Thursday, 23 May 2013

Alston to Greenhead

Mike and I were pleased to have crossed the high hills from Dufton the previous day. Looking back we could see that the tops were covered in a dusting of new snow. It was cold, too, with a strong North wind. It would have been very unpleasant to have been making the crossing a day later.

The view back towards Alston
It rapidly became apparent that the Pennine Way doesn’t take the easy options. In this case it would have been too take the footpath alongside the South Tyne railway, which runs for a few miles to the North from Alston. It’s a narrow gauge track, now apparently operating only on summer weekends. Our route was across farmland and then up in a loop over the moors – wet, uncomfortable with the wind in our faces, and with chilly rain showers to add to the mix. The views may have been a marginal compensation, but with a long day ahead of us we didn’t relish too many diversions from the more direct route.

The end of the line - on the South Tyne Way
So after reaching the point where the Pennine Way paralleled the old railway, we opted for the South Tyne Trail which followed the old rail track for the next few miles. The Pennine Way itself was now off to the other side of the old rail track, and in part was along a busy main road, so the old railway looked both safer and easier. The rails ran out soon after we had joined the track, and it was extraordinarily wet in places before becoming a road. At this point, in the village of Slaggyford, the Pennine Way crossed the rail track and took off uphill across farmland. Rather than face unnecessary climbs and more wet cross country walking against the wind we elected to continue along the old railway track to the Lambley viaduct across the South Tyne itself. There we stopped for our lunch before leaving the rail track to rejoin the Pennine Way proper.

Lambley Viaduct
This involved what proved to be an unnecessary diversion downhill and under the viaduct before climbing back up to the village of Langham: we saw after doing the hard bit that we could have simply walked on the level instead of taking the low path under the viaduct. Then it was through the village and out into open country before getting back to the Pennine Way proper a mile later.

The next stretch, over rough grazing, was luckily well way-marked, though we still had to refer to the GPS from time to time to be certain of the way. Both Mike and I had the ViewRanger system with the Pennine Way maps, so even when my battery and booster gave out we still had the necessary technology to find our way. This is an excellent aid. Even when there isn’t any decent mobile signal it seems to be able to use the GPS functionality to fix its location within a few metres.

After a couple of miles of fields it was back to moorland. Even though the land here is a lot lower, averaging less than 300m in altitude, it soon became apparent that the moors could be just as bleak as at higher elevations. And despite the good signage across the farmland, there were no more waymarks where they would have been really helpful across the moors. Luckily there were enough walls to make the navigation relatively easy after we had gone initially astray, so we weren’t too incapacitated by the lack of Pennine Way acorn signs across the moors. We concluded that the powers that be are quite happy to put up signs where access is easy, but more reluctant to do so where it is harder to get motorised transport. It was also apparent that on less well-tramped parts of the Pennine Way, like the Alston-Greenhead section, there is less damage from overuse, and therefore less incentive to put in the paving slabs that characterise many of the wetter upland sections. This bit – across Hartleyburn and Blenkinsopp Commons – was incredibly wet and poorly-drained, so could certainly have benefited from some improvement.

Eventually we were over the top, and could see the heavy traffic on the A69 Carlisle to Newcastle road to the North. It was then an easy couple of miles to our destination in Longbyre just North of Greenhead itself.

The end of the road - TH and Mike Tobias
reach Five Wynds in Longbyre
We reached our B&B at Four Wynds just after 7:00. We were both pretty tired. The previous day had been pretty arduous, and this final day of my ninth session had been much tougher than either of us had expected. So after a cup of tea and a shower we took my car (left at the B&B the previous weekend) to the Greenhead Hotel for dinner.

Mike said that he’d enjoyed the two days, though he also said that the Alston to Greenhead bit had sometimes felt more like masochism than pleasure. I certainly appreciated his company. As well as making it  much more social experience I think that a walking companion helps one perform better, and makes the walking easier.

The following morning I drove Mike back to Dufton to pick up his car (a 50+ mile road trip that had been under 40 on the Pennine Way) and then drove back to London. My total distance travelled has now reached nearly 1,300km, with nearly 28,000m of climbing. It begins to feel like I’m really accomplishing something! The next session will take me into Scotland.

Dull, cold and windy all day. Occasional rain. 8-13C. 27.5km, 500mof ascents and 500m descents. Very wet across farmland and moor to start, and initially on the old railway, but then better going on a track. The second half of the day was almost entirely across farmland and very wet open moorland, with only the final couple of miles on easier going.


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Dufton to Alston

This was the tough one: nearly 20 miles, and the highest point in the Pennines to boot. So it was irritating that the helpful Tracey Foster wouldn’t do breakfast before 8:00. We would have liked an earlier start, but with a long day ahead we judged that a cooked breakfast was the preferred option. The weather had always been a concern, as it had at best been “changeable” over the previous few days, with the highest hills often covered in cloud. But we were lucky, in that it promised to be reasonably fine, and the hills were clear.

While Coney Garth was beyond Dufton, where the required section of the Pennine Way started, there was a short-cut which allowed us to reach it without any unnecessary downhill walking. Both Mike and I intensely dislike starting a day with a downhill stretch when it’s mostly going to be ascents, or a climb at the end of the day such as the one we’d both “enjoyed” at the end of the day walking to Hebden Bridge. So we were grateful that we didn’t have a downhill start now.

After crossing a few fields and a farmyard we were on the Pennine Way – and climbing. Initially it was a rough farm track between hedges, but soon it was open country. The farm track petered out after a while, and then it was just open grassland. The way was fairly obvious, and steadily uphill. I really appreciated having company again. Mike is an excellent walking companion, and progresses at more or less the same rate as me. (if he could actually have gone faster, he was too polite to show me up!) I think it really helps on the  climbs, when each encourages the other, and if one plods steadily uphill without overdoing it one doesn’t need as many rests. There were a few stretches where it was quite steep, but mostly it was just a steady climb. Before starting out I’d hoped that we could climb the 700+ metres to the top in thee and a half hours. We were behind schedule for he first hour, as there was quote a lot of level going and a couple of points where we actually lost height, but we were pretty well spot on for the rest of the climb.

