30th May, 2015 – Kingsdale and Gragareth

This is an account of a walk I did several months ago with Steve, one of my oldest friends, and it is a blog post which had slipped through the blogging net. When I say ‘one of my oldest friends’ I mean we have known each other for a long number of years, and not that he is getting on a bit and into his dotage. If I remember correctly, he is a couple of years younger than myself, although from looking at us you would think he was much, much older; he did have a difficult paper round as a kid, and it must be that which has taken it toll on him.

The aim of the walk was “to climb Lancashire’s highest hill“, which is now Gragareth at 2,057 feet, or  627m – seems simple enough doesn’t it, but there was much agonising behind the scenes before we got to this point. By way of a bit of background history to this “Lancashire’s highest hill” business, we have to glance at a bit of English Government gerrymandering that still causes people to sigh heavily to this day. Prior to the passing of the Local Government Act in 1972, and the resulting County Boundary changes that then took place in 1974, the highest hill in Lancashire was Conistons’ “Old Man” at 2,634 feet high, or 803m, however since 1974 it was “moved” into Cumbria. Call me old fashioned if you will, but I just cannot bring myself to recognise the ‘new’ county boundary of Lancashire, and I still refer to Lancashire as being the old county Palatine boundary of Lancashire, or ‘historic’ Lancashire complete with its bits ‘north of the sands’.

Furthermore, technically, where I live, now comes under ‘Greater Manchester’, which I find very odd as it is a County that has a boundary which is not shown on maps, has no county boundary signs at its borders and whose governing Council was abolished nearly thirty years ago in 1986. In fact, ‘Greater Manchester’ has been out of existence as a County for longer than it was actually in existence and yet people still refer to it as part of their address. How this state of affairs came about is even more puzzling as it was created purely as an administrative area and not a geographic replacement for Lancashire. “Greater Manchester” is a bastardised mongrel of a County in my opinion and the ‘historic’ Lancashire should never have been disposed of… Well, legally speaking it hasn’t been disposed of as this statement clarifies…

We confirm that although the changes brought about by the 1972, and indeed, subsequent legislation, have altered the administrative boundaries of the County (of Lancashire) for the purposes of local government, they have not affected the boundaries of the Palatinate.

Duchy of Lancaster – 29th August 1996 

…and who is the Duke of Lancaster you may ask?.. For those in the dark on the answer to this, it is HM t’Queen, or Liz, as she is known in these parts. If the Queen says it is so, then I’ll not doubt her, or off to the Tower it will be for me.

As both Steve and I are proud Lancastrians, being born the correct side of the boundary changes in the early 1970’s it was difficult for us to reconcile, as technically, and according to my boundary belief system, we should be going up the Old Man of Coniston to get to Lancashires highest hill – however, as Steve said, we cannot live in the past and must change with the times, so for this walk Gragareth is the highest point in Lancashire, albeit only temporarily so in my mind and through gritted teeth. I digress with my rant, so back to the walk..

Distance – 7.9 miles
Ascent – 1,378 ft
Sandwiches – Cheese & Ham salad

Elevation Profile
OS Route Map
3D Image of route

I picked Steve up on the Saturday morning after making a huge pile of sandwiches to sustain us on the walk, and the weather forecast was going to be fine but overcast. Having looked at the maps the night before, I decided that the best route for us to get there was to drive up to Ingleton on the A65 and then take the minor road which leads up through Kingsdale. 

On the way up I was recalling that I had been up in this area the week previously to grab some photos, and that I had called into Ingleton and had a full breakfast at one of the two cafes in the centre. Now, this put an idea into Steve’s head, and Steve being a chap who loves his food he made the robust suggestion that we should stop en-route and do the same again. I’m easily convinced, and as I had not eaten at all this morning I thought it would make sense to prevail on the hospitality of the Inglesport Cafe and partake in one of their ‘All Day’ offerings. So it was sausage, eggs & B all round, accompanied with tea and toast and all the other trimmings. We feasted on the comestibles placed in front of us and then sat there for quite a while looking like a couple of really contented Buddha’s. We then decided to make a move or this walk wouldn’t get completed. We slowly stood up, waddled down the stairs and out into the main street and back to the car to continue our journey.

