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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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The Warrendale Knotts

It’s looking like the last really warm day of the year, late September, with an added Friday feeling. We’ve left the M6 at the Tickled Trout, dropped the top in a lay-by on the A59 and now we’re motoring towards the Dales. The route is quiet for once, and fast – few heavies – and we’re able to enjoy the rush of air without the added taste of diesel. We’re making for the pretty little village of Langcliffe, a terrific spot for a walk in limestone country, a six mile round of scars and caves and waterfalls.

We park under the shade of a tree by the church, then boot up and commence the steep pull beyond the gate, up a lush meadow still slick with dew. Then it’s a green way across pasture and fell-side, towards Settle, then steep again on the more assertive pull towards the Warrendale Knotts. Things are looking good with clear skies and a warm sun just clearing the crags now, lifting the dew. We can see for ever beyond the valley of the Ribble, just a faint haze out on the horizon and there’s a crisp stillness to it all, trees paused in motion as if looking at each other in anticipation of autumn’s turn and saying: is this it yet?

The Warrendale Knotts occupy an area of craggy access land, just off the main walking routes. The initial approach is intimidating, a wall of seemingly impregnable limestone buttresses. But as we get to grips the cracks reveal themselves, and the way wends more obligingly towards the top and a Trig point, nestling in the ruins of a wind-shelter. Meanwhile a neat little cairn marks the summit, just a little higher on a limestone pavement fifty yards to the north. It’s a very fine spot indeed, somewhere to settle for lunch and soak up the glorious day.

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Trig point, Warrendale Knotts

We have the Knotts to ourselves, the long line of them beautiful, even at noon when the light tends to be flat and uninteresting. But this late-season sun is low enough to pick out the craggy details and paint the land with a heavenly luminosity. We have the green and copper of the pastures below rising to lap at the toes of gnarled and deeply fissured crags. The crags are like old silver, burnished here and there to reflect the light. Perhaps I go too far with the prose. I can’t help it; days like these have you in poetic raptures, scrambling for similes and metaphors, and send your spirit soaring like a twittering lark.

Yes, such days are among the most treasured, though I’m aware I present something of a cliche myself, this late middle-ager puttering about the Dales in an old open topped car, still scoring routes up all the hills. The word menopausal comes to mind, but I refute the charge your honour. I’m not looking to rediscover a youth that passed too quickly. For one thing the body is sufficient reminder of my years, and the legs hesitant with caution where I once stepped with impunity, all speak of a certain chastening though experience. No, this is more a continuing appraisal of the journey ahead, and a determination not to look back, for looking back is what truly stiffens a man up, makes him old before his time.

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Warrendale Knotts, view towards the Attermire Scars

The car was made in Hiroshima in 2002, then shipped half way across the world to England, spent its own youth with someone else and is living now in semi-retirement exploring the Yorkshire Dales with me. She’s done over ninety thousand, twenty of them mine and still drives well. Sure, perhaps we’re both old enough to know better, but we don’t care. I’ve a feeling she’ll be considered a classic in years to come, and worth hanging on to. But it’s looking likely now a future climate levy will tax her off the road, as she’s a little heavy on the carbon.

You find me in a reflective mood today. The world down there is in free-fall, almost as if things have been engineered that way, but all of that dissolves to nothing when the fells are warm, the weather is kind, and we gain the transcendent perspective of a time-worn cairn. I’ve recently come to a decision about retirement. I’ll be going early, in a little over a year’s time. There’ll be a significant hit on the pension, but I’ll manage. I’ve been working since September 1977 and it’s enough; 2020 will be my last year. Time now to settle back into being what, through modesty and lack of material success, I’ve always hesitated to call myself: a writer.

It’s not without some hesitation, the thought of retiring into such uncertain times, of quitting the cushion of well paid work when well paid work for ordinary folk is a thing of the past. The writing’s never made a bean and never will, but one clearly cannot go on for ever with the long commutes and the working days so greedy of one’s private time. And of course, while the world of work screams blue murder at itself, the fells dream on and I’m for dreaming more often in their company, at least while I’ve still the legs to carry me,…

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Warrendale Knotts – summit cairn, view to Penyghent

So,.. from the Warrendale Knotts we pick our way northwards, then east a little until the path firms up and leads us down to the more well-worn route by the Attermire Scars.  In the far distance Penyghent crouches, Sphinx-like, basking in the sun, its paws resting on a network of dry-stone walls that thread all the knotty pastures into one. We try a photograph or two. The camera captures Penyghent nicely, the light too, but as with all cameras, it never truly sees the land the way you feel it.

