Sunday, 7 October 2012

Three Dales: Horton-in-Ribblesdale to Kettlewell 16/06/12

Dropped a Saturday on the 9th June, not least because I was bloody well knackered after doing more than 50 miles over my long week off and then returning to work, so when the next weekend wheels around, I wasn't going to miss out, I was walking no matter what, and anyways it was the last weekend of spring and that would surely mean a good long day for walking. Three Yorkshire Dales in one day, seemed such an inviting prospect too, until my weather eye watched the BBC weather site giving progressively worse predictions for the coming weekend. Well, thinks I, I've not had a day of walking in foul weather, how bad can it be? Let's just say, writing this might well induce post-traumatic stress...

Active June: Day Two

Three Dales: Horton in Ribblesdale to Kettlewell.  13.2 miles

 It's raining hard when I leave home, and it's going to be one of those days when you're just going to keep on hoping that the worst of it has passed, and continually being proved wrong. First time I've had to don the waterproof strides right from the outset, and putting them on the train is comedy in itself, and alight at Horton in Ribblesdale in the hope that we have at least got some company for the walk. It seems we have, M&A are leading and the party is 16 strong, showing that there are a lot of hardy walking souls around, and a good thing too says M as he has led groups of 5 in rain and said that it is as miserable as an experience as you could dread. So off under a sheet of rain we set, at 10.10am, down to Horton, crossing the churning River Ribble, and pause by the public toilets and get the feeling that enthusiasm for the conditions amongst the group might be lacking. Off we go through Horton anyway, with Pen-y-ghent, our first destination shrouded heavily, and look on at all the people camping in the fields and wonder how many of them had had the Yorkshire Three Peaks on the agenda for the day, figuring that the last Saturday of spring would give them a nice long day of daylight. Cross Douk Ghyll and walk the road up to Brackenbottom and then hit the path up to the shoulder of Pen-y-ghent, a path I really should have walked by now, and that would be a straightforward ascent of 250 metres in good weather but wet grass and slick limestone make for tough going. Enjoy looking out sideways as we cross through the limestone escarpments, and at the sheep who regard us quizzically, and every so often there's a good view looking back as the sky offers just enough illumination to give Ribblesdale some colour. Hit the shoulder and take a drinks break, and our leader tries to drum up good cheer, but I fear the weather will determine our moods from here on.

The Shoulder of Pen-y-ghent

Descend from the shoulder on the Pennine Way Path, saying goodbye to Ribblesdale, our first dale of the day, and head down towards Churn Milk Hole, which really is just a hole in the ground, and the rain somehow manages to get harder. Pause at Dale Head farm, where we are informed that we are at the point of no return and beyond here we will have committed to going on to Kettlewell, and to our credit no one quits the group. Onward down the Silverdale Road, towards our next dale of the day (oddly this three miles of river valley doesn't seem to have a singular name, despite being well-defined and distinctive), passing the departing Pennine Way as it heads off up Fountains Fell, and our leader then errs against taking the path close to Pen-y-ghent Gill as it will probably be swollen, and instead we take the farm track along Dawson Close as the alternative high route. This would offer spectacular views of the unfamiliar faces of Pen-y-ghent and its companion Plover Hill if it wasn't for the rain and low cloud, and this path isn't immune to the problems of flooding and one beck needs fording quite a way upstream from where the track has been inundated, and after that we have waterlogged boots, Oh Joy. Press on to lunchtime, stopping at a beck that cleaves its path out of the hillside, whilst lacking a name, and the rain eases off enough to open up the waterproofs and let some heat out, and here we find another problem, I'm sweating so hard that I'm starting to get soaked inside my clothes as the sweat has nowhere to escape, do despite keeping the rain off, I'm still wet. Anyway, my boots are now waterlogged and the day surely can't get worse.

