In Wainwright’s Bootsteps

Map (c) Kim Ralls

 

When I started walking Alfred Wainwright was a name that I was always familiar with, but I had never really paid much attention to his work until I found out he had written two of his pictorial guides covering the Howgill Fells and the countryside around the Three Peaks. I bought copies of both books (second hand as they appear to, sadly, be out of print) and instantly fell in love with his style of writing and, of course, the maps he drew with such detail and accuracy. I’ve followed two of his walks so far, the ascent of Winder and the walk to Yordas Cave, and was eager to try a third. This might be seen as lazy as opposed to finding and writing about walks of my own, but I wanted to see if I could actually complete one of his walks using nothing but the map in the book and his information. The fact is that the books were written in the 70s and, whilst the landscape changes relatively slowly, I was curious to see if there was any change. I mean, the books were out of print; was that because they were no longer valid, or was there simply no interest in them? As will be seen from this walk, the latter is the most likely reason and I think this is incredibly sad. His books are beautiful and while the volumes focusing on the Lakeland fells are his best known, the two volumes I have in my possession are just as valid and the walks just as fascinating.

1. Howgill Lane, Sedbergh (c) Kim Ralls

As with my ascent of Winder, this walk begins in the centre of Sedbergh and follows Howgill Lane up towards Lockbank Farm and its tempting sign directing unsuspecting walkers further along the road to the local ice-cream parlour. What cunning fiends these people are!

I resisted temptation (barely) and made my way through the farmyard and up beyond the boundary wall onto the slopes of the fells. My target for today was the next peak along from Winder, called Arant Haw and pronounced, I assume, as you would read it. If I ever find I am in error, I shall let you know and update this post accordingly. With the sun beating down on the back of my head it promised to be a similar day to my last trip; fluffy clouds scudding across a pale blue sky and the impossible quiet of the fells broken only by the gentle breeze or the occasional sheep calling to the rest of the flock. The summer had been very dry so far and the ground beneath my feet was soft and dusty and made the first few feet of the climb a little tough on the backs of the legs.

2. The only way is up (c) Kim Ralls

The flank of Winder is covered in bracken at this time of year, lush green in colour and standing out in stark contrast to the grass bleached brown by weeks of constant sunshine. The few sheep I had seen so far had obviously been newly-clipped and were looking very embarrassed about the whole affair, similar to the way people say how much they love the travesty the hairdresser has just visited upon them even though, deep down, it is gnawing away at their very soul.

The first part of the climb was old territory to me, having come down this way from the summit of Winder, and I kept wondering if I was just repeating the photographs from that previous walk. Of course, the big difference was that I had a few more lenses this time around and spent most of the time with a 28mm lens on my camera instead of the old 18-55mm zoom. Just having a different lens on the camera changes how you take a photo – different lenses having their own strengths and weaknesses – and today I had the advantage of the clouds drifting over the landscape and changing the light from one moment to the next.

3. Looking back (c) Kim Ralls

At long last I reached the top of the first climb and paused to catch my breath whilst looking at the cross-roads of two paths; the path I was on went straight ahead, whilst the other wound up from the East end of Settle, passed Settlebeck Gill and up towards the summit of Winder. After the days of hot sunshine, there was no sound from the gill and, if I’d taken the time to climb down to it, I’ve no doubt I would have found a dry bed where normally a brisk stream flows.

The path climbs gently towards the ridge that connects Winder and Arant Haw and in the distance I could see people on bicycles making their way up the slopes of the latter, though why you would want to cycle up these fells is beyond me. The idea of exerting yourself needlessly in order to reach the summits of these fells is something I will never understand; Wainwright mentions the Three Peaks Walk in his book Walks In Limestone Country, even going so far as to provide his own exquisite maps for walkers to follow, but from reading his introduction to the walk you get the idea that he had no time for people whose only goal was to complete the challenge solely for the bragging rights. My own opinion is that a walk, any walk, should be undertaken with the simple goal of enjoying the journey and the views along the way.

One of the reasons I adore walking in the Howgills so much is that the ground underfoot is beautifully soft and springy and, as Wainwright himself says, “a pair of boots would last a lifetime if all fell walking was like this”. Indeed, for those like me who don’t own a set of proper walking boots (mine are more trainers, than boots) the ground on these fells is a positive boon compared to the solid ground of the Yorkshire Dales where a pair of soft soles means you feel every bit of stone and grit and, by journey’s end, the feet feel raw with blisters.

4. Arant Haw (c) Kim Ralls

From the path along the ridge, Arant Haw doesn’t look all that impressive, even though it is nearly another five hundred feet higher than Winder at 1989 feet and its gentle curves disguise a relatively steep ascent. Indeed, the last few hundred feet were incredibly hard work for someone as unfit as myself – I was made to feel even more feeble by a couple just north of middle age who all but scampered passed me with a smile and a cheery ‘hello!’

