First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Young lambs crying, ewes blaring, and a curlew emitting haunting cries from the slopes of Clougha as we skirted the stone stronghold of Cragg Farm. Sunlight slanted across the folded fells that climbed southward into the great upland wilderness of the Forest of Bowland. Nearer at hand, our aiming point of Clougha ran as a high line stretched against a pale blue summer sky.
Beyond the slit-windowed wall of Skelbow Barn – more fortress than hay-store – we turned uphill beside the musically burbling Sweet Beck. A faint path led up beside a nameless stream trickling over mats of slippery moss, heading for higher ground through tough old heather sprigs and acid green bilberry.
The sun struck glitters of mica out of the sandy stones of the track. Two bright green butterflies spiralled together over the heather, lovers or antagonists. A spring whelmed from the heart of a cushion of emerald moss so intensely green it stung the eyes. Thirty thousand feet above, a jet drew a smoky finger of white across the blue ceiling of the sky, a message from another world entirely.
Up at the heights of Clougha, three rectangular stone monoliths stood side by side in a sea of grey stony clitter. Close-up, they proved to be an installation by landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy – ‘Clougha Pike Chambers’, a trio of sentry boxes with beautiful elliptical openings. ‘A womb with a view,’ said Jane, sitting back in one of the sculptures to gaze out across the hillside and listen to cuckoos calling from Cragg Wood far below.
A Landrover track proved a reliable guide on our descent from Clougha. We stopped to watch an army of ants dragging a dried-out centipede across the stones. A mother grouse clicked frantically to her three fluffball chicks to stay low and invisible as we walked by. And out in front unrolled a most stupendous hundred-mile view over the low-tide immensities of Morecambe Sands, the widening arms of the Lakeland and North Wales coasts, and a blur on the western sea horizon that might have been the Isle of Man.
Start: Little Crag car park, near Caton, Lancaster LA2 9ET (OS ref SD 546618)
Getting there: On Littledale Road (off Rigg Lane, between Caton and Quernmore – M6, Jct 34)
Walk (5½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL41): Leaving car park, right along road. In 100m, right by cattle grid, over ladder stile, past Cragg Farm on field track. In 700m, left through gate at Skelbow Barn (551613). In 100m, right uphill with wall on right. Through gate; in 150m, left over ladder stile (551611). Right along wall; in 100m, beside gate, left up track on left of beck (NOT green embanked track on your right!), aiming for tree. Above tree continue, keeping about 100m from wall on left. In 300m, make for stony track bearing left round hillside, parallel with wall. 700m after leaving tree, track curves right/south (553606) for ¾of a mile to meet a 4 x 4 track (552596). Left to Goldsworthy installation (556595); return along 4 x 4 track. After 1¾ quarter mile descent, track turns sharp left near Cragg Wood wall for steep descent into gully (541612); right here on path along north edge of Access Land for ⅔ of a mile to ladder stile (551611), Skelbow Barn and car park.
Conditions: Ascent boggy after rain. Inadvisable in mist.
Accommodation: The Borough, Dalton Square, Lancs LA1 1PD (01524-64170) – cheerful city centre stop-over.
Info: Lancaster TIC (01524-582394)
Information, online maps, more walks: christophersomerville.co.uk
Rossendale Round-the-hills Walk, 3 September:
The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).