Sunday 29 December 2013

Dales at Christmas , chancing it!"

Christmas for me is never a good time of the year. This year the urge to get away was strong. Despite advance booking, fares took their usual Christmas hike. Train companies almost double their normal fares, a rip off. The other problem of course is not knowing in advance what the weather is going to be doing. Early indications where for rain, strong winds and storms! Windy conditions always give me a sense of trepidation.
Due to travel early on the Monday, my first inclination was to roll over and go back to sleep. my mojo was on no go! However, I finally stirred myself and  travelling by train and bus arrived early afternoon in Grassington. The weather was wet and windy. A bite to eat, fought off the temptation to go for B&;B and finally headed out.Finding a spot out of the worst of the weather somewhere on Lea Green I snugged the tent down for the night.

By morning the worst of the wind had died down. However, ominous dark clouds where rapidly building up. A flurry of sleet and then a heavy shower of snow. My intention had been to head up the track marked as the  Bycliffe Road, over Sandy Gate and down toward Scar House Reservoir.
However, as I climbed higher toward Sandy Gate the snow showers where becoming more prolonged and the wind was rising. Despite it being still early I decided it would not be wise to press on. My main concern was the forecast for more bad weather during the week. My plan had been for a fairly high level route. Not a good idea in adverse weather. Thus I back tracked to the remains of an old sheep pen.The ground was saturated and a tad muddy. There was a better pitch close by but exposed to the now, strong winds.

Things had calmed down by morning and it had become mlider. The downside was that there was heavy hill fog.

 If there is one thing that gives me the heeby jeebies it is mud. The ground sheet was plastered in it and I wasted precious time sluicing the muck off. This meant a late start. After a perusal of the map over supper, I had devised a plan B.
Heading back down and in to some lovely clear weather, I headed over toward Kettlewell. Walking up the road toward the village, I met a gent out walking his dog. As is my want. I gave him a smile and said 'good morning'. "It's afternoon now!", was the curt reply. Oh dear, his problem, not mine?
Skirting the village, I made my way up the hill and through Knipe Wood. Coming down the hill toward Hawkswick  was unpleasant. Cattle had churned the ground in to a quagmire. A flooded lane led me over  in the direction of Arncliffe Cote. Reluctant to camp too high I pitched on the hill not far from the farm.
Five a.m., dueling cockerels from the farm below, trying to out crow each other. Owls calling to one another across the valley. The tent, wet from mt the previous day, had frozen overnight and then thawed in the early hours. It was streaming wet, horrible!
The five day weather forecast had predicted bad storms for Friday. Not wanting to have to do too much if the weather turned nasty, it looked as if the Thursday was going to be a long day The first half of my intended route looked alright, it was the second half that concerned me.
Anxious to put an early start in, I was packed up and underway not long after daybreak. The sodden tent adding significant weight to the rucksack. Another cause for concern was the weather. Thick hill fog blanketed the fells and grew denser as I climbed higher. My route was up and over High Lineseed Head and down to Malham Tarn. The higher ground was snow covered; a monochrome world of grey and white. The need for constant navigation slowed things down. The compass kept close to hand. Droplets of ice formed on stray tendrils of my hair. Stopping for a quick break, noticing my damp rucksack was now beginning to freeze. The Gordale beck had morphed itself in to a wide lake, very difficult to get through.
A couple of parties of guided walkers by Malham Tarn. 'Yay'! they looked almost as mud splattered as me!, Fantastic, I was not alone in my scruffiness!!
Stopping for a nibble and drink at the tarn, I studied  the map with a certain degree of apprehension. If memory served me right , Fountains Fell could be difficult in bad conditions. Well, there was nowt to do but to gird up ones loins and go for it. Following the Pennine Way over to Tenant Gill it was then uphill once more.It did not take long to reach the snow level and it was deeper too. Oh my, the climb seemed to  go on for ever, it was wearisome. Being cocooned in thick greyness, the grey clag surrounding everything like damp cotton wool, was unpleasant.
Unfortunately the descent was even worse. Thick patches of drifted snow, bare  rock that was greasy and treacherous. Lower down the ground ran with water, slick, slippery mud and bog had me skittering every which way, poles flailing to keep upright.
What followed next was uncomprehensible, a mental aberration? Certainly it made no sense. Standing by the cattle grid, aware I had only half an hour or so of daylight left;my map is (was!) a double sided affair. Trying to turn the map over to get get the side\I needed, with showers of hail and sleet rattling off my waterproofs, I lost it. Total insanity, I set off down the road and route marched by road to Horton, ( In Ribblesdale) Madness, I was only a few miles from the village.Sticking with the Pennine Way, I would have been fine. Also, I have done that route before.
Booked in to one of the pubs which had a bunk room. Basic and cheap, which was fine by me. A bit to eat and a collapse in to the sleeping bag.

