Sunday, 12 August 2012

Saltaire to Appleby in seven days

Day 1: Saltaire to Skipton (19 miles)

Out of the house at 7am to catch train to Saltaire. Weather overcast but dry despite alarming forecast of torrential rain and wind. Hens refuse to get off their perch and go outside when we open up – a sure sign that there is rain on the way.

Start walking at 7.45am – along the canal and up onto Shipley Glen where we spot the first Dales High Way marker. Proceed briskly to Ilkley Moor which is not as wet underfoot as expected, though that may change as we are walking under a darkening raincloud. Families of pheasants and other ground nesting birds scuttle through the heather to safety.

First mishap of the trip on the Otley Road stretch where David trips on a pebble and falls over by the stile, cutting his lip and grazing both knees. Medical assistance not needed but we stop by the Twelve Apostles for a restorative video session and coffee from the thermos.

Coats on as we reach White Wells at 11am and turn left towards Addingham Moorside in mizzling rain, fantasising about life in the millionaire houses along the path. Lots of dog walkers with friendly dogs, especially when we stop for lunch and they realise David has ham sandwiches.

Up onto the path to Addingham Moorside through waist-high bracken and wet grass - a spectacular walk in better weather. Not so today as the rain is getting heavier and the wind picking up, so the forecast was right after all, though views are worth it even with limited visibility and we will certainly return some time to see this bit in its full glory. Guidebook sodden (sorry Tony and Chris!), feet squelching and I suspect my boots are leaking. 

Last section of track into  Addingham Moorside thick with deep, evil-smelling mud; we reach the village without being sucked down to our doom but opt for the alternative road route to Addingham, which also happens to pass tea shops. Make for Fleece Deli where the staff graciously ignore the fact that we are sopping wet and splattered with cow dung, and serve us hot drinks and scones with delicious strawberry jam.

Rain stops while we are in the deli and the air temperature rises several degrees. Remove jackets and set off for the last lap - an easy track with lovely views opening out in the late afternoon sun, unfamiliar to us although we have lived in the area for nearly 30 years. Skip nimbly round flooded bits of path despite sodden boots, reach Skipton at 4.45pm and make straight for Ultimate Outdoors where the staff are very helpful (and do not flinch at the state of my socks) and I buy a new pair of boots in 15 minutes flat.

Stride to Parkhill B&B wearing new boots and receive a warm welcome from Anne who whips the wet boots away to dry them out and shows us to the deluxe room as someone has just cancelled – so we have a four-poster bed, complementary sherry and a bathroom the size of our living room. Soak in bath whilst sipping sherry, finding it hard to believe we have just walked 19 miles. Put guidebook on heated towel rail (this proves very effective) and go out for fish and chips in Busy Lizzie’s. Both feel upbeat and looking forward to the rest of the walk.

Day 2: Skipton to Malham (13 miles)
There is a grape vine twining round inside the conservatory, though its root is outside – Anne shows us where they have drilled a hole in the wall to let it in. After a lovely breakfast with fresh fruit platter, we linger in Skipton buying sandwiches, going to cash machine and filming, so start walking rather late at 10 am. Up Chapel Lane in warm sunshine followed by a steep pull up a grassy slope which makes me glad I resisted the temptation of the full English breakfast!

Pass golf course and green burial site where our friend Martin lies. Exchange greetings with various dogwalkers and up the track to Sharp Haw – another walk we haven’t done before. Very windy on top but excellent views, then down onto Flasby Fell where we manage to find only 3 of the blue-topped guide posts mentioned on the website and even these keep disappearing into the bracken if you take your eyes off them for a second. Can only conclude they are operated by leprechauns who are taunting us by pulling them underground out of sight.
Leave Flasby Fell with relief and eat sandwiches by beck, then on to Hetton – very pretty houses and we notice several of them have a cattle grid across the drive. The Angel Inn, not unreasonably, does not admit people in muddy boots but the staff are charming and bring us a tray of tea outside which we drink sitting under the smokers’ canopy.

The weather starts to close in as we start the long tramp up to Weets Top, though feet still dry despite traverse of bog of bogs after passing Winterburn reservoir. New boots obviously a good buy. Moorland deserted - we see no one between Hetton and Gordale, where all of a sudden there is a ganglion of people and camper vans. Through the woods to Malham past Janet’s Foss – spectacular after all the rain – and arrive at Beck Hall B&B at 5.15pm, not bad after late start. Rain starts in earnest as we are checking in and both feel very smug.

