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Posts Tagged ‘ingleborough’

Of all the routes up Ingleborough, I prefer the one from Clapham. The interest starts early, and is varied throughout – by turns sylvan, and dramatic. You can also make the walk into a circuit, if you include the three peaks route as far as Sulber Gate, then turn for home. The downside is you don’t get a look at the shape of the hill itself. For that, you have to walk in from Ingleton.

It’s a long walk, too, or so it seems. First, it’s a mile from the village to the start of the fells, then a mile and a half along a rough bridleway to Crina Bottom, and finally, a mile up a steep track through the limestone terraces, to the top. The interest actually starts about a mile from the summit, when the view suddenly opens, and you get a view of Ingleborough at its most aesthetic, and often its dramatic best. That last mile feels mostly vertical, though. The view is aided immensely by the farm at Crina Bottom, which has been providing foreground interest for artists for centuries.

I first saw that view as a drawing by Alfred Wainwright, in his venerable book “Walks in Limestone Country”, and I’ve often admired it. His pen and ink work possessed a charm that made the northern hills and mountains seem friendly, and accessible. Today’s visit has two objectives, then: one is to photograph the hill, as near as I can to how Wainwright drew it, and two, of course, while I’m here, to walk up it.

It’s a fine, late summer day, warming quickly to temperatures well in excess of the forecast. The light is softened by a faint haze, pooled here and there on the green flanks of the dales, and moving slowly. A little bird told me the kids were back at school, so “Holiday UK” is effectively over. Nevertheless, I make an early start. The village car-park is empty, which is a pleasant surprise. The hill is also quiet. It looks as if the mid-week scene has indeed been handed back to us retirees, now, and about time too. We must make hay, while the sun shines!

The long bridleway to Crina Bottom

I regret to say I am without the little blue car today. She’s making unfamiliar noises – a sort of clipping sound, like she’s picked up a flint, but I’ve checked the tyres, and she hasn’t. And anyway, it only comes on when she warms up. I suspect, in fact, she’s suffering a leaking brake caliper. So, for now, she rests up while waiting an appointment with the mechanic. It’s a pity; the drive to Ingleton from the M6, along the valley of the Lune, would have been perfect with the open-top. As it is, I drive it in the air-conditioned cocoon of my good lady’s car, which, however, I note is also making unfamiliar noises today. Never mind, it delivers me safely, and without recourse to the RAC.

Ingleton is one of those idyllic little places I have fantasies about retiring to, because, for all of its rural isolation, it does not lack facilities – leisure, library, even a swimming pool. And that’s before we get started on the varied walking hereabouts. I’m thinking they must have a canny council. Decades of austerity seems to have left mine bankrupt. It can’t even afford cat’s eyes to guide us home at night, let alone “facilities” for idle leisure.

Anyway, I make it along the long, sinewy bridleway to Crina Bottom, and take the shot, or rather several shots which I’ll muck about with later. The farm was up for sale last year. It’s remote, and entirely off-grid, a dream of a place to hole up in. But that’s a rough, steep, twisty drive to it along the bridle-way, though I note the sale included a Shogun 4×4, and you’ll need it. This place will be cut off at the merest hint of snow.

From here the whole of the mountain comes suddenly into view, and every inch of the route up it. Wainwright’s drawing really nails it. I’ve climbed Ingleton several times, been blown off it once, rained off it twice, and every time I do make the top, it seems bigger than the last. In this respect, at a thousand feet short of England’s biggest, I’m probably best advised to keep away from Scafell nowadays. Or maybe I just pace myself too quick, when I’m on my own, and wear myself out. We’ll make that our excuse today, then, rather than blame it on our middling mountain form.

As we make the climb, the vista opens out, and we get the wider views, which are especially fine across the upper reaches of Ribblesdale, from the viaduct at Ribblehead, to Whernside, then down the length of the Twistleton scars, and all the way out to the coast.

There was an amusing encounter with a family on the way up. It’s a scene you often see in the hills, on the popular tourist routes, the guy striding ahead with a remote air about him, an intrepid explorer with map and compass, wife in the rear, placating three kids of ages ranging from eight to early adolescence, and in various stages of revolt. In short, the kids were whining, though unlike me, they didn’t seem to lack energy for the climb. They just didn’t like the idea of it any more. The woman did a sterling job jollying them along, though I would have given up by now and walked them back to Ingleton for ice creams. Bringing up children has a way of rounding off all your square corners, until hopefully by the time they’re in their twenties, you’re as round and smooth, and slippery as a greased pool ball, with Zen for your middle name. I got a cheery hello from her as I came through at my snail’s pace, nothing from him. I hope she tore a strip off him when they got back.

