Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Pennine Way, Days 5 to 8 Gargrave to Deepdale: Sunshine, dehydration and a good sit down

Day 5 Gargrave to Fountain's Fell

22.5km, 794 metres ascent, 7 hours 40 minutes

Malham Cove

Now listen. Well you can't actually listen because I'm not really speaking, but in my head I'm talking to you. If you have never walked the Pennine Way and fancy doing so, but you do not think you can manage the whole thing, you may like to try heading north for a few days from Gargrave. This section is wonderful. The best. Simply the best. You leave the village and head off through gorgeous fields, yes lowland scenery, but still northern England at its picture postcard best. Eventually you will follow the River Aire to Malham in the knowledge that when you get there you still have much more to come.

And the best is not even the availability of rolls filled with pork and poultry products at one of Malham’s cafes, although John and I arrived there at mid-morning, a civilised time to drink pots of tea and replenish ourselves with egg and bacon and sausage filled rolls. Furthermore, the sun was out. Big time. It was getting really warm. I wished I’d donned shorts and a thinner shirt but being over warm was a small price to pay.

I'm enjoying this

We joined the Sunday day tripper crowds on the walk from the village towards Malham Cove to take similar pictures to those that have appeared in every Geography O Level or GCSE text book that has ever been published. Upland limestone scenery. Or ‘karst scenery’ if you are German and reading this (are you Nathalie?).

John bounded up the steep rock steps that make up the path to the top of the cove. I half bounded up them and then it was into more limestone loveliness as we walked through the impressive dry valley by Ing Scar crags and on to Malham Tarn. Despite setting off carrying a large amount of water I was already starting to get dehydrated thanks to the heat and the steep climbs but there was an ice cream van selling cans of pop and then we lazed on the grass by the tarn and ate lunch and popped Ibuprofen for aching shoulders.

John on the limestone pavement above Malham Cove

Looking back along the Pennine Way in Ing Scar

We came to Tennant Gill and filled water bottles, not just for the rest of the day but for overnight and the morning. All the smaller streams were dry and we knew we’d find no more until well in to the following day. I drank over a litre at the stream and collected another four litres of the stuff and it still wouldn’t be enough. John has a different technique to me when it comes to fluid intake. I am constantly sipping the stuff; he has the habits of a camel and can go hours, indeed, almost all day, without a drink and then fills up like a ship of the desert when the opportunity arises.

Our substantially increased loads were then lugged up the last couple of kilometres as we climbed to a superb wild camping pitch, just after the Way’s Fountain Fell high spot. The weather was perfect for a lazy late Sunday afternoon and evening, with views over to Pen-y-ghent and far beyond. This had been the best day so far and, in retrospect, for me was probably the best of the whole walk.

Fountain's Fell wild camp: one of the best

Day 6 Fountain’s Fell to Cold Keld Gate

24.6km, 779 metres of ascent, 8 hours 35 minutes

The day started murky. Pen-y-ghent loomed, looking ominous. As you walk towards it your eyes are drawn to its steep southern edge which dominates the sky line, and which you are going to have to climb. If you have never climbed Pen-y-ghent, and I hadn’t, you can be assured that it’s true what almost everyone who has been up that route says. It is nowhere near as bad as it looks. The last hundred metres or so is a steep, but easyish, rocky scramble, although as I have aged, and my leg muscles have become more feeble, I find some of the bigger step ups when wearing a full pack lead to my knees seeing far more contact with the rock than they once would have done. Not elegant but it gets me there with a few anxious moments and a little huffing and puffing. John, however, seems to glide over such minor obstacles in a way I never could have done, even 30 years ago. Anyway, we were at the top 75 minutes after starting out.

Pen-y-ghent: short, steep but sweet

Trying not to look a little tired at the summit of Pen-y-ghent...

...whereas John didn't have to try

Horton-in-Ribblesdale followed an hour or so later. No cafés there now since the once legendary Pen-y-ghent café shut down. Another lockdown casualty? We were reduced to eating cereal bars and M and Ms and stuff on the pavement when what we really needed was a sit down with rolls filled with sausage, bacon and egg, smothered in tomato ketchup and washed down by lashings of strong English Breakfast. However, we were brave little soldiers and didn’t complain.

