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Rannerdale Knots from The Attermire Scars

Around Langcliffe (and other) scars

My old copy of Eric Langmuir’s venerable “Mountaincraft and Leadership” book contains many a useful tip for the walker, and was a good companion, as a lad, getting me going in the hills. It tells you things like what to carry in your rucksack, what to do if you’re caught out in a thunderstorm, how to ford a river, and how to use a map and compass. But nowhere does it tell you what to do when there’s a bull sitting on the right of way.

We’re in the Yorkshire Dales today, among the many scars and crags above Langcliffe, in Ribblesdale. We’ve had a cloudy start, but the forecast tells us it’ll clear by 2:00 PM. It’s a dynamic sky, lots of textures, but so far the light is flat. Much has been made in recent weeks of the parched brown countryside of the South East, but here everything is green, and there are puddles. It’s warm, but not oppressively so, and there’s an earthy smell after last night’s rains.

We’ve left the car on the road up from Langcliffe, around the 1200′ contour. This little altitude booster brings the walk in at just under eight miles and gets us off to a good start, with some fine views over Ribblesdale.

For the first leg, we head south along the line of the Attermire scars. The plan is for a circuit of the moorland between Settle and Malham, making use of the Dales High Way, and the Pennine Bridleway. We’ll follow it nearly as far as Pikedaw, overlooking Malham, then head North-ish towards Malham Tarn, and finally west, back to the car. It’s not a day of peak-bagging, then, more one for the views of some fine Dales country, and to explore a circuit that’s been nagging at me for a while. First, though, the bull.

He’s a handsome beast, but he looks a bit – well – knackered, surrounded by recumbent cows. It’s that old question, then: can cattle be trusted not to flatten you? The answer to which is: not entirely.

The common sense advice is that, if in doubt, find another way round, but there are no other ways, and anyway this is pretty much open country. If they were in a mood to be frisky, they could be chasing us for miles, and I wouldn’t make a hundred yards. There’s a fence and a gate, a little way beyond, but for that we have to run the gauntlet. What to do? If you ask this question on the hiking forums, you’ll set the Internet on fire with unhelpful opinion. But just like life in general, you can only read the situation in front of you, and it feels okay, so we carry on.

I rarely have trouble with cattle, but it’s still a comfort to put that gate between us. Cattle roam the hills freely here, though, so this won’t be our last encounter. They do seem to enjoy congregating around stiles and gates. My usual approach is to speak to them gently as we pass. It doesn’t matter what you say, of course. It’s a different if you have a dog with you. Then cattle are best avoided, because they hate dogs, and you might find yourself collateral as they try to trample it.

The Attermire Scars and the Rannerdale Knots

The Dales High Way and the Pennine Bridleway coincide at Attermire, and take us up towards the remote Stockdale Farm. The light is beginning to break through a little now, making soft speculative sweeps of the hillsides. The outlook west, behind us as we climb, to the scars, and Rannerdale are especially striking. There are several parties climbing on the crags, by the deep gash of the Horseshoe Cave.

I read there’s a new revised edition of Langmuir’s book, published by The Mountain Training Boards of England and Scotland. I wonder if I should get it, and wonder in particular what it has to say about navigating by Smartphone, and GPS? Probably nothing good. My old copy from 1985 has a foreword by Lord Hunt. These were a hardy breed of men, unlikely to be troubled by cattle. Hunt trained commandos in mountain-craft, during the second war, but is best known as leader of the first successful expedition up Everest in 1953. Postwar there was a rush of people heading into the hills, many of them ill prepared and coming to grief for want of basic knowledge, so there was an effort to set standards, and Langmuir did a sterling job. The Insta generation has brought about a similar rush of ill prepared folk.

Stockdale farm and Ryeloaf Hill

Anyway, I think it’s okay to navigate by smartphone. Mine is waterproof, has OS 1:25000 mapping, a three-day battery, and I carry a spare powerbank. It tells me exactly where I am, all the time. A paper map can just as easily let you down, as anyone who’s tried to read one in a gale force wind will tell you. A compass too can be dangerously misleading in hills that are rich in iron ore.

