Well there were JD and me, the three scientists doing a peat survey for some research organisation, the Three Stone Men who have been there for who knows how long, and a few others stone ones scattered around. The peat survey was interesting as we are just waking up to the importance of peat as an important carbon storage resort. We were happy to sit in the shelter of the Three Men as there was a distinctly cold breeze coming from the Northwest. A good opportunity to take a break and eat our sandwiches.
Our journey up the motorway had not been straight forward as I missed the turn-off to Caton and the Lune Valley. Another junction farther north and JD’s phone chose an alternative route over towards Kirkby Lonsdale, although eventually on the A65 we ignored the lady navigator and followed the sign up to the little hamlet of Ireby. I shall not reveal where we parked, but there should be space by the telephone (book) box. Surely we are in Yorkshire by now, but no the Lancastrians have pushed a finger into Cumbria and Yorkshire. We are in fact out to climb the highest (allegedly) hill in the Red Rose county, walk number 16 in Mark Sutcliffe’s Cicerone guidebook.
Up to now we have been walking on a distinct lane out of Ireby and then the tarmac road heading up the fell from Leck. All easy going, gaining height almost effortlessly, at least we could keep up a good conversation without getting out of puff. JD is super fit at the moment having recently completed a pilgrim route to Santiago, a Scottish trip and The Dales Way. I was hoping that his all-inclusive hotel stay in Menorca with his wife might have slowed him down. We are in limestone territory.
This road leads to a remote sheep farm. I used to park up along here for exploring the nearby Leck Fell potholes. Short Drop Cave was always a favourite, lowering yourself in with your feet dangling in fresh air in the darkness, dare you let go of the rock? Of course, you did and only dropped a few inches! You could explore the channel for some distance and then worry about getting out again. But today we were heading up to those stone men visible on the hillside above. Conversation dwindles on the steepest scrambling bit, look at the contours, and we are all too ready for that rest at the Three Men.
Lunch over we chat to the peat surveyors before strolling the last section to the lonely trig point on Gragareth, 627 m, the highest in Lancashire. Now this is where some debate comes in, farther north across the barren moor is Green Hill, still in Lancashire, and marked on the OS map as 628 m. We don’t fancy the two-mile boggy trudge up there. But help is at hand – in 2014 the Database of British and Irish Hills suggested “Gragareth replaces Green Hill as Lancashire county top”. Gragareth having a height of 628 metres, 100 metres east of the trig point, while Green Hill is 627.5 metres. Who knows?
Anyhow, we slink off along the wall southwards. But I have forgotten to tell you about the views from that highest point. Morecambe Bay, Lakeland hills, nearby Barbon fells, all those rounded hills up to Dentdale, Whernside and of course stately Ingleborough, distant Pendle and the Bowland Fells, quite a collection.
On down along the wall and then a vague path down to the ‘Turbary Road’ above Kingsdale, a track used by peat cutters – yes we have been destroying the land long before climate change was thought of. This area is full of caves, potholes and dry riverbeds, but the way missed most of them out. On reflection a few small diversions to peer into these limestone features would have added interest.
Once on the lane we made good progress stopping only at a bench for a drink, out of the vegetation crept a giant dung beetle.
Masongill looked delightful.
Freshly cut green fields, and we were soon crossing the ancient clapper bridge into Ireby.
It was good to be back in Limestone Country, as you can see the weather improved as the day went on. Eight and a half miles with 1700ft of ascent – I’m still thinking imperial.