Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Yorkshire’

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

Read Full Post »

The path to Whernside

It was summer, the last time I walked this route up Whernside, which is perhaps why I remember it so well. Which summer though? Let me see: I was driving a blue, mark four Cortina, which means it was 1982, and I was 21.

It was also my summer of love, or rather it was my discovery of the love of the transcendent phenomenon that is hill walking. Girls would come later, but the hills were more constant, always a revelation, and, like the present Lady Graeme, always happy to take me as I am.

It was a hot, dry summer, that year, and no trains ran on the Settle to Carlisle line. There was a strike by ASLEF over flexible rostering. The boss-class still moan about it in their histories of the period. They never did get the unions, or class warfare.

Today is cold. Back home, down on the Lancashire Plain, it’s been spring for weeks. The hedgerows are greening, the buds are budding, and the cherries and hawthorns are blossoming. But here, in Yorkshire, it’s still winter. An arctic blast greets us at Ribblehead, as we crack open the car door. There’s ice in the roadside gulleys, and an ominous bank of cloud is jostling the sunshine, threatening hail. The three peaks each have a cap of snow, and I’m wondering if we should have packed our ancient instep crampons – purchased from Settle’s legendary “Cave and Crag”, now sadly gone. I can’t remember the last time I wore them, and probably couldn’t work out how to fasten them anyway – they were always a pain. I should get some of those newfangled microspikes, but I keep thinking my days of winter walking are over.

Still here we are.

Ribblehead Viaduct – Settle to Carlisle line

The Ribblehead Viaduct is magnificent. A soaring masterpiece, circa 1875, when Britain called itself great, and without irony, though mostly because labour was cheap, and expendable, especially Irish hands, like my grandfather’s. But let’s not go down that road. It was all a long time ago, except time is less fixed for me these days, since I am no longer called to heel by the alarm clock every morning.

Last night I dreamed I was an apprentice again, back in the old factory, a place of several thousand souls. I was seeing and talking to people I had forgotten I knew, and whom I have not seen since nineteen seventy-nine. Sights, sounds, scents, … it was strange, but comforting to know those souls are still as they were, that we are all still as we always were, always are, somewhere in this weird thing we call time.

Anyway, it’s not the most dramatic of peaks, Whernside. It lacks the shapely grandeur of Ingleborough or Penyghent. But, being the biggest of the trio, it counts itself as King, and rightly so. And it’s not without its charms. By far the biggest charm, however, is the rising perspective is grants us of its nearest neighbour, Ingleborough, whose brutal geology is starkly displayed today, courtesy of a dusting of snow, which trickles down the gulleys in crinkles of dentritic splendour. Most of my photographs today are of Ingleborough. Whernside, I find, isn’t photogenic at all.

Ingleborough

The wind drops as we enter the lee of the land, and the chill shock of Ribblehead fades as we warm on the ascent. There are few other walkers about. That ominous bank of boiling cloud is a worry, but we’ll keep our eye on it. We’re overtaken by a lady who looks to be more senior than our own years, then a gentleman more senior than hers. Age is a funny business, part driven, I think, by something inside us. In the hills, I have known a man of eighty easily outpace a man of fifty, simply because he refuses to believe he is getting on. We can grow old at any age, give up and whither at forty if we choose. All we have to do is look back, and then we stiffen.

I am climbing the path up Whernside, so I must still be 21. This is not looking back. This is participating in the eternal, and therefore timeless, adventure. It’s a mystery, to which the hills grant us a tantalising clue. Or so I tell myself.

One foot in front of the other. Pause. Admire the view. Take some pictures. Plod on. We cross the snowline. Up close, it’s just a dusting, not exactly Tyrolean. But you can’t underestimate the British hills. Here, sudden change, and overconfidence are your enemies. Check the Met office, read the sky. Pack another layer, a head-torch, a survival bag. Know how to read a map, and use a compass, or at the very least walk with someone else who can. Yes, the OS app on our phones or our Garmin is terrific, but our technology is deskilling us, and that’s a risk in the hills, where we need our wits about us.

My last visit to Whernside was not 1982. It was around 2006. I came up from Dent that day. November I think. I made the summit with the left side of me white with frost, and my ear burning. I came down with tinnitus, which still bothers me off and on. That was a very cold day, a good day, another journey in life’s album of eternal nows.

A wall runs along the summit, and there’s a curved shelter which gets us out of the wind today. We catch up with the senior lady and exchange pleasantries. She is joined by a Yorkshireman who claims never to have been up the hill before. When asked why not, he explains with a grin that he could never get his van up it.

The way off the hill used to be like free-fall but, like many of our most treasured mountains, much has been done to tackle erosion, and there is now a carefully laid, twisty path that snakes us down in double quick-time, towards the valley bottom. Then it’s a couple of miles through pleasant pastures, back to Ribblehead, and the car. About eight and a quarter miles round, fourteen hundred feet of ascent.

