Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Grassington & Mossdale Scar - August 2013

Our trip to Pen-y-Ghent called for an overnight stay so that we could enjoy a second day's walking in  the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.  We chose to stay in the popular Dales village of Grassington and to walk a circuit of 12 miles directly from Grassington, taking in the dramatic and tragic Mossdale Scar.
 


The forecast was for a chance of showers but the day started out with bright sunshine, providing perfect lighting to pick out the drystone walls and barns for which the Yorkshire Dales are famous.


Soon after climbing out of Grassington the terrain became gradually more rugged and we started to see exposed sections of limestone. 

 
The Great Scar Limestone of the Yorkshire Dales was laid down on seabeds some 300 million years ago .  During the last ice age glaciers scraped away the surface exposing the natural joints in the underlying limestone rock. Slightly acidic rain dissolved these vertical joints creating the limestone clints and grikes (blocks and the crevices in between), which make up the  limestone pavements and  I was particularly keen to photograph a section of pavement above Conistone, a few miles north of Grassington. 
 
The soils lying over this rock are usually very thin and of low fertility and, in combination with consistent grazing, often results in a rich diversity of lime loving grasses, ferns and wildflowers for which the limestone country of the Dales is famous.

 
We lingered a while around this lovely stretch of pavement so I could capture as many photographs as possible before the weather closed in, then from here we walked a further couple of miles to Mossdale Scar.  The wind picked up and rain clouds gathered ominously as we sheltered in a grouse butt to eat our lunch.
As we made our way down to Mossdale Scar it began to pour with rain.  This was unfortunate as I was hoping to take some photographs, but it was also fittingly poignant. 

Mossdale Scar is a limestone cliff below which the Mossdale Beck disappears underground to emerge at Black Keld nearly three miles away.  Exploration of the cave system of Mossdale Caverns was begun in 1941 and continued until tragedy struck on 24th June 1967.  On this day ten young cavers entered the caverns to begin an exploration.  Three hours later four of the party left the cave and shortly afterwards it began to rain heavily.  One of the party who had left the cave returned to the entrance to discover the beck had broken its banks and the entrance to the caverns was completely submerged.  She raised the alarm and a rescue attempt was undertaken which lasted throughout the night and into the following day and involved a large group of people diverting the course of the beck so that an attempt could be made to reach those trapped inside.  Sadly, when rescuers were eventually able to enter the caverns, all six of the young men trapped inside were found to have died.  Due to the difficulty of bringing their bodies out through the narrow tunnels, the coroner decided that they should be left in situ, the cave sealed off and declared a grave.  A plaque in memory of this tragic event (the worst in caving history) was later placed on the cliff above the cavern entrance.

 

We sheltered for a while under the cliff of Mossdale Scar until the rain began to ease.  It felt strange and eerie, knowing that while we stood there beneath our feet lay the bodies of those six young cavers and although it was a beautiful and atmospheric place, I was a little relieved to move on.

From Mossdale it was a steady tramp across moorland down to Grassington through intermittent rain showers and back to the pub for a change into dry clothing and a welcome pint of the Grassington Ale (a locally brewed beer which is truly delicious).

I've done many walks this year and I think this one remains my favourite.  It was both beautiful and sad.  And I have every intention of returning to Mossdale Scar before long so that I can take some photographs and pay my respects again to those six young men who lie beneath the limestone.

 

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