March 22nd, 2016

Drawing in the Howgills

The Howgill Fells are tucked between the Lake District and North Penines. One of the most beautiful approaches to them is from Richmond through Swaledale and over the top of the moors beside Nine Standards Rigg – making sure to stop at Muker to visit the Swaledale Woollens shop and the adjacent pub.

The rivers and valleys that frame the Howgills have striking names : the rivers Eden, Rawthey and Lune – and their myriad tributaries – all flow off and around the fells, carving out rivulets, becks and rock-strewn rivers through an otherwise surprisingly soft landscape. Unlike the Lake District, there are very few rocky outcrops. The Howgills themselves rise like a pod of whales out of the surrounding river valleys – soft-backed and silent. They have a grace to them; a quiet beauty that is very much their own.

In October I drove north to join friends, including writers Hugh Thomson and Jasper Winn. They were traversing the north of England from coast to coast with a mule called Jethro, seeking out old bridleways and pack horse routes. Sadly, few survive : the old ways are largely disconnected by new highways and the conversion from bridleway to footpath. But a few do remain. Of these, one of the most striking is a route that straddles the Howgills, almost bisecting the fells between Cautley Spout and Sedbergh to the south and Kelleth to the north.

The photographs show preparations and an afternoon / evening exploration of this ancient packway, moving in from the north side along the sides of Bowderdale. The valley is breathtakingly beautiful, flanked by the steeply curved toes of the surrounding fells : Hooksey and Weasdale, then Green Bell and Randy Gill Top on the east side. Hugh, Jasper and Jethro moved on out of the valley as the light fell, whilst I carried on until dusk to draw the pack route and hills as the final light of the day slipped away – in rapidly lowering clouds and a driving storm from the south west.

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