There are, of course, no simple solutions to every eventuality. You think you’re sorted, well kitted out, got the proper togs, the tech, and you know your Langmuir back to front,… then there’s a bull sitting on the footpath saying: you didn’t see this one coming, did you? Life is never without risk. Venturing into the hills, one accept this, prepares as best one can and takes responsibility for oneself. But let’s not big this up any more than we need to. We’re just out for the afternoon, not exploring the Andes.

The view up the valley is dominated by Rye Loaf hill. This is a remote peak, not walked very often, with as yet no clearly defined route up it. You’d have to make your own way across open country. Through binoculars, I can make out a rough wind-shelter and a survey column on top, all of which is very tempting, but I’ve still got blisters from my last outing, so we’ll stick to the planned route, and no deviations.

It feels like we’ve come a long way, meandering eastwards, up to the high point – this being around seventeen hundred feet. There’s a huge cairn to set our bearings by, here. I’d say it was unmissable, but on another occasion I’ve walked past it in mist and not known it was there. It’s a mystery actually, not marked on the maps, and consists of what resembles builders’ rubble. It makes for good foreground interest in the view over the Grizedales, to the distant splash of Malham Tarn.

The Grizedales to Malham Tarn

The path takes us east of north now, over the Grizedales as far as the junction with the path coming up from Malham. We seem to have left the heat behind at this altitude. The air is fresher and the scent of it is intoxicating. The bridleway bears west at a signpost which carries the daunting news Langcliffe is still four and a half miles away. It’s a long section, this, easy to follow, probably better undertaken on horseback. But, lacking a handy steed, we must make do on tiring feet, the path snaking away over the moor, forever teasing us with how far we’ve still to go. It’s not long before I’m thinking this section has little to recommend it, but then the outline of Penyghent hoves into view.

I think it was Alfred Wainwright who said the mountain Suilven, in Sutherland, had to be seen to be believed, and I agree with him, but that may have something to do with its remoteness. When I saw it, it was after a three-day drive into a sparsely populated area of the UK, soon perhaps to be another country. There is a definite otherness about that region, the wildness, the light, the emptiness. Suilven is an awe-inspiring hill, even getting a mention in a Ewan MacColl song. But it’s recently struck me Penyghent is only around a hundred feet shorter, and equally striking. It rears up dramatically, has a prow like a dreadnought battleship, and is often to be seen sailing over Ribblesdale, on a boiling mist. Penyghent too has to be seen to be believed. It’s just seen a little more often than Suilven.

Anyway, bang on schedule, 2:00 PM, the sky peels open, the sun comes through, and Penyghent starts showing off. We take some time to enjoy the light, but the feet have had enough now, and the path brings us full circle, just in time, delivering us back to the car. Tea and cake in Settle then? That would usually be the next move, but I’m a bit of a tight wad these days, and I’ve brought my own. We open the top to the sky, and enjoy the air. It was a good idea to park up here. The tea tastes all the better for the view.

Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you’re drunk on the joy of living

Ewan MacColl

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naked man cafe

Ye Olde Naked Man Cafe – Settle

It was an unusually quiet drive east along the A59, then a left turn at Gisburn for the undulating and sinewy-twisty loveliness of the Hellifield road, which becomes the A65 at Long Preston, which directs one a little more assertively north and west in the direction of Ribblesdale, which brings us finally to the beautiful little Dales town of Settle. The last time I was in the Yorkshire Dales – Ingleton, back in March – the season was a good few weeks behind Lancashire, but seems now to have overtaken us in the race to summer, the Laburnum tassels already opening to cascades of yellow, while the Laburnum in my own garden, down on the Lancashire plain, is still some weeks away.

For company on the drive I had the inoffensive burble of chatter on the radio, but I remember only the one snippet of an interview with a writer who inadvertently posed me the meditation for day, which was: is it better to fail utterly at doing something you think you’ll love (like writing), than to survive doing something you merely tolerate, (like holding down a conventional day-job for 40 years)?

