After five consecutive long distance walks in my adopted homeland of Wales I have been tempted by the sirens' call of the recently completed (Yorkshire) Dales High Way. Actually not that many years ago I walked the Dales Way which was lovely but a bit, well, low, so I was immediately attracted by the 'high' bit. All I needed to do was extend it beyond its 90 odd miles, therefore I've added three days to take me up to Hadrian's Wall and a total of 142 miles. In a nutshell, easier than last year!
Complete walk, 147.8 miles.
Complete walk ascent, 7381m (24,216ft).
So that's that then, the 2014 walk completed. I could do with hiring a brass band to do a fanfare one year. As it was there was a lady at the bus stop where I finished at Once Brewed, a crossroads just off Hadrian's Wall with nothing there except a pub (called the Twice Brewed Inn), so I droned on about it to her till the bus arrived.
Sitting on the bus I realised that I'd done 9 days walking since I last used anything other than my feet as transport. I was quite impressed with this, but also quite relieved to be delivered somewhere, in this case Haltwhistle where the train station was. You seem to be able to get a train from anywhere in Northern England, it makes Mold look rubbish.
I noticed a couple of things today that told me it really was time to go home. The first was that I was incapable of walking slowly any more and was tanking along every single path. There was more ascent than I'd expected but it made little difference. So I tanked out of Allendale (no fight last night, I'm a little disappointed to report), alongside a river, along a road, across a stunning, tree covered ridge, through a stunning, tree covered valley, across quiet moorland, up a track, along a Roman wall and down a road.
The other thing I noticed was that here in Northumberland I had run out of Pennines to walk on. It was still undulating, but there was nothing you could call a mountain anywhere ahead of me as far as I could see. This is odd because I met the Pennine Way yet again today (Unpaved! Hooray!), before it headed north to.... what? Well actually I know it still goes quite a bit further north yet, but like I said before, there were no Pennines left to put a Way on!
The best bit of Hadrian's Wall.
The other best bit of Hadrian's Wall.
The weather was overcast, as it usually is on Hadrian's Wall and especially at Housesteads (Eek, lots of tourists!), but it improved considerably towards the end of the walk and was lovely in Haltwhistle. While I wait for the train I am sitting in the Black Bull with four elderly gentlemen who are listening to the cricket on the radio. It's very relaxing and a good time to reflect on a few things.
Firstly, three best ofs and two thank yous:
Best day - day 6, the Howgills.
Best accommodation - Old Hill Inn (though the owners of Brownber Hall and Bongate House were lovely).
Best meal - the mother of all cheese ploughman's at Allendale Forge.
Thank you - to the 'Friends of A Dales High Way' group for sharing this blog, I do appreciate it.
Thank you - to Sue Townsend, author of the wonderful Adrian Mole diaries, the last of which has accompanied me on this trip. Brilliantly funny and politically razor sharp, if you haven't read them you must. Sadly Sue passed away recently, taking my hero Adrian with her.
Although I've done a number of long distance walks over the years, it's five years since I started doing one on an annual basis. So I started when I was 45 and I'm doing ok at 50. It makes sense then (to me!) that I now aim to still be doing them (and wanting to) at 55. I think my back will have a large say in this. It's been great once I'm on the move each morning, but it drives me mad when putting socks on or getting up from the breakfast table is a chore. I've had no problems at all other than this, so I'll just have to keep a close eye on it (which is tricky when it's behind me).
The weather was ridiculous, and I thought last year was good! I've never walked for so many days in such good weather anywhere in the world. Ok it did verge on too hot occasionally, but what would I have wished for instead, the usual low cloud and drizzle? I don't think so. Nearly all of the time it was a joy to walk in.
The best thing of all though was the varied terrain. Like Offa's Dyke and the Cambrian Way, it was constantly changing as I walked. I'm not sure where else this would happen, so maybe it's no surprise that the majority of long distance walkers I met weren't British. Our landscape does seem to fascinate people from all over the place, which is maybe why in the last six years I've not considered a walk abroad. That doesn't mean I won't though...
Just before catching the train I moved to the Railway Inn, a terrible pub next to the station which had no hand pumped bitter at all. But at least I could eavesdrop. The barmaid was doing a crossword but was asking a bloke drinking at the bar all the questions, including:
Barmaid: Edgar Allen something, rhymes with 'low', 3 letters.
