Clough Head and Great Dodd


St. John’s in the Vale and Naddle Fell.

Long-suffering readers of this blog have probably come to realise that November and I don’t always see eye-to-eye. We aren’t exactly bosom-buddies. You might even say that I have a certain prejudice against November: I bear a grudge and no amount of comedy facial hair and feeble-pun-based name changes are ever likely to heal the rift. What is November? Autumn is pretty much over. Winter hasn’t really got going. The dark nights are drawing in, and……well:

the dark nights are drawing in
and your humour is as black as them
I look at yours, you laugh at mine
and”love” is just a miserable lie

from ‘Miserable Lie’ by The Smiths

The temptation is to succumb to some proper Morrissey miserablism and hide under a pillow until it’s all over.

Or, at least, that was what I thought. But this November unleashed an unbroken string of stunning Sundays (and some non-too-shabby Saturdays too) and I think relations might be defrosting somewhat.


Raven Crag.

I got a reasonably early start: walking at around 8, parked up at Wanthwaite, St. John’s-in-the-Vale, almost opposite where the Old Coach Road emerges onto the modern B5322. Amongst the trees around the old quarries here were substantial flocks of birds – mixed flocks of tits, starlings, field fare etc. Also quite a lot of fairly large toadstools including several groups of the archetypal fly agaric with it’s scarlet cap and white spots.

There’s a path marked on the map which climbs towards Threlkeld Knotts, but I just followed the boundary on the north side of the quarries and then struck off uphill on a slightly diagonal line, assuming that my route would eventually intersect the path.

The view behind of the early light on Naddle Fell (or High Rigg depending on which authority you trust the most) gave me all the excuse I needed for frequent pauses for breathers.

Beyond Naddle Fell, Raven Crag, or at least I presume that it was Raven Crag, was rearing above of the trees, slightly cloaked by mist, looking rather mean, moody and magnificent. I think it must be a Birkett, and since I don’t know the northern end of that broad, Central Lakeland ridge which runs south from Keswick down, ultimately, to the Langdale Pikes, I made a mental note that I must come back and climb it some time.

Meanwhile, the fells in the North-West Lakes were almost completely cloud free, and would remain so, as far as I could tell, all day. (I can’t be sure because at times I was in the clouds myself and couldn’t see how things were progressing elsewhere.)


You can see that I had a few spots of rain on my camera lens. It was one of those sort of days – very changeable weather: fast-moving clouds, some of them low, rainbows, short sharp showers and plenty of sunshine too and all of that quite localised. A great day to be out in fact: if you can’t have wall-to-wall sunshine and pin-sharp views, well then this is, as far as I’m concerned, the next best thing. In fact, I’m sure that you could make a strong case for this being the very best kind of day.

A bit of luck is necessary though. A while back, I climbed Blencathra in cloud and rain. Clough Head was bathed in sunshine when I entered the cloud and still cloud-free, bright and sunny when I dropped below the cloud later. 


Today wasn’t too dissimilar: Skiddaw and Blencathra were capped with a mantle of cloud almost all day, only briefly appearing for one short interval.

On my climb toward Threlkeld Knotts I encountered a loose grouping of four fell ponies, which gives me an excuse for another photo of Naddle Fell catching the sun…



Another fell pony.

I finally met the path only to leave it again almost immediately on another path, not marked on the map, which took me to one of Threlkeld Knotts’ cairned tops, slightly below the knoll with spot height 514m which Birkett gives as the summit.


From the summit of Threlkeld Knotts.


The face of Clough Head which towers over the Knotts is pretty steep, but the path – which you might be able to pick out in the photo above, rising diagonally from left to right – although loose in places, is a delight. Especially if the clouds are sweeping up the valley from Thirlmere and adding drama to the view behind…..



Emerging on to the shoulder of Clough Head.


Looking north across swirling clouds.


Summit cairn, Clough Head.

I didn’t have much of a view from the top of Clough Head, although the sky was still blue overhead.


