Swarth Fell is a close neighbour to the better known Wild Boar Fell and together they make up the western side of Mallerstang, valley of the infant River Eden.
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Swarth Fell is part of what Wainwright describes as the ‘Mallerstang – Garsdale – Rawthey – Triangle’. It is an unwieldly name for the large upland area immediately to the east of the Howgill Fells. The area is dominated by three main fells – the highest is Wild Boar Fell, the largest in extent is Baugh Fell and connecting the two is Swarth Fell.
The boundary changes in 1974 made Swarth Fell’s already confusing county allegiances even more complicated. Prior to 1974 the boundary between the West Riding of Yorkshire and Westmorland ran along the crest of the fell. To the south of Swarth Fell’s subsidary summit, Swarth Fell Pike, there was a further boundary between the West and North Ridings of Yorkshire. A third boundary, between the North Riding and Westmorland dropped down to Aisgill from just below Swarth Fell Pike. This latter boundary also coincided with the main Pennine watershed.
Since 1974, with Westmorland no longer in existence as an administrative entity the majority of the fell has been swallowed up by Cumbria. North Yorkshire only manages to claim a small corner of the fell in the section that once belonged to the North Riding. Just to confuse matters half the fell is within the Yorkshire Dales National Park while part of the fell, including the summit, is not. If a planned extension to the national park there will be the curious situation of it being entirely in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and yet having largely been removed from Yorkshire.
Although Swarth Fell largely overlooks Mallerstang, the fell has a toe hold in the upper reaches of Wensleydale and the smaller side valleys of Uldale and Grisedale. The latter are separated by Holmes Moss Hill which in turn connects Swarth Fell with Baugh Fell. Although the upper reaches of Swarth Fell are fairly well drained Holmes Moss Hill is not and is memorable for some very large and very green bogs. At the foot of Swarth Fell on the watershed between Mallerstang and Wensleydale is Aisgill which has the distinction of being the highest point on the Settle-Carlisle railway.
When Wainwright wrote his ‘Walks in the Howgill Fells and Adjoining Fells’ in 1972, he described Swarth Fell as ‘virtually unknown’. It remains relatively unfrequented despite, by some people’s reckoning, being one of the ten highest fells in the Yorkshire Dales. Perhaps the main reason for this is its close proximity to Wild Boar Fell, a favourite of connosieurs of the high Pennine hills. Standing 27 metres higher than Swarth Fell and with an instantly recognisable profile Wild Boar Fell has a tendency to obscure Swarth Fell when viewed from the north or south.
This is slightly unfair as Swarth Fell is actually a rather fine hill in its own right. The steep, in places, rocky escarpment overlooking Mallerstang is particularly noteworthy and worth visiting. The views from this ‘edge’ and from the summit are excellent and include Wild Boar Fell, High Seat, Mallerstang and the upper reaches of Wensleydale. Further afield there are also views of the North Pennines and, to the right of Baugh Fell, a glimpse of the Irish Sea.
The summit itself is marked by a small cairn amongst a scattering of rocks. Just below the summit is a small tarn that seems to have escaped the notice of cartographers. Another, slightly larger tarn, sits in the col between Swarth Fell and Wild Boar Fell.
To date Swarth Fell is the only Dales hill that I’ve spent the night on. My friend Matt and I were actually aiming to wild camp on Baugh Fell but, having endured some bad weather crossing Wild Boar Fell, we were behind schedule and decided to take advantage of the shelter offered by the wall running across the top of Swarth Fell. This allowed us to spend a bit more time than we otherwise would have done on the fell and we were lucky that the cloud briefly broke to provide some memorable late evening views. For this reason alone Swarth Fell will always hold a special place in my heart.