I was never a hill athlete. I could not have climbed Whernside, having first climbed Penyghent and walked the moors from Horton. I could never have then gone on to tackle that imposing wall of Ingleborough. Those who attempt the three peaks have my admiration. That’s a walk that takes fitness, and character.

So, anyway, back to the car. A lonely spot, Ribblehead – a collection of cottages and a pub, but it has a railway station. Coffee and cakes next, then. A toss up between Horton and Ingleton. Okay, … Ingleton it is. Beats working.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

in martindale

 “Mazzy”, the small blue car in Martindale, Westmoreland

I wave to fellow Mazda MX5 drivers. They don’t always wave back but it cheers me up when they do. It’s mostly the guys who’ll reciprocate. Girls will only rarely acknowledge you. Mk 4’s are the worst for not responding, unless driven by an older, old-school silver fox, and then you’ll always get a wave.

It’s just part of the scene, and a pleasant one. I think old Landies and Bugs have a similar thing going on. It proves we’re still human, that we’re enthusiastic about irrational things, that we’re quirky. It tells me there’s still hope.

But I thought the Mazda was into her last year this year. Her back wings and sills were rusting out, and I’d had a quote for repair beyond what she was realistically worth. Then I shopped around a bit and got a price for the sills that would at least get her through the MOT. The guy made a pretty good job of it too – matched the paint and everything. He was pleased I was pleased. And I was pleased that he was pleased that I was pleased. As for the wings, they’re okay from a distance, and I can make a go of patching them myself once the bubbles break, slow the process down with Waxoyl, get them professionally done at some point later on. I’ve also had a dodgy ABS sensor, so all told it’s been an expensive year this year but we’re set up now for a little longer, and as winter comes on, I’m already looking forward to the spring when we can get the top down again and go explore some more narrow roads in the Dales.

At sixteen years old, I’ve got to expect something pretty much all the time now. Speaking of which there’s an occasional howl coming from the front passenger side wheel at low speed on full lock, and I don’t know what that’s about – the cheap option is a sticking brake cylinder, the expensive one is a wheel bearing. I’ll mention that at the service come December’s end, but ’till then we’ll see how it goes. Engine and transmission are still like new (touch wood). I’ve had the car five years now and she’s such a pleasure to own, I want to keep her going for ever. She’s done coming up on ninety thousand now so she’s good for a while yet. A colleague has the same marque, but his had done a quarter of a million and had just started smoking. It was worth about a hundred as scrap and he still didn’t want to let her go.

My other car, what had been my main driver, a four year old Ford Focus went in the autumn, and good riddance. The Powershift started playing silly buggers, and not for the first time, so I sold it back into the trade for a massive loss, but that was better than it bankrupting, or killing me. It’s such a pleasure to be without it I’m still basking in the afterglow one less seriously squeaky hinge, and for sure I’ll not be driving a Ford, or an automatic, again for a long time. A rusty, creaky old MX5 is my only battle-bus now, and people wave at me when I drive by.

No one ever waved at me in my Focus.

The finest run we had this year was the little Malham to Arncliffe road, with a return to Stainforth via Littondale. That was a hot day. I’d spent it walking around Malham, but the drive was as much of a pleasure, and you can’t say that about many cars. I had the top down and you could feel the air and smell the meadows as we passed. You can thread her up and down most any road with confidence, even with a wide beamed eejit coming at you the other way, and she’s a bottomless pit of torque for the hills. Sometimes I forget I’m pushing sixty, the fun I’ve had with that car. Or is it more a gesture of defiance, that you’re just a hair’s breadth from being twenty five again and it’s all a question of spirit? That’s it, I think. She revives my spirit.

The grey slab commuter mule was the thing imposed on me by forces beyond my control, and not much I could do about it and come out the other end feeling at all like a responsible adult. But come weekend, I’d toss the walking boots in the Mazda and we’d take off somewhere beautiful, just the two of us. Like a love affair.

The finest drive we’ve had to date, I think, was round Ullswater to Pooley, then Howtown and up the zig zags into Martindale, a stormy looking day but we managed the top down until our return to Glenridding when it caught us up and we had to batten the hatches down. I took coffee at the Hotel there and I remember coming out and seeing her beaded with rain and looking like a dream. We’d still a hundred miles to go but I’d no worries she wasn’t up for it. That Focus, I’d’ve been waiting for it shivering through the changes at every junction, and wondering if it was going to drop out of drive, or even take it up at all. Thanks for all your help with that one Mr Ford – I’m still waiting for your call by the way.

