The Grass Is Greener

Looking back at photos taken during my recent sojourn in the Yorkshire Dales it struck me how much I had managed to cram in. Admittedly my nine days coincided with the Grassington Festival but all the same this is a region that can’t fail to leave a rich and positive lasting impression. Here are some images that sum up my visit.

  • Grassington

OK, technically I stayed in Threshfield a 5 minute walk over the bridge spanning the river Wharfe but Grassington served up that quaint Yorkshire charm typical to most Dales villages.

Quaint Yorkshire charm
Quaint Yorkshire charm

Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t perfect. The mobile phone reception was better in the surrounding hills then in the top half of Grassington. But that rather misses the point of this part of the world.

Dogs welcome at “The Dev”
Dogs welcome at “The Dev”

For most visitors at least it is all about getting away from the intrusions of modern life.

  • Festival

The Grassington festival offered up a broad range of high quality entertainment but despite the scale of the event it remained a wonderfully friendly and organic affair. This was in large due to local organisation and participation.

Regular free entertainment in the square
Regular free entertainment in the square

Aside from my previously described dry stone walling experience I attended a film screening in the local church presented by the vicar.

At the town hall I saw the remarkably talented Alan Barnes jazz band. Alan spent four years playing in Humph Lyttleton’s band and his star studded line-up included Alec Dankworth one of the best double bass players anywhere. Later that week at the same venue Spiers and Boden delivered an amazing folk set. I harangued Jon Spiers afterwards and he said he loved playing the gig and was less looking forward to playing Glastonbury two days later

Mr Boden I presume
Mr Boden I presume

A fringe line-up of events included the likes of Jen Armstrong & band at the Black Horse. Gutsy, bold and fun, Jen had an incredible voice and a strong presence.

A shoes-off performance from Jen Armstrong
A shoes-off performance from Jen Armstrong
  • Pubs and Beer

Speaking of pubs if like me you love old pubs then Yorkshire is indeed God’s own county. Almost every village is home to some ancient stone hostelry serving decent ale and food.

If I had to choose a favourite it might just be the incomparable Green Dragon at Hardraw. As you enter this timeless haunt it is like walking into a cave because the lights are turned out in the daytime and it is very dark inside. Then finally when your eyes adjust you are greeted by a scene from the 19th century.

OMG – the Green Dragon!
OMG – the Green Dragon!

And it’s not just the interior – there is a pungent burnt wood smell courtesy of the open fire that I can smell right now two weeks later. Then there’s the beer – anyone for the sensational Wensleydale Dark Dub Oatmeal Stout?!!! Oh, and there’s an amazing waterfall out back too.

Great pubs, great ale
Great pubs, great ale

But there are plenty of other charismatic and quirky ale houses.

Outside the Craven Arms in Appletreewick
Outside the Craven Arms in Appletreewick

One rainy day I visited the modern Copper Dragon brewery in Skipton. Another local brewery producing great beer albeit in a suburban industrial estate. Here are some of the lovely (mostly local) ales that I sampled during my stay.

  • History

My visit to Skipton was packed with memorable images, from the market lined high street to the castle, from the Craven museum to the canal-side cafes. It was refreshing to see such an untarnished centre, subtly fusing the big high street names alongside local retailers without losing the character of the place. Here are some photos I took barely 2 minutes walk from the centre

A scene from the 1950s?
A scene from the 1950s?
New meets old
New meets old

Much of the region’s past remains well-preserved. The fabulous Bolton Abbey looked a ruin from a distance but when I walked down to it there was a wedding in full swing.

Bolton Abbey
Bolton Abbey

Plenty of smaller churches of a similar age remain open in little villages around the Dales. I have no idea how they raise the funds to keep them watertight.

Stained glass window
Stained glass window

Obviously not all the old structures remain safe or habitable but they do tend to remain accessible.

New life at The Priest House in Wharfedale
New life at The Priest House in Wharfedale
  • Flora and Fauna

Not that I am a flower or wildlife expert (!) but there is so much to see (and hear) in the Dales.

Flowers – even I know this
Flowers – even I know this
More flowers. These are a different colour. I think.
More flowers. These are a different colour. I think.

I have a superb book for bird identification but I’m still not sure what these white bellied fellows are.

Turkeys?
Turkeys?

This is the chaffinch that finished off my cream tea at Bolton Abbey.

Cheeky chappy
Cheeky chappy
  • Walking

Birds were a constant welcome feature of my walks. Swallows flew in circles around my legs by the river bank approaching Malham. Curlews swooped effortlessly over the hillside fields making a mockery of my perambulatory exertions. All welcome companions on my many varied miles.

Country lane
Country lane

Over the week I no longer even noticed I was going uphill as my legs just got used to the ascents. There is plenty of easy level walking if that’s what you want, or alternatively this is good cycling country.

By wheel or foot
By wheel or foot

You still have to be cautious when out and about. I wouldn’t have wanted to be walking in this.

Low visibility in Wensleydale
Low visibility in Wensleydale

The visibility is a must in these parts as aside from the safety factor there is so much to see. This fallen tree for instance peppered with coins. I like to think it was a perfectly healthy tree that fell as a consequence of the amount of coins people were hammering into it.

The rising cost of travel
The rising cost of travel

It’s not just this tree that died. My boots finally gave up the ghost after 12 years of loyal service. I had planned to visit a boot shop in Grassington after one final walk but my feet were soggy thanks to my porous ragged footwear and I was too embarrassed to enter the shop in such a state.

  • Landscape

If there is one thing you expect from the Yorkshire Dales it is that perfect English landscape.

Perfect
Perfect

The scenery provides an elusive blend of severity with pastoral beauty.

Trout lake beneath Kilnsey Crag
Trout lake beneath Kilnsey Crag

It is an ancient landscape still scarred by glaciers from the last ice age.

Limestone carpet
Limestone carpet

And yet mans influence upon the land feels like a natural extension of natures work

Part of the landscape
Part of the landscape

Later, when the sun sets, the low light casts the surroundings in another light altogether.

The remains of the day
The remains of the day

This week-long dalliance with a place that ought only to exist in the mind has come to an end for me.

I’ll be back
I’ll be back

And the beauty is that it’s little more than 2 hours from home. Perfect even for a weekend then. But you will want to stay longer…

From Malham to … Malham

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.

Watering hole
Watering hole

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.

Roughing it middle class style
Roughing it middle class style

And as I turn the corner I am awestruck by the scale and immediacy of what lies in wait.

Gorge-ous
Gorge-ous

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.

What goes up must come down
What goes up must come down

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.

Even the sherpas ran away screaming
Even the sherpas ran away screaming

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.

I’m doing this for old blighty
I’m doing this for old blighty

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.

This is no time to lose your nerve Whitemore
This is no time to lose your nerve Whitemore

But the conditions today – both environmental and nutritional – are in my favour and up I go.

Base camp, but no rest until nightfall
Base camp, but no rest until nightfall

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.

Like a limestone carpet
Like a limestone carpet

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.

My knighthood awaits
My knighthood awaits

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.

Reading the landscape
Reading the landscape

The walk isn’t purely an exercise in historical detective work. Some light-hearted moment always pops up when you are least expecting it.

Smearbottoms – hahaha!
Smearbottoms – hahaha!

You really wouldn’t want to go down Hawthorns lane immediately after Smearbottoms Lane. Ouch!

Hawthorns. Not very funny really.
Hawthorns. Not very funny really.

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.

The only way is Pennine
The only way is Pennine

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…