The last day of August saw me finally getting around to Middleton Fell. I’ve been meaning to climb it for years, but somehow never yet managed it. You could be forgiven for never having heard of Middleton Fell. It features on few walkers’ radars, which I suspect is largely attributable to two factors – firstly, its failure (by two feet!) to reach 2000 feet, and secondly, its failure (by a similar margin, as it happens) to gain inclusion in the Yorkshire Dales National Park – the boundary wall runs right next to the summit trig! Happily, this omission, which is due to the fact that the same wall also forms the boundary between Yorkshire and Westmorland, may be rectified later this year.
It was a perfect walking morning when I left Barbon – warm (but not too warm), a gentle breeze blowing, and good visibility. The first section of the route, through the fields, is none too obvious (a foretaste of things to come on the return route), but once above the intake wall, navigation couldn’t be simpler. The initial stages of the ascent are very steep, but with fine retrospective views (unfortunately marred, though not ruined, by a recently-built wind farm) towards the Lakeland fells.
As I climbed, I noticed that the rock was not the millstone grit typically found in the higher parts of the Dales, but appeared to be more slate-like, like the Howgills immediately to the north. Indeed, the whole character of the fell is more akin to the Howgills than the rest of the Dales. On reaching Eskholme Pike, the gradient eases considerably, and a reasonable path develops. This leads in time to Middleton Fell’s only subsidiary top, Castle Knott (1765 ft).
The col below Castle Knott is rather boggy, but as there had been little rain recently, was not too difficult to negotiate. The slopes beyond, which lead up to the summit of the fell, had a patchy covering of heather in full bloom, which made a pleasing contrast to the uniformly grassy nature of Castle Knott. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I reached the summit, which is also known as Calf Top (1998 ft). This is an excellent viewpoint, with the Howgills, Dentdale, and the Lakeland fells being particularly well seen. In fact, the Lake District is sufficiently close that it is possible to pick out individual fells: I managed to identify Black Combe, Great Gable, the Langdale Pikes, Ill Bell and several others.
Around a mile beyond the summit, a stile to the right allows access to Combe Scar, which is a particularly fine viewpoint for Dentdale. From here, I heard a pair of buzzards calling to one another, and watched as they were chased by crows. Unfortunately, they were too far away to photograph.
Returning to the ridge path via a second stile, I continued westwards, accompanied all the way by little flocks of wheatear, as indeed I had been for much of the day. The main path starts to descend after a mile or so, but I stayed with the ridge as far as the trig point on Holme Knott.
Here a met a couple of gents who had walked up from Sedbergh, bringing the total number of other walkers met to five! Proof if any were needed that it is possible to escape the crowds, even on sunny Sundays in August. From here I dropped straight down to Middleton, passing Fellside farm en route. A narrow strip of Access Land continues right down to the A683, and at one point the route passes through a lovely area of devil’s-bit scabious, where a red admiral posed beautifully for me, though not for long enough for me to photograph it!
I had hoped that it might be possible to follow the old railway line back to Barbon. This is the old Clapham to Low Gill route, which briefly formed part of the Midland Railway’s main line to Scotland, prior to the construction of the Settle to Carlisle line. However, there was no sign that access is available, and I was instead left to follow a succession of field paths, which though pleasant enough, certainly don’t compare to the heights above. They are obviously not very well-used either, and although they are perfectly passable, it is necessary to refer to the map constantly. Incidentally, at Low Wood Farm, there is an information board giving details of a permissive path up on to the fell via Brow Gill. What a shame this isn’t marked on the map.
I eventually arrived back at Barbon around seven hours after I had left, and having enjoyed the walk immensely. Middleton Fell richly deserves to be better known, and certainly merits inclusion in the National Park. If I had to pick out the highlight of the walk, I would say without hesitation that it is the views, particularly towards the Lake District.