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.

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