A Knee In The Howgills

001
Sedbergh and Winder (c) Kim Ralls

The term “rolling hills” could have been coined with the Howgill Fells in mind. Driving along the A684 towards Sedbergh I could see them rising above the town, a collection of deceptively gentle-looking slopes covered in verdant greenery. Parking in a pay and display car park at one end of the high street, I followed my newly aquired OS map (owing to a lack of memory, I’d had to delete my maps from the phone) and promptly got lost looking for the path up to the base of the fells.

IMG_6368
1. Sedbergh High Street – this is the way I came back into town after the walk (c) Kim Ralls

I did, however, come across a distinctive mound that, according to the map, was once the motte and bailey of a medieval castle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any way to look at it more closely and, let’s be honest, there were far more impressive mounds to climb as you can see in the photo of the car park.

IMG_6369.JPG
2. The car park – to the right of the picture is where the walk starts (c) Kim Ralls

I eventually found the track next to Westwood Books, a former cinema now converted into a veritable warehouse of secondhand tomes. Sedbergh proudly proclaims its status as ‘England’s Book Town’ and for an avid reader such as myself, it’s a paradise of second-hand books. I would be investigating the town’s wares later in the day and coming away with a couple of books that I’d been after for some time. It was a good thing that I put plenty of money into the machine in the car park – once my walk was over, I completely lost track of time whilst browsing in the various bookshops in town.

The track didn’t look too steep and neither did the slopes of the fells that I could see through gaps in the hedges and trees. However, by the time I reached a stile and passed into a field of cows the sweat was running down my face and neck and I had to stop for a breather. When you walk regularly for a while and then stop, it’s amazing how rapidly the body becomes unfit. The walk had barely begun and I already felt as if I’d undergone an arduous trek through the countryside. This did not bode well.

IMG_6372.JPG
3. Looking up the track towards the Howgills. Winder (on the left) was my target for the walk (c) Kim Ralls

The cows were lying on a small mound (these featured prominently throughout the walk) in the middle of their field and they watched me as I walked as confidently as I could manage whilst keeping close to the wall. I ended up wading through thick mud that tried to tug the boots from my feet and, whilst keeping an eye on one or two of the cows who had decided to stand up and plod towards me, I missed the stile out of the field. The cows lay down again and I got out of the field by climbing over the gate in the top left corner and looking around in case I had to apologise to the farmer.

That was to be only my first encounter with livestock on this walk. For now, I took another breather and admired the (admittedly over-cast) view of Sedbergh and the hills on the other side.

IMG_6374.JPG
4. Winder (c) Kim Ralls

The Howgills are not like the fells and hills of the Dales. They’re not limestone, for one thing, and the gorse and bracken-covered slopes appear gentle and easy, unlike the craggy sides of Pen Hill and its like. The Howgills have interesting names like Winder, Arant Haw and The Calf and based on the views I’d had so far, I had a feeling I’d be coming back for more.

But I wasn’t going to accomplish anything standing around and so I followed a track of stones and hardcore along the banks of Settlebeck Gill (a gill being a small stream). It was dark under the trees and although the beck looked lovely, babbling and burbling over the rocks below, I couldn’t quite get the right angle to take a decent photo without slithering down the bank with no assurance that I could get out again. I’ve included the one photo I decided to keep, although it doesn’t even come close to doing the scene justice. A professional photographer would undoubtedly be able to take a good photo under these conditions; I make no claim to being a pro.

IMG_6380.JPG
5. Settlebeck Gill – not my best photo (c) Kim Ralls
IMG_6378
6. The path by the gill (c) Kim Ralls

Even with such a well-made track to walk on, the going was tiring. My being deceived by the apparently gentle slopes was to be a recurring theme throughout this walk.

And being out of shape wasn’t my only problem.

I used to practice a martial art that involved a lot of kneeling on hard wooden floors (Iaido – the Japanese art of the sword) and discovered that I have a problem with my knees. In a normal human body there is a pad of fat fixed between the knee joint that stops the bones grinding against each other. Unfortunately, my fat pads aren’t fixed in place and, occasionally, one or both of them slips out and causes me a lot of pain. According to the doctor, this is a condition that either fixes itself or remains with me for the rest of my life. Granted there are worse conditions to suffer from, but it can be a pain in the proverbial when out walking. Ascending the track past the gill, I had to stop frequently as my knees were starting to hurt.

IMG_6383
7. Sedbergh (c) Kim Ralls

Near the top of the track the trees and bushes gave way and I had a magnificent view of the town and the surrounding fells. A simple wooden bench meant that I could sit down and give my knees a rest whilst taking photos with my camera – I don’t believe in suffering for one’s art.

At this point my map showed the footpath climbing up alongside Settlebeck Gill in what looking like a savagely steep ascent and I had a feeling my knees would not cope with it. However, a woman walking her dog came along what was apparently a path along the base of the hill and, even though it wasn’t on the map, I thought I’d try that way and see if there was a gentler way to the summit – take it from me, if you’re body’s protesting there’s no sense in flogging it unnecessarily.

IMG_6387.JPG
8. The ‘easy’ path (c) Kim Ralls

It wasn’t long before I was wishing I’d gone up the other path. Following the wall on one side and the bracken on the other, the path was a slippery morass of mud and pools and streams that threatened to send me sprawling at any moment. I was in two minds as to whether or not I should put my camera away until I was on firmer ground, not wanting to risk falling over and damaging it (or me, for that matter!)

I decided to keep it out; after all you never know what you might see and, knowing my luck, the moment I put it away I’d need to take it out again to shoot something spectacular and fleeting.

And so I went on my slippery way with one hand holding my camera and the other stretched out for balance as required. I’m glad the only eyes watching me belonged to the sheep grazing in the bracken; if they thought I looked ridiculous they weren’t saying.

IMG_6400.JPG
9. A sheep grazing in the bracken (c) Kim Ralls

Almost half-way along this path I got a much better view of the town and stopped to take a photo. An RAF jet roared overhead, sending the sheep scurrying into the bracken (you’d think they’d be used to that sort of thing round here). It was over and gone before I’d even had the chance to see it let alone try to photograph it. The sun had poked its head out of the clouds whilst I scanned the sky for the aircraft and then hid again as I raised my camera to photograph the town (and, yes, it was spectacular and fleeting).

IMG_6392
10. Sedbergh (again) (c) Kim Ralls

I was disappointed that the weather wasn’t better. Granted, the forecast had been for grey skies, so it wasn’t as though I’d been expecting bright sunshine. But grey skies can be hard to photograph without either underexposing the ground or overexposing the sky (hence why some of the photos in this entry are darker than I would like). I do carry a set of filters for this purpose, but they’re a pain in the backside to fit onto the lens and I didn’t think any of the photos I’d taken so far were too bad – I could always try lightening them on the computer once I got home.

I’d ordered a polarising filter the other day, but it hadn’t arrived in time for this walk (a polorising filter is like a set of sunglasses for your camera and it has the added advantage of enhancing colour and contrast; it would have been perfect for a day like this).

With no help from the map, it was hard to guage how far the path went until, finally, I came across a farm gate and a sign suggesting I try the local ice-cream. Anyone who knows me well will find it hard to believe that I didn’t partake immediately. However, contrary to popular opinion, I do have a modicum of will-power when it comes to food and I resisted tempation and followed the path as it finally began to climb. At this point the map indicated that I was on an actual footpath. Not only that, but reading the contours indicated that, apart from one stretch close to where I stood, it would be a nice gentle ascent to the summit of Winder. The original path might have been a quicker ascent, but I’d enjoyed the view of the town and there would always be other opportunities to explore the paths up and down the fells.

As I climbed, the sun came out once more and really brought out the colour in the clouds above the town; I couldn’t resist taking the photo and it’s probably my favourite from the whole walk.

