A Crayfish Called Kevin

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(c) Kim Ralls

Driving to the top of Bishopdale along the narrow, winding road is not my favourite experience. After looking out over fields and barns and farm buildings, the walls and hedges close round and you’re left with just the road ahead to look at. Eventually the road takes a steep climb that seems neverending until, engine labouring and brow damp with sweat (or perhaps that’s just me), you reach Kidstones Pass and look out over the majestic hills and weather-worn crags of Wharfedale.

Back in May I went on a half-day photography course run by Guy Carpenter (of Gullwing Photography) around Semer Water. It was a very rewarding experience and when Guy announced a photography walk around the top of Wharfedale, I got in touch and said I’d be there. The van managed the climb up to Kidstones a little better than the old 1 litre hatchback I used to own – first gear and swearing was my method of ascent in that vehicle – and I was rewarded with the sight of the sun-bathed countryside sprawling beneath a clear blue sky.

I met up with the rest of the group – Guy, Iris, Vanessa and Sarah – in Buckden pay-and-display car park and we set off down the Hubberholme Road with the sun at our backs and cameras in hand.

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1. The River Wharfe at Buckden (c) Kim Ralls

The first stage of the walk followed the banks of the Wharfe upriver towards Hubberholme – one of my favourite Dales place-names. The water was beatifully clear and flanked on either side by lush meadows teaming with wildflowers and herbs that Iris – an expert in such matters – pointed out to us and listed their various medical or nutritional properties. I had been sneezing violently all morning and began to hope that Iris would suddenly announce a wild herb that, if munched, would not only prove tasty, but would alleviate my hay fever (or, even better, cure it completely).

“Well, we won’t have to worry about losing Kim, today,” said Vanessa, after I had a particularly loud sneezing fit. “We’ll hear him coming, no matter where he is!”

Such unbridled sympathy was to set the tone for most of the day.

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2. Looking back the way we had come – the river is left of the photo behind the trees (c) Kim Ralls

The talk wasn’t all instructional. Guy had pointed out that the aim of the walk was more social than anything else and we talked with each other about ourselves and our interests (other than photography) and whatever else came to mind. Vanessa mentioned she is a postlady in Swaledale and Sarah runs her own design and framing business. It was all very informal and pretty soon it was like meeting up with old friends who I hadn’t seen for years.

Our progress was slow and sedate as we stopped at various points to take photos of the hills and the trees climbing their slopes. I had looked on a map before coming out and noted with regret that there were no footpaths marked through the trees. I’ve mentioned my love of rivers and waterfalls in previous blog entries, but I should also say that I am a sucker for a woodland trail. I made a mental note to look on my map when I got home to see if there were any woodlands walks nearby – I wouldn’t mind if I had to drive, either.

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3. Looking down Wharfedale (c) Kim Ralls

The path veered away from the river bank and we headed towards the road. The meadows were carpeted with buttercups and other wildflowers waving their heads in a gentle breeze. We passed a rusting trailer sitting amongst thistles by a dry stone wall. Naturally I climbed on top, marvelling at how hot the metal was under the sun. The others took photos and then I jumped off and landed in a patch of thistles; somehow my hay fever didn’t seem so bad at that moment…

For a narrow country lane, the road to Hubberholme was very busy. Cars rolled passed in long convoys, the passengers waving to us and our cameras. Some had the windows up – presumably the ones with air conditioning – whilst others had the windows or roofs down to enjoy the breeze and the smells of the countryside.

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4. My attempt at an ‘arty’ black and white shot (c) Kim Ralls

We walked towards Hubberholme, jumping onto the verge when a car or caravan came by. The road goes through Hubberholme and, eventually, to Gayle and Hawes. It’s not the easiest of routes, being narrow and winding and steep in places, so I was surprised to see so many vehicles on it.

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5. Hubberholme (c) Kim Ralls

We passed the pub at Hubberholme and crossed the little stone bridge over the Wharfe. The village is tiny – more a large farm with a couple of houses, a pub and a church – but beautiful, hidden away as it is at the junction of Wharfedale and Langstrothdale. A little stone bridge crosses the Wharfe and we went over and into the churchyard. I’m not religious, but I love peeking inside the little country churches around the Dales. After the heat of the sun, it was blissfully cool inside. Sunlight illuminated stained glass and the building had that musty-sweet smell of old hymn books, wooden pews and cool stone. I learnt, later on, that this church is the resting place of JB Priestley’s ashes (apparently, he had a particular fondness for Hubberholme and I can’t say that I blame him).

