The Howk is surprising whichever way you approach it. This walk brings you in from the top end. The Whelpo Beck looks benign until it slips away into woodland and suddenly disappears over an edge into a chasm. No wonder the old folk called it the Fairy Kettle. Beside it the Fairy Kirk is a cave hollowed out of the limestone. It's a magical place deserving of a supernatural name. 'Howk' means scooping out in the old dialect of these northern fells, and it feels appropriate for this peculiar phenomenon –caused by a change in the underlying rock. This is a limestone gorge, a Gordale in miniature.
Auld Red Rover
Beyond, going downstream, is another immediate surprise. No sooner than you have stepped away from the little shelf-like viewing area of the Howk, you are confronted by another oddity. The high, stone-built mill that blocks your passage was once the home of Auld Red Rover, in its time one of the largest waterwheels in the country. Over 17 tons of metal held this monster together. It was over 42ft (12.8m) in diameter and at full pelt turned barely three times in a minute. Built in 1857, Red Rover powered a bobbin mill, the rest of which is remarkably well preserved beyond the wheel pit. Here is the coppice shed, where the dressed poles of wood were stacked to dry, and the turning floors where skilled men would craft millions of bobbins – reels and spindles to serve the voracious cotton mills of Lancashire. Up to 60 men and boys worked here, the youngest lads perhaps only ten years old when they were started on the basic tasks of peeling the bark off the hardwood logs. Cumbrian mills like this one supplied over half the bobbins to Lancashire's vast industry, and once there were over 70 of them, turning away. The last working mill was at Stott Park, near the bottom of Windermere. Here English Heritage allow you to see a working mill in action, with craftsmen showing how the bobbin makers spent their time.
The Howk mill was in production until 1924, by which time the biggest cotton mills were making their own bobbins, and new materials were starting to replace the traditional wood. The Howk produced hundreds of different items too, from 'dolly pegs', for washing clothes in your 'dolly tub' to tool handles. Potato mashers, egg cups, rolling pins, clog soles, even actual children's dollies all came out of the mill at one time or another, and the market for turned goods stretched beyond Manchester to Ireland and even Calcutta.
Leave the parking area by the northern corner entrance, leading out onto the village green. Walk across the left-hand corner of the green to intersect the perimeter road and follow it right, away from the car park and pond. As the road swings right, look for a bridleway sign on the left to Faulds Brow.
Follow this through a gate and up an enclosed track between hedgerows. Emerging into fields, ignore any turnings and keep straight ahead, with a fence on your right. After the next gate, turn right to a gate and stile. Beyond these, bear left across a faint field path towards a gate on the opposite side. Through this, turn left heading for a gate at the top of the field. Bear half right up the hill beyond this, picking out an ancient sunken lane at the brow, weaving between trees to a small gate. In a few more paces you'll find a stile on the left.
Cross this and walk across the bottom of a field to a kissing gate. Now descend with the wall, then a fence on your left. At the bottom, by the Whelpo Beck, turn left over a stone stile and follow the beckside path. The route narrows to step over a joining beck and pass through a kissing gate. A short flight of steps leads to another gate, where you bear right still heading downstream.
As the beck twists away into trees, the path rises up the bank to a gate in a hedgerow. Now a narrow, enclosed path descends towards the sound of rushing water. Pass a waterfall and the path levels above a limestone gorge. A footbridge over the beck on the right affords a fine view of what is known as the Fairy Kettle. Don't cross the bridge, but continue to a flight of steep steps with more views into the gorge.
At the foot of the steps continue downstream, passing the ruins of the Howk bobbin mill. A level path leads back towards the village, swinging away from the beck and passing through a gated yard. Head half-left (not sharp left) at the road and then turn right in a few paces to return to the car park.
Grassy paths and tracks, 3 stiles
Fields, riverside, limestone gorge and village green
You are likely to encounter sheep throughout this walk
OS Explorer OL5 The English Lakes (NE)
Caldbeck car park, close to village green on north side of village
On main street in Caldbeck village
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Cumbria's rugged yet beautiful landscape is best known for the Lake District National Park that sits within its boundaries. It’s famous for Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake, and Derwent Water, ‘Queen of the English Lakes'. This beautiful countryside once inspired William Wordsworth and his home, Dove Cottage, in Grasmere is a popular museum. Another place of literary pilgrimage is Hill Top, home of Beatrix Potter, located near Windermere. Tom Kitten, Samuel Whiskers and Jemima Puddleduck were all created here.
Much of Cumbria is often overlooked in favour of the Lake Distirct. In the south, the Lune Valley remains as lovely as it was when Turner painted it. The coast is also a secret gem. With its wide cobbled streets, spacious green and views of the Solway Firth, Silloth is a fine Victorian seaside resort. Other towns along this coastline include Whitehaven, Workington and Maryport. Carlisle is well worth a look – once a Roman camp, its red-brick cathedral dates back to the early 12th century and its 11th-century castle was built by William Rufus.