IMG_6403
11. Looking back down the hill to Sedbergh (c) Kim Ralls

After taking the photo, I turned and followed the path as it turned and took a steep climb up the slopes. I was feeling good; my knees had stopped aching, the sun was shining sporadically and it was almost time to stop and enjoy the picnic I’d bought in town (not that I’m obsessed with food).

As I walked I imagined all the fine views I would have from the summit; the town, the valley, the fells beyond Winder. As much as I love the Dales and all the hidden footpaths that I’ve yet to explore near my own home, I was falling in love with the fells above Sedbergh even though I had been there less than half a day.

IMG_6405.JPG
12. Now for the steep bit (c) Kim Ralls

Sheep scattered as I began my ascent. They ran sure-footed over the slopes, bounding with unexpected grace to get away from the galumphing Southerner with his camera, backpack and picnic. I took a step and my left foot slipped on a patch of mud. Arms flailing, I kept my balance as I felt my knee twist and a blast of pain shoot through my leg. The grey skies were turned blue as I used every swear-word in my vocabulary.

I took a tentative step and felt the pain again. There was no way I was going to complete the climb to the summit. It was with some reluctance and a large amount of anger that I turned back and retraced my footsteps back to the farm gate. Every step was agony but there was no other way and, who knows, most of the time when this sort of thing happens the knee pops back in of its own accord and I have no further trouble.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and I limped back into town, dreading the drive home in a van with a manual gearbox. As you can imagine, every gear change sent a fresh wave of pain up and down my leg and even Lynyrd Skynyrd blasting out at full volume couldn’t drown out my cursing. Goodness knows what the wildlife thought.

I had planned this walk for weeks, looking forward to it because it was wholly new ground that I could return to again and again. The map had shown so many different paths over the fells and I had plans to explore them all eventually. For now, they would have to wait for another day. I got home and stretched out on the sofa where, to my immeasurable relief (and slight annoyance), I felt and heard my knee pop back into place. By then it was too late to go back and try the walk again and so I opened up one of the books I had bought in town and began to plot.

I’d return to Sedbergh and the Howgills, that was certain. After all, lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it?

Aysgarth Falls and Village Fete

The trouble with trying to maintain a blog of this nature is that, sometimes, real life decides to get in the way. Various work and social commitments had left me with no time for getting out and about during most of July and August and so I seized the first chance that presented itself to tug my walking boots on and head out with my camera hanging from my neck.

Aysgarth Falls is a twenty-thirty minute walk from home and has never failed to present me with some lovely photographs. Even on overcast days it’s a lovely place to visit, though with it being a bank holiday I knew the Falls were going to be a little overcrowded. I left Thoralby and headed up the road towards Aysgarth. The sky was grey and uninspiring and some of the clouds looked heavy with rain. Had I made a mistake?

Such thoughts were put to the back of my mind as I started to come across things to photograph. Dry stone walls are a prominant feature of the Dales and farmers are apt to include whatever spare material happens to be lying around – there’s one near me that even incorporates an old iron bedstead!

I couldn’t help but photograph one that appeared to have some glass bottles stuck in the top.

IMG_6264.JPG
They were empty – shame… (c) Kim Ralls

The waterfalls at Aysgarth were my main objective, it’s true, but if you put a camera in my hands, then don’t be surprised if I start snapping photos. The light was dreadful, however, and I had to bin most of the shots that I took because the grey skies looked so flat and dull and lifeless, leaching any warmth from the images.

But I did take a nice photo of some blackberries before a passing motorist pulled over and preceeded to fill up a small plastic box with them.

IMG_6267.JPG
(c) Kim Ralls

This shot evokes memories of the times my sister and I used to visit our grandparents in South Wales. Our grandfather would take us blackberry picking and we’d gather pounds and pounds of them that we’d take back to the house and bake into crumbles and pies for the evening’s desert. Any that were too high for my sister or me to reach were knocked from the bush by my grandfather’s walking stick into a waiting bucket. We had to pick plenty because I had a tendency to eat them as we walked home.

Alas, I had nothing to carry these blackberries home in and so I left them for the birds and the gentleman parking his 4X4 in the layby across the road.

I followed the road up the hill and along a single-lane track to the A684, passing a rather startled-looking barn on my way to the waterfalls.

IMG_6281
“Ooh, I say!” (c) Kim Ralls

Turning left at the Aysgarth Falls Hotel, I had a choice between following the pavement down towards the Upper Falls, or walking through St. Andrew’s churchyard. I’ve always liked churches and churchyards, so you can probably guess the route I chose.

In fact, the gates offered a perfect opportunity to experiment with lead-in lines. These are lines used to lead the viewer’s eye into a photograph – with me so far?

Roads and paths are usually a good line to use, but patterns in the landscape or on a building can work equally well.

IMG_6285
The gate posts list the names of local men who died in The Great War (C) Kim Ralls

Some of the graves in St. Andrew’s are centuries old, the stones worn and weathered and the writing almost illegible. There are tall headstones with long inscriptions listing the families sharing their final resting place and smaller stones with just a name and a date, the epilogue to a person’s life.

In with the headstones are oblong slabs decorated with carvings of trees and plants and things personal to those buried there. Beneath the low branches of a tree, I could see a row of five of these slabs and it was perfect for a photograph.

I had recently been reading “Understanding Exposure” by Brian Peterson and was fascinated by his explanation of depth of field and how to manipulate it. This is how much of the background of a photo is in focus behind the subject of your photo and is dictated by how wide or narrow you set the aperture of your lens (point and shoot cameras don’t usually allow you to change this, though I think there are some smartphone apps that simulate it). Anyway, I wanted to photograph these slabs and have them all in focus, but I had been getting lazy recently and tended to shoot in ‘P’ or ‘Programme’ mode. Basically, this is a mode on the camera that lets you point the camera and take a photo without having to set aperture, shutter speed and the like.

I set my camera to Av mode (Aperture Priority) and adjusted the aperture to ensure that all five of the slabs were in focus. Although one of the slabs was in shade and so didn’t come out well in the photo, I liked the image with the slabs in a row and the distant ones dissappearing into the shade beneath the tree.

IMG_6290
(C) Kim Ralls

Satisfied with the photo, I walked past the church and down a set of uneven steps to the bridge over the River Ure.

Aysgarth Falls are well known for one thing: Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves. During the film (I’d say “spoiler alert”, but I don’t think I’ve met anybody who hasn’t seen this film at least once, usually around Christmas courtesy of the BBC) Kevin Costner is trying to cross a river when he encounters Little John. They have a fight with sticks which involves both of them tumbling over a set of waterfalls in quick succession. Yep, you guessed it, they filmed it at Aysgarth Falls.

However, the producers of the film deceived the public somewhat by using careful editing to creatre the illusion of three waterfalls close together.

IMG_6299
The Upper Falls, Aysgarth (C) Kim Ralls

But I won’t hold that against them.

I took the above image and walked up to the picnic area overlooking the Falls. The place was thronged with holiday-makers and daytrippers enjoying the bank holiday weekend. I got down as close as I could to the waterfall and decided that, because everybody does it, I wouldn’t be using a slow shutter speed on the water. This is a trick that blurs the motion of the water and gives it a whispy, ethereal quality. And it’s a trick that’s been done to death.

But, use a fast shutter speed (in my case 1/4000th of a second) and you can freeze the water in place. Personally, I think this is far better at showing the power and motion of the water in a still image.

IMG_6307
Look carefully and you might spot a stick in the falls – did Kevin Costner leave it there?              (C) Kim Ralls

I snapped away whilst keeping as low as I could. At one point I even lay down to get as close to the water as possible. I can’t imagine what the people at the picnic tables thought of this.

Talking of people, the Upper Falls were getting decidedly crowded at this point and so I decided to move on. I’m not opposed to crowds, but it’s difficult to take photos of the landscape when people insist on paddling in the river and skimming stones and posing for selfies in front of the spot I’m trying to photograph.