Even with the sun through the windows and lights hanging from the church ceiling, it was dim inside the church and it took a few adjustments before I got the settings on my camera right. With a modern DSLR, you can have the camera do everything for you, or you can select different modes that give you more and more control over the images it takes. This is one of the reasons I enjoy photography so much; working with a piece of technology and learning what it can and can’t do through my own experiments and mistakes and successes.

Near the door, like so many other churches in the Dales, was a table with a charity box and a collection of leaflets and souvenirs made by members of the congregation. In a little bowl, someone had left a number of knitted mice with a suggested donation written on a piece of laminated paper. Of course, we all bought one.

I wanted to call mine Yockenthwaite after the next village on our route, but Iris pointed out that Yocken is actually a Dutch first name and so I went with that.

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6. Yocken (on the left) and a friend (c) Kim Ralls

I was a little reluctant to leave the church behind. I was enjoying the peaceful atmosphere and there were many more photos that I wanted to take. We left with our mice and walked into the sunlight, remarking to each other just how hot it had become whilst we were inside.

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7. Exploring Hubberholme Church (c) Kim Ralls

We followed a footpath round the back of the church and up a slope that followed the river once more. We passed through more meadows and my hay fever came back with renewed vigour.

“Try not to scare the sheep,” said Guy.

Following the river meant walking in the shade of trees and bushes growing along the bank and a slight relief from the sun’s heat. Back home the news would be commenting on how long it had been since the country had experienced such sustained hot weather. In the meadows we were enjoying the views and hoping we’d all packed enough sun cream – I was turning a shade of red to match Yocken.

A low dry stone wall followed the river on our left. At a break in the stones we climbed down to a shaded stretch of the river and took shoes and socks off to enjoy the cold water. There was a tiny waterfall where the water had carved a trough in the rock. Along the length of the trough, the water had undercut the stone and I took far too many photos of this feature before realising I was crouching down in water with my phone in my shorts pocket. Luckily it was dry and still working, even if there was no mobile signal. In fact, I had been without a mobile signal since Kidstones and I wasn’t missing it.

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8. (c) Kim Ralls
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9. Sarah (left) and Vanessa (right) enjoying the water (c) Kim Ralls

We were thinking about getting our packed lunches out when Iris said “Look, there’s a crayfish!”

We all rushed over and Guy fished it out of the water. Well, what was left of it. The back half of the body was missing and, nearby, we found another crayfish in the same state. Perhaps they had fought to the death – one was larger than the other, but from what happened later on, I don’t think size was a problem.

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10. And, amazingly, both were called Arthur Crayfish… (c) Kim Ralls

We left the halves of crayfish behind and moved to a sunny part of the rocks where we broke out the sandwiches and water and (in Iris’ case) the cheese and crackers.

Yes, Iris actually brought cheese and crackers!

In fact, it was her own homemade nettle cheese which I tasted and was pleasantly surprised by. Not only that, but it turns out that nettles had anti-histamine properties and my hay fever didn’t surface once for the rest of the walk!

Whilst we were feasting, we noticed movement in the water and were delighted to find a live crayfish waddling along the shallows. We jointly christened him Kevin and Guy picked him up out of the water to get a better look and so we could all photograph him. Kevin wriggled and squirmed and escaped from Guy’s fingers, landing on a rock with pincers raised to attack anyone foolish enough to get too close.

Eventually, Kevin scuttled back into the water, though he stood for a few moments regarding us with beedy eyes and open pincers before retreating for good.

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11. “Come on if you think you’re ‘ard enough!” (c) Kim Ralls

We followed the path through more meadows until we reached Yockenthwaite and another bridge across the river. The infallible font of human knowledge that is Wikipedia refers to Yockenthwaite as both a hamlet and a village (I’m not going to split hairs by mentioning that, lacking a church, the former is the correct term), but it’s more of a loose collection of farms close to the river.

