Marching On The Castle – Part Two

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On reflection, a bacon sandwich in the Bolton Arms at Redmire was probably not the best thing to have when I’m supposed to be on a diet. But, owing to my accute hunger, I wasn’t really in a mood to consider the calorie content of my lunch. The hardest part was resisting the urge to indulge in a slice of cake for desert – I hope, dear reader, that you appreciate the hardships I endure on your behalf.

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16. Redmire Village (c) Kim Ralls

Anyway, having finished lunch I was ready to head back for Aysgarth. I walked through Redmire underneath a beautifully clear sky and followed a side street down to the main road and over a humpbacked bridge and left down a track.

The track changed rapidly from concrete to gravel to mud and I was beginning to lament my lack of a pair of decent walking boots – the boots I wear are little better than trainers with slightly sturdier soles.

17. The track heads off to the left – prepare for mud (c) Kim Ralls

I wallowed and slithered along the track, through two farms and all the while trying to enjoy the sunshine and the sounds of the countryside. Those who’ve read some of my earlier blog entries will know that I have a thing about photographing curlews. I think they’re magnificent birds and with that beak it’s hard to miss them. However, my camera lens can’t zoom in beyond 55mm and the birds normally keep well beyond that distance so all I usually get are black specs in a photo that may or may not be a bird.

On this occasion, I heard their disctinctive calls over the fields and started looking eagerly for them. There was one taking off and gliding overhead and I duly raised my camera and snapped away.

The result, after a bit of cropping, wasn’t too bad. I mean, you can at least tell it’s a bird.

I suppose.

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18. A Curlew. I think… (c) Kim Ralls

Having filled up a large portion of my memory card with bad photos of curlews, I decided it was time to move on and at this point I had a little challenge in mind. Shortly after moving up to the Dales, my sister and I decided to walk from Aysgarth to Leyburn one day, going up through Redmire and down to Leyburn via the Shawl. Part of our route required us to cross the river over a set of stepping stones, except that there had been a lot of rain over the previous days and so the stones were deep underwater and neither of us fancied trying to cross – my sister has an advantage over me in that she can at least swim.

Anyway, you might have noticed that I don’t like leaving things unfinished and so walking back to Aysgarth I thought it might be nice to cross over on the stones and walk back up along the river bank to the churchyard above the falls.

Some way beyond the second farm (Low Thoresby on the map) there is a sign pointing down a bridleway towards the river. The bridleway was slightly flooded and I began to get a sinking feeling. It wasn’t deep, but I couldn’t help wondering if this meant the stones would be impassible again. Oh well, a few extra paces wouldn’t hurt and, let’s be honest, I can always do with the exercise.

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19. It’s a bit damp down there… (c) Kim Ralls

Avoiding the worst of the water, I scrambled down the bridleway and startled a few rabbits clustered around a drystone wall. Approaching the riverbank the trees took on a decidedly scraggly, dry look like the ones you see in dark woods in ghost stories. I could imagine thin, crackling branches moving with more than the breeze on cold nights beneath a sliver of bright moon and decided never to come down here on such a night if only to stop my imagination giving me a heart attack.

I could hear the river before I saw it, a dark streak making its lazy way between tree-lined banks where birds darted in search of insects to munch.

And there were the stones. Or, at least, the froth as the water rushed over their tops and put paid, yet again, to my plans to cross there. On the far bank, a pair of walkers in bright coats were sat with their sandwiches. We waved at each other before I turned to head back up to the main track – I wouldn’t have minded if it hadn’t meant wading through the flooded bridleway again.

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20. They’re under there somewhere… (c) Kim Ralls

Back on track, as it were, I slogged through the mud towards the line of the dismantled railway, pausing only to look at a single glove left on top of a fence post and seemingly waiting for someone to come and claim it.

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21. Missing: have you seen my human? (c) Kim Ralls

Eventually the track opened out just as a phalanx of clouds rolled in across the sun and plunged the countryside into a dim twilight, a marked change from the day so far. To my right stood the farm of High Thorseby and here the path opened out into a small nature reserve complete with a group of geese honking like squeaky gates as they flew overhead, no doubt wondering why this idiot with a camera was struggling along in the mud when it would be so much easier to fly.

