Ward’s Stone: the problem of finding the top

I’ve been running in the hills of the Forest of Bowland for about 45 minutes. I’m nearing the highest point of these hills, Ward’s Stone. Mist has swept in. Drizzle has turned to hail. The ground is sodden, sticky, sludgy. I touch the pillar on the western summit of Ward’s Stone, then huddle behind a nearby weather station to check the map.

This isn’t the summit. There’s another, higher-placed trig pillar some 700 metres to the east. I can see it, a lonely object amid a desert of mud and bog, despite the ever-intensifying mist. I run to it, following a weaving path past peat hags. As I run, I know this second pillar isn’t higher. I don’t need a scientific test to tell me; it’s so obvious I even feel like I’m running downhill. So where is the top? It could be a huge lump of rock, close to pillar two; it could be a wave in the peat, topped by a little cairn, in the opposite direction. I visit both, discovering later the latter is the higher – at 563 metres, a clear two metres taller than anything marked on my OS map.

The top of Ward’s Stone – the easternmost trig pillar and the wave of peat hag beyond that marks the zenith

As I descend Ward’s Stone, the mist has lifted. Lancaster appears, as does the Lancashire coast and the early hills of the Lake District. It is a remarkable view, even more so once I’ve reached Clougha Pike. I descend sharply, almost to Quernmore, then trudge up the road to the car park by the Jubilee Tower, a Victorian folly. The finish line is glorious – the top of the tower at the top of the pass – albeit seconds after nearly knocking out my teeth after tripping on the third step.

Walking across the car park, I sniff the same stench of tobacco that I’d smelt as I’d left some 90 minutes earlier. The same couple who were parked when I arrived are still there; they are still smoking. What a waste of time, I thought. But then I looked west to the view they were regarding – sea, coast, hills, a deep red sunset – and think there are worse places to be alive on a Monday afternoon in late-October.


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