As I left, I caught sight of a couple sat on the rocks and enjoying the sun as it came out from behind the clouds. It was a beautiful scene and I had to take their photo.

IMG_6317
Coffee for two (C) Kim Ralls

I went back towards the bridge over the river, passing groups of adults and children, the latter more often than not staring at mobile phones whilst their parents tried to encourage them to take in the scenery to little avail.

For those who don’t fancy walking too far, there is parking at the Falls in the National Park Centre and a car park next to the church – both pay and display. I walked through the park centre and crossed the road into the woods. I could heard the wind in the trees and a myriad of accents calling out to each other; accents from all four corners of the globe (yes, I know a globe doesn’t have corners!)

The footpaths to the Middle and Lower Falls are clearly marked and easy to follow. At the Middle Falls there is a viewing platform with a fence that several people were climbing on to get a better view. I waited for them to come down so I could have a clear shot with my camera.

IMG_6319
Middle Falls, Aysgarth (C) Kim Ralls

The Middle Falls are probably my favourite. They’re always full and fast flowing, even when it’s been dry. Again, I went for a fast shutter speed to freeze the water as it rushed over the rocks, foaming and boiling at the bottom before it carried on its lazy way down the dale.

I climbed the steps up from the viewing platform and back into the woods. Years ago the parks authority had paid for someone to carve educational inscrptions into the edges of the steps to teach children about the relationship between the rocks and the water. It was a neat idea, except that wind and weather and people’s feet have worn the inscriptions down so that now they are hard to read. Hopefully they’ll be re-carved some day.

From the Middle Falls it’s a slightly longer trek through the woods towards the Lower Falls and the penultimate stop of the day’s walk. When we used to come up to the Dales on holidays, my parents took my sister and me to Aysgarth Falls several times, but it was a while before we realised that there were more than one set of waterfalls. The Lower Falls were a surprise at the time because it had been raining heavily the day before and the amount of water tumbling and crashing over the rocks was an awesome sight.

Although reduced in volume compared to that day, the Lower Falls were still worth the visit today. The sun shining on the water created deep shadows on the far bank and I composed my shots so that there would be as much contrast as possible.

IMG_6334
Lower Falls, Aysgarth (C) Kim Ralls

Again, I thought nothing of lying down on the rocks, feeling the warm stone through my t-shirt and hoping the spray wasn’t getting into my lens. The sunlight really highlighted the colours in the water and when I decided I’d taken enough pictures, I scraped myself off the rocks and headed back the way I had come.

Back up on the A684, I could have turned for home, satisfied that I’d taken some good photos and, more importantly, got a decent walk into the bargain. Instead, I walked into the village itself where the summer fete was just kicking off.

If you ever want to experience a proper community spirit, I recommend attending a village fete. People freely give up their time to set up and run the stalls and the various other attractions – a local car mechanic was running the bouncy castle and, when I asked him if he’d been on it yet, smiled and said “Not yet. But I’m sorely tempted.”

There were stalls selling second-hand books (always a bonus, if you ask me) and bric-a-brac. There was a burger and hot dog stand and the village hall was offering tea and cakes.

IMG_6355
The village fete (C) Kim Ralls
IMG_6356
(C) Kim Ralls

I thought about turning some of these shots into black and white for that arty, documentary-style look, but I actually prefer the colours.

I didn’t stay for long at the fete because I had to in work that evening and time was moving on. However, I did stay long enough to watch several people throwing twenty pences at a bottle of whiskey in the middle of the street in an attempt to win the bottle.

IMG_6358
(C) Kim Ralls

I stopped in the George and Dragon for a brief drink (and a slice of cake) before heading back down the hill to Thoralby. As I took a shortcut over a couple of fields, I passed a hawthorn tree with vibrant red berries. Earlier in the year I had seen the same tree with blossom on its branches heralding the start of Spring. Now the berries were signalling the approach of Autumn, my favourite time of year.

IMG_6362
Hawthorn berries (C) Kim Ralls

The Artist At Work

I had just come back from being the Best Man at my first wedding. The location was beautiful – a castle-cum-hotel just south of Edinburgh – and the drive across the border had some of the most stunning scenery I had seen.

If only I had taken my camera.

You see, shortly before the wedding, the bride sent an email to all the guests explaining that they had hired a wedding photographer and that she and the groom would appreciate it if we didn’t all snap away with cameras and smart phones. Therefore, I left my camera at home and spent the drive north feeling slightly annoyed. And then, on the day, every bl**dy guest had a DSLR camera and were snapping away with glee once the ceremony and the formal photo shoots were out of the way. Suffice it to say, I became very friendly with a glass of prosseco.

Arriving home, I felt that I had to photograph something and having just watched a 1981 documentary about Joel Meyerowitz (god bless YouTube), I decided on a subject.

My father was sitting in his office. I could tell because from my room I could hear the tinkle of a paintbrush in the water jar on his painting desk. He paints 6mm lead wargames figures – mostly Napoleonic era at the moment – whilst sitting at a desk with a couple of lights illuminating his workspace.

I could see the image in my mind; he would be sitting at the desk, hunched over slightly with a line of figures in one hand and the brush in the other. The desk lights would perhaps be a little too bright, but not enough to ruin the shot, and if I got the right exposure settings the light and shadows would focus the eye on my subject.

I picked up my camera, stood on the landing outside his office and took the shot. The camera was in shutter priority mode, so all I had to do was set the shutter speed (1/100 sec) and let the camera work out the rest. I could have told him that I was going to take his photo, or asked his permission, but I wanted that feeling of spontaneity as well as the look of concentration on his face. He had no idea I had taken his photo until I showed the image to him and because of that the whole scene feels completely natural.

IMG_6193
(c) Kim Ralls

I can’t afford fancy photo editing software, so I use Canon’s free Digital Photo Professional. It won’t do all the amazing things that Photoshop and Lightroom can do, but in a way I prefer that because it means I have to get more right in-camera and so I’ve learnt a lot more about how my camera works than I might have otherwise.

As far as editing goes, my only alteration was to damp down the highlights and adjust the brightness so that the lights aren’t overblown and the shadows have a little more weight.

The rest was achieved with the camera.

Into The Woods

When I was younger, my mother would take me and my sister on walks through the woods of Harrow Weald Common. I enjoyed it for two reasons. The first was the sense of adventure that came from exploring the twisting paths and tracks and looking for birds and squirrels in the trees. And the second reason was the ice-cream van in the car park that served lemon sorbet ice cream in twin cones with raspberry sauce.

Since moving to the Dales in 2003, most of my walking has been up and down hills, enjoying the views and, occasionally, the weather. Don’t misunderstand me; I love climbing the hills and looking over the countryside of my adopted home. But, I’ve always been a sucker for a woodland walk and so, looking at the OS map on my phone, I was delighted to discover Grass Woods just outside Grassington.

001
Map of Grassington and Grass Woods (c) Kim Ralls

 

The town lies about half an hour’s drive down Wharfedale on the banks of the river Wharfe. It’s a pretty little town that hosts a music and arts festival once a year – I hadn’t noticed that the day I had planned for my walk was slap in the middle of said festival and it was lucky that I got there early or parking would have been a nightmare. As it happens, I found a space in the pay and display car park just down from the town market place.

IMG_5713.JPG
1. Grassington market place (c) Kim Ralls

The sky was overcast as I set out. The main road skirts round a tight bend just below the entrance to the market place and I stopped just long enough to buy a couple of bottles of water from one of the local shops before heading West towards the river. The road slopes downhill until it crosses the Wharfe on a bridge of pale stone dirtied and weathered by the passing decades.

