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Howgills: Cautley Spout and The Calf

Cautley Crags
Cautley Crags

When I was visiting Alan and Heather Rhodes of in the Lake District last month, they drove me over to a nearby region called the Howgills for another magnificant hike called Cautley Spout and Calf. The Howgills are a small range of rounded mountains located in nearby Yorkshire Dales National Park that are somewhat smaller in scale than the hills of the  Lake District.

Like many of the hill walks in these parts, the Cautley Spout and Calf hike is a well known route, popularized by a local walker and artist named Alfred Wainwright, best remembered for his hand-drawn Pictoral Guides of the Lake District. Alan knew Wainwright when he was alive,  and he and Heather immersed me in his hiking gudes and illustrations while I visited their home in Windermere (I now own several editions of his books as a result.) See my trip report on the Kentmere Horseshoe for another Lake District hike which was also illustrated and popularized by Wainwright.

Route Shown in Blue: Cautley Spout and Calf
Route Shown in Blue: Cautley Spout and Calf

If you are wondering about the unusual name “Cautley Spout and The Calf”, the Spout is an immense 250 meter waterfall and the highest in England. I’m told that it becomes a raging torrent when there is rain in the hills, which is evident based on its size. The Calf is a named summit up on the grassy plateau of hills above the Spout that is designated as a Marilyn, a  popular peakbagging list in the United Kingdom. The two destinations are often hiked together, hence the cryptic sounding name “Cautly Spout and The Calf.”

Swere Gill tumbles over the top of Cautley Spout
Swere Gill tumbles over the top of Cautley Spout

This hike starts at the road just outside an alcohol-free pub call the Cross-Keys Temperance Inn located in Sedburgh. There isn’t much parking nearby so get there (to the walk) early or be prepared to park down the road a ways. From the road, cross a walker’s bridge and follow a hardened gravel path to the based of the Spout.

The inital 250 meter ascent is quite steep up to the top of the waterfall which has eroded deeply into the side of the hill. We took our time ascending, to sit on the fell grass by the side of the path, and admire the valley below which is a checkboard of stone walls and sheep pastures.

During our climb beside The Spout, we met up with a family including father, mother, two daughters and a son. The boy, who was about 8 or 9 years of age was afraid of climbing up the hill. I watched as Heather and Alan tried to gently encourage him along even though they were complete strangers. I was touched by their kindness, not for the first time on my visit, and the family caught up with us later in the morning.

The waterfall was running low on the day we climbed The Spout, but there was still a spectacle to see, a solo climber rapelling down the middle of the waterfall. I couldn’t but help recall my fascination with the Japanese sport of Sawanobori or Waterfall climbing. I still have to give this a try. The scene evoked different memories for Alan and Heather, who said that a local  ice climber had been killed during the winter while climbing Cautley Spout. Sadness.

Sheep Pen
Goldsworthy’s Sheepfold

At the top of The Spout we followed a small stream called Red Gill Beck up to a sheep pen or sheepfold, as they’re called in the UK. Beck is a local term for a stream used in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, much like the Scottish term, burn.

While it’s common to come across sheepfolds when out walking in the UK, this one had an unusual corner built into it (shown above). It was built by Andy Goldsworthy, a British sculptor and artist known for creating site specific sculpture and land art in natural and urban settings. Alan, Heather, and I sat and ate lunch there, leaning against the sheepfold wall in the shade next to the stream, admiring the view. Real peaceful. A good spot for a stone wall.

Mist Descends on The Calf
Mist Descends on The Calf

After lunch, it was a short walk up to The Calf and the concrete trig point that marks the summit. I could see the distinct rounded hills of the Howgills around us but as we stood there the mist started to come in. The mist started to come in – a phrase you hear all the time among Scottish and English hill walkers, and the main reason walkers here  are so keen on good compass and navigation skills. This is especially important in the small rounded Howgill hills which all look alike, even when the mist is up, never mind when you’re stumbling around in a cloud.

Keeping Pace with the Rhodes
Keeping Pace with the Rhodes

Rather than brave the mist, we started downhill taking a roundabout route toward Bowerdale Beck and back to the Spout path. At first we followed a path and then descended over fell grass, past a stream into the Bowerdale valley below.

Bowerdale, Howgills
Bowerdale, Howgills

Bowerdale is the quintissential Howgills valley with an infinite view of rounded hills crowned with wild grass, blonde on top and green below. Mesmerized, temptation tugs at me to walk down these valleys to see where they lead. No doubt that feeling is shared by the other walkers that roam these hills.

Though brief, my visit to The Lakes and Yorkshire Dales opened my eyes to the pleasure of walking over their open  expanse. There’s no doubt that I will return to take full measure of their beauty someday, perhaps on the Coast-to-Coast Path or Wainwright’s Memorial Walk. Heather and Alan opened my eyes to all sorts of possibilities- and I would like to do a long walk here in the next few years. The beauty and serenity of these hills is hard to forget.


  1. I recall telling you how good and Lakes and Dales are and you seemed unsure. Now your a convert. Get back soon and we can show you the wild camp spots to die for. Sand Tarn on Wild Boar Fell and many more amazing places.

  2. What a lovely post, Philip, about a lovely area. The Lakes and Howgills are my home patch. Glad you enjoyed them and want to come back. Happy to show you more if you ever come back over.


  3. Thanks for a very wonderful post. On one level I enjoyed it for the mood, the tone, and the lovely description. On another level, it also made me think about our American way of hiking, and how, all too often, we manage to turn recreation into work. We go on at length about how tough or extreme our hikes are: how far we walk or how fast we finish finish.

    From the sound of it, people in the British Isles seem more inclined to tarry and enjoy their surroundings. I like that! (Although I have to admit that there are notable American exceptions. I’m a great admirer of our own Steve Smith, who has mastered the art of joyful walking. He savors the simple pleasures to be found in almost any walk.)

    I’ve heard that John Muir, a Scot by birth, disliked the term “hiking” because it sounded too harsh, too extreme. He preferred the word “saunter.” I think I do, too.

    Thanks, again, for a delightful post.

    • I’m glad you mentioned that – I’m also a big admirer of Steve and devour the trip reports on his blog

      One reason I like off-trail hiking so much is that it encourages a much slower pace and less emphasis on the “big brag” speed of a thru-hike or the elevation gain of a peak-bagging experience. This was reinforced by my trip to the Howgills and the Lakes where I rediscovered the joy of hiking smaller hills, more slowly. Got me rethinking what I enjoy about hiking so much.

      You might also be interested in another local (New England) author/hiker, named Walt Mclaughlin who’s guest posted on Sectionhiker (as has Steve). Walt’s new book “The Allure of Deep Woods” is about stretching out an end-to-end hike of the NPT in the Dacks. I just finished it and it transported me to the calmness of sitting by lakes on summer days, fishing, and swimming along the way. Sauntering is a good word. I have friends who also like the word “bimble.” Cheers.

      • Thanks for the reminder about Walt Mclaughlin’s new book.

        And thanks again for doing such a fine job on your blog. Your posts always provide a pleasant way to begin a new day.

  4. I, too, enjoyed Phillip’s post, which took me back to my hikes on Wainwright’s Sea to Sea trail whose western end is anchored in the Lake District. Also, having been persuaded by Phillip’s earlier posts, I up and purchased a set of Pacerpoles! I start each day with a cup of coffee and a check on the Section Hiker website. It often transports me back to happy times on New England and UK trails. Keep up the great work, Phillip.

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