Thursday, 4 April 2013

Ponden to Elslack, near Skipton

Brenda, the owner of our B&B, had been unwell, so her friend Heather, visiting from Ibiza, looked after us. Heather’s son Chris had an even worse cough than mine, and had kept us awake for much of the night. So we were glad to be on our way.

The first part of the day’s trip was to the head of the Ponden Reservoir, across the stream, and then steeply up the opposite side of the valley. As for much of the day I found Alan and Rosemary getting steadily ahead of me as we climbed. It was a combination of my cough, which threatened to break out if I over-exerted myself, and their better levels of fitness. And perhaps I had allowed myself to put on a little too much weight over recent weeks: I am half a stone heavier than when walking last year.

The snow-covred Pennine Way above Crag Top
The climb ended in a beechwood which circles Crag Bottom before you reach a track up past an old quarry at the beginning of a long steady climb across moorland. For the first few metres the snow had been compressed by some kind of tracked vehicle and it was relatively easy going, but then it became harder. The track was on the right hand side of a long, straight stone wall, and the snow had drifted against it to a depth of three feet or more. Most of the time we had to walk on the rough ground further away from the wall, but occasionally it was necessary to tramp through the snow itself. Most of the time it was sufficiently well packed to support one’s weight, but occasionally one would break through the surface layer up to the thighs. As I was the heaviest, this happened more with me than with Alan or Rosemary.

After Cat Stone Hill. At least it's downhill now.
After a long haul uphill we crossed a damp plateau called, rather appropriately, The Sea, before reaching a simple shelter at the high point of the crossing, Cat Stone Hill, at about 440m of altitude. After a refreshment break it was off down the other side. Initially there were flagstones, but these soon ran out, and we then had a very difficult descent across heather and sometimes quite deep snow before leaving the grouse moor. After a ruined house there was a series of half a dozen or so small wooden huts which presumably have something to do with the local shooting, but any track between them was completely obliterated by the snow. Had we known in advance just how difficult this stretch would be we might well have reconsidered the whole day’s walk.

After leaving the moorland proper there was a cross-country stretch just beneath the boundary wall, and then an opportunity for a further refreshment break
A Pennine waterfall in April 2013
where the track finally turned again towards the North. This was over a bridge and waterfall, which was mainly icicles even if the temperature was now above freezing. Then it was downhill – again snow-covered for much of the way - to the villages of Middleton and Cowling, which lie along the A6068 cross-Pennine road.

The Pennine Way then goes cross-country to Lothersdale, but with snow still very much in evidence we elected to do as much as possible by road. But even this proved challenging: after successfully following a well-ploughed road for a couple of miles we were confronted by drifting which completely blocked our progress. Fortunately the field to one side was free, so we were able to get to our next waypoint without too much difficulty. And the roads thereafter were clear up to the point where we rejoined the Pennine Way for a final cross-country stretch to Lothersdale. We almost lost our way on a steep corner of the field as we climbed down to the next valley, but eventually made out the correct waymarkers and corrected our course.

The final stretch across the moors
By the time we reached Lothersdale any thought of following the Pennine Way cross country for the remainder of our day’s walk was out of the window. Cross country walking had been very challenging all day, and there were roads that involved little more distance and little threat of heavy traffic. So it was up through the upper part of Lothersdale village, along Winter Gap Lane, and then Mitton Lane. I think Mitton Lane is indelibly impressed on all our minds: a steep, steady climb at the end of a long day. After that it was straightforward road walking – on the level or downhill – all the way to our B&B at Elslack.

We were welcomed with tea and cake, and wonderful, large baths for a good soaking. And though the Grange doesn’t do evening meals it was only a ten minute stroll to the local pub – The Tempest – which provided an excellent meal. I think we all felt that it had been quite a tough day, and perhaps rather too long, but the Tempest did at least cheer us up at the end.

Fine early, getting progressively more cloudy, though fine again late. Strong Northeast wind. 0 to 7C.  Lots of snow drifts. 22.77km; 691m ascent, 803m descents. Farmland in Worth valley, then very difficult going across moorland with plenty of snow, particularly on descent from peak at Catstone Hill. Then rolling farmland, with a final stretch of road walking across Thornton Moor down into Elslack.

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