Thursday, 14 March 2013

Bramhope to Ilkley 09/03/13

Self in Bramhope
The oddly predictable pattern of weather for the the early walking season continues, alternating between bright sunshine and dour greyness, and we land on the rubbish sort of weather for today. All week the projections for Saturday had suggested poor to terrible, only easing toward mediocre to poor on the Friday but projecting an, and I'd had another tough week in work and wasn't feeling any enthusiasm for the trail as the time to go came around. But I had to go, as I had only two weekends available before my first break away of the year, and the option of dropping behind schedule just wasn't there this time. And, anyway, if you are going to take the high road to Wharfedale, a bit of crappy weather is surely the sort of thing you want to have to get the full bleak flavour of Rombalds Moor? Yeah, keep telling yourself that, and as you ride the bus up the A660 into the gloom and mist, keep reminding yourself 'This was supposed to be my week off...'

Walking to Windermere: Bramhope to Ilkley  11 miles

Chevin Forest park
Something I have discovered on my travels is the fact that I have a passion for old road signs, anything pre-1957 and the older the better, and Bramhope has a doozy by St Giles church, a stone block with destinations along the three roads carved into it, a fun little relic to start the day as I head up to the fingerpost at the end of Eastgate to start my day. 9.35am is my start time and out of Bramhope we go along Old Lane, and for the first half of the day we will be again retracing steps made in May of last year, so maybe my descriptions don't need to be quite so fulsome, so it's off over the broken fields towards Pool Bank New Road, looking on into Wharfedale to barely make out the shape of Almscliffe Crag through the low cloud and observing that the valley floor is largely free of mist. Over the road and on to the lane that leads down into Chevin Forest Park and as soon as the boundary is met, the crowds of dogwalkers and teenage orienteers appear in the landscape. The Dales Way link follows a route slightly to the north of the Ebor Way previously traced, and this provides a slightly less manicured bit of forest as the slope of the land means the trees are not so regimented and there's added atmosphere from mist hanging among the branches, either that or we are ascending into the clouds. There's also a mass of wood carved accouterments to amuse the passer by, be they in the shape of a chariot, a group of deer, an armchair, an elephant or a bicycle. Descend to meet the path down to East Chevin Road and start the path up to the Chevin along with a Dad taking his kids on a healthy morning's stroll. They soon vanish in the mist, and the visibility starts to get poor so I'm glad that I know the route already and aren't having to navigate, and a glance north has the vaguest outlines of Otley visible down in the valley. Hit the summit and you can't even see as far as The Royalty, and there are no surprises at all to be had at Surprise View as it's an almost total whiteout in all directions.

Otley Chevin, from Bleach Mill Lane
Still feel secure as I go along the top of the ridge, before descending down into the nature reserve and once you pop out on the path that leads down to the road, you have already emerged from out of the clouds and the views forward to the uplands of Rombalds Moor and further into Wharfedale as you continue downhill pounding the roadsides all the way down to The Chevin public house and B'n'B. A look back indicates your suspicion that Otley Chevin has acquired its own cloud, as it hangs pretty steadily at the 250m contour, and we're pretty much mist free for the time being as we follow the paths and lanes down to the side of the railway into Menston, the only impediment of note being a section dug up for pipe laying. Over Mire beck and then for a very long wait to get over the A65 and on down Station Road to finally have to consult my map on the rote to take as the Ebor Way and Dales Way link divide and no indication is made of which is which. I choose the northerly of the two, which takes us down an alleyway from the back of the railway station, up to Fairfax avenue, which immediately has me wondering if it has any association with the Civil War-era General Sir Thomas Fairfax, and a view of Wikipedia will confirm, yep, he was a local boy. This part of town looks relatively contemporary and just as I think it starts to look expensive too, a Rolls Royce (a new one!) drives in the opposite direction to prove my point. Find the old bit of Menston beyond the parish church, and hit the Main Street feeling like I deserve a warming hour in the Malt Shovel or the Menston Arms but relent and continue on to find the first bit of Dales Way link signage which indicates the way out of town along Bleach Mill Lane.

