It was back in September of 2016 that Jen and I decided to move to the foot of the Howgills. The area is fantastic in terms of access to great hill walking, scrambling and mountaineering spots, with the Howgills (of course!), the Lake District, the Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales all within fairly easy reach by car… or even by foot.
The place we call home is almost overshadowed by the first peak of the Howgills, which has its very own triangulation point (actually two!) but is not quite a mountain. This would be Winder, which towers 473 metres over the little town of Sedbergh, itself famed for a private school that has been in operation since 1525 AD. Now that is some history!
So, I was quite eager early on, as soon as we had found our feet, to head up Winder and get a first glimpse of the glorious views around us. As it happened, this hike would become a stark reminder of how the weather can turn foul very quickly in mountainous areas, and therefore one must always be prepared for any eventuality.
The day in question did not start out too badly; my plan was to walk from home up the country path to Ingmire Cottages and then follow the road into Sedbergh itself. I suppose I should have noticed, as I got to the path, that today’s weather had a trick up its sleeve. The narrow track resembled a stream more than a path, but I hastened my step on the way up, skipping from dry patch to dry patch in a vain attempt not to soak my fell shoes too early on. I had been keeping an eye out for a short cut to the fell, which would have been preferable to walking along the main road to Sedbergh. However, not wishing to trespass I avoided the few possible entry points, which all seemed to lead to some business premises or another (even though one was supposed to be a footpath), and ‘hey presto’! – having avoided several oncoming vehicles on the narrow, twisty, pavement-less A-road I finally reached the Sedbergh Spar shop. Definitely a known and familiar point, especially in a 9:45pm no-milk emergency!
There is a short and fairly obscure – for those of us who are lost in our thoughts, anyway – path that runs up the side of the Spar and leads upwards to another back lane, then a crossroads of sorts, which I went straight over to reach Lockbank Farm. On this first outing I was a little surprised to find that the public right of way leads directly through the farmer’s yard… or does it? Was I trespassing after all? The farmer gave me a wave as I passed, so I assumed all was well, and a couple of gates later I found myself on the right side of the boundary wall and finally looking up a steep fellside.
For those who may follow in my footsteps, there’s a bench a few metres up the fell beyond the boundary wall, and often on my way back down Winder I stop here to drink the last cupful from my flask before heading home. The bench is nicely sheltered from the wind and there are still a few views, although clearly not as good as from the not-so-sheltered trig point at the top of Winder!
However, for those going up, here is where the real climb begins! With a choice of left, right or bang up through the centre I opted for the latter… after all, it’s the most direct route. Initially the path winds up through some quite tall hawthorns, before opening out some 50 metres up. I stopped for a brief look around but have since found the trick is to stop and look back as few times as possible since ‘things’, as the old song goes… ‘can only get better’, and by ‘eck, do they ever!
On this particular day, it was some time before I really got a handle on where exactly the peak of Winder was situated. One loses sight of the trig point early on and it doesn’t reappear until the final few steps. The route that I now chose was pretty much the steepest, and from bottom to top, depending on how keen I feel, it can take between 25 and 40 minutes. As I was still fairly fresh from hiking abroad, on this occasion it took me closer to 25 mins. My only obstacle being two wild horses about half way up, who seemed equally unsure of me as I was about them. They were clearly civilised specimens, as they seemed determined to stick to the clear path, (LOL) the very path I wanted to pass them on. I begrudgingly gave way to them and found myself wading through thick undergrowth to give them the wide berth that – given their stubborn neighing – they clearly expected from a tourist like me…
Whilst preoccupied, and cursing just a little, I failed to notice a rather dark and mischievous-looking array of clouds heading towards the area… perhaps the neighing beasts were actually trying to tell me something? After all, I was the human fool about to head into the kind of weather front most would seek to avoid! However, content to be on the right side of the horses I continued upwards. The view back across Sedbergh at this point was stupendous; the view to the North still a tad obscured by the peak was far less friendly.
I was about 100 metres from the summit and still on the steep ascending path when the purple clouds began to sweep right at me. There was no way I was not going to touch the trig point on my very first hike in the Howgills, having finally made it the majority of the way up this peak. I donned my waterproof and headed straight up into impending doom-laden clouds the likes of which I have never witnessed since on Winder.
The beautiful views simply disappeared, and I honestly could have been anywhere on earth. The winds, almost instantly, turned from a lovely calm breeze to gale force gusts and I struggled mightily to stay on my feet. I cowered behind the trig point *yayyy I made it* and attempted to take a trophy selfie! The phone was soaking wet and didn’t want to play ball on the first few attempts… I had planned to text Jen from the summit but that would have to wait. I wanted to look ahead, this being my first visit to the top of Winder, to see what lay beyond – on a normal day the views should be incredible out towards Arant Haw and beyond. On this first day, though, I couldn’t see a thing.
The only sensible course of action was to head back down and out of the crazy weather to add more layers and get warm again. I was happy in the knowledge that, whilst essentially on home ground, I had brought along all the safety kit I would have needed had anything gone horribly wrong. As I meandered back down the slope the horses had already moved on, and as is so often the case these days the ‘storm’ turned out to have been extremely localised.
(editor’s note! Jen went out for a run during these same couple of hours, and as we were both new to the area we both needed a map. We didn’t have two for the same area, so she took the “next map over”, as it were, drove 5 miles to Dent and set off running uphill from there. Her afternoon remained bright, with clouds only verging on threatening once or twice without descending into full “attack mode”… but at the start, she could see Winder clearly in the background. In the space of half an hour or so Jen saw the weather sweep in and cover poor little Winder and the determined man climbing it, and concerned texts were indeed exchanged! For Simon it really was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time 🙁 )
For today, though, my hunger for the view had waned, and I anticipated many other days and opportunities to visit Winder again. It was a benchmark for me at that time to climb this peak which I now think of as the friendly local starting summit in my hiking day rather than the goal for the day. With its steep ascent I can understand why many choose to contour around the peak, as one can also do for Arant Haw, the next peak along. But I, for better or worse, do like to push myself hard and on a good day will be disappointed not to get myself at least to the top of the Calf which, at 676 metres, is the highest in the Howgills. One might say it’s the only real mountain among these wonderful fells, and what I consider to be my home border beyond which I will always have an OS map to hand!
Total Hike: approx. 7km.
Simon Duringer is an award-winning blogger, interviewer and author. His own books can be found on Amazon too by clicking any of the following icons…