Japan looks like a beautiful country – don’t suppose I’ll ever go, and it seems odd to be driving a car that was put together there and got itself shipped half way round the world to end its days with me, skipping around the Lakes and Dales. I wonder if she’s ever homesick, if she’s just putting a brave face on things, or if she’s really happy?

It was a short run today, out for breakfast at a local cafe, then off to the shop for supplies. She’s resting in the garage now chatting to the mice. I passed two Mk 1’s and a Mk 2.5. All waved.

None of us were drowning.

Read Full Post »

penyghent from horton irThere were three events at Horton in Ribblesdale on Saturday. I’m not sure what they were exactly but I assume each involved a lot of boots scrambling over the Dales’ three peaks – Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. It also meant the carparks were pretty much filled up by mid-morning. It was a relief to find somewhere to leave the car on the overflow.

You can usually see Penyghent from Horton. It resembles the prow of a mighty ship, sailing a rolling green ocean of moor over Brackenbottom, but not today. It was in a strop over something, possibly all the attention it was getting. There was a riot outside the cafe, start of the three peaks route, an army of excited children, hundreds of them, squealing at a pitch fit to burst eardrums while their minders bellowed instructions. An optimistic notice on the wall urged a more respectful tone in consideration of neighbours. I hope none of them were trying to lie in that morning, let alone nursing hangovers.

Better get cracking then. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck at the back of that lot. I managed a ten minute start before I heard them swarming up the track behind me. It was a more strenuous ascent of the hill than I’m used to then, one lacking the luxuries I normally allow myself of lots of pauses to admire the view and take photographs. I would have let them pass, but there were other armies of pixies, elves and dwarves all mustering in the rear and it would have taken the entire day.

The route ahead was also very busy, in particular there were jams of jittery folk on all the craggy bits below the summit plateau, and then a walking day procession along the paved way to the trigpoint. More squealing children awaited my arrival there, while a party of crusty old curmudgeons cracked open a whisky bottle and splashed out generous measures of amber comfort. It was an eclectic gathering for sure, ages ranging from five to eighty five, the atmosphere one of festival, of celebration. There is no other hill like Penyghent on a weekend afternoon.

Starting out overcast, the weather had turned a bit edgy, a light breeze at valley level stiffening to a bitter easterly. I crouched on the leeward side of the wall, some distance away from the merriment. The wind was blowing clean through it, chilling the sweat on my back, so I used the sack as a windbreak and caught my breath at last – long slow breaths, filling my lungs with that musty, muddy, metallic air of the high places.

Then the army of elves, pixies and dwarves caught up, and the summit was lost to madness as they over-ran it. Time to move on. I pressed, squished and excused my way through the crowd to get anywhere near the stile, then queued for my turn to get over it. Ahead of me, crocodile after crocodile of three peakers headed west into the wind-blown mist, jackets flapping like lubberly spinnakers all along the well trodden way to Whernside. How a mountain can take such punishment as this, day in day out and remain beautiful, I don’t know. If you like your mountains quiet, and Penyghent’s still on your bucket list, come mid week, term-time, and come early.

Three Peakers are a mixed bunch and, yes, they make me grumble. It’s this apparent blindness to the metaphysical dimension of the hills, for how can they be tuned in to that when half of them have phones glued to their ears? They come to do battle, while for me a walk is more of a cooperative endeavour between oneself, the mood of the hill, and the weather. Still, I do admire their grit. I didn’t follow them, I headed north instead, along the line of the wall into a high moorland wilderness, towards the more sublime, summitless solitude of Plover Hill.

Plover Hill is Penyghent’s quieter, less intrusive neighbour. If we include it in our day’s outing it makes for a more significant leg-stretcher, the round from Horton being then a shade under ten miles. It also affords time for a more peaceful contemplation of the Dales. I did not meet a soul again until crossing the three peaks route once more, above Horton.

Conservation work has improved the descent from Plover Hill, which had begun to scar quite badly, recent rock-paving bringing us safely down to the broad valley that carries the Foxup road, a lonely, pathway, linking the villages of Foxup and Horton. If you’re looking to put some miles between yourself and the next person – even on a busy summer’s weekend in the Dales, Plover Hill and the Foxup Road are a good place to start.

Back at Horton, feet on fire by now, I was ready for a brew but the cafe was still besieged by screaming pixies. They looked too fresh to be returning, but couldn’t be setting off so late in the day, the whole three peaks round having to be completed in under 12 hours if you want your badge, and rather them than me, I thought. I gave them a wide berth, retrieved the car from the sheep plopped meadow, and drove to Settle for a more restful pot of tea and a toasted teacake at the Naked Man.

Early retirement from the rat-race features ever greater in my plans these days as the light at the end of my personal tunnel of captivity grows brighter. I have wondered about the Dales villages, of downsizing, of nesting up in an old stone cottage within sight and sound and easy access to these beautiful hills. It’s an idle fancy for now. I’m probably better where I am, just driving in as needs be, but if I did decide to do it, I wouldn’t be moving to Horton in Ribblesdale.

