A super walk in the Howgill Fells visiting Cautley Spout, one of England’s highest waterfalls, the dramatic Cautley Crag and the summit of Calders.
|Parking:||Roadside, Cross Keys Inn|
|Route:||Download Route [GPX]|
Cautley Spout in the Howgill Fells is England’s highest cascade waterfall. Water tumbles down a series of falls almost 200m down a cliff face into the valley of Cautley Holme Beck. Given my obsession with photographing waterfalls over recent years you’d think that I’d have been to Cautley Spout in this time. In fact this was to be the first time I’d taken the path up alongside the falls since November 2008.
This then was a way overdue visit to one of the most spectacular sites in the Yorkshire Dales. Ironically though this was not the walk that I’d set out to do. My intention had actually been to visit the trig point and of Holme Knott, a modest sized hill to the south of Sedbergh. I’d not been to that spot for even longer than I’d been to Cautley Spout. However, I wanted reasonably bright weather for photos from the trig point.
“Scrambling around I was able to photograph some modest little falls below Cautley Spout. A more dubious narrow path, with a steep drop in places, brought me to the foot of Cautley Spout itself and the rarely seen lower falls.”
The forecast for the area had been promising all week until the morning of the walk itself when suddenly the forecast had changed to cloudy all day. I set off in the car still with the main aim of going to Holme Knott but in the back of my mind I’d already thought that I could always visit Cautley Spout if it was cloudy. The reason for this being that cloudy days are the best for getting the long exposure to get the flowing water effect on waterfall pictures.
As it turned out when I arrived in Sedbergh there were a few hints of blue sky in what was otherwise a blanket of high cloud. I’d seen enough of this type of cloud to know that it rarely breaks up at this time of year. Neither does the sun get high enough to pierce through the few breaks in the cloud. Therefore I continued through Sedbergh to head for the Cross Keys Inn, the parking spot for the Cautley Spout walk.
The small parking area near the Cross Keys usually fills up quite quickly. Still I wasn’t expecting to find the road near the inn lined with cars. Finding space to park between two cars a hundred metres or south of the inn I was intrigued to see lots of people peering through binoculars towards Cautley Spout. When I asked one of the bystanders what was happening I was told that it was a drag hunt. A drag hunt is when hounds are trained to follow a preprepared trail. My next question was whether the rights of way were still open. With relief I got an affirmative and so continued on my way.
Passing the Cross Keys, that rare thing a temperance inn, I crossed the small footbridge over the River Rawthey. On the other side I turned left to take a path that swung round into the valley of Cautley Holme Beck. Already in the distance I could see the middle section of Cautley Spout plunging over the cliff. The valley is a spectacular place. Formed by glacial erosion the valley is lined on one side by the dark cliffs of Cautley Crag. Directly at the head of the valley is Cautley Spout while up to the right are the steep flanks of Yarlside, one of the highest summits in the Howgills.
As I walked down the valley I saw groups of people waiting for the hounds to appear. Taking my tripod out to get some zoom shots of the falls from below I suddenly heard the huntsman’s horn and the baying of the hounds high on the slopes above. Suddenly a couple of hounds could be seen crossing over the falls and then scrambling across the crags 150m above me.
After watching them for a while I dropped down from the path to Cautley Holme Beck which I traced towards the foot of the cliffs. Scrambling around I was able to photograph some modest little falls below Cautley Spout. A more dubious narrow path, with a steep drop in places, brought me to the foot of Cautley Spout itself and the rarely seen lower falls.
Returning to the main path I then commenced the steep climb up alongside Cautley Spout. On the way up I made a couple of careful detours to take a look at the middle section of the falls. Then, turning a corner, I got a view of the upper section of Cautley Spout that had until now been largely hidden from view. Although not seen until this point this part of the waterfall is probably the finest and is certainly the section that be enjoyed most easily from the path.
Gradually I continued up on the path to cross over Swere Gill and then, leaving the main path, Red Gill Beck. On the other side of Red Gill Beck I took a thin but fairly clear path climbing up to the northen end of Cautley Crag. There followed a gradual climb above the rim of crags with superb views back down into Cautley Holme Beck. Looking back was an improving view of Yarlside with the valley of Bowderdale also making an appearance.
Upon reaching the 600m contour I made took a path heading away from the crag to visit the unmarked ‘summit’ of Great Dummacks. Considering it features both Cautley Spout and Cautley Crag I’ve always thought it something of a shame that Great Dummacks does not quite have enough prominence to be classed as a mountain in its own right. Indeed if it was only a few metres higher with a summit overlooking the crag it would be one of the finest mountains in the Yorkshire Dales. Instead the summit is unmarked in a flat area of grass with the parent fell of Calders half a mile away to the west.
As I was so close I decided to continue on to Calders. I’ve had much clearer days on the top of Calders and, with the views west largely shrouded by cloud, I didn’t linger long. Retracing my steps a short way I then took a path below the top of Great Dummacks on the 650m contour line. This eventually led to my route of descent, Great Dummacks’s long south-eastern ridge – Fawcett Bank Rigg. I’d not been down this before and from now on much of the rest of the walk was new to me.
Fawcett Bank Rigg proved to be a fine descent and, for the first time really on the walk, I began to wish the skies were a bit brighter. Despite the cloud the views were still impressive especially across to Baugh Fell, Rise Hill and beyond to Whernside, Ingleborough and, for a time at least Pen-y-Ghent. Towards the bottom of Fawcett Bank Rigg I had to leave the path I’d been following for a steep descent of Cock Brow in order to join the Sedbergh to Cautley bridleway. This was the only part of the walk I didn’t enjoy and it was with some relief that I finally arrived at the bridleway as my knees were just beginning to feel the strain.
At the bridleway I turned north to follow the path, initially through an area of gorse, just above the valley bottom. Half a mile along the path I crossed over Hooker Gill which featured some nice little cascades just above and below the path. Another small waterfall at the next stream crossing, Hollow Gill, needed a bit more water to do itself justice. Beyond Hooker Gill the path eventually dropped down to a footbridge just above the confluence of Cautley Holme Beck and the River Rawthey.
Over the footbridge I took one last, distant, look at Cautley Spout before retracing my earlier steps back to the footbridge and over the river to the Cross Keys. I may not have set out to do this walk but I was very pleased with the decision I’d made. All in all it was a superb day out and I certainly feel like I now have plenty of photos of Cautley Spout for this website!