There was another family on top who I particularly felt for. They arrived in a state of relieved exhaustion, and smiles of satisfaction all round at a climb well done. They sat down, opened their picnic, were distracted for a moment by the views, time enough for their dog to snaffle their lunch. All they were left with were bottles of water, and I’m sure the dog was already working out how to get its chops around those as well.

“Has it been in its mouth?”

“I don’t know, looks like it.”

“Well, I’m not having it.”

“No, I don’t fancy it either.”

From Ingleton to the top and back, is about seven miles, and just shy of two thousand feet of ascent. A possible circular is to descend now to Twistleton scars, then return to Ingleton via the downstream section of the waterfalls. I have done that route, with a mate who never knows when to stop, and for whom any walk under ten miles is no walk at all. We’ll not be doing that today. Instead, we retrace our steps.

I’m more tired than usual on the return, and dehydrated – one of those walks where you’re too weary at the end of it even to pull your boots off, though you know your feet will feel better for it. So I sat a while, until I came round, then changed my sopping shirt, and hobbled off in search of coffee. I hope my good lady’s car gets us home all right, and those pictures come out. They won’t be as good as Wainwright’s drawing, though.

Ingleborough, from Crina Bottom farm

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suliven2

Suliven, Sutherland, UK

I still think of Suliven. It’s a mountain to be seen with one’s own eyes before it can be adequately believed in. I saw it thirty years ago, had the passion for it then, but no realistic opportunity of getting my boots on it. My companions possessed no mountain form, and were only kind enough to humour my obsession sufficient to allow me time to get within visual range.

We had driven from Ullapool after a sojourn on the edge of the midnight sun, then north, to Sutherland and the little harbour town of Lochinver. There, I walked inland, along a narrow scrap of road and I gazed at Suliven, confirming to my satisfaction the reality of its remarkable existence. Then I had to dive out of the way as a pick-up truck came at me, clipped me with its cab mirror. The mirror broke, but I was unhurt, spared injury by my aluminium water bottle which took the hit for me, bearing ever afterwards an impressive dent.

The truck didn’t stop.

I’m certain, in the long ago, Romantics were not a target for extermination. There were no guardian trolls tearing up Wordsworth’s first in-situ drafts of Daffodils by Ullswater’s choppy shores, nor hunting him down atop Helvellyn with their fowling pieces while he sought only to settle for inspiration. Perhaps he had better protection, contracted out among the fates by his formidable muse. Anyway, thus it was, and with a certain ignominy, I left Lochinver without so much as breaking bread. I returned south then, to several decades of the whirlwind of life and did not return.

I do not lament our estrangement.

Suliven exists for me still as part of a tangible reality, a phenomenon to which I have borne witness, yet also as something on the edge of perception, therefore inhabiting a liminal zone, one to which I am forbidden entry as a mortal. And all things are relative: for the inhabitants of Lochinver, to say nothing of mad bastards in pick-up trucks, Suliven is as ubiquitous as the wind and the mist, and the rain and the bog, to say nothing of the sheep ticks that infest those wastes, and whose parasitic presence is difficult to interpret metaphorically in any way other than negative.

The far-away then is no guarantor of wise teaching and, since the landscape of myth is always viewed in part, through the eye of imagination, my own hills have had as much to say over the years as I imagined Suliven might back then. It’s all a question of interpretation.

To experience myth is to walk the path in company with, and under the protection of the faery, or the Gods, however you like to phrase it. One visits the territory, the village, the town, the safe valley of human habitation, a place that is never-the-less inspired by the transcendent vista of the hill beyond the last farm gate. The hill is Olympus rising assertively above the mundane. One fetches up in the vale, contemplates the hill from afar, measures ones mortality in the presentation of light and shadow on its flank. Then we climb and experience the path as it unfolds, interpret the course and the discourse of the hill before returning, footsore, then to be restored at the well-spring of human hospitality,…

To tea and crumpets.