The onward view: Great Dodd, Little Dodd, Calfhow Pike.


The weather was changing really rapidly now. Black clouds closed in and it began to rain more vehemently. But the North-Western Fells seemed charmed, staying relatively clear. I stopped at Calfhow Pike for a late breakfast and whilst I sat, the scene changed again…


I’ve walked this ridge before, a couple of times I think, although not for many years, and I have to confess that Calfhow Pike has left no impression from my previous visits. The path bypasses it, so perhaps I didn’t visit at all. If you choose to come this way, I commend it to you: it’s only a little pimple really, but being rocky it has lots of nooks and crannies and I imagine that in all but the stiffest of winds you could, as I did, find a sheltered spot to get out of the weather for a brew and a bite to eat. (Boiled eggs, tomatoes and crispy bacon if you wanted to know. Or even if you didn’t.)


A blanket of cloud was advancing up the Thirlmere valley and putting on a free show.


After the roaring success of my last little quiz (one response, could have been worse!) here’s a riddle for you:

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
       And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
       I change, but I cannot die.

Too easy? Well, it’s not really a riddle anyway. It’s from ‘The Cloud’ by Shelley – the title might be a bit of a giveaway. But it struck me that it resembled the sort of thing Bilbo might have used to try to outfox Golem.


Looking back, Calfhow Pike and Clough Head. Notice Blencathra and Skiddaw almost free of cloud behind. Didn’t last long.

So, the point being – perhaps not emerging very clearly – the point being that, although I scour the forecasts hoping to see “100% chance of cloud free summits”, in point of fact, a few clouds, of the right sort, in the right places, can really enhance a view, and a walk, and a day, and the memories of that day.


I didn’t spend long on Great Dodd, just enough time to visit both summit cairns and to say a brief hello to the only other walker I met that day on the hills. A fell runner had already passed me twice, once going up and once hurtling down again. Had I mentioned that these hills were deserted? Lake District hills. On a weekend. When the forecast was pretty respectable. Just goes to show – you can still find peace and quiet, even in the overcrowded Lakes. The Old Coach Road was a little busier, but I’ll get to that later.

You’ll notice that I’ve skipped all mention of Little Dodd, the third of five Birketts on this circuit. That’s because I didn’t notice Little Dodd. It’s a name vaguely spread-eagled across a broad shoulder and has no contours to call it’s own. One of those inexplicable ones.

The photo above is from the ‘summit’ of Randerside, the final Birkett of the day, also bereft of its own contours, but worth a visit for two reasons – firstly because, like Calfhowe Pike, it has a good deal of craggy rock with handy folds and clefts where shelter from the weather can be found – an opportunity I didn’t hesitate to take, and secondly because coming this way brought me down across Matterdale Common, an agreeably empty expanse, which I might otherwise not have thought to explore.

It had been raining again, but now things were looking promising, with sunshine lighting up the long ridge of High Street…


There’s a path across Matterdale Common, but I chose to wander off-piste, both for a gander at Wolf Crags, and to bag the small top at spot height 541m, to the east of Wolf Crags. I couldn’t remember whether that was another Birkett or not (it isn’t). You can surely understand my confusion – it has exactly the same spot height as Threlkeld Knotts, likewise has two contours of its own and actually feels more like a top in its own right. To the south, just beyond Groove Beck and Wham Moss (no – I’m not making this up), High Brow, also with two contours does get Birkett status. It’s all very arbitrary. But that’s fine.


Matterdale Common.


Wolf Crags and Clough Head.

From the unnamed hummock, I dropped steeply down to meet the Old Coach Road – a busy thoroughfare, I met another walker and her dog, saw two more walkers on the track ahead of me and was passed, repeatedly, by three guys on trials bikes who seemed to be driving back and forth along the ‘road’.


The Old Coach Road and Clough Head.

Now here’s another poser: that prominent ridge on the right-hand side of Clough Head rises to a little pointy peak – White Pike. Not a Birkett. Why not?


