An extended walk up the valley of Bowderdale and on to The Calf before a high level return via Hazelgill Knott and West Fell.
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Over the years I've visited the Howgill Fells numerous times and have bagged all the summits. However, I have always tended to stick to the ridges and as a consequence haven't spent much time in the valleys, such as Bowderdale, Langdale, Weasdale and Uldale.
The aim of this route was to walk almost the entire length of Bowderdale as a route up on to The Calf, the highest summit in the Howgill Fells. The return would be via the long ridge dividing Bowderdale and Langdale. This would give me the opportunity to revisit the summits of Hazelgill Knott and West Fell, two hills that I've only been to once before.
"At first the walk was dominated by West Fell and Hooksey, later I passed below Randygill Top, Kensgriff and Hazelgill Knott. Meanwhile the dramatic outline of Yarlside near the head of the valley gradually got closer and closer."
The walk started from the road end in the small hamlet of Bowderdale which is accessible by a minor road just off the A685. I parked on grass at the roadside just across the bridge over Bowderdale Beck.
The outward route really is very straightforward and doesn't require a huge amount of description. Walking a short distance up to the end of the public road I left its continuation as a track to take the bridleway heading up the valley. At first this climbs up through pastures towards the bottom of the West Fell ridge. Upon reaching a wall corner at a junction of paths I took a turn to the left to begin a gradual descent back into the valley.
The path ever so gently dropped back down into the valley but never quite came right alongside Bowderdale Beck. There was one walker ahead of me who I soon overtook. While this was the only other person I saw on the actual path I was surprised by a few groups of people descending directly from West Fell up to my right. These groups then crossed over Bowderdale Beck and then began climbing up Hooksey on the opposite side of the valley.
Continuing up Bowderdale I enjoyed a gradually changing view of the hills lining the valley. At first the walk was dominated by West Fell and Hooksey, later I passed below Randygill Top, Kensgriff and Hazelgill Knott. Meanwhile the dramatic outline of Yarlside near the head of the valley gradually got closer and closer. One highlight was when I passed the bottom of Hazel Gill to see that further up the gill there was indeed a solitary hazel tree.
Eventually the path began to climb up above the head of Bowderdale and up on to The Calf. The path was fairly well graded but with the sun shining brightly overhead and the valley largely sheltered from the wind it was hot work. Finally the path curved up to reach a small tarn at a path junction. I would return to this spot to gain the Hazelgill Knott ridge but for the time being I turned left for an easy walk up on to The Calf.
The Calf is a superb viewpoint and today was no different. The panorama included a long skyline of Lakeland Fells, the Cross Fell and Mickle Fell ranges in the North Pennines and to the east, the Dales heights above Dentdale, Garsdale and Mallerstang. The Calf, is by Howgill standards a busy top but I was still surprised at how many people there were, especially at the number of walkers who were climbing directly up out of Langdale.
After enjoying my lunch on The Calf I returned to the tarn at the path junction. Continuing past the tarn the path gradually turned north to drop down and then climb up on to Hazelgill Knott. The top of the latter is all grass and is unmarked even by a small pile of stones. Continuing on the clear grassy path my next objective along the ridge was West Fell. This had a couple of false summits before the highest point was reached. Here at least was a tiny pile of stones at the highest point.
All along my walk along the ridge I'd had the main path all to myself. There were still however regular numbers of walkers crossing over the ridge from Langdale and into Bowderdale. Looking across to Hooksey on the other side of Bowderdale I counted almost forty walkers. Anyone who has been on Hooksey will know this is a highly unusual state of affairs! Eventually I asked one group if there was an event on. I was told that it was a mountain marathon event and that there were over 1100 people taking part, across a variety of routes. This certainly explained the unusual numbers of people I'd seen in an area that is usually very quiet.
The path from West Fell gradually descended to the wall corner from where I'd descended into Bowderdale earlier in the day. From there it was a simple case of retracing my earlier footsteps. This was a glorious walk. The weather had been fantastic and it was very satisfying to have finally walked the length of Bowderdale. I'll have to do something similar for Langdale on my next visit to this very special corner of the Yorkshire Dales.