There aren’t many flatish, longish, riverside-ish walks in the upper Dales. Here the becks and rivers are generally young and rash, heading energetically down the hillsides. They provide us with some picturesque waterfalls and quick scrambles, but not many easy, level strolls. One exception is beside the River Dee, near Dent, where I visited this week. (Not the top pic – see later.)
A pleasant figure-of-eight route uses part of the Dales Way long-distance walk. There are good views of Dent (above) and the surrounding hills, and thankfully for my creaking knees, no gradients to speak of along the way. The sound of water cackling over stone, frantic calling between ewes and lambs, and birds being busy doing what birds do in spring made this a very pleasant couple of hours.
I read this week that one Yorkshire pensioner shoots wild birds in his back garden because he “dislikes being disturbed” by their singing. He wouldn’t be very happy round my way at the moment as the swallows are returning after their winter hols abroad. I can’t imagine a world without birdlife. If it is irritating noise he dislikes I suggest he takes the gun down to … probably best not to continue on this line of thought.
From Dent I drove through the Dales calling at Sedbergh, Hawes and Askrigg – stopping off to photograph ponies in front of the Howgills, Cotter Force (above) and St Oswald’s in Askrigg (below). The church is Grade I Listed, dating from the fifteenth century with evidence of earlier building. Afterwards I just had to stop to capture a very different but just as architecturally important Dales barn beside the Ure in Wensleydale (top picture in blog).
I also had a quick trip one evening to Malham where some macho outdoor types were climbing bare-chested above Watlowes. I can think of more relaxing ways of getting a tan.
Photographic highlight of my week though was a trip on Friday evening to Morecambe. Despite living in the Dales, the bay is less than 30 miles away. Seen from the shoreline, the Lakeland Fells were just a grey-blue silhouette across the water. I headed home via the Trough of Bowland, stopping off at Jubilee Tower on Quernmore to witness a superb sunset.
Ribblesdale, of course, provided more spring joy. A short evening wander up the narrow road to Little Stainforth opened up this lovely pastoral scene (below). I’ve taken dozens of photos this week but I don’t want to be that bloke who bores you with his tedious, endless holiday snaps (oops, too late!) so I’ll save some for another day.
Back in Langcliffe, the annual imprisonment of naughty daffodils is taking place …
Photography took a back seat last week. But I did get chance to scan through the photos I’d taken over the previous 12 months. I’d not realised how many waterfalls I’d snapped while tottering gently around the Dales … or how poor I was at capturing their magic. I don’t usually take a tripod with me so I often struggle to hold the camera steadily enough get pin-sharp images, and my time-lapse stuff is sometimes shaky or over-exposed. I’ll make a late resolution to improve this year. Anyhow, I’m not after any photographic awards – I just want to capture the moment and a memory of all the special places around the Dales. The top photo shows Catrigg Falls, above Stainforth in Ribblesdale.
It’s a special time on the Settle-Carlisle line this week as steam-hauled trains take on part of the scheduled passenger timetable for the first time in 50 years. Tornado will be pulling packed carriages between Appleby and Skipton via Settle from 14-16th February – for more details visit http://www.settle-carlisle.co.uk/tag/tornado/
My interview with Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess, appears in February’s Countryman magazine which is now on sale. Amanda is a remarkable young lady who with husband Clive and nine (at the last count) children live and farm at out-of-the-way Ravenseat in Birkdale. As I re-read the article I am reminded of a piece I wrote in Dalesman about another fine Yorkshire woman, Hannah Hauxwell. On the face of it they appear to be very different characters and their lives have certainly taken diverse paths. Hannah, before retiring, lived a solitary existence with just a few animals; Amanda, although isolated, is surrounded by her extensive family and hundreds of sheep and other animals. But they are similar in that both are strong willed and extremely hard working individuals, showing true Yorkshire grit. Both have beautiful complexions – that’s what clean Yorkshire air and clear Dales water does for you – with gentle mannerisms and caring attitudes. In my head I can still hear Hannah’s soothing tones, tinted with that North-East influence you find amongst those born near the Tees. Amanda, originally from Huddersfield, retains a hint of the West Riding in her speech which I recognise from my own childhood in the Heavy Woollen District. Both are completely unpretentious with a natural warmth, and I feel privileged to have met the two of them. Yorkshire women aren’t all Nora Batty stereotypes – they can be inspirational too. http://www.countrymanmagazine.co.uk
As relief from a spot of decorating, on Wednesday I drove through several Yorkshire Dales and up to Dent Station. Directly above me was as clear a blue sky I’d seen for ages, but looking towards the horizon the distant view was masked by a fine mist. The landscape west down Dentdale was still impressive but the bitterly cold wind meant I didn’t linger for long. Over the old Coal Road the views down Wensleydale, Mallerstang and Garsdale were similarly shrouded. I stopped off at Garsdale Station to pat my favourite metal dog, Ruswarp. He was still gazing out expectantly waiting for the return of his master. A quick stroll to Cotter Force proved as worthwhile as ever. The sound of tumbling water seemed to echo around like applause in a small theatre.
