As the light started to finally seep across the sky just before seven, I did the ungainly clamber back over the drywall and proceeded onward to the village of Beckermonds. Still, serene and lovely in the thin veil of blue light, the Wharfe trickled between the handful of houses. Today would be the last day along the river. Here at Beckermonds the two sources of the Wharfe meet – those from Green Field Beck and Oughtershaw Beck. It would be the latter I continued on.
A short, sharp, steep push on the tar lane soon turned into an old drove road; rough and tussled with weed amid the exposed limestone below. The valley started to open out past the hamlet of Oughtershaw, stretching down down to the beck over weather heckled grasses, brown and dark green, hunkered and glaring on the exposed moorside. Trees lay the other side of the water.
The drove road took me past Swarthghyll Farm and then field after field now, each a different colour as more light came into the sky until they were all a satisfying orange and, finally, toned in daytime hues.
A small herd of fenced off cows mooed at me as I passed. These ones were fluffy, brown with a stripe of colour around their centre like a saddleback pig. What were these pig-cows? These ones didn’t look scary at all! They were trying to be, they clearly weren’t chuffed at me disturbing their easy morning, and maybe I was able to be amused as there was a fence between us, but I decided I liked those cows. Those cows could stay.
The track started to disappear and I continued on moorland paths. Whilst always clear, they jumped up and down the slope as it did its best to avoid the streams that poured down from their sources. Mud was a constant, but that was always to be expected on a walk that centred around valleys and waterways and my gaiters had so far been solid. These limestone rich soils made a sticky, insistent mud, but were fertile and rich nourishment for a large variety of flora. Some distinctive pink flowers of cross leaf heath were stubbornly sticking around, low to the ground. Bilberries would have been plentiful just the month or two before, but the classic crowberry was not as well distributed in these parts – there’s too many sheep grazing.
Now I was starting to cross the watershed; a line that runs along the Pennines from north to south. Rivers that flow to the west of it will empty at the Irish Sea, whilst those the go east find their way to the North Sea. The Wharfe originated on the east side, and would eventually join the Ouse and then the Humber before gleefully flowing into the North Sea.
The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge
The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge sees many hikers and trail runners gather in the Ribble valley all throughout the year to tackle the famous three mountains.
The flat topped Ingleborough sits at 2,372ft, whilst the raked sides of Pen-y-Gent rise to 2,277ft. Whernside and its whaleback top the tree at 2,417ft. The challenge is to climb all three, going between them on foot, in under twelve hours.
Due to the need for daylight, this popular challenge can see Saturdays in summer crowded with hundreds on these mountaintops. With 24 miles and 5,200ft of ascent, most completers manage the challenge in ten hours.
I passed into the grouse moors where signs warned of the ground nesting birds. The main bulk of grouse hunting season was over and I doubted that too many nests would remain conspicuous. I was surprised by the boldness and the curiosity of the birds that remained. This was also a noted adder habitat which I wasn’t expecting; I thought the more north one went, the fewer snakes were around. Presumably they had a generous diet from the frogs in the waterways to all the baby birds.
It wasn’t far from the isolated Cam Houses Farm that I joined the Cam High Road and the cairn that marked the meeting of this old Roman Road with the Pennine Way. The descent was easy and the Ribblehead viaduct soon came into distant sight as the road carried on the Far Gearstones below it. The Yorkshire Three Peaks of Ingleton, Whernside and Pen-y-Gent were all visible; big and dominating and quite worthy of their challenge.
Once down, I headed up again, onto Blea Moor, where I parked myself down to heat up some lunch before I got too high or exposed to keep a flame alight. I pressed on over the ragged and tumbled terrain to join another drove road and, then, an actual road. The actual road, thankfully fairly empty, took me steeply downward under the Dent Hill viaduct. A cyclist struggled upwards towards me, gave a nod as he passed.
“It’s a lot harder going up” he declared.
Once under the viaduct, I was now in Dentdale. Whilst I was stuck on the road for a few more miles, I was back in an entirely enchanting wonderland of riverside walking. This river was now the Dee, and its tree lined edges and tumbled walls and the music of its flitter over the stony bed was a little piece of magic. At Lea Yeat I finally left the road for the shaded riverside before the trail had had enough of the river and turned upwards among wildflower meadows and pastures before deciding that, actually, the river was where it belonged.
Eventually I came to Dent, a perfectly charming village, where I had booked a campsite for access to a hot shower. Thing is, I had booked it for tomorrow as I had been overly cautious when planning the route to not plan for too many miles that would exceed daylight hours. I’d been wrong, but this was no great misfortune – it simply meant I had the option to now take an unneeded (but still welcome) rest day in Dent.
The Vampire of Dent
George Hodgson had, for all accounts, a fairly ordinary and unexciting life. It was probably pleasant enough, and likely healthy enough since he lived to 94, but it wasn’t anything of note and in any other circumstance he would have been confined to the forgotten dusty ledgers of the history of ordinary people. It seems death had other plans for George.
He was respectfully buried and that should have been that. Except George kept being seen about town. Not causing too much of nuisance but just constantly turning up which is pretty unusual when you’re dead. Soon villagers starting claiming that George had never been as normal as they all thought – he took a daily tonic of sheep’s blood they claimed, that was why he such a long life! And, perhaps, afterlife as well. Well, he also had a familiar, another said, a lack hare. Once the hair had been shot and injured and George had had the same injury!
A town meeting was called, to which it doesn’t appear that George showed up, and it was decided that he had to be exhumed. On doing so, it was seen that his body was in fine nick; all pink and not withered or decayed at all. His hair and fingernails had even grown.
There was nothing for it except to rebury him; a new spot was chosen, somewhere a little sunnier, and a brass stake driven through his heart.
This apparently did the trick because George remained dead after that.
The ladies at the café that was the reception for the campsite clucked and fussed and rustled up a truly great cheese scone. The café was also a heritage museum full of odd nick nacks and mannequins and a hell of a lot of wool, noting Dent’s history as a bastion of the knitting industry. The campsite owner declared that should I need anything in the night, hers was the camper van across from my tent.
I blinked. Why would I need anything in the night? I told her to please not worry. She insisted; I was alone and young and had just rocked up on a chilly November when even the motorhome owners had shut down and buggered off.
I’m not that young, I wanted to insist, but knew my mother would be grateful that I had gained a protector, even if it was just for a day and two nights. She asked if this was my first trail.
“Oh no. I’ve done a few”
“Do you camp through all of them?”
“On your own?”
“When did you start camping? As a little one?”
“My family did a fair amount in southern Africa”
“So you’re OK with lions then?”
“Lions are fine, it’s cows that are scary”
“Cows ARE scary!”
“Bloody great swinging faces”
“Their tongues and sideways chomping jaws”
The other woman interrupted us
“They’ve taken most of the cows in now” She said “I know your next stage is usually full of cows, but most the farmers won’t have them out anymore, you’ll be fine.” She indicated to the door where a muffled squeal had been insisting since I came in, “It’s that bloody cat that won’t leave you alone”
The bloody cat was an absolute star.
- Distance: 17 miles
- Total Elevation: 1000ft
- Terrain: quiet lanes, old drove roads, rough moorland tracks (often muddy and/or boggy)
- Toughness: 3/10
- Maps Used: Harvey Map XT40: The Dales Way, Hiiker Map;The Dales Way (downloaded for offline use).