Man: Bloody hell I'm not helping you with this one. How do you know it rhymes with so?
Barmaid: It says so here, look.
Man: Well that doesn't leave you much to do does it? Have you got any letters in it?
Barmaid: Yes it starts with 'P'.
If I were a superhero (I did say 'if'), I would be Directionman. I do have an uncanny sense of direction, certainly in comparison to my sense in any other department. Actually I've undersold myself there, I am also quite good at knowing the time without a watch, and the outdoor temperature without a thermometer (my watch must therefore be a back up). As Directionman I could send victims in the direction of safe havens in the hills ("Relax, I have a modular degree in Cartography."), whilst directing villains straight to the relevant authorities. As Directionman I could locate and save lost people, explaining to them their precise location using six figure coordinates. I therefore suspect that Nenthead is home to an evil, conflicting power ("oh no, not Directionlessman"), as it has sapped my inbuilt compass energy. I still don't know where I am!
Thank goodness then for Google Maps and Wikipedia, from which I have gleaned both where I am in a national context and what Nenthead is. I now know that I am a bit nearer Carlisle than Newcastle and a bit lower down than both. I also know that Nenthead was an important lead mining village but now isn't. And it's high, 438m high to be precise, making the Miners Arms (hmm, there was a clue in the name, yet again!) the ninth highest pub in England.
The Miners Arms also hosted a fight last night. I can't say I'm remotely surprised, there were at least 20 people legless when I arrived, so by 9:30 things had deteriorated considerably. When one of the younger lads lifted the end of the pool table up and dropped it, a bloke at the bar took offence, telling the lad how the table had been professionally levelled.
Fists were thrown and there was much grappling and shouting. I didn't understand a word from this moment on as the shouting was all in Geordie. Before long everyone in the pub except me (and the tiny, mild mannered landlady who left them to it as soon as they started) was in a standing scrum / huddle type thing which was gradually making its way round the bar. I was just wondering whether this was a local custom and if I should join in, when it broke and the younger contingent left. The older lot then spent an hour going on about what a bunch of tossers the younger ones were, before the younger ones returned and everyone hugged each other. Same again tonight I reckon.
I have to say though that I did like Nenthead. I had a wander round what there was to see this morning, which in most cases was evidence of what had been. It wasn't an attractive village but I could tell that it had a good community spirit (a fighting spirit no less!) and there were lots of people about and things going on.
Looking back to Alstondale. Fighting in Nenthead just to left of picture.
So off I went, the Dales Way complete, my day on the Pennine Way over. I was free to ramble, to roam, to go anywhere I pleased. Instead I followed a path called Isaac's Tea Trail to Allendale Town in the next valley. This doesn't sound very dramatic admittedly, but rather than wander from tea room to tea room it actually followed the route taken by local legend (and tea seller) Isaac Holden. He couldn't have sold an awful lot because after 36 miles he'd gone round in a circle and was back where he'd started. He did though traipse over a rather fine piece of moorland, which had not and still hasn't been paved. It was as good a moorland walk as I'd done so far, despite finding absolutely nobody who might want to buy some tea.
I did though find grouse. Many, many grouse. The problem with grouse is that they hide really well, then panic when you're about six feet away and clumsily flap themselves off the ground making an absolute racket. If they could just hold their nerve they wouldn't get shot and could all have a good snigger as the grouse beaters passed by. As it was I jumped a mile every time one took off, which was every few seconds.
Big, fluffy clouds.
The long moorland walk led to a long riverside walk. I was back to lovely weather and fluffy clouds, so hoped the riverbank wouldn't be hot and irritating. It had its moments, but I did see a few moles having a daylight dig and by 3 o'clock was in Allendale Town for a late lunch at the Allendale Forge and Gallery Tea Rooms. The place is way too small to be a town but is very pretty, with a several shops and three pubs. I had a superb ploughman's lunch in the gallery, as good as any food I'd had yet.
A slightly camp ploughman's lunch?
And it's just as well I did, because I am sitting in the market square at 7:30 having a pint outside the Golden Lion. From here I can see the King's Head, the Allendale Inn, the gallery, the co-op and the tea rooms. And nowhere is serving food. This is because it's Monday evening, and the people of Allendale only eat crisps and scampi fries on Monday evening. So I've had a crisp starter and a scampi fries main course, with a big decision to make for dessert.
