Sea or mountains?

Monday morning it was overcast when I got up. I’m not one for lying in (why waste the best of the day?) and I knew conditions were likely to change during the day so was hopeful of some sunshine. I was faced with a minor dilemma – should I head into the hills or go for a walk along the coast? Both have their attractions. I’d been up on the hills the day before so the coast would make a change, but then… I ended up doing both!

I always feel the coast is at its best when the sun is shining and it was still cloudy when I set out, so I thought I’d head to the hills and see what transpired. A short distance down what used to be the main road (that isn’t that busy since the through traffic is on the A55 which bypasses the town) I turned off down a quiet track with the hills in sight.

an old water fountain on Gwylt Road

It took me up to Gwylt Road, a minor road that runs parallel to the coast, turning into the Terrace Walk, with views over the town to the coast,

Looking towards the sea from the Terrace walk with Anglesey and Puffin Island visible

and then the Valley Road which eventually turned into a track up into the wilds. So a little more walking on tarmac than I like but it was a different way of accessing the fells to that I’d taken during my last break in Llanfairfechan. The Valley Road runs along the hillside above the Afon Llanfairfechan which runs through the Nant y Coed Local Nature Reserve, an attractive wooded valley.

Looking across the valley towards Penmaenmawr

Nant y Coed was once a tourist attraction created by late 19th century to local businessman John Rowland Jones, who charged visitors for entry. The estate was sold to the Local Authority in 1923 and can now be accessed and enjoyed for free. With proper planning I could have worked out a route that would have taken me through the woods, which would have been more pleasant than plodding along the tarmac. However, after passing the nature reserve the road turned into a track leading up onto the moors.

I was soon making my way through rough fields and heath

Looking back downhill towards the sea

I carried on along the track but at one point I missed a turning and ended up following what I thought was a path but turned out to be a sheep trod. A little scrambling through scrub, under low branches and over a tree that had fallen over a fence, I managed to regain the path and carried on heading upwards

Foel Lwyd ahead
Drosgyl ahead and behind it, in the distance, Y Drum

I carried on along the path until I eventually reached the old Roman road that runs along the pass through the hills towards Abergwyngeryn. Although known as the Roman Road and marked as such on the OS map, this is an ancient route that was used by prehistoric people and then later by travellers and drovers.

A long line of tall pylons carrying power lines also follows the valley. It’s hard to completely ignore them but it’s easy enough to cast your eyes to the high hills and mountains behind them or towards the sea.

It was decision time now. There were a number of options of routes up into the mountains but given that there was some low cloud and mist lingering higher up, and the sun was shining over the coast, I decided to head west along the track and then double back over Garreg Fawr towards Llanfairfechan.

I made my way to the hill that overlooks the town.

Someone had planted a Welsh flag on the top of its rocky summit

I stopped for a while – it was dinner time now so time to eat and take in the views over the sea to Anglesey and Puffin Island

to Penmaenmawr

and back over to the Carneddau

It was a steep descent back to the town

I made my way through the narrow streets

down to the promenade of the Edwardian resort

Looking east – the Great Orme in the distance

It was sunny, but somewhat windy as I set off heading west along the coast path, passing a group of houses which include three built in the the Arts and Crafts style which were designed by local architect H L North

I carried on towards the salt marshes of Traeth Lafan nature reserve

Since I was here last year a number of wooden benches have been installed which feature different types of birds that breed on the marshes

one even has a panorama of the hills

Looking over the salt march with views over to the Carneddau

Reaching another Arts and Crafts style house

I left the coastal path, crossed over the railway via the railway crossing and made my way back to my accommodation. This involved walking beside the busy A55 for a short distance. It’s surprising but you don’t really notice the traffic noise when you’re on the coastal path even though the road is not that far away.

Arriving back at the flat it was time for a brew and after showering I settled down with my book for what was left of the afternoon.

Rowen, Llangelynnin, Caer Bach and Tal-y-fan

Last week I managed to get away for a few days to North Wales. I stopped in the same accommodation in Llanfairfechan as last June – a good sized and well equipped self contained flat ideally located as a base for walks straight from the front door up into the northern Carneddau mountains as well as along the coast. I was lucky with the weather – generally fine although not too hot.