The Way is generally reasonably well signed, although as always these things are least in evidence in some of the places where they are most needed

We continued north across the limestone, passing pot holes, sink holes and more limestone pavement. Ling Gill Bridge saw us at the last place we were confident we could get water for the rest of the day and for dinner, overnight, breakfast and the walk on to Hawes. We filled up and loins were girded to carry the extra weight for the next 6km, heading up to the Cam Road which is now a fairly unpleasant long, straight, badly surfaced high level track used by forestry vehicles. It’s a bit of a trudge but hey ho. Our decision to lug the water proved to be the right one, as the couple of springs and small streams shown further along on the map were all dry. At Kidson Gate John raced up and down, backwards and forwards next to a dry stone wall and after some poking around returned in triumph carrying two gas cartridges that he had hidden a couple of weeks earlier. Our plan had been to camp at Kidson Gate or a little further along the track towards Hawes. I was pretty done in by now so stood around uselessly whilst John bounded up the hillside to check out likely spots for our tents, but with no joy. Fortunately, we’d noticed a couple of possible pitches a few minutes back along the Cam Road so doubled back to Cold Keld Gate and found two pretty decent Duomid sized pieces of level ground just off the Pennine Bridleway. Result!

Red Moss Pot (I think)

Ling Gill Bridge: The last stream running so we carried water from here for our overnight camp 6km further on

Cold Keld Gate wild camp

The view from my sleeping bag as the sun went down

John on sunset watch

Day 7 Cold Keld Gate to Usha Gap Camp Site

25.1km, 618 metres ascent, 9 hours

Lovely Hawes: Pies and other pork products were purchased in bulk

It was just a couple of hours to Hawes from Cold Keld Gate so we were in town by 9.30am. John, obviously craving pork products, headed straight for an excellent butchers (or was it a bakery?) that he knew. Whatever, it sold pies full of the stuff. Other meats were also available. We then headed to various other shops including the supermarket. Supermarket? Not in quaint Hawes. That’s a grandiose term for the Spar. We then did what the majority of backpackers do after a week of calorie deficit. We bought too much food. I was still eating flapjack from here over a week later in Kirk Yetholm and it was just as delicious then.

Still craving food and fluids we sat in the sun outside a café and had more pork filled rolls. Sadly, the sausages tasted like they had been grilled each day for a week before being served up to us, but we didn’t care – we had pies in our packs for later.

Through the fields to Hardraw

The walk over the fields to Hardraw provided more Dales loveliness with the added bonus of hardly any uppity bits. But then there was a very long drawn out uppity bit, Great Shunner Fell, which was delightful despite the hot sun, and despite the uppityness and the drawn outness.

Now John had spent a week walking at my pace with no outward sign of irritation and, indeed, he seemed remarkably chilled about this. I couldn’t have shown such patience with a companion. Feeling guilty about this when we were a kilometre or so from the top, I removed the hobbles I’d tied to his legs, unfastened the lead from the choke chain around his neck and told him to go on ahead, asking him to time his arrival at the summit and then to note mine. Which he did. I cannot recall the exact results of this experiment but seem to remember that I had in advance reckoned his pace to be at least 50% faster than mine and this seemed to be proved about right. In fact I suspect he was still, by his standards, dawdling as he climbed upwards.

I hadn’t waited until the summit to start consuming pie but still had some left when I arrived and we both lay on the grass in the sun, propped up against our packs, eating pies and generally loving the day.

At the summit of Great Shunner Fell
I inherited my shorts from Eric Morecambe. John didn't.
(Mine are the Montane 'Razor' model. It should be said that they are extremely light and comfortable and recommended to anybody who doesn't care if they look like a complete pillock)

Heading for Thwaite after Great Shunner Fell 

Later we headed down to Thwaite, 6 km in hot sun with little water left but where we found the Kearton Hotel-café-cum-bar open. Smiley face emoji. Beer glass emoji.

After the rehydration exercise (it was tough but had to be done) we left the Pennine Way for a kilometre or so and headed to Usha Gap camp site near Muker. It provides a superb stopover for backpackers. A shop, excellent showers, laundry, drying room, secure lockers with phone chargers, flat pitches and all for £8 per head. Use it if you are in the area. 

A badly needed rehydration stop in Thwaite before the last kilometre to the camp site

Through the fields to Usha Gap

Usha Gap camp site: Highly recommended, great facilities, great value, great place to clean up and recharge

Day 8 Usha Gap to Deepdale Beck

24.5km, 688 metres ascent, 8 hours 50 minutes

This was the day we left the Dales of Yorkshire and crossed into the Dales of County Durham with their wilder and more remote feel. The two significant landmarks today were to be the Tan Hill Inn and then God’s Bridge and the halfway point of the Pennine Way just before crossing the A66.

