The rest day was a nice choice. Being that I wasn’t taking it because I was knackered or hurt, I simply spent the day going on short out and back walks from Dent – to Flintergill, to the banks of the Dee, to a random cornerstone supposedly of note on a farm. I ate decent sandwiches and even some vegetables and the cat, who doesn’t have an owner, slept in the vestibule of my tent both nights.
The mini hot waterbottle had started to be filled every night, but ended up yeeted within a couple hours of getting in my bag and my sleep socks pushed off. The bivvy I had brought to cocoon both the mat and the bag in seemed to be working wonders for the temperature, allowing me to sleep in just a short sleeved shirt with no added fleeces or extra layers. The issue was that it was still cold outside, so my tent dripped with condensation every morning. The Big Agnes Flycreek isn’t known for good ventilation, indeed it doesn’t actually have any ventilation flaps, but its mine and we’ve been through a lot together so now I just need to be fastidious about wiping her down and carry on.
The Yorkshire Dales in Literature
Strangely for such a notably lovely and evocative part of the country, the Dales have not been the backdrop of much great literature. Certainly not to the extent that Hardy’s fictional Wessex captured the moorland of Devon and the south east or how fluidly Wordsworth wrote of Cumbria.
The Bronte sisters are Yorkshire’s most famous authors, but their family home was in Haworth, right to the south of the Dales and whilst the tempremental mood of the county’s wilderness seems matching, they took their inspiration from the surrounding heaths that are now swallowed by Lancashire.
Instead it seems that our most robust literary depiction of the Dales is from the life and times of the beloved vet James Herriot and the television series he inspired.
Whilst the Dales may not have been the constant muse of many an author, one thing does stand out; it is the setting of a hell of a lot of murder mysteries. Whether that is because the visual of the Dales is so magically, stereotypically was we imagine all English countryside is like, or whether to those living far away from them, the great sweeps of the Dales seem so remote and insular I’m not sure. But let me reassure you; this is not a particularly homicidal part of the country and all this is just fiction. Maybe.
I bade adieu to Dent early in the morning. Where the previous lazy day had been sunny, today was far more foreboding. It took longer than normal walking away from camp along the Dee for me to start warming up and the sky was heavy and dark. The previous night my headtorch had started to show a small red light indicating the batteries were low so a detour to Sedbergh was in order.
Today I would leave the Dales National Park, which was marked with more than just a boundary sign; the Dent Fault runs just a few miles from the start of this day’s walk and would see the changes from the limestone geology into Cumbrian slate. The last views of the classic Dales scenery were the Howgills, rising smooth and big and green above Sedbergh after I continued along the road, briefly off path, from Millthrop. After stopping by the Spar and picking up new batteries, I carried on along to tarmac to join the trail again further on.
Those big green hills and the last look back at a lush valley would be the last pleasantries today would bring as I don’t really know how to describe it than just absolutely endless featureless fields of sheep. The Lune was the river at hand now, after a brief scurry along the Rawthey, The great Victorian Lune viaduct rose out of nowhere, carrying the Lancaster Canal way, way above my head. Those Victorians sure loved their viaducts; I suppose they needed plenty to carry all the new fangled trains and boats carrying all the supplies for the new fangled industries that were the backbone of a former, somewhat morally destitute, glory.
The sky broke around midday as I plodded through the hundredth copied and pasted field full of sheep. And man did it really break. The rain came in horizontal and fierce, directly into my face as I trudged northwest. It could be seen, flying in angry sheets every time a gust of wind shook the exposed spaces. Nothing for it except to mentally zone in at the task at hand and tune out everything else.
The Dent Fault System
The Dent Fault system of folds and faults in the earth signals the end of the Askrigg Block – the limestone structure that sits underneath the Dales. This block forms a large part of the Pennines, incorporating the Yorkshire Dales. It’s existence is seen in the flat bottomed glacial valleys carved into the fragile limestone without the ravages that firmer stone would have seen. It was formed from layers upon layers, leading to areas where the rock is exposed, sandwiches of stone are seen rather than slabs.