Except that, when we arrived, the river wasn’t there; the bed had completely dried up leaving nothing but rocks and stones. Guy’s intention had been to carry on for a little way and then come back along a higher footpath. Instead, we walked through the little farm that sat beside the river bed and climbed the track until it levelled off and followed the slopes of the hill back towards Hubberholme.

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12. Looking down Langstrothdale (c) Kim Ralls

The path was rough and uneven and in a couple of places we were not so much walking as scrambling up the hill. The view across the dale was stunningly clear and beautiful, the colours of the land and the sky so sharp (even with sunglasses on). I’m no good as a painter, but I can imagine that any artist would love to sit and paint the landscape of Langstrothdale, especially on such a splendid summer’s day.

By this time, I had emptied my water bottle and was regretting not bringing a spare with me. However, Sarah was kind enough to let me have one of hers – everybody else had brought several bottled drinks with them and I felt a little amateurish in comparison. We reached the top of the climb and looked out across the dale.

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13. (c) Kim Ralls

The wall at the top of the climb was broken in places and there were sheep grazing everywhere, even in places that you wouldn’t expect them to reach. Ruined barns stood on the edges of crags like watchtowers on ancient cliffs looking for marauders. The only marauders in the dale that day were photographers and ramblers – the latter carrying alpine sticks instead of battleaxes, though I still wouldn’t tangle with them.

The path followed a broken wall up to the edge of a small wood where we sighed with collective relief at a break from the sun. It was mid afternoon by now, but the heat was showing no signs of abating and we were glad for even a brief respite.

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14. I can’t stand it when people don’t take their rubbish home with them! (c) Kim Ralls

We passed out from under the trees and walked down the hill to Scar House. The couple who own it have turned their home into one of the best tea rooms I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. We sat on a picnic bench in the front garden and tried to decide what flavour of ice-cream to order. A group of ramblers were seated on the other benches enjoying cream teas. Iris, Vanessa, Sarah and I had a helping of ice-cream each and Guy went for a scone with jam and cream. I’m afraid my respect for him plummeted when he put the cream on his scone before the jam – is nothing sacred?!

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15. Scar House (c) Kim Ralls

We left with some reluctance, bidding farewell to the ramblers and thanking the house’s owners for the ice-cream. It was getting into early evening and we were all starting to feel worn out from the day’s exertions. The path from Scar House down to Hubberholme was paved and a lot easier on the feet than the climb up from Yockenthwaite. Looking to my left, I could see Buckden pike and the slopes where the B6160 climbs up passed the White Lion pub at Cray and then levels off over Kidstones before dropping down in Bishopdale. Above Kidstones was a beautifully smoothe cloud formation that begged to be photographed. So I did.

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16. Lenticular cloud over Buckden Pike (c) Kim Ralls

The path sloped down and rejoined our original route above Hubberholme church. From there we simply retraced our steps back up the road and over the meadow by the banks of the Wharfe. It had been a beautiful day and, as we parted company and went our seperate ways, I felt a tired satisfaction from having spent a rewarding time exploring a new part of the Dales and making new friends.

Including Kevin.

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Wave goodbye Kevin (c) Kim Ralls

Searching For The Ingleborough Giant

It was a two word legend over a low spur of Inglebrough on an OS map (OS Explorer OL2) that caught my eye. It said ‘Giant’s Grave’ and I went online to look up information on any legends of giants associated with Ingleborough, second-highest peak in North Yorkshire and one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks. I found no information; no folk-tales or tall stories collected in pubs over a few pints. What I did find was a reference to neolithic burial mounds that, apparently, were thought by locals to be the graves of giants. I traced the footpath on the map and saw that it eventually joined up with part of the Ingleton Waterfall Trail. I can never resist a waterfall and here was a walk that had them in abundance. Be still my beating heart!

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My own map of the walk. Numbers correspond to images in this entry. (c) Kim Ralls

And so I drove from Thoralby to Ingleton via Hawes with Jimi Hendrix thundering from the van’s speakers. The sheep in the fields I passed looked decidedly unimpressed, though that might have been the weather. The skies were overcast and there was a stiff breeze blowing, but the forecast had promised that it would be dry, if nothing else. I parked at the Pay and Display in the village – there is actually a layby next to the start of the footpath on the B6255, but it’s on quite a tight bend and I didn’t like the idea of leaving the van there. On the map, follow the B6255 into town and the car park is in the very bottom left-hand corner.