I set out early Sunday morning heading for Rowen in the Conwy Valley for a walk up on the hills. Luckily I’d checked out Google maps the night before as I discovered that the M56 near Runcorn was closed all weekend so that a bridge could be demolished. There was a diversion but you know what they’re like! So I used the knowledge gained over many years of travelling to Chester and North Wales to plot an alternative approach to avoid the M56 altogether and join the A55 east of Chester. I reckon it took me about 10 minutes longer to reach my destination than if I’d taken the usual route using the M56, but far preferable to sitting in a queue of frustrated motorists following the designated diversion.

I arrived in Rowen mid morning. It’s an attractive small village sitting at the foot of the eastern Carneddau hills and mountains. It was originally a working village with the occupants working in local farms and quarries or in home based textile production, spinning or weaving wool. Quarry workers would walk for miles to reach their workplaces and their are stories of some walking across the moors to Penmaenmawr on the northern coast and back every day. The Huw Tom walking route is based on following the footsteps of one such worker who became an active trade unionist and politician. I found out about it when I bumped into a couple of walkers following the route over from Penmaenmawr during my own walk.

There’s plenty of attractive stone cottages that used to house the workers that have been done up. No doubt quite a few are holiday lets. There’s a pub and a chapel (this is North Wales, after all) but no other facilities, although I think there’s a shop / cafe that’s open at weekends (although I didn’t come across it).

I’d found a route I fancied on using the OS map website and printed out a map the day before, but arriving at Rowen I discovered that, together with my OS map, I’d left it at home. No problem, I’d had the foresight to download the relevant map using the OS app on my phone. Alas, when I switched to the app I found that it hadn’t finished downloading and, not really a big surprise in an out of the way location, there was no phone signal. I thought I could more or less remember the route, so set off anyway. It was a fine day and I was hopeful I wouldn’t get completely lost. Fortunately, after a mile or so, the signal had picked up and the map finished downloading. I had strayed off the planned route, but was still heading in the right direction.

My route took me through pleasant woodland, through fields and across moorland

with views over the Conwy Valley

Having strayed off the original route a little I ended up cutting through some woods where there there was a massive display of bluebells. Although at the end of their season they were more or less in their prime here. My photos below really doesn’t do justice to the sea of blue that I saw.

Leaving the woods, a walk across a stretch of rougher moor brought me to my first destination – a medieval chapel in the middle of nowhere.

Llangelynnin old church is a fascinating, well preserved medieval place of worship built in the 12th Century with some later additions, including the 15th Century porch. It’s still in use today and there was a service in the afternoon on the day I visited (although I’d long gone before it started!)

The church stands on the mountainside, with great views over the Conwy Valley and the foothills of the eastern Carneddau a few miles from the nearest settlement (not counting the two houses a short distance away), and I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would want to build a church here. However, it stands on a number of old routes used by farmers, drovers and other travellers, including pilgrims on their way to Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) and so was probably built to serve their needs. Drovers must have been an important target group as the small side chapel was built for their use – as well as an Inn and a cock fighting pit outside the churchyard boundary!

inside the small church looking along the nave.
Notice the writing (and skull and crossbones) on the wall
The octagonal font – probably from the 13th or 14th Century

In the corner of the churchyard there’s a “holy well”, which is alleged to have the power to cure sick children

I spent some time looking round the church and churchyard, but then it was time to carry on up the track that led up the hillside

Looking back down towards Conwy and the Irish Sea

I wondered whether I’d see any of the semi-wild Carneddau ponies. Yes, there’s a herd of them with some very young foals as I approached my next objective, the ruins of the Caer Bach (Small fort) Iron Age fortress.

Some of them seemed to be guarding the ruins from English interlopers

but they must have realised that I’m part Welsh as they didn’t attempt to impede my progress.

It’s difficult to show the extent of the remains of the prehistoric strongpoint in a photo but the top of the small hillock was encircled by the ruins

Some of the remains of the fortifications of Caer Bach

After resting for a while and a bite to eat I carried on. I could have stayed low and circled back to Rowen, but it was such a fine day, and I wasn’t in a hurry, so I decided to tackle Tal-y-fan, the most northern mountain in Wales. I’d been up before, last autumn, and knew it was a fine viewpoint. This time I tackled it straight on climbing up the steep slope towards the top – with regular stops to regain my breath! It was hard work.

Looking back down from part way up the mountain

Nearing the top, views opened out over to the high mountains to the south

and northwards towards the Conwy valley and the sea

I joined the path towards the summit

Made it!