Interesting room with mullioned windows and sloping floor, and there is an open fire downstairs. We have had tea here before but never stayed overnight. Splash along the road to Buck Inn where I have salmon and David has sausages. Turn resolutely away from apple strudel and return to Beck Hall for coffee and custard creams, then doze off whilst watching repeat of Lewis on TV.

Day 3: Malham to Feizor  (12.3 miles)
Still pouring with rain and beck is racing along. Get up with great effort at 7.30am and in dining room at 8am. Poached egg for me, smoked salmon and scrambled egg for David.
Set off for Malham Cove at 9am, manoeuvre cautiously round cows blocking path (they do this deliberately), then up the steps to the top. Immediately discover impossibility of walking across wet limestone pavement when wearing varifocals (you can’t gauge the distance to the ground) so skirt round the top to join Pennine Way. Raining hard, also cold – both wearing jackets, hats and gloves by this time. Only another walker would understand how much we are both enjoying this.

Very windy and cold at Stockdale Lane, and wet underfoot.  Highland cows still in the same field as when Chris led a walk up here as part of the ride2stride festival back in May. We obviously lack her authority as the cows are restive and bellow angrily at us!  Eat sandwiches overlooking Attermire Scar but too cold to linger and descend to Settle with the lovely view over the valley opening out in front of us, then make way unerringly to Naked Man café where David has cappuccino and I have delicious warm spiced apple juice. Buy nice set of china egg cups for Jackie who is looking after our hens, then emerge from café to find rain has dried up and temperature risen (this seems to be a side-effect of visiting cafes and can be  recommended as an excuse).

Pleasant riverside stroll to Stainforth; weirs spectacularly full, roaring with tea-coloured water and creamy foam. Sit on riverbank with coats off to eat crisps from packed lunch, and David even puts on sunhat. What a difference three hours makes.

Last section takes longer than expected (they always do) and we arrive at Feizor at 4.30pm. B&B (Scar Close farmhouse) is idyllic, with a view from our window of hillside and sheep. One of the sheep has its leg in a splint. John and Julia give us tea and flapjacks and later on John kindly drives us to and from the Gamecock Inn in Austwick where he has arranged a 10% discount for SC guests.  Excellent meal, though we are so full we feel we should decline John’s offer and walk back to Scar Close. Lots of laughing and banter in the bar – manager and staff are French so Austwick obviously doing its bit for entente cordiale.

Day 4: Feizor to Chapel-le-Dale (12.6 miles)

This morning there is a rabbit sunbathing on the lawn, drying its fur after heavy rain in the night. Excellent breakfast of melon and Julia’s special healthy option muesli with sunflower seeds and toasted almonds. Set off for Ingleborough in brilliant sunshine, past secluded cottages and hedgerows full of wild flowers. The beck is sparkling under the clapper bridge at Austwick and we even slap on some suncream.

Slight hitch at Simon Fell where we cannot find small cairn on the right of the path where we are meant to turn off and realise we have gone the wrong way. Short period of marital tension ensues as we try to work out where we are. David wants to cut across to where he thinks we are meant to be but I veto this for fear of bogs and potholes. Eventually retrace steps and locate cairn, which is so small (more of a pimple than a cairn) that we have both overlooked it. Pass through spectacular limestone pavement and onto Three Peaks route. Harmony now restored and we reward ourselves with one of Julia’s flapjacks.

Up to the summit of Ingleborough with no further problems – cold and windy but good visibility. Eat lunch and watch paragliders as sheep look on contemptuously.

Descend from summit and nervously approach sheer drop where path appears to plunge over the edge. The problem (apart from cowardice) is that it is only 1.30pm and if we go this way we could be at our B&B in Chapel-le-Dale in an hour. Chicken out and decide to do ridge walk as far as Park Fell, then drop to Colt Park and back along field paths to avoid road walking – all usefully marked on Tony’s map and with a view of trains crossing the Ribblehead viaduct all the way.

Slither down steep muddy path to Colt Park and across field paths to Hill Inn. Paragliders are coming in for the evening and we watch one fending off over-curious cattle after landing nearby. Odd that cows are not in the least wary of a large orange balloon dropping from the sky into their field.

