Howgill Fells & Westmorland Walks
Smardale Gill & Ash Fell
Date: 29th Nov 2014
Distance: 8.6 miles
Ascent: 600 feet
Time: 4 hours 20 mins
Start Grid Ref: NY739082
A fine walk visiting the superb viaducts of Smardale Gill before heading across Ash Fell to visit the trig point on Windy Hill.
Smardale - Demesne Wood - Smardalegill Viaduct - Smardale Kilns - Smardale Bridge - Jervis Cross - Ash Fell Road - Ash Fell Edge - Windy Hill - Ash Fell Road - Rasett Hill - The Riggs - Smardale Fell - Smardale
Photos: Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Walk Detail: Smardale is a tiny little village tucked away beneath the slopes of Smardale Fell in the eastern Orton Fells. The final two miles from the turn off on the A685 to reach the village are on a particularly narrow road, which in places has grass growing down the middle of it. While not a road to meet another car coming the other way it does add to the sense of almost having stepped back in time when one reaches Smardale.
Immediately by the small parking area a gate provided access to a fine path running along what was once the trackbed of the old Darlington-Tebay railway line. In no time at all we passed under Smardale Viaduct, the highest viaduct on the very much still active Settle-Carlisle line, and into Demesne Wood and the environs of Smardale Gill. Shortly afterwards we spotted a red squirrel, sadly such a rare sight nowadays. We lingered a while waiting for it to come out of its drey so that we could try and catch a picture of it.
Continuing on through the woods we soon reached Smardalegill Viaduct - a superb moment and very much the highlight of the walk. Constructed in 1861, its setting high above Scandal Beck in the steep limestone valley of Smardale Gill is quite wonderful. When the railway closed in 1962 the viaduct fell into disrepair but fortunately it was restored in the early 1990's and the old line turned into a path for walkers.
We spent quite a while taking photos of the viaduct from various angles and waiting patiently for a few patches of sunlight to break through the cloud to the south. Our patience was duly rewarded, the bright sunshine creating some dramatic shadows of the arches on the opposite slopes of the gill. Eventually we crossed over the viaduct and continued along the old railway line passing the remains of the impressive Smardale lime kilns and then the more forlorn remains of some old railway cottages.
Upon reaching signs for the Coast to Coast route we followed the latter down to the picturesque Smardale Bridge. Crossing over the beck we soon left the path to follow the wall heading south-east across Ash Fell towards the distant trig point on Windy Hill, the highest point on Ash Fell. The main features of note on the way were the small boundary stone marked on the map as Jervis Cross and, as we neared Windy Hill, the modest limestone escarpment of Ash Fell Edge.
After a promising start to the day the skies had by now largely clouded over so we were lucky when a lone patch of sunlight that had travelled northwards from Harter Fell suddenly illuminated the trig point. On a clearer day the view would have been excellent, low cloud was obscuring much of the long distance views but we caught glimpses of the umistakeable profile of Roman Fell in the North Penninesas as well as Mallerstang Edge and Wild Boar Fell to the west and, to the south, Green Bell and Harter Fell in the northern Howgills.
After eating some lunch by the trig point we took a direct pathless route towards Rasett Hill, passing along the way numerous shake holes and recrossing the A685. Situated atop Rasett Hill is a large tumulus that had been visible from as far away as the trig point - it was certainly the most obvious looking tumulus of a number that are marked on the map in the area.
From Rasett Hill we went to look for Rasett Hole but found only a marshy area at the head of a small stream. Continuing on we joined a bridleway heading for Smardale Fell where we briefly met up with the Coast to Coast route again. As we made a short detour from the bridleway to view a jumble of rocks, that on closer inspection looked like they may be the remains of a kiln, the sun suddenly broke out again. We were then able to enjoy some lovely late afternoon sunshine for the last mile as we dropped back down into Smardale.
This was a hugely enjoyable walk, particularly Smardale Gill. I'd added the long loop across Ash Fell to the route so that I could bag the trig point on Windy Hill. While this was still a decent enough section (more so if the visibility had been better) we could have easily left this out and still had a fine time. I'd definitely like to visit Smardale Gill again and the walk has also reignited my desire to explore some more of the area.