Yorkshire Dales scenery: looking back as we headed towards County Durham

Approaching Tan Hill

Tan Hill is the highest pub in England and so attracts visitors from far and wide. We arrived and sat outside in the sun but also in a fierce wind. It has to be said that whilst the inside of the pub has some charm the outside seating areas are now quite awful, regimented rows of tables in what feels like it could otherwise have been a rough gravel covered car park.

I bought the first round. John, who clearly cannot take his beer in the morning went to get his round in and managed to stumble on a step causing a potential disaster as the sole of his boot came away at the toe. These were almost brand new boots, purchased not long before our trip. And on examination he found that his other boot had also developed a split, nothing to do with his single pint of beer fuelled slip. Gaffer tape was applied as a temporary fix but we still had about 140 miles and 9 more days of walking. We spent much of the rest of our stop at the pub discussing potential contingency plans in the belief that the next shop that might sell new boots was in Alston, four days away. Courier a pair up from home? Further temporary repairs with materials to be bought the following day in Middleton to get us to Alston? Hope for the best?

See that step in the background? That came close to causing us a major problem. That and John being unable to hold his beer

Sleigtholme Moor. Miles of it. A featureless, boggy nightmare, apparently, in wet conditions. Fortunately, we had had a dry summer and it was merely a little dull. And featureless. Did I mention that? Our navigation went a little astray after the worst of the moor was over. This was because I was lovingly explaining my 35 year career in public service to John in fascinating detail and John was too engrossed by my tales of why the public sector was all the better for my presence and had lost true genius when I retired to look at the map. I had just got to 1987 when we spotted our mistake, but could rectify it before too much distance damage had been done. We headed on to God’s Bridge, and soon after to the half-way marker on which some wag has scrawled the witty remark “suckers” aimed at Pennine Way through hikers. Possibly we are, but I know whose life I would rather be living and it’s not that of the pathetic prat with the permanent felt tip pen who probably spends his life watching box sets on Netflix.

Sleightholme Moor
(Yes it is as dull as it looks, but at least it was pretty dry when we crossed it)

The stream at God's Bridge

135 miles down. Half Way! The tunnel under the A69

Deepdale Beck was our intended camp spot and we had rightly assumed it would be substantial enough to have water in it. Better still it had a walkers’ shelter, so credit to the estate which provides it. And the shelter has chairs in it. So we borrowed a couple and luxuriated on them as we cooked evening meals before having to hide behind the midge nets in our inners as the bitey things came out to end our evening in the sun.

Wild camp by the shooting hut and walkers' shelter at Deepdale Beck

Luxury. A proper sit down thanks to the chairs in the walkers' shelter

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Pennine Way Days 2 to 4, Crowden to Gargrave: Food Begins to Figure

Day 2 Crowden to Light Hazzles

29.1km, 830m ascent, 9hrs 30 mins (This includes rest stops. I had to teach Johnboy what a 'rest stop' is. You would have thought that as an experienced backpacker he would have known. After a week or so he would eventually get the hang of the concept).

Walking is definitely easier with a companion. Well it is for me. The weather had started off slightly mizzly but the climb up and over Laddow Rocks seemed much less of an effort than the last time I’d come along here. We were at Red Ratcher in an hour and forty minutes. It had taken me two hours in 2019, although then the weather had been far worse.

John on the summit of Black Hill

A numpty on the summit of Black Hill

Visibility dropped as we climbed the flagstones to Black Hill, but as we got closer to the trig point two murky figures resting there came into view. Actually they weren’t murky figures at all. What I meant was that it was the weather that was murky. But you will have guessed that. If you didn't then you are even more pedantic than me and need to get a life. Anyway, they were two young lads we’d seen at the campsite the day before, doing a circular route over four or five days. After a natter with them they disappeared into the mist. A couple of minutes later Johnboy noticed that one of them had dropped his spectacles and the next thing I knew he, too, headed off into the mist following them at a speed close to that achieved by Usain Bolt when winning Olympic Gold. He returned, mission accomplished, a few minutes later. I mean John returned, not Usain Bolt. Oh crikes I've done it again. You knew what I meant, didn't you?

The Pennine Way initially heads north-east from the summit of Black Hill along flagstones which give safe passage over what were once horrendous peat bogs. We, however, went north-west into the cloud, not lost but following the original route that John had taken in the 1980s. This path is now very indistinct and in places has disappeared completely, if it ever existed. The great advantage is that it shaves off a kilometre or so and a couple of hundred metres of ascent as it sticks to higher ground. The massive disadvantage is that it means that you miss out on the snack bar with its bacon rolls and mugs of tea that is often parked up on the roadside at Wessenden Head. The new route re-joins the old at Black Moss Reservoir.

