PHIL CALVERT: No need of drought orders in wind-swept East Lancashire

Looking back on this winter I think our memories will not be of a snowy winter wonderland but of some very strong winds, and above all, torrential rain.

For several weeks now the ground has been at saturation point making sorties into the garden and outings into the countryside decidedly squelchy affairs. Unfortunately, with the exception of October to November, this wet winter sits on the back of a very wet year starting pretty much last May.

Frankly, we never once sat out in our garden last summer and the barbie sat sullen, dejected and unused on the patio. A grim year – but not down South or in the East. In those parts of England, they consider themselves in drought. Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, parts of Bedfordshire, and Northamptonshire and West Norfolk still have low ground water levels. It seems astonishing to us, but on December 21st, while I was floundering through ankle deep mud down near the Calder, South East Water was granted a three-month drought order to refill some of its reservoirs by river extraction.

When I was in Suffolk, last October we wandered through Constable’s water meadows on the River Stour, which were dry enough to tackle wearing carpet slippers. It really is a different world down there, and while they have needed rain, I have been keeping my fingers crossed for some chillier temperatures to firm up the ground so I can get a bit more walking in. Thankfully, we had a cold snap early last week and as usual we dropped everything, grabbed our chance, and hastened over to the Dales.

We were a little late setting off, and so I wanted to keep travel times down to a minimum, and so my target was Flasby Fell, just north of Skipton. It is one of those places I have driven past scores of times on my way to the glories of Wharfedale, but never investigated closely. It constitutes all the high ground between Skipton, Gargrave and Hetton and features the two summits of Sharp Haw and Rough Haw. It is accessed by turning left just after the Craven Heifer on the Grassington Road and driving 500 yards to a parking area at a sharp turn in the road.

The way forward is obvious, initially along a vehicle track, then along a well-trodden wide grassy path direct to the sharp peak ahead, appropriately called Sharp Haw. The views from the top, especially towards Pendle and Gargrave are superb, while the path across a dip to the neighbouring Rough Haw is apparent to the North-East. It is worth nipping up there before following the path towards Flasby village. This path, however, represents the one dodgy part of the route. It is tempting to follow the path close to the edge of the woods which crosses an unseen evil mire, so it is far better to follow the bridleway, marked clearly with posts painted blue to avoid earache and potential divorce proceedings. As the ground was frozen when we visited, I got off fairly lightly.

After that it is a simple matter of following the farm track to Flasby Hall Farm, before cutting back sharply to the left to follow the easy track back through the woods along the south western slopes of Sharp Haw back to our starting point, in all about five and-a-half miles and great for walking the dog.

But a word of caution. Avoid that boggy bit until we too have drought orders in place (a not very likely prospect) or wait for a late frost to firm things up a bit between the two peaks, which February should reliably provide and enjoy a delightful walk in this lovely little corner of the Dales too often overlooked.