During the long, hot summer of 1976 the Yorkshire Dales were my playground. I was 23, fit and energetic and starting to create a career in journalism. Move on some 42 years to another sunny summer, and here I am: overweight, fond of an afternoon doze and I’m a pensioner – but at least the Dales remain my playground.
While idling my time away on the slopes beside Ribblehead Viaduct one day last week, waiting to photograph a steam train crossing the mighty structure, I thought about how the place had changed since the 1970s. Yes, the topography is pretty much as it was back then but the atmosphere is very different.
Today I walked up the track towards Blea Moor alongside people who were wearing flip-flops. The recently extended car parking areas were full to the brim. A group on a sponsored Three Peaks hike ploughed through the sightseers. A small helicopter landed and took off again ten minutes later. A chap tried out his new drone (unsuccessfully).
Two noisy Chinook helicopters made their way over the Dales like annoying flies, circled over the viaduct then headed back over Cam Fell. Flashes from mobile phones greeted their arrival and departure.
I’d arrived to my spot early to find a good uninterrupted view of the viaduct with Ingleborough in the background. Two minutes before the train was due a family of four plus a loose and inquisitive dog plonked themselves right in my sight-line. The Dales were never so in the 1970s, or perhaps in those days it was me who was being the nuisance?
I’ve taken so many photos since my last blog – even a cartload of snaps from a few days in the Scottish Borders around Kirk Yetholm at the end of the Pennine Way – that I’ve had difficulty narrowing down the selection. Anyway, here I share a few. The top pic shows the view from above Buttertubs Pass back towards Ingleborough.
What, no train photos? Fear not, train buffs, I will be putting up special page for you when I get a spare moment. Meanwhile, here’s a moody Ribblehead Station.
I’ll not bore you with my snaps of the Scottish Borders but here’s one from a garden in Yetholm Town … it’s not gnomal, is it?
Half a dozen dales, a destructive storm, snow and a TV star … it’s been a funny old week. 14 pics to enjoy. My camera captured the last of autumn’s colours down by the Ribble (top pic). My cottage roof captured the worst of the storm, with several tiles being dislodged. Fortunately the storm and the worst (or the best, depending on your point of view) of the snow dispersed later in the week so I was able to keep a date with the ‘Yorkshire Shepherdess’ Amanda Owen on her isolated farm at Ravenseat.
Being short of time today I’ll let the photos and captions tell the story.
PS: A dales date for your diary… meet David and Janet Mitchell at The Folly, Settle on Tuesday Nov 29, 10am-4pm to help celebrate the launch of the new Dalesman book, Bill Mitchell’s Yorkshire.
(Bear with me during this lengthy blog – the sun’s gone in now and I’m reminiscing for my own amusement about the week just gone)
Two fine days in a row last week – or, what we in these parts call summer – saw me out and about with the camera once again. The pastures beneath Stainforth Scar shone like gold lamé carpets. They brought out the poet in me and I penned the following verse – but re-reading it now I wish the poet had stayed inside and had another glass of something strong. Choose me! Choose me! Plead the buttercups to a bee. Come by! Come by! Hears the languid butterfly. Hopeful hosts of gold — Such a sight to behold.
Further up the dale, Dry Beck Farm, which I must have photographed a hundred times, lured me in once more. I made a mental note to put together some kind of time-lapse sequence showing the shot through the seasons … one of those jobs I’ll probably never get round to. There’s a splendid beech tree in one of the fields – its fresh foliage looked vibrant against the meadows, limestone walls and bright blue sky.
Horton was busy with Three-Peakers – must be the time of year for charity fundraisers. Even fans of my footie team, Huddersfield Town, had groups out on the fells raising cash to help deprived youngsters in the Kirklees Community. I thought of those walking the 24 gruelling miles to raise a few pounds to help the under privileged while their idols were idling away their time on a beach somewhere earning up to £??k a week.
I stopped near Selside, close to the spot – a notorious bend on a hill – where a motorcyclist had sadly died after crashing into a road sign just a few days earlier. Last year a few hundred yards away, I came across another accident where a biker was killed. Dales roads weren’t meant for thrill seekers. I mentioned this on Facebook where locals added words of sadness for those involved, their own grief at witnessing and encountering these scenes, and also their annoyance at not being able to get home because of the road closure.
I’m not sure what the collective noun for train photographers is (an Orak, perhaps?) but when I saw a gathering at Ribblehead I presumed something important must be imminent. Here it is. Anyway, nice view of Whernside. I took in the exhibition at Ribblehead station while I was there – I’d been before but failed to notice the stained glass windows on previous visits. There are several depicting old railway names and emblems plus this one which lines up nicely with Ingleborough.
I motored on through Widdale which seems to be rapidly losing its clothes. the pine and spruce forests planted during the last century are gradually all being replaced by the kind of tree species that once thrived here before Man brought his hatchet into the dale.
Hawes was waking up when I travelled through on Thursday, even the ice cream sales had not begun but the parking chaos had; delivery trucks haphazardly abandoned amongst dirty farm Landrovers and unwary tourists looking for a free spot. The first bus full of grey-haired visitors was attempting to barge its way through to Wensleydale Creamery.
My mission was to try get a decent picture of the Buttertubs. The pass was quiet apart from the sheep who despite having hundreds of square miles of perfectly good moorland to wander over, prefer to meander aimlessly down the middle of the road. The mums appear unkempt at the moment with their fleeces falling apart at the seams. Their ’teenage’ lambs stay a few paces behind looking embarrassed and thinking ‘Is she really going out looking like that? I hope I don’t see any of my friends’.
