along the Dales Way - narrative

Wharfdale scene (day 2)
Despite having been to University in Sheffield, I had pretty little appreciation of the Yorkshire countryside. Jeremy had been interested in walking The Dales Way for some time, but had been put off by a book with a very long stage in it. We now see that a stage can be as long as you like, so we shortened it. The idea of 84 miles, much alongside a river, was appealing and it turned out to be enjoyable. After the wettest May on record, and what was looking like a matching June, we set off in some trepidation, expecting to test the waterproof qualities of our gear. Also, I was hoping to improve my geological understanding.

Bridge over the Wharfe (day 1) DAY 1. Ilkley to Addingham
We started with an easy train journey, after Leeds on a branch line with sweet old-fashioned stations. Ilkley is a nice old, Northern spa town, with hints of Victorian style remaining from when people came for the water cure. We celebrated our arrival with a visit to Betty's elegant Tea Rooms: lovely java coffee for me, and China Rose Petal tea for Jeremy. Then we visited the Manor House Museum, with background on local Roman and Saxon history, and some information on Verbeia, goddess of the River Wharfe. When we got into conversation with the locals, saying we were walking The Dales Way, it was clear they were proud of their locality and its beauties.

As we set off, the drizzle set in and stayed constant for the just-over-an-hour walk to Addingham. The Wharfe is quite wide here, and - true to its name - winding, and swift flowing. The water was a rich brown, I thought, tinged with iron. With all the wet, the path was muddy, the trees very green; the rain meant I kept my head down, and so saw less, compounded by low cloud on the surrounding hills. There were plenty of mallards, with their ducklings (lovely weather for ducks). There was white cow parsley, yellow buttercups, a few pink campions, and many vivid greens. Addingham is a pleasant little village, in the local ochre-brown stone, and the Pub landlady Maria was very welcoming. Her husband told us we were in for an interesting day tomorrow - he was right.

Bolton Abbey (day 2) DAY 2. Addingham to Grassington
This was a very green day, with big splashes of yellow from the buttercup meadows. We'd met a couple yesterday who'd enthused about the amazing flowers, and I was beginning to get the picture. Walking up a river has echoes for us of walking the Thames; however, because of all the recent rain, the Wharfe was full and fast flowing. I can't imagine how many thousands of gallons of water we watched swishing down the Dale today. Again I was struck by its deep brown colour, which I interpreted as a mixture of iron, mud and overhead cloud. We were luckier with the weather today: despite quite a lot of black clouds, there were only a few, short showers, and then some sunshine.

Even though we were mostly by the water, there was plenty of variety. First we were absorbed by the river, ducks, wild flowers, trees, and an elegant grey heron. After about an hour, we got to Bolton Abbey. The bare bones of the 12th century Priory loomed, with its great age, above the eternally flowing river. It wasn't timeless, but it turned my thoughts that way. Along with Rievaulx and Fountains Abbeys, Yorkshire seems to have had a historically rich religious past.

Strid Wood has some grand trees, lots of beech, old oaks, and later some beautiful birches. We'd planned on lunch at the Priest's House Restaurant at Barden Tower, but they had a wedding on, so no go. Luckily there was a little of yesterday's picnic left and we relaxed on a grassy bank, visited by a duck and some sheep; we were beginning to get familiar with the local farming - sheep are big business here. At a kiosk by the river, Burnsall provided tea and flap jacks, at a quarter of London prices. This was the place where the geology changed: up to here it had been gritstone underfoot. Now it changed to limestone; the river banks were light grey, showing interesting layering, folding and buckling; (Jeremy's description: lots of 'events'). The meadows by the river were mostly carpeted with buttercups - a glorious smear of yellow across the countryside.

Many of the surrounding farms were full of lambs. In the afternoon we also met bunches of bunnies, with fluffy white bunny tails; adults and little ones bolted for cover, lolloping into their warrens in the river banks. The woods were full of ferns, moss, lichens and garlic, the latter giving off tangy smells. We were constantly serenaded by the birds.

Then we got to Linton Falls. Geology in action: a massive volume of water pounding the stones, wearing holes in them - a real demonstration of the power of water; the river limestone was pushed roughly, foam and waves crashed around, making a tremendous noise. After being transixed for some minutes, we went on, up the hill into touristy Grassington. As well as being solid with pubs, tea shops, and people, there were some lovely old stone bridges.