During the night I woke to hear the roar of the rising wind. Friday morning saw me heading in to the cafe for a breakfast of a bacon butty and mug of tea. The folk there warned me the forecast was dire with wind speeds hitting eighty miles an hour, impressive?
A quick study of the map and a low level, short route over to Ribblehead was worked out. Took the road up to High Birkwith and then over God's Bridge, Nethies Lodge and on to Ribblehead. The wind was certainly awesome. At times it was difficult to make headway and I got slammed about a bit. However, it was bad, but not that bad. Being in no rush I was content to just to move slowly along and let it all happen. Going with it, not fighting the elements as it where.
Originally I had looked at booking in to the pub bunkhouse. However, the proprietor had made a generous offer of B&B and evening meal at a greatly reduced rate. It was my special treat.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Dales walkabout

Well, apart from a few nights fixed camp with the Pieman (Mike) I have done no serious backpacking for a long period of time. Determined to get some form of a trip away, maps where perused and more importantly, train fares where taken in to consideration.
With train tickets purchased and a rough outline of a trip planned, packing began Winter camping can bring its own rewards, cold crisp days with amazing clarity, awesome sunsets and sunrises, tinging frost or snow covered ground in shades of pink and deeper hues. The other side of the coin is that it can mean rough and unpredictable weather.  One other down side is that it means more weight in the backpack. My slightly weightier tent comes in at roughly a kilo. However, I tend to use heavier pegs in the winter months, for which I was extremely grateful. Also a down gilet was added. This is very handy in the tent at night and can double as an extra layer in the sleeping if the temperature drops way down. Also packed are a pair of thermal bottoms to be used as pyjamas. Food is more essential in winter too. This time around I was carrying five days of supplies, some two kilos worth, roughly just over five pounds.
Early Monday afternoon saw me arriving in Skipton. On the map it looked a tad complicated to get across to Embsay This was the case. Heading up Skipton high street, I asked directions. Finally a gent gave me clear and precise directions. 'Up to the castle, turn right and follow the road to the end and turn left and it was on my right'. Running on auto pilot I breezed past a sign for Embsay station. It took another hundred yards before a light bulb went off. The station was on the edge of the village. A check of the map and a bit of backtracking and I was heading for the illusive village. Why was it not sign posted? Once in the village it was fairly straightforward to aim for the reservoir. Obviously a popular area for dog walkers  A good path led onwards and upwards toward the trig point above Crookrise crag. All the way up I had been on the lookout for a place to camp.With the light fading I found a spot right by the trig point, almost on the path itself. It would suffice for the night. Water was a bit of an issue but I found a trickle.

Tuesday morning was dull and grey with mist and low cloud. Not cold though. My original plan had been to head across the moor and on to Grassington, that was that plan I stuck to. Following the path around to Waterfall Gill Beck offered some pleasant walking. A steepish climb out of the beck and it was on to the  bridleway leading upward from Bark brow.

It was then pleasant walking on a succession of tracks and bridleways over to Grassington.There is a delightful camping spot by Eller Beck, noted for another possible time? Grassington appears to be a nice place and I regrvetted not having more time to have a look around. As it was, a quick cup of  coffee and a slice of cake had to do. While having my coffee I got the folk running the cafe to fill my two litre water bladder. The way on was limestone country and that meant no water. A long steady uphill plod out of town and again at last light I found a spot to camp by some limestone pavement.

A shower of rain during the night and then a drop in temperature meant a frozen tent in the morning. It is an excellent walk over to Kettlewell. Open, rolling county side with outcrops of limestone pavement, superb views all around.

There is a lot of history in the region as well. Ancient field systems, settlements,hut circles, lime kilns and so forth.Well worth a visit.