They didn’t let me take their photo.

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22. If the countryside looks a bit dull, go for black and white (c) Kim Ralls

The photos don’t quite demonstrate just how boggy the ground was at this point – you have no idea how close I came to going back to the stepping stones and trying my luck.

Ahead I could see the ridge that marked the line of the old railway – the Wensleydale Railway organisation are trying to raise the funds to connect the line all the way to the Settle to Carlisle as it once did – and here I turned away to head over the fields just as the sun came back out and lifted my spirits, although I’d have been happier if it had dried my trouser legs.

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23. More black and white (c) Kim Ralls

The best part about this last stretch of the walk is that it’s mostly downhill which, after a day’s hard slog, was a great relief. Had I the energy, I might even have been inclined to run down the last few… yeah, who am I kidding?

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24. Still boggy, folks (c) Kim Ralls

I passed through the last farm on my route, a small collection of buildings called Hollins House. The path at this point wasn’t well signposted and I had to check the map several times, although it wasn’t quite detailed enough. In short, head diagonally through the farmyard (closing all gates behind you, mind) and you can’t go wrong.

From here it was a short distance to the lower falls and the final ‘home’ stretch up to the car park. I was footsore and covered in mud at this point, but the sense of achievement was worth all the hard toil through mud and up and down the hills – not to mention the lack of a cream tea at the castle.

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25. The Lower Falls (c) Kim Ralls

I wondered up through the woods and through the car park, watching yet more people following the road round from the Upper Falls instead of the perfectly serviceable footpath. I like symmetry in things and a final photo of the Upper Falls seemed the best way to end my day’s outing, especially as the sun had come out once more as if on cue.

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26. Back to the beginning (c) Kim Ralls

 

Marching On The Castle – Part One

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Map (c) Kim Ralls

Driving along the A684 to and from work I never get tired of the view of Bolton Castle nestling snug against the hills with the small village of Castle Bolton stretching to the East. I’ve been on a bit of a health-drive lately after a Christmas of overindulgence (well, what else is Christmas for?) and a walk from Aysgarth Falls to Bolton Castle and back suited my needs perfectly in terms of distance and exertion.

The weather forecast wasn’t great for the day – dry, but cloudy – but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Of course, I could always convert the photos to black and white if they looked a little dull and lifeless in colour.

I had also set myself a little challenge for this walk. I am a person possessed of a lethargic, indolent, laissez-faire approach to life.

Alright. I’m naturally lazy.

I enjoy my creature comforts, but this has the unfortunate side-effect that when taking photos I’ve often let the camera do the lion’s share of the work when deciding on the correct settings for a particular exposure. Some might argue that the automatic modes on a DSLR are there for a reason, but others will insist that ‘proper’ photographers only ever use Manual mode. Anyway, I have a foot in both camps, but I decided that I wanted to actually get to know my camera beyond the basics that I’ve worked out through trial and (mostly) error. Therefore, I decided to set the camera on Manual so that I would have to adjust everything myself and help improve my ability to judge an exposure.

And now for the walk.

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1. Upper Falls, Aysgarth (c) Kim Ralls

I started on the bridge looking at the Upper Falls. The past week had seen quite a bit of rain, not to mention the water that was still coming off the hills from the week of snow courtesy of the so-called ‘Beast From The East’ (when I first heard the term, as I come from Norfolk, I wondered if they were trying to tell me something). The grey skies didn’t offer the best backdrop of lighting for a shot of the falls, but I think I managed to capture the sheer force of water rolling and crashing over the rocks and down beneath the bridge.

I walked up the footpath to the national park centre car park (pay and display is the only option for those travelling by car, unless you park at the Aysgarth Falls Hotel – which states its car park is for customers only. I leave it up to you). Despite the clear signs, I saw people walking along the road which not only takes longer, but runs the risks of traffic and nowhere to move out of the way. As I walked along the footpath, I saw them out of the corner of my eye coming back with chagrined expressions on their faces.

