Beck – Whin’s End – Blind Gill – Linghaw Col – Fell Head – Breaks Head – Windscarth Wyke – Bush Howe – The Calf – White Fell Head – White Fell – Chapel Beck – Castley – Cookson’s Tenement – Four Lane Ends – Howgill Lane – Fairmile Gate – Fairmile Road

Parking is non-existent on the narrow Howgill Lane to the south of  Fairmile Gate and this is the nearest parking place to the start of our walk to the north of it. The road here, to the north of Fairmile Gate becomes Fairmile Road, an old Roman Road, and, unlike Howgill Lane, is not bounded by walls and hedges. This old tree stump marks the parking area so we pull in noting that one other car is already parked. The lady getting her things together turned out to be a volunteer and was setting out for the day checking for anything which might need attention and what a gorgeous day she has for it too. She set off along the road going off to the left of the above shot while I turned the camera on the tree stump and Linghaw right behind it. We set off along the road off to the right of the shot …..

….. and walked the couple of hundred yards or so down to Fairmile Gate and the bridge over Fairmile Beck. Beyond the bridge Howgill Lane gains walls and hedgerows, in stark contrast to the open nature of the Fairmile Road on this side of the bridge. Driving along Howgill Lane between here and Sedbergh involves keeping your fingers crossed and praying that you meet nothing coming towards you, especially a tractor and trailer, because passing places are few and far between!

At the bridge we leave the road and turn up alongside the beck to follow the path alongside it.

The path was easy to follow although a little muddy in places and it crosses from one side to the other a couple of times but nowhere are there any difficulties. The white specks in the distance are the vehicles passing along the M6 behind us across the valley.

Having kept an eye on the wall above the beck as we walked beside it we climbed up from the path to this point at the corner of the intake wall.

Looking back from the pull up Whin’s End from the wall corner below. The M6 constantly humming with traffic flow as the cars, vans and lorries snake their way around Grayrigg Common and through the Lune Gorge. The stiff climb with the sun directly ahead of us necessitated a brow mop stop.

Thankfully Whin’s End isn’t very high so the steepness is short lived. When we reach the top we see Fell Head immediately ahead of us. There are two choices of route clearly visible in the shot, the path going directly up the west ridge to the summit and another which traverses the lower slopes, crossing Blind Gill en route, and continuing on to the col between Linghaw and Fell Head. We opted for the latter as its a more interesting variation than simply slogging straight up to the top.

A look back along the Lune Gorge from Whin’s End. The haze was very thick today so there weren’t any good long distance views in any direction.

We leave the direct path and make our way towards Blind Gill. This is a good path and it was just lovely to walk over it in the warm sunshine with the occasional peep down into the deep valley below us.

The easy grassy path gently drops down towards Blind Gill. A longer way round to reach the summit I know, but its definitely more interesting than a straightforward slog up the ridge.

The view back across Whin’s End as we make our way down to the beck crossing. Blind Gill directly below Whin’s End eventually joins Fairmile Beck, the landslip scarred sides of which can be seen over on the right of the shot. The hum of the M6 traffic was carrying all the way up here and constantly reminding us of its presence.

Approaching the crossing of Blind Gill.

As we crossed Blind Gill and began the climb up the other side I took a look back across at the path we had just followed from Whin’s End.

The path from Blind Gill was just as pleasant to walk over, a steady gradient, but nothing too demanding, with wonderful views along the way of the deep ravine created by Fairmile Beck. Eventually the path brings us out here at the col between Linghaw and Fell Head with a view of Uldale Head across the valley.

Looking back to the col and the path up Linghaw as we begin making our way up to Fell Head.

Another look back to the col and Linghaw from further up. This is also a steep climb and with the temperature climbing we stopped for breather and a look back along the route. The Lake District fells would be visible in the distance on a clearer day.

A little higher and immediately below us is the wall corner where we began the climb up Whin’s End with Fairmile Gill carving its way down below it. The M6, whose traffic hum we can still hear even at this height, is disappearing southwards into the distance.

Another look back towards Uldale Head as we continue the climb. I can’t take any shots looking ahead because all that’s in view is a steep grassy hill which isn’t very interesting.

The Lune Gorge is gradually disappearing as I take a look back along the route we have been following …..

….. while over to my right more of the northern Howgills come into view, or as AW described them ‘a herd of sleeping elephants’. Little Ulgill Beck is below us making its way down between Blake Ridge and Ulgill Rigg towards the screes of Black Force.