It’s a question I’ve often asked, especially now as I’m approaching that 40 year service mark myself. Unlike me, the writer in question did indeed give up on the financial security of the conventional day job in order to take the risk  of doing something she loved. The message was clear: you only pass this way once, so don’t waste your life doing something you don’t particularly enjoy. It’s sound advice and hard to fault, but at the gut level I wasn’t so sure; I suppose it all depends on how you define “surviving”, and whether or not you believe happiness can be achieved by “doing” anything.

It’s okay, even heroic, to take a risk on realising a dream if you’re single, when there’s only you to crash and burn, but what if you’re married, with kids? It’s a conundrum – and it depends how “far out” that dream is, I suppose, and how easily you can balance your own desires against a responsibility towards others. I chose financial security, at least as much as that’s possible for a time-served engineer living through a downsizing, de-industrialising phase of his nation’s history. I made my choice and I stuck with it, but for all of that I’ve never considered myself to be a frustrated author, held back by the shackles of wage-slavery. I am still writing, still publishing, of a sort – just not rich or famous at it. And driving into Settle on a sunny Friday morning with my walking gear in the boot, and all the fells looking so timelessly lovely as this, I could hardly feel that I was wasting my life either.

constitution hill

Constitution Hill, Settle

Of all the Dales towns and villages, Settle is my favourite, but then my favourite is always the last place I visited, so others need not feel too put out about it. It was a beautiful, warm sunny morning, and there were American tourists photographing Ye Old Naked Man Cafe. I joined them for a few shots myself. It must be the most photographed cafe in Yorkshire. The day was shaping up well. In winter I’ve thought of Settle as the coldest, teeth-chattery place on earth, even something a little dour about it, but basking in the spring sunshine it made for a very respectable waymark on the tourist’s tour-de-UK.

My walk for the day was a circuit taking in the not-so-secret secret waterfall of Catrigg Force, then the cave-dotted crags of the Attermire Scar, and returning via the breathtakingly beautiful Warrendale Knots – four or five hours and six or seven miles of varied ground, and every step begging a pause for a photograph. It’s a walk I’ve done twice now, in the company of a friend, both times characterised by atrocious weather, and the fact we got lost. It was a pleasure to be seeing it at its best for a change -the camera was charged and ready!

But was she right? Who? The writer who talked about taking a chance on doing what you loved. She’d been working in New York, in a Lawyer’s office, watching the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapse, and thought to herself, there are people in those buildings who’d been thinking to stick at the crap dayjob a little longer, while putting off their dreams – whatever they might be – and if only they’d gone and lived the dream a little sooner! But would I have done anything differently if I could? I don’t think I would. Of course I have always wanted to write, but for me the writing, like much so much else in life,  has lead me in directions I did not expect.

Near Lancliffe

Approaching Lower Winskill

The walk takes you out of Settle, climbing first the aptly named Constitution Hill, then along a path through the high meadows above Springs Wood. All is lush green and lovely here, the meadows contained by the white limestone dry-walling that demarcates much of the upland regions and which assumes an almost painful pearly whiteness in strong sunshine. We drop down briefly into the village of Langcliffe before continuing our way north, up Ribblesdale, along a green lane, walled in between ancient field systems, then  on to the energetic Stainforth Beck, which, pouring through a nick in high limestone crags plunges into the Sylvan glen that contains the roaring spectacle of Catrigg Force.

Waterfalls make great subjects for photography, with the best examples being judged by a fairly strict set of criterion: not too slow a shutter because that misty milky effect is definitely passée now, and definitely no ugly fallen trees to spoil the view – at least according to the forums that discuss these things. The latter is an unfortunate requirement because at most significant falls of water, there’s always a log gone over the top and lodged itself somewhere in the flow – the falls thus eliminating themselves, apparently, from the “sublime” category. I don’t know, nature is what it is and I think we have to take it as we find it. It’s strange, but I can look at a fall like this and those untidy logs are nowhere to be seen. It’s only when we look at the pictures afterwards they stand out. It’s as if in trying to capture something, we imagine them as simpler than they really are. I note the Catrigg Foss log has slowly been working its way out of shot since I last visited.