Looking towards the mountains including Drum and Foel Fras – I had plans for them
Looking north towards Penmaenmawr and beyond towards Anglesey and Puffin Island

It was a steep descent down from the summit to the bwlch (pass) between Tal-y-fan and Foel Lwyd and then crossed over the stile taking the path down the hillside to the old Roman road which was build over an even earlier route through the mountains. After a short stretch on the tarmac I turned off down the track that would gradually descend back down to Rowen.

You should have realised by now that there’s a lot of history up here and without even trying I passed a Neolithic standing stone

and the remains of a cromlech (Neolithic burial chamber)

Maen y Bardd – “the rock of the bard”

Carrying on, as the track turned into a narrow metalled road, I passed the Rhiw Youth Hostel

and descended very steeply back towards the village (knees starting to hurt a little now).

back in Rowen

Passing the village chapel I spoke to the resident of the house next door who acted as caretaker and he told me I could look inside

It was well looked after and was still in use. There was also an interesting little exhibition about the history of the village, the chapel and Methodism in general. Definitely worth a look.

Leaving the chapel I stopped for a little while and chatted to the elderly gentleman about life in Rowen, rugby (he followed Rugby League too) and life in general before heading back to my car. It had been an excellent walk packed with scenery, history and prehistory.

It wasn’t so far to where I was staying – a few miles up the valley to Conwy and then along the A55 coastal road. I stopped at the local Co-op to pick up some supplies and then it was a short drive to my accommodation. I settled in, showered (it had been a hot afternoon) and fried up a steak and some potatoes, then settled in for the evening. I had hopes for a decent few days and had several walks in mind. To be continued!

Gowbarrow Fell

The third day of my break and I had hopes for an improvement in the weather. I’d had a rough night, though, hadn’t slept well and still felt a little dodgy in the morning. But I hadn’t come up to the Lakes to stay in bed all day so decided I’d get out anyway, but to not stray too far and not try anything too ambitious.

I set off in the car and drove a few miles along the lake shore and parked up in the National Trust Aira Force car park. I decided I’d repeat a walk I’d done a few years before going up past the waterfalls and then on to Gowbarrow Fell. Aira Force is something of a honeypot, and being the school holidays it was fairly busy when I arrived, although I had no trouble finding a parking space, and there were plenty of family groups starting to make their way up the path.

The waterfalls and fell are part of the Gowbarrow Estate that used to be owned by the the Howard family of Greystoke Castle. They had an old hunting lodge or Pele tower close to the Ullswater shore which they renovated and converted into what is now Lyulph’s Tower, set among its own sporting estate. They landscaped the area around the force, and used it as a pleasure garden, planting over half a million native and ornamental trees, and established a network of tracks, footpaths and bridges. In 1906 the Estate went up for sale and after a fundraising campaign it was purchased by the National Trust, probably saving it from being developed and public access prohibited.

Setting off from the car park I followed the course of the beck and soon came to Aira Force, the first of a series of waterfalls. As expected it was quite a sight, plunging some 65 feet down the hillside, and my photographs cannot do it justice.

I chose the fellside path and started to climb parallel to the beck, which descended down the hillside in a series of waterfalls

I stopped to have a closer look and take a few photographs before continuing on the path up the fell.

turning right just before the gate to start a steeper climb up towards the summit

Looking back as I climbed, views started to open up over the lake and towards the high fells

and then, higher up, Blencathra appeared over tot he north west.

Looking west towards snow capped Helvelyn and the Dods

and over the lake

Approaching the summit of the modest fell

The views from the top were pretty good – quite different from when I was on Little Mell Fell the previous day!

Looking towards Helvellen
Great Mell Fell

After taking in the views it was time to start making my way round and down the fell. It was a great day for photos and I couldn’t help but keep snapping away with my phone. Eventually I reached the viewpoint at Yew Crag. Tome to stop and savour the views over the lake – and take some photos, of course.

It was one of those days when you just wanted to stay put, but eventually I had to continue down the path which now started to descend back down towards the car park. On the way down  Lyulph’s Tower, a hunting lodge built in the 1780s for Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, who owned the estate. They kept a large herd of deer for hunting up on the fell.

Back down by the beck, I made my way towards the tea rooms where I stopped for a brew, before deciding to take a stroll over to the lakeside, passing clusters of daffodils.

Most people know Wordsworth’s Daffodils poem, and he wrote it after a visit with his sister Dorothy to Glencoyne Park, just a short distance along the lake, on 15 April 1802.