In my defence I will say that looking at them I reckon I weighed more than both of them combined.

I staggered on up the hill, stopping frequently to get my breath and to enjoy the sheer beauty of the vistas on all sides; the summit to the North, the smaller summit of Crook to the East, Winder and Sedbergh to the South and, best of all, the deep valley of the Crosedale Beck to the West that opens out onto the rolling countryside of the Lune Valley and the beginning of the Lakeland Fells. The shadows of clouds slid gracefully over the land and the breeze began to pick up, providing some much-needed relief from the heat of the morning sun.

5. Looking West (c) Kim Ralls

Although the final climb is quite steep, it is mercifully short and the view from the summit is more than worth the effort. I could try to describe it to you, but I think the best option is to let the images (an admittedly poor substitute) speak for themselves.

6. The summit (c) Kim Ralls
7. Brown Moor (c) Kim Ralls

My original plan, as with Winder, was to use the summit as the half-way mark and stop for a bite to eat before carrying on. However, it was a little early and I wasn’t actually feeling that hungry, so I decided to carry on a little way until my stomach told me it was time to stop. There was only one small problem, though. Wainwright’s map showed the path going off to the West and down a ridge to Nab and then down to the boundary wall and back to Sedbergh. All well and good, except the OS map showed no such path and so I would have to rely on a forty year-old hand-drawn map and hope the landscape hadn’t changed too much in the intervening years.

8. Middle Tongue (c) Kim Ralls

To my eye there was a faint path down the ridge and I followed it hoping that it wasn’t about to fail me or, worse, end in an insurmountable drop. The good news is that the descent was proving to be a lot easier than the ascent, the turf lovely and soft beneath my feet and a cool breeze clearing the hot air. I even started singing quietly to myself at one point, so enjoyable was the experience (it was an old Norfolk folk song called Barton Broad Ditty, if anyone’s interested). These really are the epitome of the term ‘rolling hills’ and, amazingly, Wainwright’s forty year-old map proved far truer than I could have expected. I always try to make my own maps as accurate as possible, but I am no artist and cannot hold a candle to the master in whose bootsteps I was following. Above the boundary wall the fells are open access and so, technically, a walker can go wherever he or she feels able. That said, it is best to stick to the footpaths, whether OS or Wainwright, as the slopes can look a lot gentler than they are. Walking down the ridge I was cognisant of the very large drops on either side of the path; not good for someone who’s a little nervous when it comes to heights.

9. The way down (c) Kim Ralls

Talking of deceptive slopes, the above photo doesn’t quite convey just how steep the descent becomes beyond the fell known as Nab. At times I half-expected to end up slipping and sliding to the bottom on my backside but I made it to the raucous cries of the sheep who had watched my descent with a certain amount of bored disinterest until I came near enough to spook them.

10. What’s so funny? (c) Kim Ralls

At the bottom of Nab I sat on a convenient rock and broke out my sandwiches. After so much scrambling I was more than a little peckish, though I was a little nervous as a red kite and pair of buzzards began to circle above: were they after my ham sarnies?

Actually, joking aside, it was a delight to see the birds above especially as they don’t seem as common around my own neighbourhood and to see three at once was completely unexpected. I tried to change the lens on my camera in time to take a couple of photos, but by the time I had wrestled the telephoto from my camera bag and attached it to the camera, the birds were long gone. Oh well, I was certain there would be chances on other walks. At that moment I was happy enough with having achieved my goal and more than a little grateful that Wainwright’s map had proven accurate after so many years. The landscape of the Dales is still virtually unchanged from the days of James Herriot, but old maps and footpaths still have to be updated every now and then. Paths erode and new walls are put up and old ones taken down. In an open area like the Howgills, such changes are unlikely but it’s better to err on the side of caution.

Anyway, I finished my lunch and hauled myself to my feet, the rock was actually quite comfortable and I was reluctant to leave. But I needed to finish the walk and still, according to the map, had a fair way to go.

The path slopes down towards the boundary wall where it crosses the Crosedale Beck via a ford next to an old sheepfold that is also mentioned on Wainwright’s map.

11. Sheepfold (c) Kim Ralls

Beyond the sheepfold you can see the summit of Arant Haw and even, if you look closely, a bird of prey that refused to come closer to have its picture taken. As I carried on, I heard the unmistakable cry of a buzzard in the air above and this time I had my long lens on the camera in time as it glided straight overhead. I snapped away and hoped that at least one of the photos would come out in focus. Zoomed in to 210mm I had a fantastic view of the bird, though what I really wanted was for it to come low enough so that I could get some hills or trees in the background for a little context.

