The Dales Way, Day 2: Grassington to Beckermonds (17 miles)

A soft purple morning light gently bathed Grassington as I passed through. A maze of high drywalls led up the hill to the town and the other side up to the moors. Today would take me away from the riverside wanderings beside the Wharfe to delve into Bronte country of the windswept exposed higher lands of the Dales.

Grassington as a place of residence had moved. Not far, but the initial bumps and lumps underfoot as the new town got smaller behind me gradually exposed themselves above the earth and the last foundations of far more ancient dwellings. From the ground it can be hard to distinguish the rectangular shapes of the remains, but from the air it clear that this was a populated and busy place. A large midden of 14th century kitchen waste and pottery was discovered in the 1960s, but just a short while further on through the drywalled fields and long grasses I walked by a Bronze Age burial mound.

We often take our history for granted here. Many a ramble out anywhere in the UK will stumble into the vicinity of a megalithic or neolithic structure just left out, half eaten by the terrain, standing through the wind and rain that the island relentlessly gets battered with. We wouldn’t even think of just fencing off any of them, and only a handful have any information plaques, they are just there for the knowing to recognise, peacefully left where they were built to withstand as long as they can without our messy modern interference. And whilst this is beautiful, we can become incredibly casual about it. Online I mentioned a walk up to Belas Knapp barrow to an American who was going to visit that area of the Cotswolds and whilst they were fascinated, they were concerned about ‘all the tourists’. Tourists? You might get a dog walker or two and a couple kids playing on top of it if its a busy day.

Just like there, there was no one here.

Limekilns next, another all too common and unappreciated sight that crops up all along the land; the old kilns where limestone was superheated to create quicklime, which was then spread on the fields as fertiliser. A couple of sheep bleated at each other stupidly from on top of it.

The track through the moors was clear, cropped and wide. Whilst open country and access land will never have a littering of waymarkers, it is always nice to just relax and not have to check a compass every hundred metres to stay on track. After a couple miles through the grasses, I sat down by a drywall, blocking the wind, and fired up the stove to make some hot chocolate.

Two figures appeared in the distance, their voices carrying softly before them. The two women eventually caught up to me at the wall and cracked out their thermoses; locals on a walk up to Conistone Pie and back down for some cake after.

The older lady had retired a couple years ago and started going on Workaway placements. Though these are normally designed for older teenagers and young adults, she had felt she had to do something different or she would have done something crazy instead after years of working suddenly ending and the death of her husband. She jumped from placement to placement from middle of nowhere guesthouses in France to farms in Spain, warehouses in Croatia and nannying in Sweden. Loved all of it, would have carried on forever if, you know, the whole pandemic thing hadn’t brought her back.

The younger woman, a few years older than me, was new to the area and struggling with three children in an unfamiliar place. The older woman had clearly taken her under her wing and she looked in awe from her friend’s stories to mine.

“I just really wish I could live like you two”

“There’s time enough, your kids are almost grown, your eldest has is about to leave home!” reassured her friend.

“I think I’d be too scared to do anything on my own. Not that anything is going to hurt me or eat me, but that I’d just be too stupid and not know how anything works and just end up overwhelmed”

“I’m overwhelmed all the time” I tell her “None of us are just doing this stuff and it all comes naturally and easily”

“But what do you do then?”

“Oh. I have had a lot of therapy”

I’m not sure that reassured her much.

The Formation of the Dales

The Yorkshire Dales are classic U-shaped valleys, wide and swinging between the smooth green hills.

There are two layers to the ground here, the base layer being that of limestone planted down in the Carboniferous period 340 million years ago. This limestone was formed from the calcified remains of the shells of sea creatures that had died and settled on the ocean floor back when our landmass was far nearer the equator. Compacting under the huge pressure of the ocean, and forced upwards when the plates shifted. As they shifted and bumped and earthquakes happened, more and more layers of newer limestone were slathered on top of each other.

The limestone pavements are strongly associated with the area; thick, flat, grooved exposures of rock, more often seen on the heights above the dales. Malham Cove is the largest and most well known example.

The last ice age set in, forcing the great low slung valleys, smooth sided and deep, Interestingly, tools have been found indicating that there was human residence here before the last ice age, though it is generally believed that the UK was uninhabited at that time, and anyone living here crossed the landbridge to Europe and people did not return until thousands of years later when the ice retreated.

The ladies said their goodbyes. The older lady was already making plans on how to break the younger one out of her shell and I hope she’ll succeed. I packed up my stove and continued up ten minutes or so behind them to Conistone Pie.

Now, I’d originally thought this feature was called Conistone Pike because that would make sense. A pike is a geological feature right? But no, there is no ‘k’, it’s ‘pie’. I bumped into the women again as they made their way down.

“Why is it called Conistone Pie?” I asked. We all looked back at the circular stone outcrop, propped on top of the hill. The older lady shrugged.

“Because it looks like a pie”

It did. Like a grey, stony tribute to a Melton Mowbrey. I thought it couldn’t be something so simple, there had to be a mistranslated ancient word thing going on with that etymology. However, google confirms it; it’s called Conistone Pie because it looks like a pie.