Coniston Pie (day 3) DAY 3. Grassington to Hubberholme
I was happy to leave crowded Grassington and return to the birds - skylarks being specially audible this morning. We headed up the local fell, the first bit of climbing so far: all of 250 feet up to the top of Coniston Pie (a limestone knoll on top of the hill). There was a large group of ramblers also moving off when we did, with attendant Leader and Rear Guard (like sheep dogs). We agreed it confirmed our preference for walking independently, and remarked how much less we see when absorbed in conversation together; (oh, the limited focus of the human mind!).

So, pleased that the clouds were higher, up the hill we went and got good views of the surrounding banks, scars and crags. This is a fine limestone landscape, grey with rocks, green with grass, spattered with wild flowers, and of course - sheep. The knoll of Conistone Pie did indeed seem like a pile of rocks in the shape of a big pie. It was quite windy on top; so we enjoyed the view and ambled on down to Kettlewell. I had anticipated more big crouds here on a summer Saturday, so I was pleasantly surprised at its quietness. We had nice soup and sandwiches at the Racehorses Hotel by the river. Jeremy declared their Timothy Taylor beer the best he'd drunk this week; no wonder it won awards.

Then we were back on the riverside path for a very pretty walk to Starbotton, another charming grey stone village. Spending many hours by the river gave me a feeling for how this huge U-shaped valley was created by a glacier some 10,000 years ago. Also the river's nature had changed: now it was noticeably narrower - i.e. younger, though still rust coloured. There were some rapids, with big, chunky rocks frothing up the flow, many covered with dark lichen looking a bit like seaweed. Most impressive of all were the flowers - I've never seen so many: an under-shadow of mauve clover, with intense blue speedwell and lighter forget-me-nots; then a thick table of rich green grass; all topped with the golden glow of thousands of buttercups, and sometimes white cow parsley up the hill. It was a glorious sight that went on all day - aaah! We had a drink in a friendly café behind the pub in Buckden, and enjoyed walking the last section of the day, beside the tinkling waters with the frisking lambs.

Ribblehead viaduct and Whernside (day 4) DAY 4. Hubberholme to Ribblehead Viaduct
We relished the pleasures of being immediately back in splendid views. This section is called Langstrothdale; there was a pretty arched stone bridge and we were among the buttercup fields again. This bit of the river has great charm from the many little waterfalls, the plates of limestone boulders in the water, the feeling of walking upstream, with it narrowing towards its more intimate 'youth'. There seemed to be a vintage car rally on somewhere near, as several passed us on the little lanes; they made us think we were back in the Thirties.

We turned Northwards at Beckermonds and stopped for a picnic near Cam Houses; though not marked or visible, we thought we were near the source of the Wharfe. Now we were on boggy moors, empty and rather featureless - our book described it as "lonely and wild". It was soggy underfoot; the grass tussocks and beige reeds were hard to walk on and it was much slower going. Cam Woods are a big conifer forest (probably Forestry Commission), which looked as if it had suffered a big storm: lots of trees were down, and even cutting across the top corner was a little adventure.

We'd been climbing steadily all morning and finally we came out to a kind of top-of-the-world, with great, expansive views all round; the broad moorland humps seemed like the grand backs of primeval animals. Ingleborough was the most distinctive shape - a huge pile of pancakes. We were going up towards the Pennine Way, with clouds right over it. Jeremy said it was always raining there and so put on his waterproof trousers; I replied by putting on mine, saying they would keep the rain away - they did! The Pennine Way was a broad track which we joined for about half a kilometre, and at this point has spreading views of all the surrounding hills - lovely.

The our path peeled off to the West and soon we saw the Ribblehead Viaduct, for which we were heading: a fine set of arches, carrying the railway line across the valley. In order not to have a 17 mile day, we'd decided to stop at The Station Inn at the Viaduct; it turned out to be a popular pub (full of walkers), and we had a water bed for the first time in our lives: better than you might think.

