I’ve wanted to explore Grisedale for a long time. A three mile long cul-de-sac dale, which sits over the other side of Low Moor ridge at Garsdale Head, beneath Baugh Fell.
Garsdale, Sedbergh, Ravenstonedale, and Mallerstang are its closest neighbouring dales.
My first attempt to explore had been thwarted by water and a lack of wellies – since I was walking, not driving, from Garsdale Station on the Settle to Carlisle Railway line. It’s a surprisingly wet area! I’d found myself a few yards from getting into the dale, but I was surrounded by deep pools on all sides at the top of the moor. A hand-painted ‘FOOTPATH’ sign on a pole beckoned me on, but I was going to have to wade through knee-deep mud and sphagnum that day – so I called it quits.
Frustrating! But I vowed to come back.
The Dale that Died?
A couple of weeks ago I learnt that Grisedale featured in a 1975 Yorkshire TV documentary, done by the chap who had made Hannah Hauxwell so well known – Barry Cockcroft. He’d also produced a book to accompany the programme. I’m drawn to quiet places, and the prospect of a remote dale dotted with abandoned homesteads is tantalising.
I was pleased to find a copy of his book ‘The Dale that Died’ in Leeds City Library. I had a chance to do a bit of research before I headed out. I was encouraged by what I read, so I caught the train up there the next day – wellies in tow.
Baugh Fell dominates Garsdale, and makes a striking view as you arrive at Garsdale train station. The morning was warm and fresh, and I was delighted to see a red squirrel leap onto the train platform just as I stepped out. Second time I’ve seen one there this month! It bounded a few steps ahead of me, then scrambled down over the tracks, towards a pine plantation on the adjacent bank. A good start. I know there are red squirrel populations around Hawes, and at Snaizeholme – but didn’t know they were here.
Looking across from the station, Clough is an incongruous white house on the hillside. The end of Grisedale Beck runs alongside it, and down into the River Clough below. The large pine plantation in the distance is in Grisedale… just over the moor ridge top.
I set out.
Taking a quiet path to the right of Clough a steep walk up Low Moor ridge followed, where Highland cattle graze. The public footpath is like a Tough Mudder in places, due to heavy wear from a quad driven up to take fodder to the animals.
Beautiful beasts, the Highland cattle that graze there! Calm and docile – I was loathe to disturb them as I walked up, but they barely moved, even those lying right beside the trail. When you’re this big and powerful you have little to fear, I suppose. Most were wide in calf. Probably good to take the weight off their feet, and lie on the cool earth. I know that cattle with young calves can be very protective, potentially dangerous, and are best avoided. In this case though they seemed calm enough – with no youngsters yet to defend. I imagine they’re quite used to seeing people pass through.
Ascending the fell, you begin to see the end of Grisedale Beck, as it flows out of the valley towards the River Clough in the distance. A bright ribbon of silver. According to maps I’ve seen the riverbed down there is laden with fossils embedded in the limestone. I’ve yet to have a look.
Again the moor proved soggy underfoot – pools softened with floating sphagnum moss. But it wasn’t as bad as last time. Soon I came to the cartoonish ‘FOOTPATH’ sign poking out of the mire, leading me on through the driest section of the trail. Blake Mire House sits close by. I’ll come back to Blake Mire on the return. It’s certainly in a remote spot!
As I neared the crest of the hill and it flattened out I saw Grisedale proper for the first time. The perfect day for it.
Barren looking on the tops, but lush pastures at the bottom. Sure enough, small farmstead buildings dotted about – contrasting with the largescale Mouse Syke farm at the head of the dale – the one which Joe Gibson had come to work in the book ‘The Dale that Died’.
I wasn’t alone. Expecting to arrive in a desolate spot with no one to speak to I was surprised to meet a farmer and assistant, busy with diggers on what I initially thought was the public footpath. Turns out they were laying a brand new access track all the way up to Blake Mire House. This wasn’t going to be the quiet, peaceful visit I’d expected.
“Don’t know why they feel the need to have a track up, really. We’ve always walked it,” the farmer told me. It was going to be a long job of laying hardcore along the weaving contour of the fell. They were making a good job of it.
Turned out that Blake Mire, after being on the market for a long time, had recently sold – and the previous owner had made plans to have car access built to attract buyers. As a townie I totally understood that. The local folk like this farmer had walked up there all their lives. A contrast in expectations: most people now expect to be able to drive their cars anywhere.
The State of Nature
On the way up I’d set a few curlews calling. They flew in a wide arc around me after lifting off their hidden nests. I saw a handful of oystercatchers too.
Chatting to the farmer, who lives in Garsdale, and had grown up there and in Grisedale all his life, he told me how things had changed.
‘an oasis of emerald green fields… music but no noise… just stillness and peace.’
– A.W. Wainwright on Grisedale