But I’m talking of another hill, now, way, way south of the Norseman’s Sutherland. I’m talking of Ingleborough, in fact, in the Yorkshire Dales, and of the homely little village of Clapham where those crumpets were so aromatic after a day on the hill, they were surely delivered from the ovens of a divine refectory. I exaggerate of course, as is my wont, fashioning a moody purple from the clear blue of a benign autumn sky, and the scent of a crumpet – oh, but they were sweet and aromatic! Also, so far as I’m aware, there is no Faery-lore in the Dales, but as a mixed descendent of the Irish Celt, and of the British Setantii (according to Ptolemy),… I find the shee tend to travel with me.

Ingleborough has been a good friend over the years, and like all good friends it’s never afraid to give me a good talking to. Not long ago, amid a ferociously inclement turn of weather, it tested every step of my wobbly ascent, then tipped me over a good mile from the top and said: you’re losing it, mate. You’re no longer that twenty five year old who beheld Suliven and dared to dream of climbing it. I’d let my fitness slip below the level of aspiration. All hills worth their salt are the same in this regard, demanding of the pilgrim a certain circumspection for their ardours.

So I’ve been working on it.

The older you get, the greater prize the hills will promise you, but the harder you have to work at it. Today I climbed Ingleborough again. It was a clear day, a warm day – no horizontal rain this time – and the hill was glad to receive me without much persuasion. And there, by the summit mound, I settled to make libation to the gods with Vimto and Kitkat, while a large family – grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren, settled beside me in pointy party hats to celebrate a birthday, with cake! Well, this is Yorkshire after all, and anything can happen, though it must be said, in my experience, unexpected happenings in Yorkshire tend to be positive ones.

I do still think of Suliven, but to be honest, you can keep it. I’m certainly in no hurry to return. I’ve plenty of hills to call my own. Ingleborough’s just one of them, and not a single troll in a pick-up truck to hit and run me down.

Or maybe these days I just have better protection.

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ingleborough

Ingleborough

After the last couple of posts on the subject of mindfulness, it seems reckless now to talk of the egotistical conquering of a mountain, but such is the duality of man. Still, my excuse is that if we remain mindful, we might proceed without physical or psychological injury. I have a friend who says that after spending hours slogging up a big hill, and coming within sight of the summit, one should deny the ego by not quite reaching the top. That the top is attainable is, by this point, self evident, so why go the whole distance if it’s not to simply feed the illusion of one’s own self worth? I used to think he was a mad, but these days I’m pretty much of the same mind.

It seems I am no longer a peak bagger.

I last attempted Ingleborough at New Year. It was a very wet, stormy day and the experience was discouraging. Ingleborough sent me packing, dripping wet and shivery-cold, seeking the sanctuary of a Clapham tea shop. I had become unfit, not walking the hills anywhere near enough, so, from ignominious defeat, I was motivated to exercise a little more, to climb at least one modest hill every week, come rain or shine, and then to test myself on Ingleborough again, and hopefully bag the peak. I know – I’m not a peak bagger – but there’s that duality thing again.

Anyway, today was the day.

Ingleborough was still a stiff climb, but the training had worked; I had greater reserves and was able to make the summit without serious difficulty – plus sunshine and blue skies always help to lubricate the grind. I made the top with a smile but, thinking of my friend, I was careful to avoid the trig point.

When I attempted the climb at New Year, I met few people on the path. Saturday was different though; the climb from Clapham, once beyond the nick of Trow Gill and up Little Ingleborough was more of a procession. But the people I met were friendly, unhurried and enjoying the day, eager to share a bit of passing banter and all of this added to the buoyant mood as I climbed. If you want a quieter walk, you go at a different time, or you pick a different hill. Ingleborough is what it is. And what it is is very beautiful, when the sun shines.

Entering Trow Gill

Trow Gill

Returning to a hill can also reveal the flaws in one’s memory. It’s probably ten years since I last made the summit by this route. I have a memory of a fairly flat upland plateaux, and that the route, after gaining Little Ingleborough, was thereafter fairly level, with only a short climb to the stepped summit. But today I discovered it wasn’t flat at all and that the final climb to the top was ten times what I had imagined. It was a wonderful walk all the same though, full of scenic variety and clear views all round. If you’re visiting the Dales and you’ve not done Ingleborough yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a moderate climb from Clapham. Allow two or three hours up and an hour or two down.