We hadn't walked ourselves out, so we wandered up to the station and its exhibition. It's on the Settle-Carlisle Line, which has all sorts of claims to fame, not the least of which is this fine viaduct: 24 arches over a quarter of a mile, with a 1 in 100 gradient. When it was built, each of the local landowners wanted their own stations; now this station-in-the-middle-of-nowhere is frequented by walkers, and supported by enthusiasts/Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Railway.

Force Gill waterfall (day 5) DAY 5. Ribblehead Viaduct to Dent
Many people were doing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks: a 24.5 mile circuit including Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough; good on them. Our book had dissuaded us from walking the regular route, because of some boring road walking, and 'sold' us on a panoramic alternative, going via the moorland to join the Craven Way, recommended as one of 'the loveliest stretches of green road in Northern England'.

So, out of the pub door and into the middle-of-nowhere. We set off beside the 1875 Viaduct, with a group of 3-peakers. The arches were vast and passing trains looked like little worms. The clouds were a bit low, covering some of the tops; but the grandness of the scenery was very affecting. I feel a bit high when I'm high up in the hills; and the expansiveness of the surroundings seem to open me up too. The moors were vast; there was an ancient feeling in the broad sweep of the hills; the grey light and slightly bleak aspect made us respectful of where we were. All the tones were green and brown. No flowers here; trees were few and far between.

We had a steady climb for about an hour and a half. At last, Jeremy found some fossils in the limestone in the path: side views and a cross-section of some crinoids, maybe 350 million years old. Indeed, we chatted more about geology today, as the broad-backed moors suggested being shaped by ancient glacial movement. Blea Moor was to our right, and the length of Whernside to our left. We passed Blea Moor Signal Box; I think one of the oldest in England. The railway line crossing was on a lovely old stone bridge for humans and animals, which also included a special section for Force Gill (river) to cross too. Someone commented that the brown of the water came from the peat all around us. Next a waterfall at a fault in the land, and then up to the top, with views in every direction.

As we descended the Craven Way, fine views of Dentdale opened up, and in the distance, glimpses of the Howgill Fells to the North. The long descent was a bit challenging to my knees, but, after the exposed and slightly bleak top, it was nice to get back to the lusher green of the lower Dale, back to trees and wild flower meadows. The Craven Way connects to little roads, and soon we were back on the Dales Way. The charm and intimacy of the River Dee was welcome; the burbling brook and mossy stones were glowing with glimpses of the sun.

We ambled into Dent, a sweet little village with white-painted houses and cobbled streets, slightly reminiscent of St Ives in Cornwall. After a light lunch at the Sun Inn, we wandered round the village, made famous by one of the founders of geology, Adam Sedgwick. There was a museum (one of the best local museums we've seen, with information about the 'terrible' knitters - as in terribly fast). There was a fine old church, and most of the streets ended in lovely views of the hills. The Sun Inn was a pleasant old-fashioned pub, with a nice atmosphere, and generous platefuls for dinner and breakfast. We chatted with some other guests, a walking Yorkshire bloke, and his wife with a life-long friend, who were really waiting for tomorrow's bus to town to go shopping (Dent only has 3 buses a week).

Dentdale from the Craven Way (day 5) DAY 6. Dent to Dent Station
Although we went on, we recommend turning East at this point, walking along Dentdale as far as Lea Yeat, and then Northwards on the little road to Dent Station. The Settle-Carlisle Railway goes through this splendid scenery, and we think it would make a lovely conclusion to the walk.

Rocks beyond Burnsall (day 1) There are many pleasures in long distance paths. This one gave a real feeling of progressing through the countryside, seeing the changes in the landscape, engaging in the beauties of the Dales, discovering the riches of Yorkshire from many different angles: nature, geology, religion and sheep farming, with the charms of the lambs - fluffy, creamy-white coats, painted with the bright colours of their farms; plus dairy cows in lower Wharfedale and beef cows in upper Wharfedale. We had plenty of company, from Yorkshire manners, bluffness to warm welcomes; there was a sense of shared purpose with other walkers doing the Way: "see you on the Path". Keeping company with rivers meant a lovely gurgling-burbling accompaniment to our travels; it generally lifted my heart. I discovered that Yorkshire has many beauties and interests.

© Diana Ambache 2012