Among a Huddle of Elephants

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We’ve been treated to a few days of warm, sunny weather this week – a true taste of summer. So on Tuesday a decision had to be made – stay in the office stuck behind the computer preparing and revising some course notes or take the day off and get out for a walk. No competition, really. The work wasn’t urgent, it could wait. The hardest decision was where to go. The Lake District beckoned but during the peak holiday period it was likely to be busy, so we decided to go for a walk in an area on the north eastern edge of the Yorkshire Dales, close to the Lake District – the Howgill fells.

I’ve passed these attractive grassy hills many a time driving up the M6 between Kendal and Carlisle and on the train to Scotland and always felt that I’d like to get up on the fells, so Tuesday was our opportunity.

The Howgills aren’t dramatic mountains like you find in the Lake district. They’re rounded, grass covered hills cut through with deep valleys. But they have their own beauty.Alfred Wainwright in his book Walks on the Howgill Fells and adjoining fells provides an excellent summary of their attractions

“The Howgill Fells ….. are sleek and smooth, looking, from a distance, like velvet curtains in sunlight, like silken drapes at sunset; they are steep-sided but gently domed, and beautiful in a way that few hilly areas are …… The compactness of the group is emphasised by a remarkable concentration of summits, often likened to a huddle of squatting elephants …..”

We plumbed for what’s probably the most popular route, from Sedbergh at the southern end of the fells up along the ridge leading to The Calf, the highest point in the Howgills. Historically in Yorkshire (along with the southern half of the fells), following local government reorganisation in1974 the small town (a village, really) was transferred to the newly formed county of Cumbria.

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We parked up in the car park in the centre of the village near to the information centre, donned our boots and set off for the fells.

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There was a steep climb up above the west bank of Settleback Gill

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but we were soon up on the grassy fells. Other than a fence that crosses the range on Calders there are virtually no man made boundaries on the top of the fells which gives a real sense of freedom. It’s an open access area too, so you’re free to roam and although there are plenty of clear paths many of them aren’t marked on the OS maps.

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The route to The Calf was effectively along a ridge punctuated with a series of rounded peaks. We had the option of by-passing the first of these, Arant Haw – at 1989 feet just short of being able to call itself a “mountain” – but decided to tackle it anyway.

From the summit there were superb views of the surrounding fells. Unfortunately there was a heat haze which obscured the main Lakeland peaks although looking south we we could make out the hills of the Yorkshire Dales.

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After eating our sandwiches we set off again towards our next objective, Calders. This involved losing some height before climbing a steepish slope up to the summit.

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More great views to either side of the path

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The view from the bottom of the climb up Calders

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We made it to the summit, which at 2211 feet is only a little lower than The Calf itself.

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There was a hazy view over the Yorkshire Dales and I could just make out the summit of Pen-y-Gent in the distance

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After a brief stop to take in the views and some refreshment – it’s important to keep drinking on a hot day – we set off on the path towards the Calf. Most of the serious climbing had been done now. Again there were views over the nearby fells to either side of the path

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It didn’t take too long to reach the summit of the Calf. It was a little bit of an anti-climax as the summit is a flat plateau which doesn’t have definite peak.

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but there is a trig point marking the high point – 2218 feet – and a small tarn.

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After taking the obligatory photos and more refreshments we set off back to Sedbergh. Although it is possible to work out a circular route this would have extended the walk by several miles and we’d decided to head back by retracing our footsteps – well, more or less as we decided to bypass Arant Haw on the return journey.

The route wasn’t a disappointment as different views opened as we worked our way back towards our destination.

This was the view from the top of Calders, our path clearly visible with the hills of the Yorkshire Dales in the background.

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As we approached Settlebeck Gill and the descent from the fells we could see Sedbergh down in the valley.

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We spotted a para-glider circling Winder as we descended.

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Not far to go to Sedbergh now. A brew awaited!

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The bottom of the fell

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On the track back into the village we passed these fellows sheltering from the sun

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Rough Fell sheep one of the three breeds of sheep native to Cumbria.

Soon we were back in the village. We dumped our rucksacks in the boot of the car and set off in search of a café. Another enjoyable walk, somewhere we hadn’t visited before, but a brew was needed!

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9 thoughts on “Among a Huddle of Elephants

  1. Took us about 4 1/2 hours. We don’t rush.
    It wasn’t completely deserted but very quiet. I’d estimate we saw fewer than 20 people while we were up on the fells. Stopped to chat with a couple of them.
    Being on the edge of the Dales and just outside the Lakes the Howgills are less frequented than the more well known fells and mountains. A good place for some peace and quiet.

    • Thanks Anabel
      I think Sedbergh would be a nice spot for a quiet break – providing you don’t want to buy anything after 4 o’clock (i’ll expand on the latter in a post!)

  2. Curious – our kids have always called these ‘The Elephant Hills’ after one of them likened them to sleeping elephants when we were driving past. I’d forgotten that Wainwright made the same comparison.

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