Before anyone says it, yes, I know, it is Yorkshire again; well for me it is fairly accessible and Kirkby provides a handy jumping off point. Much more importantly though is that I can get fairly cheap rail tickets with careful advance booking. Mind, that does commit me because cheap tickets are non refundable, so if the weather is bad so be it. Also, of course, Yorkshire does provide some fine walking.
Thus it was on the Thursday that I was heading north, arriving at Kirkby Stephen at twelve thirty. By the time I had wandered down to the town and picked up a few bits and treated myself to a packet of chips it was early afternoon when I headed out. On my last trip I had noticed the old railway track and wondered if it was feasible to follow part of its route. From what little information I could gather, it seemed there was a footpath along the old trackbed as far as Hartley, what lay beyond that I was unable to find out. Making my way over to Hartley was quite straight forward and I was encouraged to find that there was permitted access beyond there. This provided some fine fairly easy walking, the one downside was the myriad of flies that where most bothersome whenever I stopped. Unfortunately my hopes where dashed when I got as far as Rookby Scarth, Private, keep out, no access, notices where predominantly displayed. A quick check of the map and I decided to skirt around the area by following the line of the fell by Howgill. A bad mistake as it turned out, I would have done better following another track up the fell and then cutting across country. As it was I came down toward Howgill Foot which meant crossing some rough pasture on the way through; I noticed the cattle grazing in the field and saw that there was a bull with them. He was perfectly happy about me passing by and posed no problem. The trouble arose as I came in to sight of the farm, it had been extensively modernised and done up, none of the usual farmyard clutter, everything just so. My heart sank, I could sense trouble and so it proved, a woman came dashing out of the house all in a fluster. "Excuse me, where do you think you are going, you are on private land?" Her voice was modulated and bristled with indignation and hostility, no broad Yorkshire accent here. Quickly I apologised and explained that I had just come down off the fell etc. She was not mollified one bit, and proceeded to give me a lecture about trespassing and wandering through fields where there where dangerous bulls and so forth. My thought was, give me the bull any day in preference to this woman. she then escorted my through her pristine garden out to her drive, (I could just as easy have walked around the farm buildings) with instructions to proceed down her drive to Heggerscales and not to deviate off the road. So folks, if wandering anywhere near Howgill Foot, be warned, there be dragons roaming loose!. With my rough plan now thrown out of the window I still Had several miles to cover. It meant a longish walk, mainly by road, around to Wrenside farm and then around by the river Bolah and up to Fell Intake where I finally have managed to stop. That has been a long afternoon of walking and I am glad to have finally stopped.
Friday 6th August
Have stopped early because of the weather. The weather was dry this morning but a heavy dew had soaked the tent and so I had dawdled a bit to allow the worst of the wet to dry off. Following the path, which was faint at times, I made my way around by Woofer gill, Greenhope Howe and up Potter side to cross the road and then continued up and across to High Greygrits. Although not cold, a blustery wind made it feel quite chilly sitting by the trig point. Also I knew a weather front was due to come through and the thickening cloud and dark, blue black bruised sky off to the west indicated it was fast approaching. The quarry, marked as disused on the OS map, is in fact still in use for stone extraction; thankfully no one was working there today. Walked up to the track that leads up to Kettlepot Gill. The track looked newly laid and I suspected it was not the original track to the old mine workings further up. In fact I had a little difficulty in actually finding the old track and passed it before I realised , only after some careful study of the map was I able to figure out where it descended to cross the gill. In several places the old line of track is now washed away. By then thin drizzle that had started as I walked up the hill was now turning to heavier rain. Not seeing the point of continuing in worsening weather I found a spot for the tent and camped. By late afternoon the weather had briefly eased and I went off to explore the area but saw little indication of the old workings but did manage to find a rough indication of where the old path ascended the hill on the other side. The rain now is sluicing down, a pity, I wanted to photo the traps put out by keepers, poles laid out across the beck offering a bridge for any small creatures, in the middle though was an open cage, with, I suspect, some form of bait and a snap trap to catch what some game keepers consider 'vermin'; one trap had a stoat in it, dead. Why? all to do with the grouse shooting, old habits die hard and the grouse is considered the golden bird, grouse shooting being big business. It is not a case of sentimentality but it angers me.