White Pike.

Anyway – it’s duly noted for my next ascent of Clough Head, whenever that might be.

Notice the old goods wagon below the pike – I know that some people treasure those. Even collect them. Irrational perhaps, but not any more so than ticking off Birketts whilst incessantly moaning about the odd choices in the listing.


Rainbow! And Threlkeld Common.


Another old goods wagon. Slightly worse for wear.


Clough Head.


Blencathra – still doggedly refusing to reveal itself.

I was back to the car at around three, with a bit of daylight to spare, even accounting for the short, November days. This was my first proper hill outing for far too long: I hope that you can tell that I really relished it. And if November insists on snuggling up to me like this, well – we may even become friends.

You know, I sometimes think that November might be much misunderstood. Unfairly maligned. In fact, I don’t even know what it is that everybody seems to hold against it…..

Clough Head and Great Dodd

A Culture Is No Better Than Its Woods

Or: Another Rant with Photographs. 


Okay, back to the same October weekend which provided the photos for the last post. I do remember the weekend a little better then I’ve been letting on. The weather was very fine, so, around the usual commitment of ferrying our children to various sporting activities, I also dragged them out for a couple of strolls.

Why just me? Were TBH and I not on speaking terms? It wasn’t that: she was staggering under an impossible burden of marking. Hardly surprising: she always is. I mention this today, because it’s hard to bite your tongue when Sir Michael Wilshaw has hit the headlines once again:

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, will raise concerns over poor leadership, “indifferent” teaching and a culture in which “misbehaviour goes unchallenged”.

from the Torygraph website.

Headteachers are now so terrified of Ofsted that a culture exists in many schools in which anybody working less than a 168 hour week is seen to be slacking. Ho-hum. I heard our esteemed Chief Inspector interviewed on The Today programme this morning and he claimed that he wants to attract ‘better’ candidates into teaching. Clearly, one sure-fire way to do that is to continually denigrate the profession in the national media. Ho-hum again.


Anyway. Back to more pleasant memories. It was a beautiful afternoon: warm, sunny, with plenty of autumn colour, and a plethora of nuts, berries and fungi to keep a curious eye occupied.


Our route was one we don’t chose very frequently – off Moss Lane and into the open fields of Gait Barrows.


I think I wanted to revisit this tall wilding-apple, which we’d called upon only the weekend before with our visiting friends.


If anything, there were even more windfall apples this time.


Although, they were generally looking a bit scabby now and had a very tart and bitter taste.


From there we headed up onto the limestone pavement, which in autumn sunshine is a superb place to be.


Guelder Rose


I’m sure that photographs of this cairn have appeared on this blog before, along with lots of other wittering about Gait Barrows and what a wonderful place it is. I’m not sure that I’ve ever posted a link to this Natural England webpage though, where you can download a 21 page pdf which has maps and details about the reserve.


I shan’t apologise for repeating myself however: it is a wonderful place. What’s more its ours – publically owned. Very precious that, at a time when politicians of every stripe seem to be neo-cons and are either dogmatically opposed to public ownership or, at best, too embarrassed to offer open support to the idea that some things might be done best collectively, by cooperation, rather than by the operation of a marketplace.

You’ll be aware that this government’s attempt to sell off our publicly owned forests in 2011 was scuppered by the strength of public feeling. But did you know that, as I understand it, the non-descript sounding ‘Infrastructure Bill’, currently getting its second reading in the Commons, contains clauses which will make it very easy for future governments to sell public land and assets unopposed.

The bill would permit land to be transferred directly from arms-length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). This would reduce bureaucracy, manage land more effectively, and get more homes built. 


Does that sound like a chilling threat to you? It does to me.

You can find what George Monbiot had to say, writing in the Guardian, about the bill, during its first reading, here.


Meanwhile, back at Gait Barrows, the light was low-angled and lovely, and I was taking photos like a man possessed.


