The Howgill Fells are Silurian and Ordovician sandstone and gritstone uplands with distinctive high, rounded ridges and dome-like summits separated by long, steep-sided valleys; around half is National Park. The fells are remote, exposed, open, unenclosed common land, covered with a seasonally colourful mosaic of upland habitats, including poorly drained acid grassland and bracken, with some small remnant areas of upland heath, which offer longdistance panoramic views to surrounding uplands. Drainage is radial; incised rocky gills and ‘flashy’ streams flow into the rivers Lune, Rawthey and Eden. Large areas are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for their geology and active fluvial geomorphology. Lower, enclosed slopes offer a contrasting pastoral scene, with rough, rushy pastures grading into improved land, with some hay meadows and purple moor-grass, surrounded by drystone walls and hedges. Flower-rich verges occur along some quiet lanes. Livestock farming predominates, with sheep, Fell ponies and cattle. There is limited tree cover: mainly gill woodland and remnant broadleaved woods.
Soils are poor and are vulnerable to poaching and erosion. With high rainfall, potential for downstream flooding and predictions for increased storm events, careful soil and water management are required for future protection of the services they provide. The area has very high levels of tranquillity, in part owing to the few settlements, widely dispersed farmsteads and quiet roads, all restricted to the fringe of the National Character Area (NCA) and all of which still retain their local vernacular styles, materials and form, reflecting local geology. There are few designated archaeological features, but the area contains many small-scale features associated with its agricultural heritage, including drove roads, pinfolds and flag-roofed barns.
The area is well used for open-air recreation, with over 80 per cent designated as open access land – the highest level of any NCA. A good network of public rights of way caters for walkers, riders and cyclists, with activities such as photography, hang gliding, wildlife watching and fishing increasing. The area is a source of inspiration to artists and writers from William Wordsworth to Andy Goldsworthy.
18 Howgill Fells (NE537)