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Monday, November 29, 2021

The hidden corner of Cumbria where you’ll meet more sheep than people

It didn’t start well. On my first day the rain was lashing down, clouds were low and Wild Boar Fell (my target) was nowhere to be seen. When I mentioned my plans to the staff over breakfast at The Black Swan, eyebrows shot up in alarm. The super-efficient Helen also contacted me to dissuade, reschedule and offer me an alternative low-level walk that threaded through empty valleys and disused quarries, across meadows and pastures, past a nature reserve and across the magnificent Smardale Viaduct. 

I returned from Plan B soggy but content to wallow in a deep, hot bath – boots and jacket whisked away to the boiler room to dry – and indulge in grilled halibut followed by lavender crème brûlée. 

The next morning was so staggeringly different – I awoke to piercing blue skies, cotton-wool clouds, sparkling light – I thought I was hallucinating. I positively skipped along country lanes, past farms and free-range egg honesty boxes, to tiny Bowderdale Head with its pretty stone bridge, and the start of the steady climb up the northern tip off the Howgills. My route (guided by excellent notes) went directly south picking off the summits – West Fell, Hazelgill Knott, the Calf (the highest point at 2,218ft), Calders and Winder – on its way to Sedbergh.

Apart from the occasional boggy section, the path was springy turf and, though uphill sections to the summits could be a slog, they weren’t technically difficult. Besides, the views were a constant distraction. To my right (west) I could pick out individual Lakeland fells, while behind me were the North Pennines and around me rippled the folds of the Howgills.   

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