Martin Rye invited me to join him and James Boutler on a little foray in the Howgills. I was to meet them at Bowderdale Head and walk for a day and then come home.
The weather forecast said that there was a deep depression storming in from somewhere just left of Bermuda and that it was going to be warm, wet and windy. But we’ve had weather forecasts before haven’t we, children. And now we’ve stopped believing them.
And so Saturday dawned warm, wet and windy. There was a severe weather warning for Bowderdale Head. I packed the dog and set off and then came home, ate toast, listened to radio Newcastle and dozed off. At some point a message arrived from Martin saying that it was far too wet and windy and the streams were all in spate. Presumably, they’d seen the sense in bailing out (hopefully, not literally…)
And so, I looked at maps and decided that as Sunday was going to be windy and sunny, that I’d pack the dog again and nick off to Wet Sleddale for the bagging of an errant Birkett that somehow has missed the desultory campaigning that should have bagged it long ago. It rained all the way to Shap.
When I got to Wet Sleddale, it was very Wet. In fact, I had to drive through a deep flood to get to the car park by the reservoir. After using up some ageing and valuable brain cells working out what to do next, seeing as the car windows were being violently lashed by an unreasonable amount of water, I considered that walking from here would be foolish, particularly as the flood I’d just driven through might well become impassable for the knipemobile. So I buggerred off.
I buggerred off in the general direction of Kirby Stephen and, after scoffing my chicken butty and faux Co-OP chocolate “flavoured” kitkat I remembered Smardale. I had no map for Smardale and only a vague notion of where it was, but, by slaughtering a kitten and spreading it’s entrails on the car bonnet whilst simultaneously chanting an arcane and ancient mapping poem, I narrowed down the whereabouts of the place to a fifty square mile area. Luckily, I found it fairly quickly and , paring just by Smardale Hall, an apparently fortified manor, where there’s a car park, me and superdawg finally marched off down the disused Bishop Auckland – Tebay railway line.
In summer, this will be a fab place to spend the day with a book of wild flowers, a magnifying glass and a cheese and onion butty. Its now a nature reserve and, according to the notice boards is chocablock with wild flowers and vicious butterflies. Apparently, its an ancient woodland, long managed as coppice, but wooded since before 1600 AD.
We passed over the Smardalegill Viaduct – a fine piece of engineering and on past the 1861 lime kilns – once providing lime for steelworks in both Barrow in Furness and Darlington.
The walking (or in Bruno’s case, jumping around) was outrageously easy and we were soon overlooking the Smardale pachkorse bridge, which coast-to-coasters will know all about. Shortly after this two dogs barked at us from a field and one, a young black lab tried to come to greet us but couldn’t manage the fences.
The Nature reserve and walkable line ends close to the main road at Newbiggin on Lune. So we turned around as the rain began to get even heavier. Anybody intent on walking along this track (and I would recommend it for an easy day) – should note that there’s a cafe at Newbiggin on Lune. Just thought I’d mention that.
To vary the return, I thought I’d use a path I’d noticed on the opposite side of the gorge which ends at the viaduct. But first, we met the two dogs again. This was a bit disturbing. they hadn’t mov ed and the lab, not much more than a pup, was very friendly and let me read her tag – which had her name – Millie, and a phone number. I rang the number. It was out of use. I had visions of somebody being washed away along Scandale Beck, which was in full spate. All the small becks were in full spate, in fact, and it was only because I’d elected to wear wellies that I could get across dryshod.
Ramblers with bobble hats and proper boots will note, with dismay, that I was wearing wellies, I had no map (till I’d photographed one on an information board) – had no rucksack ner nowt. All I had was a wet dog, in fact.
Anyway, the phone number was obviously wrong, and Millie was now a bit nervous about letting me have another look at her tag. the other dog just barked at me and wouldn;t let me anywhere near. So I pressed on, keeping an eye out for corpses laiyng in fields or, indeed, rolling down Scandale Beck. I did wonder why Smardale Gill contains Scandale Beck – but came to no conclusion.
After that, i entered the gorge on the nice green path I’d spotted and there was no phone signal
As I returned to the car park, there was an information board with local phone numbers on it. I noticed that the dialling code was different to the one on the tag. So, by using my immense brain power and a Barclays bank free pen, I deduced that the code on the tag was wrong, replaced it with the code from the notice board and rang the number.
Millie’s owner’s daughter answered and conformed that her dad had dogs fitting the description and that he was probably out looking for them. We had a bad connection, so very little more of any sense was relayed between us, so I decided to drive back to Newbiggin to see what could be done.
I parked the knipemobile and a car drew up. It was Millie’s Dad’s daughter. Miilie’s dad’s daughter’s dad arrived a few minutes later and, just as we were about to embark on a search of Smardale Gill, so did Millie. She was acting a bit guilty, I thought. Maybe it was the sheep bones she’d been scoffing when I left her.
Anyway, all’s well that ends well, innit?
We did seven miles and not much ascent, as its on a railway track and trains don’t do hills. I may return here in the high summer with a wild flower book and a magnifying glass. I’m not really supposed to eat cheese butties….