Thursday, 30 August 2012

Smardale By The Book – approx 7.00 miles

Saturday August 25th 2012

Map: OS Explorer OL19 – Howgill Fells & Upper Eden Valley

Ravenstonedale – Greenside – High Greenside – Newbiggin-on-Lune – Dismantled Railway – Smardale Gill – Viaduct – Smardale Bridge – Todwray – Ravenstonedale

In a departure from the norm, and for the first time in I-can’t-remember how long, we decided to do a walk from a guidebook: in full, without deviation or extension.

The guidebook in question is Cicerone’s new for 2012 Lune Valley and Howgills by Dennis and Jan Kelsall. I picked up a copy with the idea it would provide inspiration to walk the fringes of an area we have come to know quite well, centred around Sedbergh. I’ll do a little review of the book itself later, but based on this walk it looks likely to be a good investment.

Even for a Bank Holiday, the forecast was unexpectedly grim, so we decided on a short-ish outing first, with the option of further walking later (if the weather was kind) or shopping (if it wasn’t). In the end, we shopped.

Ravenstonedale is a small village situated at the northern edge of the Howgill Fells, just off the A685 between Tebay and Kirkby Stephen. Parking is plentiful, and before long we had donned boots and waterproofs and set off under grey skies and low cloud.

We walked through the village, past the church and out along the road towards Sedbergh before taking to the fields near Town Head. Away to the south, the Howgills were sporting grey, cloudy headwear.

So far, though, we were still dry as we zig-zagged across the fields towards Greenside, crossing Scandal Beck by a stone bridge on the way. After a short stretch of metalled lane, we took to the fields once more, passing behind the farm at High Greenside and walking above Greenside Beck. Although summer has yet to put in much of an appearance this year, the signs of autumn are already beckoning.

Almost imperceptibly we had crossed a watershed. Scandal Beck runs northwards to join the River Eden, eventually reaching the sea at the Solway Firth, whilst Greenside Beck is a tributary of the River Lune, and heads west then south to empty into Morecambe Bay.

We joined another metalled track beside a ruined limekiln then crossed a couple of fields to reach Newbiggin-on-Lune. Although still quite early, we called in at the Lune Spring Garden Centre for tea and cakes. While we were discussing the question of whether to have scones (to rhyme with “gone”) or scones (to rhymes with ”stone”) the cheerful man behind the counter started to take our order. He peered quizzically into the cake tin: “Lucky for you” he said, as deadpan as you like, “We have both available today”.

Suitably fortified, we headed off again. The first few drops of rain were falling as we crossed the main road to meet a farm track heading for Brownber, passing the spring of St Helen’s Well – the acknowledged start of the River Lune – along the way.

The next section followed the track-bed of the disused Stainmore Railway. At one time, this crossed the Pennines connecting Tebay and Darlington via one of the highest sections of main line railway in England. Now, it provides walking access to Smardale.

We pressed on through strengthening rain, passing several examples of railway architecture and industrialisation along the way. And we were not alone – we passed several packs of bedraggled walkers as we went, most huddling for shelter wherever they could find it.

Soon, we crossed the Smardale Gill Viaduct, an impressive structure that had been about to be dismantled before restoration work allowed it to be re-opened in 1992.

At the far end, we turned right and picked up a clear, permissive path along the beck side, with great views back to the viaduct.

In the scant shelter offered by a hawthorn tree, we checked the guidebook, aiming to memorise the remainder of the route. In truth, navigation was pretty easy, and before long Smardale Bridge came into view.

We hurried on, keen now to end the walk and get out of the rain. Few photos were taken, as stopping proved uncomfortable. Soon, though, we reached the brow of a low hill, and Ravenstonedale could be seen amongst the trees ahead.

A final muddy section provided one last twist, but soon we passed under the main road and joined a stony lane into the village. The continual heavy rain had served to test our gear (to failure and beyond, in some cases) but it had not managed to dampen our spirits.

Which says something about the quality of the walk. Guidebooks may not be for everyone, but there are advantages to tried and tested routes. This was a nice little walk for a half day, and we would definitely do it again – but hopefully in better weather next time!


  1. Lovely Jules, I particularly like the fungus, funnily enough, but viaducts and bridges are a favourite of mine too. Shame about the weather.

  2. Thanks, Tracey.

    Yes, I was quite impressed with the fungus too! And I don't mind a bit of industrial architecture/history along with my walks, either.

    As for the weather: well, you get what you're given and have to make the most of it!

  3. Excellent Stuff.

    Not an area of the country I know well, but judging by this report it looks fantastic.

  4. There are some fine guidebooks in print, especially from Cicerone. Apart from the routes, which don't need to be followed precisely, they often provide lots of interesting peripheral information; but then you'll know all about that...

  5. @Phreerunner: yes, those from Cicerone seem generally of a very good standard, and we often use them if/when walking abroad. It's hard to beat them for inspiration, and the writers usually do a good job of gathering interesting background information too.