Hellgill Force near the source of the Eden

by David Murray on 14 May 2013

in Cumbria, Eden Valley, Opinion, Rivers, Valleys

Hellgill Force - Eden Valley - MallerstangToday I did another of my photo-drive-walks, returning to Mallerstang for the second week in succession. Last week I did a circular walk between Nateby and Pendragon Castle, taking in Lammerside Castle, so today after a few shots of Pendragon Castle (over the wall; it’s now “closed to public access for building repairs”) I started near Outhwaite and with a combination of driving and walking eventually reached Hell Gill Bridge, up on the old Wensleydale to Eden Valley felltops “Highway”.

Apart from about two minutes of rain, which threatened to continue long and hard but then went away, it was a splendid day with blue sky and clouds, and brief moments in time when the light was just right for some great shots … if only you could catch it before the cloud moved on.

I’ve been hoping for some time to get my “perfect shot” of Hellgill Force. I didn’t achieve it today but was moderately pleased with two – although after shrinking to web-page size they’re certainly not as I’d like. Much can be done by digital processing but quite apart from the little matter of competence I don’t like tweaking images to the extent that they stop being genuine photos and become more like art work.

Hellgill Force Mallerstang - Eden Valley Cumbria

Discomfort and Problems

Sadly, earlier in the day I had my first experience in this area of being made to feel unwelcome. As I was photographing a bridge alongside the road I had for several minutes noticed a Landrover being driven very slowly towards me. Thinking nothing much of it I crossed the bridge, took more photos, and then found the Landrover had driven slowly off the road onto the bridge, blocking my way out. I nodded to him with a smile, and stood aside to let him pass, but all the elderly driver did was stare at me.

Young River Eden in MallerstangIt suddenly dawned that he must have been watching me for some time taking photographs of the area. Granted, I’d taken several photos of Outhgill village, including the house where the parents of the great nineteenth century scientist Michael Faraday lived for a while shortly before he was born; I’d photographed the parish church (one of Lady Anne Clifford’s 17th century restorations) both outside and inside, and the converted Wesleyan chapel.

Was I therefore a potential burglar checking out the opportunities? Hmm! But why would a burglar include bridges, lime kilns, lambs, streams and felltops in his list of prospects?

Well, I’ve faced worse people in many countries of the world so as he didn’t look the talkative type I decided just to turn around, take more bridge and river photos including the one above on the left and see whether he got out to talk to me. He didn’t. Slowly he reversed off the bridge onto the road and drove (very slowly) away.

I am, of course, aware that there has been a problem with rural burglary in parts of Cumbria, and the police have issued warnings. I can’t be sure that this was the cause of my unpleasant experience, but I suspect strongly that it was and have to ask, Are all camera-toting visitors this summer to be treated as suspicious characters? If anything similarly unpleasant happens again I’ll be the one challenging the watcher to discover what really is going on.

Hell Gill Bridge … and a climb too many

Hell Gill Beck above Hellgill Force - Mallerstang CumbriaMy plan today was to walk from Aisgill Cottages at the Westmorland-Yorkshire (or should I say Cumbria-North Yorkshire) boundary up to Hell Gill Bridge on the old packhorse route. I’d spent more time than originally intended lower down the valley but was determined to get up to the Eden’s first bridge. Otherwise my self-appointed target of getting pictures of all the bridges over the River Eden from Mallerstang to Carlisle by the end of this month was unlikely to be reached, even though I’m now at about 90%. So after taking the above photos at Hellgill Force I continued up the track onto the fell, taking shots of the constantly changing stream as I went.

Infant River Eden above Hellgill ForceA couple of hundred yards beyond Hellgill Farm, which is just about visible beyond the barn (left, taken from what I now think of as the Eden’s second bridge) a gate leads out onto the ancient “Highway” that probably dates back to before Roman times and was once the route of Lady Anne Clifford’s frequent journeys from Skipton to visit her Westmorland castles: Pendragon, Brough, Appleby and Brougham.

Gate sign by Hell Gill BridgeDid I say the gate “leads out”? Not today it doesn’t! Certainly there’s a sign telling people to make sure they close it, and I’m all in favour of this kind of signage around the countryside, but how can anyone close a gate that they can’t first open because it’s securely padlocked?

“But there’s a style”, I hear someone say. Yes, but what a style! A wall of shoulder height or more, some slabs sticking out to help you climb over, and wobbly cap stones.

Padlocked gate at Hellgill BridgeForty, or even twenty years ago, that would have been no obstacle, but now? Well, I hadn’t come so far to allow a wall to be an obstacle so I hoisted my near seventy-year-old bones over it and reached the “Highway”. Now I know that farmers do have genuine problems with some walkers, but can it be within the rules for a gate in such a position on a public right of way to be padlocked? I can think of many people who would have had serious problems at this point in their walk. Is it really necessary to cause such difficulties?

Hell Gill Bridge At Last

Hell Gill Bridge MallerstangAnyway, at least I got my photos of Hell Gill Bridge. Here’s one of them, taken from the eastern side and attempting to show the depth of the ravine that it crosses.

Without trespassing over the fence and clambering riskily through the trees it isn’t possible to plumb the depths with the lens, but it’s deep and the sound of Hell Gill Beck, not yet the River Eden until below Hellgill Force, rises from the depths.

After intending to come here for many months I’m glad that I’ve now got a step nearer to the origins of the river that flows, usually so leisurely, close to my Appleby home.

Not all is sweetness and light in the countryside

It seems a pity to spoil the record of a great day out surrounded by splendid landscape with another comment on human beings. Why do I do it? Well it’s part of the reality of being out in the countryside. Just possibly (very remotely possible, I admit) someone who is less than welcoming to walkers might see this and mend their ways, but more importantly, it may help new walkers to understand that people are people, and we’re not all the same, even in remote places. We just have to accept it and get on with life.

Later I was on yet another bridge when a muddy 4×4 drove off the hillside and down towards me. In this case I think he was simply out monitoring his sheep, not me, but certainly there was no friendliness. I stood aside to let him pass, looked at him, smiled and said hello through his open window. I might as well not have existed. Not a flicker of acknowledgement. In human terms this was not a good day.

A Great Kindness … and More of Beautiful Mallerstang

Mallerstang Common and Wild Boar Fell from near The ThrangI must say that the above is not typical of my experiences of walking in the Eden Valley, and it will take more than a few isolated episodes of discourtesy to drive me away.

Mallerstang, and the Eden Valley generally, is beautiful countryside. It’s just a pity about a small minority of the people.

What a contrast with the gentleman who last week, when I’d walked further than intended and was feeling dehydrated, went into his house and got me a glass of cold refreshing water. That was much more typical of Cumbrian people, so let’s put the negative behind us and in closing get back to the friendly landscape – a view (above) from near The Thrang showing Mallerstang Common with Wild Boar Fell behind, and (below) a black and white image of the end of Wild Boar Fell seen from near Hellgill Force.

Wild Boar Fell from near Hellgill Force Mallerstang

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