Mike Tobias and  the NATS Radar installation
at Great Dun Fell
This finishes at an area called, rather unimaginably, The Heights, at a metre or two under 800m. Then it’s a ridge walk, from The Heights to Great Dun Fell (848m), Little Dun Fell (842m), and the highest one, Cross Fell (889m). Each time you drop down into a col, perhaps 100 metres or more beneath the previous peak, and climb again to the next. There’s a road through the first col and on up to the top of Great Dun Fell, which has a radar station operated by the National Air traffic Control system. We were passed twice as we climbed by a cyclist, first on his way up, and then on his rewarding descent from the radar station. The road appears as little more than a track on the map, but in fact it’s fully paved. Those in the know can drive up to the point where the top section is gated off half a mile before the radar station.

Still snow = six weeks after it fell
Each of the peaks is about a mile from the previous one, so it was a surprisingly lengthy trip to get to the final one, Cross Fell. The cols between are largely paved, so the going was pretty good. We stopped at the top of Cross Fell for lunch. This is the highest point in the whole Pennine range. It’s not actually very grand, in that the top is largely a level area, but the views are terrific: to the East and South it’s all high country; to the West it’s across the valley to the Lake District hills; and far to the Northwest one can see the silvery waters of the Solway Firth. There’s a shelter at the top, built in the shape of a cross, so that there’s always one or other of the quadrants in the lee of the wind, but as we discovered it’s not as windproof as one might like: the stone walls give only so much shelter, and the wind while somewhat moderated still gets through.

Trap for vermin on the grouse moors
After lunch it was the beginning of the descent. This starts out across open grassland, but after half a mile or so meets a rough stony track, which gradually improves in quality. This goes on, and on, and on. After dropping perhaps a hundred metres from the top of Cross Fell, the next few miles are all pretty well between 600m and 700m. This is grouse country, with plenty of heather, expensive new fencing, and traps mounted on logs that span little gullies at regular intervals. We couldn’t figure out how they worked. There were entrances at either end to a semi-circular cage, and a sprung plate in the middle with a hole through the log beneath. They were, said a notice we subsequently discovered, to trap predators of “ground-nesting birds”. I suspect that was a euphemism for grouse. There are, of course, plenty of other types of ground-nesting bird in these high moorlands, but I don’t think protecting them in this way is economically justifiable. Besides, the notices said that the area was “under surveillance” – presumably by the local gamekeepers.

There are also various old mine workings and spoil heaps beside this track, so perhaps it had originally had other purposes. Eventually, after what must have been the best part of five miles since the beginning, it turns sharp right and goes down to the little village of Garrigill. When first you see it the village looks like a lot of little models below, which gradually get larger and become real houses as you get nearer. It takes a surprising length of time to accomplish the descent.

Garrigill in theevening sun
The village itself is very attractive – and has a pub. We felt we deserved some reward for the Cross Fell adventure. I had a pint; Mike a lime and lemonade.

The only snag is that, while it’s the end of the high stuff, Garrigill is still four miles short of Alston. (Some walkers stop in Garrigill and walk further the following day, but that means a 21½ mile challenge lies ahead.) So we were soon on our way.

This is now the valley of the South Tyne, which at this stage is a modest, clear, fast-running stream with several good holding pools. I imagine it’s good for trout, but I don’t suppose salmon make it up this far, even though the Tyne system as a whole is improving. The final four miles were a real pleasure. There was only one modest climb to cut a corner, and otherwise it was level going across sheep pasture fields. Stiles, of course, in profusion, but that was only a minor inconvenience.

We arrived at our hotel in Alston just before 8:00. It had been an eleven hour day. There was a choice, so we both elected for rooms with baths. The whole hotel looked as if it had been recently updated, and was excellent. So it was dinner, a couple of pints, and an early night. Not surprisingly we both slept rather well!

Sunny intervals, and a reasonable cloud base which meant that the mountains were in the clear. 12-17C. 31.50km, 1,112m ascent, 964m descent. Much of the distance on stony tracks. 50/50 open grassland and paved sections on the tops. Farmland at the beginning and for the last four miles into Alston.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

High Force to Dufton

Today was something of a landmark - Day 50 of the walk.

It turned out that I was the only guest staying the night at the High Force Hotel. A couple of people had come in for a single drink the night before, but that was it. Apparently the hotel I owned by the Blabey estate. They put nothing in to maintaining or improving their properties. I asked whether there were any plans to upgrade the hotel. Apparently not. The farmhouses on the estate are in even worse condition, I was told. Not the best of landlords, it would appear.

High Force
Anyway, I was able to arrange an early breakfast, at 7:30, and I was on my way shortly after 8:00. Fortunately I found a footpath leading down to the bridge across the Tees, so unlike the previous evening, when I hadn’t registered the fact that this footpath met the need, I didn’t have to retrace my journey down the main road to get to the bridge.  So I was back on the Pennine Way in good time.

This followed the river up to the waterfall at High Force. It’s a bigger drop, but not as impressive as Low Force, which I had passed the previous evening. Then it was on up past a quarry on the far (North) bank, and then a climb over the shoulder of a hill where the river is confined to a narrow valley. Thereafter, having dropped back down to river level and crossed a bridge, it’s relatively open farmland near Langton Beck before rejoining the Tees a mile and a half upstream. This is where the journey gets more interesting – and more challenging. The final two miles up to the second waterfall, at Cauldron’s Spout, is in a steep-sided valley. There are three stretches, each a hundred metres or more, where you have to clamber over giant boulders at the bottom of scree falls. On occasions one’s feet are mere inches from the river itself. It would be impossible to travel this way if the river was in spate, which judging from occasional detritus on the banks if must be from time to time. It certainly would have been on the previous Saturday, when nearly three inches of rain fell over much of this area.
Cauldron's Spout ... 

I  had intended to take my lunch break beside the pool beneath Cauldron’s Spout, and had hoped to see ring ouzels, which I have seen here in two previous years. But the ground was waterlogged, so I pressed on up the steep slope beside the waterfall. At the top the dam below Cow Green Reservoir comes into view. After all the recent rain there was plenty of water topping the damn and flowing in plumes down it face. This is a very impressive sight, particularly when the sun brightens everything and presents a dazzling spectacle of shining water.
... and the plume of water on the dam above

Then it was a few minutes walking before I found a convenient set of rocks to perch on as I had my lunch. The sandwich provided by the High Force Hotel was pretty horrible, but bananas and a chocolate bar were some compensation.

