Sunday, 23 June 2013

Barden Moor: Skipton to Grassington 08/06/13

No longer having the Dales Way on my walking schemes should make me feel that I am now free to head out into the walking world without the constraints of a plan, but my mind seems to like order too much to start out like that, and with Summer weather upon us and the reality of Summer being only a couple of weeks distant means that I need a plan for the coming three months or so. Last Summer had the many miles of canal path to tread, and this year should have a similar theme, but one hasn't come to me yet, and with a number of plans that I had schemed for April and May still unwalked, I had better make the most of the arrival of summer whilst it is here. So off we go for an early start to join up with the FOSCL group again, who are staying out the Higher Dales to avoid the traffic going to Appleby Horse Fair, and to instead cover one of the southern High Moors that has so far avoided my attention.

Barden Moor: Skipton to Grassington  12.1 miles

Skipton Wood
A lot of folks gather up at Skipton station having travelled up on the local service to avoid the crowds on the S&C train, which didn't turn out as it happens, so there's time to slather on the sunblock and don my sunhat before our party formally gathers for a 9.30 start, and it's a crowd of 24, which is the biggest FOSCL gathering that I can recall, and we have Mark & Annie leading, along with sometime leaders Steve & Sue, so we should be well cared for today. Not that there's much scope for getting lost in the early going, hitting the L&L canal path to wander towards the town, and then crossing the various streets and bridges to get to the Springs Branch, I take up my place at the back of the group and chat with Annie about how it's all looking a bit more favourable in terms of weather than it did when I last came this way in November, and my relentless photography is noted again. Out of Skipton we head between canal and beck, behind the castle which is still ridiculously difficult to photograph even with the sun at a high spring morning angle, and onwards into Skipton Wood. It feels cool and shady today, rather than brisk and autumnal, and whilst it lacks bluebells like so many other woods, is has a beautiful carpet of of white flowers and the aroma of wild garlic. It's a lovely place to be on a morning like this, and will be the last stretch of sustained shelter that we will be getting before the ascent to the moor, and the first mile and a half is steps retraced before we exit to one of those paths that isn't actually a right of way or permissive route, bur is still well enough used for the Skipton Woods estate to have installed a gate to access it. Steps are carefully taken up the edge of a drainage ditch, to emerge by the A65 and a game of chicken has to be had to cross to the other side, as avoiding traffic is one of the costs of using unofficial paths.

Embsay Reservoir & Crag
Once over, the route takes us behind the overgrowth on the edge of Cross Bank road, and as we venture forth the view up the Barden Moor opens out, and this is apparently the cover-all name of this whole upland, an identity that had escaped me when trying to identify it when on the Dales Way. Meet the road into Embsay for more fun trying to cross over, and under the railway bridge we go, and I identify this as the the old Grassington Branch which still endures to service the quarry at Swinden, and sits at the top of my fantasy railway restoration schemes. Our route takes us away from the idea of going into Embsay, first across fields to Brackenly Lane and then down the path the houses of Dales Avenue and than through Hill Top Close and Millholme Rise to leave the town via an ascent and descent into the glade that surrounds Embsay Beck and then up one of the narrowest paths yet traversed to emerge by the millponds of Embsay tannery on Pasture Lane. Head into open country along the lane, having been assured that it is usually deserted, so naturally we are repeatedly dodging traffic as we go up and the views to the south start to emerge, mostly of Skipton High Moor and once Pendle Hill appears we can feel in familiar company. Our route takes us up to Embsay reservoir, where tea break is taken and there is not enough of L's cake to go round, and I can ponder where our day is going to head to, as Barden Moor is all access land and mostly trackless, and Mark can give me some route-finding indications on my OL2 and views can be taken in along the south side of the moor edge, with Embsay Crag entertainingly prominent, and I can pick out another of those chimneys which appear randomly in the landscape without any obvious industrial workings attached.

Above Crookwise Crag
Now the hard ascending starts and my legs have again forgotten what it is like to do sustained up and I sit at the back of the group with some of the old ladies as the route heads up over Lowburn Gill and into some rough grass and Gritstone going for about 60m before meeting the perimeter wall of the Crookwise Wood, and we leave the blasted scrub behind to ascend the groove below the craggy edge of immaculately sculpted Gritstone that forms the perimeter of the High Moor and beyond the massive expanse of heather moorland opens up to the north and east. The ascent becomes more gentle and our track takes us to the other side of the wall on the moor's south-western edge of instead of getting the view of largely unchanging moorland as we go, instead we can look down over the woods above Nettlehole Ridge and down into upper Airedale, over Flasby Fell and into the distant expanses above Bowland and Malhamdale. It's a view to cherish and the windblown Gritstone outcrops provide interest as we ascend to the 415m trig point for break time, and I feel particularly fortunate to have such a good day to do the observing, and it's also really dry, despite the terrain, though I'll be keeping the gators on for a while so that the heather doesn't tear my legs to shreds. Heading over the wall again gives us a view showing the high western edge of the moor, as it declines to the east, which provides some explanation for the dryness and it all looks like the North Yorkshire Moors, albeit on a much smaller scale. Views recede as the path descends behind the woods, and we head down very carefully to the stream crossing at Waterfall Gill, the only outlet on this side of the moor, and the ascent beyond is equally tricky as boots don't grip the dry turf so easily, but meeting the bridleway that crosses the moor has no-one needing to take the escape route, and why would they on a gorgeous day like this?