Return was by the High Dales Way and a short section of the popular Three Peaks Route. If I thought the ascent was busy, this section was positively crowded, and the fraternity was not so easy going.

I’ve decided there are two types of walker. There are those who do it because they get mystical in the mountains. And there are those who do not see the mountains. I know I’m risking an argument here, and hasten to add that not all Three Peakers fall into the latter category, but I met a good many today who clearly did. “Met” is not quite the right word, however. It would be more accurate to say I obstructed them in their purpose by virtue of my mere presence on the path.

limestone pavement

Limestone pavement, Sulber gate, Yorkshire Dales

The Dales National park is an area of outstanding beauty. Its dramatically stepped hills, its weirdly weathered limestone pavements, its waterfalls, its caves, its beautiful unassuming little villages, and even its dreaded shake-holes, are all things of wonder. They invite one to amble and to pause. But on the Three Peaks route, that would make you the little old man in his Morris Minor tootling along in the fast lane at thirty, with big parties of peak baggers crowding you from behind and squeezing through the gaps, pedal to the metal.

They were making their way, hell-for-leather, down the home stretch to Horton and the clock that would time them in. Three peaks in twelve hours: Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. 24.5 miles. It’s a tough challenge, and I have never attempted it, partly for fear of permanent injury – because I just don’t think I’m hard enough – and also because I keep telling myself I’m not that kind of walker.

To complete the three peaks route is a worthy achievement, but it would be wrong to think of it as a measure of one’s personal prowess. Success in the mountains is always won in part with the cooperation of the mountain, and there will always be an occasion when the mountain turns you back. Pressing on regardless invites insult or injury. The call-out books of the mountain rescue teams are ample witness to that.

I remember at one point, pausing by a ladder style to take in the vista, and finding myself in the way of a guy who was busy yakking into his mobile phone. We were in the midst of a sublime wilderness, not a farm, not a telegraph pole, nor power-line, nor wind-turbine in sight. It was all quite breathtaking, but there was this guy, hurrying along, entirely unconscious of it, yakking into his phone.

I apologised for blocking his way, but he was too busy to reply. He crossed the stile, almost stumbling over it in his haste to make the clock. Others, similarly time-pressed, piled after him. I remember another occasion where I had felt just as crowded by unconscious hoards swarming at my heels – but that was on London’s Euston Station, and me a yokel from the sticks, blinking wide eyed amid all that city-slick bustle. There’s a time and a place, and for me, the Dales is not it. The green is what keeps us sane. It’s where we come to decompress, to recover our sense of stillness. Making a time-trial out of it just doesn’t add up. You might as well do it on a treadmill in a gym.

I was therefore glad to escape the peaks route by turning off at Sulber Gate. Here the way became suddenly empty, and for the first time I could feel the space. This was the start of the route that links up with the appropriately named “Long Lane” and which leads us arrow-sure, back to Clapham. Coming usually at the end of the walk, Long Lane always feels a bit too long for me, but today, it floated me down to Clapham, feather light, and I was able to savour the steps. It helped that I was a little high on sunshine and the success of the walk, grateful too that the hill had allowed me to feel like a half competent walker again.

I repaired to the same little tea shop I’d sat in at New Year. This time though I sat outside, under a clear blue sky in the late afternoon warmth. The laburnum tassels were in full bloom and the hawthorns were shedding blossom like confetti. The only thing that was the same after five months was the giant pot of tea, which, after ten miles in the heart of Limestone country, is the elixir of the gods.

tea at clapham

I seem to be getting my legs back, and that’s good. I’ve just not to let it go to my head. I’ve a few more mountains ahead of me yet it seems, but I’ll be doing it mindfully, which means not being a peak-bagger, and not getting too het-up any more if, now and then, the mountain turns me back.

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clapham cottages

Ingleborough is one of the loveliest of England’s mountains. The summit forms a large plateau which boasts the remains of an Iron Age fortress. At around 2400 feet, this must have been quite a place to retreat to. It would certainly have had the advantage of leaving your enemies breathless by the time they came within range of your arrows – unless of course, your assailants were a hardy breed, and certainly a lot hardier than I was the other weekend when I made an attempt on it.

No matter which way you approach, the walk up Ingleborough is always a delight, but my favourite route starts from the village of Clapham. Dales villages are magical places, unspoiled by tourism, to say nothing of the usual plague of millionaires seeking to snap up quaint, rustic abodes for the weekend – these are still places that are lived in. I noted more gift shops in the village this time than on my last visit, but there’s still something very homely about Clapham.