I had never really studied the map before tackling this section, and had erroneously assumed it was a gentle upward slope alongside the stream that enters the Tees at Cauldron’s Spout, and then a gentle descent into Dufton. This was not the case. It’s actually a four mile ascent to the strangely named High Cup Nick above Dufton. This is initially on a track, but the latter half is across open moorland, often as wet as anything experienced elsewhere. At one stage, following a couple who had been ahead of me for most of the day, I found myself a few hundred metres off course. This was prompted by their similar realisation, and we then had to tramp across 400m or so of boggy ground to regain the track by Maize Beck.

The view from High Cap Nick
When you reach it you can appreciate why High Cup Nick is so named. Immediately ahead is a huge valley, vertical cliffs at the top of the escarpments, and closely-packed contours to the winding and growing stream hundreds of metres below. It’s as if some giant had taken a great trowel and scooped a huge chunk from the hills. The Nick is a small cutting at the top of the cliff, at an altitude of just under 600m, where the stream spills down into the valley beneath. In my view it’s one of the most spectacular sights in the Pennines. And the Nick itself is higher than many of the peaks further South, with even higher hills on either side above the shoulders of the valley.

And the Southern escarpment
The path then shoulders the valley for a mile or two, hardly dropping in altitude at all. A lot of it is rocky and involves scrambling, sometimes with almost vertical slopes on the valley side beneath. It’s only when the valley itself broadens out that one starts the descent proper.

This again demonstrates the strange phenomenon of seeming longer then could be explained by the amount of climbing earlier. But in this case there is some justification: Dufton is some 200m lower in altitude than the top of Cauldron’s Spout miles back.

Dufton Pike - the view from the descent into the village
I reached Dufton, an attractive little village with a lot of red sandstone buildings, a little after 5:00. It took another quarter hour to get to the B&B at Coney Garth, a half mile or so beyond the village. It was not a great welcome. It was immediately a series of questions: where was my walking companion; when would he arrive; what did I want for breakfast the following morning? Most B&Bs welcome one with a refreshing cup of tea and enquiries about your achievements for the day. Tracey Foster has much to learn!

I had not yet managed to return Mike Tobias’s calls from the previous evening. Whenever I tried it seemed just beyond the range of any mobile signal. However, eventally I found a spot where I could get a signal and was able to reach him and give him the postcode so he could use his satnav to find Coney Garth.

Enough walking for the day, so after a shower it was back in Mike’s car to the village where we had an excellent steak at the local pub, the Stag. There, on another table, where some of the walkers who I had first seen at Baldersdale. Will and I had actually met up towards the end of the day, and walked together the last mile or two into Dufton. He had walked a good couple of miles more than me, as he had stopped for the night well before High Force, so his apprehension about his abilities to cover the distances required had proved unfounded.

Fairly bright most of the day, but a squall behind threatened rain in the afternoon. 12-17C. 23.50km, 602m ascent, 717m descent. Rocky sections along the Tees, and very hard going before Caldron’s Snout. Limited tracks – perhaps 20% of the total distance.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Baldersdale to High Force

Other guests at Clove Lodge were Bill, a retired lab technician from the University at Sheffield, Ian, who has a broad Lancashire accent and comes from Burnley, and Beata (sp?) form Frankfurt. Ian rather dominates conversation, and seems to be able to talk only about walking. He appears to do the Pennine Way almost every year, and is a regular at Clove Lodge. Though they had travelled further that day, coming from Keld in one go, all would be doing much the same walk as me the following day.

Clove Lodge is owned by Chris and Caroline, who have been spending the last eight years or so upgrading the property. It’s now very nice. My Pig Sty, which is what it actually had been, is excellent. Dinner was good, served in the large kitchen/diner, as was breakfast the following day.

The Lodge is for sale; Caroline wants to be nearer her daughters, who live in the South. They are hoping to move to West Sussex, just on the inland side of the South Downs. (Her son is just about to move to New York, so we compared notes on that.) They’re looking for a house that be something of as project – not perhaps as large a project as Clove Lodge had been, but something where there is an opportunity to upgrade and make money. They are hoping to move soon after Chris retires (he commutes to near Durham, though I never discovered what he does) in July. I was nosy enough to ask about budget, and she said that they could go to £750 or thereabouts. The snag is that while they had thought they had three potential purchasers, all had just dropped out for a variety of reasons. So I paid my bill, wished them luck, and was on my way soon after 9:00. My luggage had already gone on ahead.

The reservoir on teh way to Middleton-in-Teesdale

I thought I was last to leave, but soon discovered that Bill was actually behind me. It gave me something of a quandary: I could not imagine enjoying a day in his company (and he would probably have felt the same about me). So we reached a compromise: we walked together only briefly, and finally departed at the bridge over the [  ] reservoir a couple of miles in to the day’s section. I did, however, see him briefly again in the afternoon when he had spent longer than me in Middleton-in-Teesdale.

Caroline had said that the walk to Middleton – the first half of the day – was mainly on farm tracks. This was information of extremely dubious quality. There were a few hundred metres of track and road at the outset, but then it was essentially cross country for the rest of the distance. And it was extremely wet and muddy. It was mostly squelch, squelch, squelch, and there were a couple of places where the mud was inescapable and my boots went on almost to ankle level.

The high country before Middleton
The final bit down into Middleton was wet, but lovely well-cropped grassland with a view over Teesdale itself down below. It seemed interminable, which was rather surprising in that the overall gain in height sine Clove Lodge was only a couple of hundred metres, and Middleton is not much lower. I was now by myself, though I could see Bill and Beata ahead of me, and was kept company only be very excitable lapwings. They call incessantly, and seem to follow for far longer than one could be any danger to nest or young. They even swoop down close, when you can hear the beat of their wings as well as their piercing “peewit” calls.

