The Howgill Fells
Between The Lake District and The Yorkshire Dales lies a slice of heaven.
Here is a taste of an area new to me.
This introduction is a bit flowery. I’m going to begin by waxing lyrical.
It’s a peaceful, remote land, untroubled by the manic world beyond.
Ewes, with their unbearably cute lambs, share the landscape with fell ponies, red squirrels, a myriad of birdlife and Pendragon’s Castle. In addition, a branch of my family that has moved here to begin a new life. They are near a village and range of fells of which I have never previously heard, Ravenstonedale and The Howgills respectively.
But I will get to know them.
Into this garden of Eden comes a chap who’s eaten too many pies. A man attempting to reverse the effects of fifty years of dreadful diet. And boy, does any physical shortcoming get found out in these hills.
I venture out for my first foray on foot in the company of the dog. Later, it’ll be just me on my bike.
Half an hour into my first outing, I’m a wreck. Somehow it’s all uphill. Even the downslopes are uphill! I’m used to living next to a football field in a bungalow. Getting around either of these is poor preparation for a series of precipitous fells. And, I have to be honest here, I haven’t actually left the road yet!
My start point is 940 feet and I climb another 400 or so where I reach the highest point of this single ribbon of tarmac. Along the road there are periodic passing places and occasional solid ground exits onto the fells. These are used by quad bike hill farmers tending their flocks. A small, damp ditch runs either side of the road, which is only about four metres wide, so you have to pay attention when cycling or in a vehicle. In my brief experience it’s unusual to meet another road user. Apart from sheep that is, and they generally amble off out of the way.
The fells rise massively to each side and before me. The highest point in the Howgill Fells is The Calf at 2,218 feet. That’s nearly a thousand feet above where I’m already in a state of some distress! The air where I am at 1,345 feet is chill and clear.
I have found my new favourite place.
The road does extend south beyond this crest for half a mile or so. You can see it dip out of sight in the photo. It ends in an isolated farm. Beyond there, the only onward access is via bridleway or on a quad bike (or foot) over the fells.
When my heart stops thumping, there’s a silence so intense, it quietly hisses. That is, until the cry of a curlew fractures the stillness, ending in that familiar rippling trill. They fly close by sometimes, often in pairs, pointing the way with their familiar curved bill. A melody synonymous with the stunning landscape that wraps me up and holds me spellbound. It’s not often I just want to stand and stare, to soak up my surroundings and never leave. But here I’m rooted. Even the dog sits still and absorbs nature’s theatre.
From my crest I can see many miles as the first rays of the sun turn the hill tips auburn. A vibrant red / brown / orange - the fells on fire. But it’s a fleeting look lasting a few precious moments while the sun peers through a low-level veil as it crests a distant moor. Within minutes the light is bright and the hills turn gold.
To be honest, I haven’t sufficient words.
The first day of our working visit is 4th April 2021. It turns out to be a special time spent with family in a wonderful place. We stay in a separate self-contained apartment across the yard so we were comfortable and well distanced. Anybody coming here for a holiday is very lucky.
Twelve years ago, we set off on our boat from central Netherlands bound for Burgundy in France. An ‘on this day’ photograph flashed up on my phone. It shows a fishing boat leaving harbour in a little Dutch town called Hardewijk (pronounced hardyvike), on the shores of the Ijsselmeer, formerly the Zuider Zee. Numerous long, circular hooped nets, called Fyke nets, hang from the rear of the boat. They are designed to catch eels, a staple in The Netherlands, known as paling (pronounced parling). That photograph marked the start of a memorable six-month adventure for us. It feels like one branch of our family is embarking on their own wonderful odyssey.
We are here to work (partly).
‘Should I bring my tools?’ I asked my stepdaughter during the planning stage.
‘No, no, no. You're coming for a break. Goodness, please don’t.’ Pause. ‘You can use Richard’s.’
We performed tasks of which they were quite capable but short of time. Plenty of DIY, ironing, sorting and child-minding. But there was time for us too.
My very first walk amazed me as you’ll have gathered by my initial impressions.
There is so much to see and experience, including some amazing bike rides.
Holiday accommodation par excellence