Now here, now there, some loosened element,
A fruit in vigor or a dying leaf,
Utters its private idiom for descent,
And late man, listening through his latter grief,
Hears, close or far, the oldest of his joys,
Exactly as it was, the water noise.

from Bucolics, II: Woods by W.H. Auden


This post’s title too is harvested from Woods. It would make a great exam question wouldn’t it?

“A culture is no better than its woods.” Discuss.


I’m not sure that bodes too well for English culture, since we’ve very successfully decimated our woods and have so very little natural woodland left. Perhaps that’s what Auden was driving at.


Auden was one of the four poets I studied for my O-Level English exam, along with Betjeman, Owen and R.S.Thomas. I don’t remember reading this particular poem however – I was alerted to its existence thanks to Solitary Walker and his new poetry discussion blog, The Hidden Waterfall.

You can find the entire poem here.


This couplet is also rather wonderful:

The trees encountered on a country stroll
Reveal a lot about a country’s soul.


I have to confess that we didn’t realise that we were in the business of investigating the health of the nation’s soul. We just thought we were enjoying some fresh air, some sunshine, some good company and some fine views.


A Culture Is No Better Than Its Woods

10 Top Tips for an Outdoor Blog


Write What You Know

Choose a subject about which you are passionate and knowledgeable. Consider finding time to do a little research. Everybody likes to take something away from what they read and readers are likely to come back if they feel they’ve been educated by your post. If you know nothing, fear not: remember that most internet users will know even less than you! Bullshit with confidence and you are likely to hoodwink almost everyone!


Use Lots of Headlines

Use lots of headlines. They break up chunks of text. Nobody can cope with long or even middling chunks of text in the internet age. Remember: modern man has all the intellectual and analytical capabilities of a fence post. ‘He has the attention span of a homo sapiens’ is a commonly heard insult amongst gnats.


Photographs Are Even Better Than Headlines.

Photographs are even better than headlines. Although headlines break up the nasty words into manageable bite-size chunks, they are, you may have noticed, actually composed of words themselves! I know – it’s so easily overlooked! Photographs on the other hand, not only provide even bigger gaps between the awkward written bits, but are also much less demanding on your readers than headlines.


Don’t Be Afraid to Repeat Yourself

Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. That’s right: don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Repetition is your friend. Remember: your average reader is a dimwit. If you are going to get anything across, you’re really going to have to hammer it home.


Lists are, like, reeely cool.

  • If you don’t have an amusing photo of a cat.
  • Steal somebody else’s amusing photo of a cat.
  • Failing that, if you insist on including words in your posts, then make lists!
  • Lists are your friends!
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself!
  • Exclamation marks add excitement!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • !
  • Bullet points are easier to read than paragraphs.
  • Your list needs a title like ‘32 things I wish I’d known about dubbin’.
  • I doesn’t matter if you only have 5 things and not 32.
  • Remember: your readers are barely literate, it’s hardly likely that they can count!

Try Not To Insult Your Readers.

Try not to insult your readers. But remember: it’s a wonder that they can adequately feed and clothe themselves. You can probably get away with murder.


Write While The Memory Is Fresh

Write while the memory is fresh. If your blog is, for all intents and purposes, a diary, try to keep up to date with your posts. Otherwise you run the risk of finding a handful of photos on file from a walk which you barely remember. Especially if your brain is turning to mush and your memory is leakier than the proverbial sieve. In those circumstances you might find yourself wittering on, extemporising a post which appears to be advice, but  which is essentially an elaborate joke…….can I stop now?

10 Top Tips for an Outdoor Blog

A Visit From ‘Our Camping Friends’


Sometimes it’s handy to have an abbreviated, short-hand way of referring to people or places. When we were kids, for instance, my brother always called our gaggle of cousins from overseas ‘Them Jerman gurls’. For my own kids, our group of old friends, most of whom first came together as the nucleus of the committee of Manchester University Hiking Club in the mid-eighties, will forever be known as ‘Our Camping Friends’, regardless of the fact that, although we do go camping together a couple of times every year, more often that not when we meet, we’re aren’t camping, but have congregated in some other suitable venue. Besides which, after looking at Facebook postings by the proud new owners of a shiny, new, all-singing, all-dancing folding-camper, A opined that we might have to start calling them Our Glamping Friends.