Middleton street furniture
In Middleton I bought a paper, some chocolate, and drew some much-needed cash. No Lloyds, and Barclays refused to cash a cheque, so it was a credit card with the inevitable extra charges. Having fraud committed on a debit card is not only worrying and annoying: it costs money. One of the very few shops was a well-stocked ironmonger, so I also managed to buy the brush I had decided I needed to restore my boots to something like their original glory. A pint and sandwich finished the visit, and I was on my way.

The rest of the day’s walk was up the Tees itself. The Pennine Way follows it closely for several miles, sometimes set back a short distance, sometimes cutting the corner where the river meanders, but mostly right by the riverside. This is very attractive, with sharp bluffs above the fields on the South side, and more gentle looking country on the opposite bank. There is nothing but sheep, of course: no arable, and no cattle. But unlike most of the last few days there are now trees: occasional woods as well as the regular trees along the river’s bank. I had hoped for a wider variety of birds, but it was just the ubiquitous lapwings in the open fields plus chaffinches and willow warblers in the wooded areas. I haven’t heard a chiffchaff yet: I suspect they must be predominantly Southern birds.

After three and a half miles I reached Low Force, one of the waterfalls on the Tees. This is a beautiful place: an impressive waterfall, with a beech wood below it on the opposite bank, and a bridge conveniently positioned so that it’s easy to explore the area.
Low Force warerfalls

The final bit was a further mile to the next bridge over the river. I was half-tempted to go a further half mile upriver to see High Force, the other waterfall, but I would be passing it the next day when I resumed the walk. So it was up the track to the minor road and the last few hundred metres on the road to the High Force Hotel, my destination for the day.

This did not look promising. The reception area was tatty, there was ancient furniture in what I assumed was the lounge, and no obvious bar. The room where it was

Park boundary
suggested I left my boots was a shambles, and the only other room I was able to investigate had a random collection of tables with even more random chairs upended on them, and piles of junk. It felt like a going-out-of-business operation. I had hoped Martin Greenbank would be joining me there before our walk the following day, but he had called me the previous evening to say that (a) he had wrenched his knee, and (b) was facing something of a business crisis that had to be his priority. I was therefore somewhat relieved that he was not being subjected to what threatened to be a rather sorry experience. But my room was OK, and dinner acceptable. And the beer tasted like beer.

Dull all day, with higher hills obscured. A suggestion of rain later in the afternoon, but it came to nothing. 12-17C. 21.43km, 340m ascent, 437m descent. Very wet across country, but better going with quite a lot of rocky sections along the Tees. Limited tracks and roads – perhaps 15% of the total distance.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Bowes to Baldersdale

Yesterday was devoted to logistics – and I was really pleased not to be walking, as it rained continuously.

It was a taxi to Kirkby Stephen railway station, which having ordered the taxi much earlier than necessary I reached a good half hour before the train was due. But at least there was a waiting room. The train was five minutes late, and then proceeded with the dame delay to Skipton. The unfortunate thing was that visibility was appalling: this is supposed to be the finest rail journey in England. At Skipton it was a quick trip to Morrisons, just by the station, for a newspaper and some bananas. The bus to Malham was on time, but there were only three passengers after the first couple of stops (all walkers; the other two sounded Dutch).

I then drove to Greenhead, where I took some time to find the B&B I had booked for the following Thursday. Nobody was in, and I have to report that it looked somewhat uninspiring. We shall see.

Flooding on the South Tyne at Haltwhistle
I then found a local (Chris) and asked him about local taxi services. Very generously he drove me to Haltwhistle, from which I already knew I could catch a train to Carlisle which should arrive just before the Leeds train was due to leave. Though we passed a train going my way as we drove to the station, and I therefore had to wait an hour for the next one, at least there was a pub nearby. The trains duly performed as required, and I reached Appleby just before 7:00 p.m. I had chosen Appleby instead of Kirkby Stephen, as KS station is miles from the town, and I was uncertain about finding a taxi there. No such problem at Appleby, but the taxi back to Bowes set me back £50, which pretty well doubled my expenses for the day. But at least (a) I was back at the Ancient Unicorn, and (b) my car was where I wanted it to be at the end of the week.

At breakfast the following morning there were two Welsh brothers who were also walking the Pennine Way, half way through the middle section from Hawes to Greenhead. They are regular walking companions, and do a week of long distance stuff every year as well as more local stuff in the Brecon Beacons. One is 66, the other 71, so I’m not the only gentleman of a certain age doing this sport of thing. They had walked the previous day from Keld to Baldersdale, from which they had a lift to get back to the Ancient Unicorn, as they had been unable to get into accommodation in Baldersdale. I think the only place there is Clove Lodge, where I would be staying that evening. They had organised everything through a walking tour company, which in turn uses Brigantes for some of the logistics. Tony from Brigantes was to take them back to Baldersdale that morning to resume, and also took my luggage on to Clove Lodge.

I was on my way soon after 9:30, only to be brought to a halt when I noticed a message on my phone. It was an unrecognisable number, but I assumed it might well have been Lloyds Bank, since they had apparently tried to reach me at home the previous day. So it proved. Two long phone calls followed, the first inexplicably dropped. It was the fraud unit at Lloyds, and they had obviously been on the ball. Some eight or nine transaction had been attempted overt the previous three days, all of which were indeed fraudulent. Three at the iTunes store, others at House of Frazer, Sports Direct and other on-line stores I didn’t recognise. So I was asked to destroy the debit card, which could prove a real nuisance. My suspicions were that Heriots in Hawes were in some way responsible: I had used my debt card there, and it had been taken from me, and they also knew my home address from the registration form. It will be interesting to find out what happens, if I ever get more details.

Then, after the half hour to resolve the issue, it was on my way. It was initially a gentle climb on the minor road from Bowes, which goes through an old MoD dumping ground with warnings of unexploded ordnance from WW2. Not really through: the road is obviously savfe, but the dumping ground is on both sides of the road. Then there was a half mile across fields before reaching a track to the moor. The farmhouse at the end of the track was unusual in being thatched: this is not something I have seen anywhere else in this limestone country where nearly everything is stone built and roofed.
A farm above Bowes - unusually with thatched roof

The first half of the moorland was pretty dull. It was grass and tussocks, with no heather, so I was surprised to come across a pair of grouse only a few metres away from me. I thought they always needed heather: the nearest was a good mile away. Otherwise my company was lots of lapwings and meadow pipits, skylarks, and the odd curlew. And snipe, drawing attention to themselves by their strange drumming display flight. No golden plover, though.