IMG_5717.JPG
2. Between the chain fence and the bridge is where the footpath begins (c) Kim Ralls
IMG_5722.JPG
3. The bridge at Grassington (c) Kim Ralls

The footpath runs down through grassy fields that line the banks of the Wharfe along most of the its length through the dale. It had been raining the night before and my boots and trouserlegs were soaked through before long. There wasn’t a breath of wind as I walked along, listening to the Wharfe flowing quietly to my left. A family of ducks slid off the bank and into the water as I approached, though I couldn’t get close enough to take a decent photo. Walking the footpath doesn’t really require a map. There are no other paths to confuse you and, as long as you head straight with the river on your left, it’s hard to go wrong.

As I walked I began to wish I’d brought along something to tell me about the different plants and flowers I was seeing along the river bank. There were different kinds of grasses (rather apt, considering name of certain locations on the walk) and bushes and trees that I thought were beautiful, but couldn’t put a name to. Perhaps if I do this walk again, I’ll have something to help me with names and species.

IMG_5741.JPG
4. Grass and wildflowers on the bank of the Wharfe (c) Kim Ralls

After the path went between a wall and a line of bushes, blocking the river from view, I emerged into a huge meadow carpeted with wildflowers and moss-covered rocks that had become the playground of sheep and their lambs. I walked through a small copse of trees, some growing around the rocks and others growing up between them. It was a peaceful place and the perfect spot for a picnic – had I thought of bringing a picnic, of course.

IMG_5765.JPG
6. If only I’d brought some sandwiches (c) Kim Ralls

On the other side of the trees the path followed the river again and I met the only other people on the walk.

“Morning,” I said with a smile.

The family of three stared at their shoes and barked at the black labrador that was proving friendlier than its owners.

The land along the river at this point was mostly flat grass that ran down to pebbles and shingle on the water’s edge. Birds flitted close to the water, snatching insects in their beaks and darting back to their nests and perches. Finally I came to a dry stone wall with a stile and a sign announcing that this was, indeed, Grass Wood. Looking back over my shoulder I could see a battered metal sign warning that camping was prohibited on that section of the river.

IMG_5783.JPG
6. Could do with a lick of paint, methinks (c) Kim Ralls

The path climbed up a steep incline and I put my camera back in its bag whilst I scrabbled and scrambled and slipped my way towards the top of the path. The incline eased off and I could walk without fear of slipping on wet stones and making an undignified descent. I took my camera out of the bag again and turned to look the way I had come. Through a gap in the trees I could see across the dale to the hills opposite, the sky still overcast, but showing signs of clearing. Indeed, as I walked the sun occasionally poked its head out and shone through the branches and illuminated the path with dappled light.

IMG_5789
7. Looking over the trees to Wharfedale (c) Kim Ralls

The path took me through patches of fern and bracken towards the main road that runs from Grassington, through the woods, and on to Coniston on the opposite bank of the Wharfe to Kilnsey and Kilnsey Crag. There was a single car parked in a layby, but no other signs of human life anywhere. I assumed the car belonged to the people I had met down by the river.

I’m still no expert on the wildlife of the Yorkshire Dales (I suppose living in an area dominated by sheep farms doesn’t count), but I had looked online for information about the woods and discovered that it is a nature reserve home to several species of butterfly that I made up my mind to try to photograph. I don’t usually have the patience for wildlife photography – not to mention my lens simply isn’t long enough (you can stop laughing at the back) – but I reckoned a butterfly or two wouldn’t be a tall order.

And, if all else failed, I could always take some nice photos of trees…

IMG_5794
7. A nice photo of some trees (c) Kim Ralls

Like the woods of Harrow Weald Common, Grass Woods lacks a defined footpath to follow. Numerous tracks and trails lead into the trees and up and down slopes of varying steepness. I’ve marked out my own route as accurately as possible on the map, but if you visit the woods yourself, I recommend just picking paths at random and seeing where they go. That was what I did and I was certainly rewarded, as shall become apparent.

There are, in fact, two different woods – Grass Woods and Bastow Woods – though you can’t see the join as Eric Morecambe would say.

I’ve no idea how long I walked through the trees, practicing low-light photography and trying to find interesting angles to shoot from – not easy when you’ve only got trees to shoot. I could hear birds and animals in the branches and in the undergrowth, but I didn’t go hunting for them. This was partly to avoid scaring them away, but mostly for the afore-mentioned lens deficiency.

IMG_5844.JPG
9. Looking across Wharfedale again (c) Kim Ralls

As I climbed another sloping path, I came to a fork and chose to go right for no other reason than I felt like it. On the corner of the path there was a tree that caught my eye. It’s bark appeared to be moving until I came too close and a horde of butterflies took to the air leaving a few stragglers behind. I’ve never seen anything like it and cursed myself because, once again, I had put my camera in my bag whilst I climbed a steep slope. There were still a few butterflies on the tree and I took my camera out and took as many photos as I could before they, too, flew away into the trees.

IMG_5880.JPG
10. “You can’t see me!” (c) Kim Ralls
IMG_5891.JPG
11. Red Admiral butterfly (c) Kim Ralls

I have no idea how long I spent with the butterflies, but I have never taken such rewarding photos. Not only that, but it provided an in-depth lesson on low-light and macro photography. I’ll admit that I let the camera do most of the work – I put the camera in Tv or Shutter-Priority mode and set the shutter speed whilst letting the camera work the rest out for itself. There are some photographers who say you should only ever use manual mode so that you have complete control over the exposure. However, when working with wildlife, particularly wildlife that moves as quickly and as suddenly as these butterflies did, it pays to use a certain amount of automation so that you can capture these fleeting moments clearly.

After the butterflies had gone, I walked on and followed the path wherever it led. To my left the trees climbed steep slopes up to a formation known as Fort Gregory. This is a set of prehistoric enclosures on top of a ridge that, in the nineteenth century, was thought to be an iron age fortification built to protect the local tribes against the Roman invaders. The scholars at the time seem to have overlooked the fact that there’s a higher, more prominant ridge above the ‘fort’ that would have been a far better defensive position.

IMG_5909.JPG
12. The path to Fort Gregory – steeper than it looks! (c) Kim Ralls

I didn’t climb up to the fort for the simple reason that my stomach was rumbling and I hadn’t brought anything to eat with me. I filed the fort away for a return visit and headed towards the Grassington end of the woods. The path wound along a ridge and, through regular breaks in the trees and bushes, I could see just how close to the edge the path was taking me. This certainly didn’t do my vertigo any good.

But I persevered. After all, I was hungry and it would have taken twice as long to go back the way I had come, not to mention be fairly disappointing from a photographic point of view. Who knew what I might miss if I gave in and went back?

As I walked I heard something flapping overhead and looked up. Through the branches I saw a shadow and the wing of a large brown bird, too big for the blackbirds and starlings that I had seen in the woods. I thought that it might be a bird of prey, but there was no way to be sure.

I went on until the path began to descend once more and I passed an old metal sign mentioning a prehistoric settlement. I assumed that this was a different settlement to Fort Gregory – the sign didn’t mention the latter at all.

IMG_5928
13. (c) Kim Ralls

The ferns and bushes had grown so thick that were it not for the sign, I would never have known what I was walking over. I followed the path alongside the settlement, occasionally spotting bits of rock that might had been ancient walls and noticing for the first time the slopes around the edge.

At last the path reached the edge of the woods where a dry stone wall runs along the tree line. There were still stretches of grey in the sky, but the clouds were clearing and the sun was shining. As much as I enjoyed walking amongst the trees, it felt good to see the open countryside again. It was like waking up on a sunny morning after a particularly good night’s sleep and feeling refreshed and ready for whatever the day might throw at you.

IMG_5934.JPG
14. (c) Kim Ralls

There was a family of swallows sitting on a length of barbed wire stretched along the top of the wall. I crept along the path as quietly as I could, my camera held ready. I was just about to give up, realising how rediculous I probably looked, when the birds stretched out their wings and got ready to take flight. I snapped off a burst of photos, assuming that they would probably all be useless. One, however, came out well after a bit of cropping and tweeking on the computer.

