Hot and humid on The Howgills

Walk date – 25th July 2019

Distance – 8.2 miles

Weather – very hot, very humid with banks of high, thin cloud, some sunny spells, a very warm and brisk south wind

J had a dental appointment first thing this morning so we weren’t able to get off the mark very early today. That being the case we decided to drive the short distance down to Tebay to have a walk over some of the lower Howgill fells. We eventually arrived in Tebay five minutes before eleven o’clock and were ready to begin walking five minutes later. We had decided on this particular area of The Howgills because none of the fells we would be walking are particularly high or steep, just steadily rising grassy slopes with hardly anything to get the cardio-vascular system too worked up about. We would be high enough for some good views and, potentially, in some cooler air than would be present down at ground level. On paper it all looked just the thing for the predicted hot day, a steady walk up to Blease Fell over Roger Howe and Powson Knott, then around Tebayhead Gill and over to Hare Shaw. From Hare Shaw we would retrace our steps and cross over to Uldale Head from where we would follow the ridge path down to Rispa Pike and ultimately back to Tebay. It didn’t quite work out that way thanks to the rough, spongy ground, the sweltering heat and humidity and the very brisk and very warm south wind coming straight at us as we headed up to Blease Fell, a combination of factors which chipped away at our energy levels throughout the walk. The forecast for thunderstorms from mid-afternoon was lurking in the back of our minds too and the combination of all the foregoing factors led to our decision to omit Hare Shaw and Uldale Head.


Tebay – High Woodend – Roger Howe – White Combs – Powson Knott – Blease Fell – Tebayhead – Archer Moss – Rispa Pike – Whitefold Moss – Eller Gill sheepfold – footpath above Ellergill  Beck- various fields – Edge Farm – Tebay

(The route in red indicates where we intended to go and which worked out very well until we reached the area around Raw Busk. We should have left the path somewhere there and headed up over Weather Hill to drop down to Waskew Head Farm and back to Tebay. Neither of us saw a path going off in that direction so we carried straight on and realised, somewhere between Waskew Head and Cooper House, that we had walked too far. We didn’t turn back but made a bee line for Tebay across what I’ve named ‘various fields’, with the buildings of Waskew Head farm visible higher up on our left, finally emerging through the outbuildings of Edge Farm, ringed in purple on the route map, just above where we had parked the car.)

We’ve parked the car in a grassy area just off to the right as all the roadside parking at the bottom of the lane had been taken. If the occupants of the various parked cars were out on the fells we didn’t see any of them all the time we were out. Looking north there is plenty of blue sky …..

….. but to the south it was a different matter, high banks of thin cloud kept the sun at bay leaving us sweltering in a blanket of humid air as we walked up the tarmac access lane to the house at High Woodend.

The tarmac lane ends at High Woodend and we strike off due south across the rough grass heading for this quad bike track. Its not strictly necessary to follow the access lane all the way to High Woodend, we could have taken the lane leading to the old farm at Tebaygill and picked up the quad bike track from that prior reaching the farm buildings. Its six of one and half a dozen of the other I suppose and whichever way is chosen you still end up on the same track heading up to the minor top of Roger Howe. From the track this is a look back towards Tebay with the M6 heading up to Penrith behind it. We met lots of traffic as we drove down the A6 towards Shap and no doubt a good proportion of the various vehicles we saw were heading for the Kendal Calling music festival being held in the grounds of Lowther Castle over this coming weekend. The castle is only a couple of miles from where we live so we get to hear the music for free, when the wind is in the right, or should that be the wrong, direction. I’m digressing again so back to the walk …..

….. and here we are on Roger Howe looking towards the next top of Powson Knott. We didn’t find anything marking the top of Roger Howe apart from rough grass. As the photo shows its just a steady gradient all the way to Blease Fell but the ground is rough, damp and spongy, even with the aid of the quad bike track. It had the same energy sapping effect on the legs as walking through soft sand does and together with the humidity it wasn’t long before I was reaching for the brow mopping towel.

The flatter sections between the minor tops made life a little easier and here we are walking over White Combs towards Powson Knott, Hare Shaw is just behind it on the left skyline.