Simply too many boots on the ground these days.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

freddie gilroy 1Overnight rain dries to a clear, sunny morning. Breakfast at the Park is rendered comical by the positioning of my table next to the kitchen doors and the breakfast buffet. With each passing soul, diner or staff, the floor rocks beneath me on account of wobbly boards underneath. I resist sea-sickness and enjoy a fine full English breakfast.

There is always something one could complain of in life, but I am rested and magnanimous this morning, after a mostly sound night’s sleep. And I can smell the coffee. Only the lusty, squealing climax of the amorous couple across the landing disturbed me, and then only briefly. Afterwards they passed out and slept as soundly as I. I see them at breakfast, not a young couple by any means. Clearly youth is not everything when it comes to bedroom gymnastics.

I make a quick check on the Mazda – the carpark here is small and steep and I am fearful of accidents. I have snicked her into first gear in case the handbrake fails and she rolls. Mr. Happy sits against the gear stick, a note in his hands reminds me: “car in gear”. I’ve been driving four four days, and I’m letting both her and me rest today.

Instead, I walk to South Bay, along the marine dive. There, I loiter around the harbour for a bit, then sit with mug of sweet tea enjoying the bustle and the sunshine, before returning, taking pleasure in the sea air. The promenade here is not natural, North and South bays being originally isolated from one another by the steep headland, atop which sits the castle. Heroic engineering works, begun in 1907 finally established the marine drive and an impressive thing it is too.

Of the two bays I prefer the North. Here, on the promenade, raised up on his supersized bench, we pass an impressive and highly emotive sculpture of local old soldier, Freddie Gilroy, a sort of “freehand sketch” in welded steel is how it’s described by its creator, the county Durham sculptor Ray Lonsdale. Freddie represents the millions of ordinary people thrust into the extraordinary circumstances of the second world war, where they saw things the likes of which few of us can imagine. Freddie’s regiment finished the war at Bergen Belsen, where he tells us he could smell the death from three miles away. He was 24, “celebrated” his birthday amid the horror of the camp and wept. He tells us he wept every birthday afterwards. Now he sits staring meditatively out to sea. This is a work held in great affection by residents and visitors alike, and unlike many a piece of public sculpture it tells a powerful story.

The I am thinking back to breakfast and imagine Herr Gruber of the Maison Du Lac, asking me why I do not complain about my table. Is it my stereotypical Engishness? my aversion to making a fuss? I reply that the English can be as rude as anyone, and any way, I may not be so English as I seem. And sometimes I prefer to be positioned where others might not. Or is it more that I fear asserting my true nature?

On the return walk, I catch a scent of the sea. It surprises me. I have also smelled coffee in the last few days, raising hopes my anosmia is once again cycling into remission. I have smelled nothing since June. The sea is briny, of course, but also faintly and beautifully perfumed. The latter is possibly an aberration of my errant senses, but delightful all the same. The tide is in, the breakers pounding on the sea defences. A colony of killer gulls inhabits the pale sandstone cliffs of the headland. They screech agressively and hurl poop at passers by. (Only joking)

scarboroughA character enters my head and begins to converse, to open more possibilities for my story. He is an old man. Late Seventies, impeccably dressed in country tweeds and tie.

Let me see: thus far we have Finn, a man who has lost everthing and is facing the remaining decades of his life without purpose or meaning. We have the Goth woman at the Sea View Cafe, and now we have the old gentleman. He is lonely, bears it stoically. And we have a young man, challenged by the lack of opportunity in Carrickbar, a run down seaside resort. He is capable of much but lacks the intellect to be pulled to safety by education. And of course at some point we have the Queen of Carrickbar.

She is Russian for now – eastern European certainly, stranded in Carrickbar by divorce. She’s a looker, a mature woman, blonde, shapely, perfect except for having a mouth like a fishwife. She used to be wealthy, but is now living in faded glory and clinging to her dignity by whatever means she can. And she is dying, I think – at least this is what she whispers to me – though at present this seems too mawkish. Finn must help her, but without making a lover out of her, and he must help the young man, her son. And he must help the old man.

The goth woman, Hermione? is in love with Finn from the opening chapters. But he doesn’t know.

The sketch of it deepens, but I hold back for now. Things will change as the characters interact and shape things to suit themselves. The theme of the story I think is that life can have no meaning if we look only to life for what we can take or recieve from it. In taking from life we can all too easily lose our way. It is only by giving back, and selflessly, do we find ourselves again. Only by givng does the emptiness dissolve and the love of and in life return. This is how Finn must act, how his thoughts must lead him if he is to find the will to live on.