On the original Pennine Way route off Black Hill. None of your cushy flagstones here

The sun appeared as the day went on which made the walk along Standedge and up White Hill a delight. Even the once disgusting car park just short of the M62 seemed much improved, with the only detritus on show now being piles of used nitrous oxide cartridges. Even better, though, was the newish addition of Nicky’s mobile snack bar. It is important to support enterprising local business and it was for that reason only that we ordered copious amounts to drink and rolls filled with various pork products.

John appears to be sprouting antlers as he approaches the top of Standedge

The view from Standedge

Nicky's Snack Bar
The Aiggin Stone: A mediaeval way marker for travellers

I must have been feeling pretty good after this refuelling because I think it was me rather than John who suggested that I could manage going further than the quarries before the White House pub where we had planned to camp for the night. I must make it clear, if the obvious has not yet struck you, that John had not suggested going further only because he is aware of my physical limitations, not because he wasn't able to walk further. And thus we found ourselves in fabulous late afternoon sunshine putting the Duomids up in front of the poem “Rain” carved into the rocks just short of Light Hazzles Reservoir. Bloody vandals.

Camped at Light Hazzles: A perfect evening
'Rain' by Simon Armitage. It didn't.


Day 3 Light Hazzles to Ponden Mill

28km, 779m ascent, 8hrs 40 mins

Another misty morning on the way to Stoodley Pike
Bridge over Colden Water. They don't make them like this anymore.

We woke to more mizzle but were packed and away by 7.30am, which had become our normal daily starting time. The walking was pleasant but unexceptional. Unexceptional, that is, apart from the climb out of the Calder Valley up the very narrow, cobbled rights of way that lead passed various relics of the industrial revolution. Fascinating, but I reckon this is possibly the steepest sustained climb on the whole of the Pennine Way. A legendary feature of the Pennine Way came soon after in the form of May’s Shop, allowing us to pig out on pies, cakes, cans of drink and so on which we got stuck in to with a vengeance.

The sign says it all

Having started the day a couple of kilometres ahead of the original plan we decided we could today also get further than the original intended wild camp at Top Withins, the alleged inspiration for the setting of Wuthering Heights, which as you will know is a famous novel written by that great literary figure Kate Bush in 1978. Click the linky thing for appropriate sound effects.

Top Withins

I was quite pleased not to be camping at Top Withins, it looking rather bleak and the spots to pitch, such as they were, were nothing to write home about. One flat space, which used to be large enough for a tent, now sports a large wooden seaty thing, all very well for Japanese tourists but not for weary backpackers hoping to spend the night there. 

John had earlier phoned ahead to the camp site at Ponden Mill which is a couple of kilometres beyond Top Withins. He had found that they had closed the camping field for the night because of a wedding being held there, but was informed that they were allowing backpackers to stop on an adjacent field. This 'field' turned out to be a narrow stretch of steep river bank with virtually no level ground. The woman in charge made sure she got a tenner out of each of us before showing it to us. In return we had the enjoyment of the facilities ie a small, shabby toilet block that looked little more than a Portakabin, no hot water in the gents and an outdoor washing up area. I can give you a flavour of the latter. I went to fill up my water bottles there and decided to put them on the ground rather than on the draining board as I decided that the ground was probably more hygienic. We stayed on a few camp sites on the walk. This was the most expensive, and by far the worst in terms of facilities, pitch etc. Moan over.

We managed to get the only almost level spots on the site. To be fair the small wall made for a great seat until the midges arrived.

Day 4 Ponden Mill to Gargrave

26.5km, 844m ascent, 8hrs 40 mins

Ickornshaw Moor

Pinhaw Beacon

This was another day that started with mist and a little drizzle and ended with sunshine, the weather seemingly reflecting the scenery as we moved from the bleaker landscapes of the southern Pennines onto the softer beauty and friendliness of limestone country. Thus, we walked across misty Ickornshaw Moor to the fields above picturesque Lothersdale, then up to Pinhaw Beacon with its fine views, before more sheep and cow grazed pastures and then the towpath of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. There is a super café just off the towpath beyond East Marton where I managed to disgrace myself thanks to a large scone, some jam and a copious amount of clotted cream. I can only put this down to low blood sugar, overwhelming hunger and manners that make the eating habits of pigs at a newly filled trough look refined. After the café more fields were crossed during which we planned and readied ourselves for a wild Saturday night out in Gargrave.