IMG_5940
15. Birds on a wire (c) Kim Ralls

I climbed over a stile and into the field next to the woods. It was hot out in the open and, as usually happens, I wished I’d left my raincoat in the van and brought my sunglasses instead. Not that I’m one to complain, of course.

Across the field I tugged an iron gate open and walked down a farm track towards the town. By this time the sky had clouded over again and I began to wonder if I might be glad of my raincoat after all. Such thoughts were put to the back of my mind, however, when I glanced to my left and saw a cave in the hillside. I’ve always liked going to show caves – White Scar and Ingleborough caves near Ingleton, Clearwell Caves in the Forest of Dean – and started eagerly looking for a footpath that might take me up the hill. Sadly, I was to be disappointed, though it ws probably for the best. I’ve never been caving or pot-holing and it was probably best not to risk it.

IMG_5946
16. The clouds return (c) Kim Ralls
IMG_5948
17. (c) Kim Ralls

It was now a simple matter of following the track back towards the road into Grassington. The fields either side of the track held cows basking in what little sunlight was breaking through the clouds. As I approached the gate of one field, a farmer was coming the other way. As he approached, the cows got up and began to crowd around the gate whilst he pulled the bolt back and opened it.

“Do you want me to wait?” I asked, thinking he’d probably prefer it if I didn’t get in the way.

“No, you’re fine,” he said, “They won’t do anything to you if you keep going.”

And so I walked ahead of the cows until they turned and made their own way into another part of the farm. I waved at the farmer as I turned back and followed the track down to the main road. He waved back and then shouted at the slower cows to get moving.

IMG_5956
18. A Dales traffic jam (c) Kim Ralls
IMG_5957.JPG
19. Looking towards Grassington (c) Kim Ralls

The track joined a single-lane road heading towards the town between fields and meadows. Swallows darted overhead and in one field a pair of horses trotted over to say hello. At a T-junction, the single lane joined Grass Woods Lane, the road I had crossed as I entered the main body of Grass Woods. Across the road was a metal gate and the final footpath to take me back into town via the bridge across the river.

Near the bridge I came across a small enclosure. On the other side of the wall I could hear quacking and looked over at the largest ducks I had ever seen. Was it one of those I had seen through the trees? They certainly looked big enough and I doubted they were enclined to stay in their enclosure on a permenant basis.

IMG_5967
20. Back to the beginning (c) Kim Ralls

With the day’s big mystery probably solved, I followed the path down to the bridge and into town, my stomach reminding me that I hadn’t eaten all day.

A Crayfish Called Kevin

Wharfedale Map 001
(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.

IMG_5241
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.

IMG_5264.JPG
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.

IMG_5301
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.

IMG_5315.JPG
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.

IMG_5325.JPG
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.

IMG_5377
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.

IMG_5342.JPG
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.

IMG_5481.JPG
8. (c) Kim Ralls
IMG_5487.JPG
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.

IMG_5491.JPG
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.

IMG_5533.JPG
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.

IMG_5603.JPG
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.

IMG_5607
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.

IMG_5630.JPG
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?!

IMG_5639.JPG
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.

IMG_5652.JPG
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.

IMG_5549.JPG
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!

Ingleborough Waterfalls 001
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.

IMG_3946
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).

IMG_3956.JPG
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.

IMG_3958.JPG
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.

IMG_3972
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.

IMG_3993.JPG
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.

IMG_4000
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).

IMG_4038.JPG
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.

IMG_4052
8. It’s a long way down… (c) Kim Ralls
IMG_4043
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.

IMG_4074
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.

IMG_4087
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.

IMG_4097
(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.

IMG_4098
(c) Kim Ralls
IMG_4100
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.

Christmas Trees in May

It was our second Christmas in the house in Thoralby and the snow was on the ground. The parents and I decided to go for a short walk ‘over the top’ from Thoralby into Walden and back via West Burton. Back then the plantation that we walked through was a small forest of conifers and other trees and it was a delight to walk through – even if I did slip over on my backside on one or two occasions.

Twelve years later, my father and I decided to do the walk again and see what progress had been made since the trees had been chopped down and new saplings planted. The wind was quite strong, even low down, and I tightened the drawstrings on my new wide-brimmed hat and ignored Dad’s laughing derision.

I’ll admit, I have no fashion-sense.

We took the road from Thoralby to Newbiggin, passing the old Crosslanes School (now a bunkhouse) and where the Newbiggin road bends to the right to run through the village, we went left and climbed a stoney farm track towards the first gate.

IMG_3215
The top of the farm track. It eventually leads down to West Burton, but we went to the right of the picure (c) Kim Ralls

Through the gate, the ground rises in a steep climb over grass that offers a beautiful view of Thoralby and Bishopdale. We could, in fact, see our house from up there.

IMG_3228
Thoralby (c) Kim Ralls

Up on the tops the birds were out in force. We saw curlews, jackdaws, lapwings and pheasants (guess who got a book of British birds for his birthday) and Dad had brought his binoculars with him so we could look across two dales to Bolton Castle and spy out the path we were to take. It perhaps doesn’t come across through the photos, but the visibility was stupendous as we paused in our assent every now and then to admire the scenery.

We were heading for a gap in a dry stone wall that marked the start of the old plantation. Driving down the hill from Aysgarth the other day, I glanced across to Wasset Fell opposite Thoralby and saw the sun glinting off countless plastic tubes set around saplings on the hillside. It will be some years before they come into their growth, but I can already imagine a great expanse of woodland stretching the length of Bishopdale. They’re only grown to be chopped down and sold for timber, but it will be beautiful no matter how fleeting.

We climbed and pointed out birds or features in the landscape. Dad’s done this walk many times and I let him guide – he kept ribbing me about my hat and the fact that what I had thought was the path on the map was in fact a steep-sided ditch, one that we’d never have climbed out of.

Finally we reached the plantation. Even though they’re only saplings, it’s still a pretty place to walk. My only memory up to that point was of a deep wood with the snow on branches and the sweet smell of pine needles and rich soil in the air. Now it was open to the sky and the long grass weaved and rustled in the wind whilst birds flitted between the young branches.

IMG_3256.JPG
In the plantation, looking back the way we’d come (c) Kim Ralls

A track had been mown though the long grass. The soft surface wasn’t easy on the legs; like walking on deep snow and having to lift your feet higher so you can see where you’re putting them next. Dad told me he’d seen birds of prey on his walks up here and I eagerly looked for them, just in case. I’d never be able to photograph them with my equipment and I’ve seen hawks and the like in falconry centres, but to see them in the wild would be have been a treat. Of course, I didn’t see any, but I wasn’t dissappointed.

Over another stile Dad pointed out a path we could have taken to climb Wasset Fell where clouds were casting long shadows over dry stone walls. Then we found ourselves walking through an area thick with young conifers.

IMG_3272.JPG
Christmas trees – thousands of ’em! (c) Kim Ralls

Well, I assume they were young. They hadn’t yet reached the gargantuan heights of the ones we had walked through so many years ago, but the smell was fantastic. Even in the middle of Spring with the sun shining and the sounds of Summer birds overhead, I had to admit to feeling festive.

“That’s next Christmas’ tree sorted, then” I said to Dad.

He laughed. “They grow so close together, they’d be too thin.”

The path began to slope down, bordered on both sides by conifers, the plantation stretching across the hillside as far as I could see. Saplings wrapped in plastic had been planted in neat little rows looking like strip bulbs with one end stuck in the ground.

IMG_3268
(c) Kim Ralls

Where the conifers ended, the path became a track laid with hardcore that curved down to the Walden road that runs from the top of West Burton and up the length of Waldendale.

We could see across to Penhill and Harland Hill. Dad pointed out a track running up between the two hills that would, if we followed it, take us over into Coverdale. It would be a lovely walk to do, though as Dad pointed out you’d need to leave a car at the other end to get home.

