Firbank Fell – Three Steeplehouses Walk

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Howgill Fells from Master Knott.

Small, unassuming hills often give the best views. The view across the Lune Valley to the Howgill Fells from Master Knott, a little knobble on the eastern side of Firbank Fell is a case in point.

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Panorama – click on the photo (or any others) to see larger versions on Flickr.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This was another after work outing and another chapter in my exploration of the Lune catchment area.

I’d driven up the narrow road from Black Horse on the A684. For once I’d  done a bit of research in advance and had read that it was possible to park on the verge here. And it was, just about, but my car is small and I don’t think I would park here again – it was a bit tight.

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One advantage of this high starting point was the view back down the road of the Lune Valley to the south.

I was here to visit Fox’s Pulpit. The map suggests that it might be a little way from the road, but in fact I could see it as soon as I pulled up. This is it…

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Apparently, the meeting commemorated here, which happened in 1652, is considered by some to be the beginning of the Society of Friends, or Quakers.

This small field…

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…is shown on the OS map as a graveyard, but in Fox’s time there was a Church here.

One gravestone still remains…

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Fox preferred to preach outside in the open, although, it occurs to me that if there were around ‘a thousand seekers’ present then getting them all into a small hillside chapel may have been impractical anyway.

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George Fox had an interesting life but the fact that will stick with me, I think, is that he was born in the village of Drayton-in-the-Clay in Leicestershire, not so far from where I grew up. It’s called Fenny Drayton now and I’m pretty sure that I’ve cycled through the village a few times, although all of them a very long time ago.

On the short walk from Fox’s Pulpit to the top of Master Knott I was entertained by this Silver Y Moth…

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…which proved devilishly difficult to photograph. There was quite a breeze and each time it flew I wasn’t completely convinced that it could control the flight. After landing it would continue on foot, walking surprisingly quickly, often low down beneath the grass and other vegetation. You can just about see the Y on its wing which gives it its name.

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“I try quite hard to learn the flowering plants but must confess to having long ago thrown in the towel when it comes to the pea family.”

A Natural History of the Hedgerow by John Wright

And this from someone who elsewhere in the book talks authoritatively about obscure things like Rusts and Smuts and Lichens and Liverworts. I’m going to tentatively hazard that the single flower above is Bush Vetch (but am ready to be corrected).

From Master Knott I returned to the road, taking the path to the north which heads down into the Lune Valley. It shortly brought me to the field in the foreground here, just beyond the gate, which was decidedly wet underfoot and full of interesting flora and fauna.

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I wasn’t fast enough to photograph the wonderful black and red Cinnabar Moth, the Small Heath butterflies or any of the small birds, but I enjoyed seeing them. Many of the very vigorous plants looked like they had either just finished flowering or were just about to flower. Some were giving a fine display, however…

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Heath Spotted-orchid.

I’m pretty confident that this really is Heath Spotted, unlike the last orchid I identified as such on the blog, which I’m even more uncertain about now – I’m more inclined to think that is was Common Spotted after all.

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Ragged Robin.

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Ringlet.

The next field had been recently mown, but was just as busy with butterflies and equally mobbed with dragonflies.

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The trees on the right border a tributary of the Lune, unnamed on the OS map.

These…

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…flew past me and then landed close enough by for me to locate them afterwards. They are Golden-ringed Dragonflies, Britain’s longest species at around 8cm.

This is the male…

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…he has already transferred semen to his accessory genitalia and is grasping the back of the female’s head with his anal appendages in the hope that she will curl the tip of her abdomen forward to transfer that semen.

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Red Admiral.

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Meadow Brown.

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When I reached a road, the path went straight across, but there was a sign warning me that the footbridge over the Lune I hoped to cross, Fisherman’s Bridge, had been damaged during flooding and was unusable. Sometimes, these signs get left in situ even after the damage has been repaired, so I decided to take a look myself.

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Perhaps the completely overgrown state of the first section of the path should have acted as an additional warning. The bridge was more than just damaged, with even the substantial piers have been shorn off – the top of one was lying close by in the river still.

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Back up the hill then to brave the nettles and return to the road. Actually, I contemplated following the former railway line which also runs along the valley – I chose not to in the end, but there’s a brilliant potential cycleway there waiting for development. Anyway, after consulting the map, I decided to head south along the road.

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Stocks.

It’s a B-road, but wasn’t busy, and didn’t make for bad walking at all.

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Another Red Admiral.

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The Old School House and Firbank Church Hall – date stone shows 1860 – possibly also once part of the school?

