A hugely enjoyable circular walk on to Calf Top, the highest point of Middleton Fell, slightly soured by access issues at Mill House.
***PLEASE NOTE: Permission is required to walk the ten metres or so from the right of way to the gate leading on to access land at Mill House.***
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Thanks to the third national lockdown this was my first walk within the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park for exactly three months. As far as I can remember this is the longest I’ve gone without having a walk in the national park since I first took up walking as a hobby way back in 2004.
The forecast on the eastern side of the national park wasn’t that promising so I decided to head out west. I had two walks in mind, both starting from Barbon and it wasn’t until I actually arrived in the car that I decided to do this particular route on to Calf Top, the highest point of Middleton Fell, and Castle Knott. As it turned out I returned the following weekend to Barbon to do the other option which was Low Barbon Fell and Castle Knott.
"On the 590m contour ring I made a short detour to visit a fine currick. This is unmarked on the Explorer map but which seems to be called Sammy’s Pike. Between the 590m contour and summit of Calf Top there was also a pleasant little tarn."
The aim of the walk was to climb up on to Middleton Fell via a path climbing the fellside from the farm at Mill House and then return via Castle Knott and Eskholme Pike. It is a route I’d first done with a friend back in 2010. On that occasion we had tried to follow the disused railway line as it was supposed to be a permissive path. We discovered that in fact it was very difficult to follow and that the local landowners had, through the use of fences and barbed wire, made it almost impossible to use.
Therefore on this occasion I decided to take the simplest and quickest route from Barbon to Mill House by following the narrow country lane, called High Road, for 1.5 miles north from Barbon. It was an easy start to the walk and fortunately there was no traffic on the road. If there had have been there wasn’t much width to the road to avoid any oncoming cars.
At grid reference SD626849 I left High Road to take the public road to Low Fellside passing along the way the solitary dwelling of Plumtree Cottage. Without walking all the way to Low Fellside I took a very short bridleway on the left to cross Millhouse Beck at a footbridge and on to the access road to Mill House. Turning right on this the road passed between the remains of a small railway bridge and then up to Mill House.
There were actually quite a few buildings some of which seem to be fairly recently renovated and turned into holiday lets. It being a long time since I’d last been here I couldn’t remember there being any issue gaining access land from the public right of way. The two are shown to be next to each other on the map. However, I was dismayed to find that the 10m between the route of the path and the gate leading to access land was now a gravelled parking area for one of the holiday cottages. Next to it was a sign reading, “Use of this path and parking is for cottage guests or by permission only. This is not a public right of way please return to the waymarked path.”
Clearly there was no one staying in the cottages, coronavirus restrictions wouldn’t have allowed it. I also couldn’t see anyone further back at the farm. Having driven a fair distance to do the walk (my first in the Dales for three months) and then walked an hour from Barbon I wasn’t going to simply return back home. With no one about to ask I just walked the 10m to the gate and passed on to access land. I have since emailed the Yorkshire Dales National Park authority to complain at what is effectively a bar to the only possible access to the fellside between Barbon and Fellside, four miles to the north. I’ve yet to receive a response.
Once on access land I followed a grassy track which continued straight up the fellside. I soon realised that this was diverging from the route of the track as shown on the map so I contoured to the north to find it again running above a wall. As the path turned right away from the wall it once again became indistinct. Although I followed the route of the track using my OS app it was for a while invisible on the ground. Eventually it did make a reappearance before finally fizzling out near the top of Thirnbeck Gill.
Hear I turned right uphill where, upon reaching the crest of the fellside, I was surprised to find a very clear path. Presumably I could have saved myself some time and effort if I’d stayed on the grassy track leading up from Mill House. Turning left I therefore enjoyed a very pleasant walk up on to Middleton Fell. On the 590m contour ring I made a short detour to visit a fine currick. This is unmarked on the Explorer map but which seems to be called Sammy’s Pike. Between the 590m contour and summit of Calf Top there was also a pleasant little tarn.
The summit of Calf Top is marked by a white painted trig point. A new addition were a series of dark green stars that had also been painted on. The view from the summit was extensive and included a long line of Lakeland fells to the west, the Howgill fells to the north, as well as the likes of Baugh Fell, Great Knoutberry Hill, Great Coum and Gragareth. I crossed over the wall by the trig point to have my lunch and also to enjoy a better angle for the superb view down to Dentdale.
After having my lunch I headed south on the path which initially follows the wall before dropping down to a col with Castle Knott. Here I made a bit of a detour to the left so I could get a better view of the steep slopes of Middleton Fell above Barbondale. Returning to the path it was then a short steep climb to the large cairn marking the summit of Castle Knott. There then followed an enjoyable descent of Castle Knott. Initially this was fairly gentle and for the most part the path on the ground stayed to the north and higher up than marked on the map.
Eventually I came to the small cairn on the outcrop known as Eskholme Pike which features a fine view of the Lune valley. A bit further on was the even more impressive whinstone outcrop called Devil’s Crag, one that I always make sure to pose for a photo on. Continuing on the path again didn’t follow the route marked on the map and instead led to a ladder stile in the wall at grid reference SD635831. From there I crossed over into park like surrounds. Keeping to the outside of the woods at Ellers I then reached a track a bridge over Barbon Beck and on to St Bartholomew’s Church on the outskirts of the village.
This was a fine walk which was somewhat spoiled by the access issue at Mill House. Hopefully if the few walkers who do ever want to use this route can find someone to ask permission to cross the very short gravel area between the right of way and access land, they are given leave to do so.