The first part of the moor bordered another restricted area, this time a shooting range. The actual range is a good two or three kilometres away, with the butts and firing points clearly marked on the map, but I guess one has to allow for the odd misdirected shot. There were no red flags today, though. I suppose it was a Sunday, but I suspect there isn’t that much use made of such firing ranges nowadays anyway.

Goldborough Hill
The second half of the moorland part of the walk was towards Goldborough, which turns out to be a prominent rock-crowned hill. It’s not particularly high, at 389m, but still pretty significant in this country. Borough seems a fairly common latter part of hill names hereabouts, so it must mean some kind of hill. Maybe it refers to rocky outcrops at the summit. Research is required. The Pennine Way actually skirts the top of Goldborough, but there are perfectly acceptable (but unmarked) paths up and down, so it seemed churlish to omit its summit. There I at on the edge of the rocks overlooking the moors and had my lunch. This was a short day’s walk, so I felt justified in taking a very leisurely approach to the proceedings.

My lunchtime view from thecrags at Goldborough
Once off the moor, there was a short stretch on a minor road, and then a track down to a farm described on the map as East Friar House. But at the cattle grid fifty metres down the track I found a lamb trapped beneath the grid. I thought at first that I’d just tell the people at the farm, but then thought that they might not actually be the owners. So I decided to attempt the rescue myself. It proved much easier than I expected. The first time I tried to grab it by the neck it wriggled free, but the second attempt succeeded, and it popped out like a cork from a bottle. It immediately dashed off to its agitated mother, and the pair of them lolloped off down the track ahead of me. I felt that I had preserved it for time enough for it to grow into a source of lamb chops.

There was then a mile or so of farmland, crossing a succession of fields of sheep with stiles between. These are mostly the local version with stone steps protruding from the stone walls, and either a narrow slit at the top or a small gate which closes on a spring. They are not my favourite kind of obstacle, but where there were gates they were usually tied firmly shut with baler twine, and the stiles are preferable to clambering over the gates themselves. I suppose using the stiles provided is an essential part of observing the Country Code.

Back on the main branch of the Pennine Way
The final part of the walk was backwards up the main part of the Pennine Way. There was a sign at the turning point referring to the route I had taken that day – and missed the previous day – as the Bowes Loop. It adds some four or five miles to the overall distance, but can’t really be avoided if you decide to stay in Bowes. Not that I’d particularly recommend Bowes, but it is a convenient stopping point after Keld or Thwaite.

I reached my B&B, Clove Lodge, a little before 3:00. I had dawdled for much of the day, but it was still a very short section. I can’t imagine that there will be any other as short, though Greenhead to Twice Brewed, which I shall be walking in June, is a possible competitor. I was welcomed with tea, some delicious cake, and a promise of a drink before dinner. My room is called the pig stye, which is a little unfair. It’s certainly a whole lot better than the vast majority of places in which I’ve stayed so far.  A definite “A”. I had time for a shower, a change, and an opportunity to catch right up to date with my journal (or blog). I look forward to dinner.

Spring at last? The view from Clove Lodge

 Overcast early and late, but dry. Sunny between 12:00 and 2:00 adn again in the evening. Much warmer – 12-18C, I estimate. Only 13.01 km, 236m ascent, and 203 descent. 30% on roads or tracks, 20% on farmland, and 50% on the open moor.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Thwaite to Bowes

The first priority after breakfast was to dubbin my boots. They had dried out overnight, and looked in need of re-waterproofing. Liberal quantities were duly applied.

Looking back at Thwaite
Then it was across a couple of fields to cross Snow Beck, followed by a steady climb to the shoulder of the apparently nameless round hill to the North of Thwaite. Initially it’s heather, at relatively low levels, and then grassland. The Pennine Way goes almost half way round this hill on its way to Keld. It pretty well hugs the 420m contour for more than two miles, affording splendid views over the upper part of Swaledale and the streams that cut deep clefts in the far side of the valley. The first part was grassy, but the latter parts are rocky, often crossing the lower parts of great fields of scree. 

Upper Swaledale
Finally it descends through woodland to the valley just below the village of Keld. This is where I had originally hoped to stay, but as Keld is on both the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast path the limited accommodation was fully booked before I tried to get somewhere to stay – not that, in the event, I was displeased with my stay in Thwaite.

The path then crosses the Swale on a footbridge, with a magical little glade on the far side. There is a beautiful waterfall where a beck tumbles into the Swale, a finely sited brand new bench to admire the view where I observed the suggestion to rest a while. There was even a little clump of perfect daffodils to enhance the experience.

The waterfall after crossing the Swale - a magical spot
Then it was the boring bit. A fairly stiff climb up to moorland, and a long haul up to Tan Hill. Much of it is level, but the last half mile or so involves another 100m climb. There’s no blue jug on the map, but the Tan Hill Inn is marked, and despite rumours that it’s for sale it’s still in operation, and claims to be the highest pub in the UK. It was a good excuse of a longer rest and a pint (plus a generous half) to celebrate reaching the highest point for the day at 526m and a little more just beforehand. The map shows the rest of the way to Bowes as a long, steady descent, which the notice board stated was eight miles distant.

After losing the first 50m the next two miles were almost completely level. This is a grouse moor: more than half heather, with obvious areas where it had been burnt to get rid of the old woody plants. In between it was incredibly wet – drowned mosses, very little grass, and many places where it was almost impossible to find a path through watery patches. This resulted in me going over the top of a boot, though I managed to extract my foot before it got really wet, and I was somewhat surprised and relieved that it happened only once. I put up several red grouse, and hear many more making that strange cackling call. There were also several curlews, and occasional oystercatchers and lapwings.

Tough going across Bowes Moor
After two miles or so the going got easier: the path was mainly grassy, but runnels of draining water every 50m or so. Only when I crossed the growing beck that drained the area, and reached the track on the far side, did the going get easier. Thereafter it was a track and then a metalled road for the next three miles or so. The only problem was that I missed the point where the Pennine Way branched off the road to re-cross the growing beck and follow it for much of the rest of the way into Bowes. I think it was simply because the only sign I recollect seeing was marked “footpath” without the acorn sign or any reference to the Pennine Way. At any rate, that’s my excuse.