They set off for their cake, I headed toward the pie.

The lovely and serene grass moorland started dropping through woodland and cobbled paths down to Kettlewell, but not before a mile of short fields and stiles. Countryside Hurdles. I repeatedly hauled myself and my backpack over walls and came into Kettlewell eager for a sitdown and a cold drink. Unfortunately, it would be another hour before anything opened up around lunchtime so I pressed on. The trail was back again within sight of the river, higher on the slopes that it ran through with the perfect, wide ‘U’ of the glacial valley sliding down from one height and up to another.

Pastureland here was nearly empty. Only one field had a few cows in it that were distracted by a farmer herding sheep with dog and quad bike in the next door field. The sheep were determined to be a nightmare and jumped walls and ran into each other and the dog was completely mesmersing as she nudged them all in formation and through to another fields. I scurried around the cows and considered that a win.

A Brief History of the Yorkshire Pudding

The first recorded recipe for a Yorkshire Pudding was from the 1737 tome The Whole Duty of a Woman (which I’m sure was very progressive and all for equal rights) and reads as follows:

“Make a good batter as for pancakes, put it in a hot toss-pan over the fire with a bit of butter to fry the bottom a little, then put the pan and batter under a shoulder of mutton instead of a dripping pan, frequently shaking it by the handle and it will be light and savory, and fit to take up when your mutton is enough; then turn it in a dish, and serve it hot.”

However it is not quite known how long prior these fluffy delights had existed for. Essentially made from flour, milk, eggs and hot dripping and probably made under a piece of roasted meat, using the dripping as it fell. It was a simple dish that was likely common food, and as we all know common food doesn’t get recorded until the elite decide its fancy.

Controversially, it isn’t believed to be a strictly Yorkshire dish, originally just generally northern, but another recipe publication a few years later added the ‘Yorkshire’ because of the counties association with coal and, thus, high heat. However, it seems in keeping with Yorkshire’s proud frugality, that the pud would originally be served as a first dish with a thin gravy, to stodge up the eater so they would want less of the more expensive meat after.

Where the Wharfe slung through the base of the valley, up to my left were copious trees, many having grown twisted and bent with the wind. At one point stood a small copse of surprising redwoods planted by one of those eccentric Victorian landowners sometime in the mid 1950s. Certainly not a native species, but so slow growing that no one is going to accuse them of ever being invasive, especially when they’re so grand to look at.

I came closer, once again to the water, now clearly on a floodplain where the river already had no bank and was level with the land. In Buckden I stopped at a pub for a sandwich and briefly wished I hadn’t because in re-emerging all the chilliness that walking prevented me from feeling was definitely felt.

I quickmarched away to warm up through a half and half of riverside moors and active farmland. A ring cairn stood to the side of the trail as I pushed across the grass. The difference between a stone circle and a ring cairn is miniscule – the ring cairn’s stones just tend to be lower. Another Bronze Age remnant just sitting out, enjoying and withstanding time and and endless trudge of footsteps day in day out, having already lived a life that made the lives of us treading beside it seem like a flash.

A lone sheep bleated and trotted towards me. I was wary as sheep don’t normally make much of an effort to go towards you, let alone at a pace. Then I saw that it was only moving on three legs; its front left leg was hanging, dangling and obviously fractured and it bleated piteously in front of me. It seemed all the other sheep had been herded away; to another field or out the cold for the evening, and this injured one was left behind.

What could I do? I couldn’t First Aid a sheep and that leg was properly broken. The farmhouse was a couple fields away and I felt slightly guilty as I left the sheep behind. Outside the farmhouse, a man was preparing to get on a quad bike and I told him about the sheep. He grunted as if he already knew.

It seems like a terrible life to be a sheep. They live a far more exposed life than cows, and then they die really easily. I don’t know of many long distance hikers that haven’t come across at least one sheep corpse, and a fair number that have wrangled to try and free sheep from getting trapped in roots or fences, or having to roll back over sheep that have essentially overbalanced, or watched them die just from coughing. Not even choking on anything; they just start coughing, can’t stop and die.

The river was giving me ample places to camp, if it hadn’t been for the lane directly across on the other bank. It wasn’t often a car came along, but they came along often enough that to just set up on the bank would hardly be discreet. So as four thirty came alone and the sky started to rapidly darken, I found a tumble in the drywall behind and climbed over – all the stiles earlier being fantastic practice. The field was clearly left for winter; the grasses grown too high to be regularly grazing now. In case they were being used for feed I kept to the corner of the drywall, setting up for yet another night of hearing the rushing sounds of water in the background of my sleep.

  • Distance:  17 miles
  • Total Elevation: 800ft
  • Terrain: Clear moorland tracks, pasture, plenty of stiles, easy riverside walking
  • Toughness: 2/10
  • Maps Used: Harvey Map XT40: The Dales Way, Hiiker Map;The Dales Way (downloaded for offline use).

5 thoughts on “The Dales Way, Day 2: Grassington to Beckermonds (17 miles)

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