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2. Aysgarth National Park Centre (c) Kim Ralls

The park centre is a nice place to start from for two reasons – it has toilets and a small cafe that serves a rather nice scone (dare I mention which way round I put the jam and the cream?) It also serves as a nexus for a number of footpaths to the waterfalls and woodland in the immediate area and, for those lacking, the gift shop is well-stocked with OS maps and guidebooks (I used Yorkshire Dales OL30: Northern and Central Dales as the basis for this walk). For the first stage of this walk, I needed to make my way over to Carperby and I had a choice of two routes. The first meant walking out of the park centre and up the road, under the old railway bridge, and then across the fields to come out about half-way along the main street of Carperby. The other, and my preferred route for this walk, went up a flight of very slippery steps and crossed over the old track bed into a field. This was to be the start of one of the boggiest walks I’ve been on for quite some time.

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3. The old track bed. The railway once went all the way to Hawes (c) Kim Ralls

As I slipped and squelched across the first of the fields, the grey clouds began to melt away like dry ice in a cheap horror film and the countryside was bathed in very welcome sunlight and almost clear blue skies. I wasn’t so naive as to think this would dry the ground in time to make my progress any easier, but at least it made the prospect of Somme-like mud a little less depressing.

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4. To misquote Captain Scott: “Great God, this is a muddy place” (c) Kim Ralls

With the skies clearing, photographing the landscape became a little more of a challenge as the huge contrast between light and shade meant that it wasn’t always easy to find the right exposure settings. I have to admit that, in the end, I cheated a little and set the ISO (the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor) to AUTO to make my life a little easier. However, I was quite pleased with a shot I took of Addleborough, a prominant hill to the West that I would like to climb some day, though as far as I am aware there are no public rights of way to the summit, which is something of a dissappointment. Oh well.

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5. Addleborough (c) Kim Ralls

Turning the other way, I was presented with my first proper view of the castle.

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6. Bolton Castle (c) Kim Ralls

The path, such as it is, eventually comes out at the main road just outside Carperby and this was where I met my first obstacle of the day. On the map, there is supposed to be a footpath that runs through a farm and comes out near the end of the village green. There was a signpost on the gate for this path that stated it had been ‘legally rerouted’ and that I was to follow the new markers. The only problem being that there weren’t any markers that I could see and, rather than get in trouble for going somewhere I shouldn’t, I went back to the road just as an RAF Tornado flew overhead too fast for me to get a photograph; manual mode does have its drawbacks.

Carperby is a small, narrow village that hugs the main road as it winds along the slopes of Wensleydale. The village green was spotted with clumps of snowdrops beneath the spreading branches of a large tree.

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7. Carperby Village Green (c) Kim Ralls

Walking through the village I removed my raincoat, made unnecessary by the welcome change in the weather, and looked for the signpost for the footpath to Castle Bolton. It was easily visible at the far end of the village, the path crossing through a farmyard and up to a line of fields bathed in sunlight.

The sight of a string of dead moles added a gruesome touch to the day’s proceedings – especially for someone who grew up watching the Cosgrove Hall claymation version of The Wind In The Willows.

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8. It looked more gruesome in colour, trust me… (c) Kim Ralls

As I said, the footpath led me through the farmyard and, according to my OS map, hugged the wall before climbing up to a field above a stand of small hawthorns. There was also a perfectly servicable track that would have been easier going, but I’m a stickler for following paths and not risking the wrath of the local farmers for venturing off them. In the end, I slipped and scrambled my way up to the top of the footpath and then decided that, next time, I might just as well take the track – it might not be a designated path, but anything would be better than stabbing myself on thorns and catching branches in my hair.

The view at the top, though, was worth the discomfort, especially as the last of the clouds were drifting down towards the castle and I had an almost clear blue sky for photographing Pen Hill and the Dale spread out below me.