Reach Croft Gate at 4.30pm – another B&B in an idyllic location. Lovely room with old pine furniture and a brass bed. Immediately take shower to sluice off mud and cow dung, using essential oil body wash made on the premises, and set off for dinner at Old Hill Inn in a fragrant cloud of geranium and patchouli. Excellent meal of eggplant and tomato stew with couscous for me, and haddock for David. Share a pudding of lemon tart which comes intriguingly veiled in spun sugar – a speciality of the house apparently. After dinner we chat to another couple who have a copy of Tony and Chris’s latest book Dales Rail Trails which they got from their hotel in Settle. It seems miles away but of course is an easy journey by car – distances feel very different when you cover them on foot.

Day 5: Chapel-le-Dale to Sedbergh (16 miles)
Wake up to the smell of baking bread and consume a delicious breakfast of bacon sandwich for me and smoked salmon and scrambled egg for David. (Note to David: don't expect this on the menu at home!)

Chat to Martin (B&B owner) who tells us to our astonishment that it isn’t unusual for 4000 people to do the Three Peaks Walk at a weekend, mostly raising money for charity. You can even employ a local guide for £75.

Other couple at breakfast are a bit taken back when we tell them we have set a target of 1.5 hours per map page today as we have around 16 miles and over 600m of gradient to cover. We have done this ever since a nasty moment on a previous walk when by lunchtime we realised with dismay that we had only done 3.5 miles and still had 13 to go.

Set off in the rain after a quick chat with a woman on her way to clean St Leonard’s church. She tells us that her partner on the cleaning rota is 102 years old.

Pass the Charles L’Anson sculpture which was stolen in 1983 and found in deep water at the bottom of nearby Hurtle Pot. Vandalism obviously much older than some sections of the media would like us to think, though nowadays it would probably be sold for scrap rather than thrown down a pothole. The thought of Hurtle Pot makes me uneasy – do the unwary hurtle down it?

Whernside looming on our left through the rain, though we decide to give it a miss as the top is invisible in the mist and it is very boggy underfoot. Meet a large group of Three Peaks walkers at Blea Moor siding, some of whom seem worryingly incapable of walking up one peak, let alone three. The ones who are not struggling up the steep path all ask us about DHW.
Path starts dropping to beautiful Dentdale and we stop at Boot of the Wold to admire the view and eat banana bread from packed lunch. Rain stops and the Dales Way path with its copious waymarks feels like an old friend, though we fall out with it soon enough as the riverside stretch is slick with mud and we are at constant risk of skidding into the peaty waters of the river Dee.

Miss our target time of 1.30pm by 10 minutes due to mud but decide to stop anyway and go to the same café as last year – Stone Close – for excellent home-made tomato soup.

Set off refreshed along mercifully mud-free riverside stretch, across the bridge and up a steep lane, damp and full of wild flowers. Past a caravan inhabited by a flock of hens, onto open moor and up on the ridge in double-quick time where we award ourselves a quick break and a review of tomorrow’s challenge in the form of the splendid Howgills ahead.

Frostrow Fell feels like one continuous bog but we yomp nonchalantly across, before being nearly mown down by a speeding Land Rover on the short road stretch into Sedbergh.

Find B&B (High Roans) and get a warm welcome from Kath, though she tells us bookings are well down this year. Wash off usual patina of mud and cow dung and proceed to Red Lion for home-made free range chicken and mushroom pie, then return to B&B and sleep for 11 hours.

 Day 6: Sedbergh to Newbiggin on Lune (10.9 miles)
Brilliant sunshine and stupendous view from Kath’s dining room. Sausage and egg for David, porridge for me, and Kath makes a bowl of fruit salad specially. Set off from Joss Lane car park after buying provisions and even slap on a bit of sun cream.

Path up Settlebeck Gill a bit faint near the top and we double-check both with another walker and the OS – only the second time on the whole walk when we need an extra map. Up on the ridge the way is clear up to the Calf, where there is a group of teenagers preparing to paraglide, all enthusiastically discussing Arnie Schwarzenegger films.

