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? . 


  1. Ooh, a nice trip Dawn. Now where are you off to next?


  2. Ecky thump, Dawn, I guessed you were probably in for some kind of epic. I suspect you've probably been more determioned than I would have been, being so close to the King's Head in kettlewell an' all. Good job, tho1

  3. Hi John! Unsure as yet maybe the Howgills.

  4. Character building Mike! It was good to be out though.

  5. Wow, character building indeed. You took a bit of a battering there but the Thursday was a very unpleasant day here too.
    Glad you came through it ok. I wonder what you got for the extra £0.50 on top of the £500 at the bunkhouse.
    Great pics considering.

  6. It was a bit of a shock to see a bunk house with those sort of prices Alan. Was pleased overall with the trip.

  7. Wow that sound like a proper adventure Dawn - kudos for sticking that one out. I would have probably headed home. It was wild here in the city that day so must have been extra wild in the Dales.

  8. It was weather gone ballistic James.Am now working on the next trip.

  9. Bloody hell Dawn, a real heroine! I will stick to calmer weather for my overnights under nylon.

  10. Lol W.P. Us old 'uns are a wee bit more canny!!

  11. Should have looked at this post before the Christmas one! Although not quite as windy, when we did the Dales Way many years ago, everywhere - including the shops in Grassington - was flooded out then. Brought back some memories! Well done for sticking it out :) I remember us talking about giving up and going home when we were struggling across Cam High Road in horizontal hail for hours on end....

  12. Thank you Chrissie.The Dales bus did cross my mind. However, I was managing and pressed on.