On Friday more blue sky in Ribblesdale tempted me out again. Penyghent and Fountains Fell looked great but further along the Silverdale Road I hit low cloud. I could hardly see 20 yards in front of me which meant the route along the narrow unfenced road and the steep descent into Halton Gill was interesting to say the least.
A stunning morning yesterday saw me at Helwith Bridge. The view along Ribblesdale from above the fishery was grand (see top pic). My old friend Penyghent looked like an iced cake. I imagine plenty of people were tempted to trek up the mountain but I was f-f-f-f-frozen – no way would I have gone up there, so it was back home for some proper cake.
Bill Mitchell’s funeral service at Skipton Parish Church on Monday proved to be a fitting send-off for a Dales icon. His children David and Janet spoke eloquently as they recalled life with their famous dad. He would have been very proud of them. After the service I thought I’d pay a private little tribute to Bill by visiting one of his favourite spots. I once asked him to tell me of his best-loved places in the Dales – a terrible question to ask, and one to which I usually give a very wishy-washy answer. He preferred peaceful out-of-the-way locations where he could contemplate life rather than those featuring great long hikes over mountains. He liked Cotter Force (pictured above) and other waterfalls, and also Thorns Gill, near Ribblehead, where I took a little wander on Monday afternoon. The beck was low and the trees were changing colour and losing leaves, which meant I could see more of the quaint old bridge.
When I joined Dalesman Publishing Company in 1993 Bill had retired from being editor of Dalesman and Cumbria magazines some five years earlier but he still contributed to them and for a while continued to edit from home another magazine which the company owned called Pennine Magazine, later to become Peak & Pennine. Alongside Bill I subedited and laid out the pages, the old fashioned way to begin with – cutting and pasting bits of paper for an outside typesetter to prepare for press. Bill was very fond of the magazine. It gave him chance to write about areas and subjects not necessarily associated with the more rural dales region. His interesting and popular Milltown Memories articles stemmed from this. On Tuesday I had the chance of a whistle-stop tour of some of the areas featured in the magazine which sadly is no longer published.
The gritstone towns and villages clinging to the steep hillsides here are full of character. They sit in dramatic country where for centuries Man has tried, usually unsuccessfully, to tame inhospitable land and conditions. The higher boggy moors of the South Pennines are really fit for nothing bar rearing game birds and a few hardy sheep. But it is the perfect place for collecting water, as witnessed by countless reservoirs which supply major industrial towns and cities of the north. They break up desolate landscape and provide some fine photography.
At Dovestone (pictured above), close to where the four counties of Yorks, Lancs, Derbyshire and Cheshire shake hands, the autumn colours brightened up for me what can sometimes feel to be a dark, claustrophobic – but exciting – landscape.
The sky and weather changes rapidly here on the high hills and this has proved inspirational for many leading artists, writers and poets. Holmfirth-based artist Ashley Jackson loves these moors and he has helped people visualise their beauty with the installation of metal frames around the district – see www.framingthelandscape.co.uk. I called to see one at Wessenden, a bleak spot on the edge of Saddleworth Moor, and after a brief stroll around the picturesque Digley Reservoir, it was up the winding route to Holme Moss, 1719ft above sea level. Here another of Ashley’s frames (pictured above) highlights a wide-reaching and varied panorama of moorland, industry and history.
As if the hills aren’t already high enough in these parts, Man has decided to extend his reach even further. Holme Moss transmitter station stretches another 750ft high above the frame, while in the distance the giant TV mast of Emley Moor stands a whopping 1084 ft high with its tip almost touching 2,000ft above sea level. Tall wind turbines grab the considerable breezes to the south-east, while in the centre of the scene the grand Victoria Tower of Castle Hill is clearly visible. While I’m in full-flowing anorak mode, I can tell you that the tower is 106ft high, which means that by standing at the top you are 1,000 feet, plus however tall you are, above sea level.
I drove down to the monument (pictured above) before dusk and although it wasn’t the clearest of evenings the 360 degree views were still a joy to behold. I then watched Huddersfield Town win 2-0 … also a joy to behold (but not as frequently available).
Being very busy for the rest of the week I’ve had little chance to do much more photography or walking, but strolling into Settle along the Highway on Friday I was rewarded with a view of some fine autumn colours.
Pleasing news this week is that the government have at last (it’s taken more than two years) decided on enlarging the Lakes and Dales national parks to bridge the gap between the two. Important places like Orton Fell, Mallerstang (pictured below) and the northern end of the Howgills will from next summer fall under the Dales authority. The government now has to find a way to pay for this extension at a time when they are slashing all park and local authority budgets. Will they eventually decide to sell off the Dales National Park to the highest bidder? Will my forecast in an earlier blog of there being a McDonalds or a Starbucks at the top of Penyghent one day become reality? Let’s hope they remember that the national parks were created to protect our countryside for future generations, not to solve financial cock-ups, or make someone a fat profit, or place in private hands.
Celebrated artist J M W Turner loved this Yorkshire Dales beauty spot. He sketched Cotter Force in Wensleydale almost 200 years ago on his tour of the county. It’s a seductive place – a series of six short drops and simple symmetry in a small natural amphitheatre where dippers and kingfishers perform their startling aerobatics.
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.