John (in left corner) hastily trying to find another table well away from me to avoid any more shame about the way his companion necked down a Yorkshire Cream Tea .

Lots of this today

We had booked an Air B and B. The plan had been to sort out our resupply parcels, wash shirts and socks and stuff, get to the Co-op to supplement the supplies, then have a pint and a pub meal followed by another pint or two. We were thwarted. One of the two pubs has closed down. The other was fully booked. So was the Indian Restaurant. So after completing the routine jobs we ended up eating fish and chips in a bus shelter and then headed to the packed pub for a drink. I hadn’t fancied standing up to drink my pint after walking for the best part of nine hours so when I saw a group about to leave their table I was sat on one of the seats almost before the previous occupant had left, possession being nine tenths of the law as they say. I may be slow on the hill but when it comes to getting a table in a busy pub I am unbeatable.

Four days done and almost a quarter of the distance. And the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Pennine Way: Off We Go, Day 0 and Day 1


John arrives in Edale, having failed to finish packing before he left home

Penrith taxi drivers like a lie in. I found this to my cost (literally and metaphorically) when a few days before the walk was to begin I tried to book a taxi to get me to the station to catch the 6.40am train to Edale. “Sorry mate”, was the constant reply. We don’t start that early. I was finally given the number of the only insomniac driver in the town. “No problem pal,” he told me, “I still have a number of unbooked slots for September. That’s September  2024.  I’m in big demand, see, on account of none of the other drivers around here will get out of bed before 7 or 8 of a morning. And then they do the school run sees.”  

My plans were hastily re-arranged.  New rail tickets were purchased and I headed to Edale the day before I was due to meet Johnboy. I camped the night at Fieldhead Campsite.  I slept badly and in the morning already felt all done in by the time I’d packed up and walked from my pitch to the entrance of the site, by the road up from the station, and sat on the tarmac, slumped against the wall and waited for Johnboy. He arrived within minutes looking very cheerful, swinging a carrier bag full of food and looking horribly, horribly, frighteningly fit.

Looking as innocent as a lamb on the way to the slaughterhouse

Kinder Scout was shrouded in mist. Rain was clearly imminent. Neither had been in the forecast which had been for blue skies and zephyr like breezes. We did the photo stuff outside the Old Nag’s Head. John was happy to do the ‘new’ route up Jacob’s Ladder and on to Kinder Low, but I knew he was really keen to follow the original route of the Way up Grindsbrook Clough and directly over the plateau to Kinder Gates and then to Kinder Downfall and this was mutually agreed.  He sought to reassure me.  “It’s been years since anyone drowned in the bogs up there,” he stated, “and anyway the skulls of long lost hikers poking through the peat provide firm stepping stones in the worst bits”.  At this stage a suspicion came into my mind that John, who has spent much of the last 50 plus years wandering across Pennine bog actually likes the stuff. But surely not? Alarmingly his grin became wider as we headed up towards the plateau.

John smiling in Grindsbrook Clough, happy at the thought that he might soon be up to his knees in Pennine bog 

Looking back down Grindsbrook Clough towards Edale

Am I shrinking? That jacket was a perfect fit when I bought it

We set off. Within 10 minutes we were in full rain gear.  The Clough felt steep but the scenery was fabulozy; the plateau was reached and crossed.  It was far greener than I expected and far less boggy. Yes it was damp in places, but not enough to bother me. It is an obvious success for those who have been involved in restoring what was once, by all accounts, a dreadfully eroded landscape.

Next Sandy Heys, Mill Hill, and then the flagstones to the Snake Pass making for far easier going through the wetness that walkers used to face on their first day which was sufficient to make quite a few give up after just one day. Then the easy climb to the summit of Bleaklow. The sun came out as we descended by Wildboar Grain.  As did masses of weird flying thingies, fortunately of the non-bitey variety. On to Clough Edge above Torside. I had been so tired when I had reached here two years earlier but, today, thanks to the good company and the chat all was well. We arrived, as planned, at the excellent campsite at Crowden and then fatigue did hit me whilst John strode around like someone who had just been on a short afternoon stroll in the park.

Afternoon sunshine at the start of the short climb up to Clough Edge

Looking towards Torside Reservoir. Crowden campsite is on the far right hand side of the reservoir

One day down.  25km walked. 768 metres climbed.  8 hours 5 minutes including stops.