The Attermire Scars are famous for their caves. The largest, the Victoria Cave, is a huge, dank and foul-breathed orifice, oozing slime-water and it swallows up the sun as we approach. We manage a few yards inside before barriers of rusting iron prevent a more intimate exploration, not that I’m tempted anyway and find all caves uninviting.

But speaking of intimate, lying among the greased rocks on the cave floor I discover a pair of – well, shall we say – ladies foundation wear? It’s quite a dainty pair too, and somewhat incongruous in a lush wine-red, set against the cold and the wet and the grey. I hesitate to imagine what the lady was doing to lose them, for this is hardly an inviting place for romantic assignations, though each to their own I suppose and I’m not so old I’ve forgotten the youthful urgency that demands we take advantage of whatever opportunity arises. Sadly, it’s less so as we age of course, when lace and daintiness is gradually exchanged for something altogether plainer, less alluring of course, but far more practical.

Anyway,… we potter on, clear the cave, emerge once more into the blessed sun and a sweeter air. Then I lose my footing on a dollop of sheep poo. It’s been laid with fiendish cunning upon a patch of dew, lurking in the shadow of the stile through which I’m passing. It’s an impressively slippery combination; one second I’m admiring the view – while admittedly still recalling past encounters with the allure of ladies foundation-wear – and the next I’m on my arse. Fortunately for my dignity, there were only sheep for witnesses. Most pretend not to notice, though I’m sure one of them is laughing, chalking up another downed pedestrian.

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Upper Whinskill, Langcliffe

The day is Indian-Summer-hot now, the sweat dripping from the peak of my cap, which I hang from the sack to dry out. We have a bit of road-walking, though it’s the sort of narrow, unfenced fell-road on which one rarely sees a car. Then a long green lane brings us to the hamlet of Upper Whinskill. Here we take the track to the splendid, Catrigg Force where Stainforth beck drops through a nick in high crags, before making its thunderous escape down to the Ribble.

As I take up position here for the obligatory photograph, I’m conscious I’ve been off my feet once already, so I dither a bit on the rocks. It’s my boots, I’m thinking – I mean this creeping lack of sure-footedness. They don’t make boots like they used to do, slithering and sliding about as if the soles are oozing something oily. I wonder if I can improve them by applying a thin layer of roof-repair mastic. That’ll make them sticky for sure, though how durable I don’t know. Worth a try, I suppose.

catrigg foss waterfallAnyway, I grab the shot and we close the loop of the walk, making the final mile by Stainforth Scar, sparkling in the sun now, and then we’re down among lush meadows and green lanes and butterflies, back to Langcliffe. The car is waiting in the shade of a tree, sunlight dappled across the paint. I open the top to let the heat out, clean myself up with the remains of my water-bottle, change my shirt, contemplate the time.

It’s a tranquil spot, a place to linger; we’ll only be hitting tea-time traffic at Preston if we paste it back right away and that will surely spoil the day. Besides, look, there’s a book sale on at the church, and I could never resist a rummage among musty books. So, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll loiter a bit, then have a bite to eat in Settle, find a nice pub, travel back this evening. It’ll be a gorgeous drive as the light turns to amber and with the whole of a deepening sky peeled back above us.

Sound good to you?

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Stainforth Scar and the green lane from Langliffe

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catrigg foss waterfallI chose Langcliffe for the start of the walk because the parking was free. Well, it was not exactly free; there is a donation box and I did donate, but the money I saved by not parking in Settle would pay for coffee later. This is austerity in personal terms, and rather petty I admit. Those truly struggling under austerity, and there are many now, would not have driven to the Dales in the first place because £20 worth of petrol goes a long way towards groceries.

It struck me recently we’ve been under the cosh of austerity since 2008. This tells me two things. One, it’s been a long time. And two, the ideology that’s driving it has either self evidently failed, or it’s driving us in another direction, that in fact it has not failed at all but succeeded in bringing about a state of political and social affairs that has basically reordered society into one that is less equal.

What this means in practical terms is penny pinching on a scale so grand our ears are filled daily with the sound of gears grinding as our machine runs down. There is a shrinking back to the Gradgrind-glory years of the Victorian era, an age when we sent little orphan boys up chimneys and down the mines to work the narrow seams, because they were cheap and expendable. We did not value life. We are being taught again only to value our own, that a person drowned in the Med is not a person, but something less than that.

Anyway, Langcliffe. This is a walk I’ve done before, many times: Catrigg force, the Attermire Scars and the Warrendale Knots. I wrote about it here. My return was on account of a free day and insufficient time to plan anything new. But with a familiar route, freed from the responsibility of navigation, the mind can turn to other things. The weather was promising, the morning peeling open after overnight rains to a mixture of sunshine and humidity.