Kingsdale is one of the lesser known Dales in Yorkshire and one of its valley sides is formed by the massive bulk of Whernside and the flanks of Gragareth comprise the opposite side. It is a place I had never visited before this walk and made a mental note to visit again at some point in the future and explore it further. It is long and largely uninhabited with a minor road running along its length and dropping down into Dentdale at its far end. There are only a couple of isolated farms on the valley floor in the dale and that is it. Trying to find the place was difficult though as there are no road signs saying “Kingsdale this way”, we took a number of wrong turns up various dead end farm tracks and passed through several small hamlets prior to picking up the road through the dale at Thornton in Lonsdale.

We parked at the head of the valley at a place marked on the OS map as High Moss. This was where a junction was formed between a substantial bridleway and the minor tarmac road. As we got out of the car, the wind hit us. I had shorts on, as I usually do, but it still made me give a sharp intake of breath and I had to rummage for my Berghaus Paclite shell to give me a bit of wind proofing to my upper body. We changed footwear and hoisted our packs onto our backs and set off along a very well made bridleway. The bridleway made for good going and the gradient was gradual. We took this path as we could make good, easy progress then head up the flanks of Gragareth and walk along the summit ridge.

The bridleway ran straight and flat at an area shown as Foul Moss, and the view from here was excellent and very open. You could make out the bridleway snaking its way around the head of a small valley and along the flanks of Great Coum. This must have been a pack horse or drovers road at some point and is marked on the OS maps as “Green Lane (track)”, it is also known locally as “Occupation Road” and thought to have been named from the time of the Enclosure Acts in the late 18th Century, although it has been suggested that the road may even be Roman in origin.

Bridleway at Foul Moss
Ingleborough from Foul Moss
Looking up to the Gragareth ridge from Foul Moss

As we crossed a small ford on the track leaving Foul Moss behind, the road surface changed dramatically from even, flat gravel to boulders and puddles. At some point in the last few years, the track had undergone some maintenance and was very good, up to this ford, and the track after this was just a morass of boulders, puddles and bog – perhaps it was where the money ran out. It was difficult going even on foot, never mind trying to get a train of loaded pack horses through here. As we rounded the bend in the track and approached Blea Gills we took a left turn and headed straight up the fell-side. As we left the track behind we could see a chap in the distance following the track and coming in the opposite direction to us, and he was pushing his mountain bike. He had clearly given up being able to ride the thing along the bridlepath and was using it as a true ‘pushbike’. I really felt for him and his disappointment. This sudden uphill exertion came as a shock to the system I can tell you, as we had been making steady, easy progress along a reasonable track, and now with legs pistoning, heart pumping and lungs heaving we were climbing up the steep side of the ridge from Great Coum to Gragareth. Slowly, as both legs and lungs were giving out, we approached the top of the ridge and the view of Kingsdale below started to open up as we gained height and gave us the reward we needed.

North to Deepdale and Dentdale from above Blea Gills

We got to the summit of the ridge at a place shown on the map as “Saddle of Fells”. We had a brief discussion here as to the choice of route. We could go around north to Great Coum and Crag Hill in order to ‘bag’ a couple more summits whilst we were up here, but that would have meant doubling back along the path we had just walked along to ultimately get to the object of the walk which was Gragareth. We quickly decided to head straight for Gragareth. At “Saddle of Fells” we turned and headed south, leaving Great Coum and Crag Hill for another day. 

The view to the Irish Sea from “Saddle of Fells”

As we left the “Saddle of Fells” behind and headed in the direction of Gragareth, we gained more height as we ambled towards Green Hill. Along the summit of this ridge is a large and substantially built drystone wall which forms the boundary between the two Counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire. Consider it as a sort of a mini Hadrian’s Wall separating civilisation from the barbarian hoards. Which group is which is up to you to decide.

The top of this ridge is just barren hillside with the wind whipping straight across the summit from off the Irish Sea in the distance. As it is flat on the summit of the ridge, the vegetation just acts as a sponge and retains water, and although the weather had been good for a few weeks previous, the walking underfoot was very boggy indeed. The path followed the route of the boundary wall and to be honest with you, it turned into a bit of a trudge with much grumbling between the two of us. The distance from the “Saddle of Fells” to the summit trig point of Gragareth was two miles – it certainly didn’t look two miles on the map, and at one point we were doubting ourselves and wondering if we had actually walked past the trig pillar as there are few identifying features up here.