It’s only a few hundred metres to the lake shore from the car park and tea rooms. As I approached it I sensed a change in the weather – there was a cold wind blowing and the lake, which had looked calm when observed from up on the fell, had turned quite choppy

Time to make my way to the car and as I debooted I felt some rain drops falling. The shower didn’t last long and I was soon back in sunshine as I drove back down the lake, but I could see heavy cloud had gathered amongst the high fells at the head of the lake.

I’d got over my rough patch but was feeling tired when I was back in my flat at the pub. Time to take a shower and settle down for the rest of the afternoon. This would be my last night in Dacre and I had a plans for the next day.

Map from NT website

Little Mell Fell

There are some days when I doubt my sanity – and the second day of my short break in the Lakes was definitely one of them!

From the bedroom window in my accommodation I had a good view over the fields to Little Mell Fell. Climbing the small Wainwright was an obvious objective for a walk from the front door. It’s slightly higher sibling, Great Mell fell, is close by and I thought I might be able to tackle both of them. However, it didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned.

It had rained heavily the day before and for part of the night and he weather forecast for the day wasn’t so clever, but bright spells between the rain was promised, so I donned my gear, including waterproofs, and set out.

I had a few miles of tarmac to plod over – not my favourite surface for a walk, to say the least – but the pastoral scenery and small settlements I passed through were pleasant and scenic.

After a few miles I was able to turn of the tarmac onto paths through the fields. Now remember that we’d had some heavy rain. Consequently I found myself wading through waterlogged ground and some deep mud. At times submerging my boots. Luckily I’d had the foresight to wear my gaiters, but I still had some cleaning up to do that evening.

I could see some dark cloud arriving and it wasn’t long before it began to chuck it down. I soldiered on – some sections of the route being not unlike the battlefields of the Somme (minus trenches and shrapnel fortunately).

After a while I was back on tarmac on a road that went round the bottom of the fell

The rain had eased off an there was some sunshine and I was beginning to feel a little optimistic.

That didn’t last too long, though as the black clouds returned. I carried on along the road which started to climb up towards the hause where I would be able to access the path up to the summit of the fell.

As I reached the top of the brew I was hit by heavy rain driven by a strong north westerly wind. This came as a bit of a shock as I’d been sheltered from the wind by the fell. There were a few cars parked up in a lay by and I could see a group coming down the path. A couple with a young child emerged from one of the cars and after donning their gear climbed over the stile to join the path to the summit. I followed them and found myself in yet anothrt wet and muddy waterlogged field.

As I climbed the rain came down and I was battered by the wind. It’s not a big climb but it’s steep and much of the path was waterlogged. There are views over Ullswater, but not while I was going up and down

Looking back towards Ullswater.

Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to reach the summit,

where I had great views of nothing much at all

Battered by the rain and with nothing much to look at I didn’t stop for long and made my way back down the path trying very hard to avoid slipping and sliding down the steep slope.

I was glad to rejoin the road. I abandoned any idea of heading over to Great Mel Fell and decided to join the Ullswater Way heading towards Pooley Bridge.

I followed the road that took me past the caravan site at Cove. The rain eased off and I looked back towards the fell which, wouldn’t you just know it, was now clear.

I was now of the Ullswater Way.

Looking across the fields towards Ullswater and the higher fells at the head of the valley
Looking across to Ullswater

It followed the minor road for a while before turning off across the fields passing the site of Maiden Castle and heading towards Waterfoot, near Pooley Bridge

The weather had improved somewhat with the rain easing off and some brighter interludes (to use Met Office speak)

It was good to be walking on grass again, until descending down into another waterlogged field where I had to try hard to avoid my boots becoming submerged in cold water and mud – I wasn’t completely successful to say the least.

The route emerged from the fields at the Waterfoot caravan site. I could now have set off back up a minor road towards Dacre but decided I’d like to get a closer look at the lake. So back through some more sodden fields

The lake looked nice, though

I thought about walking the half mile or so into Pooley Bridge for a break and a brew but checking the Met Office app on my phone I could see that some more heavy rain was on it’s way, so I decided to make my back to Dacre.

I avoided the fields sticking tot he road and cutting through the caravan site to join the minor road up toward Soulby

and then turning on to the road to Dacre

I was glad to arrive back at the Horse and Farrier and my accommodation as the dark cloud appeared

where I could change get out of wet clothes and make myself a brew.

After showering I settled down with a good book. The weather continued to be changeable and later in the afternoon this was the view from the windows in the bedroom

and the lounge

That’s the Lake District for you!