It’s a long walk to South Bay and back. I meet many hardy elderly people, meet them again on the return. One of them is an old lady, her dogs make it one way only. On the return she pushes them in a perambulator. I am not conscious of working the story in my head as I walk. It’s more that the characters know I am open and avail themselves of the opportunity and the space of my emptiness.

scarborough 2Coffee in the room and courtesy biscuits for lunch. Then I test my assertiveness at reception and ask for my table to be changed. Dinner is not cheap here, and I would not want to find the experience irritating. Tables are juggled at once, and I am reassured I will be more out of the way – though I worry about what “out of the way” means. I also feel guilty that someone else will be sitting at the wobbly table by the kitchen doors. My assertiveness brings me comfort but note it comes only at the expense of someone else.

There is a band concert in Peasholme Park. The bandstand is in the middle of the lake, its pagoda roof is colonised and thoroughly pooped upon by ugly killer gulls. The band is more of a brass quartet, but very competent and enthusiastic. They play the theme tune to Coronation Street and Dad’s Army, and in the interval it rains. The audience materialise umbrella’s and mackintoshes. An English summer brings out an English resolve to see the thing through.

I return to the hotel, consider a swim but the pool is accessed from the conservatory and there is a posh-frock gathering in there at the moment and they have a smoked glass view of the pool. I decide my strokes would make for poor entertainment, so instead I read out the rain in my room.

I have finished the Coelho I picked up in Leyburn. The Devil and Miss Prym. His thoughtful reads have long been an inspiration. By contrast I am struggling with Toibin’s “The Master”. The rain settles in and raises a hiss from the passing traffic.

Dinner is traditional and plain, the table a good one. The staff are all very young, attentive and smiling. I choose the Sirloin. I did not know it was tradition in Yorkshire to serve the Yorkshire pudding as a separate course between starter and mains. To my relief I note no one is sitting at the wobbly table at my expense.

It is the longest leg of the tour tomorrow, 70 miles, back to the Dales, to Pateley Bridge and the Half Moon Inn.

Read Full Post »

wormy gremlinsGrey, warmish, threatening rain all day but without following through. Managed to keep the top down. The driving from Leyburn is excellent on good roads, fast and curving. As usual the Mazda seems to take about 30 minutes to warm properly, then she purrs and revs sweetly, and with a sharper responsiveness. I enjoy a relaxed run to Richmond. It’s my first visit, and I rely on the ‘Droid to navigate me. This turns out not to be necessary. I park by the Cricket ground and make my way to the Market Square – seemingly ubiquitous to all rural Yorkshire towns. The whole of England was once like this. We have lost so much.

It’s £2.00 to park, £2.00 for coffee in a pretty little tearoom that used to be the bus company office and waiting room. The coffee itself is worth the trip. To the pretty lady at the till, I say the thank you I was not able to at the time, on account of the press of other customers. The day is gloomy-overcast, so I enjoy the castle walk, a pleasing overview of Richmond to be enjoyed for free. There is something about the town that reminds me of Knaresborough, another Yorkshire town I adore. I pass an hour here, then recover the Mazda, drop the top in determined fashion, and retrace my route back to Leyburn, then further south to Middleham. Parking is free at Middleham’s little market square, coffee also free courtesy of thermos and guest house kettle. There are some spots of rain on the run south from here to Masham but I keep the top down and teeth gritted as the car feels so much better when she’s driven al fresco. We avoid a soaking and arrive at Masham for 2:00 pm.

Sadly Masham is grey as the sky, and the hotel room is not ready. There are twelve rooms to be serviced by an overworked and overheated teenage lad, slaving on minimum wage. It seems my anosmia remission allows only the sweetness of sweaty bodies today.  And coffee. Still, I applaud the lad’s fevered and good natured industry.

The room is ready for about 3:00 pm. Room is not great. Grey, dour. It is also strangely corporate and lacking welcome. Courtesy coffee and tea are clearly rationed. Austerity “heavy”. I am by now a little tired, and feeling off-song. The room looks out over dour cobbled backs and buckled rooftops. I can still smell teen sweat.The windows are prevented from opening by more than a crack to admit air, lest I should instead wish to end my life by leaping from them. This smacks of corporate risk assessment. Not cheery. Almost laughable.

By 4:00 pm I am already looking forward to checking out. It is 60 miles to Scarborough tomorrow. For the promised free Wifi one must enquire at the desk. I cannot be bothered.

A 20 minute snooze improves things a little, but I am woken by man in the corridor asserting his displeasure to staff at lack coat hangers, soap, bath mat, and functioning bulbs in his room. I’m clearly more fortunate in that my bulbs work. I realise with a start I also lack bath mat and soapy things, but then remember I have brought my own. I decide to make do with a spit-wash. Hmm. Serious penny pinching here. As for coat hangers I shall manage without unpacking my case.