“We could always drive over and leave the van at the pub,” he said. “Then drive back in mine and start the walk.”

He leant me his binoculars and I could trace the path winding its way up between the two hills before it rounded a spur and went out of sight. I could see a small stream running below it.

“Thupton Gill,” Dad said.

Yorkshire place names always have a warm, friendly sound to them, like Thupton Gill, Thoralby and Thornton-Le-Beans. If you do the research, you’ll find the majority of them have Norse origins from when this part of the country formed part of Danelaw and was ruled by the Danes.

IMG_3280
The Walden road heading for West Burton (c) Kim Ralls

We followed the road downhill, jumping onto the verge when a milk-wagon thundered along at a rediculously fast pace.

“They don’t care, do they?” said Dad.

“I hope he doesn’t meet anyone coming the other way.”

A moment later a hatchback past us going in the opposite direction at an even brisker pace. I don’t think they cared, either.

Walking along the road we could see some of the paths criss-crossing Penhill and we started hatching plans to follow some of the ones I hadn’t been on yet; Dad thinking of the journey whilst I was thinking of the photographs.

The road would have taken us into the centre of West Burton, but we took another footpath that skirted around the top of the village. We stopped for a breather and I looked down the length of the village green towards the pub and the shop and the village hall where The Penhill Poachers rehearse (we’ve also played there on several occasions).

IMG_3313.JPG
West Burton (c) Kim Ralls

The path took us away from the village and across fields to join the farm track from Newbiggin. The wind hadn’t dropped all day, but the sun was getting hotter and I was glad for my hat, no matter how foolish it made me look (which is pretty foolish, if you ask my father).

We cut across the fields to the main road and walked home in time for lunch, a host of new walks filed away in my head for future reference.

Bullocks, Bunnies and Bluebells – Part 3

Despite my run-in with the bullocks, I was glad I had come along this route. The views of the river Ure were lovely and there was an abundance of water fowl on, in and around the water. There were more clouds in the sky by now and so my photos were looking better – a clear sky might look lovely, but in a photograph it becomes no more than empty space.

I was thankful that there were less flies on this part of the footpath and absolutely no cattle that I could see. Sheep might have followed me in a similar manner, but I knew I could scare them off if necessary. However, I’m labouring the point. It was still a beautiful day and I was looking forward to lunch.

IMG_3088.JPG
River Ure looking East (c) Kim Ralls

The river was tranquil, unlike the Swale on my walk to Easby Abbey, and ducks and gulls and wading birds swam in the water and ignored me as I walked by.

So far on my walk I had seen few signs with more information than the word ‘Footpath’ carved into the wood. As the river bent away from the path I was on, I climbed through a thin stile and saw a sign that proved a little more helpful.

IMG_3100
It felt like a lot more than four miles, I can tell you! (c) Kim Ralls

On the other side of the stile was the road from Worton that runs down and crosses over the river and then climbes up to meet the upper Dale road between Askrigg and Newbiggin. I crossed the road and into a neat field with, of all things, a paved footpath. Oh, what luxury!

My new walking boots had proven very comfortable, but it was nice to have my feet on a solid surface for a change, especially when you consider that most farmers in the Dales do the bare minimum to maintain footpaths on their land (and I suppose they do have other things on their minds).

Across this field and into the next where ewes moved lazily when they deigned to move at all. Lambs played in and about the clumps of long grass until I came near. Then they scampered back to their mothers and huddled together. I muttered ‘mint sauce’ as they ran.

IMG_3107
Wether Fell seen from below Askrigg (c) Kim Ralls

The paving came to an end at a stile reached by a flight of stone steps with a metal bannister – would wonders never cease?

IMG_3115.JPG
How considerate (c) Kim Ralls

For those who don’t know, Askrigg was used as a location for the TV series All Creatures Great and Small starring Christopher Timothy as James Herriot. It was also my parents’ choice for our first holiday in the Dales when my sister and I were kids. The holiday cottage we rented is still there, though I didn’t go looking for it this time. I was ready for something to eat.

IMG_3109
Askrigg (c) Kim Ralls

The village is beautiful and unspoiled by its brush with fame – the house on the right of the photo was used as Skeldale House in the TV series and is now a B&B called, funnily enough, Skeldale House B&B. At the bottom of the village stands St Oswald’s church and the beginning of a waterfall walk that I’ll cover in a later blog.

There are three pubs in the village – The Kings Arms, The Crown and The White Rose – and it had been years since I had ventured into the Crown with my family for an evening meal when we had our holiday, so I simply went with the Kings Arms because it was the first one I came to. Inside the walls were covered in photos from All Creatures Great and Small as well as shots of the cast and crew relaxing at the pub, which also served as the Drovers’ Arms in the TV series. The bar was empty when I went in and I was glad for a chance to sit down to a sandwich and a half of dark beer. The woman behind the bar said it was a lovely day and I agreed.

“Come far?” she asked.

“I’ve just walked over from Thoralby,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, though I think what she really wanted to say was ‘why?’

I ate my sandwich and drank my beer and had a look at some of the photos on my camera. There were quite a few where the sky was washed-out, and though I would try to rescue them on the computer once I got home, they were destined for deletion. It’s always disappointing when photos don’t come out the way you hope, but I learn something new each time and so no photo is completely wasted.

The bar was lovely and cool and the beer was sending me to sleep, so I decided it was time to move on. I felt the back of my neck and was surprised at how hot it felt. I was burnt on my forehead as well and I knew I was probably going to feel rotten later. Still, I’d come this far and I certainly wasn’t going to let a little sunburn spoil the walk home.

IMG_3116
(c) Kim Ralls

I left Askrigg and walked back along the paved footpath until I came to the field near the road from Worton. A farmer was driving his tractor across the field and towing a muck spreader behind. Manure was flying out of the back and coating the field where I was suppposed to be walking. But what about my new boots?!

Living in the countryside, the smell of muck doesn’t phase me as much as it did when we only came here for our holidays. I climbed into the field, realising that the farmer would take a little time to cover the whole area. I didn’t look at the ground – I knew exactly what I was stepping in – and gave the farmer a wave when he saw me. I was ready to stand and let him past, but instead he stopped the tractor and motioned for me to continue. I carried on, all the while hoping I didn’t slip in anything nasty.

IMG_3119.JPG
(c) Kim Ralls

Leaving the field, I turned right and followed the road over the river and up into Worton. The village is tiny and apart from the pub has nothing much of interest. I had looked on my map and seen that I had two options. I could go up through Worton and then on to Thornton Rust and finally over the tops to Thoralby. Or I could go back the way I had come and have to run the gauntlet again. Do I really need to say which was the more appealing?

The map showed no footpath from Worton to Thornton Rust and so I followed the single lane road up a steep hill that offered a splendid view of Askrigg and the hills behind.

IMG_3121.JPG
Askrigg from the Thornton Rust road (c) Kim Ralls

I took my time climbing the hill, jumping onto the verge when a tractor or car came by. At last the road went round a tight bend and levelled off. I looked down at Worton and was surprised at how high I had climbed. To my right was Addlebrough again and I passed a footpath sign with the hill’s name on it. This was something to file away for future reference. As was the footpath sign I then passed on my left pointing down to Worton. Well, you live and learn.

I followed the road into Thornton Rust, another picturesque Dales village that I had last visited in March with The Penhill Poachers, a folk-rock band I play in. Next to a red phone box was the footpath I was to take for the final leg of my walk.

IMG_3133
You don’t see many of these nowadays (c) Kim Ralls

This was one of the last photos I would take on this walk for two reasons. First the battery in my camera was running low and the second was that the footpath from Thornton Rust to Thoralby covers a couple of difficult spots where I needed both hands free. I put the camera in my bag and walked up the hill, watched by a few inquisitive sheep.