Reaching Kettlewell I was pleased to find that the village shop did a range of snacks and sandwiches. A cheese sandwich with pickle seemed a good proposition. Having a reflux problem means drinking lots of fluid with bread and the such. Thus a bottle of soft drink and a 'just in case' bar of chocolate was added..The sandwich was in fact a humongous bap, filled with generous amounts of the best wensleydale cheese. 'By 'ecky thump, it where reet good too'! My route was now up the Top Mere Road, heading for Tor Dike and on to Buckton Pike on Thursday morning. Oh my, the initial pull out of the village was steep. It was just as well there where excellent views all around which demanded a stop to view!
Reaching higher ground it was noticeable that the wind was rising. By Cam Head I was growing uneasy. The five day forecast had not mentioned any really bad weather. However, the wind was gaining in strength and the sky was taking on a purple plum, bruised hue.Wary of camping to high without any form of shelter, I headed back a short way to some sheep pens. Unfortunately they where gravelled over. Casting about a found a spot fairly close to a wall. Not as close as I would have preferred but offering a degree of protection..

The fateful camp spot.

By early evening the wind was quite strong. A check of the tent pegs ensured they where rammed in tight. By late evening  it was obvious a storm was brewing. Freezing rain, hail, sleet and snow where hammering the tent. Around midnight, another check of the tent pegs. By now the wind was roaring and the tent was shuddering under the onslaught. Sleep was out of the question. By three a.m. I was packed up, fully dressed and prepared to bail out at any moment. The wind was a howling roar. Watching the tent poles waying back and forward was scary. In some ways I had fatalistically resigned myself to the tent tearing itself apart at any moment. It was getting darned scary. Perversely I was trying to hang on until the first grey light of early morning. It being easier to bail out with a modcum of daylight than by headtorch. By seven a.m. I dived out of the tent in to a roaring maelstrom. Driving sleet, freezing rain and hail stung any exposed flesh. Hoping I did not lose the rucksack, I stuck it over by the wall and then tackled the tent. Whipping out the pole I promptly dived on the tent to hold it until I could get the tent pegs out. If the wind had caught the tent I would never have been able to hold it. With tent unceremoniously bundled in to the rucksack, I now had to try and get down to lower ground.
Hugging the wall I made my way down to a field gate. The force of wind meant I was unable to open it.With a bit of struggle I got one leg over the top rail.and then the wind caught me. Feeling myself falling backward, I grabbed on to a fence post, clinging on to the post for all I was worth, I knew that if I toppled backwards I would inevitably suffer injuries, most likely serious. Finally, after a struggle, I managed to topple myself forward off the gate. The wind was on my right and it was impossible to walk forward. Constantly I was slammed sideways, skittering off to one side and then having to crab sideways back on course. Thus in a drunken zigzag. I staggered back down the hill back to Kettlewell.  Several times I went down and it hurt too. Muttering unladylike utterances, I would get back on hands and knees and stagger to my feet. By the time I reached the village I think I was shell shocked. A tile crashing on to the road not far from me hardly caused me to flinch. Wheelie bins where being scattered in all directions, flower pots where where being dashed from walls and window ledges. Staggering in to the shop, dripping water everywhere, I stuttered an apology to the shop keeper. He was quite ok about it though. Clutching another massive cheese butty and a bottle of orange juice, I huddled in the village bus shelter for a spot of breakfast. A bang and a crash and what may have been a bit of shed went skating down the road, followed shortly afterward by an upturned bin.
My aim now was to follow the Dales Way up to Buckden. Apart from the extreme weather, there was now another hazard, floods. The becks had turned in to raging torrents Low level fields where turning in to lakes. One beck I came to meant going in half way up to my knees, not pleasant. A second beck proved a lot more difficult. There was a bridge, now a semi submerged island in a foaming torrent. Water, piling up behind it had divided in to two new channels Casting about, there was no where other safe place to cross. Tentatively I eased in to the water. The current was quite strong and I made full use of my poles to maintain balance. By the time I made the bridge I was knee deep. The second channel was slightly easier. It was difficult diverting around flooded fields and seeing I was now wet from the knees down, it was just as easy to paddle on through.
Close to Buckden, the river Wharfe had totally burst its banks. River and path where as one and water was now spreading across adjoining meadows. The force of the wind was lifting water from the surface of the river, driving it along like pale smoke. Amazingly the driving rain and hail eased off as I came to Buckden bridge.