I’d planned on having a brew and a bite to eat at Blackwell, but the house, and cafe, were busy, so I decided to drive the short distance to the Windermere Jetty Museum (also part of the Lakeland Arts Trust) where I had a warming bowl of cullen skink and a pot of tea

There was an exhibition of photographs of Forty farms in Cumbria, based on the book by  Amy Bateman published by local company Inspired by Lakeland.

Looking out from the cafe at the Windermere Jetty Museum

After looking round the exhibition, it was time to head off to where I was staying for the next 3 nights. I’d been late organising the trip and as it was being during the school holidays the Lakes were pretty booked up. I prefer self catering accommodation to a traditional B and B and was lucky to find somewhere – a flat over the annex to the village pub (the Horse and Farrier) in the village of Dacre, near Pooley Bridge. It was a little further out than the area where I’d usually stay but there was some potential for walks from the door or a short drive away.

The Horse and Farrier
My flat was on the first floor of the annex to the pub.

After unpacking the car and settling myself in, as it had stopped raining, I popped out to have a mooch around the small village.

It’s a pretty place with whitewashed cottages, probably once occupied by agricultural workers but now converted into desirable homes and holiday lets.

Dacre is alleged to be the site of a monastery where a gathering of kings from throughout Britain took place on 12 July 927 when Athelstan the grandson of Alfred the Great, was proclaimed king of all England. Other versions of the story locate the meeting a few miles away at Eamont Bridge, on the outskirts of modern Penrith. Who knows the truth? It’s so long ago that it’s lost in the mists of time.

I wandered over to the castle a grade I listed building. Originally one of many fortified tower houses, or Pele Towers in what was a wild and lawless border region, it was modified in the 17th century by the fifth Lord Dacre, who added the large windows. Today it’s owned by by the Hassell-McCosh family who rent it out as a private home. 

Nearby, and just across from the pub (I could see it through the lounge window) is St Andrew’s church, which probably stands on the site of the former monastery where the meeting of kings may, or may not, have taken place. It was built in the 12th century and still has Norman features, although many modifications have taken place since then. It’s a listed building.

Exploring the grounds I spotted what I first thought to be a strange tombstone.

Then I spotted another one on the other side of the church drive.

A little research on the net on returning to the flat revealed that they were the Dacre Bears and that there were actually four of them.

Here’s the other two which I sought out later during my stay. They are round the back of the church

It’s possible that they are pre-Saxon and may originally have marked the boundaries of a pagan sacred site.

“Unearthed” at Blackwell

I’d booked myself a short break in the Lakes starting the Wednesday after Easter. After a good few days during the Bank Holiday weekend I was hoping for some good weather to do some walking but, unfortunately, the forecast for the first couple of days wasn’t so good. I decided against what promised to be a drowning on my first day and so, instead of going for a walk, I headed over to Windermere to pick up some supplies and then drove the short distance to Blackwell. It’s always a good bet on a rainy day and I wanted to have a look at their latest exhibition.

Unearthed by Kendal-based artist Amy Williams, celebrates the contribution of women in Cumbria who have often been overlooked by history, representing them with large scale paper-cut wildflowers. It’s not a large exhibition, only occupying one room upstairs in the Arts and Crafts style house, but I found it quite fascinating and educational.

For each of the ten women featured in the exhibition Amy selected a wild flower that she felt represented their character and created a large scale version from paper. Looking closely at these paper sculptures I could see that she had incorporated features and symbols that represented their life and contribution to society.

“For me it feels important to be able to shine a light on these extraordinary women and to commemorate their lives through this visual medium. I’m pleased we’ve been able to coordinate the exhibition to run across Women’s History Month, especially given this year’s theme of ‘Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.’ I love the setting of Blackwell and am looking forward to transforming the space into a delightful wonderland. I’m grateful to Naomi Gariff, the curator, for giving me so much creative freedom to fulfil this vision. It’s a special thing as an artist to be given this opportunity.”