I was lucky to grab one of the few parking spots at the Buttertubs which were dark and cool and had only a minor fall of water echoing in its depths. I always fear for the road’s foundations here as it spans the chasms but perhaps it’s best not to ponder too long and instead head down into Swaledale. I’ll have to try again at Buttertubs as the pics didn’t turn out too well.
Muker was thrang as Throp’s wife; I was passing through to capture the hay meadows and barns. Mainly comprising buttercups and daisies at this time of year the pastures were nevertheless a beautiful sight which I never tire of seeing. Made a mental note to come back shortly for a greater variety of plants.
Parking near Low Row, I headed for the river on the Crackpot road where I once again gazed enviously at a lovely row of cottages which overlook the Swale and the smart bridge. There’s a delightful path (partially blocked at present due to work by Yorkshire Water) which runs beside the river. The path actually goes along the top of a wall for a 100 yards or so. I felt as though I needed one of those vehicles ahead of me warning oncoming traffic of a ‘wide load’. I’d no need to worry as I didn’t see another soul for the next hour. There’s a nature trail here; flora and fauna abound, there were rabbits, too, and I heard all kinds of birds accompanied by the sound a low, brown river cackling over rocks and mini falls.
There was a small market in Reeth and every parking spot with a mile radius seemed to be taken, even on the village greens. It’s a pleasant village but I needed a bit more solitude today and headed for one of the glorious passes between Swaledale and Wensleydale.
Don’t ask me to pick a favourite road between the two dales because they are all spectacular. On Friday I took the one from Grinton over to Redmire. The lonely isolated grouse moors are certainly not where I’d choose to be on a winter’s night but this day a wonderful place to get out of the car and sit, look and listen to the cries of curlew and lapwing cries and the wind rushing through the heather which was still brown but showing signs of budding in sheltered area.
The previous day I’d taken on the pass between Askrigg and Muker/Gunnerside where I came face to face with a car on a 1 in 4, 45 degree bend. The other driver looked terrified so I reversed blindly, praying there was nothing following. Last year I took the Satron road – more of a track really but it is surfaced – which runs parallel to, and joins on to, this one. It’s not signposted and feels like a private road to a farm but it is a public way (I think!). It’s scary and you require a gate-opening passenger and someone to mop your brow. The views of Wensleydale dropping into Askrigg are vast and I was lucky to capture a glimpse of Semerwater across the wide valley.
Heading back to Ribblesdale I was tempted to park up for a walk to Snaizeholme and see if the red squirrels would come out to pose for me but it was getting late. When I returned home my neighbour’s clematis was basking in the late evening light … sadly, I’ve not seen much of the sun since.
Someone chucked a huge grey blanket over north Ribblesdale today. The forecasters promised so much – surely they can’t be that wrong? I got into my grey car, caught the reflection of my grey hair in the window, and headed off into the gloom searching for inspiration…. “T’blog weean’t write itssen,” I thought, in my best West Riding twang. I was momentarily transported back some forty years to my earliest days in weekly newspapers when on a Monday morning the grumpy editor would poke his head around the reporters’ room door and bark something about there being “God knows how many column-inches to fill” and that they wouldn’t be filled by reporters sitting on their backsides in the office. Those were days before lifting stuff from t’internet and readers with mobile phones helped filled the space – reporters were paid to go out into the streets, courts and – all in the line of duty – pubs to seek out the local tittle-tattle. Back to today. Someone stealing the Three Peaks would have made a good tale for the newspaper… they were definitely missing on my journey to Ribblehead Viaduct where even the tea wagon hadn’t bothered to turn up. Limestone grey walls and limestone grey buildings against a grey backdrop. Even the sheep looked grey. The National Park won’t allow anyone to use their imagination and paint something bright red by way of a change; I’m surprised they allow cyclists to ride on the roads wearing those luminous tops. I love seeing bright red post boxes and telephone kiosks dotted around the Dales, but try making your garden gate the same colour and some jobsworth or a haughty neighbour will be on your case before the paint’s dry. Anyway, back once more to today. Anyone who’s lived in the area will tell you that there are times when it seems every dale has its own weather system and so it proved on this little adventure. Dropping into Wensleydale was like waking from a coma… there was blue sky, fluffy clouds, tourists in T-shirts and alfresco drinkers on the setts by the Black Bull. I walked along to Cotter Force where bright red rowan berries (are they allowed in the National Park?) added some extra pizzazz to a beautiful rural scene. High on Buttertubs Pass, peering down on upper Swaledale (pictured), everything became crisper and clearer; the contrast with dowdy Ribblesdale could not have been greater. Perhaps it will be Ribblesdale’s day tomorrow.
Driving through Swaledale this morning I doubted there was a better place I could possibly be. I travelled up Ribblesdale, in amongst the Three Peaks, before heading over Buttertubs Pass and negotiating my way around sheep that had serious suicidal tendencies (they were sunbathing in the middle of the road). Almost got run over myself while taking some photos of the meadows near Gunnerside (shame the Kings pub has now closed). Then, in sharp contrast to the neatly walled enclosures of the dale, it was over the wild open heather moorland to Redmire in Wensleydale and back home via Bolton Castle and Hawes. Yorkshire writer Alfred J Brown (1894-1969) once wrote: ‘One of the charms of the Yorkshire Dales is that they are all characteristically different, like lovely sisters of the same family.’ Nicely put.