12. Buzzard (c) Kim Ralls

It wasn’t one of the easiest subjects I’ve tried to photograph, but I at least managed to get a couple of shots with the birds feathers illuminated by the sun. Realising that I was taking too long photographing the buzzard, I turned and headed on with a certain amount of reluctance. However, I did take one last shot that probably ranks near the top of the best photos I’ve taken.

13. Buzzard Express (c) Kim Ralls

It wasn’t until I got home and looked at the photo on the computer that I realised I had photographed the train as well. Some people have suggested that I crop the photo to make the bird bigger, but I prefer this angle because although the bird is quite small the rest of the photo presents it in context and the angle of the sun meant that the bird is quite distinct.

My mission accomplished, I carried on through a bracken-lined path along the boundary wall.

14. Looking back towards Brown Moor (c) Kim Ralls

The breeze had died down by this time and the heat was beginning to build once more. I passed a gate opening onto a short track that led down towards Howgill Lane and I was tempted to follow it and get my feet on terra firma once more, if only to save me from the scramble that was to come. But, being a stickler for such things, I decided to stay on Wainwright’s path and follow it back to town. Unfortunately, I managed to miss the path as it plunged into the bracken and, to make my life easier, I thought it would be a simple matter of following the boundary wall until I came back to Lockbank Farm. A perfectly reasonable assumption, you might say, except that I had to slip and slide down a steep gully where a small stream had carved its way down through the rock.

15. Rock climbing, anyone? (c) Kim Ralls

In order to spare anyone from repeating my mistake, I’ve traced the correct path on my map rather than the route I actually took. Mercifully I was able to re-join the correct path, overgrown as it was with bracken that in places was up to my chest. The gate to Lockbank Farm was certainly a sight for sore eyes and I made my weary way back into town, once again noting that poor planning meant I didn’t have any change for the ice-cream parlour advertised on the farm gate. One day I shall sample its delights, but this wasn’t to be the day. Although I try to vary the entries in this blog, I can promise that I shall be returning to the Howgills as often as I can, such is the beauty of this part of the world. The Lakes and the Dales are the more popular destinations for walkers in the North, but there is something about the Howgills that draws me back; not just the beauty of the land, but the feeling that you are cutting all ties with civilisation as you roam the hills with nothing but an OS map, a bottle of water and the occasional Facebook update – how on earth do I manage to get 4G in the middle of nowhere?

Under Ground, Over Ground – Part One

Map (c) Kim Ralls

 

Giants seem to figure prominently in the folklore of Britain; the stories of Tom Hickathrift (East Anglia), Bendigeidfran (Wales), Gog and Magog (London) to name a few. Now, I love a good folk tale and whilst looking through Alfred Wainwright’s book Walks in Limestone Country, I came upon a route that took in Yordas Cave, a small system in the slopes below Whernside, the tallest of the Three Peaks. Further investigation unearthed the story that the cave was supposedly named after a local giant called Yordas who had a predilection for catching and eating the local children (anybody else notice an absence of vegetarian or vegan giants?)

Wainwright’s notes indicate that the cave is fairly easy to explore for the non-caving type and my imagination was fired. I’m sure Sigmund Fraud would have posited that this was some deep-seated desire to return to the womb, but I happen to like caves. The limestone hills of the Yorkshire Dales are chock full of caves and galleries eroded by rainfall and underground streams and there are a number of show caves that are worth a visit. Despite being on private land, the cave is open to public access with the proviso that people behave responsibly (that’s me out, then).

I drove over to Ingleton on a bright sunny morning and parked in the pay and display car park. I only had enough for a four hour ticket, but looking at the map I estimated that I would be back with time to spare – if I didn’t spend too much time on detours. I could have parked in the Ingleton Waterfall Trail car park, especially as the route takes in half of the trail, but I’ll admit I just didn’t think of it at the time. Another instance of a lack of planning was the fact that I had left my spare camera batteries at home and the battery in the camera only had half a charge left in it. I prayed fervently that the hot weather would induce it to last until the end of the walk.

1. The beginning of the footpath (c) Kim Ralls

At the entrance to the Waterfall Trail car park there is a signpost to Thornton Hall and a gravel track that leads up to an open area and a metal kissing gate that leads into a verdant pasture. Under the trees it was blissfully cool and there was a beautiful view of Twistleton Scars and the lower slopes of Whernside in the distance. To my left I could see a clump of trees and, nestled in the middle, the spire of a small church. From where I stood it looked like it might even be in ruins and I swapped my wide-angle lens for a telephoto so I could have a closer view. Naturally I was tempted to take a detour and see if it really was a ruin, but common sense prevailed and I carried on up a gentle incline crossing two more fields before joining Thornton Lane.