The County boundary wall looking North

Eventually we found it. The summit trig pillar! Whilst not feeling as elated as Hillary and Tenzing were when they completed their famous summit climb, we were still happy to have come across it and realised we were the highest people in Lancashire at that time. The summit was deserted, and it didn’t look as though many people actually bother to come up here, even though the views are terrific, but why should people come up here when they have X-factor and Strictly Come Dancing to provide entertainment? Bread and circuses in my view but let’s not get onto that.

The highest point in Lancashire, the trig’ pillar on Gragareth

Whilst up on the summit, I suggested that we go and have a look at the Three Men of Gragareth, which are some large stone cairns on the hillside around 100m down from the top. After a quick discussion, we concluded that they weren’t on our route and added another 150m or so to our total ascent, so we decided to also leave them for another time too. 

Summit Panorama towards the Irish Sea

We took the quick way down and crossed the boundary wall over into Yorkshire with a descent into Kingsdale; I didn’t have my ‘papers’ on me but the border guards were not to be seen – I think there was a game of cricket taking place somewhere so they were distracted. After crossing the wall and descending slightly, we decided to sit down and look at the view over to Ingleborough and have our sandwiches. The vista just dropped away into valley far below us and the dark bulk of Ingleborough with its distinctive silhouette was on the horizon and even further away the profile of Pendle Hill was also visible.

Pendle Hill on the horizon

We found a suitable rock to sit upon and Steve went at the sandwiches like a man possessed. He ate all his, and then had a try with a couple I was struggling with; he has a legendary appetite and I don’t know where he puts it. Food finished, we reluctantly stood up, shouldered our rucksacks again and made our way down the steep escarpment that forms one of the sides of Kingsdale. We followed a drystone wall as we made our way down, and were surprised to see the angle of the ground on which it had been built. We struggled walking down it, and I certainly wouldn’t have liked to carry stone up it to build a wall. We passed an area to our left marked on the map as Turbary Pasture, a name which I had seen previously in the Dales and after doing some reading later about the name, it denotes an area of land set aside for the cutting of peat. I have come across it a couple of times on other walks, and there are also Turbary Roads, which presumably lead to areas where the common folk could dig peat for use on domestic fires in the absence of using wood or coal for cooking.

Looking down into Kingsdale
Looking North, up to the head of Kingsdale

The photographs don’t give the sense of scale of the drop of the escarpment, it felt like standing on the edge of the world as the moorland slipped away in front of you. There are very few trees, or other features in the dale and the long straight stonewalls make for excellent navigation. They are a testament to the skill of the men, long gone, who put them up without aid of the mechanical devices we now have, but just sheer graft and skill. I would have thought they would be proud that their work was still here, and standing after what must be a couple of hundred years in wind, rain and snow. Impressive monuments indeed, although very much anonymous.

Drystone wall in Kingsdale

The descent starting taking its toll on our knees, so we were pleased to see the road at the valley bottom. The ground was also rough underfoot and I had gone over on my ankle more than once. As we got onto the macadam surfaced road, it was a blessed relief to start making good progress and taking some long steady strides. We were soon picking up the pace and had soon got into a decent rhythm. 

We strolled past Yordas Cave, which was just off the road in a plantation of trees, and didn’t really give it much attention, however we should have had a look as it used to be a ‘show cave’ and is quite impressive inside. Our loss! The sky was gradually darkening and time was getting on, and we both had the anticipation of settling back into the car and taking the weight of the legs. We walked for nearly an hour along the road back to the car, it was 2.6 miles in total and it seemed an absolute age. In all the time we were walking along the road not a single car passed us by, although Steve kept asking in a plaintive voice, “Are we nearly there yet?”

As we approached the car a great sense of relief came over us and Steve very nearly kissed it, such was his appreciation. It was wonderful to take the pack off, and it is surprising how heavy the camera and a couple of lenses can become after a time. After changing our footwear and settling into the front seats, we set off back, via Ingleton obviously, so Steve could then call at the chip shop for some food in order to sustain him until he got home and had his ‘proper’ tea. The tape worm must have been pressuring him.
All in all, a good day’s walking, (and eating for some!) Kingsdale is worth another visit. If you want isolation then it is the place to be. In winter after a hard snow fall, you wouldn’t see another person for days. I look forward to seeing it again.

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