While I'm deciding I am experiencing a déjà vu situation, as I watch a large group of very drunk Geordies on the next two tables. They look less likely to start a fight than last night's bunch, but they have started singing. Badly. So far we've had 'Suspicious minds', '24 hours from Tulsa' and, of all things, 'No limits' by 2 Unlimited. To be fair '24 hours...' was pretty good, and the atmosphere (at the moment!) is great. They've just started a Queen medley, in the absence of food I may well be joining them soon.
Oddly enough I was singing 'No limits' to myself on the moor earlier. I have no idea why, as my singing (and yes it is sometimes out loud!) is usually triggered by something I see or something that happens. For example when I get to the top of a high mountain I nearly always start singing 'Top of the world' by the Carpenters! Recently I've been singing 'Big yellow taxi' by Joni Mitchell based on the state of the Pennine Way ("they paved paradise..." Yes I do know it's essential but...). I've brought a quite decent tiny speaker with me as a luxury item (the iPhone speaker is appalling) but have barely used it. When I have I've only played The Fall. This appears to be an addiction on a par with my previous addiction to lucozade. I have vowed to play the Cocteau Twins later.
It's 8:12 and they are singing "Hey Jude", led by a woman who looks like Ann Widdecombe. Five minutes ago she fell flat on her back on the cobbles. I fear they have peaked far too early.
Where the hell am I?! Last thing I knew I was in the familiar environs of Appleby, and throughout the walk until that point I knew most of the places and landscapes pretty well, but now....
Well I know I'm in a village called Nenthead. I know that it looks like a village in the Welsh Valleys. I know I'm staying in a pub that's better than I expected. I know that it's busy for Sunday. I also know that it's full of Geordies. The simple fact is that I planned the last three days of this walk using the Ordnance Survey maps I had, finding interesting looking paths until I happened to notice Housesteads on Hadrian's Wall and thought it would make a good finish. But it's only just occurring to me now just how far north I am and that I know nothing about this part of England. The only place I've heard of on the signposts round here is Carlisle, and that's 30 miles away (and not full of Geordies). So if you've heard of Alston or Middleton you'll know where I am better than I do.
When I set off this morning the temperature was a chilly 18.9 (under 20 at last!). When I reached the summit of Cross Fell it was 10.6 and I felt hypothermia coming on. Thankfully I had my fleece jac... oh bugger I sent it home.
I was walking at 8:30 today because of the distance I had to cover, most of it on the Pennine Way. I spent last night at Bongate House in Aspleby, the second excellent B&B on the trot. Both have got the ability to cater for both walkers and posh people down to a t (is it just a t? Or a tee? Or even a tea?). The chap at Bongate made me smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast and took my photo for his walkers collection (!) before I left. Incidentally his voice sounded exactly like Jim Bowen's (of Bullseye fame). I also said goodbye to the two girls I'd bumped into on a number of occasions during the last few days, who had also completed the Dales High Way and were heading home.
Showers were forecast from midday onwards but they were already lurking when I set off. One passed a mile behind me and another ahead hit my main target Cross Fell, which made it look like Mordor. Otherwise it was sunshine as usual, albeit a bit cooler.
Panorama of the day - keeping an eye on the showers behind me.
The day was spent either tankin' or chillin'. I tanked the 3 mile road walk at the start, then chilled through some woodland, then tanked up to the top of the ridge. I wanted to get to this point before any rain hit me, which it did ten minutes later. At 11:42 the first shower of the entire walk got me. I still think it's amazing when you're looking at a view from the top of a mountain, then everything just disappears. I could see it coming a while before it did so togged up and walked straight into it. Of course being so high up I was in the cloud rather than under it, and for the next three mountains the cloud lifted and dropped, lifted and dropped. So Great Dun Fell with its spooky building was in mist, whereas Little Dun Fell was clear. Cross Fell itself, a bit of a beasty at 893 metres (exactly the same height as Cadair Idris and a tenth as interesting), was both as it takes so long to cross.
On top of Great Dun Fell. Take me to your leader.
In and out of cloud on Cross Fell.