Amy Williams
The three flowers in the foreground, from left to right, are a Globe Flower representing Winifred Langton a Communist campaigner and activist, who fought for social justice; a Ground Thistle, representing Sal Madge a female Collier from Whitehaven; The spear shaped Mullein representing Theodora Wilson Wilson, a Quaker and pacifist who wrote The Last Weapon, an anti-war novel published in 1916 and banned a year later for promoting peace!
A detail from the Globe Flower representing Winifred Langton 
A Rambling Rose representing Mary Fair – A historian, archaeologist, photographer, motorist and specialist in X-Rays and radium science.
A Dandelion representing Margaret Fell from Ulverston. A founder of the Religious Society of Friends and known popularly as the ‘mother of Quakerism’.
A Thistle representing Ann Macbeth  A designer and educator, renowned for her Art Nouveau style of embroidery who was also an active suffragette.
Bindweed climbing over one of the windows, representing Muriel Sauer, a pioneering female climber in the 1940s, and founding member of the Keswick Mountain Rescue team.
Feverfew representing May Bowness, a working class woman from the Langdale valley, who helped the local community with their medical needs.
Mallow representing Annie Garnett  an Arts and Crafts designer and fabric expert who employed over 100 craftspeople in ‘The Spinnery’ from 1891 to 1914.
On the right Hayratte representing Betty Kirkland who joined the Women’s Land Army in 1940 doing work on behalf of the Forestry Commission. On the left Greater Knapweed representing all the women who’s stories have been lost

In an adjacent room there was a Community Garden – a display of wildflower paper cuts created by women from local community groups over a six-month period

Each of the women had written a short note about a woman who had influenced them and made a mark on their lives.

A walk in the snow

“and didn’t it snow” (with apologies to Sister Rosetta Tharpe)

On Thursday morning of our holiday I wandered over to the Co-op to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was cold and the sky looked threatening. While I was in the shop it started to snow, fine flakes that didn’t settle. It continued to snow for the rest of the day, detting heavier, but didn’t settle. It was a day to stay indoors reading and relaxing. Come about 4 o’clock the temperature had dropped and the snow started to settle . The next morning we woke up to this

Several inches of snow were covering everything, including the path to our accommodation, our car and the road. There wasn’t a shovel or spade in the house but mid morning the owner turned up to dig us out and clear the path. The sun had come out too, so the snow started to thaw. It was turning into a pleasant day so we decided to venture out, heading over Frank’s Bridge and up to the viewpoint on top of Kirkby Hill

where there extensive views over to the Northern Pennines

Hartley Fell

and Wild Boar Fell

Descending from the hill we had a short walk along the river

Before returning to the town centre where we had a look round inside the Parish Church

after which we decided to treat ourselves to a pub lunch

Well fed, J decided she’d had enough of walking through the snow and headed back to the house. I popped back with her to pick up my rucksack and then set out for a walk through the snow covered fields behind our accommodation from where there were excellent views over to the fells

I decided on a route that took me through the fields to the west of the town heading south and then cutting across to Stenkrith Park, following the path along the river to the Swingy Bridge and then cutting back along the track and road to our accommodation

A view across the fields towards Wild Boar Fell
Cutting across the fields below the embankment of the former Croglam Castle
The view towards the old station on the disused railway
A snow covered “Devil’s Mustard Mill” 
the River Eden limestone / brockham pavement covered with snow
Approaching the Swingy Bridge
Looking back down the lane towards the fells

This was the last day of our holiday so that evening, after tea, we made a final visit to La’l Nook where we spent some time chatting with a couple of locals who told us about the local Rugby Union team who had made it to the final of the Cumbria Cup the following Saturday when they were playing Penrith, a team from a higher division.

The next morning there was still snow on the ground but the road was clear as was the A685 so we had a trouble free drive back to the M6 at Tebay and down the motorway. We were home around midday. We’d had a great break in an area we’d never visited before and which we’ll certainly return to. There’s lots more to explore and some good walks that are now on my ever increasing list.

A train ride

The weather forecast for the end of our week promised some fun. Warm, wet air coming in from the south was due to collide with cold air that had come in from the north earlier in the week resulting in a promise of some serious snow. Kirkby Stephen was on the edge of the Amber warning area. But we woke to a fine Wednesday morning

so took the opportunity to do something we meant to do during a couple of breaks in 2022 but never got round to – travel on the Settle Carlisle line – considered to by many to be the finest and most scenic route in England.

The line runs from Settle in Yorkshire, up Ribbledale and then across the heads of Dentdale and Garsdale then on through Mallerstang and the Eden Valley. The kirkby Stephen is about half way on the route. We chose to travel south through the most dramatic scenery to Settle. The train carries on the Leeds, but we weren’t going that far.

The station at Kirkby Stephen is almost a couple of miles out of the town so we drove over in the car. There’s a large car park there. We bought our tickets and waited for the train to arrive. It was busy but we managed to get seas are were able to take in the views from the window. I managed to get a few shots photos and videos – the best of which I’ve included in this post, but they don’t do the scenery justice.