2. The Church (c) Kim Ralls

 

Thornton Lane runs along the bottom of the dale towards Whernside and my route followed it a short distance, climbing all the while. With the sun burning the back of my neck I was, not for the first time, regretting that I’d left my hat in the car. Well, it was too late to go back for it now and so I turned the collar of my shirt up for a little protection; I’d hardly covered any distance and already the sweat was pouring off me. I’m all for a pretty walk under the summer sun, but by the time I reached the point where I had to leave the road and start climbing, I was beginning to question my own common sense.

The path wound up through green grass fading to brown under the sun and the fields and hills had the look of felt covered in dust. Either side of the path I could see dips and hollows in the ground, shake holes caused by water eroding the limestone under the surface. Farmers in the Dales are used to losing sheep when the animals have wondered into a shake hole and fallen through into the darkness below. Above all else, this is why I make a point of emphasising that walkers should always stick to the paths on these walks. Not only does it avoid angering the farmers and landowners, but it is also a matter of personal safety.

Anyway, moving onto lighter matters, the path ascends in a series of short inclines interspersed by plateaus that allows the legs to have a little rest. To the right there are the limestone scars that form the slopes of the intriguingly-named Gragareth. I’ve been unable to discover the origin of the name, though I suspect its roots are in the days of the Danish occupation in the Dark Ages, like so many of the other place and hill names in the area.

Before the path turns to the right, I had to stop and photograph the view across the lower hills and fells towards a mass of blue peaks in the distance lying under a blanket of soft-looking clouds.

3. Looking across the fells (c) Kim Ralls

I followed the path up once more, my boots scrunching on dried grass in a sea of sandy brown dotted with the occasional clump of purple-headed thistles that provided the only splashes of colour. I could hear bees and other insects around me and every now and then a butterfly would flit across my path too fast for me to bring my camera to bare. I’ve started using some old Minolta lenses with my DSLR and, if I’m honest, I prefer them to their modern equivalents. Yes, there is no auto-focus and I have to set the aperture manually as well, but I think the results are worth it even if it means that I’m a little slower to take a photograph. Although the feeding bee that I had intended to photograph had buzzed off once I started to raise my camera, I took the below photograph of a thistle and, I will admit, I’m quite proud of it.

4. Thistle (c) Kim Ralls

The best news for my aching legs, however, was that the footpath was about to join an old track listed on Wainwright’s map as The Turbary Road that was (mostly) level for the rest of the walk along the tops. I slackened my pace a little (I always have a tendency to race up slopes simply to get them over with) and drank in the view of Ingleborough, the hill looking like the sort of thing UFO hunters carve in their mashed potato.

5. Ingleborough (c) Kim Ralls

The valley below is called Kingsdale and, again according to Wainwright, is full of caves and pots for the intrepid caver to explore. I’m no caver, but just the names were enough to fire the imagination: Thorney Pot, Rowten Cave, Simpson’s Cave, Jingling Pot and , of course, Yordas Cave. Walking along the tops with only the sheep for company, I looked for openings in the earth to mark where these pots and caves begin. Of course, without leaving the path I saw nothing until I eventually came to the huge gaping rift of Rowton Cave. Somewhere below I could hear the gurgling and babbling of an underground stream and, based on the sound, my first thought was that this must be Jingling Pot.

6. Rowton Cave (c) Kim Ralls

Obviously, it’s hard to convey the size of the opening without anything to compare it with, but the sheep were keeping their distance and I wasn’t keen on getting too close myself. Suffice it to say that I reckon you could have fitted a bus through the opening with room to spare.

Beyond Rowton Cave was a stile into the next field and the last before I was to begin my descent. A cloud drifted across the sun briefly and the sudden cooling of the air was a welcome relief. I was glad that I didn’t have a mirror of any kind with me because I was certain my face must have been the colour of a ripe plum at that moment. The path across the next field was deeply rutted and awkward going for tired legs. The final insult, however, was the stile the farmer had erected for the use of walkers across their land.

7. You must be joking! (c) Kim Ralls

The last time I had to clamber over anything like this I was in school!

I managed it with a great deal of grunting and swearing and began the descent towards the trees that marked the location of the cave and the half-way point of the walk. For those of you wondering at the paucity of photos from the tops, I’m afraid that there are only so many photos you can take of Ingleborough. The view is breath-taking, I will admit, but it changed very little as I walked. I don’t want you to think that the walk is boring, far from it. But for a photographer it doesn’t perhaps offer as much as I had hoped when I set out. Then again, I suspect that the majority of people who go on these walks do so for the adventure and the journey and the sense of achievement when it’s all over.

This kind of philosophical musing was far from my mind as I made my slow slippery way towards the trees at the bottom of the hill. It felt good to be going downhill again and I will admit I began to feel a little excitement at the prospect of exploring the cave. There was only one problem, though. I had taken nearly three hours to get there and I knew I wasn’t going to get back before my parking ticket expired.

8. Yordas Woods – here be monsters…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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).

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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.