In fact this was a blessing. This is the only place where there are two alternative Pennine Ways – one that crosses the A66 two miles West of Bowes, and the other which goes into Bowes itself. I followed the road which paralleled the latter version of the Pennine Way but at a much higher level on eh edge of the moors, and only descended when I was almost in Bowes. This was just after seeing what I thought was a black grouse, though I can’t be sure, as some of the red grouse I saw were quite dark in colour. I also saw my first golden plovers, which I had been surprised not to see earlier on the higher moors.

Bowes Castle
The final footpath dropped down across a stretch of moor, and then a couple of fields beside the River Greta which flows just to the South of Bowes itself. Then it does a series of small switchbacks across three or four fields before passing Bowes castle – an impressive ruin with a well-finished Southern wall – before reaching the High (snd only) street in town.

Bowes is a one-horse town, now comprehensively bypassed by the A66, and despite the number of relatively new cars it feels in decline. Several houses seem deserted and becoming rather dilapidated; more are for sale. And my stop for the night – the Ancient Unicorn – has seen better days. The cobbled courtyard is sprouting grass and weeds, everything looks in need of a good few coats of paint if not more drastic treatment, and doors jam or just won’t close. There seemed to be no other guests despite ample accommodation (though a couple of exhausted cyclists arrived some time later). All rather sad.

But at least my room was warm, my (almost solitary) meal very acceptable, and the bed was comfortable.

A fine day – sunny intervals all day long, even if they were often brief. Warmer, at 11 to 16C. 27.98km, 547m of ascents, 554m descents. Mainly cross-country. Very rocky early on the stretch to Keld, often cross scree slopes. Open grassy moorland up to Tan Hill, then very wet for four miles down through Bowes Moor, where each stretch of grassy going was a real relief from the boggy ground that predominated. Largely road work for the final stretch into Bowes, as I missed the point where the Pennine Way struck off from the tarmac.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Hawes to Thwaite

The first part of the day was an easy cross-country stroll up the valley of the River Ure to the tiny hamlet of Hardraw. This was level going across fields of sheep.

The River Ure between Hawes and Hardraw
On the way I met a couple walking in the same direction. I guessed that they were slightly younger than me: certainly retired, and therefore probably over 65. It turned out that he – Ian, I believe - was also doing the Land’s End to John O’Groats walk – but on a continuous basis, with no rest days. He had started on 2 April, so was now on day 46. He had a big pack: though he was mainly using B&Bs he was prepared to camp if necessary, and had already spent eight nights under canvass. He was also planning to do the tough Highland stretch more or less directly from Fort William to the far Northeast, so would have to be self-sufficient for several days in the high country. His wife was helping with logistics from time to time, and joining him for the (very) occasional day. Very impressive, I thought.

At last there were signs of Spring. I had seen swallows and a house martin the day before; now there was as squadron of swifts over the village. It seemed more like the exuberance of late summer after the breeding season, but must just have been joy at the prospect of a better day than the last few.

With a relatively short day ahead of me I had flirted with the idea of strolling up the valley of the Hardraw Beck to the waterfalls above, but the only footpath on offer struck off straight uphill and I had enough climbing ahead of me anyway. So after looking for alternatives I gave up on the project and set off on my way.

The shelter at the top of Great Shunner Fell (716m)
It was then a long steady climb all the way up to Great Shunner Fell, at 716m the highest point on the walk so far. (Check – altitude above Hay on Wye.) The first part was on tracks, but then it was open moorland for the best part of three miles. The country itself was dull, open grassland, but the views to the valleys and further hills were often excellent. There were notices stating that this was an area where they were trying to re-establish a black grouse population, but I saw little heather, and didn’t think it looked particularly propitious terrain. But no doubt they know better than me.

On the way up I came across Ian and his wife, who had (as most walkers seem to) passed me and strode on ahead. He was on the phone, arranging accommodation for the following week. High country was required, he said, to get any kind of reasonable signal, though I hadn’t been as unfortunate as he appeared to have been on low-lying overnight stops.

I left them behind as he continued to search for a bed, but they caught me up just before the summit. Here there is a curious cross-shaped stone walled structure, with benches in every angle. You can choose the most sheltered whatever the wind direction. We each took or lunch break, and were joined by a group of six walking up from the other direction, who had to settle for a less sheltered quadrant. A real multinational group they were – there was at least one Canadian and someone with what sounded like a German accent, and I suspect some of the others weren’t Brits either.

The view down into Swaledale
Ian and his wife set off down towards Thwaite ahead of me, and were soon distant figures. I stopped when the threatening squall was clearly coming my way. It was on with waterproofs, which hadn’t been necessary for some time, and with the temperature dropping suddenly and hail rather than rain it was even gloves. Strangey, although they had been easy to put on the evening before when I bought them, now they were the very devil to get on. Cold, damp hands were to blame, I imagine.

The way down to Thwaite was a long, gentle decline, often with welcome flagstones over the marshier bits. Still no heather. At one point I saw a small wader just a few yards away, walking quickly through the low vegetation. It was black-billed, and Dunlin sized, but appeared to have a streaky breast. Neither did I see the black belly a Dunlin should have had at this time of year – and it was too early, I would have thought, for a fully-fledged juvenile. But even if I didn’t see all the characteristics I cannot think that it would be anything other than a Dunlin.

The weather improved rapidly after the squall, and towards the end of the walk there were wonderful sunny views over Swaledale to the East. As I reached the lower levels it became apparent that there were more stone-built barns or byres than one would have imagined possible. They are beautifully built, and most are obviously still in use for winter shelter. They are rectangular, with pitched roofs of slate or dressed limestone, and have regular courses of slightly larger stones that give them their characteristic appearance. I must have been able to see fifty or more of them in the valley or the shoulders of the neighbouring hills – all, apparently, in pristine condition. I cannot imagine that anyone would build such structures now (unless the National Parks Authority funds them), but they are certainly lovingly maintained.