Tebay Gill just below us on our left as we cross White Combs. To add to our general discomfort we now have a very warm and brisk south wind blowing directly at us which is doing nothing to cool us down at all. Its very much like the whoosh of warm air you get full in the face when the oven door is opened. Athough not quite as hot as that it still had the same effect.

In a dip about halfway between Roger Howe and Powson Knott is this small, square cairn bearing the number 225 on the top, I don’t know the purpose or significance of the number though.

The view back to Roger Howe from Powson Knott. The small cairn is clearer to see with a zoom in over to the centre left of the shot.

From Powson Knott a look over into the other Borrowdale where Whinfell and Castle Fell are centre and right on the skyline, with the communication masts on Greyrigg Common over to the left.

The view back over White Combs back to Roger Howe from Powson Knott. More of the surrounding countryside is on view now that we are at a little over 1200′ …..

….. and across the rising ground more of Hare Shaw has come into view. The quad bike track below is easy to follow all the way up to Blease Fell but the heat and humidity is stifling so we flop down and have a short break before continuing on to Blease Fell.

When we moved on again I took a look back at the only distinguishing feature at the top of Powson Knott, a sprawling top-knot of tough, leathery rushes. If there is any hint of a cairn in there I didn’t find it.

Another view along the other Borrowdale as we continue on up to Blease Fell with Whinfell, Castle Fell and Mabbin Crag on the skyline. After taking this I just happened to look behind me and saw a black vehicle, on the quad bike track, coming towards us. Not a farming vehicle of any kind just an ordinary road car and both of us watched it for a while as it slowly rocked and rolled its way towards us.

I stopped to take this shot of the path rising up towards Blease Fell, the darker fell over to the right, and as I did so the black car drew level with us so I stepped to one side …..

….. and took this shot looking towards Hare Shaw while waiting for the car to pass by. A little further up the car stopped and the driver got out by which time we had caught up with him again.

Between here and the car is a boggy little dip just before which the driver had stopped. When we reached him he was ‘stress testing’ the bogginess of the ground with his feet and wondering if the car would sink in up to its hub caps. I said Hello as I passed him, J had a quick word and when he caught up with me informed me that the young man had told him that he’d ‘got some stuff to deliver at the bottom of the hill’ but didn’t want to go any further in case the car got stuck in the boggy bit. We carried on and left him to consider his next move while we considered where the heck he was supposed to be going with his ‘stuff’. Even if he had managed to get across the boggy bit he would have only ended up at the top of Blease Fell and there’s no way down from there for the kind of vehicle he was in, you’d be pushing your luck driving a quad bike down there. We did wonder if he wanted to be on the Fairmile Road way below us  in the Lune Gorge and had somehow taken a wrong turning. He eventually turned the car around but stayed put, perhaps trying to work out with the satnav and mobile phone exactly where he was. We eventually lost sight of him as we carried on over the humps and bumps up to Blease Fell so how long he remained in limbo I have no idea. Hope the delivery wasn’t urgent. The Mysterious Tale of a Black Toyota RAV!

Over to our right as we continued walking is this view of Great and Little Coums on Grayrigg Pike …..

….. and a little further on another view along the other Borrowdale with Roundthwaite Common above the wooded slopes to the right of the valley.

Heading up to the summit of Blease Fell where the ground was much wetter and boggier and where fencing had been erected around the previous quad bike tracks, which were now deeply eroded and filled with water. This blue-green plastic mesh has been laid across another quad bike track to try to prevent further erosion. It was awkward to walk over though and looked unsightly and out of keeping with the surroundings. Just as well the young man didn’t try to bring his car up here!

Up on the top of Blease Fell from where there is this grand view along the Lune Gorge which, despite its narrowness, manages to accommodate the M6, the west coast rail line on the west side of the River Lune and the Fairmile Road on the east side of it. A zoom in will give a better view of the Fairmile Road along which there are a number of farms and dwellings which is why we wondered if that was where the young man should have been. We parked along there at the start of our walk up to The Calf in April this year.

From the viewpoint cairn a look across to a few more of the Howgill fells. Immediately beyond the steep downward slope of Blease Fell is the Linghaw ridge, behind that is Blake Ridge leading up to the two tops of Fell Head followed by the long ridge leading over to Breaks Head. We had a fantastic walk over there on 20th April this year in warm sunny conditions but without any of today’s humidity and strong winds.