I walked back the way I had driven into town, passing the turn-off for Clapham and Ingleborough Caves (a small, out-of-the-way network open to the public). Next to the afore-mentioned layby is the start of Fell Lane, a farm track covered in a hard core that winds up the lower slopes of Ingleborough before terminating in the intriguingly-named Crina Bottom farm. I slogged up the track, turning ever now and then to catch my breath and photograph the sun breaking through the clouds in the distance.

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1. Looking down towards Ingleton (c) Kim Ralls

If I had been feeling more adventurous, I might have stayed on this track and ignored the giant’s grave in favour of climbing to the summit of Ingleborough. Alfred Wainwright went on record as describing one of the routes to the summit as the finest walk in the Dales and, as I looked around at limestone crags and the distant ridge of Whernside (the highest peak in North Yorkshire) I could appreciate what he meant. A good walk isn’t necessarily about distance or difficulty, but what you can see and appreciate with your own two eyes.

My two eyes could see sheep in fields and walkers on the path ahead and rocks weathered by countless years of Yorkshire weather. I pressed on until I came to the junction where I had to leave Fell Lane (I would leave Ingleborough summit – and Crina Bottom – for another day).

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2. And I did (c) Kim Ralls

The above sign wasn’t just to do with not disturbing livestock, but because this area is chock full of shake holes and pot holes and caves going down hundreds of feet below the ground. The last time I was in this area was with my sister when we decided to visit Ingleborough caves. The guide asked if we’d ever seen Gaping Gill. We hadn’t and he gave us directions that took us up the lower slopes of the mountain and to a hole in the ground that opens up into a 322ft deep cave with the largest unbroken waterfall in the country. Once or twice a year groups of people set up a winch over Gaping Gill so that people can have themselves lowered down to the bottom of the cave – I’m not entirely sure why.

Suffice it to say, I stayed as close to the wall as I could and looked for the burial mound that, according to the OS map on my phone, I was virtually on top of. I reached the far end of the field and climbed a ladder stile. There was a large boulder in the next field that caught my eye, but no great mound or barrow like the ones I’d seen in other neolithic sites around the country. I wasn’t expecting rings of standing stones, or a collapsed entry or the neolithic equivelant of a blue plaque. Just a mound in the middle of a field would do; something that looked even vaguely man-made. But there was nothing but that boulder in the middle of the field. A boulder on its own in the middle of a field. A large boulder. On its own. In the middle of a…

Oh.

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3. Maybe he wasn’t a very big giant (c) Kim Ralls

I won’t say it was an anticlimax – I rode on the London Eye once – but I will admit to feeling a little deflated. I took a photo for posterity and to allow me to catch my breath.

I followed the wall down towards the roadside and waited for the traffic to thin long enough for a mad dash to the other side. I found myself in a patch of woodland with a sign pointing the way to Beezley farm where I would join the Waterfall Trail. Over the sound of the wind in the trees and the cars on the road I could hear a rhythmic thumping and rumbling. After a few yards I passed through a gate and walked across a paved stretch of road, the entrance to the local quarry.

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4. Ingleton Quarry – somehow it looks less drab in black and white (c) Kim Ralls

Into a field and down towards a stile where, looking behind me, I could see the White Scar Caves visitor centre. This was one of the wet weather trips out my parents took us on when we first holidayed in the Dales in the mid nineties. It’s not a cheap attraction (nearly a tenner for an adult and six quid for a child), but the cave network is very impressive and, without spoiling it for anyone, the finale is definitely worth the expense.

I turned away from looking towards White Scar Caves and looked at the limestone crags of Twistleton Scars. I tried taking a photo of the scars, but with the sky overcast and being quite some distance, I’m afraid I couldn’t do them justice. Take it from me, they are beautiful and I’m planning to walk along their tops in the near future where I hope there will be plenty of opportunities to photograph their splendour.

The path sloped down to a wide stream with a set of stepping stones running across. I defy anyone to walk over stepping stones and not revert to a small child. I had to resist the temptation to go back and walk across them again, hopping from one stone to the next with a big grin on my face.