Approaching Thwaite
On the final stretch down into Thwaite I thought I saw a pair of Ring Ouzels, but I didn’t get a good enough view to be sure. The wings appeared lighter than a blackbirds; the call was more like a Stonechat ; the habitat wasn’t right for a blackbird, either. But the bird I saw best was unobliging in that it perched with its back to me, so there was no chance of seeing the white breast crescent. So no tick, I’m afraid. I hope to catch up with one later in the Pennines.

Thwaite itself is little more than a hamlet – a few houses, a couple of farms, and the hotel. This proved to be excellent – all newly furnished and decorated, a good bedroom, an excellent lounge, and a good choice for the evening meal, which was included in the price – itself little more than one sometimes pays just for bed and breakfast. So it was an excellent end to a fairly gentle day’s walk.

A much better day. Overcast throughout the morning, but dry until a brief squall just after lunchtime, and a sunny evening. Cool – mainly 8-12C, but colder in the squall. 17.59km, 520m of ascents, 469m descents. Cross-country to start, then tracks for the initial climb and the final stretch into Thwaite. The mountainous part was frequently paved but occasionally wet.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Hawes

Wet, wet, wet – and cold, cold, cold. The cloud base was relatively high, though, and we could see the top of Pen-y-Ghent had a dusting of overnight snow, or more probably, hail. Not what one expects in May, and mid-May at that.

Looking back at Pen-y-Ghent through the rain. Clouds shroud
the summit, and you can just see last night's unmelted hail
After breakfast it was on my way at about 9:20. Mr Moss, Steve and Johanne’s brown and white collie, was out of the door before me as it opened, eager for his walk. He was summoned back: I was the only mug to go walkies at that time of the morning. Not, I was to discover, it would have been any better later in the day.

It was back across the Ribble, immediately past the Crown, and then on the Pennine Way, a stony track off to the North with room for tractors and quad bikes. It’s a steady climb between fields for the first couple of miles out of Horton. It’s all sheep, of course: there’s no sign of anything arable anywhere in the valley or either of its flanks. The only variation is the occasional small patch of woodland in the valley bottom, and later in the day extensive areas of conifer afforestation higher up.

Sell Gill plunges into a pothole
After a mile the map refers to Sell Gill Holes. This turned out to be a single hole rather than many, and the point where the boisterous Gill tumbles straight into the bowels of the earth. The previous day I had seen the sinkhole where the beck that drains Malham Tarn just soaks away into the ground, but there were no obvious holes. And I had passed many of the features described in the map as “shake holes”, but they’re merely large depressions in the terrain. This was a proper robust disappearing trick, a waterfall into nothingness, and it’s easy to imagine that there must be vast caverns below, dissolved by aeons of erosion, to allow such free-flowing water.

Half a mile further on the road track reaches the point where the path from Pen-y-Ghent enters from the right, having crossed over the ridge between this track and the one I’d walked down into Horton on the previous evening. This is described as part of the Three Peaks course, and had been pounded into mud by the best part of a thousand runners three weeks before. Steve had warned me that there would be a muddy stretch for three quarters of a mile, and so it proved. The unpleasantness was reinforced half way along this stretch by a dead sheep, with its dead lamb a few yards away, besides the track.

After losing the Three Peak runners off to the left, the last half mile before a sharp turn to the left showed two fords on the map. Given all the rain, still falling continuously, I had been apprehensive about getting my feet wet, but fortunately both had narrow races below where it was possible to get across with one giant step.

The distant Ribblehead Viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle
railway - viewed through incessant rain
The track continued to the Northeast into a large area of conifers, but the Pennine Way strikes off to the Northwest. The next section was an attractive cross-country wander until joining another Northbound track after a mile or so. This passes another striking pothole, unmarked on the map apart from the disappearance of the blue line of the beck, where the water tumbles into the ground and presumably the cave system beneath. The next point of interest is Ling Gill, now a National Nature Reserve, though not marked as such on the map. It’s where Cam Beck, a substantial stream, cuts a gorge through the rock where it falls some 35 metres, and where there is a wide cross-section of native deciduous trees on the steep sides of the gorge. They have prospered because they are inaccessible to grazing sheep. It would have been nice to explore it a little more thoroughly, and actually manage to see some of the birds I could hear, but it was just too wet.

The Gill marked the point of a minor celebration. The day’s walk was to take three vertical folds of the OS map. I had now finished the first, and found a moment’s respite from the rain to refold the map in its waterproof case. Such are the minor pleasures of a miserable day like this. The next stage rather reinforced the tedium: it was an uphill mile across rather featureless moorland to reach the junction with the Dales Way, the other long distance footpath in the area.

This proved to be newly covered with well-rolled gravel, which rather belied its map description as a Roman road. But it was pretty well dead straight, which was more in character, and the route of the Pennine Way for the next two miles or so, But the new gravel gave out after a mile or so, more or less where the Dales Way struck off to the right, and the toad became rougher. I don’t suppose this was the Roman finish, but it was certainly some time since it had last been resurfaced.

All this is high country. The Romans appear to have built just beneath the brow of the hill, with the slightly higher ground to the left providing a modicum of shelter from a Westerly. But it was still miserably cold: by this time my gloves were completely waterlogged, and for much of the next hour my hands were actually painful in the cold.

Coming down into Hawes
There was even less shelter when the Pennine Way strikes off to the left, now on the left shoulder of the high ground, with a steep fall to the valley beneath on the left. A small victory soon: I calculated that after the fifth stone wall on the left I would be on the last of the three folds of the map. And I stopped for a (rather tasteless) sandwich and a couple of chocolate bars. (Question: do sandwiches seem almost tasteless because they lack salt that your body craves after sweating, or are they just tasteless? Further investigation required.)

After a further mile or so there was an option: a path to the left which hits the main road just before Hawes, or the Pennine Way itself. Ever the purist, I chose the latter, which was a footpath as opposed to a track. And though it had now finished raining and actually suggested there might be a little sunshine, it proved very west underfoot for much of the final stretch into Hawes. It may have been mostly downhill, but it was very muddy. And it was sometimes quite difficult to follow: no waymarks, and the right way only apparent because it was the most heavily trafficked, which was not always readily apparent.

