Lower Kentmere valley
The lower Kentmere valley, looking south from Sour Howes

Date completed: 4th November 2017.

Weather conditions: Mostly very fine, and quite warm: I brought the fleece but the only action it saw was when I sat on it to have lunch. There were some random drizzly showers in the afternoon but the only real impacts these had were the production of some photogenic rainbows (see picture).

Summits bagged: High Knott (901 feet above sea level, number 124 of my second round), Sour Howes (1585’, no. 125), Sallows (1691’, no. 126).

Caudale Moor, Yoke and rainbow
Caudale Moor (left), Yoke, and one of the day’s several rainbows

High Knott was first bagged on walk 97, 23/5/15; the other two a long time ago now on walk 7, 9/10/09.

There is an additional Birkett bagged: Capple Howe (1,460′, #396 on that list by altitude), the south-eastern shoulder of Sour Howes.

Start and end point: Staveley railway station. No buses needed today. The station is served by trains from Oxenholme (and sometimes, direct from Preston and Manchester) on a roughly hourly basis. The walk took me six hours exactly.

Distance walked: 12.5 miles approximately.

Total ascent: 1750 feet approximately.

Fell runners on Sallows.
Fell runners on Sallows. Scafell range behind.

Pub at end: Always nice to visit the Eagle and Child in Staveley. This is now the only pub in the village, but it is a good one, with good beer and a pleasant beer garden across the road, by the river. Leave five minutes to get from there to the railway station.

Route: Like my last walk earlier this week (walk 137) this is a straightforward walk with no rock encountered at any point, and with good views, particularly from Sour Howes. It is a rather longer walk than I anticipated; having to hike in the first two miles from Staveley along a tarmac road, and then doing the same in reverse on the way home, does add to the distance and time required.

The other thing to point out is that for all three of these summits there must be doubts whether access is strictly legal. On High Knott it obviously is not: see the fell page for more information here. Both the other summits can be accessed through gates that do open (as opposed to being padlocked or blocked) and gaps in fences, there are obvious paths and signs that plenty of other people pass this way (and I encountered two other walkers on the top of Sallows, pictured above). Nevertheless no rights of way are marked on the map and the ‘gaps in fences’ give the sense of having been deliberately created: there is also one fence topped by barbed wire which does need crossing. See the commentary below.

Sheep on Browfoot Lane
Sheep on Browfoot Lane. What have I done?

From Staveley station, go straight up the road ahead and cross over the main road, heading up the lane signposted ‘Kentmere’. Stay on this road north, ignoring both the roads that head to the right, over the River Kent (in fact, it is worth noting that this walk does not cross the Kent at any point). This will put you on the lane signposted ‘Browfoot Lane, No Through Road’, which you stay on for about another mile until reaching the eponymous farm of Browfoot. Here, the lane bends to the left; follow it a short way round then take the public footpath on the left.

Follow this up over two stiles then bear left, through a gate in the corner of the field, under the trees, which does just about open. Go straight up the slope ahead until you reach the wall, behind which the monument (Williamson’s Monument) on top of High Knott is plainly in view.

View from British Settlement
View from the ‘British Settlement’, back to High Knott

But, as noted on the High Knott page, this lies on private ground. The Long Distance Walkers’ Association page which lists the 116 Outlying Fells does note that with access to the true summit of High Knott being illegal, getting up to the wall counts as bagging it. So let’s bag it, admire the view anyway, and head back down to the west, through the gate onto the lane just below.

Here turn right, then go straight on past the end of the tarmac road (which is Browfoot Lane again). You are here following the route given on the map on page 21 of The Outlying Fells. At the point where this lane reaches a double gate, decide whether you want to take the short detour to the prehistoric ‘British Settlement’ that lies a couple of fields away through the left-hand gate. If you decide to, note then that to reach it means ignoring the signposted footpath that then heads left at the next junction but go straight on, through a field with a little hillock in it and the settlement is then in the next enclosure ahead. It is not Skara Brae or anything, but probably is worth a quick look: unlike, say, Caermote Roman fort, which really is just shapes in the grass, at least here there are some vague ruins and you can get some sense of this as a functioning place two thousand or more years ago.

Windermere from Sour Howes
The view of Windermere from Sour Howes

Return to the double gate once done, and take the other one, signposted Kentmere. Follow this for a mile or so until you see a fairly new-looking gate on the left. There is no obvious path to it, or beyond it, but this is the way to go, up past a grouse-shooting butt which remains in good condition. Beyond this is where you have to cross the fence with the barbed wire. It’s easy enough but cover the top with a jacket or something or risk damage. The path becomes clearer after this point (one reason why I say that the question of access to Sour Howes is an ambiguous one), and leads up to a line of trees that is skirted on the left through another fence, this one with a gap in it, and eventually up to the summit of Sour Howes.

The view from here is the best one of the day, thanks mainly to Windermere, which is seen below in full. The Scafells are visible to the left and the Kirkstone/Troutbeck district (Red Screes, Ill Bell etc) all impress.