After a short stop for a lunch break we start to retrace our steps back to Tebaygill Head still planning to walk over to Hare Shaw. On the way back I took a look over to Uldale Head which was also still on the itinerary at this point.

Grayrigg Pike on our left with the M6 and the west coast rail line below it, and part way up its slopes enough space has also been found to accommodate the A685.

Hare Shaw as we head off path towards another large area enclosed with fencing. More rough and squelchy ground to cross and …..

….. by the time we reached the fence corner looking towards Archer Hill and then …..

….. continued on to the next corner we began to consider whether we should carry on going further along the fence to gain a path up to Hare Shaw or whether to give it a miss. It is now very, very hot and humid, the ground is rough and pathless and we both feel like wrung out rags. The committee decision is to leave it for another time and head on over Archer Moss to gain the Rispa Pike/Uldale head ridge.

A pathless descent across the rough ground of Archer Moss with grass up at knee height, and higher in my case. Despite its name Archer Moss wasn’t excessively wet and we didn’t sink in to our boot tops, just splashes on bare legs and boots, but it was very tiring even though we were going downhill. The quad bike tracks are clear to see on the rising slopes opposite.

Over to our right a flock of sheep are also crossing Archer Moss but in the opposite direction, they’ve obviously had enough of Uldale Head and are heading up the slopes of Blease Fell in search of something better. Fell Head is on the centre skyline with the Langhow ridge to the right of it.

There’s no farmer with dogs herding the sheep up there, they’ve made their own decisions and now they’re going for it, one group taking the low road and the other taking the high road, wonder which group will make the summit first? Joking apart, when the quad bike trails headed away from where we were heading some of the sheep trods came in handy, if only for a short distance.

A pause for breath, a mop round, a drink and a leg rest as we head up to the ridge line and from where I took this shot looking across to Hare Shaw where we would probably still have been had we gone over there. We have a cloud free patch above us now and the sun is blazing down, its stiflingly hot, our clothes are wet through and stuck to our bodies, and we’re both on the verge of melting. I checked the afternoon temperatures when I got back home and wasn’t at all surprised to see they had reached 30C or 86F in old money.

Looking ahead to the climb to the ridge line where a fork in the quad bike trail can be seen, left at the fork for Rispa Pike and right for Uldale Head.

A view along the left of the ridge line followed by …..

….. a view to the right of it leading over to Uldale Head. No part of this walk up to the ridge could be described as excessively steep, yes there’s a climb to be done but its only rolling grassland and nothing that could be considered difficult but its a struggle in today’s conditions. It reminded me of our return over the Beda Fell ridge in July 2016, in similar very hot and sticky weather, when every yard over the undulating ground felt like a mile. Another committee meeting takes place and we unanimously agree to give Uldale Head a miss too.

We haul our aching limbs and sweat laden bodies over the rough ground and finally step onto the ridge path where we flop down and take in the view along it over to Rispa Pike, stopping a couple of startled Swaledales in their tracks as we did so. A short break did the trick and with the sun, the wind and Uldale Head behind us off we go, with legs which now feel as heavy as lead, over to Rispa Pike.

A look back as we walk the ridge. Across the dip of Uldale Beck the fell with the bright green patch is Hand Lake, on the skyline behind it is Simon’s Seat and below and to the right of that is Docker Knott.

Heading towards the shelter on the top of Rispa Pike where J wonders why there always seems to be one more little crest with another ten feet of climbing before you can actually set foot on the top of most fells, whether they be here in the Howgills or in the Lakeland ones.

There sits a chap who is just about out for the count. By the time I got there J was on the verge of nodding off but woke up as the click of the camera shutter reached his ears. I join him in the shelter for a five minute sit down and we both take in more fluid before we begin our descent.

Before we left I took a look back along Uldale Beck with Hand Lake on the left and the ridge walk back over to Uldale Head on the right. Across the skyline is the Fell Head to Breaks Head ridge. The atmosphere feels airless and heavy with heat.

A look back from Rispa Pike along the ridge route we’ve just walked across.

The fell across the middle foreground is Archer Hill and behind it is Blease Fell. Blease Fell, at 1555′ is only about 4′ higher than Rispa Pike, but from here it somehow manages to seem a lot higher than we are.