We arrive at the first cairn on Fell Head at 2044’/623 m, and on the skyline is the summit cairn at 2099’/640 m, just another 50′ or so to go before we reach the top. We’ve finally heard the last of the M6.

On the way to the top I look across to my right and below is Chapel Beck which we’ll be walking beside towards the end of our walk. The dark and undulating shape just below the skyline is part of the Arant Haw ridge.

The summit cairn on Fell Head with a look back to the lower top we’ve just walked from. We meet our first walker at this point, an elderly lady, walking by herself, who was coming towards us from the right hand side of the shot. After a short chat about the good weather we parted company, she heading in the way we had just come and us heading in the direction from where she had just arrived.

A look back at the ridge walk up to Fell Head as we follow the path over to Breaks Head …..

….. a level grass route all the way across with fabulous views down into the valley containing Crooked Ashmere Gill on the right …..

….. and then curving around the head of the valley and over to Breaks Head. A very enjoyable tramp which eventually leads us …..

….. down to Windscarth Wyke where we will lose our hard won height.

As we lose height I take a look at the view towards the south west where Long Rigg Gill is curving around the base of Brown Moor far below us.

Down at Windscarth Wyke from where the only way is up, unfortunately.

Across Windscarth Wyke and, as the steep climb up Bush Howe begins, I took a look back at the path down from Breaks Head and the ridge we’ve just walked over from Fell Head. OK, its time to put the camera away and get on with the heavy lifting.

At the crest of Bush Howe the long plateau of The Calf comes into view. A zoom in might provide a glimpse of the trig column up there. Its at the end of the plateau just before the ground begins to slope down again.

Bush Howe has a only few stones to mark the top, and most summit cairns in the Howgills are similarly small, or even non-existent. As can be seen from all today’s shots, everywhere is grassland with very little by way of bare rock to provide the wherewithal for cairn building. Another characteristic of these fells is the complete absence of walls, fences, stiles and gates, all is completely open and unfettered up here. Here I looked back to Fell Head and the ridge walk over to Breaks Head.

The slopes below The Calf’s plateau are deeply gouged by the many tributaries feeding into the Middle Grain beck below. Not much water in any of them at the moment as we haven’t had any rain for over two weeks now.

A look back at our route and the fabulous walking we’ve been enjoying. It was wonderful up here with just the slightest hint of a breeze, although that is too strong a word for what air movement there was, to stop us completely overheating. Our lightweight jackets have been in our packs from the start and even at this height we had no need of them because it was so warm.

A look back at some of the ‘sleeping elephants’, otherwise known as the northern Howgills.

The extent of the deep scarring becomes more apparent the closer we get to the head of Middle Grain.

Approaching the summit of The Calf and now its getting crowded as a party of walkers heads across the plateau to the trig column …..

….. where they are suddenly joined by a hang-glider. We watched him for a few minutes honing his take off and landing techniques before we finally got going again.

Here we are at the trig column where nobody was hogging the summit area. There were plenty of people around but as photos were taken everyone moved away and left the area free for others to have their turn. You would be lucky to see that on the Lake District summits, there would be walkers hanging around chatting or having their lunch oblivious to anyone else who might want an uncluttered summit shot. Perhaps Howgill walkers are naturally polite. We also noticed the lack of loud noise and chatter, people were sitting on the grass, well away from the column, having their lunch breaks and chatting quietly to each other and, surprisingly, I saw no dogs. That may be because the opportunities for them to drink and bathe are more limited than in the Lakes. Dogs needing water up here would have to go a long way down into a ravine to find any, Speaking of which …..

….. the lack of rain recently has resulted in a dried out summit tarn so no paddling today.

No views from the summit today but, in a feeble attempt to make up for that, I can tell you that The Calf stands at 2217’/676 m above sea level and is the highest top in the Howgill Fells.

After a very pleasant lunch stop we headed over towards White Fell to begin the return leg of our walk.

From White Fell a look across to The Calf where the white speck on the left is the hang-glider. Its pilot was sitting beside it eating his lunch as we passed by him on the way across.

Looking to the right for a view of Fell Head as we begin the descent.

Another look across to the left for a view of Bram Rigg with Calders just behind it. That upper track just below the top of Bram Rigg looks decidedly precarious from over here and a heck of a long drop below it too.

A trio of tops – The Calf, Bram Rigg and Calders.

Descending White Fell with Calf Beck to the left and a view of Castley Knotts and Brown Moor over to the right. This is a very steep descent and from time to time we stopped just to take the brakes off and give the thigh muscles a rest.