.The still rising river Wharfe.

From Buckden the going underfoot became easier. Noticing a bunk barn at Grange farm, I paused to study their tariff..Very upmarket, all mod cons supplied,some £500:50 per week for groups.Tempting but not  by much, I pressed on. Reaching Hubberholme, I swear I could smell coffee coming from the pub. Stopping for coffee and a bite of grub was oh so tempting. But having to head back out afterward would  have been difficult. It was best to press on. Most of the way up to Yockenthwaite was sheltered out of the worst of the weather. By now the storm had given way to vicious squalls, driving hard down the dale. From Yockenthwaite though it was open ground, exposed to the full force of the driving wind. A grey wall of sleet and hail could be seen hurtling towards one. Standing face on to it was impossible. The only thing that could be done was to turn around with my back to the onslaught, lean heavily on the poles and submit to the blast. As one squall advanced I dived for a drystonewall. Several sheep where already hunkered down there. They sprang to their feet, paused to stare at me with those staring, glassy eyes, their jaws chewing in that strange nervous manner that sheep do. Deciding I was the lesser of two evils they hunkered down again.
By Deepdale Bridge I was in much need of somewhere to camp. I was wearied and running on empty. It was tempting to knock on the door of Newhouse cottage, but I hesitated. Asking a farmer for somewhere to camp was one thing but this place seemed to be a holiday let sort of place.  Gow Side House stood higher  up the hill. Heading up to it I noticed there was no track; the only access was  across a muddy field. The place appeared deserted but I still knocked, no response, the building was closed up with no sign of recent activity. Behind the building was an enclosed paddock with overgrown decaying vegetation and several trees. A place close to a moss covered wall offered a possible spot for the tent. Another roaring squall and with the light fast fading, it was an easy decision, I would risk it. My trousers legs where much drier but still damp, but my feet where numb with cold  and I was getting shivery. Tent up, in to sleeping bag, stove on, hot soup followed by hot chocolate.

My intention had been to be away early. However, there was a problem. My boots had frozen solid overnight and I had to unpack the stove to thaw them out.My poor, arthritic feet do not like frozen boots! The morning was colder but it was dry and still. With dry socks on and waterproof booties to keep the feet dry,  things where more comfortable. On to the hamlet of Beckermonds and then a road plod on to Oughtershaw, another remote hamlet, at one time it there had been a chapel there. Spoke to a chap that was out taking  readings from electronic gauges that measure the rise,fall and flow rate of the rivers. Some rivers in the region  had risen to almost a metre during the storm, awesome!
Swarthgill surprised me, it was no ordinary farm building. There where a few buildings but the main one one was more in keeping with a large manor house. The way on to Cam Houses led through saturated, semi frozen bog. None too pleasant but it did not take too long to get through. Forestry work was in progress by Cam Pasture and the Dales Way had been slightly diverted. The snag was the forestry track that the path should cross had been had been heavily rebuilt. Unable to see the way ahead up the hill to the Pennine Way, I stuck with the forestry road which eventually led me up the hill and on to the original track. Rather than stay with the Dales Way I continued on down to Ling Gill Bridge. There are plenty of spots there suitable for a wild camp. It was early but enough was enough and I was still wearied from yesterday,s tussle.

Friday night had been blustery with sleety showers but by morning it was just dull and grey and a wee bit damp. It was time to be heading out and I was away quite early, heading for Horton, (in Ribblesdale). Foregoing breakfast and making do with just a cuppa, I was looking forward to a breakfast in the Pen Y Ghent cafe. Despite being somewhat sore and tired I still managed to tap out a steady pace. Imagine my disappointment when I met a lady heading up the hill with her dog who informed me the cafe was closed until after Christmas.

In the end I opted for a sandwich in the local hotel. Pricey, also, there where a group of folks exercising rights to run beagle hounds frequenting the place. Country tweeds where de rigeur, gents with polished boots and immaculate gaiters, whereas I was mud spattered, my kit worn and mucky, I felt uncomfortable in their presence. Theirs was another world, somewhat incomprehensible to mine.
It was good to be away, the week was harder than intended but sometimes that happens. Now then, my next trip? .