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.

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