The Bowderdale Washout – The Howgills

How’s your glass, half full or half empty? Well, it is British summertime, so, the chances of some sunshine, although slim, is possible, and, the weather forecast had informed us that although that particular Friday would be cloudy, the following day would be warm and sunny. Well, if you have a desire to be out in the northern English fells, you need your glass to be half full, otherwise, you’d never venture anywhere. From my point of view, it could be the sunniest day on record, and I’d still carry all the required 4 season layers in my rucksack, thinner layers, but still, the same amount.

My new found love affair with The Howgills, (situated in the north of England, divided almost equally with north and south sections of the traditional counties of Westmorland and the West Riding of Yorkshire), greatly influenced my decision to discover this new dale, valley and horseshoe route.

I should have known there could be some issues awaiting me as I approached Kirkby Lonsdale and passed the county sign for Lancashire, a strange part of the world indeed, best to be avoided at all costs, but, that’s another story.

Bowderdale, not only does it not register on my old Tom Tom satellite navigation, but, actually discovering its location is a alone an incredible challenge. The walk I’d intended to follow from Bowderdale to The Calf, took the valley basin footpath to the summit, prior, after a wild camp, back to Bowderdale via the summit bridleway, absorbing the fell summits of Hazelgill Knot and West Fell, both on the northern route of the Dales High Way, a walk of about 12 miles covering, from what I’d imagined to be, some of the most beautiful scenery the Howgills has to offer. I was eager to commence.

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Bowderdale, or as much as I saw of it

Over population during this route wasn’t something I anticipated!

So, having fought for a parking space and avoided the threat of a traffic wardens ticket, and, applied my boots, rucksack and wonderful Fjallraven  trousers, (I hate name and label dropping, but these really are worth every penny), and, calmed down my over excited companion, the famous cockapoodle canine Mountain Meg, it was time for my journey to commence.

Discovering the starting point wasn’t an issue for this one, after following the road for a few yards there was a sign pointing in the required direction stating the bridleway, a pleasant change. The bridleway was part of the Dales High Way, a route I intended to take on my return journey, the outward route ran parallel to it, but, on the valley basin, basically, following the stream, Bowderdale Beck, for most of the way, prior to ascending for the Calf at Ram’s Gill (GR 678988), and, a severe ascent, just what the doctor ordered after a 5 mile hike.

I followed the bridleway sign at Bowderdale, a few yards up the tarmacked road from the houses, the weather was threatening but like I said earlier, my glass was still half full. Mountain Meg’s enthusiasm equalled that of a Siberian tiger, which, I was soon to discover was to become a slight problem. On the brow of the hill in the field I was intending to cross were a herd of cows, with calves and, a prominent bull. How did I know there was a bull amongst the happy grazing group, simple really, he was behaving bullishly, as only a bull could do. OK, it’s not the end of the world, a slight change in my route, after all, it was eventually taking me along the valley basin, adjacent to the beck, who fears change?

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The track was wet, it was muddy, there were no previous footprints, again, to be expected in this isolated part of the world, had this been my objective then I’d certainly hit the jackpot!

Due to no visible footpath it soon became apparent that I was on grazing land and, according to the map, there were a couple of dry stone wall boundaries ahead of me, no problem, I’m a fan of dry stone walls, and, when I need to climb over them I ensure I commit no damage and, whenever possible, replace displaced parts. I’d done nothing wrong, I hadn’t intended to climb over walls, but, it seemed that was soon to become my only option, I’d followed the sign displaying the bridleway and taken the direction of the valley.

I descended to the beck, that was the route, I’d simply joined it earlier than I’d anticipated, underfoot was the difficult marshy, boggy and moss covered terrain, this was becoming a slog, each footstep sank ankle deep into the water and within minutes my feet were saturated, this wasn’t the best of starts I’d ever had, and, it was certainly draining my still aching legs from the previous outing a few days earlier, never mind thought I, it would soon improve!