Adam Sedgewick, local geologist, was the first to identify the fault, observing the difference in the rounded hills of the Dales and the rough and jagged peaks of the Lakes.
The Howgills sits in between like an often overlooked middle child – not as fetching as the one nor as dramatic as the other. Once the Lakes takes over, the violence of the volcanic eruptions that forced them into existence is far more evident, slate on top of the limestone scales up to ragged cliffs and jaunted summits.
Much of the year these fields are brimful of cows, but the lady in the café had been right; there were absolutely none for me today so I suppose I must be grateful for small mercies. The sheep did not look like they were having a great time; most had hunkered down, lying low on the grass now. White polka dots on an endless green. The fields were not like fields before; there were no flowers, no trees, no wild grasses, no rocky features, no huge views, no dapply anything – just plain, sparse fields full of mud and sheep. There was nothing stimulating at all. It was the most boring day of hiking I’ve had in my whole life and I’m pretty sure that would even be the case if it hadn’t rained. It was more boring that the whole three days of the Ridgeway I did combined – and the Ridgeway is the only trail I quit because I was bored.
The previous three days had been utterly and totally magical. An England off of chocolate box lids and the most romanticised television series; a perfectly pastoral and bucolic wonderland of staggering loveliness; the sort of England that tourists imagine and anticipate all of England to be, you know, before a plane drops them off in Luton. Today was pretty much like ending up in a countryside Luton with less stabbing; dull and disheartening, repetitive and just completely uninspiring.
I didn’t stop anywhere for lunch. I didn’t really dare stop moving. Whilst my raincoat was holding out, I knew if I stopped the cold would set in and it would take forever to get rid of again. Even as it was I was occasionally checking my faculties, making sure I wasn’t descending into the mild hypothermia I am incredibly susceptible to. My sense of direction goes early on, so as long as left and right and east and west were still instantly making sense to me, all was still well. I promised myself I would stop at the first pub I came to.
Of course, there was no pub, at all, on the entire stretch out of Sedbergh. Luckily I had to cross a footbridge over the motorway which broke the monotony somewhat, but the other side just continued the day’s theme of sheep fields. Barely even any lovely drywall either. Sheep. Fields. The occasional lane. And screw every one of those stiles for slowing my pace, however briefly. Their wood now sopping and wet and slippery and creaky, all neglected in little corners.
For hours and hours and hours I was at it; every mile looked the same as the last. It was utterly uninvigorating. As the afternoon ticked on, I accepted that this was a wildcamping deadzone; too much active farmland, too much mud, too exposed, too visible, nothing to make it worthwhile. It had been in the back of my mind that this space between the Dales National Park and the Lake District would be lacking, and whilst I had originally hoped to not end my day in the in between, it seemed that would be the way. So it was time for another plan.
Rather than stop in Burneside and take a gander on what might be open, I turned down to Kendal instead and the Camping and Caravan Club site there. I entered amid the howling wind and the blasting rain which now I was so accustomed to I could hardly register. The owner was wrapped up in a raincoat so thorough that just her nose was peeping out as she signed in a motorhome. but stopped when she saw me.
“What the hell are you doing! Get inside NOW!” She pointed a firm finger at the reception and I scurried inside leaving a slosh of muddy water behind me as I blinked in the brightly lit room. As she came in to sign me in, she was in for another surprise. She had had two backpackers booked in for tonight, but I was neither of them, I’d just showed up hoping for a space, which meant there were three people out walking in the howling horizontal rain today that were all happy to stay in tents. All three were woman she noted, just a touch proudly.
She directly me to where the tumble dryer and showers were and gave me a sheltered spot. On a whim I asked if any pizza companies delivered here and, well, apparently they do.
So call it unconventional, but after a miserable and mind numbingly dull day, I was extraordinarily happy to enjoy the novelty of having food delivered to my tent and chomp away while the storm outside continued to rage.
- Distance: 20 miles
- Total Elevation: 900ft
- Terrain: riverside paths, lanes, endless bloody fields and muddy pastures
- Toughness: 2/10
- Maps Used: Harvey Map XT40: The Dales Way, Hiiker Map;The Dales Way (downloaded for offline use).