The Black Sheep of Hawes shedding its coat
The last mile or so was mainly on roads, though it did cut across fields from time to time. I was in time to have a very welcome cup of tea and scone at the café in the Wensleydale Cheese Centre I had visited at the beginning of April when Susan, the Towers and I had visited Hawes in what proved to be an unnecessary trip to leave my car at the B&B I had booked for the end of a session I had to abandon.

This B&B was right in the heart of Hawes, and I reached it just after five. New gloves and a better hat were the first priority, and Hawes luckily has an abundance of appropriate shops. Then it was a shower, a very welcome change of clothes, and off to watch Chelsea play Benfica in the UEFA cup.

Constant rain throughout the day, with the exception of the last hour of the walk. Hills were frequently shrouded in cloud. Extremely cold – not above 8C, and often colder. Numbing to my hand after my (inadequate) gloves became totally waterlogged. It might just have reached 10C by late afternoon. 25.96km, 500m ascents (estimated), 500m descents. Entirely on tracks – many of which were old Roman roads – except the last three mile stretch into Hawes, which was very muddy. The track where the Three Peaks race had been held three weeks ago was also pretty muddy.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale

Back in Malham to resume the walk. There were still plentiful daffodils in the verges just before the village. I was allocated the same room Susan and I had stayed in after my four-day snowbound April session, abandoned half way through the intended eight days after my cold blossomed (if that’s the right term) and the next few stages would have been all too demanding in the snow even if I’d been 100% fit.

Dinner in the Lister Arms – an excellent steak sandwich – and early to bed with the demanding Malham to Horton stretch to look forward to the following morning. I would be leaving the car here to pick up the following Saturday and take to Greenhead to await the end of the nine-day walking session.

Approaching Malham Cove
I was on my way precisely at 9:00 a.m. The weather was showery to start with, and cold. Spring 2013 refuses to arrive. The first part was towards Malham Cove from the village – easy going on the road, and then a well-paved path to the bottom of the Cove. Here the cliff is a curved face of limestone, and the water gushes from the wall of the Cove, a sturdy stream from its beginning. Later it became apparent that it disappears into a sinkhole the best part of a mile above the Cove.

Before finding the sinkhole it was necessary to climb up above the Cove – a 100m climb, mainly on steps, to reach the limestone pavement above. I was passed by the first of younger and fitter walkers – always a little shaming, but I have to acknowledge that I am 71 and about 15lbs overweight. Then it was a steady walk up the valley above, with spectacular limestone bluffs on either side until I reached the level ground surrounding Malham Tarn. The path then
Between Malham Cove and Malham Tarn
goes round the East and North sides of the Tarn before striking North. The Tarn itself was choppy in the stiff breeze, but not enough to deter a couple of fishermen in a dinghy. The country here is open but with a plantation on the East side and woods surrounding the big house on the North side, now a field study centre. A young roe deer skittered away from me just before I reached the house.

After dropping down a through the end of the wood, the Pennine Way sets off to the North. Initially it’s open farming country, but after crossing the road and reaching the last farm, Tennant Gill, it’s a long haul up across open moorland to the nameless height near Fountains Fell at 668m. Curiously there are old (Roman era) mine workings right at the top with warnings not to stray from the straight and narrow.

Then it’s a long descent down to the road that runs in the valley between Fountains Fell and Pen-y-Ghent to the West. Pen-y-Ghent is prominent throughout, with an obvious steep ascent to welcome one in an hour or so. The going here was muddy – unlike the ascent, where there had been frequent stretches of metalled path over the marshier bits. And where once again I had been overtaken by a (much) younger and fitter walker.

Pen-y-Ghent looms ahead
I took my lunch break at the low point of the track that connects the road to the footpath that climbs its way to the Southern approach to Pen-y-Ghent itself. It was a nice rocky corner with good seating: an appropriate refresher before the climb. I had thought of missing out the final bit of Pen-y-Ghent itself, and taking the footpath that skirts it to the South, but the weather was now good, and I was in good time, so I decided to follow the Pennine Way proper and take in the peak. From a distance it looks a daunting rock scramble, but actually most of it is stepped. Even where there aren’t built steps the natural rock formation is horizontal strata with convenient vertical distances between successive layers of rock. The total climb from the point at which I could have taken the easier option was about 175m – not as demanding as I had feared. I heard grouse a few times on the way up, calling in the valley below, but never saw any.

At the top there was a couple, and then a group of teenagers who had extended their walk to Plover Hill, at the far end of the peak. I thought they were associated in some way, but apparently not, and the couple set off independently and strode off down towards Horton ahead of me.

The view back to Pen-y-Ghent from near Horton-in-Ribblesdale
The descent was largely on a gravel path. This looks new, and has apparently been put in to make the Three Peaks walk (or run) easier - and faster. From above it seems quite level, but when you are actually on it you realise it’s actually quite steep. And it’s still under construction: there was a small digger parked towards the bottom.

The final stretch down to Horton was an easy stony track, gradually descending to the village. It was now fine and bright, and the village looked very welcoming. A quick phone call established that my B&B was on the far side of the river – and a good half kilometre off the trail, which I would have to repeat the following morning.

Almost there - crossing the River Ribble
A shower, tea and cakes, and then a pleasant meal in the Crown. I was half-tempted to ask for them to apply the deposit I had paid when I’d booked a night in April, which I’d had to cancel, but I forbore. The pub features the results of the Three Peaks race, which had been held three weeks earlier. Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, with perhaps 1,200 metres climbing, and 24 miles to cover as well – with the experts doing it in about 2 hours and 45 minutes: only about 30% more than the best times for a marathon! Mine host, Steve, who works on the Settle and Carlisle railway as a trolley attendant, does it in not much more than three hours.

A good day’s walk: I had been apprehensive about this beforehand, but was very pleased about how it actually turned out.

Showers initially, cold and with occasional hail. Brief interludes of sun, but it didn’t clear properly until late lunchtime. In the morning the tops of the surrounding hills were frequently shrouded in cloud. Mainly 4-8C, but perhaps 10C by late afternoon. 27.11km, 906m of ascents, 850 descents. Max altitude 694m on Pen-y-Ghent. About 30% on tracks or roads; 40% on hard rock or flagstones; 30% on VERY muddy open country.