Almost immediately I ran into difficulties. Not from the terrain I was walking on, but from the confusing signposts I encountered. Before I started walking regularly, I had no idea just how many paths criss-cross the hills in this area. The sheep continued to stare whilst I compared my map with the directions the signs were indicating. Eventually I realised that I was in fact on the right route and carried on. The path climbed steeply and at one point a small stream ran across the path, the stone beneath was slippery under my feet.

At last I found myself on the top and enjoyed a 360 degree view of Wensleydale and Bishopdale and the hills of the North, South, East and West. Forgive the cliche, but it actually did take my breath away and I took my camera from my bag again to take a couple of shots.

IMG_3142.JPG
(c) Kim Ralls

I walked on and noticed that a lot of the fields had shallow dips in them. I remembered that these were called shake holes. The hills in this area are mostly limestone and, over the centuries, rain has seeped into the rock and carved out caves and pot holes all over the place. Any Dales farmer will tell you stories of sheep going missing on the tops and how the most likely explanation is that the unfortunate animals have walked into one of these dips in the ground. The soil is very thin there and it only takes one mis-step for it to give way into the caverns below.

And I was walking amongst them.

I put the camera away and carried on. My feet were aching and my head and neck were burnt to a crisp. It didn’t take long to reach the final descent into Thoralby, marked by a stand of scraggly trees like those atop Lady Hill. As I crossed one field, there was a rustle in the long grass and a hare darted out from its cover and away before I could bring my camera to bear. It wouldn’t have done any good, of course, because my lens simply can’t zoom in far enough for that kind of image. But it was beautiful to see.

IMG_3179.JPG
(c) Kim Ralls

I passed the stand of trees and walked down into Thoralby. Part way down, the footpath went through a metal gate and onto a steep concrete track. I could see the village below and tried to take one final photograph looking across the Dale to Pen Hill, but my battery had run out at last and so I headed for home.

Bullocks, Bunnies and Bluebells – Part 2

With the rabbits playing hide-and-seek and the day not getting any cooler, I moved on from the warren and followed the path over boggy ground towards the west end of the dale. In one place a wooden walkway had been laid down and I could see why; the mud beneath looked as though it had the consitency of tomato soup. As I climbed over and through stiles of varying widths and designs, I looked to my left at Addlebrough and over my shoulder at Lady Hill. On my right there was a small woody area behind a dry stone wall. It looked cool under the trees, but there were no paths that I could see and I didn’t want to risk trespassing.

Eventually I came to a stop. According to the map, the footpath hugged the edge of the woods and emerged into Woodhall opposite the garage. This meant going through a metal gate and up what looked like someone’s driveway. This I did, but I began to feel uneasy. There was no sign and the track looked as if it was leading to someone’s front door and not the main road. Had I missed something?

I retraced my steps and walked along the edge of the field, searching for a signpost or a stile or anything to indicate that I had made a mistake. Surely I had misread the map and I was meant to cross lower down. But there was nothing and I went back to the gate and walked along the drive again. I rounded the corner of the house and a bunch of collies in metal cages went mad, barking and snapping and leaping about behind bars. There was no one about and I didn’t stay long enough for someone to come searching for the source of the disturbance.

The track became a stoney drive that curved up and round a bend. Half-way to the top I saw a wooden gate in the wall and went through, heaving a sigh of relief (and heaving my body through the rediculously narrow gap).

Opposite the garage was a lane marked with a T-junction sign. A wooden arrow pointed down it with the word ‘Footpath’ written on it. That was about all the help I could expect on today’s walk.

I followed the road down until it became another dirt track where I stopped and looked at the map. It was mid-morning and I didn’t have any pressing need to get home, so I looked at the dotted lines indicating footpaths and found one that would take me to Askrigg. I worked out that it would be lunchtime when I arrived and perhaps a pub lunch would be a nice treat. I put the map away and walked on, passing a tree that was still full of blossom even though the other trees I had seen in the area had shed theirs weeks ago.

IMG_3060
(c) Kim Ralls

What really swung the decision for me was the part of the map that showed I would be walking for a little way along the old railway track. It would be lovely to follow it and see the view presented to the passengers when the line had been in use. I took a footpath over a field where geese strutted and honked at each other (and me when I got a little too close). There were more clouds in the sky now and their brief shade was a welcome relief from the sun.

IMG_3070
(c) Kim Ralls

Eventually the path climbed up onto the track bed and I followed it along, keeping to the edges because the middle was almost a quagmire. A little way down was a stone and iron bridge that was still intact. I was pleased, if a little surprised considering how many of the old bridges have been dismantled over the years. This wasn’t a bridge that had carried track and I wondered if that had anything to do with it. I couldn’t think of any reason for it to be left intact, though the National Park Authority has a habit of decreeing certain structures have to be left untouched because they’re a particularly fine example of a certain feature (mullioned windows, for example). It wouldn’t surprise me if one of them had seen this bridge, decided it was worth preserving and issued the necessary paperwork with no regard to the fact it was in the middle of a field and sheep have no interest in British railway architecture.

IMG_3077
(c) Kim Ralls
IMG_3081
To the right is the path I had to take – the middle was like a swamp (c) Kim Ralls

I could only walk a short way along the track before the footpath turned to the right and into a field. The signs indicated that I could cut along the bottom of the field and head to Askrigg, or I could hug the right-hand wall and walk North to Nappa. I started along the bottom until I caught sight of a herd of bullocks in my way. As one they raised their heads and stared at me and from that distance it was hard to tell if they saw me as friend or foe or nothing important.

I waited. Perhaps they would go back to their grazing or dozing or whatever it is bullocks do to pass the time. They kept staring at me and I decided the best thing to do was to cross the field diagonally and keep my distance. In the middle of the field was a small rise and I walked with it between me and the herd so that I had a low profile and (hopefully) appeared non-threatening.

They started to walk towards me.

I kept moving, trying to maintain an illusion of outward calm despite the voice in my head telling me to throw caution to the wind and run for all I was worth. If you ever find yourself in this situation, running is actually the worst thing you can do. All the advice I had seen online and on Countryfile tells you to let your dog go because the animals will chase it and leave you alone. OK, what if you don’t have a dog?

I thought about that scene in Withnail and I where the two of them are – whoops, almost forgot the spoiler alert – threatened by a bull and one of them is encouraged to run at it shouting. It works in the film, but I didn’t want to put it to the test here. I could see the stile from where I was and what followed was the most perverse game of Grandma’s Footsteps I’ve ever played.

I turned my back on the bullocks and walked as calmly as possible to the ladder set against the dry stone wall. I could hear the animals following and every few paces I would stop and turn to face them. They would stop and look at me and none of us would move for a moment or two. Then I would continue and they would follow.

I did this five or six times until I was only a short way from the stile and then I did something stupid.

I ran.

I could hear the bullocks galloping after me, but I was committed now. I could say that I had visions of what might happen running through my head, but in truth all I saw was the stile getting closer and closer until I was leaping up and over and into the lane on the other side. The bullocks came to a halt behind a metal gate and looked at me through the bars. I felt the adrenaline rush fade and stood for a while watching the animals watching me before they decided to go back to grazing and forget about the idiot who had invaded their field and led them in a mad dash for no apparent reason.

IMG_3082
The view after I left the bullocks behind (c) Kim Ralls

I found the footpath to Askrigg and walked on feeling somewhat embarrassed by my behaviour. In all likelihood, the bullocks would have just followed me at a slow amble until I was gone from the field. In fact, they had almost certainly come to associate humans with feeding time and had assumed that I was the farmer. This didn’t make me feel much better as I followed the path along the banks of the river.

I  didn’t care whether the sun was over the yardarm or not; I needed a stiff drink.