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Yet another Red Admiral.

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A Carder Bee (?) on Foxgloves.

One advantage of walking on a road is the accompanying hedges – often better maintained than ‘internal’ hedges and full of a massive diversity of life. Having been reading ‘A Natural History of the Hedgerow’ I was more alert than usual to that diversity, and took great delight in noticing just how many species were present. Not that I did it properly; in 2015, I’ve learned, Dr Rob Wolton published an article about a two year study he had carried out of a 90m length of hedge near his home in Devon. He had discovered a staggering 2070 different species in the hedge, and that was with some species still to be identified and having ignored rusts and mildews. Apparently he thinks the actual total might be closer to 3000.

I didn’t spot quite that many on this walk!

The hedges here were full of webs or nests…I’m not sure what to call them. Some were large blanket webs like others I’ve seen this year, but in other cases smaller webs seemed to have been used to knit leaves together to make some sort of home…

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In many of the webs, I could see clumps of pale shapes which I took to be pupae…

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Another advantage of walking on the road was that it brought me to…

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Naturally, I felt compelled to take a peek inside…

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This church, built in 1841, replaced the chapel on the hill, which was destroyed in a storm a few years before. There is no stained glass, but the view from this window more than compensates, although I don’t think my photo quite captures it…

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Stepping outside I found, in an unmown area close to the entrance to the grounds, this…

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…which I believe is a Butterfly Orchid, a first for me. I’m not sure however, whether it’s a Lesser Butterfly Orchid or a Greater Butterfly Orchid. Sadly, it was in deep shade, which is presumably why the photo hasn’t come out too well.

This very large bumble bee was behaving rather oddly, for a bee, sedately exploring this leaf in the hedge.

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The size, and the behaviour, made me wonder whether this could be a queen, but looking at the photo again, I now think that this is a worker, a Buff-tailed Bumblebee. The tail looks white, but there is a subtle line of buff at the edge of that white which suggests that identification.

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Lune Viaduct.

I left the road here, taking a path through more newly mown fields which bordered the Lune. A screen of trees prevented any more than glimpses of the river, but in the unmown fringes of the field there was the compensation of a number of Common Knapweed flowers…

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They seemed to flourish here in this part of the Lune Valley and I would see many more during the remainder of the walk. The bees liked them too. This might be a Garden Bumblebee. Might.

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But this is a Tree Bumblebee, which, I’ve realised this year, are ubiquitous.

If I hadn’t paused to admire the Knapweed and its attendant bees, I would never have noticed…

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…this shield bug. It took me a while to track down the exact species, so that I was tempted to just call it ‘bronze’ because of its colour. And that’s exactly what it is, a Bronze Shieldbug, widespread but not particularly common apparently. Quite similar to the Forest Bug, which I photographed on Hutton Roof some years ago.

The track transferred to the riverbank side of the trees, which meant that I could see these…

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…Monkeyflowers.

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Lincoln’s Inn Bridge.

I joined the Dales Way here briefly, between Lincoln’s Inn Bridge and Luneside Farm.

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Luneside.

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Garden Bumblebee on Common Knapweed (I think).

I detoured a little here, an out-and-back past Prospect House (where the dogs in the garden watched me with suspicion) to…

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St. Gregory’s or the Vale of Lune Chapel. The third steeplehouse on our walk, steeplehouse being George Fox’s preferred term for a church – although none of these have had steeples. Actually, only the Firbank Church is still in use; the first obviously was ruined, although the local Quaker Meeting House at Briggflats still commemorates Fox’s sermon with a June outdoor meeting; and this last, although still consecrated is in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust.

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“This chapel was built in the early 1860s by the Upton family, when the London and North Western Railway was building its Ingleton branch and sent a Scripture Reader to the navvies. Attached to a cottage, it is a plain building perhaps designed by a railway engineer; but inside a delightful and colourful series of stained glass windows by Frederick George Smith depict river scenes, trees and plants, as well as birds and animals found locally. These were installed in about 1900 when the church was refurnished.” Source

The Upton family owned Ingmire Hall which is very close by.

 

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The furniture in the church was apparently by Waring and Gillow of Lancaster. (The Gillow family owned Leighton Hall which is close to home).

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Unusual roof-lights.

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One of the windows designed by Frederick George Smith. I took photos of them all, and can’t decide whether or not to make a fuller post with more pictures of St. Gregory’s; I rather liked it.

In edition to the windows mentioned above, there are also windows featuring personifications of Peace…

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…Justice and Fortitude which one source says are of William Morris design.