My photograph of the cottages is the best I managed to take that day because the weather higher up the dale was challenging to say the least, and the light very poor. I would have like a picture of the summit, but you’ll have to link to Wikipedia, because the summit was hardly photogenic that day.  Sheltered in the deep of the dale, following the course of Clapham beck, the wind roared overhead, teasing the bare trees, tugging at black winter branches, hinting at the challenge to come, but my first real sign of trouble came as I climbed through the narrow nick of Trow Gill – a feeling of bone-weariness, yet with the main part of the ascent still to go.

I paused at Gaping Gill to munch an uninspiring cheese butty while watching with a morbid fascination as Fell Beck, running high and roaring boisterously with lots of white water, simply vanished down that infamous little hole. Gaping Gill doesn’t look much from the surface, but as pots go, it’s stupendous – the stuff of nightmares, really – a hidden cavern about the size of a bathtub on the surface, but which opens out to the girth and the height of a Cathederal, below, and into which the beck tumbles and sprays out like rain, deep into the dark of the earth.

Gloomy thoughts on a cold day, shivery cold, about 3 degrees, and a wind that would be gusting sixty knots across the summit. And the mist was down to about 1000 feet. In another ten minutes, I’d be in the teeth of it then, and blind.

From Gaping Gill, the path rises with an unremitting steepness to the summit of Little Ingleborough, and the first hint of a mountain proper comes undefoot – shattered rock and a moonlike sterility. The ascent was tough – not enough slack in my springs to maintain balance against the gusting wind, and the rain, coming at me horizontally, managed to find its way with dispiriting ease through the taped seams of my walking jacket. I was bottomed out and struggling pitifully.

I’ve been in worse conditions, but not very often. I remember a wild bit of weather like this on the summit of Helvellyn. We had ice too, that day, though it was late March – men appearing out of the mist, their beards thick with ice, and weird dendrites growing out of the rocks, into the wind. And me, much younger then, untroubled, and perfectly balanced on slick rock, without the geriatric aid of poles or crampons.

Inglebborough was another matter, tackled at a point much later in life, when life has drained much of the energy from me, left me staggering in the face of its occasional brutality. I never tackle a mountain in one big chunk – not my style at all. Instead, I pick a series of objectives along the way, set my sights on the next one, and care nothing for what follows, until I’m ready for it. Thus, piece by piece, I make my way, and have thus explored most of my nation’s high ground, though many would think my approach timid. I apply the same method in much of my life, and my legs usually carry me through. But not this time. This time I was going to fail. Or worse, I was going to fall.

So,… Little Ingleborough, I told myself. And then we’ll see.

From the summit of Little Ingleborough, the path continues North, across a stony plateau, then breaches the fallen walls of the old encampment on the summit. It’s just a few hundred feet of ascent and much less than a mile away, but in strong winds, and with visibility down to only a few yards, it was looking too far. Leaning into the wind, I could feel it biting my ear. Then the wind would drop suddenly and I’d propel myself off the marked way, or it would gust a little higher and overbalance me in the other direction. A man’s life is nothing when the earth has its dander up like that. The best we can do is crawl, insect-like into the crevices, and wait for better weather.

On Little Ingleborough, I took the circumspect option and hunkered down a while in a depression, let the wind roar over my head while I caught my breath. But my weariness that day was coming from a deep place, like Gaping Gill, a thing of seemingly immeasurable depth, and one that could not be filled by any amount of ragged breathing. I did not quite crawl away, but made my way carefully, back bent, centre of gravity low, the last dregs of energy to set me on the downward route, where I let gravity do the rest.

Later on, I sat in a tearoom, in homely Clapham, dripping wet from outer shell to skin, and cold, still shivery, with chill-swollen hands wrapped around a scalding hot teacup. I’d not been up to it – not up to a lot of things these days. I’ve raided myself empty, hollowed myself out, so when the wind blows, I have not the strength to face it down any more, to maintain a proper balance. Mountains of the mind and, all that.

I’m regrouping now, getting my breath, building stronger legs, then I tell myself I’ll be back. Ingleborough smiles, not unpleasantly, promises sunshine next time, tells me not to hurry, that it’ll be waiting.

 

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