Very windy up on the ridge, and marshy underfoot. But what views! Over to the Lakeland Fells and as far as the coast, back to Frostrow, ahead to Sunbiggin Tarn, back along the ridge. And what luxury to walk for miles with no stiles, gates or route discussions. No wild ponies, though we keep looking for them. Whilst descending  West Fell we realise that yet again we are going to arrive at the B&B (Tranna Hill) far too early. Find a spot out of the wind and soak up the sun like lizards for half an hour, feasting on the view in front of us.

Arrive at Tranna Hill just before four, feet aching from the final road stretch. We have a lovely room with a king-size bed facing the window, so we can lie in state and look at where we have just walked. Brenda helpfully drives us to the pub in Ravenstonedale (Kings Arms), where David has lamb and I have leek, mushroom and suet pudding – superb. Brenda offers a lift back but we opt to test the new cycle/walk way featured on the DHW website.

Day 7: Newbiggin-on-Lune to Appleby (12.5 miles)
Sherpa Van catches us out by arriving unexpectedly early at 8.20am, interrupting an alarming anecdote from a fellow-walker at breakfast who is doing the C2C and stepped into a bog up to his waist in the Lake District. Driver apologises for early start and for turning up in mobile disco van, saying there has been a problem with the usual vehicle. Luckily bags more or less packed the night before and we race upstairs to zip them up.

Set off at 9.15am towards Great Asby, both tired from yesterday. Surprisingly dry underfoot, though section beyond Great Asby apparently all but impassable a few weeks ago. Collect bag of sheep’s wool to see if it is effective as a slug repellent as claimed by this week’s Guardian magazine.

Arrive at Great Asby at lunchtime to find it deserted apart from a group of teenagers slouching disconsolately in the playpark. The pub (Three Greyhounds) is also empty, even at Sunday lunchtime, though they make us a good pot of tea.
Along lane and over fields to Rutter Force, a little worried about notorious muddy stretch to come. Reach Rutter Force with no problem however and eat accumulated leftovers of past few days’ packed lunches overlooking the ford.

Only a couple of miles to go and though the fields are a bit squishy where the cows have trampled, we are now seasoned yompers and squelch along with aplomb. Pride goes before a fall however at Bandley Bridge where a herd of heifers have trampled their fence down and are on the path by the river, heads lowered and glaring at us. They break into a trot at our approach and as we retreat hastily over the stile, about 30 more stampede down from the top of the field, bellowing horribly. We scramble up the bank, hoping to go round, but the field is huge and we are not confident of getting back to the path. By this time the heifers have stampeded back up to the top of the field and are staring aggressively at us across the fence. David then has a cunning plan: we will sneak back down to the bottom of the field and, hidden by the brow of the hill, scuttle along the path to the next stile before the heifers realise they have been foiled.  This works a treat and we make our escape, though we are unsure whether we have been a) sensible and cautious, or b) ignorant townie wusses. The B&B owner that evening tells us we could have warded the heifers off with our walking pole. Further along the path we meet a dog walker who says they may have been hungry and looking for grass, so we end up feeling a bit sorry for them.

Day now very warm as we make a triumphant entrance into Appleby, which has a bit of a deserted Sunday afternoon feel, though still extremely pretty. Have tea and scone in café, rope in passer-by to take a photo, then find footpath to B&B (the Limes at Colby), about 30 minutes’ walk.

Arrive at B&B about five, have shower and sort out jumbled possessions ready for trip home. Penny (B&B owner) kindly drives us to the pub in Bolton, the next village, to save going back to Appleby. We walk the two miles back to the Limes along deserted country lanes in the quiet evening, High Cup Nick clear to our left under a gathering storm.

Back in our room we are suddenly exhausted, though sleep interrupted by small barn owl perched on a telegraph pole outside our window, calling at the top of its voice. Penny tells us the next day that it has been doing this for several evenings and we assume it is searching for a mate.

Day 8: Appleby – home
Excellent breakfast of croissants, ham and cheese at 9am – what bliss to have a lie-in. Penny and Alan kindly give us a lift to Appleby and the station staff obligingly look after our bags while we get on with souvenir buying, coffee, photos etc.

Return to find station in a flurry of activity including a water tanker parked outside.  Get cameras ready in time for the Union of South Africa to come steaming in on its way up to Carlisle, complete with Pullman carriage – we couldn’t ask for a better ending to a first-class walk.