A Whin win situation
This is a golden opportunity to reflect on a watershed moment in the renewables debate, more specifically on the appropriate siting of windfarms in the British landscape. The Whinash proposal lodged on behalf of a dozen commoners on Bretherdale Common, sought to erect twenty-seven turbines - each higher than Blackpool Tower - on a prominent ridge sandwiched between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, located just outside the presently-defined boundaries of both National Parks. Had inspectors shown any equivocation in their decision then many exquisitely beautiful landscapes in our nation would have had no defence against the onrush of these industrial structures.
Erecting energy-gathering turbines where their power is to be used has everything to commend it, but in remote locations they are both distractive and detractive, and give nothing to the scene or the communities they dominate. In this instance there was almost universal condemnation from anyone with a Cumbrian perspective, from statutory guardians to community activists, proof positive that we all can play a part in championing the environment we hold most dear.
Westmorland Borrowdale has a bright future, thanks chiefly to the efforts of the Friends of the Lake District. This charity’s ownership of High Borrowdale Farm has set in train the restoration of key heritage landscape features; enclosure walls, farm buildings, hay meadows and native woodland. It is to be hoped that this longterm vision will influence other conservators and landscape planners to make our Cumbrian mountain landscapes glad.
When the Lake District National Park boundary was first fixed over fifty years ago, the A6 was the main motoring artery between Kendal and Penrith, with the Leyland Clock and Jungle Café well-loved landmarks. In the early 1970s along came the M6 motorway slicing through the Lune Gorge and, at a stroke, a new much firmer division was cast between two very distinct landscapes.
Lakeland’s southern skyline from Mabbin Crag
To the east of the M6 rise the curvaceous Howgill Fells, Wainwright, with charateristic aplomb, alikened them to a herd of sleeping elephants. Their obvious unity ignored by the Yorkshire county boundary, as so often divisions reflect the high margins of upland grazing. A boundary review has been promised to rectify anomalies that seem to deny the Howgills integrity; Westmorland Borrowdale’s obvious harmony with Lakeland; and includes the intention to create a new AONB in the Orton Fells, a classic mountain limestone landscape of considerable national importance.
The review has temporarily hit the buffers, not by any weakness of the local case, but as a result of a High Court ruling on the proposed extension to the New Forest National Park. The closeted wisdom decreed that “… natural beauty should be interpreted as not including landscape where man has had a significant impact”. Can anyone show where such a landscape exists in Britain and what is significant? Yet more revenue for the lawyers! Indeed, it is the hand of man that dominates all our enigmatic wild landscapes, this unfortunate ruling has severely complicated the designation process.
From the layby follow the broad verge up to the long blind bend in the A6. With utmost care cross the road to the south end of the crash barriers on the east side. Follow the short tarmac roadway down to a gate. A track continues down towards Borrow Beck. However, bear off immediately right onto a clear path embarking on the steady climb onto Ashstead Fell. The steep grassy ascent is soon completed with lovely views over one’s shoulder into upper Borrowdale above the A6. Reaching the neat square stone-built cairn at 455m/1,493ft makes the good excuse for an early pause. Young conifers adorn much of the fell, they draw close, but fortunately not up to this prominent top.
Continuing, the ridge undulates attractively crossing the cairnless summit at 469m/1,539ft, then curves east above Combs Hollow. The route gives a superb view into Borrowdale focusing on Low Borrowdale Farm; then to the north, directly across the valley towards the rounded top of Whinash, with the Howgill Fells a splendid backdrop to the east. Take care as you dip south via a surprise rock step. Descend into the depression, and through a crossridge wall gap, rising through a broad heather break in the young conifer plantings: the peaty path is taking a pasting so tread with care. Climb onto the next summit, Mabbin Crag at 482m/1,581ft, appropriately marked with a small cairn: the fell-name derives from the Welsh for ‘baby’ (the Lochmaben Stone at Gretna, vestiges of a stone circle, has the same origin). This is a fine viewpoint, well worth a further moments pause. The path now winds south-east through the light conifer growth, a draining gill competing with the path makes for damp going at times. Crossing a fence stile and subsequent ladder stile over a wall, firmer ground is ensured with a wall close right.
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© Mark Richards 2006