The remainder if the walk was an extremely long and chilled descent to Garrigill, interrupted only by two further showers, followed by an up (tanked) and over (chilled) to Nenthead. Garrigill was a sad place. The pub had closed and there was nothing else there. I could imagine the locals pacing the Main Street at night in a ghostly manner, clanking empty beer glasses together.
The middle of nowhere, earlier. I'm still in it.
As I looked down on Nenthead before the last descent I was pretty tired from the ascent and distance covered, and my feet hurt because of the paved nature of the Pennine Way (I know it's needed but at this rate in 20 years you'll be able to walk the Pennine Way entirely on paving), but the only thing I was thinking was, where the hell am I?
So that was the cloudy day, was it? Well it was for about an hour, then it turned into the last 6 days again! Anyway...
Ta dah! The nice lady in Appleby tourist information made this for me and rolled it up like a scroll. I want it changed to my faffing about total of 101.7 miles though.
I've finished my main target, the Dales High Way, and just have my three bonus days remaining up to Hadrian's Wall. This includes Cross Fell tomorrow, the highest point on the entire walk. More on that later though. Today would have been a stroll but the heat put paid to that during the last five miles (hottest average temp at 28.9 today). Basically the final stretch was low level and alongside streams, which meant sweaty, itchy, prickly, etc. I'm sure it's delightful for most of the year!
The first 8 miles were great though. I had only walked a mile from my seat on Brownber Hall terrace (behind the balustrade) when I joined the Coast to Coast Path near Sunbiggin Tarn. I've done the C2C in one go in the past, and am currently doing it again with a group of friends over the course of a ridiculous number of weekends. It's taken us about 4 years to do about two thirds of it so far. Anyway it was at exactly the point I joined it today that I am pretty certain I dropped my guide book last October. I had a quick look but couldn't see it. As I was going the other way to the 'normal' C2C direction I passed a number of people doing it. In fact during the 2 miles the paths shared I passed 11 people. Then after the routes had split I met 3 more. They were very confused, possibly because they didn't have a map and were relying on waymarkers (there aren't many!) and following other people.
Cotton growing just off the path! It's that hot!
I was soon back on my beloved limestone, and as the sun had gone for an hour's rest I was able to hop from clint to clint and frolic amongst the grikes. Not sure if this is geologically correct actually, but it was fun.
How do I love thee, limestone? Let me count the ways.
There was a pub at Great Asby, my half way point, so I had a drink and a lie on the grass outside. Then came the hot stuff through to Appleby. I stayed in Appleby with Jen a couple of years ago. I had wanted to treat her to something a little bit special and was delighted to find that we could use our Tesco Clubcard points to stay at Appleby Manor. However I was a bit disappointed Tesco didn't pay for meals and drinks as well.
Tomorrow, then. The forecast is for this weather to finally break, which is fine I suppose (looks at floor sulkily). But it's all about how it breaks. I've got my longest day tomorrow (over 21 miles) and pass over Cross Fell, which is the highest point on my entire walk and goes on forever. I don't mind trudging across featureless high level moorland in the rain, but if it's worse than that I'm likely to make an excellent lightning conductor. Should be fun!
So a few quick ruminations on the Dales High Way now it's behind me:
1. It's brilliant. I'd say it's better than the Coast to Coast.
2. This is because it crosses the Howgills.
3. And though both walks have varied landscapes, this one doesn't have any long, flat boring bits.
4. Though parts of the first day were a bit boring.
5. The places I've stayed in have been really friendly.
6. Except maybe not the first one in Shipley.
7. The Dales High Way is 68.4 times better than the Dales (low) Way.
8. And 3.8 times easier than the Cambrian Way.
9. If you like walking I would highly recommend the Dales High Way.
10. If you don't like walking I would not highly recommend the Dales High Way.
11. If you do decide to do the Dales High Way it appears that you are guaranteed sunny weather throughout, with a minimum temperature whilst walking of 21.1 degrees.
12. The most flustered, overheated people you will meet will be in Appleby, hence this:
Window display in the Spar.
Very nice gammon and chips at the Royal Oak over the road. Looks like it's about to rain though...