Burley Moor
I figure that beyond Menston the lane will lead us up to the moorside so it's a bit of a surprise when the lane starts to wind its merry way downhill for a stretch before reaching the pond above Bleach Mill Farm, so maybe it was a mill in the past, but that poses the question 'How do you mill bleach, exactly?'. The path leads us around the yard of the farm, as if to keep walkers away, and then track leads us through to the rather unloved grounds of Hag Farm, and ascending beyond there you get the best look back to Otley Chevin and its clouds, and also an indication that the clearer portion of the day is ending. Press on to encounter a gate that cannot be negotiated whilst wearing a rucksack,  and admire the farmsteads of Wharfedale before a field walk leads us to the lane that drops us on Moor Road amongst the buildings that make up Burley Woodhead. Beyond the path finally reaches the edge of Burley Moor and the ascent up to the edge of Rombalds Moor finally starts. Pause for lunch before I'm too far up, and its a rather hasty affair as the drizzle and sleet start to come on and it looks like the cloud is going to get troublesome above the 250 metre contour. Carry on above Barks Crag as the mist starts to gather and I know that there's a descent coming to cross Coldstone Beck, but these passages are always more difficult than the map suggests they will be, and the footing is pretty awful as the ground is so wet. Ascend to the other side and the expected white out appears, but again you feel secure that you are safe as the path hugs the edge of the high moor, so as long as you don't wander into the void to your right and keep the flat moor to your left, you are as safe as houses. Finding a wall to shelter behind above Stead Crag is also a bonus, as that prevents the wind from cutting into you too hard, and keeps your legs dry.

The descent to Ilkley
Plenty of gritsone boulders up here, but the weather precludes the searching for ancient Cup & Ring markings, and press on as the visibility worsens and the feeling of remoteness is lightened by the sound of traffic on Hangingstone Road some 60 metres below the moor's edge. I'm uncertain where I'm supposed to descend, but catch sight of The Cow & Calf Hotel, and the path that descends below the Hanging Stone which gives the lane its name, and leave the mist behind as the path leads to the top of Cow & Calf quarry but offers no view of the rock formation of the same name as it hides behind a rise in the terrain. Onward around the larger Ilkley Quarry and start meeting the casual walkers again as I enter the conifer wood which supposedly hides one of the better carved antiquities of the high moor, but it has no indications of where to locate it, sadly. I abandon all pretence of following the Dales Way link as seek the shortest route downhill, and the descent that I take to the crossing of Backstone Beck is frankly horrifying, as the ground is so carved up as to offer no traction at all, and it is so slippery that you are better off trying to vertically surf over the mud rather than trying to walk normally. Amazingly don't take any spills and it's a relief to get to the bottom, but the path beyond isn't much better and you really have to concentrate with every footstep. Finally leave the mud, scrub and boulders behind, and meet the tarmac path around Ilkley Tarn, which really is the county's most attractive duckpond and then it's down the last stretch of downhill on the moor to meet Wells Road on the top edge of town and that 150m took an awful lot of descending.

Ilkley Old Bridge
It's another 70 metres of descent down through Ilkley to reach the banks of the River Wharfe, and I have to note how much I detest the building Wells Court, an ugly tower block spoiling the view up through the town, as I descend Wells Promenade and mingle among the shoppers as I pass the Crescent Hotel and All Saints Church, looking a lot less pretty in this glum weather. The path into Riverside Gardens is fenced off so I have to take a detour to get to the riverside and the yorkstone slabs provide a slick surface more lethal than anything else encountered today. Apparently, this park is a Second World War memorial grounds, unusual as most towns had already created one after the First and it's onward down to meet the Old Bridge, a boldly scaled 3 arched packhorse-styled structure, and just south of there is the end point of the day, at the bench 'For those who walk the Dalesway' (sic). Only 82 miles to Bowness on Windermere according to the sign, and my exploits on the assault of the Dales Way is now less than two weeks distant, but at 2.40 pm it's time to get out of the worsening wet weather and make a detour to the tourist office to pick up guides to other trails in the locality and then get a ride home, looking forward to my next three days in Wharfedale and hoping for better weather as I plan to do backpacking properly for the first time, ever.

Next on the Slate: A Detour into Dentdale.

1,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 516.3 miles
(2013 total: 51 miles)

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