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Green Hill - discovering wildlife on Lancashire’s highest point

PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 August 2017

Looking along the drystone wall by John Lamb

Looking along the drystone wall by John Lamb

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Lancashire Wildlife Trust senior conservation officer John Lamb describes the wonderful wildlife as you make the climb up Green Hill

LAN Sep17 Nature MomentsLAN Sep17 Nature Moments

I remember well the day I walked to the highest point in Lancashire but first, some clarification is required. Several publications state that the highest place in Lancashire is Gragarath at 627 metres above sea level.

However, if you look at the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map, you will see Green Hill (at SD701820) has a dot marking 628m above sea level on the Lancashire side of the boundary wall with Cumbria.

Armed with camera, OS map and packed lunch, I began my walk from the village of Leck, just off the A65(T) between Ingleton and Kirkby Lonsdale, on a bright and sunny day and followed the footpath through Springs Wood, an ancient semi-natural bluebell woodland, with a sign on the gate saying it’s a Conservation Area.

The path follows Leck Beck upstream but, up on Castle Hill above, are the remains of an Iron Age settlement. Here, a tribal community of the Brigantes lived before and during the Roman occupation, and the opposite western side of the valley is riddled with settlements, field systems and burial cairns. None of them have public access so make the most of this.

Skylark can still be heard over the fells by Darin SmithSkylark can still be heard over the fells by Darin Smith

However, the footpath continues up onto access land, where you are free, at your own risk, to wander at will. There are at least 19 waterfalls upstream of Springs Wood. The first is at 170m above sea level and the highest is upstream of Long Gill Foot. Walking along the beck I saw dipper and grey wagtail but a sighting of the ring ouzel, which are known to occur in the valley, eluded me.

East of Smithy House, Gale Beck flows into Leck Beck, but I was surprised to find Leck Beck dry and was able to scramble up the dry riverbed and over a dry waterfall. Where had the water gone? Nearly two kilometres later I was to find out.

Upstream, the route took me past several entrances to pot holes, including Whittle Hole and Leck Beck Head. I was later amazed to discover that the caves, caverns and pot holes under Leck Fell are part of the Easegill Caverns, which form a section of the Three Counties System that includes 86.7km (53.9 miles) of passageway, and is the longest cave system in Britain, and the 26th longest in the world.

As well as being a potholer’s delight, the Leck Valley is also a paradise for the botanist, with outcrops of limestone supporting a wide range of characteristic limestone plants, including baneberry, limestone polypody, mossy saxifrage and rigid buckler-fern.

Where the footpath from Bullpot Farm crosses the beck, the water has eroded a spectacular series of cups, bowls, islands and waterfalls – a natural water feature that any garden designer would struggle to beat.

So where does the water disappear to? At a waterfall below Casterton Fell, the water descends into a curved pool of peat-stained water within an amphitheatre of eroded limestone, but no water flows out. The water goes down a pot hole and is an amazing sight.

At Long Gill Foot, the county boundary follows Long Gill, which also had a surprise in store. A waterfall is fed by water having worn a series of straight-sided channels at right angles to one another and there is a series of waterfalls on the way up to the top.

A few hundred metres from the top, the county boundary follows a dry stone wall and at the summit it meets another running north-south and at the pinch point is the County Stone sitting between Cumbria and Lancashire. With my back to the stone looking south, the highest point in Lancashire is visible on the skyline.

The summit of Green Hill is marked by a tiny cairn of stones. Standing at the highest point in Lancashire, the only sounds I could hear were the whistling of the wind in my ears, bleating of sheep in the distance and a crescendo of sound descending from a skylark above my head.

Continuing to follow the wall south, the second wall on the left that comes to join the wall is the county boundary between Cumbria and North Yorkshire and the junction (at SD700813), 1.5km to the south of the county stone, is the only place where the three counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire meet.

Following the wall takes you up and over Gragareth, with great views down Leck Fell and across Ireby Fell ahead.

Leck Fell and the valley is not only of outstanding geological importance but also includes areas of major biological interest that support several nationally rare and scarce plants, including baneberry, and 14 species on the Provisional Lancashire Red Data List of Vascular Plants. These include include bog pimpernel, cloudberry, fir clubmoss, green spleenwort, hoary whitlowgrass, lesser clubmoss, mossy saxifrage and parsley fern.

Gragareth supports the nationally rare silky lady’s-mantle and the nationally scarce limestone fern. Base-rich flushes support the nationally scarce pale forget-me-not and Pyrennean scurvy-grass.

You have probably heard of Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) but Green Hill and Gragareth are Nuttalls (hills/mountains over 2,000ft/610m with a drop of at least 15m/49ft all around).

In August 2016, the Yorkshire Dales National Park was extended to include Leck and Ireby Fells, so Lancashire now includes part of a National Park.

The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside is dedicated to the protection and promotion of the wildlife in Lancashire, seven boroughs of Greater Manchester and four of Merseyside, all lying north of the River Mersey. It manages around 40 nature reserves and 20 Local Nature Reserves covering acres of woodland, wetland, upland and meadow. The Trust has 29,000 members, and over 1,200 volunteers.

To become a member of the Trust go to the website at www.lancswt.org.uk or call 01772 324129.

The amazing story of Adulterer’s Bypass and the underground cave system connecting three counties

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