It doesn’t take long to look around St. Gregory’s, but it’s well worth a visit. I sat in the porch for a moment or two, to have a drink and decide which way to go next.

Back to Luneside, I decided, where the sheep dogs, all, fortunately, caged securely, went berserk again, although, judging by the wagging tails, they may have been enthusiastic rather than angry.

In the fields south of Luneside I heard a commotion from a Hawthorn. It wasn’t the familiar yaffle, but sounded none-the-less like a Green Woodpecker. Then came an answering call from the hedge ahead of me. As I approached the hedge, a bird within the hedge, tried to fly out, away from me, but flew straight into the wire net fence beside the hedge. It was a juvenile Green Woodpecker…

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After a moment of contemplation it decided to climb the fencepost, somehow jamming itself between the wire and the post so that I couldn’t really see it.

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Those claws are well-adapted for climbing!

The adult meanwhile was even more strident now…

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As I walked away from the hedge, the adult flew ahead of me…

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…before looping back to the youngster in the hedge.

Beside the Lune here, there’s a odd little Nature Reserve, a thin little strip along the riverbank.

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Leading to Killington New Bridge.

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From here I took the lazy decision to follow the road in the most direct route back to the car. It was getting late and the weather had deteriorated, with a layer of cloud spreading in from the west and a few spots of rain in the air

The hedgerows were once again festooned with webs…

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…containing hanging white cylinders…

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But now, perhaps because it was quite late and a bit gloomy, there were moths evident too…

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I think that this is an ermel moth, specifically Yponomeuta Cagnagella. Apparently, the ‘gregarious larvae clothe with extensive silken tents’ the Spindle shrubs on which they live. And looking at the photos, these leaves could well be Spindle.

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Former Country Pub the Black Horse after which the road junction is named.

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A stream, another tributary of the Lune, runs beside the A road here.

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At New Field farm everyone was busy, trying to get the silage in before the forecast rain arrived…

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Juvenile Wheatear, I think.

Fox's Pulpit

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Firbank Fell – Three Steeplehouses Walk

A Walk Along the Tracks

Smardale Hall

Smardale Hall.

With an opportunity to get out for a day’s  walking and a very promising forecast too boot, I decided to make a virtue of a necessity and tackle an easy, level route which I’ve been wanting to try for a while. Actually, when planning my jaunt, I’d first turned to the internet for inspiration – looking for walks along, or at least mostly along, disused railway lines. I came across the website of the Northern Viaduct Trust, which has details of two railway walks in the Kirkby Stephen area. One of those, over Podgill viaduct, I walked a few years ago when we were staying in Kirkby Stephen Youth Hostel for one of our annual pre-Christmas get-togethers. The other was one which I hadn’t walked before, but which I’ve been aware of for awhile. Where did I first read about it? I’m not sure – I’ve certainly looked it up on the Cumbria Wildlife Trust website before, and Mike Knipe posted about the same route early last year. It’s also mentioned by Patrick Barkham in his ‘The Butterfly Isles’ – he made a mad dash there from London to find Scotch Argus butterflies at the southern extreme of their range. He saw Dark Green Fritillaries and Small Skippers too.

So it was that just after eight thirty on a perfect sunny morning I pulled into a small car-park in the tiny hamlet of Smardale. I wondered whether Smardale Hall, with it’s smart symmetrical towers might be faux and Victorian, but apparently it’s 15th and 16th Century in construction, with evidence of older medieval buildings on the site.

A walk along the tracks. 

Just as I’d hoped, the track gave very gentle walking.

The birds in the trees on either side were enjoying the sunshine and singing enthusiastically. Mainly cheerful sounding chaffinches, but sadly they were a moody bunch, with a habit of turning away just as you lined-up a shot…

Churlish chaffinch 

Robin’s, on the other-hand, can usually be relied upon to cooperate…

Robin 

I’m most pleased with this one however: at least, if my assumption is correct and this is a wren. Whenever I’ve tried to photograph wrens before, they’ve never sat still long enough for me to get even a huffy, cold-shoulder photo.

Wren? 

It seems that a Forth-bridge-painting style rolling programme of coppicing and scrub clearance is carried out in the nature reserve which runs along the valley here. One newly cleared embankment was sunny with primroses…

As I passed the primroses, three roe deer bounced across the track ahead. In the strong sunlight, their white rump patches were startlingly bright.

Primroses 

Not far beyond the car-park, the old line passes beneath the Smardale Viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line.