Travelling down Mallerstang
Garsdale station

Crossing the Ribblehead viaduct

Looking over to Ingleborough from the Ribblehead viaduct
Pen y Ghent

The sky darkened as we got nearer to Settle – the weather was coming in, and we experienced some snow flurries while we were in the town. It got heavier during the day and the grey skies and clag which had descended during the few hours we were in Settle seemed to be following us up the valleys on the return journey. When we arrived at Kirkby Stephen we were glad to get back into the car and return to our warm and cosy accommodation. The next day would be quite different.

Hartley fell and the Nine Standards


The forecast promised good weather on the Tuesday, so that was the day I decided on the long walk I was hoping to include in our holiday. From our accommodation we could just about make out the Nine Standards on the top of Hartley Fell silhouetted against the skyline.

The Nine Standards are a collection of massive cairns, several metres high (the largest is 3.5 metres tall) – nine in total, as the name indicates – standing a little to the north of the summit of the fell, making them visible from miles around. I first heard of them when visiting and then researching the Raisbeck Pinfold, part of   Andy Goldsworthy’s Cumbrian sheepfolds project. Inside the Raisbeck sheepfold Goldworthy included a conical stone structure and there are several other of these cone pinfolds at other sites around the Eden Valley. On the project website he explains how the shape of these structures was inspired by the Nine Standards.

The origins and purpose of the Standards is unknown and subject to a raft of theories. However one theory, that seems sensible to me given their location, is that they mark the boundary between Westmorland and Swaledale. Dick Capel devotes a chapter of his book to the Standards and he was responsible for a project to restore them (against some opposition) back in 2005.

Steve Allan, Cumbria’s premier dry stone wall builder, with two assistants and meticulous reference to the photographs, worked for eight days rebuilding the five cairns, which had been in a ruinous state and refurbished the other four. Their work won the North Pennines AONB Conservation Award 2005.

So a visit to see the structures close up for myself had to be made!

Hartley Fell and the nearby hills are relatively featureless moorland but I expected, and found, excellent views during the climb and from the top, and I’m very much at home on bleak moorland. Although I would gain about 1600 feet to the summit, it was a relatively gradual climb most of the way with the hardest pull up the road from Hartley. The first couple of miles were on tarmac, which wasn’t great (although the views looking back compensated) before I reached the open moorland. The going on the moors was good at first but the final section up hill to the standards was very boggy and not good walking. The Standards are on Wainwright’s Coast to Coast route which, despite seasonal variations, won’t have helped with the erosion. It’s difficult also to devise a good circular route so I had to return the same way I’d gone up. But visiting the Standards more than made up for any disadvantages and on the way up the best views are behind – they’re right in front on the way down.

It was bright and sunny as I set out mid morning, leaving J to spend a peaceful day on her own. I passed the statue of a youthful Lady Anne on the main street – she appeared to be striding of in the same direction.

I walked down to the Eden and crossed over Frank’s Bridge

and took the path along the river

and then turned off up the slope heading towards the small village of Hartley

View across the fields and over to Wild Boar Fell from the path to Hartley

There was a steep climb out of the village up the road but at he top of the slope, I turned round to be greeted by views of the Northern Pennines, where even Cross Fell was free of cloud

over the Eden Valley to the Lakeland Fells

and, in the other direction, over to the moors where I was heading.

I was still on tarmac

as I passed the massive quarry, which is still being worked. I tried to avoid looking at it, keeping my eyes on the moorland and pretending it wasn’t there.

I soon put it behind me, but still had a good distance to walk on the tarmac

before I finally passed through a gate and turned off the tarmac onto a dirt track – much better for the feet! I notice a car parked up by the gate – there was room for two or three. Later I passed a couple of women – a mother and daughter I think – who were on the way down as I climbed – it was their car. (They were the last people I saw until I got back down to the tarmac on the road down when I spotted one other person – a “twitcher”. I bet it gets a lot busier during the Coast to Coast season) .They’d cut out a good stretch of walking on tarmac and shortened the walk by 2 miles each way. But I still preferred to walk.

I think they’re the Howgills in the distance. I’m not used to seeing them from this direction!

Looking up across the moor I could just make out the Nine Stands on top of the hill.

Looking back to the Lakeland Fells

and to the North Pennines

On the way up, just off the path I spotted this circular structure which looked like it had been constructed fairly recently.

Carrying on those Standards don’t seem to be getting any closer!

