With all the events at this years Grassington Festival – some that I have even been attending – it would be easy to forget the other reason I’m here in the Yorkshire Dales. It just happens to boast some of the finest walking country you will find. Anywhere.For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and today I have to balance out an unfeasibly gratuitous full English breakfast with a walk of calorifically appropriate burden. Any experienced walker worth their salt does their research and plans out a route in advance, with map and instructions ready for action. My mother is such a walker and so I’m confident that by popping around to pilfer her old walks (and some lovely tea & cake – thanks!) I have prepared to the highest standard.
Today’s recycled walk is a circular affair from Malham…
I’m a big fan of circular walks. You don’t have to abandon your car each time and go and buy a new one. Here are some snapshots from the walk…
Leaving Malham to the south the terrain is typical of the dales at their most pastoral. There are fields of wild flowers, dry stone walls and interesting birds perching atop abandoned old barns.
The path briefly crosses a road and I grab a cup of tea from a roadside trailer café. It was truly vile. Things get interesting on the other side of the road. A campsite is dwarfed beneath a limestone chasm that tells of more dramatic times in this neighbourhood.
And as I turn the corner I am awestruck by the scale and immediacy of what lies in wait.
Gorsdale Scar: This is a level of drama I had not expected. There are perhaps 50 people in this chasm all looking upwards. The climbers are clearly mad as the rock face rises outwards. Most of the other people have just parked up nearby and come to gawp.
But as you know I am a man of action. I cross the waterfall with eyes on the skies, the thunderous roar of the raging torrent drowning out the cries of those below …. “ don’t do it – this is madness, you’ll be killed!” is what they are probably shouting at me.
I laugh in the face of danger and wait my turn as younger fitter walkers – people who have almost certainly consumed less beer and cake in their lives – struggle to ascend the legendary northish face of the falls.
When does a walk become a climb? I’ve never been sure but this is certainly a climb. If the water flow was much heavier or in the aftermath of a mere partial English breakfast (or dare I say it – a continental breakfast) the only course of action at this point would be to turn back.
But the conditions today – both environmental and nutritional – are in my favour and up I go.
It would all be rather impressive were it not for the fact that my retired mother did this walk/climb only a few years ago. Perhaps there is a stair-lift somewhere. Yes, that must be it. Anyway, this isn’t the first time she has stitched me up with one of her “ladies walks”. The climb becomes a flat stroll and a carpet of limestone breaks through the sheep mown grass.
I forgot to bring a flag with me for the summit but here’s a picture for National Geographic when they inevitably come knocking on my door for an account of the climb.
It really is very easy walking now. The lush green turf has a supporting spring to it reminiscent of a proper running track. A couple of stiles lead me onto an ancient path. Seasoned hikers learn to read the landscape. There’s much history around you even in the most innocuous locations. My interpretation is that this must have been a very busy and important thoroughfare at one time. The adjacent field shows all the hallmarks of an old Roman Marching camp, I would estimate between 100 and 200 AD. That date would put this outpost at the command of Petillius Cerialis if I’m not mistaken and the obvious conclusion is that the soldiers were under orders to put down some kind of rebellion amongst the local Brigantes tribe.
The walk isn’t purely an exercise in historical detective work. Some light-hearted moment always pops up when you are least expecting it.
You really wouldn’t want to go down Hawthorns lane immediately after Smearbottoms Lane. Ouch!
There follows a soggy yomp across what the map calls Hanlith Moor but should in fact be called Hanlith bog. It’s not beautiful or a whole lot of fun. For one thing you are looking down all the time trying to find somewhere dry to put your feet so the views are hypothetical. When you do finally emerge onto a mercifully robust farm track there is a gentle walk downhill to rejoin the Pennine Way.
I spied a very exciting looking bird on this return stretch but it skulked amidst the long grass so you will have to take my word for it. Obviously on my triumphal return to Malham I paid a visit to the Lister Arms for a congratulatory pint of Thwaites Original and quiet reflection on the day’s events. Modesty in achievement…