Wansfell Pike
Wansfell Pike from Sour Howes

Sallows is an obvious next target, just to the north-east. Follow the path and then the wall; from one summit to the other took me 20 minutes. Then descend via another fairly obvious path to the top of Garburn Pass below (some slippery bits on this descent, so take care). At the top of Garburn one must duck under another barbed-wire covered gap in the fence, but I was not the only person seen to be doing this on the day, and the path to it is a clear one. Right beyond lies the Garburn road, which take to the right, and follow it down past the giant Badger Rock and down to Kentmere.

Dead tree
Dead tree by the Garburn Road

At the sign at the bottom, turn right (signposted Kentmere Hall), this goes through a few fields to come out at the Hall, an old fortified farm (swathed in scaffolding the day I passed). Go straight over its access road onto a path that follows the west bank of the River Kent all the way to the wholly incongruous factory that never ceases to puzzle me, and beyond that, the ‘Kentmere Pottery’ house, at which point look for the little path to the left of the buildings. Past the next farm, Croft Head, remember the rule about not crossing the Kent on this walk and take the path on the right before you do so, this leads back to Browfoot, at which point you are back where you were this morning. It’s just over two miles, and about forty minutes, back along the road to Staveley.

To-trespass-or-not-to-trespass commentary: In my experience, the UK falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to legal guarantees about access to open land. In Norway, while there are, of course, plenty of spaces where one cannot simply wander at will (like people’s gardens, say), all open land designated as ‘fjell’ (mountain) is simply open to access whenever and wherever. You even have the right to camp wherever you want on the fjell, as long as you tidy up after yourself.

Shower over Hawkshead
Shower over the Hawkshead district, looking west from Sour Howes

In somewhere like the US, on the other hand, there is virtually no such thing as a ‘right of way’ outside the National Parks and approved trails (like the Pacific Coast Trail). In practice the country is so vast that there are plenty of places you can simply wander, of course, but that doesn’t mean there are legal rights to do so, and a lot of very wide expanses of country will simply be fenced off and inaccessible.

Britain, as I said, is somewhere in the middle. There are areas of the country where, in theory, access is legally permitted. These are areas defined as ‘open countryside’ in England and Wales and, to save time, these are the areas highlighted in a kind of beige colour on OS 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure maps. Looking at the bit of OL7 (‘Windemere, Kendal & Silverdale) relevant to today’s walk, it is clear that the summit of High Knott at about NY454002 does not lie in a portion of land so highlighted. There are only a few Wainwright summits that do not lie in such ‘access land’, but they are there – on the same map, OL7, Claife Heights, Humphrey Head and Staveley Fell are the others I can spot. On the other hand, Sallows and Sour Howes, like all the main 214 Wainwrights, are defined as ‘open’.

Kentmere fells
Looking north towards the Kentmere fells, from High Knott

The problem therefore is not so much the clarity of this distinction but the inconsistencies about how it operates, literally, ‘on the ground’. While, I admit, Staveley Fell is a pain in the butt to access, this is not because of the existence of big walls or fences, and one can wander quite freely on Humphrey Head without any sense that some irate farmer is going to stomp over to you and threaten you with a shotgun – or an injunction.

But on High Knott, for whatever reason, the landowner has decided all us smelly Wainwright-baggers cannot be trusted with his precious slab of hilltop and so walls us out, quite obviously: thus making this the only one of the 330 where the attainment of the summit involves a clear civil (but, unless damage is done, not a criminal) offence. It all seems so petty.

High Knott summit, rain shower
High Knott summit (in the background), through one of the afternoon’s rain showers

And on Sour Howes and Sallows the legal right of access to this open land is in no way clear. A while ago I was contacted by someone left rather irate by my walk 7 page, insisting that to follow the route I described, I must have trespassed. I admit to having had to clamber over a couple of walls at points on my descent down from Sour Howes to Long Green Head farm in the Troutbeck valley, but check the map – it’s all in beige, it’s all ‘open country’.

So why the complaint? And why today, at about NY436029, did I need to gingerly get myself over one barbed wire fence, and duck under two others, to attain the summits? If I really shouldn’t be following this route, why is the gate into the previous enclosure not locked? It’s just the inconsistency I find most irritating. These kinds of obstacles are what lead to damage (to fences, walls) in the first place.

Sour Howes summit
Sour Howes’ minuscule and very cute summit cairn

Anyway, these are the kinds of thing (like the evil nature of bracken) that one notices after having bagged some 450+ Cumbrian felltops over the last eight years. Not major problems I know, but then again this isn’t a blog about the world’s major problems. I enjoyed this walk, despite the access issues; longer than expected, but on such a beautiful morning, this was no hardship at all. Let’s take these remaining pleasant days while we can as the winter will begin to kick in soon. And while I admit that last year (25th November) saw perhaps the best day’s walking weather of the year (walk 121), this can never be relied upon and unless good weather and one of my two or three spare days before mid-December coincide, there might not be another walk for a few weeks. It’s been good to get going again over the last few days though.

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