I reached a fork in the road and took the path climbing up Faraday Gill

It wasn’t too bad at first

but then it got very wet and boggy underfoot

I was glad that I’d brought my gaiters with me and donned them at the end of the tarmac, but it was difficult finding a way to avoid becoming submerged in wet peat, mud and water as I continued on my way.

Eventually (!) I was getting closer to the Standards.

And then I was there.

The photographs don’t do them justice at all, you need someone standing by them to give a proper sense of scale and there was only me up there. This one is the largest – 3.5 metres tall and 3.7 metres in diameter at its base, tapering to the top with two intermediate ledges around its circumference.

They’re all different in size and shape

A cold wind had picked up and the air temperature was probably below freezing, but I was well wrapped up so didn’t feel too cold as I took in the views

Looking west
The Howgills
Over the Eden Valley towards the Lakeland Fells. I could see snow on Skiddaw (But none on Blencathra)

The Standards are not on the summit of the fell, that was a short distance away to the south and there’s a topograph part of the way there across the top of the fell. I reckoned that as I’d come this far I might as well go the whole hog to the summit, which was marked by a trig point.

The peat was very badly eroded and it would normally be a quagmire bog hopping over to the summit. However, the ground was frozen so I didn’t end up with my boots swallowed in the mire – but be warned if you go up there in warmer, wet weather.

Here’s a few shots looking back tot he Nine Standards and the topograph on the way back from the top

It was time to eat now before I set off back down. The cold wind seemed to be strengthening but I sheltered by sitting on the leeward side of the largest of the Standards, it’s shelf making a handy seat.

Then it was time to start making my return journey retracing my steps.

As I mentioned I only saw one more person until I reached Hartley, but both on the way up and down I could hear the distinctive call of one of my favourite birds, the curlew. Just before I reached the tarmac I stopped for a rest on a handy seat and three curlews flew by overhead. That was a treat.

It was still sunny when I got back to Kirkby Stephen. It was mid afternoon and I was ready for a brew.

It had been a cracking day, cold in the wind but warm in the sunshine, and wrapped up well was perfect walking weather. We were expecting another decent day but a change was in the air!

Brough Castle and church

The Monday of our holiday in Kirkby Stephen was wild and windy. It rained most of he morning but, despite threatening skies, there was a break in the rain, so we decided to get out for a short drive over to Brough to visit the castle.

Brough sits at the foot of the Northern Pennines and is split in two by the busy A66 trans-Pennine road. It’s effectively two villages – Church Brough, with the castle and St Michael’s Church, to the south of the A66 and Market Brough, to the north. The latter is built around the original route of the trans-Pennine road, which was a major route to Scotland, and has a wide high street that used to be lined by more than coaching inns in the 18th and 19th Century. It was by-passed in 1977 by the current trunk road.

We were visiting the castle so parked up in the sleepy village of Church Brough. The rain had stopped but we could see some wild weather over the Pennines.

Brough Castle was built in the 11th century by the Normans on the site of a Roman fort. It’s in a strategic location on the Stainmore Pass, one of the main routes into England from Scotland and was intended keep a look out and defend the pass from marauding Scots invaders. Consequently it was attacked and put under siege many times. It was one of a chain of castles in the area, including Brougham Castle to the north near Penrith (also just off the A66), which we visited during our stay in Appleby last October.

Along with Brougham , Brough Castle came under the control of Roger Clifford, in about 1268 when he married Vieuxpoint’s great granddaughter. Subsequently it passed down to Lady Anne Clifford who restored the structure making a number of changes and additions in the 17th century Today the castle is under the stewardship of English Heritage. 

The ruins are less substantial than Brougham, and, unlike the former, entry is free.

Here’s some photos I took during the visit.

Approaching the castle
The remains of the gatehouse
The impressive Norman Keep.
The ruins of the hall against the south curtain wall
Looking across the courtyard from the Keep
The Pennines viewed from the castle
Looking south towards the fells, including Wild Boar Fell

There’s a cafe next to the castle, but being out of season it was closed, so no change for a comforting and warming brew. Instead we decided to have a look at St Michael’s church

The church dates from the 12 th Century, but, as usual, there have been many alterations and additions over the years, particularly during the 14th and 16th Centuries, with the tower was constructed by Thomas Blenkinsop of Helbeck in 1513 .

We had a look around inside. It was relatively plain with not a lot to see, but there was an interesting little an exhibition about the region

and a rather nice old stone pulpit

As we left the church, the rain was coming back in so we decided to call it a day, return to the car and drive back to our accommodation. The weather promised to be better the next day