The footpath was easy to follow and, with the sun bright and hot, I took my polarising filter out of the bag and fitted it onto my lens. I don’t use filters very often, but on a day like today, a polariser is a positive boon to avoid photos where the clouds are indistinct flashes of white and the outlines of buildings and trees can look less than sharp against the sky.

Passing through a couple of fields I came to what has to be one of the more ornate gates I’ve encountered in my walks around the Dales.

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9. Ooh, I say, how smart! (c) Kim Ralls
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10. (c) Kim Ralls

It was refreshing to see the landscape around the castle and its village from a new angle. As I’ve said, I often see the castle from the road (I imagine there are worse views for a morning commute) and even with the ever-changing weather in this part of the country, I never get bored of it. But I’d been planning to do this walk pretty much from the day we first moved into the area and I was feeling a certain sense of achievement for finally getting around to it – after nearly fifteen years!

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11. Standing on the bridge (c) Kim Ralls

The path skirted round the edge of a small plantation labelled ‘West Bolton Plantation’ on my map. A babbling stream flowed down from a spring somewhere above me and dissappeared into the trees. Another advantage of using my polariser was that I could photograph the rocks and stones beneath the water without the relfection of the sunlight getting in the way. I crossed the stream via a small bridge – well, a pair of large slabs dropped between the two banks – and walked down through the farm of West Bolton where I was greeted by a trio of the smartest-looking alpacas I’ve ever seen (it being private property, I didn’t take any photos – and I’m sure you’re all disappointed not to see the alpacas).

From the farm it was an undulating trek towards the castle with quite a few streams that had evidently sprung up from all the melting snow on the tops. It was surprising just how much snow was still on the ground even after a week of rain and raised temperatures. I even washed my boots in one stream but, as will be seen, this was a somewhat pointless exercise.

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12. Approaching the castle (c) Kim Ralls

The castle itself is a prominant landmark in the area and, according to several stories, was one of the the stopping points for Mary Queen of Scots on her way to her trial. Personally, I believe if all the places that boasted that distinction actually had hosted her and her escort, it would have taken several years before she reached London. Not that I imagine she was in any great hurry to get there.

By this time I was feeling decidely hungry and was looking forward to a sandwich in the castle tearooms. Crossing onto the castle grounds, I saw the doors firmly shut and began to get a sinking feeling. I was certain the castle was open at this time of year, but I checked online (whilst marvelling that I actually had 4G in this area) and found that they didn’t open until the end of March. Oh well, at least it said that the tearooms were open every day.

Except they weren’t open today.

As if on cue, my stomach began to grumble and I began to seriously wonder if I was doomed to wonder all the way back to Aysgarth without a single bite to eat. Dear God, how could I survive when I’d only had a bowl of cereal and yogurt for breakfast? Would I ever live to see my family and guitars again?

Oh, hang on, there’s a pub in Redmire.

I checked the map and found the path connecting the two villages. My watch read half-past twelve, so they were bound to be serving lunch. At worst, they might sell me a packet of peanuts to assuage the gaping hole in my stomach. But not before I’d taken a few snaps of the castle. You see, dear readers, I do think of you.

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13. (c) Kim Ralls
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14. (c) Kim Ralls
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15. (c) Kim Ralls

The path was at the far end of the village, past a pickup with a sheep dog that growled and barked its head off as I came near and scrabbled at the bars. I have that effect of animals.

The footpath took me down and across several more fields and over even boggier ground than I had encountered back at Aysgarth – now you see why I needn’t have bothered washing my boots in that stream earlier.

My OS map also highlighted the intriguingly-named Nelly Force, a waterfall that looked like it was right next to the path. Aha! thought I, that’ll make for a nice photo for the blog. Except the trees and bushes had grown so much that all I saw was a bit of foam accompanied by a loud rush of water plunging over rocks and stones. Not the kind of photo that was going to win me any prizes.

Eventually the path crossed another section of the old railway track and over a stream into the village of Redmire just up the road from the Bolton Arms pub. The relief I felt when I saw the sign outside proclaiming “Food Served Daily” was indescribable.