Blease Fell and Hare Shaw more or less on the skyline with some of the Shap fells peeping up behind them.

A look back at the shelter on Rispa Pike with a backdrop of some of the Howgill fells.

There is a path down there somewhere but was hard to spot amongst the long grasses so we made an off path way down to the sheepfold in the valley bottom. Across the valley is the ridge between Hare Shaw and Knott and just visible behind that is our route up to Blease Fell where a zoom in will show Roger Howe and Powson Knott, with the cluster of rushes at its top, a little more clearly.

The sheepfold down at Eller Beck is over to the left of the shot and from it comes the path across the lower slopes of Knott that we will follow to return to Tebay.

Archer Hill and Blease Fell from the descent of Rispa Pike.

J disappears from time to time in the long grasses as we make our way down towards Lantley Gill and the sheepfold.

Not much further to go now before we reach the sheepfold and can indulge ourselves another five minute break. Maybe the proximity of the beck suggests that this fold was also used as a washfold in the past. Our socks had attracted an assortment of grass seeds and bits of stalks which had naturally worked their way inside our socks and were now scratching at our ankles. Unable to put up with it any longer we stopped at the fold to remove boots and socks and remove all the debris. As I removed my left boot and started to take off the sock my left calf muscle went into an excruciating cramp which had me yelling out at the top of my voice, scaring J half to death and wondering what on earth was wrong. I managed to hobble over to the gill, stepping on an unseen prickle hiding in the grass as I did so which didn’t help matters, to dangle my feet in the cooling water and wait for the pain to subside. Once I could walk reasonably pain free I hobbled back to the fold to put socks and boots back on again. J had almost got his socks free of the grassy debris and started to put them back on again when he suffered the same experience to the thigh muscle in his right leg, now he was the one yelling out in agony. There was nothing for it but to wait until the pain subsided and he could get his socks and boots on again. It must have taken about ten minutes or so before both of us felt able to walk comfortably and get under way again. A very painful experience and our respective muscles will be very sore for the next few days I expect.

On our feet again and a look back towards the sheepfold, Archer Hill and Blease Fell as we take to the path above Eller Gill and begin our homeward leg. A zoom in will reveal the path, rising up the slope just above the fold, which we tried to locate when we were on Rispa Pike but failed to spot.

 Below us Ellergill Beck meanders its way down the valley below Rispa Pike.

The track begins to curve away from the beck and somewhere around this point, near Raw Busk, we should have swung left over towards Weather Hill, but not seeing any obvious route …..

….. we carried on along the track instead. It was good to have firm ground beneath our feet and perhaps the heat and the easy walk across switched us into auto mode, who knows? A little further along we had a couple of minutes worth of rain during which drops of water the size of pound coins fell and which dried almost immediately as they hit us and the stones on the path. We were still in sunshine when it happened and with nothing much by way of cloud above us we were a little puzzled as to where it had come from. We wouldn’t have minded if it had lasted a little longer because the cool water on our hot skin was very refreshing. I don’t think we would have minded getting a soaking at this point, it was mid-afternoon and overwhelmingly hot.

We carried on just enjoying the walk and the views, here of Rispa Pike now well behind us …..

….. and a last look back at the Howgills as the track swings away from another wall and where …..

….. a little further along we eventually find a faint track and realise that we are a little further south than we ought to be. Here beginneth the trek across ‘various fields’ as we aim north west and head towards Tebay. The gps map only covers the Lake District so I can’t show our route on the map for this section. We more or less kept a north westerly line between Waskew Head Farm and Cooper House …..

….. eventually emerging through the yard at Edge Farm which looks to be undergoing refurbishment at present so there wasn’t anyone around to notice our probable trespass. From the lane by the farm …..

….. there was just a very short walk back to the car just above Tebay. The cloud had increased significantly now, it was beginning to feel ominously thundery and we were glad that we had decided not to do the out and back walks over to Hare Shaw and Uldale Head. Had we done so we would still be back on the trail somewhere and with thunderstorms around that wouldn’t have been a very pleasant experience. As we got closer to Shap on the way home the skies became very dark and by the time we pulled into the drive at home the thunder was booming out and rain was coming down in stair rods.