Would you believe, that in six years of SOTA, I have never activated in the Howgills? I wasn’t going to this time either; today, long identified as a SOTA day out opportunity for Jimmy and I, was earmarked for Welsh pair of Pen Llithrig y Wrach GW/NW-013 and Creigiau Gleision GW/NW-028.
One look at the Met Office website changed all that. Wales looked appalling, if you will excuse that clumsy phrase. So, for that matter, did all southern and central England, and Scotland, with the Lake District also under threat. However, equally clear was that North Yorkshire looked odds on to escape everything. So I changed my plan from NW-028/NW-013 to NP-013/NP-019.
We were at the iconic Lymm Truck Stop for a mug of tea and bumper fry up each shortly after 7am, and then bombing up the M6 to Junction 37, known well to us as the Lambrigg Fell G/LD-046 turning. But here we headed right into Sedburgh, and through to the Cross Keys Inn and the large parking area shortly after.
THE CALF G/NP-013
We crossed the long narrow footbridge and followed the river for a short while around the foot of Ben End. Then we took the right fork in the path and headed over boggier but straightforward ground towards the waterfall. The sun was out, and although it was very cold - about 2 degrees - we were just in shirts and fleeces, the coats, gloves, hats and spare fleeces in our rucksacks.
If we hadn’t warmed up already, we certainly did as we began to climb steeply up the grassy bank beside Cautley Spout. The sign requested that we vary our route up, zigzagging and avoiding eroded areas. We obliged - for a while. For when it got really steep, and quite narrow, the level bootprints eroded into the ground were difficult to avoid. My knees, ankles and thighs were well in need of some respite, so I abandoned my conscience and followed in the footsteps of others - literally.
By the higher section of the waterfall, the path became even steeper yet, climbing up big cubes of rock. It was more like a ladder than a path! At the head of Cautley Spout, the ground eased and we turned south to walk by Red Gill Beck and Force Gill Beck towards the saddle. Here we intercepted a wide gravel bridleway, and five more minutes in a NNW direction led us to the trig point at the summit.
Our coats had now been on for twenty minutes, and the bitter cold at the summit demanded that we also add a second fleece each. The SOTA Beam was set up, horizontally polarised, and I kicked off on 2m CW. Three contacts made here, then Jimmy had a go on 2m SSB. Just one here for Jimmy, so we had a go on FM. It was nice to get Andy M0FMF/P at Tebay Services (at the bottom of the hill we were on!) and a S2S with Gordon G0EWN/P on Fairfield G/LD-007.
We finished with 3 on 2m CW, 1 on 2m SSB and 7 on 2m FM. 5 contacts for M1EYP and 6 for M3EYP. As we began packing the gear away, several large groups of walkers consecutively arrived at the summit. No sooner had I arranged for one walker to take a photo of Jimmy and I by the trig, than I was being made the same kind of request myself for the other groups. We were pretty cold, but soon warmed up when walking again back down to the top of Cautley Spout.
Here we continued straight on, following the green path ahead towards the big green dome of Yarlside. It was looking superb in the bright afternoon sunshine. Despite the cold, it had remained dry and bright with only minimal wind, so we were pleased with that. That morning’s BBC TV forecast had indicated the possibility of a sharp lunchtime shower. This was looking less likely in increasingly clear and deep blue skies.
We crossed the saddle and followed the faint path up the steep grassy slopes. Here, the walking became less pleasant, with the route much less distinct, and the steep slopes putting extra pressure on the ankles. We intercepted the gully at Bowderdale Head and followed that upwards until the land suddenly became much steeper. Jimmy wasn’t sure how to proceed. I was sure - that I needed a rest and a spot of lunch.
We got the foam mats out and plonked down by the babbling brook on very steep ground. A couple of cups of Root Vegetable and Butternut Squash soup (delicious - recommended) and a Cadbury’s Boost bar each replenished our energy and mental resources sufficiently to attack the remaining climb with renewed vigour and confidence.
It was still a steep pull up onto the ridge which took lots of effort, but once there we were greeted with an easy distinct path to the summit. After the customary photographs by the summit cairn, we set up the 2m SOTA Beam (horizontally again) a couple of metres down in lee of the wind. The views from our operating position were stunning. This time we made 4 contacts on 2m CW, 5 on 2m SSB and 3 on 2m FM, a total of 5 for Jimmy and 7 for Tom.
For the descent route, we followed the ridge down over Ben End, and dropped down to meet the bridleway back to the layby and the Cross Keys Inn. Although the ground was definitely damp, it was not the unpleasant bog that Steve G1INK had encountered here two days earlier. Plus we had the added bonus that it didn’t rain at all, all day. My mind began to turn to the prospect of hand-pulled Black Sheep Bitter and homemade pork and black pudding pies. Until we saw two depressing signs on the inn: “Unlicensed” and “Closed”.
So homeward bound it was for a Weston Balti and a bottle of red wine. A splendid day out with a super circular walk. Plus two SOTA uniques and 8 points. Thanks to all callers, especially the intrepid 2m CWers.
73, Tom M1EYP