Well I can safely say I've lost quite a bit of weight. Not from myself, that's not going to happen with the breakfasts, dinners and beers, no it has gone from my pack. It was becoming obvious that I was carrying things I would not need, so I paid a visit to Sedbergh post office and sent them home. I was on the verge of posting everything except my boots, backpack, map, water bottles and mankini, but fortunately I saw the forecast just in time. Clouds?! Possible rain?! It's outrageous! I demand 10 complete days of sun, I will surely dissolve if it rains.
Despite being reluctant to leave Dent, and tempted to go and sit on my churchyard bench again, I actually got off to my earliest start yet. It was 9 o'clock mind, so not that early really. What might have been a gruelling climb up the valley side was quite easy with the longer tree shadows to hide in. It was a great start to the day and by 11 I was in Sedbergh with over 5 miles done.
I had a list of things to do:
Post things back home - done.
Send postcard to mum - done.
Get cash from bank - done.
Buy a packed lunch - done.
Buy sun tan lotion and if bottle is larger than my travel one decant lotion from larger into smaller and give remainder of large bottle to someone who looks like they need it - done.
Buy NME - not done. Circulation is not what it used to be sadly.
Now all that remained was 11 wonderful miles over the Howgill Fells to make it the best day of the walk so far - done.
One of my very earliest memories of mountains is driving up the M6 when I was a nipper and passing round the western flanks of these huge lumps of rock and grass (actually back then I didn't know what a flank was, never mind a western one). When Jon and I did the Dales Way years ago his shoes fell to pieces, so he splashed out on a proper pair in Sedbergh and we had a 'test day' on the Howgills before continuing, which was great fun and my first time walking on them. If you asked a child to draw a picture of some hills he or she would draw the Howgills, a huddled group of rounded lumps.
This afternoon was a joy. I tanked up to the ridge from Sedbergh with my lighter pack and spent the afternoon hopping from one summit to the next, with a six mile ridge walk to finish. The views throughout were incredible. I could see all 3 Peaks, splendid Pen-y-Ghent, mighty Ingleborough and the other one. I could see the Irish Sea, Scafell Pike and the rest of the Lake District, the route of the Coast to Coast Path, Cross Fell (a target later in the walk), the M6 and the southbound services with the lake next to it. Splendid!
I passed about a dozen people up there and they all looked like they couldn't imagine being anywhere else. They were all smiling and all happy to chat about how great it was. I chatted to a counsellor, a docker and a German lady walking between business meetings concerned with ceramic tiles. She was fascinated by my fact that the Howgills were formed 400 million years ago when the Dales landmass was close to the South Pole. That wouldn't happen on Chester Foregate Street.
A Howgill panorama!
So after the best day of the walk, and one which is high in my all time best walk ever list (oh yes!), I ended up at Brownber Hall in Newbiggin-on-Lune. Is it a B&B or a stately home? It's hard to tell. When I arrived I was offered a complimentary alcoholic drink. I asked for a pint of milk.
After a shower I sat on the terrace behind the balustrade, waiting for my chauffeur to arrive to take me to dinner at the Black Swan in Ravonstonedale. He duly arrived in the Mercedes and off we went; he will return to collect me later.
So I've just finished a lovely fish and chips followed by a lemon and ginger syllabub. There's a large Geordie family group behind me in the pub and they are hilarious, or rather the grandfather is. He's becoming more stressed by the minute. These comments were all made by him to his youngest (of the 3 here) granddaughter Jess:
"Don't touch your drink till the man puts it on the table. You touched it! I saw you! Do that again and you can sit in the car."
"Stop coughing. Stop coughing!!! I know you're faking it. Tell you what, if you choke to death I'll believe you."
"If you speak in an American accent once more you can sit in the car and speak it to yourself."
"Jessie go and sit in your seat or go and sit on the car." "No you can't sit in the car, your meal's coming." "You are NOT going to sit in the car."
"Look, either eat it or leave it." "You're not leaving it, I want it eaten."
Total ascent, 536m.
Thursday, 24th July (to remind me!).
The short day. This was always intended as Dent is gorgeous, so I wanted to stay here rather than Sedbergh. It does give me a longer day tomorrow, but for now I am enjoying a ploughman's lunch in Stone Close Tea Rooms, along with a complimentary cake and cafetiere of coffee as I am staying here tonight. Yes, it's 2:30 and I've finished, with the intention of half a day's serious lounging about.