The Guardian runs with a picture of Kayne West (rapper) and Bob Dylan (legend) on the front page. Scientists have analysed their lyrics and a computer algorithm pronounces the somewhat obvious fact that rap makes greater use of vocabulary. In other parlance it is more wordy. But this equates to nothing; it is a statement of the obvious, and the article puzzles me. I cannot decide if newspapers deliberately make scientists out to be stupid by paraphrasing them, or if such things really are considered worthy of PhD study. Personally I prefer Dylan, but then I am of that generation, and not fond of rap.

The newspapers are also in a lather at the possible election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, some suggesting it is an appalling idea, others more sanguine. The thing that excites them is Corbyn is very left of centre and we have not heard a proper Socialist voice in a long time, or at least not one grossly caricatured in the largely right wing press as raving mad, which of course Corbyn will be if he begins to look like a serious contender. Yet anyone familiar with the Dao knows current times make his appearance more or less a certainty, and some might even say long overdue. Personally I would welcome it, though I am not the Shang-ri-la socialist I once was. Militant socialism is as stupid as swivel eyed conservatism, Corbyn seems more moderate. Left wingers also divide the Labour party, though it was founded on altruistic and inclusive Socialist principles, and a Corbyn ascendency would raise the possibility of a bifurcation into left and right flavoured Labour parties. I wonder what they will be called? It will certainly enliven political debate in the coming years. This is a fascinating turn of events and I am buoyed by it.

Anyway, dinner in the restaurant: Brewer’s Chicken, not bad, though a little “industrial”. The restaurant presents a better face than the hotel’s rooms, though I note the poor couple at the next table are unable to pick anything from the menu that the kitchen has remaining. The waiter keeps returning to them with apologies. They are good natured, though exasperated, and settle finally for what the kitchen has, rather than what they actually want.

I’m letting the story settle for today. I shall pick it up again in Scarborough. I feel a change of working title coming on – Mending Time, perhaps? There will be something about watch repair. The main protagonist, Finn, repairs worthless old watches as a hobby – reflecting my own recent interest in this field.

It’s late now. It’s difficult to focus on anything. The room is hot and there’s an irritating music beat vibrating up from the restaurant below. I hope it doesn’t go on all night!

Read Full Post »

mazzy interior

The weather turned cool and showery by week’s end, making for a wet and windy drive up Wharfedale. Mazzy did not enjoy it as much as her first trip here, back in July. That day the sun shone and the air shimmered with a high-summery heat, and the moors had about them a sluggish, humid quiet. With the top down one could smell the hedgerows and meet the gaze of passers by – share greetings with them as we motored leisurely on. Now though, great curtains of rain pressed in on either side of the valley, spilling over the fells. It had me fumbling for the wipers I’ve not used all year, and of course the top was up, so the world passed remote to all but my visual senses.

We were delayed near Kilnsey by a collision between a camper van and a road sweeper. The camper was a terrible mess, its side torn open and the remains of some poor souls’ holiday spilled all over the road. The queue inched by as best it could while policemen jabbed fingers in ad hoc traffic control. They must have to deal with many such incidents on this stretch, and I don’t envy them the task. The road along the valley of the Wharfe is as narrow and twisty as it’s always been, but the vehicles we’re driving are getting noticeably bigger. Mazzy’s a low slung, narrow slip of a thing, perfect for threading her way up and down country like this, but she and I are moving against the tide which insists what country like this needs is a pumped up four-by-four with the assertive beam of snowplough.

I stopped off for a brew at Buckden, then made pilgrimage to Hubberholme – pronounced “Ubberam”. Hubberholm is a tiny hamlet in upper Wharfedale, beloved of generations of walkers, also home to St Michaels and All Angels, one of the loveliest of our Norman churches. Though the increasing secularisation of society has led to the diminution of moderate religious congregations everywhere, England’s churches retain their potential as foci for binding communities, and in a more prosaic way provide a statutory and timeless continuity with their records of births, marriages and deaths. The church at Hubberhome dates to the 12th century, and has the look of a place that was not actually built at all but rather that it grew organically from the soft earth, here on the banks of the Wharfe. Its pews bear the distinctive adze marks and the unique rodent-motif of the celebrated Mouseman. It has about it the scent of old churches everywhere, and rests in the profound silence that pervades these remote valleys, a silence reinforced for me that morning, stepping out of an old roadster after seventy miles in the pouring rain.