Smardale viaduct 

The next section of the line took me into the shade of Demesne Wood. I’d been intending to stop for some late breakfast, but decided to defer until I was out into the sunshine again.

A chorus of harsh caws and soft-quacking alerted me to the nests of a rookery in the tree-tops overhead. Rooks nest early I believe, and I thought that perhaps there would already be eggs in the nests, but I saw one rook carrying a substantial twig towards the rookery, so maybe I was wrong.

Across the valley I watched two large, dark birds wheeling and flirting. They were a way off, but when one perched prominently on a dry-stone wall, the super-zoom Olympus produced pictures with enough definition to confirm that they were ravens. A little further down I watched a raven which was being mobbed by jackdaws. The raven would alight in the top-most branches of a hawthorn tree, but then, apparently exasperated by their attentions, would half-heartedly swoop at the jackdaws. This taunting and chasing continued for some time. Ravens will take eggs from nests – perhaps the jackdaws were defending theirs?

When I did emerge into sunshine again, it was on the day’s second viaduct: the Smardalegill viaduct. From which there was a lovely view along Scandal Beck (I know – it ought to be Smardale Gill surely?) to Green Bell and Knoutberry on the north-western edge of the Howgills.

Scandal Beck, Green Bell in the distance. 

Just beyond the viaduct I stopped for that breakfast and the first of several brews.

The shadow of the viaduct. 

The shadow of the viaduct.

Smardale Lime Kilns 

A little farther still down the line and there are limestone quarries and these large lime-kilns.

Railwayman's cottage 

My first thought when I saw the railwayman’s cottage was that it would make a great bothy. (A reflection on my recent blog-reading) It’s all boarded up however, but with careful small entrances with perches let into the boards over the upstairs windows. For jackdaws?

Cutting 

Where the line entered this cutting, I noticed that the shaded wall on the left was covered in verdant shaggy mosses, whereas the right-hand wall was much clearer, with the odd neat pin-cushion…

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As I got close to Newbiggin-on-Lune I started to meet other walkers. Mike mentioned that Newbiggin has a cafe, but with the sun still shining I decided that I was content with outdoor refreshments. On the outskirts of Newbiggin there are a number of impressive old houses, but none of the others caught my imagination to the same extent as the Tower House…

Tower House

..with it’s castellated gable-ends and it’s, erm, tower…

The Tower House - tower.

I followed a little bridleway now which took me past a small barn…

A charming barn 

…past Friar’s Bottom Farm…

Green Bell again 

Northern Howgills. Green Bell left of centre.

and over Sandy Bank, where I stopped for another brew.

View from a brew-stop. 

Brew with a view.

I didn’t do as well as Patrick Barkham, but I did see a single solitary butterfly here. It was some distance away, but I would guess that it was a small tortoiseshell.

Dropping down into the valley I crossed Smardale bridge and realised that I was fulfilling a promise I made myself over 20 years ago, when I walked the Coast to Coast, to come back to explore this valley.

The eastern side of the valley has old sandstone quarries and the wall here was an engaging mixture of red sandstone and grey limestone. The bright green lichen on some of the stones in the wall added to the colourful pageant. (Although the camera doesn’t seem to have captured the intensity of the green.)

Lichen 

Now that I had begun to inspect the wall a little closer, I noticed that some of the stones…

Fossils? 

…had fossils embedded in them.

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More fossils…

More fossils? 

..and a close-up…

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Gateway 

Scandal beck 

Scandal Beck and Smardalegill viaduct.

Railwayman's cottage again 

The railwayman’s cottage again.

Smardalegill viaduct 

I stopped for lunch (and another brew of course) with a view of Smardalegill viaduct. Whilst I ate, I watched a raven swooping through the arches of the viaduct. Then it settled in a small tree below the viaduct. I tried, without success, to get a clear photo. When the raven finally flew out of sight, I gave up and began to ready myself to move on – it was then that I noticed that a raven was making repeated low, fast passes across the hillside above me. They are breathtaking fliers.

Raven

From there it was a short stroll back along the tracks…

Back along the tracks 

..towards the car.

Hazel catkins

Hazel Catkins again.

I did incorporate a short diversion down to the banks of the beck, where I watched the antics of a pair of pied-wagtails.

Scandal beck, smardale viaduct. 

Scandal Beck.

Smardale viaduct

Smardale Viaduct again.

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Nuthatch

On the last section, amongst the trees, where the chaffinches had played hard to get earlier, there was less bird-song than before. This time it was a nuthatch which led me on a tantalisingly elusive chase from tree to tree.

Cloud

Cloud.

A Walk Along the Tracks