One such stop gave me the chance to look across to Fell Head once again, it looked fabulous and very impressive with the afternoon sun landing on it.

Slightly to the right of the previous shot with Fell Head, now on the left, followed by Breaks Head, Windscarth Wyke and Bush Howe, a really enjoyable section of our walk.

A look back up at the steep descent from White Fell and we aren’t done yet either …..

….. as we still have to get down to the crossing at Chapel Beck below Castley Knotts. Stay in low gear and keep the brakes on then.

Almost down and we’ve nearly caught up with the young man who left the summit of The Calf a few minutes before we did. We have gradually caught up with him as all the way down he kept stopping, probably to take photos on his phone we thought. He came to a halt at the crossing and was busy studying his phone as we arrived. We flopped down on some rocks to wait for our legs to recover and after a few minutes we were good to go once more. At this point the young man approached us and asked us, in what seemed to be a hopeful tone of voice, if we were returning to Sedbergh. On discovering that we weren’t he remarked that he would have to study his map a bit more then.

We left him standing by the crossing and reaching for his paper map. I took this shot looking back up White Fell after we had crossed and as we walked up the path from the beck we realised why he was asking us about Sedbergh. He’d reached the bottom of a hill but, more than likely, not the hill he’d thought he was descending which would have dropped him straight into the town rather than a beck crossing. The only explanation we could come up with was that from The Calf he taken the White Fell path heading south west, instead of heading south east along the Dales High Way over Bram Rigg and Calders and back to Sedbergh.

At least he did have a paper map so we left him studying it and continued on along the path above Chapel Beck, another very pleasant section of the walk.

A look back as we reach the crest of the path for a final view of the fells we’ve walked over today.

On the skyline we have another view up to the Arant Haw ridge as the path begins to veer away from the beck and leads us up towards the intake wall.

Just around the corner is the old sheepfold above the Castle How Farm. We walk alongside the fold, turn left towards the wall and pass through the gate onto …..

….. this pleasant green lane which takes us above the farm and from where I take one more look back at The Calf, Bram Rigg and Calders on the skyline.

The green lane ends at the entrance to the farm so we turn around and follow the concrete lane back down to Four Lane Ends.

I had just taken this shot when the young man appeared round the corner of the house. He didn’t say anything more about Sedbergh but just gave another hello as he passed. This house, and the other two joined on to it, out of shot off to the right, are marked on the map as Cookson’s Tenement. Seems as though somebody didn’t like the sound of tenement as all three dwellings had different names. This one had a sign hanging from a wall declaring it to be Top Withens. It bears about as much resemblance to the real Top Withens as I do to a supermodel. Still, you can name your house whatever takes your fancy I suppose.

Down at Four Lane Ends where the young man heads off for Sedbergh on the road behind me and where J is already heading for Fairmile Gate about a mile or so to the north. The young lad has a long road walk back to Sedbergh and I had every sympathy for him because he could have been returning via the fells and enjoying the return leg of his walk. There won’t be many walkers who haven’t taken a wrong turning at some point, it only takes a momentary lapse of concentration, but if you’re lucky you realise your mistake and turn back well before before reaching the point of no return.

Our outward route appears ahead of us as we walk back to Fairmile Gate with the low mound of Whin’s End, just to the left of the centre skyline, leading across to the heathery slopes of Fell Head on the right. Even though we’re on tarmac and not grass its not too bad a walk back, its a very warm afternoon and only one vehicle came past while we were on the road. The hedgerows were dotted with wild flowers, the bluebells were flowering, and the hawthorn, hazel and beech hedges were sprouting fresh green leaves so all things considered it wasn’t too bad a way to end our walk.

Heading down to Fairmile Gate where we’ll leave the hedgerows and walls of Howgill Lane behind as we cross the bridge and walk up the Fairmile Road to the open parking area just ahead. The car belonging to the lady volunteer we met this morning is still there but another five have parked up since we set out. These must belong to the half dozen hang-gliding enthusiasts who have been keeping us entertained as we walked back along the road. A zoom in will show two hang-gliders, beside the path going up Linghaw, getting ready to fly again and another one airborne just above them. The others were gliding higher up out of shot to the right. We were so absorbed in watching them that we barely noticed the long walk back to the car. Well, that’s the end of our walk today and a thoroughly enjoyable one it has been too. The walking was good, the weather was glorious and, with the exception of the walking group on the summit of The Calf, we had the place to ourselves. Yes, it was definitely my kind of day.