Anyway, in the Autumn, the regular ‘suitable venue’ is traditionally our house. This year’s get-together wasn’t as well organised as previous year’s have been. In my defence, it’s a very onerous event to plan. After due consideration you have to chose a date. Then emails need to be sent inviting everyone. Then…..well, that’s it to be honest. Tricky, eh?


Anyway, thanks to the tardiness of my invites, we didn’t have quite as many takers this time round, and some couldn’t make it for the whole weekend.


On the Saturday we managed, as usual, to spend all morning preparing, eating and recovering from a huge fry-up (sausage, bacon and black-pudding from Burrow’s butchers in the village – highly recommended), and then washing it down with industrial quantities of tea and tittle-tattle.

In the afternoon it appears that we went for a walk and that the sun shone. I can see from the photos that we went down to the salt-marsh and round Jenny Brown’s Point again. We probably went somewhere else after that, but I can’t clearly recall; evidence, if evidence were needed, that my brain is turning to mush faster than you can say……………………erm,hang on, where was I?

In the evening, we rewarded ourselves for the gargantuan efforts of the day with another slap-up take-away from the local curry house.

We resolved that the following day, we would Do Much Better, Get Out Earlier, Make An Effort; you know, generally resist the slide into slothful lethargy. We set-off on a Really Big Walk. An expedition to the Fairy Steps, chosen pretty much on the insistence of our kids. Unfortunately, we were waylaid by a sunny clearing amongst the trees. The ground was too inviting, the sun too warm, the lure of the tea and snacks in our rucksacks too tempting: we might have resisted any one of them alone, but what chance did we stand against all three?


So we lay down for a moment or two. Or 120. Tea was brewed and guzzled. Chins were waggled. Winks were snatched.

The children were happy because they had all the makings of a den to hand.

When Easter releases the child, in any provincial suburb, from his inveterate bondage to grammar and sums, you will see him refreshing himself with sportive revivals of one of the earliest anxieties of man. Foraging around like a magpie or rook, he collects odd bits of castaway tarpaulin and sacking, dusters, old petticoats, broken broom-sticks and fragments of corrugated iron. Assembling these building materials on some practicable patch of waste grass, preferably in the neighbourhood of water, he raises for himself a simple dwelling. The blessing of a small fire crowns these provisions for domestic felicity, and marvellous numbers of small persons may be seen sitting around these rude hearths, conversing with the gravity of Sioux chieftains  or, at the menace of rain, packing themselves into incredibly small cubic spaces of wigwam.

from The Right Place by C.E.Montague

I’ve just started reading ‘The Right Place’, having picked it up in Carnforth Bookshop recently. What a find! It’s eminently quotable, so you can probably expect more.


This is Charles Edward Montague in person. A novelist and journalist, he worked for the Manchester Guardian, as it was then. In 1914, too old to enlist, he dyed his hair black and joined up anyway. After the war he wrote anti-war novels and a memoir ‘Disenchantment’. I shall be on the look out for them. His son was one of the athlete’s portrayed in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’.

I’m not sure why I have such a soft-spot for the tweed-suited, bravura-moustachioed, pipe-chewing outdoor-writers of the early twentieth century. Over the years quite a few have featured in this blog – Viscount Grey, Ramsay McDonald, E.V.Lucas, A.B.Austin and Stephen Graham all spring to mind. (Gary Hogg and Ian Niall are a little later, but feel to me like they fit the profile.) Using two initials isn’t essential, but it clearly helps. It’s not just walkers either – I’m a fan of H.H., H.G.,G.K.,P.G. and R.L. too (I know that there are some people out there who still appreciate a bit of a quiz, anyone going to rise to the challenge? And no – they aren’t cricketers.)

