Back in February our Thursday group found itself on the top of Caw one of Lakeland’s less well known heights. From its summit we enjoyed a commanding view over Morecambe Bay and I was able to point out the Barrow Monument above Ulverston. There cannot be too many monuments erected in the memory of a civil servant especially one with the rather prosaic title of “Second Secretary to the Admiralty” but that is the case here.  

John Barrow was born in Ulverston in 1764 to a family of modest means and educated at the local grammar school. By the beginning of the 19th century after varied career and extensive travels – Greenland, China and South Africa – he was appointed to the Admiralty in 1804 as Second Secretary. It was a position he held for 40 years (apart from a brief spell 1806-07) and established the convention that senior civil servants could serve governments of all political persuasions in a non-partisan way. (A convention that seems to be eroding in recent years).

Barrow’s particular interest was Arctic exploration and after the close of the Napoleonic Wars he promoted a number of expeditions with the aim of trying to establish the possibility of a “Norwest Passage” between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This in the days before the Panama Canal when the only route was round Cape Horn at the very tip of South America a place made hazardous by frequent storms. Seeking a Northwest Passage in the frozen wastes to the north of Canada proved even more hazardous – fatally so to Sir John Franklin who died with his crew on an icebound ship in 1847.

Arctic and later Antarctic exploration meant exposure to extreme conditions of freezing temperatures and driving winds. On our way up to the top of Caw we had experienced a short spell of discomfort caused by the wind chill of a north easterly. It wasn’t pleasant. It made me think about explorers like Franklin, Perry, Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton and the men who went with them to the most inhospitable regions of the Earth enduring cold not just for hours but weeks on end. Modern convenient life does not do extreme discomfort – press button central heating is the name of the game. Ironically that demand for instant energy has created Global Warming which has now made the North West Passage entirely feasible as the Arctic Polar icecap has shrunk.

Start: The Hawk Forestry car park LA22 6BB Grid reference SD 239 919.



Fact File:

Distance: 5 miles

Time: 3 - 4 hours

Grade: The approach is easy but the walk becomes more strenuous beyond Natty Bridge.

Map: OS OL 6 The English Lakes South western area.


Map by kind permission of Johnston Press 

From the car park a footpath leads into the Hawk the remains of an iron age settlement. Beyond the settlement it is possible to link up with forestry paths leading up to Natty Bridge. We chose to follow the lane up towards Stephenson Ground.


In half a mile take a footpath on the right through a wooden gate leading into the woods.


When this reaches a forestry track go left and keep on it with the River Lickle down on your left at the bottom of the steep sided valley.


Gently climbing the views become more impressive as you break clear of the trees on the long straight track. After a mile the way passes through a gate and drops to Natty Bridge - a footbridge across the rocky ravine of Yewry Sike.


On the far side keep ahead to join the bridleway which followed the right bank of the River Lickle from Stephenson Ground. At this point looming above you to the right is White Pike


a shapely peak that is an extension of Walna Scar. In fact the bridleway you have joined


eventually links up with the Walna Scar Road the track connecting Coniston with Dunnerdale. You will not be going as far. As you reach the top of the col bear left on an indistinct path (which was even less distinct in snow!) to start the traverse to Caw. First you encounter Pikes


which may seem to be promisingly like Caw unless you have consulted your map. Given that Caw itself is not exactly a Lakeland giant (1695ft) the ridge it occupies certainly gives an impression of being as rocky and challenging as its near neighbours in the Coniston Range. From the summit of Green Pikes the descent and then re-ascent to Caw will seem surprising - at least it did to me. Picking up a path of sorts to the north of the Pikes cross a broad col


to thread a way up a spur leading to the summit of Caw which is unmistakeable in that it is adorned with a trig point. It goes without saying that the views are stupendous. On the Irish Sea coast Sellafield is an obvious landmark, as is Barrow's Monument above Ulverston to the southwest.

The way down is obvious in clear weather but one we did not take owing to the profusion of snow and ice. Continue for a further half mile and edging down some 500ft towards Long mire Beck. On reaching it turn left onto a bridleway. When this forks keep left for Stephenson Ground. When you reach the road go left for the car park. If the lack of detail in these directions troubles you then you are free to re-trace your steps from the summit of Caw but where would be the adventure in that?