Upper Littondale
Triumphs in Littondale

Head on, as the sun breaks through just enough to momentarily cast a shadow, and look down to see Pen-y-ghent Gill ends above an impressive deep cleft in the landscape, and Upper Littondale appears looking almost yellow as the flowers of its meadows light it up. It soon disappears under cloud though and we have a long descent to do, about 130 metres down to the River Skirfare and I get well behind the party along here. I'm not a quick descender in the best of conditions, and despite this being a decent farm track, every rock is slippery and I take baby steps the whole way to the bottom, every step having been a test. We don't cross the river at New Bridge, instead we press on to East Garth Farm, watching usually timid streams belching torrents of water out of the hillside. Unfortunately, the ford we had intended to cross is unusable, as it resembles a cataract, and we have to backtrack to take the footbridge over the Skirfare into the village of Litton (this is one of the dales that uses the village naming convention, rather than the river one). We are then forced to take another change to our route as the riverside paths are sure to be to be too wet or worse, so our stride down Littondale will have to be along the road, but at least it has stopped raining! The road trudge is not much fun as a walk, but Littondale is a nice looking spot, with inviting looking branch valleys leading into wild moors and rocks high up on the hillside; You'd have to stay here to walk it seriously though, as it so relatively remote. The road is ridiculously quiet, until two considerable columns of cars pass us going up the valley, and it's only at the end of the first of these do I notice that they are all Triumphs; Heralds, Spitfires, Stags and their ilk, I guess the enthusiast club must be out for their spring drive! Two miles on and we arrive outside Arncliffe, and a retreat to the pub or to call a taxi is sorely tempting, but it's time to bid farewell to Littondale and make the ascent out of the valley.

Descending Gate Cote Scar
Ascenting Park Scar

I had expect the ascent, but had guessed we'd be going around the high land between the valleys much closer to their convergence, instead we're going up 100 metres in a very short distance, through fields to Cackle Rash wood (such an attractive name) and for some rough path and almost-scrambling up through Park Scar to attain the moorland. Break here, and spirits sink utterly as looking back into Littondale, you see the darkest and worst-looking cloud that you have seen all day coming your way. So steel yourself as the rain starts to pound down and start the grim route march up the 150 metres to the top of Middlesmoor pasture, and time and distance seen to stop having meaning as you just wish for the walk to end. The leader tries to get us enthusiastic as we hit the top and meet Wharfedale as our third dale of the day, but we're 100 metres down the other side before the rain eases back, and only then do you acknowledge the spectacular view up Wharfedale (well if it weren't so grey) and the sight of Kettlewell ahead of you and knowing that your destination isn't that far away. However, you then remember that you came up through an escarpment, and in lands where the rock strata are level, that means you are going to have to go down through one too, that is the case at Gate Cote Scar and this path is fair terrifying as you have to squeeze down a ridiculously narrow gap in the limestone, taking most of your weight on your arms as the rock are to slick to purposefully plant your feet. Reach the bottom of that with great relief, and am pleased that the leader stayed back to ensure everyone made a safe descent as that's not the sort of thing you want at the end of a long day's walk. Slither down the rest of the hill to meet a decent path again, and in no time at all, you are at the bridge over the River Wharfe and Kettlewell is beyond, 4.20pm and the walk is over.

Upper Wharfedale

The day however, is not. It's an hour until the bus to Skipton is due, and I need to get out of my waterproofs, so retreat to the public toilets to semi-undress and find that shirt, trousers and fleece are all wet through with sweat, and to make matters wosre my rucksack has proved to be nowhere near as waterproof as I thought it was and my change of dry clothes is as wet as the ones I'm wearing. My leaky bag has also soaked my pair of maps (my ancient OL2 and my out-for-the-first-time OL30), and caused my old 2nd-gen iPod nano to fritz out, clearly, I need a better bag, or at least protection for my valuables. Trudge grimly to the pub, the Blue Bell, where the bus can be met and finally get my pint at the end of the day, not the beer I first asked for, mind you, but I will savour my pint of Golden Pippin. The pub is too crowded to dry in front of the fire though, and I have to shiver outside with my beer, reflecting that on the first weekend of spring I almost got heatstroke, and on the last I might get hypothermia, one of the patrons comes out, looks at me and then the weather and says "Flaming June, eh?". Too Fucking Right, pal. Board the bus, which our party almost fills and it's an hour to Skipton, bouncing along through Grassington and Rylstone as the rain pounds down again, and the cloud is so thick, it's dark at 6pm, at the height of the year! The only mercy is arrival at Skipton coincides exactly with the train home, so Morley and home is only an hour away, but the day has given my walking enthusiasm a huge knock, and my desire to go on feels tested to its limit, unsure of what happens next, I do vow to never, never venture into the Dales again on a day like that, after all, I'm supposed to be doing this for fun, damn it!

1,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 208.2 miles

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