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5. (c) Kim Ralls

Over the stepping stones stood Beezley farm and the ticket office to the Ingleton Waterfall Trail. The price was £6.00 for an adult, though there was no one in the ticket office and my shouts of ‘anyone about?’ went unanswered.

The footpath was strewn with signs warning of the dangers of uneven surfaces and slippery patches and steep drops. At the first waterfall I saw a group of men in brightly coloured wetsuits and hard hats taking turns to jump from the rocks into the pool below. I will never understand this desire some people have to throw themselves off a perfectly safe patch of ground into deep water that is probably freezing cold, not to mention the necessity of swimming back to shore – my friends and family will no doubt ask where my sense of adventure is, but then I’ve eaten my own cooking on several occasions.

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6. (c) Kim Ralls

The path followed Twistleton Glen, rising and falling and offering spectacular views of waterfalls of varying heights and shapes and names (though not all listed on the signs). At some points the flow of water was almost hypnotic and it was a wrench to turn my eyes away and carry on walking. When not admiring the waterfalls, I watched birds and squirrels in the trees around me and wondered how much the coins in an acorn-shaped tree stump were worth (and whether anyone would notice if I pulled a few loose).

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7. (c) Kim Ralls

Probably one of the most thrilling parts of this walk for me was the viewing bridge over Baxengyhll Gorge. Leaving the main path, I walked out onto an iron footbridge bolted to the rock face out over the gorge. The waterfall flows a little distance away and if you look straight down you can see the river through holes in the metal. It’s not a place for anyone who doesn’t like heights and my legs felt shaky as I went back to the main path, but it was worth it for the view.

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8. It’s a long way down… (c) Kim Ralls
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9. Do look down (c) Kim Ralls

The cynical amongst us might imagine that I was bored with waterfalls by now and that I hurried to the end of the walk so that I could get back in the van and drive home in time for tea.

Despite an inability to swim in any direction other than straight down, I find waterfalls and rivers fascinating places. I walked along the path and marvelled at each new waterfall I came upon. In places I set up my tripod and took some long exposures to blur the water – yes, it’s an overused technique, but I do enjoy the effect. My favourite of all was Snow Falls near the end of the trail.

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10. Snow Falls (c) Kim Ralls

Framed by trees and bushes, the waterfall seemed perfect from a compositional point of view. I set up the tripod and took some long exposures, finding it hard to balance the light and dark portions of the image. Although the sun was still hidden by the clouds, the light levels kept changing and it was a challenge to get the photos that I wanted. I must have been there for fifteen or twenty minutes before I felt that I had got something that I could use. I made a few adjustments and got ready to take one last photo as a man in ripped jeans and a pair of white trainers ambled by. He glanced at me with my tripod and camera, whipped out his phone, snapped a couple of shots and walked away shaking his head. Each to their own.

I packed up and walked on, crossing the gorge on another vertigo-inducing footbridge before suddenly the trees and bushes opened out and I saw the river down to my right and grey cliffs to my left and the village ahead in the distance.

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11. (c) Kim Ralls

The photos of the river didn’t come out well in the grey light and I’ll have to go back when the sun is shining to do the scene justice. This seemed to be a day for failed photographs, but even when the images don’t work it advances the learning process and I gain a better understanding of how my camera works (and doesn’t work).

The path descended towards the river and then turned away into woodland where I took out the bacon, lettuce and tomato roll I had bought in Hawes and ate it as I walked. Bluebells carpeted the wood on either side of the path and I took a few photos, though I failed to snap the squirrel perched in a distant tree as it watched me with beady eyes.

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(c) Kim Ralls

A little way down I came across a tree studded with slates where people had written their names and little messages and then embedded them in the bark. I found a suitable piece and used another to write my name and the date and added it to the collection next to one that read ‘Ste ♥ Kerry’.

Say it with a bit of slate.

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(c) Kim Ralls
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And they say romance is dead (c) Kim Ralls

The woodland path curved through the bluebells and the trees until it came out at the very bottom of the gorge. This wasn’t the best day for photography out in the open and yet again I failed to get a decent photo of the end of the gorge. A project for another day, perhaps.

It was mid-afternoon by now and with nothing much in the town that I wanted to see, I walked back to the van and headed for home as Jimi Hendrix terrorised the sheep once again.