I've struggled to find anyone who's heard of the Dales High Way so far. It's only been established recently and although it's waymarked, there aren't that many markers to be honest. I suppose if all the trails round here were waymarked there wouldn't be any space left on the gate posts. Anyway, at breakfast not only had the owner of the Old Hill Inn heard of the walk, the other two guests were both doing it as well. They've been very good and stuck to the route rather than wandering around all over the place like me, and have had accommodation booked for them via an agent, with mixed results. They also bumped into Suicidal Man two days ago, but it was earlier in the day so he didn't wave his sticks at them.
Distant and possibly blurred view of the Ribblehead Viaduct. Note train on top!
So over Whernside and down into Dent. Ok, so Whernside is the highest of the 3 peaks (736m), but it always seems the easiest to get up to me and doesn't look either as high or as impressive as the others. Which is why it hasn't deserved its own photo.
There had been a decent breeze on the way up, a definite wind on top and just a breeze again on the way down. I'd veered away from the 3 Peaks route, which was a relief for the feet to be off hard ground or paving (put down because of erosion). I was now on good old boggy grass with nobody about and a nearby tarn was a perfect rest spot. To be honest the setting was stunning and I could have sat there all day, but a man arrived out of nowhere, sat a good 30 metres away and rolled a ciggy, which I then got the brunt of as he was directly upwind of me. How can that happen from that distance in such a big space?
It was another wonderful day, a little hazier than yesterday but the heat was still dry. And I hardly saw anyone. The only one of the 3 Peaks summits I was not alone on was Pen-y-Ghent, which is virtually unheard of these days at any time of year. I don't know where everyone's gone on holiday this year, but it's not here.
Heading into Dentdale.
The breeze faded as I dropped down into delightful Dentdale, and at last the Dales High Way crossed paths with the Dales (low) Way. They merge for a mile, and only at this point. To be honest the Dales (low) Way is hopeless compared to this. I did it with Jon several years ago and was disappointed that we didn't get to go up anything (though the clue's in the name!). So it was no surprise that this solitary shared mile alongside the River Dee (why not the River Dent?) was the most irritating of the walk so far. The path was overgrown, too narrow, too hot and not by a river at all because it had dried up / didn't exist. Aside from my stupid investigation in Dry Valley two days ago it was the only time so far the heat has got to me. Thankfully it was the last mile of the day and the last before the tea room. More later.
So, an early shower and a wander around Dent.
No, I'll start again...
So, an early shower and a stagger around Dent. It was boiling! Coupled with Dent's zigzaggy streets it reminded me of any number of villages on Spain's central plateau. Even the church was hot. I went to the heritage centre which was closing early because of the heat, to a shop where the substantial lad behind the counter was dripping sweat onto the local newspapers and to a gallery which seemed to have been abandoned completely. Finally I found a bench in the shade of the church and sat there reading for a couple of hours. It was bliss. Just right!
Wait a minute I got it wrong earlier. Before the afternoon staggering I didn't have a shower, I had a bath! My first opportunity of the trip. That was bliss too, so good I was asleep in seconds.
Beer in the George and Dragon tonight was good but the meal was poor, a very salty and microwaved chicken pie. I decided to head for the Sun Inn later but got waylaid wandering round the streets again and ended up on the same churchyard bench watching the sun set on the hills. Made it in the end though.
The view from the churchyard.
Just need to mention a couple more things. Firstly the birds, they are everywhere on this walk. Here is a selection of what I've seen:
Unconfirmed sightings during the hottest parts of the day - golden eagle (1), Orville (1), pterodactyl (6).
Which just leaves the bird I've seen more of than any other by some distance, and I haven't got a clue what it is. There are hundreds of them and they are incredibly friendly, they're never far away and they sit on rocks waiting for me to pass before they fly ahead again. It's similar to the way robins and blackbirds follow me round when I'm gardening. I need to know what they are (Wheatear? Meadow pipit?). Please help me.
Secondly I've completed 5 out of the 10 days, 72.1 miles. This includes relevant faffing about but not walking to stations, etc. From now on there are no more detours so I know that I'm not quite half way yet. I have 75.2 miles still to go, meaning the revised total distance will be 147.3 miles. Better get some sleep then.