Rylstone Cross
The fun stretch of the walk starts as we start out for Rylstone Cross, as the path hugs the sharp edge of the moor and whilst there is a wall to separate you from the precipitousness, the feeling of being high above the surrounding world is marked, and the rock outcrops make the terrain so much more interesting, I'd noted their absence on Rombalds Moor, so it's good to know that Barden moor is loaded with them. The immediate surroundings are views down to Rylstone, Hetton and Cracoe and the view over Malhamdale leads the eye over Kirkby Fell to Ingleborough and there's general puzzlement that you can't see Pen-y-ghent, but I'm convinced that it's hidden by the indistinct bulk of Fountains Fell. getting everyone over the wall to Rylstone Cross is a lengthy business, and quite pointless as after a watering break, we are all going back to the path in short order, but the view down and along the moorside is great, and we are assured that our lunchbreak at Cracoe Obelisk is only 10 minutes walk away. It's actually about 40 minutes away, and involves about 100m more ascend along the moor's edge, but the views are enormously rewarding, with enough weather beaten outcrops to keep the geologist happy, and at times you could almost convince yourself that you were on the Hadrian's Wall path on the edge of the Great Whin Sill. The accompanying view into Upper Wharfedale opens up and for the first time, all the parts on this landscape are recognisable and familiar, as Buckden pike and Great Whernside stand prominent and the surrounding moors show up faces that I can acknowledge even at this distance.

Cracoe Obelisk
Cracoe Obelisk, the war memorial, is our lunchbreak spot, met at 1.15pm, and offers more fine views but at 500m up also offers a sharp breeze, so I'm glad that I wore my gilet and didn't go in just shirtsleeves, but it would have been wiser to seek a shaded spot, as out leaders observe. Before heading onwards, all 24 of us scale a large rock outcrop so that Mark can indicate all the surrounding moors and hills, and I feel like I am in the centre of a known landscape now and can pick out the names as they are indicated, and whilst I know their names, I haven't been up on most of them, and with that I feel a scheme hatching. It's also worth pausing here to take in the scale of the moor sitting atop it's Gritstone slab, thrust up here by the shifting of the Craven Faults, and this is the only spot from which the Barden Reservoirs can be seen. It's so close to being a summit too, but the actual top of the moor is on an upland we will be walking around, a mere 9m higher than the Obelisk, but not to be visited. The path towards Wharedale is not as much fun as those that preceded it, as it moves off from the high edge and offers fewer exciting views as the wall often obscures, but as we move to the northern edge, us back-markers find that there are a few inauthentic Northerners up here, and we all prefer this land to that of our origins. Suddenly and oddly, we find ourselves on a farm track, one which doesn't seem to have an obvious destination or origin, and it makes for firmer going as we seem to be walking away from Grassington, and I can wonder why there are numerous trays of what apears to be cat litter along the path. With the group getting extremely stretched out, and our leader not being at the front, I start to fret that we have missed the path and we are going to end up descending to somewhere in the vicinity of Burnsall or Barden, but the distant sight of a building bizarrely dropped on the moor must have some significance.

Barden Moor Shooting Hut
It turns out that this is a shooting hut, built to provide catering and shelter for those who enjoy slaughtering Grouse, and it has been recently restored, but hopefully not for its original purpose. The trail leads her because it offers access to the best path off the north edge of the moor and that means the start of 150ms of descent through rough grass, down what appears to be a naturally occurring groove, which becomes apparent as being man-made as you notice that they don't follow the depressions on the hillside and discover many more criss-crossing their way down hill. Clearly these are ancient tracks for getting livestock on and off the high common land in the distant past, and they lead us back into shelter from the wind and a spike in temperature, and from the moor's edge we have another 100m to go down towards the village of Thorpe and our return to civilisation, and the rough farm track proves to be a more hostile surface than anything the moors provided. Chat takes in the observation that this will probably prove to be one of the best walking days of the year, and I feel that way because my belief is still that last year wasn't that bad in terms of weather, it didn't provide many days like this one. Having arrived in Thorpe, the moor disappears from view as me move among the lower limestone hills, and oddly no views of the moor will be had of it, despite its massive size, all the way to Grassington, but more eyes are set to the village, almost hopefully quaint and desirable as a retirement location for many of my fellow walkers.

St Michael & All Angels, Linton
The scent of Grassington is on our noses now, and my head is ready for the walk to end, but we've still got the last mile to go, down the back roads to meet the B6160, to find another exciting old road sign and some very poor road-walking discipline from my companions. We'll be on safer ground once we hit the field walk, and too many squeeze stiles, and I can love the pastures of Daisies and Buttercups, and when I wonder aloud if they are natural or sown, it turns out Annie knows quite a lot on this subject. Descend down to meet the River Wharfe, my long-time companion for this year, and take the path that leads us to the churchyard of St Michael & All Angels, Linton, and it's an even better looking building from this side, a remarkable survivor of over 800 years vintage. The group has effectively broken up now, and our leaders say it's hardly worth hurrying for the next bus back to Skipton, but with over 15 minutes spare, I think it is worth a tilt and speed up some along the road and path down to the river crossing at Linton Falls, not roaring nearly as fiercely as they did in March, and then haul up Sedber Lane as fast as my tired legs will go to meet the car park at the National Park Centre, with the sight of a bus already at the bus stop ahead of me. Turns out that it isn't the 3.50 to Skipton, and neither is the next one, but the third one to appear is, so I make for the trail home without giving the hostelries of Grassington any of my custom, but that is something I do plan to do before this year is done, and riding back to Morley, my summer plan comes together, I will be seeking out the West Riding's Summits and High Moors!

Next on the Slate: The adventures on the High Moors begins!

1,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 675.4 miles
(2013 total: 210.1 miles)

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