hubberholme church

Saint Michaels and All Angels – Hubberholme

St Michaels and All Angels is the resting place of J.B.Priestly, native of Bradford, novelist and playwright, known to me through his work on the relationship of man with time. I think a lot about the nature of time, and more recently have tied myself in knots with it almost to the point of despair in wrestling with my current work in progress – a work that takes only halting steps forwards these days. For my trip I had packed my toothbrush, but left my laptop behind, thinking to let the story rest for a bit. In making pilgrimage to Hubberholme and JBP, I wasn’t expecting a synchronistic finger pointing to the way out of my literary cul-de-sac; it was more a case of stoking the boiler of imagination, and hoping something would emerge in the fullness of “time”. All the same, my pilgrimage bore fruit, I think, or at least I came away feeling more philosophical about the dilemma. I self-publish to a small audience, for nothing; I write novels like I used to do Origami, for the personal satisfaction of completing a puzzle, rather than labouring for coin. In my current game, as with Origami, there are no deadlines – only pleasure in the folding and unfolding of lines, hopefully winding up with something self-standing at the end of it, and all from a blank sheet of paper. I sometimes forget this, but the timeless peace at Hubberholme, proved a timely reminder that time has no existence other than in its relation to man, and that all deadlines are ultimately defeating of the self.

aysgarth upper falls

Aysgarth upper falls

I stayed the night in Wensleydale, in the pretty little market town of Leyburn, passed a pleasant evening in the Golden Lion and woke on Saturday to a brighter morning. Then I drove to Aysgarth, to the falls. At Aysgarth, the River Ure is rent by a series of dramatic steps over which the waters thunder, all peaty brown, like stewed tea. There is an upper, a middle and a lower falls, spread over a kilometre length of the river, and all accessible by well maintained walkways and viewing points. The National Trust have set up camp here, providing decent car-parking and a visitor centre. It costs £2.50 for a couple of hours, which I didn’t think was too bad, and the falls of course are worth it. Then it was on to Hawes, and from there the long, bleakly spectacular run of the B6255, to Ribblehead. We managed this bit of the run with the top down, Mazzy’s humour lifting enormously, making her roar with the pleasure of it, and lending to the sun-splashed, blue-skied scene, at last, a moving connection that brought a lump to my throat.

It was a weekend of thoughts then, about the nature of time, about writing, and even of Origami. It was also a weekend of waterfalls and old churches. And it was a weekend of roads, the best in England, roads that make driving still a pleasure, a pleasure I had largely forgotten on account of long decades spent behind the wheel of a car merely commuting. But as that accident near Kilnsey reminds us, these roads can also exact a terrible price for a moment’s distraction. They are beloved of many, but struggling now to accommodate the sheer variety of transport they nowadays carry. Along the way I encountered vast lumbering peletons of MAMILS; I came upon huge farm vehicles hauling skyscrapers of hay; then there were the wide-beamed Chelsea tractors, the caravans, the motorhomes; and there were entire squadrons of ton-up motorcycles, a half glimpsed minuscule dot in one’s rear view mirror, then roaring past your ear like a jet fighter barely a second later,…

Even in remoteness these roads can at times feel terribly crowded. Now and then though the way simply opens, and it’s just you, and the freedom of the Dales.

That’s the magic of it.

Footage: Mazzy’s  dashcam. (Mr Happy was along for the ride)

Drive carefully.

Graeme out.

Read Full Post »

Mazzy at BuckdenI wanted to give the car a decent run this weekend, so drove the little road from Bolton Abbey all the way up Wharfedale, then on to Leyburn for the night. It was the weekend after the hugely successful Grand Depart, when the opening stage of Le Tour De France set off from Yorkshire. The aftermath had left all the dales villages still trimmed up and looking very festive with their bunting and yellow bicycles. It had also left the roads in various places scrawled with some very distracting graffiti.

I’d set myself the challenge of completing my own little tour de Yorkshire with the top down. I’m doing well so far, only having had the top up on a couple of journeys, and one of those was because I preferred the imagined security, and a bit of soundproofing, when I took to the motorway. On this occasion though I braved a bit of the M6 from Bamber Bridge to Tickled Trout and then the long stretch of the A59 from Tickled Trout to Bolton Abbey – all of it topless, so to speak – but it was an unnerving experience. I think if we all had to drive this way, we’d be driving a lot slower, and much more carefully.

First stop was the Abbey Tea rooms for coffee and to gather my addled wits. Sixty miles an hour in an old MX5 feels like ninety, and there’s always someone tailgating you. White vans were a particular hazard on that stretch of the A59, having taken over from the usual Beamers and Audis and flourescent Ford Focuses, familiar from the back lanes around home. One had bullied me from the Cross Keys, all the way past Skipton seemingly intent on bulldozing me into the ditch. It may be that I’m used to a quieter, smoother car, but sixty in Mazzy is my limit for now, and plenty fast enough for even the faster sections of the A59. Not fast enough for white van man though. I had fitted a dashcam for the journey but quickly realised it was pointing the wrong way. Instead of pointing out the front, recording potential head-ons, it would have been better pointing backwards. I’m not sure if there’s a You Tube channel called Mad Tailgaters, but I’m thinking of starting one.