catrigg foss

The path to Catrigg Foss

But we were thinking about that “living the dream” thing. Have I not wasted those forty years? I suppose we can all wonder this, especially in moments of transient unhappiness. But I’m old enough now to realise that if I’d ditched the day job at 25 like I intended to, and banged away at publication for my novel “Sara’s Choice”, that really would have been a waste. For all my naive enthusiasm for the tale, it was hardly literature and the world is not exactly the worse for my having abandoned it. It does not even appear as a freebie download in the margin of my blog.

I have the internet to thank for stripping the writing of its “arty” veneer, its debatable mystique. I was never going to make my living at it, and that’s not defeatism or lack of self confidence talking. Call it experience, and reading the runes, but I finally worked it out that there has always been more to the publishing lark than I was ever going to understand in one lifetime. Then I realised I didn’t want to publish anyway, I just wanted to write, and put my stuff somewhere where people could read it, and maybe have a chat now and then with those readers who felt the urge to get in touch. I didn’t want my life to consist of literary parties, speaking tours, book signings and publicity bashes. I wanted to do a job I was reasonably good at, but one I could also shut in a drawer every night at 5:00 pm, then go home and do the stuff I wanted to do. And now and then I wanted to take the days that were owed me, and slip away to beautiful spots like this. It seems I have not wasted those 40 years at all, and am already living that dream. It’s just that sometimes we think we’re not, that the grass is somehow always greener on the other side. In this sense there’s a risk, not that we will will fail at the dream, but  that the dreams will reveal themselves to be simply whatever we’re not doing at the time. And chasing those dreams is just another form of materialism.

catrigg foss waterfall

Catrigg Foss

From Catrigg, a dusty path leads across open moor to the narrow Langcliffe road, which we descend a little way until a close cropped path leads us off through the green towards the Attermire Scars – great limestone crags, running with scree. These are famed for being dotted with the entrances to several caves: Jubilee, Victoria, Attermire, and the Lookout Cave. They are all accessible, with care, and have been drawing the eye of humans since Neolithic times. They were used as burial places, also as hidey holes by the Celts during the Roman occupation – beautiful period jewellery, and even a chariot have been recovered. But I’m not much of a caver and wasn’t tempted to explore, except to wander a little way into the most accessible of these holes – the Jubilee Cave.

jubilee cave

Inside the Jubilee Cave, Attermire Scars

The return to Settle is via a lush meadow pathway that follows the line of the Warrendale Knots – dramatically shaped limestone crags that rise several hundred feet above the green of the dale. This is Carboniferous limestone country, laid down in a tropical sea some 360 million years ago. Compared with the immense age of the earth we’ve come from nothing to iPhones in a heartbeat and it makes one wonder if we’ll still be here in another 360 million years. The sun has another 6 billion years to go, which makes the earth quite young, and I’m wondering at what point in our evolution we shall finally get our hovering jet-scooters, like in Dan Dare, and when the problem of the daily commute will be solved by teleportation, and when the day job itself will finally be abolished, enabling us all to live the dream, however we define it.

But if we’re all living the dream, what then what shall we dream of?

warrendale knots

The Warrendale Knots

At a little over six miles, the walk is by no means a severe one, but my feet have a way of complaining on the last quarter of any hike, whether I’m doing two miles or twenty, so I was feeling like I’d had a decent outing by the time I made it back to Settle. I found excellent coffee at the quirkily named “Car and Kitchen”, where I sat out at the pavement tables in the warm late afternoon sunshine. How would I like to change my life, at that moment, I wondered? How could I improve on the day as lived thus far? Well,  right then it would have been to settle, in Settle and to have hills like this for company all the time, instead of the dreary plains of home, where all I can see is sky.

Funny things though, dreams, to say nothing of the dreamers who dream them. If I was surrounded by unremittingly steep hills like this all day, I’d probably be  hankering after a bit of flat.

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