Would Charles Edward have frittered away half of the day snoozing in the long grass? I doubt it. Not that I was completely indolent…


…a bit of motion in the bracken had me hunting for this slightly tatty Speckled Wood, but even as I took this photo, B was tugging on my arm and, were he a poker player he would undoubtedly have been telling me, ‘I’ll see your tired old butterfly and raise you one enormous beetle.’


Here is his find. A Violet Ground Beetle. Very fast-moving it was. Predatory apparently.


Eventually, and with some reluctance all round, what with the children wanting to furnish and decorate their wiki-up and the adults mostly content to loll about like the occupants of an opium den in the London of Fu Manchu, we summoned up the energy from somewhere or other to continue our walk.


This is our merry band, breaking camp and leaving our bivouac spot, to cross the fields…



…and eventually make it to the path which slips stealthily through the first line of crags on Beetham Fell…


…before reaching the Fairy Steps themselves, which are altogether more difficult to negotiate, especially if you’re a bit short for your height like I am.



Beetham Fell.


Homeward bound.

The last part of our walk, alongside Silverdale Moss, held a bit of a surprise for me regarding another old friend, but that will have to wait for another post. (See how I’m cranking up the tension there, you’ll be on tenterhooks now, possibly for months!)

As ever, it was a great pleasure to see everyone, catch-up, re-tell old jokes, rehearse ancient yarns, indulge in a little anecdote bingo etc. The boys spent the entire weekend talking exclusively, some might say obsessively, about Minecraft, but we can hardly fault them for living cosseted in their own little world, now can we?

A Visit From ‘Our Camping Friends’

About Silverdale


So, as mentioned in my previous post, towards the end of September there was a local history weekend in Silverdale. There were talks, guided walks and several generous people had opened their houses and/or gardens up for nosy people to have a gander at.


We took the opportunity to climb Lindeth Tower again. There’s a photo, and a little bit about the tower and it’s connection to Elizabeth Gaskell, in the post about our previous visit, here.




…is a rather imperfect view of Hazelwood Hall. It’s a Victorian mansion with a later Thomas Mawson designed garden.



…is the Limes. The interesting story here being this….


…spite wall, built alongside the The Limes when it was new, by the owners of the older, adjacent house who objected to the proximity of the new house overlooking their house and gardens.




Alan’s garage, down on Shore Road, I think somebody told us that this building is listed. It looks like it’s listing in this photo, but I suspect that’s my fault.


These are the fishermen’s cottages, down by the ‘beach’. The one at the far end was the first one built, and was originally a bath house where the guests of what is now the Silverdale Hotel, but which was at the time the Britannia Hotel, if my memory serves me right, could bathe in the waters of Morecambe Bay without exposing themselves to the local weather, or the local hoi polloi.


This washed-up fish was tiny, perhaps a remnant of the shoals we had seen in the channels on our previous stroll.


When the rest of the family decided that they had had enough history and fresh air for one day, I extended the walk a little around the shore to The Cove.



Taking in a minor trod which I haven’t noticed before, and which wends it’s way up into the trees on the cliff behind The Cove.






Sunday found us down at Grey Walls…..


Like Hazelwood Hall, and seemingly most of the other larger properties in the village, this once belonged to the Sharp family, in fact it was built for them. Recently, it’s been Ridgeway School, but was sold, I believe in three lots. The reason for our visit was the walled garden within the grounds.


There’s a house within it and the new owners, keen gardeners, are restoring the garden, which had become overgrown. It’s another Thomas Mawson design.


We really enjoyed having a nose around.


The feature which elicited the most comment and conversation was this tree…


…which has a very strong scent of popcorn or candy-floss, depending on who you asked to describe it. It also had many small fruits…


One opinion offered was that it is a Judas tree, others felt a Strawberry tree was closer to the mark. I don’t know. Anybody think they can give a definitive answer?

About Silverdale