Bolton Abbey marks the beginning of the run up the Wharfe, and it’s a great place to refresh yourself. I was too early for scones, so made do with a stiff Americano and some deep breaths. But already the day was shaping up for the better. There were old English roadsters on the car park here – Morris, Alvis, MG – all from the thirties and the forties, a much more civilised era for motoring, an era when the brakes were rubbish, there were no airbags and petrol was sixpence a gallon. I wondered how they’d managed the A59, and the tailgaters. The owners, rather well groomed, silver haired gentlemen – tweed jacket and cap types with clipped accents – looked calm and unruffled as they took their refreshment. Maybe I just don’t have the Spitfire spirit, and needed to buck up a bit.

Bolton Abbey is a popular tourist destination, but not the sort of place to visit if you’re touring. Part of a private estate, the entrance fee is now over £8 per person. That said, there are a lot of grounds to enjoy, a beautiful section of the river, and then there’s the Strid, where the Wharfe is squished down to a narrow passage between crags that you can (almost) leap, and most likely drown when you miss. But you need a full day to do justice to the visit, and the admission fee. On this occasion, I was not tempted. This trip was all about the drive – and a bit of walking. The price of a cup coffee was the only thing Bolton Abbey got out of me.

The road up the Wharfe was a delight, the car coming alive once more on the tight bends and through the rises and hollows. An overcast start to the day dissolved here into blue skies and sunburn, and by the time I reached Burnsall Bridge, both the car and my heart were singing with the joy of it.

You can’t go fast here – too many cyclists and horses, but thirty feels like fifty in Mazzy so you don’t need to be racing to feel like you’re flying. Burnsall is another popular tourist destination, a pretty village and a fine old bridge spanning the river, also partly the setting for my timeslip short story, Katie’s Rescue. It’s a good spot for picnics or for commencing a walk, but I was heading up to Buckden, at the top of the dale, so passed on without haemorrhaging shrapnel on the carpark.

The price of tourist parking tends to discourage touring. You can see most of these places in an hour before moving on to the next, but at the prices charged you want to settle in and make the most of them, which is perhaps not a bad thing. The National Trust finally got me at Buckden, charging me £4.20 to leave my car while I had a walk up the Pike. As an illustrative aside, a few hours later I was in Aysgarth, wondering about visiting the falls, but I didn’t because it hardly seemed worth the price of parking the car again, for what would have amounted to no more than an hour’s visit. It would have been good to see the falls, but I’ve seen them before, and you don’t need to pay money to experience the sublime. If you’ve not been to Aysgarth, ignore my tight-wad example here and pay up – the falls are spectacular and worth every penny. But remember the sublime is in you. You can find it anywhere, not just where the National Trust or English Heritage set up camp and tell you to.

waterfall buckdenThere’s a beautiful little waterfall in Buckden that’s not even marked on the map. It was by the side of the footpath that descends the Pike and must be known to many a walker, to say nothing of Buckden’s few residents. As I came upon it, the sun was hitting it just right and the colours exploding as if were something not quite real. My photograph here doesn’t do it justice at all. It may not be Aysgarth falls, but has its own water sprites who’s siren call lured me over to spend a grateful break with them.

Buckden was also decked out for the Tour de France, and takes my personal award for the most festive effort. I met a lady the following day who was looking for a supermarket, as she’d taken a cottage in Buckden for the week. We laughed, agreeing that there wasn’t a lot in Buckden, and it’s true, you’ll struggle to find a supermarket there, but there’s a whole lot more besides and, apart from that carpark, it won’t cost you anything. Buckden without doubt is my favourite Dales village – apart from all the others of course.

Finally it was on to Wensleydale, to Leyburn and a homely B+B for the night. It was my first time in Leyburn, a small, historic market town. I’d made a reconnaissance trip on Google Streetview the night before, and thought the place looked a bit dour, but nothing could have been further from the truth. They had the bunting up here as well – the Tour de France seems to have visited every town and village in Yorkshire! Leyburn’s a good stopping off place for a tour, with plenty of pubs and restaurants around the main square.

One’s always a bit self conscious, travelling alone and walking on spec into the first pub that takes your fancy, but I was at my ease in minutes, the landlady calling me “My Love” like I was a regular and settling me down to a fine, flavoursome Steak and Ale pie. I’ve visited many a UK town where the lone traveller’s self consciousness was not assuaged, and where the locals proved to be standoffish and downright queer. Leyburn is definitely not one of them. Both Mazzy and I received a warm welcome, and we’ll be coming again.

It was altogether the best day of the Summer thus far, to be bettered only by the day that followed it.

If there’s a heaven, I’d like it to be the Yorkshire Dales, and an old blue car to explore it in.

Topless, of course.

le grand depart buckden

Read Full Post »