Bullocks, Bunnies and Bluebells – Part 1

Lady Hill is a prominent landmark between Aysgarth and Worton on the A684 as it winds its way through Wensleydale (ooh, I love alliteration!) It’s a small hill, topped with a copse of scraggly trees and, according to the OS map I had downloaded to my phone, it is bordered on either side by footpaths running almost parallel to the road. I decided that this was going to be my next walk, despite running mostly on the flat in the middle of the dale. This was partly because I’d always wanted to see it up close and partly because the map states that there’s a rabbit warren there. Aha! says I, methinks I’ll see if I can get some pictures of some cute little bunnies.

The sun was shining from the bluest of blue skies as I set off up the hill from Thoralby to Aysgarth. As usual I had packed my raincoat in my backpack, along with my tripod, remote shutter release and a magazine (clean, I promise you). Huffing and puffing along the road, I was beginning to give serious consideration to going back and ditching everything but the camera and my water bottle. The sun was shining, as I said, so did I really need a raincoat? Well, all the best advice says to be prepared and so I carried on slogging and admiring the view up Bishopdale towards Kidstones pass.

IMG_2968
Bishopdale looking towards Kidstones. (c) Kim Ralls

The road from Thoralby to Aysgarth is a series of short, sharp inclines broken by level stretches like a set of steps. I’ve found you don’t notice the level bits so much when you’re on foot and especially not with the sun burning a hole in the back of your head. At almost the half-way spot, the road curves round a bend over Tom Gill Bridge and up Tom Gill Bank and here was where I left the road and took to the fields.

IMG_2974
Tom Gill bank. (c) Kim Ralls

The little patch of shade near the bridge was very welcome and, not for the last time, I wondered if I shouldn’t have borrowed a hat from somebody before setting off. The footpath climbed steeply, like the road, but at least once I reached the top it was over and I could catch my breath whilst I watched gulls swooping over a nearby pasture and, behind them, the slopes of Addlebrough that, one day, I intend to climb if I can find a footpath. The view from the top must be truly splendid.

IMG_2993
Addlebrough (c) Kim Ralls

I left the gulls to their play and followed the path towards Aysgarth. I had a choice of two gates and I chose the left one that would take me over more fields and out onto the Thornton Rust road at the Hawes (West) end of Aysgarth. The footpath became a muddy track between two houses and I kept my mouth clamped firmly shut against the horde of midges and flies buzzing around my face. I’ve no idea if Australians really do hang corks from their hats, but I could see why it might be a good idea. Perhaps I’ll try it one day – I’ve no fashion-sense anyway.

I left the flies behind and stepped onto the road as a tractor and muck-spreader rumbled by with their own collection of insects trailing behind. I turned right and followed the tractor into Aysgarth to where the Thornton Rust road joins the A684. Aysgarth is a pretty village that tends to be overshadowed by the waterfalls nearby – scene of the stick fight in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner. I once worked at the pub above the falls and the landlord at the time did his best to convince oblivious holiday makers that Kevin Costner had stayed at the hotel. We had a number of ‘Kevin Costner sat/stood/drank/stubbed his toe here’-type anecdotes we were supposed to repeat ad nauseum to the patrons. Some even believed us.

Crossing the road, I followed a footpath down towards the river – the sign mentioned the mill, but that was not where I was headed. No, there was a little patch of wood by the side of the river that I was headed for. I’m a sucker for a woodland trail – and pasta and old books, but not necessarily at the same time.

The track lead down to the river and another choice between right or left. Right went off to the mill and the upper falls – worth a visit if you’ve never been before. Left took me through a field and over a ladder style into the trees.

IMG_2997
One of the easier stiles I’ve had to climb over the years… (c) Kim Ralls

Out of the sun it was blissfully cool and either side of the path were tonnes of bluebells between the trees. I could have quite happily sat down with a novel and a plate of spaghetti and stayed there for the day with the birds in the trees and the soft hush of the river below.

IMG_3003
(c) Kim Ralls

I took photos and breathed in the smell of trees and bluebells and wildflowers. I’ve had fourteen years of living in the Dales and I had never known such a beautiful place lay a short walk from my front door. Incidentally, I looked at my map and discovered this wood is called Roger – check for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Anyway, I walked through the wood and admired a view of the river I hadn’t seen before. I love a good river walk and from a couple of angles the sun was in just the right place so there was little or no reflection on the water; photographers spend money on polorising filters to achieve this (and I will too), but today I was incredibly lucky.

IMG_3016
One river, sans reflection (c) Kim Ralls

The footpath rejoined the road a few yards down from where I left it in the village. What might have seemed an unnecessary detour had proven more than worth it. Walking along the road was not the most pleasant experience – farm vehicles and HGVs move for no man – and I was glad when I came to a layby next to the river with the iron footbridge that was the start of the main path I would be following.

IMG_3018
(c) Kim Ralls
IMG_3020
(c) Kim Ralls

The bridge was rusty, but solid and the view either side of the river was beautiful. The sun sparkled in the water and it was easy to ignore the constant noise of traffic in the background. I crossed the bridge and followed the track up a gentle slope, pausing to look at the ruined railway bridge that used to carry the Wensleydale railway between Northallerton and Hawes before joining with the Settle to Carlisle at Garsdale. The railway has been restored and carries passengers as far as Redmire, though the company is attempting to raise the funds to reopen the line all along the original route, though with so many bridges demolished, it may be far in the future before this is realised. I tried to photograph the ruined bridge, but the bushes and weeds had grown over it so much that it was hard to make out the structure in the image.

The footpath joined the upper Wensleydale road and I turned left. Yet again I was assailed by farm vehicles and had to hug the wall running along the road and wonder what on earth was under the pile of leaves I was standing in. Eventually I came to another footpath sign and left the road with a certain amount of relief. Now I could walk through the fields without fear of tractors and lorries and caravans.

IMG_3031
View of Addlebrough – there were a lot of flies about, hence the black spots on the image (c) Kim Ralls

Walking along I had a lovely view of Addlebrough and, once again, I wondered if there was a path that would climb to the top. I imagined the spectacular views I might have from the summit and filed it away in my mental list of walks to do.

Most of the fields I walked through had sheep in them with lambs gambolling (maybe even gambling as well, don’t let their innocent little faces fool you) over the hillocks and in and out of patches of long grass. Overhead peewhits and gulls soared and the once-clear sky was now dotted with fluffy white clouds. I had come out wearing a hooded jumper just in case the weather turned foul – you never know – but by now I was swealtering and so I tied it round my waist. There was a gentle breeze blowing and I was glad I had remembered to pack my water bottle. I was going to need it.

I climbed over another stile and had my first close look at Lady Hill.

IMG_3040
Lady Hill (c) Kim Ralls

Thoughts of climbing it crossed my mind, followed by ideas for photos that I could take from within the copse. But if there’s one rule I always obey when out walking it’s that you never wonder off the path if you don’t have to. It’s easy to forget that somebody owns the fields that you’re walking through, not to mention the livestock you see. True, I’ve gotten lost on more than one occasion and found myself wondering if I’m trespassing, but I’ve always made every effort to get back onto the path at the earliest opportunity. My photo ideas would have to remain in my head for the time being, especially as I had arrived at the rabbit warren.

In a dip in the ground was a pile of rocks spotted with holes like Swiss cheese (yes, it’s an overused simile, but I’m afraid it’s the most appropriate in this case and so you’ll have to forgive my lack of originality). Now, I thought, I can snap a few bunnies for the archives.

Or not.

I’ve often lamented the short-comings of my only camera lens, but on this occasion it was I who was lacking. The two rabbits that I did see poked their heads above ground and dissappeared again before I had a chance to press the shutter. I had crouched low and was certain that if I waited they might come out again. Not a chance. I must have been there twenty or thirty minutes before I decided I was wasting my time. Obviously I needed to be much further away and for that I needed a longer lens. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you will have realised that wildlife and I don’t seem to get on. And it’s not as if I haven’t made an effort.

However, I was to have a definite close encounter later in the day…