Someone tried to get my email logins by phishing. I was sufficiently webwise not to succumb. Meanwhile the BBC tells me of a woman who was targeted by phone scammers, tricked into thinking her bank account was under attack and so sought to transfer funds to safety. She lost it all to the scammers. This leaves a sour taste.

This and Austerity. But are the two things not the same?

2008.

A long time.

Hitler was defeated in five.

This economic crisis is taking longer.

Unless it is not a crisis,

But a change of paradigm.

 

Some have grown fat from austerity, but most have grown lean. Then some have sought to join the ranks of the fat by foul and ingenious means, by preying on the poor and the lean and the hungry, because like in Victorian times the poor are once more cheap and expendable, and easily vilified into a thing less than human. Into perhaps a scrounger? Nobody cares about the poor.

But the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales managed to work a little of its magic on my soul. At Catrigg though, I felt unwell, my vision whiting out as I descended the shady sylvan dell, after strong sunshine on the open moor above. I don’t know what this was about but I didn’t panic. Were I to have expired alone at Catrigg, I can think of no finer setting.

He was at peace, they said.

As it was I sat only a while with a sandwich and fruit and quiet thoughts as the water roared through the narrow slit. Then, feeling better, I carried on.

It’s possible something has happened this summer. Many feel the way I do; fearful; alarmed by an ideology that seems unshakable in its grip, and which has razed the familiar ground, so there is no path now for my children to follow. Instead, they must follow the directions of the suited man with his slick coiffure and oily smile, and take their place in the minimum wage economy, regardless of whether they have a university educations or not.

It may fizzle out in a few weeks time, this thing, or it may lead on to a kind of rebellion. Not just here, but across the West and wherever the suited man sits fat. Men are appearing, dishevelled, articulate. Yesterday’s men, the suits tell us, but then they would. The dishevelled men fill assembly halls and football stadiums. They speak a language that is nostalgic to the old, yet new to the young. It will collapse of course, but not before it brings about a change in the other direction – I hope.

The walk is more up and down than I remember, more of a pull on the leg muscles, though I comfort myself this is probably on account of the stretching I did at Kung Fu the night before. In April you will find the early Purple Orchid sprouting in profusion along the base of the Attermire Scars. Today I found the delicate Hare bell, and other blooms so small one would need a glass to see them properly.

It was cold on the tops, a cold wind icifying the sweat on my back whenever I stopped, so I kept moving, munching a Kit-kat as I went. Dark chocolate and bright white limestone. The world could be going to hell in a handcart, quite possibly is so far as I can tell, but so long as I get my Kit-Kat of a morning, I can find it within me to remain magnanimous.

In the pastures by the Warrendale knots there were long haired cattle, reddish brown. Calves sat easy, nudged udders. One cow stood aside, silent and serene in expectation, as wide as she was tall, her calf still basking in the warm hinterland of the womb. A lone white bull moved among them. The path took me through the herd. I made delicate adjustments, startled none. A hundred tons of beef, but not aggressive. Had they the intelligence to be cognisant of their fate, would they have been so easy in my company? Had we been cognisant of ours in 2008, would we have been so easy too?

I return to Langcliffe, hill-achy and bone tingling tired. The church is having a sale of books and CD’s. I am searching for a copy of Belladonna. Stevie Nicks. 1981-ish. I could buy it online for about a fiver, but am holding off, thinking to discover it in a charity shop for £2.00. I have been searching for years.

Why so selective? I spend £20 on petrol for a walk in the Dales, but I won’t spend a fiver on an old CD that I tell myself I really want. Or is it that I resist the siren call of Stevie Nicks. Stevie is nostalgia.

My moods are mysterious.

I did not go into the church. I peeled my boots off, sat a while, let my feet cool, changed my shirt, then dropped the top and took the car across the moor to Malham.

There are moments of happiness. They come suddenly. Unexpected. It’s a rough old road to Malham from Lancliffe – quite a climb up the zigzags into a lonely wonderland of limestone country. The car’s done 80,000 now, still drives like new and with a punch on the climbs that delights and surprises. And then there are these moments, when we’re rattling along, I swear the tyres dissolve and we’re flying, and the land is not the land at all but clouds on which the scenery has been painted. Then the heart opens and I am smiling at the lightness of my being.

I stop for coffee at Malham, having joined some dots on the map. But it’s a strange country opening before us now. And 2008 is a very long time ago.

Anyway, let’s keep that drive

in mind.

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