Saturday 7th August
An odd start to the day, the rain had mainly passed, leaving only a slight drizzle. Last night I had gone over my route, there was nothing difficult in it, just a matter of heading up the hill to Cocklake Rigg and across to the path that comes around by Robert's Seat. For reasons I cannot explain, I hit a block, just did not want to do it, started up the hill, stopped, dithered but did not feel comfortable at all, totally illogical and to add to the irrationality of it all I ended up going back down to the road and followed it up to Tan Hill, very strange! Mind, it was not a bad walk, as road walks go, the drizzle had passed through and it became dry and quite pleasant. From Tan Hill I turned on to the path I originally had planned on taking, it was a lovely bit of walking too, up over Robert's Seat, with fine views and open, airy spaces. Dropped down to Ravenseat in Whitsun Dale, a farmhouse that offers coffee and scones and has a small campsite. Resisting the temptation of coffee I pushed on; the coast to coast route comes through here and is sign posted but is not marked on the OS map thus care is needed otherwise one is following the route that leads to Nine Standards. The direction I wanted was over to Birkdale, a less trodden path although easy enough to pick up. A heavy shower had me back in waterproofs; the shooting hut looked tempting and not being locked I nipped in for a quick break and to allow the rain to pass. Following the contour of the hill around above the road I made my way down the valley, the plan was to take the track that heads up through Little Sled Dale and camp high and continue on up to the ridge in the morning. So much for plans, 'Private, no access, no footpath' signs where predominantly displayed; a vehicle higher up the track dissuaded me from tresspassing. This is open fell side not agricultural land, the grouse shooting season is due to start shortly and the keepers obviously did not want folk disturbing the birds. It is not that I am anti hunting, per se, however this is not hunting but slaughter of thousands of dumb birds that are pampered exclusively for this moment. Hunting to put food on the table is another matter, as long as the animal/bird is killed cleanly, swiftly and humanely; it is a case of kill it, cook it, eat it; grouse shooting by the favoured few falls far short of that. Harbouring dark thoughts about fancy folk who take delight in such activities, I turned and headed up the hill toward Birkdale tarn. Someone by now will possibly suggest I am an inverted snob, so be it, I am working class, what you see is what you get, a peasant of the soil. Found an ideal spot to camp by the tarn, it has actually been dammed at one end and I pitched the tent close to some old workings. Looking about the workings they suggest more of mining activities than quarrying, there are some indications of at least one filled in shaft. Ambled off to wander around the tarn, not too bad close to the shore but some very boggy ground. Saw curlews, a hawk hunting overhead, raucous ducks where kicking up a rumpus out on the water, otherwise it was a tranquil spot. The area is also a favourite spot for the grouse, they have quite a wide ranging vocabulary, not just their crazy 'go back, go back' alarm calls, but a variety of soft bubbling murmurings too, at times almost cooing somewhat like wood pigeons. Came out of the tent and the demented birds exploded in all directions, total pandemonium.
Sunday 8th August.
Today was quite a long one, a heavy dew had soaked the tent overnight and the morning had dawned calm and still; this in turn meant the midges where out. Followed a track made by a farmer's buggy around the contour of the hill to the old quarry, once more marked on the map as disused, but actually still in use. Dropped down to the river Swale and followed the footpath to High bridge, another small campsite which I skirted. From there another footpath over Clumperstone Hill and down to Angram, passing through a field of frisky heifers. It had been tempting to walk in to Keld but I felt that may have meant too long a day. A strange occurrence at Angram, the footpath come out at a fork in the road with a house being extensively rebuilt, right on the junction; a guy stared at me as I stepped out on to the road, being polite I said 'good morning' to him, he just glared at me, turned around and stalked back in to the house heavily slamming the door behind him. Gosh, I know I can look a bit wild after a few days on the hill but not that bad as to scare folks, most odd! From Angram it was a quick shuffle down to Thwaite and then back up to join the Pennine Way that leads over Great Shunner Fell. Much of the route has been paved with great stone slabs, it detracts a bit from the walk, although it is understandable, the heavy usage the Way gets obviously leads to erosion. The wizard of oz kept going through my mind, follow the yellow brick road. Despite it being a long pull up it was good walking but it was good to get to the top . There is a stone built windbreak on the top, no trig point but a survey marker thingy; I was glad to take a break and have a study of the map. After some pondering it was an easy decision to follow the path and then turn off down East Side and find somewhere to camp. The pit and tips marked on the map look as if they where relics of coal mining activities; finding somewhere to pitch the tent looked problematical, I prefer to be out of sight and out of mind as it where, with forestry operation close by I was reluctant to set up camp. There are some amazing sink holes in the region, a couple looked as if they may have cave systems, it would be interesting to find out if there are any caves, certainly there must at least be water carved passageways? Finally, after a certain amount of faffing around, I came back up the hill to Humesett Crags and have found a nice little spot. Water was a bit of a problem but I found a trickle and am now a happy camper, glad to get my boots off and sit down with a cuppa. Part of my route for tomorrow has been scuppered, my intention had been to take the bridleway down to Cotterdale, however, the forestry works have closed the bridleway. Must admit, I am wearied this evening.
Monday August 9th.
Another short day, my route was a tad circuitous, first following the PW down Wensleydale toward Hardraw and then taking the path back along to Cotterdale, a lovely path providing a pleasant low level walk. From there it was a case of back along the river, the other side though and following the path across to Thwaite Bridge House. It was tempting to follow the higher old road but I do not think my body would accept it, I was running on a flat battery and felt tired and my legs where protesting a bit. There was bad weather brewing over Wild Boar Fell and it was heading my way. Reaching Yore House farm, I noticed they did camping, checked it out, very basic, a strip of grass by the river and a loo back up the drive; one camper van and tent on site. Heavy rain scudding across decided me and I opted to stay put, very unusual for me but seeing I am heading out tomorrow it is the easiest option.The farmer's wife is a nice friendly lady, which is always a bonus. Passed two bulls today and five rams no problem.
Rain on and off during yesterday afternoon and through the night so I probably made the right choice. Dawdled this morning, the train from Garsdale is not until 1300hrs and it is only a quick walk up the road. Was entertained by some very low level flying both by the RAF and army helicopters. The people in the campervan where quite amused this morning to see me heading up the drive to the loo with my cook pot full of hot water for a strip wash; there is a sink in the loo but no hot water. A good scrub down and clean clothes, joy. Possibly if I head this way again it could well be the Howgill Fells?