We continued, parts of the bank had collapsed into the beck, this meant steep climbs over and around the landslips, when, on reaching the top of them, I could see  the herd, they were heading in our direction, probably descending the valley side for a drink, again, this wasn’t too impressive, we were been stalked by a herd of cows and a horny bull in open land with nowhere really where we could escape from them. Make haste for the first dry  stone wall thought I, a hop over it and freedom, no problem, come on Mountain Meg, let’s go. squelsh, sink, thwump, exert and pull, each step, this wasn’t fun, it wasn’t something I was unaccustomed to, but, that wasn’t the issue,  that old piece of oncoming prime steak and his harem were becoming more than a slight concern, the first dry stone wall couldn’t come fast enough.

There it was, a well constructed wall with a delightful, inviting barbed wire fence attached to the corner of it, the signs of walkers unwelcome didn’t need displaying, the message was loud and clear, so, in this wonderful valley, I was cornered with the approaching potential of been stampeded and crushed to death, a little disheartening in such a cold and isolated location?

Once the wall was cleared, it couldn’t come fast enough, we continued, a feeling of liberation from a potentially awkward situation came as a slight relief, the terrain underfoot was now another issue, my boots and feet were now waterlogged, the alleged footpath displayed no signs of ever emerging, I had to ascend steep riverbank erosions to bypass them, only to discover that bloody herd of livestock were now in the second field, I couldn’t believe it, they must have known of an opening in the wall that I didn’t, hardly surprising as they were at home in those fields and I was nothing more than a gypsy passer by. I daren’t ascend the fields in search of the illusive footpath, in a game of confrontation I’d only win the runners up medal, not something on the days agenda, continue I had to, over the physically draining terrain towards the next stone wall obstacle and potential liberation.

After we’d continued, maybe another mile, and, escaped the potential interests of Bully, the Daisy’s, and their offspring, I actually stopped for a break, that wasn’t easy, finding a dry spot in that marshy location was another challenge, finally I found one and, when I looked at Mountain Meg, she’d decided to perfume herself in some of the plentiful cow clap that littered the entire area, she rolled over, straight on her back into the biggest pile available, it may have been dry and crusty on the surface, but, once she’d rolled onto it for a couple of seconds, she’d succeeded in breaking through it’s crusty surface and smeared it over her entire back and body, why do dogs do that, are they reverting back to their hunting and survival days and aiming to hide their scent by blending in with the terrain, I don’t know?

It was then I studied the surrounding fells, they were cloud and mist capped, all of them, the clouds were black and appearing ready to open and discharge themselves, this simply wasn’t my day, what was the point of continuing another 3 miles onto cloud covered summits to camp down for the night, it would be nothing more than a viewless ascent into rain and unnecessary difficulty, with potential for danger and problems, no, on this occasion, I decided to accept defeat and  head back. So, having checked the area for Bully Beef and Co, having a clear view of them on higher ground, I retraced my disappointing journey back to Bowderdale and the car.

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Looking back into the cloud covered valley on returning to the car

Bowderdale is a beautiful valley, it’s challenging, a little more than I’d expected on my initial arrival, but, I will be returning, but, only when the weather improves, I’ll be taking Mountain Meg and the footpath above the fields where the livestock graze, but, I will be back to conquer this quiet and wonderful Westmorland valley, so, Bowderdale, until we meet again, I bid you farewell.

I’ll add a little summary to this outing, the valley is hidden and quite difficult to find, it’s obviously not a popular route as the lack of footprints and to be honest, the lack of a visible footpath, seem to confirm, it is wonderful for escapism, there isn’t an abundance of hidden locations similar to this one in England’s national parks, but, the lanscape underfoot alongside the beck is horrendously difficult, it’s not a pleasure walking through marsh, bog and moss, the constant climbs around the eroded river bank only adds to the difficulty, there are many easier walks in the area to be done, but, my stubbornness dictates and I will be returning to complete this one and hopefully, take more photographs and avoid the livestock.

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Jurgen Tischler

My interests are mountaineering, buschcraft and leathercraft, not necessarily in that order. Being outdoors is the real buzz. I'm not trying to set any records or achieve any real targets, simply taking every opportunity to go out there and see what happens, this, is hopefully, a catalogue of the aforesaid pursuits.

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